2023 Season in Review: Iowa Cubs
Perlaza had a special season in 2023 (Photo courtesy: Iowa Cubs)

2023 Season in Review: Iowa Cubs

by - Senior Writer -

Now that the 2023 baseball season is officially over for the Cubs, it is time to look back and recap the year we just had. Yes, we will be getting into the Cubs and their players later this week and in the coming weeks, but this is the perfect time to recap the Minor Leagues, as they once again had a ton of success.

What started with two playoff teams ended with another championship coming the Cubs way as the Tennessee Smokies brought home their first Southern League title in 45 years. That came one year after South Bend brought home their second title in four years, and if that trend continues, it should be the Iowa Cubs winning next. Speaking of Iowa, that is where we will kick things off, as the Cubs had a historic 2023 season.

Granted, this team failed to make the postseason due to the new AAA playoff format, but after posting an 82-65 overall record, there is a lot to like heading into next season. For starters, look no further than a relentless offense that not only set a club record walks this season, but their 892 runs scored were second in all of the Pacific Coast League and only 10 behind Louisville's 902. It was the most runs this team has scored in a long time, as the offense set the tone throughout the season.

That shouldn't come as a surprise when you look at who made the MLB roster this season, with Pete Crow-Armstrong, Matt Mervis, Jared Young, Miguel Amaya, Mike Tauchman, Alexander Canario, and Christopher Morel all reaching the majors this season and providing plenty of support for the Cubs down the stretch. Morel, Tauchman, and Amaya had the most success this season, but the rest of these players will be counted on a ton in 2024 and beyond.

One of the biggest questions surrounding the Cubs heading into next season is what to do with Matt Mervis and Yonathan Perlaza. With Cody Bellinger seeming like he will hit free agency, it does leave a void at first base, and Mervis could be the guy to take that over. Granted, his power numbers were a bit down from his 36 homers in 2022, but he still had a great season, hitting .282 with 22 homers and 78 RBIs. He also had 67 BB and 100K as his on-base percentage continued to climb during the second half.

During his small sample size with the Cubs, Mervis showed much better defense than many expected, but his overall numbers could have been better. The high strikeout rate was a big reason for that, as his inability to lay off the slider hurt him. That is the one area he needs to work on going forward should he want to latch on to the Cubs long-term.

The MVP for the Cubs this season was, without question, Perlaza, which makes two great seasons in a row for him. Not currently a part of the 40-man roster, the Cubs would be foolish not to add him as he will be a highly coveted Rule-5 guy if they don't. The switch-hitting OF/DH made for a great season where he led the team in batting average of .284, homers 23, and RBIs with 85 as he continued to be the least talked about guy in the Cubs system. Those numbers alone are worth a look next season as he has played himself into the future plans.

While those may have been the big guns this season, Young showed up with a 21-homer campaign, as did Jake Slaughter and his 22 homers. Chase Strumpf, David Bote, and Canario also put forth impressive showings en route to an exciting time in 2023. However, the one player who made significant strides this season is SS Luis Vazquez, who has now put himself on the Cubs map.

Known as a defense-first type of player, Vazquez finally came into his own as a hitter in 2023, and should that continue, it will land him a starting job in the near future. His .257 average could be better, but with 21 combined homers, including nine with Iowa and 40 RBIs, Vazquez displayed rare power many didn't expect him to have.

While the hitting carried the team this season, the pitching struggled, but given the track record at AAA, that doesn't come as a surprise. Jordan Wicks didn't seem to have an issue, going 3-0 with Iowa and 7-0 overall while posting a 3.56 ERA, but several other big names struggled, leaving the future of this rotation in doubt. Caleb Kilian comes to mind when you talk about struggles, as he was given another opportunity in the majors this season only to look lost yet again.

However, with an 8-3 record through 24 starts in the Minors and posting an ERA of around 4.50, Kilian has shown the ability to lead a staff as he has had to reinvent himself as a pitcher.

Another power arm that the Cubs had high hopes for in 2023 was Ben Brown, who got off to a solid start before moving to the pen late in the season after recovering from an injury. Brown won six games this season, but also lost eight while having an ERA north of 5.00. His strikeout numbers continued to be off the charts, but his command was sketchy at best, which is why he struggled so much this season.

Apart from those two, the Cubs used a plethora of starters during the season as Nick Niedert, Hayden Wesneski, Chris Clarke, and Riley Thompson all started a handful of games in 2023 as the Iowa Rotation was short on arms in the second half. That forced Marty Peavey to go with more of a bullpen approach throughout the final two months, which worked in his favor at times. Shane Greene and Samuel Reyes benefitted from that, as they were the primary openers during that stretch and pitched exceptionally well.

You also had guys like Luke Little, Bailey Horn, Tyler Duffey, and Anthony Kay pitch well in relief, as most of them saw time on the Big League roster this season. The one guy who hasn't been talked about enough lately, and should be, is that of right-hander Cam Sanders, who is facing the biggest season of his professional career in 2024.

After being primarily a starter until the second half of 2022, Sanders spent the entire 2023 season in the bullpen and became one of the more dominating relievers. While his 5.15 ERA may not indicate that, his 7-2 record and high strikeout rate do, as his 97 MPH heater mixed with a devastating 88 MPH slider has all the makings of being a lockdown late-inning reliever. For that to happen, he needs to finetune his command issues, which he will focus on in 2024.

While the Cubs are set to face their most crucial offseason in quite some time, they are also faced with plenty of tough decisions regarding their minor league rosters. There is a reason why the Cubs farm system is so highly rated, and that is because they have an embarrassment of riches to choose from. Some will make it, and some won't, but either way, the Cubs will be counting on a ton of these guys in the coming years.

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