Happy Opening Day! Cubs 2019 Minor League Primer
Joe Camporeale - USA Today Sports

Happy Opening Day! Cubs 2019 Minor League Primer

by - Senior Writer -

With the Major League season officially underway, fans expected a better start from the Chicago Cubs as they preached urgency and their desire to start fast in 2019.

That certainly has gone out the window as the overall lack of pitching early on, and the horrendous defense has put the Cubs at a 1-3 start and searching for answers. Let’s not raise a white flag quite yet, however, as there are still 158 games left and this team is far too talented to play this bad all season.

Still, with some of the issues early on, especially in the bullpen, one might wonder where help will come from if this continues. Enter the Minor Leagues as their season is officially set to kick off tomorrow with the potential for a lot of their players to make impacts on the Big-League roster at some point this season. This is a breakdown of what I expect from the Cubs minor league system this year along with some players to keep an eye on for this upcoming season.

Triple-A Iowa: The Iowa Cubs have been the AAA affiliate for quite some time and have had decent success in the past. That shouldn’t surprise many as the likes of Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Hendricks, Kyle Schwarber, and Willson Contreras have all been a part of that roster at one point and are all in the majors now. For Iowa to be successful this season, they will have to rely on a plethora of arms as offensively they don’t have the weapons they once had.

Coming off a rough 50-88 season that saw Iowa finish 24 games out of first, there may not be many expectations from fans going into this season. However, this season should be different as Iowa has one of their most talented rosters in some time and should make a move up in the standings this season.

For the offense, look no further than Ian Happ as one of the players who will make this team go. Happ, who was recently demoted to AAA at the end of spring training was fast-tracked to the majors and showed great potential during his rookie year. That was a different story during his sophomore campaign as Happ failed to make the consistent contact the Cubs were hoping for. That trickled down into spring training which gave the Cubs no choice but to send him down to work his overall game. It will be up to Happ to determine how long he remains in Iowa as I expect to see him in Chicago before June.

Joining him in terms of leading the offense will be Johnny Field, fresh off a great spring, Donnie Dewees, Phillip Evans, Jim Adduci, and Taylor Davis as they will look to lead the way offensively this season. Don’t be surprised to see Addison Russell make an appearance in May to get some at-bats in once his suspension is over and possibly Mark Zagunis making impacts at various times this season.

One reason for optimism for Iowa this season is the pitching staff as they have plenty of arms that are big league ready or at the very least have seen big league experience. Top pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay is looking to bounce back from an injury-rattled season to lead the staff this year. He will be joined most likely by Alec Mills, Jen-Ho Tseng, Trevor Clifton and either Duane Underwood or Colin Rea as both of those pitchers pitched better out of the pen than they did in the rotation.

As far as the bullpen goes, Iowa appears not only to be stacked with arms but with big league talent also that will play a huge role in determining the success of both Chicago and Iowa. Look no further than longtime veterans Brian Duensing, Tim Collins, George Kontos, Rowan Wick, Allen Webster and recently reacquired Junichi Tazawa as arms that will anchor the pen as well as push for big league time. Add in the likes of Dakota Mekkes, James Norwood, and Dillon Maples, and that makes what appears to be a strong pen on paper.

One pitcher to keep an eye on this season is Duncan Robinson. Combining for 26 starts between AA and AAA last season, Robinson was dominant and inserted himself into a top pitching prospect conversation. Robinson went 8-4 with a 3.11 ERA while striking out 119 batters and walking just 25. Will 2019 be his year to break out in hopes of helping Iowa get back to the Pacific Coast League playoffs.

Double-A Tennessee Smokies: Despite a less than memorable 2018 season, all eyes will be on the Smokies this season as an abundance of talent is ready to make their mark. Look no further than the infield, and you will see why as No. 2 prospect Nico Hoerner will get his shot to open the season in AA. Even with less than 40 games of minor league experience, Hoerner made his presence felt in spring training this season. Now it appears he is on the fast track to the bigs where he could soon displace Addison Russell from the shortstop position pending his future with the team.

Jared Young and Christian Donahue will be joining him on the infield as potential big-time bats along with Charcer Burks and Eddy Martinez in the outfield. The catching duties are still up in the air for now, but it appears that Jhonny Pereda will earn the opening day nod behind the dish with hopes of being the primary catcher.

Just like Iowa, it appears pitching may be the Smokies' strength too. Fresh of a 9-6 mark with a 3.61 ERA, expect Keegan Thompson to take a giant step forward this season as the possible ace of the staff. With just 23 innings under his belt last season, Justin Steele showed amazing potential going 2-2 with a 2.31 ERA. Now healthy, I expect Steele to take a giant step forward this season.

Offseason acquisition Ian Clarkin will look to establish himself on the roster this season, while Thomas Hatch and Cory Abbot will all look to break through in 2019. Manuel Rondon will be called upon to anchor the bullpen this season as he will be joined with Zach Hedges and Wyatt Short looking to make a formidable trio to make lives miserable for hitters.

Single-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans: The newest of the Cubs affiliations is the Pelicans, and they have been an enormous success since the Cubs took them in as an affiliate. This year should be no different as Myrtle Beach is poised to have another strong season.

Former first-round pick Alex Lange is undoubtedly one player to keep an eye on this season. Even with a less than stellar 6-9 record, his 3.82 ERA and nearly 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio is something that stands out as he should only get better with experience. Fellow right Hander Erick Leal is another arm that could be in line to have a breakout season this year.

In 21 games and 19 starts a season ago, Leal was as good as advertised going 11-4 with a 3.13 ERA. That improves his minor league record to 37-19 with a 3.04 ERA as he will look to continue to develop. Left-handers Ryan Kellogg and Bryan Hudson are the lone southpaws on the roster, and each one of them will need to be on top of their games in 2019.

Offensively, the Pelicans are in good hands as many players should be able to carry the load. Trent Giambrone is certainly one of those players. A name that many may not have been familiar with before spring, Giambrone made his presence felt during spring training delivering many timely hits. Add in Zack Short and Aramis Adelman to the infield, and it could be one of the best in the all of High-class A ball. D.J. Wilson and Zach Davis appear to be locked in the outfield with Chris Pieters and Kevonte Mitchell looking to secure the final outfield spot on opening day.

Class A South Bend Cubs: The closest affiliate to the Chicago Cubs is South Bend who is just under two hours away from Wrigley. Although this may be the lowest A level team in the system, there is plenty to be excited about as many top prospects will be a part of this roster to begin the season.

Four Winds Field will be rocking this season as top prospect Miguel Amaya will lead the charge on offense. At just 20 years old, Amaya is far from polished but is also talented beyond his years. South Bend fans better enjoy his presence early, because he won’t remain in South Bend all season.

Cam Balego, Jhonny Bethancourt, Brandon Hughes and Delvin Zinn will all be huge parts of a South Bend offense that needs to replace plenty of pieces that have been promoted throughout the system. One player to keep an eye out for this season is outfielder Cole Roederer. Although the only experience this 19-year-old has is the Arizona rookie league, his production at that level may help him leap short season A ball early and join South Bend for the long haul of 2019.

South Bend does not lack pitching as that should be the strength of their team. No. 3 prospect and new top pitching prospect Brailyn Marquez is ready to be unleashed in 2019. In just 12 starts a season ago, Marquez went 1-4 with a 3.11 ERA and a 59/16 K/BB ratio. He only managed to make two starts for South Bend, but a sub 3.00 ERA and his exceptional command continued making him the most likely to break out on the staff this season.

Javier Assad, Erling Moreno, and another former early-round pick Brendon Little will all be back for their second year in the rotation. Despite the three of them combining to go 12-21, they all continued to get better as the season went on which bodes well for his season with that added year of experience. The biggest wild card for the entire staff is Ryan Williams.

After breaking out in 2015 going 14-3 with a 2.16 ERA, injuries have caused Williams to fall off the radar forcing him back to A ball to rehab. Looking to reach those levels once again, Williams holds the key to what could be a strong rotation for South Bend. Given his age, if Williams can return close to the level he was once at, he will find himself in AAA before too long.

Jesus Camargo is another young arm to watch in 2019. In overall limited action in the Minors, Camargo certainly has not disappointed. He has compiled a 9-4 record and a 2.62 ERA in just 21 starts, but it has been his impressive command that has scouts talking as he will look to be another break out arm in 2019.

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