You hear it said about Minor League Baseball all the time. The minors are a place to develop players into Major League products. While this season wasn’t as much of a success as you would like to see from a team standpoint with a record of 67-72 and a fourth place finish in the PCL American North Division, the team still showed success in other aspects of the game.
With Jen-Ho Tseng making his MLB debut today with his start on the bump, he marks the 8th Iowa Cubs player to make his debut with the big boys this season. Not only that, but Tseng will also be the 20th player overall to play for both the I-Cubs and in Chicago in 2017.
So who lead Iowa to success? Who held the team down over the course of the season? Who is on our radar for 2018 and beyond? Let’s take a look.
Vic had far and away the best season of his career in 2017 and was rewarded by winning the Cubs Minor League Player of the Year award. It is the first time he has won the award and he did one of the hardest things a player can do in professional baseball; he was shipped back and forth between Chicago and Iowa. It is difficult for a player to get any type of rhythm going that way, but Caratini proved it was not a problem. He sported a .342/.393/.558/.951 slash line in 326 plate appearances with a 142 wRC+.
Mr. OBP also got a call to Chicago this year, and continued to prove to the organization that he has a floor of a fourth outfielder. Zagunis was consistently Iowa’s second best bat besides Caratini and took his nickname to heart, finishing the season fourth in the league in OBP (.404) and fourth in walks (70). His bat was a stabalizing force in the middle of the Cubs lineup (130 wRC+) and he will look to continue his success at the highest level next season.
The guy who always seemed to find the camera wherever he was ended up being much more than just the guy that got internet famous this season. He put together yet another successful season at the plate for the second consecutive year. This time it earned him a call-up to Chicago. While Davis is nothing flashy at the plate, he was able to stay very consistent throughout the year and actually turned it on more in the second half of the season. His slash line with Iowa read .297/.357/.429/.786 with a 104wRC+.
Speaking of consistency, Bijan was that for Iowa the entire year. Never valued as a top prospect or anything more than a 5th outfielder according to prospect rankings, Rademacher is officially knocking on the door of Chicago and they won’t be able to ignore him if he keeps putting up these numbers: .294/.375/.436/.811 and a 113 wRC+. He forced himself into the lineup more and more as the season went on and it definitely paid off.
Going into the season, Young was beginning to be a fan favorite due to his ability to put the bat on the ball as well as play multiple positions in the field. While he dominated in the lower levels prior to this season, winning batting titles twice along the way, the BABIP gods were not quite as kind to him this year. He saw his walk rate drop more than 4% all the way down to 6.9% in 2017 which lead to a measly .303 OBP. With that drop in on-base qualities, he also didn’t see his power numbers rise at all (.311 slugging). While he is still valuable because he plays all over the diamond, he will need to pick it up with his bat next year.
This season was Johnson’s last attempt at resurrecting his career and as we found out yesterday, it was not a success. Pierce was DFA’d to make room for Tseng on the 40-man roster and he will work to continue his career with another organization. While he was able to keep his strikeout rate up as a reliever (31.6%), just about every other part of his game suffered. He allowed a 1.45 WHIP and a 3.43 FIP this season while once again sporting a high walk rate (11.5%). He got the call to Wrigley earlier in the season, but didn’t perform well enough to continue as a part of the organization.
The new Big Z has been a confusing player over the course of his career. Never putting up fantastic numbers, he actually made his way up to Chicago for his big league debut in 2016 and found some time there again this year. Unfortunately, his lefty swingman status was not good enough to be considered a player who had a good season this year. Across the board, Zastryzny put up stats you don’t like to see. 5.94 ERA, 4.85 FIP, and a 1.36 WHIP.
Who to look out for next season
Tseng has already been mentioned on multiple occasions, with his first big league start today. And while he has had an incredible season this year, actually good enough to receive Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors, it is 2018 that I look forward to. We all know about the impending free agents in Jake Arrieta and John Lackey and how Theo will have two rotation spots to fill this offseason. Tseng is doing his best to stake claim to one of those spots. He will try to win the spot right out of spring training, and if he doesn’t succeed in doing so he will at the very least be the next man up to cover in case of an injury. 2018 may very well be the season in which Tseng is in Chicago for the long haul.
Carasiti was acquired midseason in a deal that sent lefty Zac Rosscup to the Colorado Rockies. All he did this season was lead the PCL in saves with 21. He put up good strikeout (29.8%) and walk (9.8%) numbers in his time in Iowa and was killed by high BABIP numbers in both Iowa (.354) and as a member of of the Rockies affiliate (.395). Not currently on the 40-man roster, I expect him to get a shot as one of the first men up the Chicago after ineffectiveness or injury in the bullpen in 2018.
You didn’t think I could go an entire article without mentioning Dillon Maples, did you? I’ll stick Maples in with the Iowa Cubs season review, but the hard throwing righty spent time at four different levels in 2017 including a trip to Chicago for September call-ups. While this season was his breakout year on the mound, I fully expect Maples to break with the big league squad out of Spring Training and prove that he is in Chicago to stay. That is a quick turnaround for a guy like Maples, but I think he is one of the more exciting prospects to look out for come 2018.