There wasn’t much team success to be found around the upper levels of the minors for the Cubs from a team perspective. Much like the Iowa Cubs, the Tennessee Smokies finished in 4th place in the Southern League North division with an overall record of 68-70.
But also like Iowa, the Smokies had several players that picked up for the lack of team success with plenty of individual success. The roster was full of talent and had several top prospects that showed out and a few that underperformed.
If there was a runner-up award for the Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Alzolay would have won that award. After recieving the call from Myrtle Beach, Adbert just continued to put up stellar stats while leading the rotation throughout the back half of the season. During his time in Tennessee, he didn’t give up a single home run while keeping his FIP down to 2.56 and WHIP at 1.19. On top of all of that, opposing batters only hit .223 against him.
One of two Postseason Sothern League All-Stars, Bote was able to prove that he is more than just an organizational player. He finished 10th in the Southern League with 14 bombs and held a 130 wRC+ this seeason. His OPS of .792 helped to hold his bat in the middle of the order and he has earned his way to a full season in Iowa in 2018 after getting a cup of tea there in 2016.
One of the more underrated prospects in the entire system, Burks put up a wRC+ north of 100 for the 4th consecutive season with his 2017 season sitting at 125. An outfielder that played all three slots in field this year, Burks was able to stick around in the top of the order with his power and speed combination that allowed him to finish the season with 10 home runs and 16 stolen bases.
2017 was supposed to be the season where Hedges really broke out with the Iowa Cubs. After starting the season in Triple-A, he struggled mightily before being sent back down to Tennessee where he spent 47 innings in 2016. While he put up stats that were decent over the course of this season (3.89 FIP, 3.49 ERA), his strikeout rate became basically non-existent (12.8%) and for a 24 year old in Double-A, the hope would be for him to dominate younger bats at that level. I expect him to get another crack at Iowa again next year.
The story for Clifton sounds very similar to Hedges. Clifton, the number three pitching prospect in the system, spent the entire season in Tennessee. It was expected for him to start off the season in Double-A before eventually being bumped up to the next level which would then put him on track for a big league call-up early in 2018. But Trevor failed to put it all together like everyone expected and limped to the finish line in 2017 with a 5.20 ERA, 4.05 FIP, and 1.56 WHIP. A lot of those problems may be due in part to his decreased strikeout rate which fell to 19.1% down from 26.2% last season. Still only 22, he will look to bounce back next year, and maybe start off in Tennessee again.
The former 6th round pick out of UCLA has continued to struggle in his professional career. Drafted as a reliever, Berg was a prime candidate to rise through the system very quickly and be making his way to Chicago after a season or two in the minors. Well, year three is now in the books and he has failed to put up the stats necessary to warrant anything resembling a call-up. All of his numbers are extremely high (5.11 ERA, 4.82 FIP, 1.62 WHIP) expect for his strikeout rate that is super low (13.0%).
Who to look out for next season
Duane Underwood Jr
Underwood has had an interesting professional career to say the least. After several seasons where he has battled injuries and inconsistent play on the mound, he was finally able to stay healthy for most of the season in 2017. With explosive stuff, it is his talent not his numbers that have landed him on the 40-man roster. But because of the 40-man roster spot that he takes up, we should expect the front office to move him very aggressively up to Triple-A next season and eventually up to Chicago. If he can’t put up good stats in 2018, he will risk being DFA’d, much like how former top prospect Pierce Johnson was this year.
The other Postseason Southern League All-Star, Vosler had a career year in 2017. He slugged .449 and had 21 bombs, but the majority of his damage done this season was in the first half of the year. In 2018 he will need to prove that he can continue to be a very strong bat in this system. If he can do that, he will show the Cubs front office that he is the player that we saw in the first half of the year, and not the player that tapered off during the second half. If he can do that, then he will find himself on the 40-man roster and knocking on the doors of Chicago.
For the second straight season, Rice was able to combine good power numbers (17 bombs) with terrific on-base skills (15.2% BB). If he can prove that he can translate those skills to Triple-A Iowa, what he will do is make himself a viable option as an option to catch in case of injury in Chicago in 2018 and set himself up to be a potential backup for Willson Contreras for years to come. That would in turn make Victor Caratini expendable and a good trade option for a package to bring back a starting pitcher at the trade deadline next season.