Welcome to the first “Breakdown” of the 2022 season. For those of you that are new to this post, it is simply a review of what happened at each affiliate during the week. We also hand out our “Players of the Week” awards and that’s pretty much it. It’s your basic straightforward recapitulation of what happened on the field in the Cubs’ system over the last seven days. And with Monday’s off for each affiliate, it is the perfect time to wrap it up.
Let’s get started!
Here’s the weird thing about what happened this week: This was the first time since 2019 that Minor League Baseball played games that mattered in April.
Just kind of give you a little refresher, April is usually dominated by pitchers. The baseball doesn’t fly as far wherever South Bend and Iowa play while ocean breezes tend to keep the ball in the ball park wherever Myrtle Beach is. Even Tennessee gets a little chilly. So, keep that in mind as you’re watching the games unfold until it warms up.
Affiliate Round Up
Iowa (2-4) – As the only affiliate to get in six games this week, the I-Cubs struggled to hit, which was a theme for every affiliate that doesn’t start with a T. The strength of this team looks to be the bullpen again. Cayne Ueckert pitched well in his lone outing as did Ben Leeper while Erich Uelmen was filthy. However, the star reliever was piggyback starter Matt Swarmer who threw 7.2 scoreless with 6 Ks and a 0.91 WHIP. At the plate, Iowa struggled to hit for average outside of Robel Garcia and Trent Giambrone, who led the team in RBIs while Jared Young hit 2 HRs. Brennen Davis, on the other hand, had a terrible first four games before going 2-for-6 on Saturday and Sunday with a HR and 2 BBs. Hopefully, that kind of production carries over to next week.
Tennessee (2-1) – This team looks primed and pumped to do some damage in the Southern League this summer. Armed with a potent lineup that doesn’t look to have a lot of holes in it, the Smokies came out smoking. Chris Morel had a good three games playing three positions in three games. On Sunday, Nelson Maldonado hit two HRs after he did not play on Friday for some strange reason. As for the pitching, everything went great until Sunday when the bullpen fell apart and gave up 7 straight runs while blowing a 3 run lead. Earlier in the week, Bryan Hudson, Brandon Hughes, and Eury Ramos all were great while starters Cam Sanders and Ryan Jensen looked great. After a rough first inning, Riley Thompson looked amazing yesterday. This week, Anderson Espinoza should have his 2022 debut while Dauris Valdez has yet to pitch as well. Both have live arms.
South Bend (1-2) – For the first two games of the series, South Bend and Quad Cities played two nail biters that came down to the last out. The Bandits took the first one-run game on Friday night in South Bend took the second one on Saturday. DJ Herz had himself a good first game striking out five over three innings. I was even more pumped to see Jeremiah Estrada come in and work a 1-2-3 ninth to nail down the save for South Bend in game two of the series. The bats just aren’t quite there yet, they will come around as warms up. What we are seeing now is a lot of strikeouts by a lot of hitters in the lower levels. We will get to see Jordan Wicks debut this week on the bump along with Manny Espinoza. Who knows, we may even see OF Jordan Nwogu arrive from Mesa in the next week, too (I hope).
Myrtle Beach (1-2) – Low Class A has changed quite a bit the past two seasons. It’s just such a huge jump to go from rookie ball in Mesa to Low-A in Myrtle Beach. The first night it showed as the young Pelicans looked over matched at the plate. They were strikeouts galore, but Jacob Wetzel and Ezekiel Pagan were the only ones who looked comfortable in the box. That all changed a little bit on night two and by Sunday afternoon, the ball was moving all over the field. Felix Stevens cranked a long one as the Pelicans got their first win of the year. I really like what I have seen from Jacob Wetzel. Every. Single. At-bat. That kid is working the count, taking balls, and trying to put himself in a hitter’s count. Walker Powell, Tyler Santana, and Luke Little all did well. Yesterday’s starter, Richard Gallardo, recovered to pitch well after a rough first inning and earned yesterday’s Starting Pitcher of the Day.
Hitter of the Week
This award goes to Nelson Maldonado who cranked out 2 HRs and drove in 4 this week while hitting .571.
Tennessee Teammate Bryce Ball, who is also off to a very good start, came in second.
Starting Pitcher of the Week
Cam Sanders was fearless on opening night striking out 8. Just vicious! Combined with last year’s opening night, he’s thrown 9 IP with 18 Ks in the first game of the past two years. DJ Herz of South Bend gets an honorable mention here with 3 scoreless and 5 Ks.
Reliever of the Week
Matt Swarmer did not start one game this week. However, in a piggyback role, he threw 7.2 scoreless innings striking out 6. Swarmer just nudged out teammate Erich Uelmen, Tennessee’s Bryan Hudson, and South Bend’s Jeremiah Estrada and Hunter Bigge. We had a whole smorgasbord of arms to pick from this week.
Team of the Week
This was pretty easy to pick as the Smokies went 2-1 and showed off an excellent offense and some great pitching. They might be the team to watch for a while. If their offense is hot now, I cannot wait until it gets warmer!
Three Things to Know This Week
1. Not one of this week’s winners is on a top 20 prospect list. Just goes to show you the difference between production and talent. Both Maldonado and Sanders are talented enough to be at Iowa. For whatever reason, it didn’t happen to start the year. The same is true for Darius Hill. Things should change by the end of the month.
2. It’s going to be a long learning process at Class A for many of the Cubs youngest prosects. 3 games is not a season and one good week can change everything. And, no, I do not know what is up with Pete Crow-Armstrong. We should know by Tuesday if there is an injury.
3. Bryce Ball worked his butt off this winter and looks like a different hitter at the plate.