South Bend Manager Lance Rymel – Picture by Todd Johnson

Before the pandemic, following the South Bend Cubs in the western part of the division meant that I only got to see them about four times a year. It was usually for a week at a time and one of those weeks always happened to be during school .N0rmally, I would tend to go over to South Bend for a couple games and then follow them on the road for a week in the summer. 

Things have changed greatly after the pandemic. South Bend is now in the Western Division, MiLB has cut down on travel and six game sets are the norm throughout the minors. That allows me to see them several times throughout the year. The fact that they are in the same division as Beloit, which is just a half an hour from my house, has been a boon to my coverage of the minors. Peoria and the Quad Cities are not too far away either while Cedar Rapids and Appleton require some traveling and usually an overnight stay or two.

Pete Crow-Armstrong, Porter Hodge, Daniel Palencia – All pics by Todd Johnson

Over the last couple of days, I have been up in Appleton, Wisconsin with the team and it’s quite a different group of guys from the beginning of the year. And that’s the norm. A lot of guys were promoted, new players came in, a few guys were released. And it’s usually that way every year. Last year, there were only five guys with the club the whole year. This year, pitchers Kohl Franklin and Daniel Palencia have been with the club the whole year while Pablo Aliendo, Fabian Pertuz, Luis Verdugo, Yohendrick Pinango, Jordan Nwogu, and Owen Caissie are the only position players to be on the club all year long. That’s eight guys. I would imagine most of them make it through the rest of the year in South Bend.

Currently, the Cubs are in first place in the Western Division. While winning is not the main function in the minor leagues, it doesn’t hurt to help motivate the players and for them to develop certain winning habits and routines that help them to do well on a daily basis. From the weight room to stretching to the arm strengthening program to position group meetings to batting practice, there’s a certain way these guys go about their business that helps them to achieve at a high-level.

Owen Caissie, Jonathan Sierra, Kohl Franklin – All pics by Todd Johnson

But what I like most about this club is how they talk to each other. I don’t think I’ve been around a club in the Cubs’ system that has been this basebally, if that’s even a word. Pete Crow-Armstrong and Owen Caissie talk baseball nonstop from BP to the end of the game. Every at-bat is an opportunity to discuss how they were pitched, what the pitcher threw, what that pitch was like. It never ends and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. In fact, there’s everything right with it.

You wouldn’t know it by watching the game on TV or actually sitting in the stands, but Jonathan Sierra plays a large leadership role on this club. Some of it is his ability to speak English and Spanish well, but a lot of it is he just does not put up with actions from the younger kids who want to screw around a little bit. He’s there to work and that rubs off on others. But he does it in a positive way that I like. He has “future coach” written all over him.

And he’s not the only guy like that. Caleb Knight is quite the leader. Pablo Aliendo. This team is filled with guys who pick each other up and help keep their teammates on track.

Over the next five weeks, South Bend has to get its rotation in order for the playoffs. It looks like it’s going to be Hodge, Devers, Gallardo, Palencia, and Franklin and possibly Dalton Stambaugh, if he doesn’t go back to Tennessee. If Tyler Schlaffer comes back, that throws another name into the mix. Who slots where remains to be seen but their bullpen has some lockdown pieces and a couple of guys that are struggling. Hopefully, Zac Leigh and Michael McAvene stay with the club, but I would not be surprised to see either get promoted to Tennessee nor would I be surprised to see Tyler Santana comes up from Myrtle Beach.

With less than 28 games remaining, the Cubs are going to do everything they can to get some of their top prospects into a playoff atmosphere. That’s not hard as well as they are playing.