Record: 84-55; 1st Half Eastern Division Champions; Lost in the first round of the playoffs to West Michigan 2-1
2016 was an outstanding year for the South Bend Cubs. They set their second straight attendance record as a Cub affiliate. They also won the first-half Eastern Division title in the Midwest League. And, they had the number one prospect in the league for the second year in a row in Eloy Jimenez.
Once the weather warmed up in May, so did South Bend pitching. Preston Morrison dominated June and July with ERAs under one. Kyle Miller and Casey Bloomquist also had ERAs under 2 in June. It appeared there was nothing that could stop the team at the All-Star break.
Eloy Jimenez went to the Futures Game and came back a star as he hit a three-run home run and had an amazing catch in right field that electrified the fan base back home. In July, Eddy Martinez caught fire and was named the Cubs minor league player of the month.
And then the promotions came.
Gone were Donnie Dewees, Daniels Spingola, Ian Rice, Andrew Ely, Craig Brooks, Scott Effross, and Preston Morrison. That was a lot of talent to replace and it seem like the Cubs were never the same team after that. Although, Matt Rose, who left at the end of May hitting less than .200, returned to hit over .280 with seven home runs and 22 RBIs in August and was named Midwest Player of the Month. For Eloy, he missed a lot of time in the second half of the year playing only 47 games out of 70.
Several other prospects stood out. Catcher PJ Higgins and second baseman Carlos Sepulveda showed that they could handle a bat. Sepulveda hit above .300 for the year while Higgins had the highest on-base percentage over the course of the season. Pitcher Ryan Kellogg also had an outstanding second half with a 1.99 ERA since the end of June.
When the playoffs came, The Cubs struggled to score runs in their two losses and were knocked out by West Michigan in the best of three-game series. It was a disappointing ending, but it was a great season.
The thing that I come away most impressed with is what a great job Manager Jimmy Gonzalez did in turning hitters into ones with patient approaches. We saw it all season long with Eloy, Eddy, PJ Higgins, and Ian Rice’s development. We also saw what a great job pitching coach David Rosario did in developing pitchers with fastball command who can throw strikes down in the zone.
Team Leaders – Offense
Team Leaders – Pitching
Eloy Jimenez – I don’t think I need to explain myself on this one.
Team Cy Young
Preston Morrison – All it took for him to excel in 2016 was moving to the third base side of the river. He did that at the beginning of May, and for the next 90 days, he was the best pitcher in the Cubs system.
Eloy Jimenez – 14 home runs and 81 RBIs ought to do it.
Looking Ahead to 2017
Most of the players from 2016 will head to Myrtle Beach next year. Andruw Monasterio might stay to begin 2017 in South Bend along with some other bench players. Most of the roster in 2017 will be this year’s roster from Eugene. Some key hitters to watch include Wladimir Galindo, Trent Giambrone, Yeiler Peguero, and DJ Wilson. For me, Wilson is an extremely exciting player, and while Galindo has some major power, he is just beginning to tap into it at just 19 years of age.
The strength of next year’s team will be pitching. Dylan Cease, Manny Rondon, Bailey Clark, Bryan Hudson, Tyson Miller, Pedro Silverio, and Erling Moreno are starting pitchers who could take the mound next year. In addition, relievers Wyatt Short and Dakota Mekkes should arrive with Marc Huberman, Jed Carter, Chad Hockin, Michael Knighton, MT Minacci, and Duncan Robinson.
As of right now, I also think that Tom Hatch, the Cubs third round pick in the 2016 draft, could arrive to begin his Cubs career at South Bend. How long he stays there, is up to his performance. Then again, he might start at Myrtle Beach. He is now at Fall Instructs making his pro debut.
Sleeper Prospect for 2017
Robert Garcia is not going to hit a lot of home runs. However he will hit for average, he will get on base, and he will score a lot of runs.
While the team did fall short of expectations, they have nothing to hang their head about. They improved quite a bit over the course of a season and now they can get ready for next year.