Seeing Schwarber One Last Time and Graphic Design Tuesday

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I made it out to the Cougars game yesterday and just in time. Last night, Schwarber basically tweeted he was on his way to Daytona:

Good for him. Yesterday he was the DH and went 0 for 4 but he did hit the ball hard twice. In his short tenure at Kane County Schwarber hit .342 with 4 HRs and 15 RBIs in 23 games. Even more impressive was his .448 OBP. Today, we should see another round of promotions/reassignments to go along with Schwarber’s. It is rumored that Bijan Rademacher of Daytona might be moving to Tennessee. Rademacher was pulled after hitting a home run in last night’s game.

Back to the game…
It was my first time seeing Schwarber play in person. I really liked his approach. He seemed to be into every pitch and was very selective. One at bat, was ugly as he took two semi-swings at the ball. But I liked what I saw from him. The bats for Kane County were almost non-existent yesterday. After a one hour rain delay, they came out flat and stayed flat. What I did like was the pitching of Daury Torrez.

The 6’3″ 170 lb. righty had his fastball coming in at 92-93 most of the day and had a nice slider that baffled hitters around 83-84. Torrez went seven strong innings, gave up one unearned run, and struck out four. He looked poised, wasn’t rattled. I came away very impressed. I think after Tseng, he is the second best pitcher I have seen at Kane County this year.

I also liked the approach of Kevin Brown. The “well traveled man” has a nice approach to the plate. He is patient and looks for “his” pitch. He went 1-3 with a walk.

In the field, David Bote played shortstop and made two very nice plays ranging to his left. I had seen him play second before but he did not look out of place at short. He also hit a hard double to wall that drove in the only two runs for the Cougars. It was also the first time for me to see Jake Hannemann. He still looked rusty at the plate after his suspension, but he easily ran down everything in the field.

In Other News
Albert Almora and Mark Zagunis both hit for the cycle last night! Almora went 5 for 7 with 5 RBIs. He is now hitting .276 on the year. Zagunis went 4-5 with 4 RBIs and the homer was his first. His steady approach has him at .356 at Boise in 15 games. He could be headed to Geneva to play for the Cougars very soon!




One Week Later: The Big Picture – The Cubs Still Need Hitting

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It was only a week ago that Jeff Samardjiza and Jason Hammel walked out the door and in walked Addison Russell, Billy McKinney, and Dan Straily. In the aftermath, trade rumors grew on Twitter like a disgusting alien in a 1950s science fiction movie. It was another busy week for the Cubs: a five game losing streak happened, a near brawl took place on the field, two more prospects debuted, and the Landmarks Commission gave the go ahead to begin the long-awaited renovation of Wrigley.

I am in the minority when it comes to trading and Cubs bloggers – I don’t think anyone is going anywhere for quite a while. Here’s why:

1. The Cubs need hitting more than anything. If you have watched the Cubs during the Theo regime, you know that they can go out and find pitching and develop that pitching (Hammel, Maholm, Feldman). That sort of pitching and talent acquisition will continue this fall after the season. The Cubs will scour the free agent market and target Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, Jason Hammel (again), Justin Masterson, and Brett Anderson. Anderson is the youngest at 27, while the others will be turning 32, 31, 33, and 31 next year, respectively.

Kenta Maeda

Throw in the fact that Japanese flamethrower Kenta Maeda (25) should be hitting the market and the Cubs will have a boatload of money to spend, the Cubs are going to get pitching while still developing their own. The Cubs biggest problem the past two and a half years has been hitting. They continually lack the ability to drive in runs. This week’s five game losing streak was mainly because the Cubs could get some runs driven in. Sure, the Villanueva start was a disaster, but both Kendricks and Beeler battled but one bad inning did both of them in.

Arsimendy Alcantara’s first game did not go so well. I am sure there were butterflies and jitters. But his second game yesterday earned him a continued stay as hit went 4 for 5 with 3 RBIs and 2 runs scored, all from the 2 hole. Today he is leading off. That is what the Cubs need more than anything. Throw in Baez and Bryant next year and you have totally reshaped the lineup. In 2016, you can add in Soler and Addison Russell, hopefully. You can also project Almora, Schwarber, Bruno, and Vogelbach to be close to MLB ready by middle of the summer in 2016. Those are a lot of bats!!!

2. Free Agency is a waste of money in today’s game in the post-steroid era. Players reach their peaks between 27-30. Very few players are now in their late 30s (36-38) having career years.

Here are the free agents the Cubs have to choose from for Outfielders, their biggest need:
Left Fielders: Melky Cabrera (30); Chris Denorfia (34); Jonny Gomes (34); Tony Gwynn Jr. (32); Scott Hairston (35); Reed Johnson (38); Ryan Ludwick (36); Darnell McDonald (35); Mike Morse (33); Alfonso Soriano (39); Vernon Wells (36); Josh Willingham (36); Delmon Young (29)

Center Fielders: Emilio Bonifacio (30); Franklin Gutierrez (32); Colby Rasmus (28); Grady Sizemore (32); Denard Span (31); Chris Young (31)

Right Fielders: Norichika Aoki (33); Tyler Colvin (29); Nelson Cruz (34); Michael Cuddyer (36); Chris Denorfia (34); Jeff Francoeur (31); Scott Hairston (35); Torii Hunter (39); Nick Markakis (31); Alex Rios (34); Nate Schierholtz (31); Ichiro Suzuki (41)

Outside of Delmon Young, Colby Rasmus, and Tyler Colvin, all are on the wrong side of 30 and all but a few are right-handed hitters. The Cubs need lefties to balance out Baez, Bryant, Castro, and Castillo. Chris Coghlan has been a nice piece the past week and Ryan Sweeny has shown some glimpses since he might almost healthy, but neither has a proven track record or shown the ability to stay healthy. Markakis is the most likely candidate to give the Cubs what they need, a veteran left-handed bat. The sad part is, there just are not a lot of high quality free agents that fit what the Cubs are looking for in a free agent. Chase Headley comes to mind but he is coming off two disastrous years.

But when it comes to “The Magnificent Seven” (Baez, Bryant, Alcantara, Russell, Soler, Schwarber, and Almora), none of those seven are going anywhere for anyone. I don’t think the Cubs are going to trade the greatest asset in the game (hitting) in an age of pitching. Vogelbach could be traded as he is blocked by Rizzo. But the prospects that could be traded for help at the MLB are found in the lower levels or have not been drafted yet. The prospects scheduled to arrive in Wrigley in the next two years aren’t going anywhere.

Hitters of the Week (Tie)

This Baez can hit too!

Jeffrey Baez and Albert Almora

Baez is ripping it up in the Northwest League. He leads the league in home runs. Now, his average is starting to come around. The leadoff hitter for the Hawks in his last 10 games is hitting 409 with 4 HRs with 6 stolen bases and an OBP of .480.
Almora, over a ten game stretch, is hitting 439 and has raised his average just south of a respectable 280. He also jacked two HRs in a doubleheader this week.

Pitcher of the Week
Eric Jokisch said that in spring training he was working on a cutter. Adding one pitch to repertoire at AAA is a weird time to add a pitch, but it is also the perfect time to put him over the edge to get him to the majors. Here are Jokisch’s last two starts: 14 innings, 5 hits, 1 earned run, and an outstanding 18 strikeouts.

Players to Watch in the next Week
• Addison Russell got his first hit as a Smokie last night
soler 71• Jorge Soler might not slow down. He looks like a man amongst boys even at AA. I look for him to regain his high prospect ranking if he can stay healthy.
• Boise’s offense is a machine. Mark Zagunis, Chesny Young, Rashard Crawford, Justin Marra, Mark Malave, and Danny Canela all can hit and hit well.
• Kevin Brown filled in nicely at Tennessee for a week and now earned a promotion to Kane County. Can’t wait to see him play especially after jacked two in three games after the promotion.
• Corey Black is starting to look good.
• Pierce Johnson is back and struggled in his second start in Tennessee. Hopefully, he can rebound this next week.
• Josh Conway is looking very solid in short stints in Boise
• Arizona has struggled as of late. Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez have good nights and bad nights. They will soon develop some consistency. Jeff Mejia is still lights out. Look for Carson Sands, Justin Steele, and more 2014 draftees to make their debut in the next two weeks. This week saw Austyn Willis (1 good inning, 1 bad inning), James Norwood, Ryan Williams, and Tommy Thorpe make Cub debuts.

Graphic Designs: Share if you want

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This summer, on Mondays,  I sit around after exercising and make some cool graphic designs. Originally, I started replicating old baseball cards with Cubs prospects. The past couple of times I made banners/headers. Yesterday, I made some more banners in light of the recent events in the Cubs universe. Share/save/copy if you want. Click on the picture to open to a larger image/file.







A Day in Iowa

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When I first broached the subject of going to Clinton, Iowa, to see the Kane County Cougars game, my wife hesitated. After remembering it was only an hour and a half away, she felt much better about going. Me, I wanted to see Schwarber in action.

Tyler Skulina warms up

When we arrived at the stadium, the first thing I noticed was the box seat tickets were only $8 and everything but the beer was about half the price of Kane County. When we walked up the ramp and into the stadium, it was like stepping back into the 1930s factory games. The stands were completely shaded and I half expected to see The Lumber Mill taking on the Gravel Pit in a game of hardball. But at 85 degrees and muggy, I checked the lineups and nowhere did I see Schwarber’s name or Jacob Rodgers. When I looked in the bullpen, there was Tyler Skulina warming up instead of Jen-Ho Tseng, the originally scheduled starter. I did see Schwarber very politely signing autographs and talking about he was taking the “whole” day off.

Beer Number One

The first three innings went pretty quick. Skulina, despite looking sharp, gave up a first inning run. His fastball sat in the upper 80s, sometimes touching 90s. His offspeed slider was coming in around 83 and his curveball sat consistently at 79. Today, he was staying on top of the pitch after the first inning. He made several hitters look foolish, but he pitched to contact as the wind was blowing in steadily from right field.

As for the Kane County offense, there wasn’t any. Jose Flores, at 87 mph, was commanding his fastball for the Lumber Kings. The Cougars often hit it hard, but often hit right at someone. Jeimer Candelario, who the ball hard all day, had the lone hit for the first three innings.

Beer Number Two

The middle three innings saw Skulina raise his fastball up a couple notches hitting 91 and 92 frequently. He scattered three, but struck out three in those innings. Will Remillard called a great game, never looking over at the dugout, but instead used his judgment on pitch selection.

The offense was still flustered by Flores. When my wife went back to the car to get something in the top of the sixth, Trey Martin doubled on a bloop down the right field line and scored later on a single by Shawon Dunston, Jr. It would be their only run of the game. I should have called my wife and told her to stay in the car but she caught a ball in the parking lot.



Beer Number Three

Flores was flustered in the top of the seventh as the Cougars began to hit him hard. After a second Jeimer Candelario single, Flores was replaced with Seon Gi Kim, who got David Bote to end the seventh. Kim would keep the Cougars off balance through the twelfth.

When the bottom of the seventh began, Jen Ho Tseng appeared on the mound and would do so for the next five innings. His fastball topped out at 88, but his two off speed pitches were coming at 83 and 76. He threw mostly off speed stuff. Every once in a while, he would reach back and let a fastball rip, but his breaking stuff was making Clinton hitters look foolish.

They Shut Off the Beer

When the thirteenth inning arrived, the Lumber Kings sent Aaron Brooks out who worked himself out of some trouble with 2 on and only one out. James Pugliese relieved Tseng in the twelfth and pitched out of some trouble. His delivery has changed quite a bit from last year, but he looked very good. He did have some trouble with the mound and the game was delayed until he could find a good landing spot.

The fourteenth saw Brooks dominate. When the bottom of the fourteenth began, Gerardo Concepcion was on the mound. Unfortunately, he could not find the plate, instead, he was nibbling around it. The velocity was there with a fastball at 91, but he just couldn’t get it over. When he did, they hit him. He gave up two walks and two singles to end the game. WIll Remillard got into it with the umpire after the run scored about the small zone. Remillard let him know what he thought of the small zone in the 14th.

Despite the loss, it was a good day to see a ball game. I am glad we got to both Tseng and Skulina look good. The hitting on the other hand, just did not happen. The Cougars hit the ball hard, just usually at somebody. I will be heading over to Geneva next Monday to see the Cougars take on Beloit.

Kyle Schwarber

Some Random Thoughts

*I really liked Remillard. He has a rifle attached to his arm. In the eighth he gunned down a Lumber King by a mile. It was reminiscent of the scene in Major League where Willie Mays Hays slides “just a bit short” of the base. Remillard’s throw beat him by a good step and a half. I also liked how commanded the field as a catcher. Great Leader!

*Shawon Dunston, Jr., does not take the best routes to the ball. I think he relies too much on his speed rather than technique.

*Jeimer Candelario hit everything hard today. I was really impressed with how he squared up the ball. Had it not been for the wind, his deep fly to center in the fifth would have been the game winner.

*Yasiel Balaguert is too eager at the plate. He looked too antsy to pound the ball, not hit it.

*David Bote looked great in the middle with Carlos Penalver. Not much gets by the two.

Meanwhile… There were games going on

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In Arizona…
You see, there’s this kid. He’s 17. He’s 6’4” 210 pounds and idolizes Sammy Sosa. He actually played this week against 19-22 year old players with college experience. He killed it in his first four games going 6/14 for a .436 average with 1 HR and 4 RBIs. His teammate, also 17, has shown some flashes of greatness in 10 games but has not put up some consistent nightly numbers but when he goes off, he goes. He is batting .325 with a .429 OBP and 1 HR along with 7 RBIs.

The first one is Eloy Jimenez and the second is Gleyber Torres. Combined with Jorge Soler and some players who are also getting their first taste of the bigs like Kevonte Mitchell, Charcer Burks, Joey Maratano, and Tyler Pearson, the Cubs ROokie League team is off to a 8-3 start. In addition, Dillon Maples (one of my favorite Cub prospects) made his 2014 debut throwing two shutout innings. Recent draftees Brad Markey, Ryan Williams, Zach Hedges, and Jordan Brink all debuted with a shutout inning. No sign of Ryan Stinnett, Carson Sands, Justin Steele, or James Norwood on the bump yet. Odds are their innings will be limited when they do appear.

Josh Conway has looked good this year

In Boise…
So, this Zagunis kid is doing well. Splitting his time between the outfield and catcher, Zagunis has helped steady the ship. The team got off to a great start with Kyle Schwarber and then the bottom fell out when he left. Zagunis’ bat has played well in Boise hitting .429 over 6 games. I don’t expect him to be at Kane County this year. They have enough catchers that are killing it. Boise played well this week thanks in part to two very good starts by Tyler Ihrig and Trevor Clifton. Josh Conway also had a good start last night but Ryan McNeil just can’t seem to find it after two years off. Clifton lowered his ERA to 2.21 while striking out 24 in 20 innings. Conway has been equally impressive going 2-3 innings a night and compiling a 1.54 ERA with the K rate of Clifton.

Can you say Stud? Trevor Clifton has it written all over him

At Kane County …
The Cougars keep kicking it. Schwarber keeps hitting close to .400 and the pitching keeps pitching. Their six starters (Skulina, Underwood, Blackburn, Paniagua, Torrez, and Tseng) all have ERAs under 3.25. It was leaked that Skulina has been dealing with knee tendonitis in his plant foot and it has been affecting his velocity this year. However, he has pitched through it. In addition, Cael Brockmeyer seems to be the breakout star of the second half. Pressed into service due to Will Remillard’s injury, the 6’5” catcher has responded well. In 36 games he has 3 HRs and 20 RBIs while hitting .319 compared to Remillard’s 1 HR and 26 RBIs in 38 games. Ben Carhart is going through a bit of slump, but Jacob Hannemann has been hitting .415 with a .478 OPB and 9 SBs over his last ten games.

Cael Brockmeyer
Cael Brockmeyer’s big bat is paying big dividends in Kane County

Down in Daytona…
In between the hurricane and a tropical storm, Albert Almora has had a resurgence. In his last ten games he is hitting .395 with a .426 OBP. The team is 8-5 in the second half and only 2 games out of a playoff spot. Now, Almora will have some protection besides Vogelbach and Rademacher as Billy McKinney will arrive Sunday to begin his career as a Cub. The 19 year old LF will provide some left handed pop to surround Almora. It could be a fun July and August in Daytona.

He’s back!!! Pierce Johnson

Up in Kodak, Tennessee

Pierce Johnson is back and just in time to join Addison Russell and it is rumored Jorge Soler is not far behind. I can only imagine what those three prospects will do to the Southern League in July and August. Johnson’s return from the DL saw him go 7+ innings, strike out 5 and not give up a run. He looked like a man on a mission mowing down hitters. Currently, the Smokies sit in first place. If they get back CJ Edwards and Ivan Pinyero, this team can punch its ticket to the post season.

The most surprising aspect to Tennessee’s recent uptick is OF Kevin Brown. Brown started 2014 playing at short season Boise. He was doing well with a .293 average. When injuries derailed several Smokies, Brown was sent to help out. I don’t think anyone expected him to hit .348 in his first week. He looks like he belongs despite skipping Kane County and Daytona.

Javy Baez is figuring it out Photo by Dylan Heuer

Out in Iowa
This team is cruising into first place, too! Last night saw Bryant and Baez go yard together for what I hope to be the first of many times. Javy Baez seems to have found an approach at the plate that works. Over his last ten games, Baez is not only hitting at a .333 clip, he also has walked 9 times for a shiny OBP of .465. if he can hit like that with an eye for walks, the sky is the limit for Baez. Oh yeah, and that Bryant kid is now hitting .365 with 7 HRs in 17 games. No biggie.

In the Big City…
The big league club has won 4 in a row. With Samardjiza and Hammel gone, the team’s strength has been sapped. But they still have to go out and play the remaining 70 games. The front office will piece together the starting pitching staff. What has been nice this week has been the play of Justin Ruggiano. Finally healthy, Ruggiano is providing a table setting for Catsro who continued to rake. I like the play of Chris Cpghlan, too. Both Ruggiano and Coghlan play hard hustling on every play in the field and on the base paths. It has been refreshing to actually see Cubs get on base rather than watch Junior Lake strike out. Mike Olt even had a good game in Boston with a HR and a double. I still think he needs to play every day. Lake, I am not sure if he is ever going to amount to much. Weirdly, I think he needs a bigger bat. The one he has looks too small. A bigger bat might make his decision making process more judicious and also extend his zone. Or it might not.

Things to Look For…
Overseas Pitching – Remember the name Kenta Maeda. He is a Japanese pitcher eligible to come over to the US next year and is a target the Cubs will likely go after this offseason.
International Signings – To date, the Cubs have only signed three prospects. Limited by last year’s overspending spree (which the Yankees are imitating), the Cubs can only sign contracts of $250,000 and under. Go here to see who the Cubs have signed.

Big Picture – The Jeff Samardjiza/Jason Hammel Trade

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New Tennessee Smokie Addison Russell

There is no sitting on the fence on last night’s trade. Cub fans either hate the trade of pitchers Jeff Samardjiza and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A’s for SS Addison Russell, OF Billy McKinney, and pitcher Dan Straily, or they love it.

In the short term, the Cubs gave up a pitcher who was not going to re-sign with them when his contract ended. Samardjiza was going to test the free agent market, plain and simple. The Cubs were not willing to meet his price of over $100 million. As for Hammel, like Maholm and Feldman, he was given a chance to resurrect his career, which was on the outs, and now he will make millions of dollars when he is a free agent this fall. Hammel, already, has expressed and interest in returning to Chicago in 2015 and beyond. Hammel knew what he was getting into.

The frustrating part of this for Cubs fans is the team was playing well going 18-13 since the end of May. The odds of this team making the playoffs this year, even playing well, were/are nonexistent. This team can still play well and be competitive. I get that frustration. But what I don’t think those who are frustrated aren’t seeing is that the Samardjiza and Hammel trade signals the end of the rebuilding. It is all up from here. If all you are seeing is wins and losses at the big league level, you don’t get it. If you don’t like what is happening because you have season tickets, no one forced you to buy season tickets. If you didn’t know what you were getting by buying season tickets, then that’s on you.

Questions to Answer
1. Who will fill those 30 starts this year?
Today, Carlos Villanueva will fill in Samardjiza’s spot. Villanueva, with his ability to fill in as a starter and work in the pen, is likely to be shipped this month. Luckily, there are other arms to fill in. Kyle Hendricks, Tsuyoshi Wada, Eric Jockisch, Chris Rusin, and Dallas Beeler will all get starts to see what they can do. Wada, recently added to the 40 man roster, as a veteran lefty will be up with Rusin to begin with as they have the most experience. It would not surprise me to see a shuttle back and forth to Des Moines. Straily will likely go to Iowa and work on some issues there before coming to Chicago.

2. Who will fill those 70 starts next year year?
Four names jump out at me – Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, Justin Masterson, and Brett Anderson. I look for the Cubs to sign one of those names to a long term deal with Anderson being the youngest and most likely get. I also expect the Cubs to develop young arms mentioned above in the previous paragraph. Edwin Jackson, with two years of control could be shipped along with some money. I don’t think anyone is going to scream about that. But, as witnessed on Tuesday, Jackson does have the capability to pitch well, I feel his issues are all mental.

If there is one thing the Cubs have been able to do is to bring in pitchers, simplify their approaches, and thus rebuild their careers. It has worked for Maholm, Hammel, and Feldman. It has even worked with the bullpen with Neil Ramirez. Hector Rondon, and to some extent, Pedro Strop. As long as the Cubs have Chris Bosio as pitching coach, I would not worry about pitching. The pitchers have great pro scouting reports and Castillo and John Baker both have shown they can call a good game based on those pro scouting reports.

3. Don’t the Cubs have enough shortstops?
Obviously, you’re not a golfer. Anyone who has coached baseball knows that the best athlete on your baseball team is placed in one of two spots – center field and shortstop. If you can play either, you can play anywhere. Just because Russell, Baez, and Castro are all shortstops now, does not mean they will be in the future. Baez, with his pop, could slide to third or second and fit nicely with his bat. The same is true of Russell. A shortstop now is not necessarily a shortstop in the future.

4. Why Addison Russell?
The same Cub fans who clamor for Baez and Bryant to get called up will soon do the same for Russell. Ranked in the top ten on most prospect lists, Russell is on a par with Baez and Bryant. JJ Cooper of Baseball America said this of Russell:

Russell has strength and explosive bat speed, and scouts project him as an above-average hitter with at least average power. His athletic ability, arm strength and quickness all suit him well to the middle of the diamond. He missed most of the first half of the season with a hamstring injury, but he returned to action June 8 and has spent the season at Double-A Midland.

5. What about winning at the Big League Level?
Have you seen what is coming? I am convinced that next year is when the Cubs stop the mid-season firesales and begin having those prospects debut early and often. Bryant, Baez, and Alcantara are nearly ready. When they debut next year, then the major league club gets an extra year of control. Is two and a half months this year of Bryant and Baez worth losing them for two years while they are in their prime? I don’t think it is. Keep them down on the farm in Iowa for the rest of the year. Let them see all kinds of pitching, learn how to build books on guys, and be ready to succeed in 2015 in Chicago.

6. What will the 2015 lineup look like?
It will look like you should have held on to your season tickets instead of jumping ship.
LF – Coghlan/Ruggiano
CF – Alcantara
RF – Bryant
3B – Olt/Valbuena
SS – Castro
2B – Baez
1B – Rizzo
C – Castillo
SP – Arrieta, Free Agent or two (I prefer Hammel and Anderson but Lester would be great), Wood, Jackson, Hendricks/Beeler/Rusin/Straily (pick one)

That’s a pretty potent lineup! I would pay to see that. And the pitching is not that bad. With most of the bullpen returning and possibly adding Arodys Vizcaino, Armando Rivero, Marcus Hatley, and Blake Parker coming up or in reserve, I think the games easily turn into six inning affairs next year.

Here’s the bottom line for me: Jeff Samradjiza is a nice pitcher, but he is not an ace. But you got “ace value” for him; and you now have that prospect and two others through 2021. Theo and Jed maximized above market value in return and got the most valuable commodity in an age of pitching – hitting.

A Week of Butt Kicking and Taking Names in the Minor Leagues

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I woke up this morning to find Tennessee, Kane County, Daytona, and Arizona in first place and Iowa just half a game out of first. It is nice to see the entire organization doing well especially the big league club. The Cubs have taken the first two in a four game series from first place Washington. Yesterday, Jason Hammel pitched well aided by the “John Baker” of 4 RBIs and on Thursday, Justin Ruggiano had some timely hitting to aid Travis Wood. It has been fun to watch the big league club on the TV and then Iowa and Tennessee on MiLB.TV.

The Butt Kicker of the Week
Arismendy Alcantara – In the last ten games Arismendy Alcantara is batting .462 with a .511 OBP and a .795 slugging percentage. Since being moved to the leadoff spot, Arsimendy has raised his average above .300 and looks like he is just about ready to go to Chicago. He probably won’t be up this year as Iowa is now in the midst of a playoff hunt. They sit a half game back of Omaha (Kansas City).

Butt Kicker #2 of the Week
Yup, it is that Bryant kid. A lot of bloggers were underwhelmed at Kris Bryant’s average in his first six games at Iowa. That can be brushed aside now as he broke .300 yesterday. He is now actually hitting singles and doubles to go with his home runs. Bryant is hitting .303 with a .395 OBP. Bryant’s presence seems to also have awakened Javy Baez (who is now at .236) and Josh Vitters (.240+).

Butt Kicker #3
Christian Villanueva has returned to form at Tennessee. The Doubles machine picked up where he left off last year at Kodak and his bat that had been missing all year at Iowa has returned. In 9 games in AA, Christian is batting .355 with 1 HR, 7 RBIs, and 4 doubles. I am ecstatic to see his bat return after the reassignment.

The Sleeper Has Awakened Award

The Daytona Cubs bats, particularly Rock Shoulders and Albert Almora, have been brought out of their summer slumber. Daytona now sits in first place mainly on the bats that produced last year at Kane County and some great relief pitching. Even Rob Zastryzny is pitching well. In his last four starts, he has only given up a total of five earned runs while striking out 23 batters in 23.2 innings! Jose Rosario has shown flashes of the pitcher he was two years ago in Peoria and Nathan Dorris, an all-star at Kane County had his best start in high A ball last night going 7 innings and striking out 8 to get the win. Justin, Amlung, who also moved up from Kane County, had two decent starts in a row.

The Machine That Keeps Rolling Award
Kane County just keeps winning, and winning late. Last night it was Shawon Dunston, Jr. with a single in the tenth. Pierce Johnson made his second rehab start and went seven strong innings while giving up two runs. He should be back in Tennessee later this week. For me, this team is turning into a monster. At the beginning of the year, it was a team built on the pitching of Paul Blackburn, Duane Underwood, Juan Carlos Paniagua, Duary Torrez, Tyler Skulina, and Jen-Ho Tseng with relievers Dorris, Amlung, Jose Arias, and James Pugliese. Now, it seems, that a batting order is developing. Jacob Hannemann has found his stroke and is batting well over 300 this month. With the addition of Kyle Schwarber in the middle of the lineup, a new “Murderer’s Row” is developing with Ben Carhart and Jacob Rodgers, who is just punishing the ball in June. Will Remillard has returned from the DL and that lengthens the lineup even more. Trey Martin and Shawon Dunston, Jr. finally are starting to produce at the plate this month. The Cougars won the first half division title going away, the second half is looking to be a reflection of the first but with a lot more hitting. If Yasiel Balaguert ever figures it out, there is no stopping this team.

Odds and Ends
*Jorge Soler is back and batting in Mesa. He is hitting well over 500 in a just a few games in Mesa. The Cubs have been working on repositioning his posture to avoid future hamstring injuries.
*Trevor Clifton went out last night for Boise and got his first professional win. He went six innings, gave up one run on one hit and 2 walks while striking out six
*Mark Zagunis debuted in Mesa Thursday and went 1 for 3. Last night was an 0-fer.
*Joey Martarano went 1 for 2 with a walk last night in his debut in Mesa.
*Charcer Burks is killing the Arizona Rookie League. He is hitting 480 in 6 games.
*Jeferson Mejia was unbelievable in his debut going five innings and striking out 9!!! The 6’7” 18 year old is one to watch.
*Gleyber Torres is either hot or cold. But the 17 year old is holding his own in Mesa hitting .280.
*Eloy Jimenez has only 1 plate appearance so far.
*The Cubs have signed 22 of their first 24 picks with Dylan Cease still out and Isiah Gilliam going to junior college. That’s a pretty good haul. In addition, several other picks like Brad Markey, Charles White, Andrew Ely, Tlyer Pearson, and Calvin Graves have all signed and are playing in Mesa and Boise.