Champion Cubs still stocked with talent
This offseason, MiLB.com is honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League Baseball.
The Cubs won.
For their long-suffering fans, nothing else really matters, right? The Cubs won the World Series! It happened!
It's true. And even better, Chicago fans can continue to thank Theo Epstein for what remains. Despite a successful influx of youth at Wrigley Field, a pretty talented farm system is in place. The Cubs won their first World Series since 1908 with the help of at least seven key players 25 or younger -- Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Jorge Soler and Carl Edwards (include Albert Almora Jr. if you like).
So who's left in the Minors? Obviously, the system, which was arguably the best in baseball in 2015, has been thinned. Chicago traded away its top prospect, Gleyber Torres, and a slugging infielder in Dan Vogelbach for two major returns that delivered a championship. But they ended the season with two players ranked among MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects.
The Cubs raised the "W" in Myrtle Beach and Eugene with a pair of championships. The Class A Advanced Pelicans won their second straight Mills Cup, while the Emeralds ended their own drought in the Northwest League. Class A South Bend and the Rookie-level Arizona League Cubs were the only other affiliates to make the playoffs.
Cubs Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Ian Rice, South Bend (39 games), Myrtle Beach (58 games): Rice, a 2015 29th-round pick out of Houston, was voted his conference's Defensive Player of the Year in junior college a few years ago. This summer, the Alabama native's bat spoke for itself. Rice, 22, hit .265 and led all Cubs backstops with 15 homers and 58 RBIs in 97 games across two levels. He batted .310 at South Bend before struggling a bit against Carolina League pitchers but overall produced solid numbers, including a .380 on-base percentage, thanks to 62 walks in 97 games.
Still, he's proud of his defensive skills.
"As a catcher, I feel just as responsible for the pitcher's ERA as he is," Rice told MiLB.com. "I take my work behind the plate just as seriously as I do at the plate. I want to be known as a good defensive catcher just as much as I want to be good with the bat."
First baseman -- Yasiel Balaguert, Myrtle Beach (135 games): The 23-year-old Cuban finally put up big numbers after signing with the Cubs in 2011, leading the Minor League system in both homers and RBIs. Balaguert hit .263 with 19 long balls, 25 doubles and 96 RBIs in 135 games at Myrtle Beach, giving him the most RBIs for a Cubs prospect since Kris Bryant plated 110 runs in 2014.
Second baseman -- Ian Happ, Myrtle Beach (69 games), Tennessee (65 games): The 2015 first-round pick was far and away the organization's top second baseman this year after hitting .279 with 15 homers, 48 extra-base hits, 73 RBIs and a .365 OBP. He added 16 stolen bases and reached Double-A in his second season, earning his spot atop the Cubs' prospects list on MLB.com. The switch-hitting Carolina League All-Star finished the season as the No. 2 second base prospect and was fourth among all Cubs Minor Leaguers in homers and RBIs.
"He just has that air and that confidence about him at the plate that first- and second-year players don't usually have," Smokies manager Mark Johnson told MiLB.com. "He's way above the curve. He has that eye-hand coordination you don't see very often. It's just a matter of him settling in and not trying to do too much. He continues to improve at second base with his fluidity and in turning the double play. He's an extremely hard worker and takes a lot of pride in his game."
Third baseman -- Jeimer Candelario, Iowa (76 games), Tennessee (56 games), Chicago (5 games): The 22-year-old switch-hitter made his Major League debut on July 3 after hitting .333 in 76 games at Triple-A. A Southern League midseason All-Star, he really took off following a promotion to the Pacific Coast League on June 9. Altogether, Candelario batted .283 with 13 homers, 77 RBIs and a .376 OBP in 132 Minor League games and went 1-for-11 in the Majors.
"He's a very interesting player -- switch-hitter, has pop from both sides, has a really nice approach at the plate," Cubs manager Joe Maddon told MLB.com. "He's a young kid with a great body and big upside, a switch-hitter with pop. All that stuff is very exciting."
Shortstop -- Gleyber Torres, Myrtle Beach (94 games): The Cubs bid farewell to their prized 19-year-old prospect by trading him to the Yankees in late July for Aroldis Chapman, the triple-digit-throwing closer who was an important key to the World Series victory. Fair deal? Torres became expendable with Addison Russell and Javy Baez both figuring into the middle infield mix at Wrigley. Torres played 94 games with Myrtle Beach before the trade and hit .275 with nine homers, 47 RBIs, a .359 OBP and 19 steals. With the Yankees, he batted .254 with a pair of homers and 19 RBIs in 31 games at Class A Advanced Tampa.
Donnie Dewees, South Bend (94 games), Myrtle Beach (35 games): The 2015 second-round pick had a productive first full Minor League season, hitting .284 with five homers, 73 RBIs, 31 stolen bases, 25 doubles and an eye-popping 14 triples in 129 games. He had as many triples as any other Cubs outfielder had home runs in 2016, flashing speed that helped him score 90 runs and finished with a .338 OBP across two levels. He was voted a Midwest League All-Star with South Bend before moving up to Myrtle Beach, a transition he said felt comfortable.
"Even at the end with South Bend, I felt really good. I worked on my swing a lot with the guys back at South Bend and got a couple of kinks worked out and became more relaxed at the plate," he said in July. "It's all relaxed now. I'm taking the same approach to the plate."
Eloy Jimenez, South Bend (112 games): The 19-year-old finished the season as the Cubs' No. 2 prospect after hitting .329 with 14 homers, 40 doubles and 81 RBIs in 112 Class A games. He was named Midwest League MVP and Prospect of the Year, earned a pair of All-Star honors, was voted the Top Star of the Midwest League All-Star Game and capped the year with the Breakout Prospect of the Year MiLBY Award.
"From when I had him as a manager in the Arizona League in 2014 to what he's done this year, he's a totally different player," South Bend manager Jimmy Gonzalez said. "He could make all the plays. He controlled his body. He had an approach. He matured mentally. He understood how they attacked him. He allowed himself to study and make adjustments."
John Andreoli, Iowa (140 games): The center fielder, who opened eyes with a strong Spring Training, spent his second straight season at Triple-A and produced solid numbers with a .256 average, 12 homers, 61 RBIs and an organization-best 43 stolen bases. The 26-year-old, who stole 55 bases in 2012 and 40 the following year, had more thefts than the top three Cubs (Baez, Dexter Fowler and Jason Heyward) at the Major League level combined. He owned a .727 slugging percentage and had four Cactus League homers back in March.
Designated hitter -- Dan Vogelbach, Iowa (89 games): Like Torres, Vogelbach was traded in July. The lefty-hitting first baseman was sent to Seattle in the deal that netted Mike Montgomery, who got the save in Game 7 of the World Series. At Iowa, Vogelbach batted .318 with 16 homers, 64 RBIs and a .425 OBP. He played 44 games with Triple-A Tacoma and made his Major League debut with the Mariners on Sept. 12.
Left-handed starting pitcher -- Ryan Kellogg, South Bend (24 games): The 22-year-old went 9-7 with a 3.03 ERA and 107 strikeouts over 130 2/3 innings at Class A in his first full Minor League season. An Arizona State product who threw a no-hitter as a freshman, ranked second among all Cubs lefty starters in strikeouts and innings pitched and led the system in games started. The 2015 fifth-round pick averaged 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings and issued only 26 walks.
Right-handed starting pitcher -- Preston Morrison, South Bend (17 games), Myrtle Beach (6 games): The 6-foot-2 TCU product went 12-4 with a 2.11 ERA over 128 innings across two levels in his first full season since the Cubs selected him in the eighth round of the 2015 Draft. Morrison struck out 122, walked 33 and held opponents to a .235 average, a mark he actually improved upon following a promotion to Myrtle Beach. The 23-year-old ranked second among right-handers in strikeouts and wins.
"I think the most important thing for me is just being myself," Morrison said earlier this year. "Dictating the pace, the tempo, not letting hitters settle in and going after guys with good, quality pitches, not trying to be too perfect. I'd rather throw 80 good pitches than 20 perfect pitches. Every time I toe the rubber, I'm just trying to throw as many quality pitches as I can."
Reliever -- Ryan McNeil, Myrtle Beach (44 games): The 22-year-old was as solid as they come in 2016, striking out 61 over 54 innings in 44 appearances for the Pelicans. He went 1-1 with a 2.33 ERA and hit just one batter all season while giving up four homers. The 2012 third-round pick nailed down 22 saves in 24 chances in his first season as a closer.
McNeil said he often takes notes from the bullpen during games so he can be more prepared when he's called upon.
"It's all about paying attention throughout the game, taking notes on what the hitters are doing, what their approach is at the plate," McNeil told MiLB.com. "And then, when it comes my turn to get in there, just taking that knowledge, taking whatever I've seen during the game and applying it to my game. Whatever I'm asked to do at the next level, I'll do it -- whether that's closing, whether that's long relieving again, I'm ready to do whatever gets me through the system the fastest and whatever I can do to help the team win, I'm willing to do it."
Danny Wild is an editor for MiLB.com. Follow his MLBlog column, Minoring in Twitter.