Like many fans, I have enjoyed the work of some (not all) Cub rookies this year, and look forward to September, when the Cubs will have nothing to lose by filling the dugout and also the daily lineup card with fresh faces. The top prospects may be otherwise engaged, however. Double-A Tennessee is a sure bet and triple-A Iowa is a good bet to advance to the postseason. The needs of the Cubs come before those of their affiliates, but the Cubs don’t have a real need to inflate their roster. The organization is better served by a player in a championship tournament than one in an ancillary role on an ML team that is playing out the string.
Tennessee won a playoff berth by winning the first half. They are running away with the second half as well. At 75-44 they are the winningest team in minor-league ball. (The AAA International League Durham Bulls, a Tampa Bay affiliate, have similar won-lost numbers and might give Tennessee an argument over best record on a given day.) If Tennessee wins both halves, they play a second-place team in the first-round, and get an extra home-field advantage: four games in a best-of-five series will be played in their home park. With the first game of the playoffs on September 9, and a good likelihood of winning the first series, the Smokies could well be playing into the third week of September.
Iowa, meanwhile, has the best record (69-52) in the sixteen-team Pacific Coast League. In their division, American Northern, they lead second-place Memphis (Cardinals) by two-and-a-half games, with roughly two dozen left to play. If they win the division, they begin the playoffs on September 8, and could play through the 19th (or the 21st if you count the AAA championship game between the PCL and IL winners).
This all sounds more exciting than anything likely to be going on with the major-league team in September. Daytona is also in the playoff hunt, but no prospects would be coming up from high A ball.
Who are the prospects we would like to see in September if we could? On the hitting side, I would grab the players who do best on the LBFC hitting-prospect rankings, reproduced below. The players from Iowa and Tennessee who rank highest offensively are Jackson, Chirinos, Snyder, Guyer and Hoffpauir, in that order. The next cluster of hitters includes Canzler, LaHair, Campana, Thomas and Castillo, followed by Fuld, Dubois, Barney, Lalli, Smith and Wright. The Cubs needed a catcher and a middle infielder recently, and chose to call up Castillo and Barney (ahead of Chirinos and Thomas) for defensive reasons, and also because they were a step higher in the minors.
I have kept Castro on the list as a high-water mark for prospects. Brett Jackson sits atop the list today. Many people have heard that Jackson is #1 and are willing to believe it, but might be surprised that there are numbers that back up Jackson’s lofty status. Many people know, for example, that Jackson has hit around .300 at two levels this year, and that he strikes out a lot. But Jackson has impressive power numbers–28 doubles, 12 triples, 10 home runs; he has 66 walks to go with his .300 average, which yields an OBP over .400; and he has 25 stolen bases. He is the complete package at the top of the batting order. Brandon Guyer has similar numbers except for the walks. As a result, his OBP is 30 points lower than Jackson’s. Guyer is 2-1/2 years older, two draft classes ahead of Jackson. Brad Snyder, another fleet outfield prospect with power, is nearly seven years older than Jackson.
Jackson will be in the same position in spring training as Castro was this year, waiting for the incumbent to be traded or to falter. Byrd started out quickly this season and has never looked back, but next year may go differently for him, in which case we could see Jackson at midseason. Snyder will get a shot at the roster spot that Fukudome vacates this offseason (if not this month).
It’s unlucky for Tony Campana that Jackson, Guyer and Snyder (not to mention Colvin) can all play center field. Campana can do everything they can do except hit with power, and he does some things better. I would love to watch Campana on WGN next month, but as I said, the Tennessee players should go deep in the playoffs and then go home. Maybe Campana can stop by Wrigley to pick up a Cub minor league player-of-the-year award. With his .333 batting average, .388 OBP and 42 stolen bases at the top of the order on the winningest team in baseball, he lights the fire under the Smokies.