Chicago Cubs Weekly Farm Report (5/10/21): MiLB Action Returns with No-No, Another Near-No-No

Ahh, this just feels right. Minor league baseball is back, folks. The more pure, less commercialized version of America’s Pastime has returned to the field after over a hiatus of more than a year and a half, which means it has been 615 days since I last published a version of the Weekly Farm Report. Now that I have taken the cartridge out and blown on it a bit, we should be all set for a full season of these bad boys.

I started writing these posts back in 2019 during my first year with Cubs Insider and, while I might come out of the gates a little rusty, the minor league season sure as heck didn’t. Right from the get-go, the Cubs affiliates showed us why we missed their games so much. 

In case you’re new around these parts, this column will feature bulleted updates on all four Cubs affiliates: the Iowa Cubs, Tennessee Smokies, South Bend Cubs, and Myrtle Beach Pelicans. I’ll give a rundown of the best player performances, some promotion commotion, injury reports, and anything else of significance that happened in the week. These will come out each Monday, which acts as minor league baseball’s scheduled off-day across the league.

With this being Week 1, you’re in for quite a doozy.

News in the System

  • Rosters were released and although we have already seen quite a bit of shifting throughout the system, CI provided a primer for each affiliate’s roster to begin the year: Iowa, Tennessee, South Bend, Myrtle Beach.
  • Opening Night was a dream come true for prospect nerds and minor league fans alike. It was also a jam-packed evening of viewing on MiLB TV. Todd Johnson broke down the action with six key takeaways.
  • A couple of key pitching prospects aren’t with a team as of now, with Brailyn Marquez prepping in Mesa after dealing with COVID during the intake process to minor league camp. Jack Patterson will, unfortunately, be out for the year after posting that he had Tommy John surgery.

Triple-A Iowa Cubs

  • Iowa went 3-2 against the Indianapolis Indians at home in Principal Park this week. Their game on Saturday was postponed due to inclement weather with a makeup date still TBA.
  • The I-Cubs had as eventful a first week back as you could possibly hope for. They didn’t get a hit until the 6th inning in their first game, then hit four bombs including a grand slam in their second. The next two games were broadcast live on Marquee Sports Network and their most recent, which wasn’t on Marquee, featured the 15th no-hitter in Iowa Cubs history.
  • We have to start with the historic feat on the mound from Sunday in which Shelby Miller, Tommy Nance, Brad Wieck, and Ryan Meisinger combined for the no-no. The quartet racked up 15 strikeouts and only walked three batters. It was the first no-hitter in Iowa since Cubs legend Chris Rusin pulled it off in 2014.
  • Each of the other four starting pitchers this week put together terrific outings to begin their campaigns. Joe Biagini was the Opening Day starter and threw six innings while giving up two runs on 16 groundouts with zero fly ball outs. Ben Holmes only gave up two runs in five innings of work. Cory Abbott had an even better debut than his six inning, three hit, three earned run stat line indicates. Kohl Stewart was downright dominant with six strikeouts and a single hit allowed over five innings.
  • While Chicago Depth Man sounds like the worst superhero of all-time, Rafael Ortega was great with the stick this week. He slugged three homers and doubled en route to a 1.133 OPS.
  • With the Triple-A level dealing with some depth issues thanks to injuries in minor league camp and in Chicago, the roster was rather lean in Iowa this week. That led to some injury replacement at-bats from Top 20 Prospect DJ Artis and one big surprise as Matt Burch appeared in two games this week. It was the first career appearance as a professional for the 2020 undrafted free agent signing out of Old Dominion.
  • The I-Cubs now hit the road for their first series of the year away from home, taking on a St. Paul Saints team that will host their first games as an MLB affiliate.

Double-A Tennessee Smokies

  • Tennesse went 3-2 against the Montgomery Biscuits at home in Kodak this week. Opening Day games all across the Double-A South League were rained out, so the Tuesday game will be rescheduled for August 4 in Montgomery.
  • The Smokies kicked off their season with one of the most brutal losses I’ve ever seen. They took a no-hitter into the 9th inning thanks to stellar performances from Cam Sanders, Luis Lugo, Scott Effross, and Bryan Hudson. But up 1-0 in the top of the 9th inning with two outs, two strikes, and two men on base thanks to a couple of Manny Rodriguez walks, the 40-man-roster reliever gave up a bomb that relinquished the lead and ended the no-hit bid. The Smokies would lose by a final of 3-1.
  • Sanders was an absolute star in that first game. The most underrated pitcher in the organization twirled five no-hit innings, striking out seven men and only walking one on 69 nice pitches. He worked with a fastball in the high 90s and the changeup was a plus putaway pitch. His surprise assignment to Double-A isn’t looking all that surprising anymore.
  • As for the sticks, let’s start off with the catcher in Tennessee you all want to hear about. He doubled three times and added a triple for good measure while racking up six RBI for the week. Impressive numbers. Oh, and his name is Tyler Payne. “Teddy” is the most well-respected catcher in the system and showed off the bat in addition to the work behind the dish that pitchers have raved about. Not a bad backup.
  • Since I teased you on that one, I might as well let you know that Miguel Amaya also put up terrific numbers in his first taste of the upper minors. The top prospect walked and struck out three times apiece in his 17 plate appearances, plus he doubled twice on his way to a .932 OPS.
  • The Smokies now hit the road for the typical six-game set against Rocket City. They will be playing in a brand new stadium as the Trash Pandas host their first games in their new Madison, Alabama home.

High-A South Bend Cubs

  • South Bend also experienced a rainout in their first week of action, with their postponement coming on Sunday afternoon. They dropped their first series at home in Four Winds Field, going 2-3 against the Quad Cities River Bandits.
  • The SB Cubs are the first team on the list that didn’t experience a no-hitter or no-hitter-adjacent event. Nothing too outrageous to speak of in Northern Indiana for opening week, but quite a few notable performances highlighted the action. 
  • Peyton Remy was the outstanding pitcher of the week, throwing the first game and going 4.2 innings with one earned run on three hits and one walk with six strikeouts.
  • On Thursday night, Max Bain got the start in what was arguably the most highly anticipated debut by an undrafted free agent in Cubs history. His first pitch registered 98 mph on the gun and he battled through some spotty command to give two earned runs on one hit and three walks with four strikeouts.
  • Cayne Ueckert (pronounced Eck-ert) was the reliever that caught my eye in the system this week. He racked up the whiffs (six strikeouts) without walking anyone and gave up two runs on three hits in his three innings across two appearances.
  • Chase Strumpf is way too good for High-A. I figured he would be assigned to Tennessee right out the gate this year and he set out to prove me correct. Strumpf put together a 1.169 OPS thanks to three doubles and four walks in just 19 trips to the plate, but the professional at-bats he put together on a nightly basis show he is already prepared for the next level. He took tough pitches, used the opposite field appropriately, and turned on the ball when he needed to.
  • Delvin Zinn is the ultimate clubhouse guy and a manager’s dream. He does a little bit of everything on the field as well and he showed that this week. Zinn batted .353 across 20 plate appearances, stole five bases, and played second base, third base, shortstop, and centerfield.
  • South Bend will hit the road starting Tuesday to play against the Miami Marlins’ affiliate in Beloit. The Snappers had a rough first week, going 2-4 to open the season.

Low-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans

  • I knew we could fit in one team with a full week of games as Myrtle Beach played a full six-game set against the Charleston RiverDogs, but didn’t get the best results. They went 2-4 and averaged just 3.5 runs per game against the Tampa Bay affiliate.
  • Manny Espinoza was the lone pitcher in the system to get two starts on opening week. Although he gave up five runs in his opening day nod, he pulled it back together for start number two and had the best statistical performance all week. He had five innings of one-hit ball and struck out seven with just one walk on Sunday.
  • The bullpen came to play this week, with Jake Reindl (and his terrific hair), Jose Albertos (somehow still around and still only 22 years old), Scott Kobos (former Coastal Carolina Chanticleer), and Alex Katz (now with South Bend) combining to go 12.1 innings with five hits, zero runs, three walks, and 15 strikeouts.
  • While the hitting was pretty putrid all week, that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about position players here. Ed Howard made his professional debut this week at the ripe old age of 19. The 2020 first-round pick was downright beautiful out there at shortstop in his first bit of action. While his .318 weekly OPS wasn’t pretty, Howard absolutely looked the part of a top prospect and future stud. He had the swagger of Jason Heyward and the smoothness reminiscent of Manny Machado that gives him the nickname “Silk.” The dude is good.
  • The Pelicans now head back home for their opener at Field to play host to the Augusta GreenJackets. I can’t wait to see what the baseball ops team has in store at one of the best game experiences in the sport.

Enjoy the games this week, folks. I can’t believe I get to finally say this, but we’ll see you again next week for the week two edition of the Weekly Farm Report.

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