Despite leading the Midwest League in hitting (.272), the Kane County Cougars find themselves 9.5 games behind first-place Cedar Rapids with a 20-22 record. The Cougars lost their first four games of the season to Quad Cities and have been fighting to get above .500 ever since. They finished April 9-13, and after a six-game winning streak to start May, were 17-15 after a victory against Clinton on May 11. The big story in the early part of the season has been postponements, doubleheaders, and extra innings. The Cougars have had 10 games canceled due to weather (snow and rain) and have played seven doubleheaders. Kane County has been in extra innings 11 times and are 5-6.
The team hitting stats look great. Kane County leads the MWL in batting average (.279), are second in on-base percentage (.348), third in slugging (.400), and fourth in total bases (559) but the Cougars are tied for 7th in runs scored (196), a very important stat when trying to win baseball games. No team in the MWL has had more runners thrown out trying to steal (28) than Kane County and they have 40 stolen bases, 9th best in the 16-team league. Only two other teams in the MWL have struck out fewer times than Kane County, despite having the second youngest hitters in the league.
Cougars pitching and defense have allowed nearly five runs a game (4.93), only five other teams have a higher rate. They are 11th in ERA at 4.13 and have one of the older pitching staffs in the league at 22.3 years of age. Kane County is ninth in H/9 with 8.8, eighth in BB/9 3.4, and 13th in K/9 with 7.1. The defense has been part of the problem as KC is fourth in errors (58) and have the fourth worst fielding percentage (.964). They've thrown out 22 percent of base stealers, below the league average of 27 percent.
The Hitting Prospects
Rock Shoulders, 21, has been Kane County's most productive hitter as the 6-foot-2 left-hander is hitting (.296/.385/.559) with a MWL-high 10 homers with 30 RBI (6th), 29 runs (7th), and third in slugging. He's shown great discipline at the plate drawing 22 walks but has fanned 46 times. The 2011 draft pick played first base (13 games) and left field (9 games), but has primarily been used at DH. Shoulders was the Cubs Minor League Player of the Month for April but has hit just .184 in his last 10 games with three homers, nine RBI, and six walks.
Daniel Vogelbach, 20, has 13 multi-hit games and is hitting (.286/352/.422) with 25 RBI. The left-hander has five homers but hasn't hit one the entire month of May, a span of 20 games. He shown good patience at the plate with 18 walks and 28 strikeouts but in his last 10 games, he's fanned 11 times while walking just once. Vogelbach has swiped three bases and is hitting .286 against both lefties and righties.
Bijan Rademacher, 21, doesn't appear on any top prospect lists but his name does appear at the top of the MWL batting leaders as the left-handing hitting outfielder is third at .336. He also sports a OBP of .414 sixth best in the MWL. The 2012 draft pick has taken advantage of his playing time with Trey Martin's injury and he has more walks (14) than strikeouts (11). Rademacher has become a fixture in RF starting 35 games. He's also made three emergency relief appearances and leads all Kane County pitchers with a 0.00 ERA in three innings. Rademacher is hitting .352 against right-handers and .364 with two outs and RISP.
Gioskar Amaya, 20, got off to a terrible start hitting just .229 in April but the second baseman from Venezuela had started to heat up hitting .296 in May. He has 13 multi-hit games and five stolen bases. He's fanned 39 times and only walked nine. Amaya had eight homers and 12 triples at short-season Boise last year but has not homered this season and his slugging is down about 130 points from last year. He has nine errors and is fielding at a .945 clip.
Some consider Jeimer Candelario the Cubs third baseman of the future. The switch-hitter is batting .260 left-handed and .283 as a righty and is hitting (.267/366/.387). The 19-year-old is tied for the MWL lead in doubles (15) and is eighth in walks with 24. His only homer of the season came as a lefty, a long bomb against Clinton's Victor Sanchez, one of the top pitching prospects for the Mariners. Like Amaya, he got off to slow start in April hitting .229 but has picked it up in May hitting .313 and slugging .478. He's made nine errors in 122 chances at third base.
Cather Wilson Contreras, 20, is having a good offensive season at the plate hitting (.277/.362/.505) with five homers and 19 RBI. He's also swiped four bases. The right-hander is hitting .424 vs. left-handers and the five home runs have already set a career-high. In 23 games behind the plate, the Venezuelan has only thrown out 21% of base runners after nabbing 47% last year at Boise. He also has four errors and six passed balls.
Center fielder Oliver Zapata is also making the most of his playing time as the 20-year-old is hitting .256 with three homers and 19 RBI, tied for third on the team. He's also third on the team in runs (21), despite being just 7-14 on stolen base attempts. SS Marco Hernandez is hitting .258 but has only three walks with 22 strikeouts. Hernandez is hitting .324 with runners in scoring position and has 14 RBI. Pin-Chieh Chen is batting just .233 in his second year in the Midwest League. He continues to play a great defensive outfield and has drawn 18 walks with 19 Ks. He leads the Cougars with seven steals but has been thrown out five times.
Prospects on the Mound
Pierce Johnson, 21, was the Cubs second pick in the 2012 draft and 43rd player selected overall. The right-hander has made eight starts going 2-3 with a 3.32 ERA and is averaging 10 Ks per nine innings. Johnson's worked 42 innings and has a WHIP of 1.328, close to the league average of 1.353. His last start on May 18 was one of his best tossing six shutout innings against Cedar Rapids with a career-high nine strikeouts.
South African native Tayler Scott, 20, has been effective in his MWL debut pitching into the sixth inning in seven of his eight starts. The lanky right-hander is 2-1 with a 3.30 ERA and opponents have BAA of .233, and left-handers just .213. He leads KC in innings pitched (43.2) and has a WHIP of 1.260. He's allowed 7.8 hits per nine innings but has walked 3.5 per nine, an area he needs to improve.
Used out of the bullpen in 2012 at Boise, Michael Heesch, 22, has started seven games logging 35.1 innings going 2-3 with a 3.82 ERA. The left-hander has a WHIP of 1.302, a BAA of .266, and lefties are hitting just .162. He's fanned 24 and walked nine, allowing just one homer.
After being drafted in 2011 and signed to a record $2.1 million contract for a 14th round pick, Dillon Maples finally pitched somewhere other than Arizona. The right-hander with the wicked curve ball made his MWL debut on May 12 in Clinton allowing three runs on six hits in five innings. The 21-year-old's stats after two starts are (10IP, 8H, 5ER, 1BB 7K). He has WHIP of .900 and a BAA of .216.
Lendy Castillo (0-3 8.07 ERA), the Cubs Rule 5 pick in 2011 that pitched in 13 games last year for Chicago, got off to a terrible start in Kane County. The righty has allowed 43 hits in 32.1 innings and surrendered a MWL-high seven homers. In his last two appearances, piggy-backing with Dillon Maples, he's thrown the ball better, allowing seven hits in 9.1 innings.
Before going on the disabled list on May 16, Felix Pena, 23, was the Cougars most effective starter leading all Cubs minor leagues pitchers in ERA (2.23) and WHIP (0.94). Pena made six starts going at least six innings in every start, including his one relief appearance to start the season.
With seven doubleheaders played during the first 40 games, Kane County's bullpen has been put to the test. LHP Nathan Dorris (1-2, 3.32 ERA) has been one of the Cougars best bullpen arms recording a team-high three saves in 11 games. He's fanned 19 in 19IP and has a BAA of .236. The 2012 draft pick from Southern Illinois has not allowed a hit to a left-handed hitter (0-17). LHP Jeffry Antigua (2-1 3.20 ERA) isn't going to light up any radar guns but he leads all Kane County pitchers with a 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings. The 23-year-old has one save in 10 games and has thrown 19.2 innings. Another lefty having success out of the pen is Brian Smith, a 2010 draft pick from Canada. He's 2-1 with a 2.11 ERA in 10 games, 21.1 innings. He made an emergency start on May 16 in a DH vs. Peoria and tossed four no-hit frames. He's fanned 22 and walked 10 with a BAA of .228. Stephen Perakslis (0-2 4.79) leads all KC pitchers with 12 appearances working 20.2 IP with a 1.21 WHIP. The right-hander has not allowed a homer. RHP Eduardo Orozco (2-2, 3.46 ERA, 2 SV) has struggled with his control walking 10 in just 13 innings but has pitched well in the last five outings not allowing a run in 6.2 innings. RHP Ian Dickson (1-2, 7.16 ERA, 1SV) has appeared in eight games, three as a starter due to the DHs. He's pitched 27.2 innings, sixth on the team. RHP Jose Rosario, who started 20 games for Peoria last year in the MWL, joined the squad May 16 and tossed four innings on May 19 at Cedar Rapids, allowing two hits and one earned run, a homer.
Stats are through May 21