The eyes of the minor league baseball world were all on Iowa after it was announced Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Addison Russell would all start the season in Des Moines. The trio never appeared on the diamond together. Baez left spring training early to go back to Puerto Rico after the death of his sister and by the time he got back, Bryant and Russell were already in Chicago.
The Cubs first-round pick in 2011, Baez is hitting .311/.382/.443 in 16 games while playing second and short. He’s fanned 17 times in 61 at-bats and has five walks to go along with five stolen base. While some pundits think strikeouts are an end all, Baez does enough things above average that can win games at the big league level, including hitting the ball out of the park.
While Baez’ development is the top story out of Iowa, the I-Cubs have been a revolving door for Chicago as they’ve had 46 transactions over the first 35 games. Iowa (18-17) finds themselves six games behind first-place Oklahoma City (Dodgers), good for second place in the PCL’s American Northern Division.
The I-Cubs are hitting .259, 13th in the league, and rank in the bottom half of most offensive categories. They are second with 296 strikeouts and third with 37 stolen bases. Iowa’s pitching staff is third in the PCL with a 3.49 ERA and fifth with a 1.34 WHIP. They’ve only allowed 18 homers, second best in the league.
Besides Baez, IF/OF Arismendy Alcantara and OF Junior Lake are back in Iowa trying to refine their sills. Lake’s approach at the plate has done a 180 degree turn since last year, drawing more walks than any other time in his career. In 21 games in Iowa, Lake’s hitting . 257/.354/.300 with 11 BB and three stolen bases. Alcantara struggled to start the season in Chicago and is only hitting .213 (19-for-89) in 23 games in Iowa. The switch-hitting platoon player has fanned 29 times, something that plagued him in the majors.
3B Christina Villanueva is back in AAA for a second stint after starting 2015 in AA Tennessee. In 21 games, the 23-year-old is hitting .277/.351/.492 with 3 HR. LF John Andreoli is making the most of his first season in AAA, batting .293/.414/.467 with 15 stolen bases after recovering from a wrist injury that ended last year in AA.
Iowa has already used 22 different pitchers as bullpen injuries in Chicago have made the Iowa transaction wire light up. The bright spot of the rotation has been Donn Roach, claimed off waivers last fall from San Diego and cleared through waivers this spring. In seven starts, the right-hander is 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA and has been a ground ball specialist, recording 17 groundouts in one start.
Tsuyoshi Wada and Dallas Beeler have combined for 10 rehab starts as they both try to work their way back to Wrigley after starting the year on Chicago’s disabled list. Wada (1-3, 2.86 ERA, 6 GS, 34.2 IP, 10 BB, 29 K, 1.21 WHIP) is at the end of his 30-day rehab and threw the ball much better his final outings. Beeler (0-2, 10.34 ERA, 4 GS, 15.2 IP, 13 BB, 10 K, 2.17 WHIP) is still in spring training mode as he builds up his arm strength but needs to start getting hitters out soon.
Eric Jokisch, another possible candidate to find his way to Wrigley sometime this year, is 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA in six starts. The left-hander has 18 K in 30 IP but has walked 11 for a 1.43 WHIP. The 25-year-old made his MLB debut last year.
Armando Rivero got off to a shaky start and with a fastball in the mid-90s is still a great candidate to end the year in Chicago’s bullpen as he fanned 100 hitters in 65 innings last year between Tennessee and Iowa. Rivero’s ERA is a fat 5.06 but in his last 10 appearances has only allowed two earned runs in 8.2 innings (5 H, 8 BB, 13 K).