And That's A Wrap: Iowa

All four of the Cubs' full-season affiliates ended its regular season over Labor Day Weekend.

For most of those affiliates, things ended with disappointment, as only one of the four played well enough to earn post-season glamour. That team, Double-A West Tenn, will begin their quest for the 2005 Southern League Championship Wednesday when they host Carolina in a best-of-five series. Only Class-A Boise of the short-season Northwest League still has a chance at post-season play.

The others, who we'll profile in a short series of articles this week, were not as fortunate.

In Iowa, the Triple-A team closed out the year with a 64-75 record and ended its season much in the same way it began, dropping six of seven games, including an 8-3 loss to New Orleans on Monday. The Cubs got off to a slow start by getting swept in a four-game series at Albuquerque to open the year and would go on to post records of .500 or better in three of the remaining four months. But they could never manage to put together any sustained winning streaks and thus finished last in their division.

Pinpointing which prospects to highlight each night was often a challenge on what was otherwise a primarily veteran-made club. Thirty-three year old Scott McClain led the team with 30 home runs and 93 RBIs, while on the bump, left-hander John Koronka's nine wins and 11 losses each led the club. Shortstop Ronny Cedeno and left-hander Rich Hill were two bright spots, but each spent ample amounts of time at either other echelons of the farm system, or the Windy City.

Nonetheless, Iowa manager Mike Quade is the first to acknowledge that the minor leagues aren't just about winning and losing.

"You always try to assess where you're at and which kids have been here and made progress," said Quade, in a recent interview with Inside The Ivy. "There's so much more than just winning and losing at this level. I'll never be totally happy with our win-loss record, but there's been a lot of progress made and a lot of kids who have stepped up and taken the right steps."

Right-hander Jermaine Van Buren is one of them. He finished the year with a stellar 1.98 ERA in 52 appearances and nailed down 25 saves as the team's closer in his sophomore season in the Cub farm system. He was promoted to Chicago as a September call-up recently and could easily be considered the team's most valuable player in 2005.

"If I could have two different categories (for team MVP)," Quade said, "[McClain] would win the offensive award and Jermaine would win the pitching award. We've had contributions all over the place, but those two guys have been consistent."

Unlike Van Buren, several of the prospects destined for Des Moines in 2005 struggled of course. Left-hander Renyel Pinto couldn't keep his walk totals down and thus was sent to Double-A for another season, while Bobby Brownlie admitted to getting away from attacking hitters early on in the year.

Elsewhere, left-handed reliever Russ Rohlicek got off to a great start by hurling 10.1 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run to open the year before posting a plus-five ERA in his final four-plus months.

Left-hander Carmen Pignatiello and right-handers Todd Wellemeyer, Sergio Mitre and Jon Leicester also spent a good part of their 2005 seasons at Triple-A. With the exception of Wellemeyer's 3.02 ERA in 12 starts, each struggled at times on a pitching staff that ended the year with a combined 4.82 ERA.

From a hitting standpoint, the team finished near the bottom of the barrel with a .270 average. Aside from McClain, fellow veteran Calvin Murray, 34, finished strong with a .297 average and the team lead in hits with 77. Cedeno's .355 average was the best on the club, but the 22-year-old spent the entire month of July and parts of April, May, June and August with the big league club.

OF David Kelton closed out his season - and perhaps his Cubs career - by doing some of his best hitting all year. The former second round pick from the 1998 draft finished the season with a .283 average, his best since 2001 at West Tenn, and recorded nine hits over his final 22 at-bats. Kelton plans to become a free agent this offseason and was only allowed to join the Cub farm system for an eighth season after clearing waivers in Spring Training.

2B/3B Mike Fontenot ended his season by hitting safely in eight of his last nine games for a .272 average in his second year of Triple-A ball. He hit .279 while at Triple-A Ottawa of the International League in 2004 and once again prided himself with getting on base and leading the Cubs with 59 walks.

One obvious disappointment this season was 2B Richard Lewis, who finished with a .217 average in 87 games with the club. He was sent to Daytona and West Tenn to work on his swing and seemed to show improvement shortly after returning from Double-A.

Unfortunately, as was the case with the team in general, Lewis never quite got into a rhythm and thus personally finished with the lowest average of his career.

The former first round draft pick by the Atlanta Braves (in 2001) injured his leg while sliding into second base late last year at Iowa following an MVP season earlier at West Tenn. Lewis returned weeks ahead of schedule this spring and admitted that he sacrificed a normal offseason workout regime in order to return sooner.

"Perhaps I didn't give this injury enough credit," Lewis told Inside The Ivy in August. "Normally when you're hurt, you have minor aches, pains and pulls. You can always push those aside and it's no big deal. I really didn't know how to gauge this one, though. From the very beginning, I was trying to prove to everyone how much work I could handle. I probably should have taken my time instead."

Quade added, "I think we've found out about a lot of guys this year. That's what a minor league season is all about. We've sent some kids from here to Chicago that have done a good job. That's honestly what it's really all about."


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