A championship was not meant to be for the Tennessee Smokies, who lost their do-or-die Game 3 by a final score of 11-4 on Wednesday night (hey, better than the other Double-A title game, which was a 15-0 no-hitter!).
We’ll talk about the good performances below, but this one was a sloppy one for the Smokies defensively and from the bullpen, and it seemed like the bad outcomes kept spiraling on them. Fantastic second half by that Smokies team, who also limped into the playoffs with a number of key contributors either injured or in Iowa.
Let’s break down the final day in the minors for the Cubs in 2022 …
Honorable Mention, Number Six: Brennen Davis
I’m going to be honest with you, dear reader: when I made the final Five Stars tweet last night, I legitimately forgot the Davis home run happened on the same day as the rest of the events. Davis homered in the second inning of a noon game, and while he didn’t make it in the tweet, please know that he belongs in that second spot with Canario and Roederer, and his home run might be the most notable.
Anything good Brennen does for the rest of 2022 is notable, and this was his first home run since August 30.
Davis is now off with a host of prospects for a weekend at Wrigley Field, before he’ll head back home to Arizona for his stint with the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League. The run in the Fall League will be genuinely important in reinstating confidence in his future projections. I’d like to see him hit more balls into the air with authority, I’d like to see more fluid athleticism on display and I’d like to see a strikeout rate well below thirty percent. If so, if just for 100 PA, I’ll call 2022 a lost season and hold firm to my 2021 optimism with confidence. Yesterday was a good start.
Five: Darius Hill
Hill finishes the 2022 season with 166 total hits – tied for tops in the minor leagues – and a .314/.359/.453 slash line. He doesn’t just have one of the better contact tools in the Cubs system … he has one of the better ones in professional baseball. This is because of the most simplified approach imaginable, as Hill hit 45% of balls this year to the opposite field. He’ll join Brennen on the Field Trip to Wrigley, which is interesting, as he’s one of the most borderline Rule 5 protection decisions the Cubs have. Part of that calculus will hinge on the Cubs internal defensive projections for Hill, and I will say his defense in center during the final six weeks was a pleasant surprise (in a good way). I just can’t yet commit to saying what I’d do on the Hill decision; give me your thoughts in the comments!
Four: Cayne Ueckert, Cam Sanders, Kyle Johnson
The name we need to talk about here is Cam Sanders, given that he touched triple digits yesterday, I believe for the first time in a game environment (I could be wrong there, as 99 has been no stranger). The Iowa camera makes it impossible to track the progress of his slider, but as that ticks more into the mid (and even upper) 80s, Sanders becomes a stronger and stronger candidate for a big league spot. The right-hander will turn 26 this winter, and I wonder if there isn’t an internal decision to be made here about whether Sanders or Danis Correa — Iowa’s two triple-digit guys — is the better use of an offseason 40-man spot before the Rule 5 Draft.
Three: Ben Brown
Brown only made it four innings in the title game, which I’m sure is of some disappointment to him, but he really steadied the ship under a great deal of pressure. The game’s first run came as a result of a misplayed ball in right field by Yonathan Perlaza, and the second run was the result of a fielding error by Brown himself. In general, though, Brown was really good, and showed why he’s a top four pitching prospect in the organization.
What has stuck out to me watching him the last two months is that the heater just works; he gets an incredible amount of swing and miss on in-zone (and even middle-third) fastballs. Given my faith in the breaking ball combination, being able to slap a true plus grade on the fastball is a declaration that Brown’s breakout is 100% real. I suspect we’ll be hearing about new changeup grips this offseason, perhaps more differentiation between the two breakers, and Brown will enter 2023 atop the Double-A rotation, with a 40-man spot in hand and a Major League cup of coffee in his sights.
Two: Alexander Canario and Cole Roederer
Two guys walking into the offseason absolutely on fire. We talked a bit about both these guys yesterday, so I don’t want to step onto my own toes there, particularly when my sentiments about both are the same. Assuming I don’t get my wish and Canario is not called up in the next day or two (he’s already on the 40-man!), his season ends on another hot streak, one of many he experienced in 2022. My other hope is he’ll head to winter ball in the Dominican Republic and get a serious amount of playing time, walking into the Spring Training locker room in February as ready for 2023 as one could hope for. I’m not yet sure he won’t be one of the Cubs’ best three outfield options in Mesa at that time.
All I can say about Roederer is that it really seems like he’s (re)discovered the ability to loft the ball with authority. What a confidence builder for 2023 this month must have been.
One: Jared Young
Ends his 2022 season (assuming he doesn’t receive an emergency call-up back to the big league team for the final series) on a walk-off homer, how perfect. Even more, with the roster crunch, I think it’s highly possible that Young is placed on waivers in November when prospects start getting protected, which means this could be the at-bat that Young ends his Cubs organizational career on. I hope that’s not true — I love that swing, man — but as I like to say: the crunch is the crunch.
One final note here, a thank you, as this will be the last kind of Five Stars post for a while (well, unless dudes just go crazy in the AFL). Thanks to the players in the minors, chasing a dream with a difficult lifestyle, who also have to occasionally put up with messages from yours truly. Thanks to the readers, who really do give me so much useful feedback and keep this being fun. And thanks to Brett and Michael, who support my admittedly-inconsistent contributions to the site, and allow me to fit BN into the rest of my life. Cheers to all of you.
(From Brett: Thank you to Bryan for these fantastic write ups. It is one of my favorite Cubs-related things to read on the web, mixing updates on the latest doings with a deeper perspective on what it means for the organization and the prospect. You rock, my dude.)