Welcome to Cubs Beat newsletter. All season long, I’ll be delivering news and insights on the North Siders to your inbox from the press box, clubhouse and field.
Earlier this week, a group of Cubs players took to the infield on a diamond outside Cleveland, where they hoisted a championship trophy and celebrated. That will bring World Series memories flooding back for fans of the North Siders, but this particular party involved the High-A South Bend Cubs’ recent feat.
The Minor League Cubs claimed the Midwest League crown with a win over Lake County on Wednesday. South Bend was one of three Cubs affiliates -- along with Single-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee -- to reach the playoffs this year. The goal is to return such celebrations to the Major Leagues, and all the winning happening in the farm system plays a role in that process.
“I don't think winning is something that you just happen upon,” Cubs shortstop Nico Hoerner said. “I think it is something that you've done before. Big situations, dealing with other people, building relationships with other people, and then knowing that it's possible. I mean, they won, they celebrated, they did the champagne.”
“If that's allowed,” he added. “It’s really cool to see. I was super aware of that. I know we've got a lot of talent, especially at that lowest level there. It’s awesome to see and good for the organization.”
That South Bend roster (the season-end version) included nine players from the Cubs’ Top 30 Prospects list, per MLB Pipeline: Pete Crow-Armstrong (No. 1), Owen Caissie (No. 10), Kevin Made (No. 17), Yohendrick Pinango (No. 18), Daniel Palencia (No. 19), Porter Hodge (No. 22), Luis Devers (No. 26), Luke Little (No. 27) and Kohl Franklin (No. 29).
As players move their way up the organizational ladder, there is a high level of focus on individual development. That is all important for a player’s path to the big leagues, but Hoerner said the stuff that can’t be quantified -- the aspects of baseball centered around teamwork and relationship building, for example -- are crucial for finding the win column.
“You're going to have the data, exit velocity, spin axis, whatever, going on,” Hoerner said. “And all that stuff's important, but just as long as it's still going toward winning, winning. Keep on talking about it. Make it redundant. That is the thing that matters most, and the other stuff falls in line along with it. So, if that's being emphasized at the Minor League level and guys are capitalizing on it, then that's awesome.”
Cubs manager David Ross echoed that sentiment.
“Just putting your organization and your players in the championship environment and the playoff environment is extremely helpful,” Ross said. “There's a development process that you go through in the Minor Leagues, and things that you do throughout a season, that may not be all about just winning that day. And once you get to that winning environment, you get to learn those little details about what it takes to do that. And the more we get guys in that space, it's really important and the better off we'll be.”
PIPELINE SPOTLIGHT: OF JORDAN NWOGU
The offensive seasons of prospects like Matt Mervis (35 homers, 115 RBIs, .986 OPS), Crow-Armstrong (46 extra-base hits, 32 steals, .896 OPS) and Alexander Canario (35 homers, 92 RBIs, .900 OPS) garnered a lot of attention this season, and deservedly so. But what about some of the campaigns that have flown under the radar?
“Everything at the beginning really gets magnified,” Cubs director of hitting Justin Stone said. “The players that get off to a good start, it definitely helps their visibility, because you're keeping a close eye on those guys that are really performing. But I think what we don't do as much is recognize the guys on the back end that continued to get better.”
One such player is 23-year-old outfielder Jordan Nwogu, who was selected by the Cubs in the third round of the 2020 Draft. Nwogu spent all season with High-A South Bend and his performance really ticked up down the stretch after a slower start to his campaign:
First 49 games: .238/.351/.384, 28.8 K%, 12.0 BB%
Last 45 games: .293/.376/.592, 17.8 K%, 8.6 BB%
Nwogu’s on-base skills showed up over the first few months, but there was a heightened level of swing-and-miss and his signature power was not present. That changed, especially over the last few weeks. Beginning on Aug. 25 -- when Nwogu enjoyed a three-homer, four-hit outburst -- he hit .338 with a 1.068 OPS in his last 21 games.
Nwogu finished batting .265/.357/.499 with 15 home runs, 17 doubles, seven triples and 51 RBIs through 378 plate appearances.
“It's really just staying on the field,” Stone said. “The biggest issue with him isn't mechanical. It's timing. And so, when he was coming in and out of a lineup and had a hard time staying healthy, it just sets him back a little bit to need those handful of at-bats to get his timing right. Now that he's been in a really good stretch of playing every day and staying healthy, you're kind of seeing who do I believe and we believe he can be.”
YAN GOMES, MR. IMMACULATE?
After completing a nine-pitch, three-strikeout immaculate inning in the fifth on Thursday night against the Pirates, an excited Hayden Wesneski asked veteran catcher Yan Gomes if he had ever been part of one before.
“He kind of disappointed me with his answer,” the rookie pitcher said with a laugh.
That is because yes, Gomes has caught a few of them over the course of his career. In fact, Gomes has now been part of five immaculate innings, the most for any catcher in the Majors going back to at least 2000, per the Elias Sports Bureau. Prior to Wesneski, Gomes handled Immaculate Innings by Kyle Finnegan (May 5, 2021), Stephen Strasburg (July 3, 2019), Carlos Carrasco (July 7, 2017) and Justin Masterson (June 2, 2014).
Don’t worry, Gomes was still very impressed with Wesneski’s feat.
“That shows the kind of pitcher that he is,” Gomes said. “He's got a great arsenal. And I mean, to be able to do something like that, I'm sure there's plenty of big-time pitchers that haven't done it.”
Wesneski became the fifth Cubs pitcher on record to throw an immaculate inning. Which Hall of Famer is also on that short list?
A.) Greg Maddux
B.) Lee Smith
C.) Fergie Jenkins
D.) Bruce Sutter
D.) Bruce Sutter
Sutter spun an immaculate inning on Sept. 8, 1977, in the ninth against the Expos; his strikeout victims for the feat were Ellis Valentine, Gary Carter and Larry Parrish. That came as part of Sutter’s incredible ’77 campaign, in which he had a 1.34 ERA and 0.86 WHIP with 129 strikeouts, 23 walks and 31 saves in 62 games (107 1/3 innings).
FORWARDED FROM A FRIEND? SUBSCRIBE NOW
To subscribe to Cubs Beat, visit this page and mark "Cubs Beat" from our newsletter list. Make sure you're following the Cubs or that they're checked as your favorite team.