The first thing you notice about the Kane County Cougars is that fabulous Pitching staff. Particularly the starting staff. They go legitimately 6 deep. Tyler Skulina may be their weak link right now, and he also may end up being their best pro when all is said and done. When you can say Skulina is your worst you have a truly dominant staff that is the envy of the Midwest league. Since the hitting isn’t as exciting to talk about now pitching is were I’ll start.
As I mentioned Tyler Skulina is having kind of a so so start. Not awful so far, but far from except-able from a guy with his size and ability. Coming from Kent state he sat in the 93 MPH range and could top out at 96 when needing something extra (scouting report). With his size one can only assume he can add a few ticks to that heater. His ERA is too high at 4.29, but the real disappointment is the lack of strikeouts. only 14 in 21 plus innings pitched. He’s working on his secondaries so patience might be needed here.
The next guy who has a chance to be part of the Chicago Cubs future rotation once they become contenders is Duane Underwood, and he’s been throwing encouragingly since coming back from the DL. In two 4 inning games he’s struck-out 9 thus far with two walk and has looked dominant in his limited time thus far. He has ace stuff, and is just scratching the surface of his abilities. He already has a mid 90’s fastball that he has pretty good command of, and a bunch of developing secondaries (scouting report).
Another impressive arm on this staff is attached to the right shoulder of Paul Blackburn. Another kid who can rush it up there mid 90’s with command, and a couple of promising secondaries (scouting report). Has not been dominant so far early, but very consistently good with much more expected from him as he continues to march up the ranks.
Juan Carlos Paniagua is having a rough start so far, but at this point in his career he’s probably destined for bullpen duties. He has a mid 90’s heater (scouting report), but in a shorter stint can probably get it in the upper 90’s as a possible power arm in that pen. Still has not been easy to square up. His issue is control with 12 BB’s in 13 innings.
Jen-Ho Tseng is a very young Taiwanese pitcher who like the others I’ve mentioned has a mid 90’s fastball and a couple advanced secondaries (scouting report). Another great international signing by the Cubs.
Last but not least is the emergence of Daurey Torrez. having a nice season so far adding to that staff’s depth.
The bullpen has performed well. Three in particular. Tyler Bremer, Zach Godley, and James Pugliese have been lights out. three guys who can strike people out with power repertoires and nasty secondaries.
The hitting is not as good this young season. The Cougars have 3 hitters not living up to expectations that may change that though once they start to hit. Really poor start from Shawon Dunston jr. so far. That figures to change after a really good season last year. A couple others in CF Trey Martin and Jacob Hannemann have picked it up of late and look to get on a roll. Yasiel Balaguert has been solid. He still manages to get on base even if he doesn’t always hit his way on. Has an impressive OBP (.367). Exactly what the organization is trying to develop in the lowest level on up. Still would like to see more pop from an outfielder, but he’s still young and has plenty of time to grow into more power.
Another piece of good news is the Cubs are starting to get encouraging performances in the organization from positions of weakness. The pitching they’re getting here in Kane county is certainly part of that, but also at catcher. Kane County has a two headed monster platoon at catcher of Ben Carhart, and Will Remillard. Remillard is having himself a terrific season after getting a chance to carry the load here while Carhart is on the DL. Aside from being a solid defensive catcher he’s showing some potential with the stick. Batting .317 and slashing .429/.439/.868. He’s also embracing the on base concept with an amazing .429 percentage. Carhart was really swinging the bat before he wet on the DL (.276-.353/.379/.732). Carhart has played some at 3B, and DH-ed some so with the combination of Remillard’s hot start and 3B Jordan Hankins poor start expect to see Carhart playing 3B and DH more when he returns off the DL.
A couple more middle infield prospects also are getting on base at a very impressive clip. Shortstop Carlos Penalver, and second baseman David Bote are adding to the depth in an already deep position group. Penalver is really hitting well at .311 and a slash line of .381/.392/.773. Bote not so much, (.217 avg. .379/.348/.727) but he does at least continue to get on base.