The minor league season ends in just over two weeks on Labor Day. It’s hard to believe that the season has gone that fast. When it’s done, the Cubs will be releasing a press notice of who their Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year are. Last year, Victor Caratini and Jen-Ho Tseng won their respective awards, and it wasn’t that close. This year, however, it’s coming right down to the wire as to who will win.
It’s pretty clear-cut for the Player of the Year award. First baseman Jared Young, who played at South Bend and Myrtle Beach, has a distinct advantage over fellow corner infielder Jason Vosler, who played at Iowa and Tennessee. While Vosler has more home runs (19-15) and a couple more RBIs (76-72), Young has lapped Vosler in average at .309 with an OBP of .369 to Vosler’s .254 and .342.
On the other hand, the pitching award is not so cut and dried.
There are four arms in contention. Iowa starter Trevor Clifton won the award in 2016 when he was at Myrtle Beach. At AA Tennessee pitchers Keegan Thompson and Matt Swarmer both have been dominant since the beginning of July at AA Tennessee, after impressive first halves at Myrtle Beach. The final candidate is Cory Abbott. The 2017 second round pick was filthy for South Bend in the first half and Myrtle Beach in the second. Let’s break it down.
For Trevor Clifton, he has really compiled the innings, with over 110. He still has three or four starts left the next couple of weeks and looks to surpass his career innings high of 119 in 2016. Clifton’s greatest strength on the mound is in not allowing runs. Heading into this week, he is stranding 72 percent of runners allowed at Iowa, while striking out 91. He did not allow a home run at Tennessee in the first half, as he put up an ERA of 2.86. Iowa has been a transition for him. The longer he has been there, though, the better he has been pitching. His ERA at Iowa was almost at five at one point and has now dropped t0 3.69. For the year, he’s at 3.26.
Matt Swarmer was easily the breakout pitcher of the first half in the Cubs’s system. The former Myrtle Beach Pelican added some muscle over the winter and saw his upper 80s/low 90s FB get up to 91-94 and his looping curve became a tight breaking ball. His changeup, a plus pitch, has been devastating. In nine starts at Myrtle Beach, Swarmer had a 2.28 ERA with 59 Ks in 51.1 IP and he walked only seven all spring. Tennessee has been a challenge for him. His first few starts were rough, but he has figured things out. His ERA for the year is at 2.91 with 110 Ks in 105 IP.
Keegan Thompson seems to be following Swarmer a bit this year. However, Thompson adjusted more quickly to Tennessee that Swarmer. After two horrific starts in June, Thompson was lights out in July for the Smokies, with an ERA of 1.46 in five June starts. In his August starts, Thompson’s ERA is a phenomenal 0.82. For the year, his ERA is 2.96 with 95 Ks in 112 IP.
The arm that is really turning it on is Cory Abbott. Of the four pitchers listed here, he is making the most significant adaptations in moving up through the system. It takes him about a month to figure out a level, then he just dominates. He began the year at South Bend. He struck out 57 guys in 47 innings before he was promoted to Myrtle Beach. Opponents only hit .207 against him. In his first month at High-A in June, things did not go so well. He had a .474 ERA and opponents hit .270 off him. July was much, much better, as his ERA went down to 2.91. In August, he’s been dominant with a 0.82 WHIP, a batting average against of .184, and an ERA of 1.64. His ERA of 2.91 for the year is comparable to Swarmer’s and Thompson’s. Abbott has 111 Ks in just 99 innings.
It is just too close to call at this point. Swarmer, Abbott, and Thompson have a slight edge over Clifton. With all four of them pitching well heading down the stretch and into the dog days of August, their performances bode well for the pitching health of the organization. It will be interesting to see who pulls it out to win the award.
Lead photo of Matt Swarmer courtesy of the Tennessee Smokies