SOUTH BEND — The team is compiled of 26 players featuring 14 pitchers, three catchers, five infielders, and four outfielders. South Bend opens their season against the West Michigan Whitecaps on Thursday at Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park, Michigan.
Jimmy Gonzalez enters his third season as the manager in South Bend and fourth in the Cubs organization. Last season, Gonzalez was named the Midwest League Manager of the Year after guiding his team to an 84-55 regular season record. Pitching Coach Brian Lawrence enters his fourth season in the Cubs organization and second with South Bend. Hitting Coach Jeremy Farrell and Assistant Coach Jonathan Mota both enter their second seasons in the Cubs organization and first with South Bend.
Over the last two seasons, South Bend has seen the organization’s top positional prospects in Gleyber Torres (shortstop, 2015) and Eloy Jimenez (outfield, 2016). This season, the focus appears to have shifted to pitching, as the fourth-best prospect for Chicago, Dylan Cease, will start the season with the Single-A squad.
“Dylan’s a power guy, great fast ball, great off-speed and just a guy that opens your eyes when you see him,” said Manager Jimmy Gonzalez. “It’s amazing how these guys bounce back from (Tommy John) surgery. He’s a hard worker and great to see a young player put in that kind of effort to get back to the game.”
Cease had Tommy John surgery during his senior season at Milton (Ga.) High School but was signed by the Cubs in 2015 as a sixth-round pick. After a year of careful rehabilitation and steady progress, Cease can focus on his pitches and not a rehab schedule.
“(Rehab) taught me how to take care of my body and my arm,” said Cease. “Through that whole process, a big focus of mine was working on mechanics and figuring out how to clean everything up. I try to look at it as positively as I can and I think I learned a lot during that 15-month process.”
Other starting pitchers include Tyson Miller (4th round, 2016), Manuel Rondon (NDFA, 2012 by LAA, acquired by Cubs in 2015) Erling Moreno (NDFA, 2013) who is also coming back from Tommy John surgery, and Duncan Robinson (9th round, 2016).
The South Bend outfield will once again be a hot topic of conversation as D.J. Wilson, the Cubs ninth-best prospect as rated by Baseball America, will rejoin Eugene Emeralds teammates Kevonte Mitchell and Christopher Pieters in the field. Wilson’s speed helps on the base paths, stealing 21 of 29 bases in 2016, and in center field. Pieters will also see a lot of time at 1st base. Originally drafted as a pitcher, Pieters made his transition from the mound to the field in 2015.
In all, South Bend will add 18 players who were on the Emeralds roster last season including 11 pitchers and three outfielders. The Emeralds (52-22) had the best record in the Northwest League and best ERA at 3.24. Eugene won the 2016 Northwest League Championship, their first league championship in 41 years.
“Having this core group from Eugene is a big plus for us in South Bend because these guys have that winning experience,” said Gonzalez. “They know how to win and know what that’s like. When you talk about a winning culture, it’s about creating something, knowing what it is and keeping it going. Their culture of success carried over from that championship season to spring training and I think it’s going to carry over into this season.”
Five players will return from last year’s team including pitchers Jared Cheek and Kyle Miller, catcher Alberto Mineo, and infielders Vimael Machin and Isaac Paredes. Paredes joined South Bend at the end of the season after an injury to shortstop Andruw Monasterio.
Fifteen players of South Bend’s current roster were drafted in either 2015 or 2016. The roster released is only a preliminary roster and subject to change. The Cubs will welcome the University of Notre Dame to Four Winds Field for a 7-inning exhibition game on Wednesday. South Bend will then travel to Comstock Park, Michigan and face Eastern Division rival West Michigan to start the 2017 season. Opening Day at Four Winds Field is Saturday, April 8. Gates open at 5:00 p.m. and first pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.
About the South Bend Cubs
The South Bend Cubs are the Class A minor league affiliate of the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs. Over the past 29 seasons, the team has won five Midwest League titles, most recently in 2005, and has captured 12 division titles. In 2015, the team was named Ballpark Digest’s Team of the Year and received the John H. Johnson President’s Award, the highest award in minor league baseball. The team is owned and operated by Swing-Batter-Swing, LLC whose sole shareholder is Andrew T. Berlin of Chicago, Ill. More information is available at www.SouthBendCubs.com.