Cubs' farm system building 'championship environment'

September 24th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian’s Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.  

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.”

Hoerner chuckled.

“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.”