A little more than 5 months has passed since manager Buddy Bailey held court with reporter on media day for the South Bend Cubs. Bailey stated at that time, “The first challenge is it’s the first full season for all of them. One hundred and forty games are another whole dimension for a lot of them. Hopefully, if they are smart enough in what we do, in July and August, guys are not only getting better but are saving some gas in the tank to get through the season.” South Bend did a little more than save some gas, they hit the throttle. Sweeping through the playoffs with a perfect 7-0 record, the South Bend Cubs are the 2o19 Midwest League Champions.
In contrast to the veteran presence of Bailey, youth was on the side of the South Bend Cubs. The average age for the starting outfield was 20, led by 19-year old Cole Roederer. The Cubs’ number 5 prospect, Roederer led the SB-Cubs in home runs (9), RBI (60), and stolen bases (16). Fighting his way through injuries was the Cubs’ number 2 prospect, 19-year old Brennen Davis. In limited duty, Davis finished second to Roederer with 8 home runs. The outfield also had 20-year old’s Nelson Velazquez and Jonathan Sierra.
A player with South Bend from start to finish this season was All-Star shortstop Andy Weber. The 21-year old put his stamp on the championship, as his 2-run home run in the fifth inning gave the Cubs a 4-0 lead over the Clinton LumberKings. Weber would add an RBI single in the ninth to ice the deciding game.
However, pitching has always been at the forefront for South Bend, as it provided a springboard for left-handers Brailyn Marquez and Jack Patterson. Marquez put things together following the All-Star break, going 2-2 with a 2.30 ERA and 43 strikeouts before his promotion. Prior to being double-promoted, Patterson was 2-0 without allowing an earned run in the second half.
Following the departure of Marquez and Patterson, the pitching staff relied heavily on Cam Sanders, Riley Thompson, and Faustino Carrera. Dominating after the break, Sanders was the rock of the starting rotation. The 22-year old son of former major-leaguer Scott Sanders was a perfect 5-0 with a 2.36 ERA, 0.946 WHIP, and 45 strikeouts in 10 starts. Another All-Star, Thompson had to bounce back from a suspension.However, Thompson saved his best for last, striking out 10 in 5 no-hit innings of the deciding game. The 20-year old lefty Carrera led South Bend with 105 strikeouts.
No championship team would be without it’s unsung heroes. A 21st round draft selection in 2019, Nelson Maldonado drove in 17 runs in 33 games. Maldonado’s solo home run in Game 1 of the championship series put South Bend ahead for good. Utility players Clayton Daniel and Levi Jordan filled in capably for injured prospects Christopher Morel and Chase Strumpf. Jordan’s two-run blast in Game 3 gave the Cubs a lead they would never surrender. Adding to that was 22-year old Jake Slaughter, whose defense at first base and 13 RBI was a key factor. South Bend also had a reliable left-right combination in Eugenio Palma and Brian Glowicki to slam the door out of the pen.
Bringing things all together is Bailey, for whom winning appears to be a habit. Bailey is one of only 11 minor league managers to compile 2,000 or more wins. The 62-year old established a powerhouse in Venezuela with the Aragua Tigres, including 5 league championships and a Caribbean World Series title. South Bend’s championship appearance with the seventh of Bailey’s career. It is also Bailey’s third victory for the Cubs’ organization. Bailey won titles in 2011 for Advanced-A Daytona and 2016 with Advanced-A Myrtle Beach.