The Cubs farm system, while not loaded with Kris Bryants, Kyle Schwarbers, and Javier Baez' anymore, still has plenty of talent. And among that talent, the Cubs recognized two players as people who stood out the most in their minor league system this season in Jared Young and Matt Swarmer.
Jared Young, a 23-year-old infielder, won the Cubs Minor League Player of the Month back in June with Single-A South Bend, batting .313/.368/.525 with 10 home runs and 53 RBI. He was promoted on July 7th to Single-A Myrtle Beach where he continued to mash, slashing .282/.341/.431 with 6 home runs and 23 RBI in 51 games, as Young took massive steps of improvement from his first season of professional baseball.
The former 2017 15th round pick struggled some in his first season in the Cubs system, only mustering a single home run and a .257 batting average that left something to be desired. But after his strong 2018 season, Young is on his way to making a big league impact in the near future, finishing the year batting .300 with 16 combined home runs between South Bend and Myrtle Beach.
The Cubs minor pitcher of the year, Matt Swarmer had an encouraging 2018 season that saw him successfully make the jump to Double-A Tennessee. The 24-year-old Swarmer started the season in Myrtle Beach where he posted a 2.28 ERA, with a 10.3 K/9, and an incredible 1.2 BB/9 in 9 starts for the Pelicans - which earned him a mid-season All-Star spot. Swarmer was called up to Tennessee on June 5th where he would finish the season with a 3.84 ERA, 808 K/9, and another impressively low walk rate at 1.6 BB/9.
Swarmer struck out an impressive 135 batters while only walking 21 combined between Myrtle Beach and Tennessee this season. He also won the Cubs Minor League Player of the Month award in April, when he posted a 1.74 ERA with 21 strikeouts and only 3 three walks in his 4 starts that month.
Young and Swarmer will be honored during an on-field ceremony prior to the Cubs 7:05 p.m. CT game Thursday, September 27, against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field.
The Bears reaching .500 is in itself news, since the last time it happened (2014) was two Bears head coaches and three Brandon Marshall uniforms ago, and only three current position players (Kyles Fuller and Long, Sherrick McManis) were on the roster back then.
But beyond getting coach Matt Nagy his first win as an NFL head coach, the win over Seattle occasioned a handful of takeaways beyond all of the ones headed up by Khalil Mack and Mitch Trubisky:
Defense in a rush, even at less than full strength
The Bears lead the NFL with 10 sacks (which is on pace to fall just short of the NFL team record of 72 for a season, set in 1984 by the Bears, for those who delight in frivolous early-season stat’ing). The production is especially noteworthy because the sacks are spread among eight different players.
Even more significantly, the sacks haven’t just come from eight different players; they’ve come from eight different POSITIONS, including every position in the front seven in the Bears base 3-4: both outside-linebacker spots (Mack, Aaron Lynch) and both insides (Trevathan and Roquan Smith); both defensive-end slots (Akiem Hicks and Roy Robertson-Harris); and nose tackle (Eddie Goldman).
The rush has contributed to one of the NFL’s worst pass-picking secondaries effectively sealing the Seattle game with one interception (Prince Amukamara) and having the Green Bay game within its grasp on another (Kyle Fuller).
What makes the sack production even more impressive is that none of the stops have come from Leonard Floyd, still playing with one hand encased on a padded cast and whose playing time was cut back from 77 percent of the snaps in Green Bay to 59 percent against Seattle. Floyd has zero quarterback hits in his 85 total snaps but delivered 3 tackles, a pass defense’d and a fumble recovery against the Seahawks despite his limited hand, which is a factor.
“Oh, for sure,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said last week. “I mean there’s no way around it. Like trying to type on your computers there with one hand. You’ve got your head in the sand if you don’t think that affects a guy’s play.”
Kevin White’s absence is surprising.
White did not generate the wow factor of rookie Javon Wims in preseason but he revealed an eye-opening ability in the open field with the football in his hands, the kind of yards-after-catch that West Coast offenses treasure. Not insignificantly, with the added reps with the No. 1 offense while Allen Robinson was held out for knee rehab, then working with Robinson in a variety of packages, White had developed a positive relationship with Mitch Trubisky; the two worked out together in California, and quarterbacks have a warm spot for 6-3 receivers with downfield speed.
But White played just two snaps against Seattle, down from 12 at Green Bay, and he has yet to be thrown a pass after consistently earning plaudits from coaches through the off- and preseason.
“I think that’s just how the game goes,” Nagy said. “Sometimes depending on whether it’s a slight injury to a wide receiver, a guy’s out of breath or tired, but there’s nothing either good or bad from that. It’s just the way it kind of played out.”
How White’s NFL future plays out is becoming increasingly problematic, and less and less likely to be in Chicago. Allen Robinson is signed for three years, Taylor Gabriel for four, and Anthony Miller’s rookie contract is for four. White went into this off- and preseason with a clean slate in the form of a new coaching staff. That slate still has 14 games remaining, but White doesn’t play special teams, and the only other players with fewer than 21 game snaps Monday were major special-teams contributors: Josh Bellamy, 2 snaps on offense, 18 on ‘teams; Ben Braunecker, 1 on offense, 19 on ‘teams; and Daniel Brown, 1 and 14.
The Bears can talk about finishing but their two opponents have combined for five fourth-quarter touchdowns, leading to the loss of a 20-point bulge and the game in Green Bay, and turning a 14-point lead over Seattle into a one-TD game. Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson have posted a combined passer rating of 98.4, up from an 89.9 for 2017. The Bears held the Seahawks to just 2-for-10 on third downs for three quarters, then had Seattle convert all three in the fourth quarter.
Neither the Packers nor Seahawks scored in their first quarters, but of the 41 teams scored against the Bears, 35 of them have been tallied in the fourth quarter.
Probably a jinx here, but special teams have been special
Pat O’Donnell’s job wasn’t all that secure after last season, the fourth in his four NFL seasons with a punting net less than 40 yards. The Bears re-signed him but just to a one-year contract and brought in rookie Ryan Winslow for preseason competition. O’Donnell rose to the challenge with a net of 41.7 yards on 12 punts, five yards longer than Winslow on his seven.
O’Donnell has kept his game on: nine punts with a 41.8-yard average net, and four of the kicks inside the 20. His work has combined to allow the Packers and Seahawks to return just two of eight punts, the inverse of the Bears, who’ve had Tarik Cohen return six of the eight caught.
The NFL has been awash in missed placekicks this year – 15 last weekend – and the Bears have had constant and serious kicker issues in the past few seasons, ever since cutting Robbie Gould, come to think of it. Conor Barth after Gould, then Cairo Santos and Mike Nugent and Cairo Santos brought in last year after Barth missed five of his 23 field-goal attempts.
Cody Parkey has made all five of his PAT’s and his four field-goal tries, although none longer than 33 yards. The results have made the Bears one of only 10 teams to be 100 percent in both field goals and extra points through two games.