The Chicago Cubs may not be making the playoffs this season, but their minor-league teams are tearing it up. Three Cubs affiliates cracked the postseason, two of which have already advanced beyond the first round.
Double-A Tennessee kicks off a best-of-five series Thursday night against the Birmingham Barons of the White Sox organization.
Javier Baez has been at the forefront of the Smokies' strong second-half run that included 42 wins in 69 games.
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Baez has jumped to the top of the Cubs' prospect list with a phenomenal season. After 76 games with an .873 OPS at High-A Daytona, the 20-year-old shortstop was promoted to Tennessee, where he proceeded to kick off his Double-A career with a 2-for-23.
But since collecting four hits in a July 12 doubleheader, Baez has a .318 average with 19 homers and 53 RBI in 48 games with the Smokies.
In 130 games between both levels, Baez has a .282/.341/.578 line with 37 homers, 111 RBI, 98 runs and 20 steals, while drawing comparisons to Yasiel Puig, the Dodgers phenom who jump-started L.A. upon his call-up from Double-A.
"[They're] similiar in a number of ways, actually," said Jody Reed, manager of the Chattanooga Lookouts, the Dodgers' Double-A affiliate. "They've got that violent swing and what I mean is they've really got the bat speed to create impact on the ball.
"When they do connect, it goes a mile. They have that rare combination of that violent swing with balance and control."
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Baez leads a star-studded Smokies lineup that sent four players to the postseason All-Star team (plus starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks, who has since been promoted to Triple-A Iowa) in third baseman Christian Villanueva (41 doubles, .787 OPS) and second baseman Arismendy Alcantara (31 steals, .804 OPS) while Matt Szczur, he of the ESPN E:60 fame, helps set the table at the top of the lineup with a .350 on-base percentage and 22 steals.
But it's not just Double-A Tennessee making headlines in the Cubs system.
Class-A Daytona advanced to the Florida State League Championship behind a slew of top prospects that includes 2013 No. 2 pick Kris Bryant, first baseman/designated hitter Dan Vogelbach and pitcher C.J. Edwards, who struck out eight in five no-hit innings during Wednesday's 4-0 win.
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Bryant, who hit .333 with a 1.106 OPS in 16 regular-season games for the D-Cubs, was 5-for-6 with four RBI and a run in the brief two-game series.
Daytona faces Charlotte in a best-of-five series beginning Thursday night.
Meanwhile, short-season Boise also advanced, sweeping the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes in the Northwest League South Divisional Series.