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2021 South Bend Cubs Season Preview

May 3, 2021 - High-A Central League (High-A Central) - South Bend Cubs News Release


The anticipation and excitement surrounding the return of South Bend Cubs baseball is palpable. The last time the team took the field was September 14, 2019 when they capped off an undefeated postseason and won the Midwest League Championship. 600 days later, the boys are back in action.

It's a new season in many ways: a new manager, a new league, a new level of affiliation, and even a new look schedule.

Michael Ryan is the new skipper for the South Bend Cubs and he comes in with some big shoes to fill. South Bend's previous manager, Buddy Bailey, won the team its first title as a Cubs affiliate and is the active leader in wins in the minor leagues. But Ryan has already proven himself a more than capable leader in the clubhouse. The 43-year-old managed in the Pirates farm system the past seven seasons, the last three seasons serving as the manager of the Double-A Altoona Curve. In his three years with the Curve he helped guide them to two Western Division titles and an Eastern League Championship.

This offseason saw a grand overhaul of Minor League Baseball. As a whole the MiLB was contracted by 42 teams and leagues like the Midwest League have been reshaped and rebranded. The Midwest League became the High-A Central League and shrunk from 16 to 12 teams. The 12 teams remaining, including South Bend, all moved up a level to High-A in December of 2020.

To limit travel during the pandemic, schedules across the minor leagues have shifted and will now see teams playing six-game series starting on Tuesdays and ending on Sundays, with Mondays as planned off days.

The South Bend Cubs start their title defense on May 4 at home vs the Quad Cities River Bandits. Many familiar faces will be making their returns to Four Winds Field, with the Opening Day roster including 14 players with previous experience in South Bend, six of whom popped champagne that sublime night last September in Clinton, Iowa.

The name of the game among the South Bend pitching staff this season is simple, speed kills. Ryan Jensen, Max Bain, Burl Carraway, Brandon Hughes and Eury Ramos can all light up the radar gun with mid-to-high 90s fastballs.

Jensen was selected in the first round of the 2019 MLB Draft and his fastball was the highest rated in the entire class. While he's a fastball heavy pitcher (two-seam and four-seam), he's spent much of the offseason honing his secondary pitches. Jensen said of his fastball, "I think guys know it's coming and they're trying to gear up for it, but I've been working on a lot of off-speed this year, trying to be more of a pitcher than a thrower. I'm excited to showcase my change."

Jensen will start the year as part of the five-man rotation that includes fellow flamethrower Max Bain. Bain's story alone warrants plenty of attention; from a division II pitcher who weighed over 300 lbs and threw in the mid 80s, to a slimmed down 240-punder who throws 99 mph. Bain was signed by the Cubs in early 2020, but with the global pandemic he hasn't logged any innings in professional baseball. The story is there, now it's time to see what the undrafted 23-year-old can do on the mound.

Carraway, Hughes and Ramos will all start the year in the bullpen. Carraway comes in as the Cubs #17 prospect, a second round pick from 2020, and similar to Bain, the southpaw will be making his first appearance in the MiLB. Carraway was the first player in Dallas Baptist history to pitch for the Team USA Collegiate National Team. Carraway compliments his high-grade fastball with a nasty high spin rate curveball.

Hughes is another lefty option in relief, a former two-way player whose played in 110 games with South Bend, 95 of which came as a position player. The Michigan State product made the transition to a pitcher-only in 2019. And Ramos has shown up with a much more muscular build, popping a 99 mph heater this spring.

There are plenty of position players to keep your eye out for too.

Cole Roederer returns to South Bend, where he played all of 2019 and started in center field for the 2019 MWL champs. You'd be hard pressed to find someone who put in more work during this lengthy offseason than the Cubs second-rounder from 2018. Roederer actually spent every day for a whole week leveling off his yard with a tractor so he could build his own batting cage and get in his work every day. And the center fielder from Newhall, Calif. spent the last year improving his discipline at the plate. "I'm an aggressive hitter, but it has to be controlled aggression and last year I got exposed on changeups and stuff like that... so I came in this year and I wanted to dominate every pitch from day one." And we he dominates, it's quite the site.

Roederer and Cubs #9 prospect Chase Strumpf could pose a lethal one-two punch near the top of the South Bend lineup. The second-rounder (2019) from Dana Point, Calif. was the consensus top prospect at second base in the draft. He was drafted by the Cubs while he was on-deck at Jackie Robinson Stadium in a winner-take-all Regional Final at UCLA, and then stepped up to the plate and did this...

Power he continued to show this year at Sloan Park with the Chicago Cubs during Spring Training.

Making the transition to catcher is Cam Balego. The 25-year-old slugged 12 of his 13 career homers last season and put up a .368 OBP in the Carolina League with Myrtle Beach.

Other notables include Tyler Durna, who slashed .304/.387/.437 in 76 games with South Bend in 2019 before getting promoted a level, and Delvin Zinn, a versatile defender who played five positions in 2019.

The 2021 South Bend Cubs are an energetic bunch eager to repeat the success of the last season. Yet at the same time, with all that has gone on over the past year, they're just happy to be out here playing the game they love.

"It feels very close to my first year coaching in the excitement that I've had because I've missed it for a year," said Manager Michael Ryan. "Just to be able to get out there and play, it's so special. We're so excited for tomorrow, we're so excited about the upcoming season."

The South Bend Cubs kick off their season on May 4 at 7:05 ET at Four Winds Field, as they take on the Quad Cities River Bandits. Gates open up at 5 p.m. A very limited number of tickets are available in the outfield and the lawn. Tickets can be purchased.

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