CHICAGO -- Wondering where the Chicago Cubs will find pitching in the coming years? The Midwest League champion Kane County Cougars are a good start.
The Cubs' low Class-A affiliate had a monster season, going 91-49 in the regular season, then 7-0 in the playoffs en route to winning a title. No pitcher who started 10 or more games had an ERA over 3.36 during the regular season, and in their seven playoff games Kane County gave up a total of 15 runs. That's getting it done on the mound.
"Starting pitching was definitely the strength of the club," Jason McLeod, Cubs vice president of player development and amateur scouting, said over the weekend. "They were all so different in their own right, but all of them have a chance to be major league starters."
A mix of international signees, amateur draft picks and compensatory picks like Paul Blackburn make up the Cougars staff. Blackburn was taken as compensation when former first baseman Carlos Pena signed as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012. Blackburn went 9-4 with a 3.23 ERA in 24 starts and he wasn't even the best of the group -- three starters had ERAs below 3.00.
The best of the bunch right now might be Taiwanese righty Jen-Ho Tseng, who was named Cubs minor league pitcher of the year on Monday. He blossomed in his first year as a pro, and he'll turn just 20 next month. Tseng went 6-1 with a 2.40 ERA in 19 games for Kane County. He gave up just 76 hits and 15 walks in 105 innings, producing an outstanding WHIP of 0.87.
The Cubs worked extensively with Tseng in spring training on all aspects of his delivery, and it paid off; he legitimately uses three pitches. He might be the most promising of the group, although some believe 2012 second-round pick Duane Underwood might have the most upside. He's a hard thrower who produced a 2.50 ERA this season, giving up 85 hits in 100 innings.
Daury Torrez, 21, (2.74 ERA) rounds out the top four as they helped pitch Kane County to a title.
So the obvious question is: When can any of these pitchers start helping the Cubs at the major league level?
Not for a while.
All are 19 to 21 years old and are just starting their careers. It wouldn't be a surprise to see them all move up a level together, just as the Class-A Daytona staff basically did after winning the Florida State League championship in 2013. But the major leagues aren't calling for any of them just yet.
This wave of pitchers may not be ready if the Cubs want to contend as soon as next year, but if the front office is hoping for a decade-long run, the pitchers on the Kane County staff have a chance to be a part of it. Or they can always be used as trade bait.
Either way, the success they've had this season should pay dividends for the Cubs in the coming years.