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Iowa Cubs 2023 Season Review

October 30, 2023

TO RECAP: As the 2023 season came to a close, Iowa found itself in third place in the International League West standings with a final record of 82-65, 17 games above the .500 mark. The 82 victories that the I-Cubs achieved this season are the most since the 2010 season

TO RECAP: As the 2023 season came to a close, Iowa found itself in third place in the International League West standings with a final record of 82-65, 17 games above the .500 mark. The 82 victories that the I-Cubs achieved this season are the most since the 2010 season when they also won 82 games. 82 wins was also good for the fifth-most wins among all teams in the International League. For Iowa, it marked the best finish in a division since the 2019 season when it was a part of the Pacific Coast League, and it claimed the Northern American division title. In total, 76 players donned an I-Cub jersey over the course of the season and 29 of those players spent time both with Iowa and up in the big leagues with Chicago.

FOR THE RECORD BOOKS: Despite not making the postseason this year, it was quite the season for the I-Cubs. The team racked up 82 wins, which is the most since 2010 when it also won 82 games and tied for the sixth most wins all-time. The most wins in franchise history is set at 85 which was achieved twice by the 1993 and 1998 ball clubs. 83 wins are next in line for number of victories and that has been accomplished three times (1973, 2001, and 2008). This year’s iteration of the I-Cubs also etched their way into the history books setting a multitude of new franchise records. On the offensive side, the 2023 team set a total of seven new franchise records. The records that were set this season include: runs scored (892), extra-base hits (538), RBI (856), walks drawn (729), strikeouts (1,385), on-base percentage (.368) and hit by pitches (90). The mark that the squad this year shattered was in the category of walks drawn. The former franchise record for this category was 596, which was held by the 1984 team. With the 2023 team seeing 729 free passes, that sets the difference between the two at 133. The smallest margin of difference between two records is on-base percentage, as the 2023 I-Cubs actually tied the franchise record set in 1974 at .368. When it comes to pitching, three franchise records were broken this season. Those marks were holds (66), walks issued (753), and strikeouts (1,395). The franchise records of walks issued and strikeouts were short lived as the most recent marks were set by the 2022 team, at 672 and 1,367, respectively. Meanwhile, the record of holds in a season, which have only been tracked since 2005, surpassed the previous mark of 62 set in 2006.

WALK THIS WAY: A struggle for the Iowa pitching staff this year came in the form of command. As a team, the I-Cubs walked a franchise record 753 batters over the course of the season. The 753 free passes allowed in 2023 surpassed the old record of 672, for a difference of 81, which was just set a season ago in 2022. Iowa’s walk total ranked as the fourth most in the International League and the seventh most in all of Triple-A baseball. On two separate occasions this year, I-Cubs pitching tallied 16 walks allowed in a game. It first happened on June 2 versus the Columbus Clippers, and it happened again on August 3 versus the Toledo Mud Hens. The 16 walks allowed in those two contests were the most by a team at the Triple-A level this season and set a franchise record for walks allowed in a nine-inning game. Right-hander Cam Sanders particularly had a tough time keeping opponents off the base paths, as he racked up 69 walks on the year. Sanders’ walk total accounted for nine-percent of Iowa’s walks and individually he had the third most walks in the International League and the ninth most in all of Triple-A. The balance for Sanders, however, was that he also recorded 97 strikeouts on the year, which was the second most on Iowa’s staff.

COME THROUGH IN THE CLUTCH: Iowa played in a total of 147 games in the 2023 season and a fair share of them were close contests. 39 of the 147 games played by Iowa resulted in one-run affairs. That accounts for 26.5-percent of every game played this season. Luckily for Iowa, they performed well in those close calls, going 26-13 in those instances. The 26 wins in one-run games mark the most by the I-Cubs since the 2017 season when they had a record of 27-21 in one-run contests.

HIGH POWERED OFFENSE: The I-Cubs offense in 2023 was one of the most potent in the entire league. Multiple franchise records were set in hitting categories and when looking at the league rankings, Iowa was near the top in a majority of them. Among offensive categories, Iowa ranked inside the top-5 in the league in: batting average (5th - .265), runs (2nd – 892), total bases (4th – 2,278), doubles (3rd – 302), RBI (1st – 856), hit by pitches (5th – 90), walks drawn (3rd – 729), slugging percentage (3rd - .466), and on-base percentage (3rd - .368).

MR. 40/20: There is no doubt one of the most impactful players this season for Iowa was outfielder Yonathan Perlaza. The 24-year-old was a mainstay and all stalwart for the I-Cubs, being one of just three players that remained on the active roster for the entire year. Perlaza put up some impressive numbers over his 121 games played, which was the most by an I-Cub. In his 2023 campaign, the Venezuelan hit at a clip of .284 (131-for-461) with 100 runs scored, 246 total bases collected, 40 doubles, three triples, 23 home runs, 66 extra-base hits, 85 RBI, and 13 stolen bases to go along with a .389 on-base percentage and a .534 slugging percentage. With numbers such as those, it’s obvious that Perlaza led the team in several different categories in 2023. His name sits at the top of team leaders in runs scored, total bases, doubles, home runs, extra-base hits, and RBI. In terms of where he ranked among players in the International League, Perlaza found himself inside the top-10 a lot, including runs scored (3rd), total bases (3rd), doubles (T1st), extra-base hits (1st), and slugging percentage (6th). The 40 two-baggers that Perlaza slugged also were tied for the fourth most at all levels of the minor leagues. With such a successful season, Perlaza put his name into the franchise records as well. His 100 runs scored rank fourth all-time, tied second for the most doubles, fourth in extra-base hits, and perhaps his crowning achievement was that he became the first player in franchise history to record at least 40 doubles and 20 home runs in a season. Just for extra measure he also put together a 34-game on-base streak from May 18 through June 28, which ranked as the sixth longest streak in that category in the International League this year.

COMEBACK CUBS: The 2023 season was full of excitement and the I-Cubs gave their fans plenty of fun games to watch. Iowa also had a flare for the dramatic, registering a total of 38 comeback wins over the course of the season. The 38 comeback victories are the most since the team came back to win 42 times during the 2010 season. Some of those come from behind victories were curtesy of walk-offs, of which Iowa had seven. One of the more improbable comeback wins came on June 9 on the road in St. Paul. The I-Cubs were down 5-2 going into the ninth and then proceeded to plate five runs in the frame to claim a 7-5 victory. Nelson Velazquez started the rally with an RBI double and Jake Slaughter followed a couple of batters later with a double of his own, which scored two runs. Sergio Alcántara then drove in the winning runs with a two-RBI single.

WINNING WAYS: This year’s iteration of the Iowa Cubs won a lot of games (82) over the course of the season. The team also saved its longest stretch of winning for the last month of the season. Iowa went on its longest winning streak of the year September 13-21 when it won eight consecutive games. The eight-game winning streak marked the longest winning streak for the I-Cubs since it won nine games in-a-row against Albuquerque, Oklahoma City, and Memphis from May 27-June 5 during the 2016 season. This season’s winning streak saw the I-Cubs claim eight straight against the St. Paul Saints and the Louisville Bats. Over that stretch, Iowa hit at a clip of .281 (76-270) with 17 doubles, three triples, 12 home runs, and it outscored opponents by a mark of 54-34. On the pitching side, the team had an ERA of 3.95 over 73.0 innings pitched with 61 hits allowed, 67 strikeouts, 38 walks, and went a perfect 4-for-4 on save opportunities.

SEPTEMBER STRUGGLES: The start of September was rough for the I-Cubs this season. Iowa finished the month with a record of 10-11 and it was the only month that it had a record below .500. September saw the I-Cubs suffer their longest losing streak of the season as they lost seven straight games from September 1-8. Ironically, the I-Cubs also recorded their longest winning streak of the season in September as well, winning eight-straight from September 13-21. After the first three days of September, the I-Cubs had a record of 72-57 and were coming into a 12-game homestand. With two weeks of home games, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to improve their playoff outlook. At that time, Iowa was just two games back of St. Paul in the overall International League West standings and 2.5 games back of the Saints in the second half standings. In the overall second half standings, which determined who makes the postseason, Iowa was 5.5 games behind Durham and Lehigh Valley. Despite going 7-5 over those 12 games, the damage was done, and Iowa was out of contention for the playoffs by the time its final series of the year against Louisville began. On the offensive side, Iowa finished September with a .258 batting average, its third-lowest clip of the season. They scored 113 runs on 184 hits including 39 doubles, four triples, 28 home runs, 107 RBI, and 199 strikeouts compared to 96 walks drawn. The pitching numbers for the month were as follows: a 5.33 ERA, it’s third-highest mark, over 185.2 innings, 186 hits, 120 runs (110 earned), 25 home runs, 111 walks, 194 strikeouts, and an opponent’s batting average of .264.

CAN DO KILIAN: With an ever-changing pitching staff, it can be difficult to find some consistent arms to use. However, Caleb Kilian was that player for Iowa. The right-hander performed well this season with Iowa and was the most effective pitcher on the team’s staff. Kilian amassed a record of 8-3 with a 4.56 ERA over 25 appearances, 24 of which were in a starting role. Over the course of 120.1 innings pitched, Kilian allowed 66 runs (61 earned) off 123 hits and had just 36 walks compared to 95 strikeouts. He also held opponents to a hitting clip of .266 on the year. Kilian’s output on the mound was also among the best in the International League. The 26-year-old ranked inside the top-10 in the league in ERA (7th), wins (T9th), starts (6th), innings pitched (10th), opponents average (6th), WHIP (5th – 1.32), and win percentage (2nd - .727). With his play at the Triple-A level, Kilian earned himself a promotion to Chicago on two separate occasions this season where he made three appearances. When Kilian did take the mound for the I-Cubs, the team also found success, going 19-6 over his 24 starts. Some personal milestones that he achieved this season were that his eight wins marked a career-high at the minor league level and he tallied his 300th career minor league strikeout on August 1 with a punchout of Toledo’s Parker Meadows.

LET’S COMPARE: Taking a look at the splits between Iowa’s starting pitchers and its relievers showed some interesting numbers. On the year, relievers tallied a record of 58-31 and a 5.86 ERA over 684.2 innings of work. Meanwhile, the starters went 24-34 with a 4.82 ERA in 584.1 innings. Clearly Iowa relied on its bullpen quite often this season as they logged 100.1 more innings of work than the starters did. However, those numbers could be a little skewed due to Iowa having a number of bullpen days towards the back end of the season due to pitching staff injuries and other roster moves.

WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG: Another top bat that was heavily featured in Iowa’s lineup this year was utility-man, Jared Young. The Canadian National ended the 2022 season on a high note, blasting a walk-off home run versus Toledo in Iowa’s final game and he proceeded to pick up right where he left off for the 2023 season. On the year, Young played in 90 games for the I-Cubs and hit at a clip of .310 (96-for-310) with 71 runs scored, 179 total bases, 16 doubles, two triples, 21 home runs, 72 RBI, seven stolen bases, a .417 on-base percentage, and a .577 slugging percentage. One of the reasons for Young’s staggering numbers was due to him being nearly unstoppable in the month of June. Over the course of 21 games that month, the left-handed hitter raked, with a batting average of .395 (30-for-76), four doubles, a triple, eight home runs, and 25 RBI. He also recorded an on-base percentage of .489 and a slugging percentage of .789 in that time frame. Out of the 21 games he played in June, Young hit safely in 17 of them and tallied seven games with multiple hits. The 28-year-old went on two separate hitting streaks of nine-games and seven-games in June as well. With his hot hitting at the plate, Young earned his first call up of the season to Chicago on June 27 and remained there until July 22 when he was sent back to Iowa. Young then earned his second promotion to the big leagues on September 19 following his International Player of the Week honor for the week of September 5-10. In six games against the Omaha Storm Chasers, Young hit .458 (11-for-24) with six home runs and 10 runs batted in. He recorded at least one hit in all six games, including at least one home run in five of the six contests. Through the first four games of the series, he hit five home runs, crushing two in the opener and one in each of the following contests. His streak of four consecutive games with a homer was the best mark by an I-Cub this year and tied for the fifth longest home run streak in the International League. Over those four games he hit .529 and had three multi-hit efforts including a 4-for-4 game on September 7.

THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT: With rosters constantly changing over the course of a season due to injuries, signings, call-ups and send-downs, trades, etc. there are sure to be a lot of different players that don an I-Cub jersey. Some names that fans are most anxious to see in action, however, are the prospects that an organization has throughout it’s minor league system. The Cubs’ organization is currently the No. 4 ranked farm system in all of Major League Baseball according to MLB Pipeline. Breaking it down even further is the list of the top-30 prospects that each organization has. Among the top-30 list, also produced by MLB Pipeline, nine players appeared for the I-Cubs this season. The top prospects that played for Iowa in 2023 include: Pete Crow-Armstrong (No. 1), Ben Brown (No. 5), Jordan Wicks (No. 10), Matt Mervis (No. 13), Alexander Canario (No. 14), Brennen Davis (No. 19), Luis Vazquez (No. 21), Caleb Kilian (No. 23) and Luke Little (No. 25). Out of that group, five are position players and four are pitchers. Six of those nine prospects also made at least one appearance with Chicago at some point this season. Another name to take note of that wasn’t on the top prospect list for the Cubs and had a stint in Iowa was catcher Miguel Amaya. The 24-year-old was once considered a top prospect, ranking as high as No. 3 in 2021, but due to a couple of injury-riddled seasons was removed from the rankings. However, Amaya has proven himself by making his Major League debut this season and remaining in Chicago since June 3.

PROSPECT PETE: Out of all the talent in the Cubs’ farm system, no one has more hype surrounding them than outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong. The No.1 ranked prospect in the Cubs’ system and the No.12 ranked prospect in all of baseball started the 2023 season at the Double-A level and made his way up, reaching Iowa for his Triple-A debut on August 1. Crow-Armstrong got off to a slow start with the I-Cubs but made a splash with his first-career Triple-A hit being a home run. From there, the 21-year-old took off. In 34 games with Iowa, Crow-Armstrong recorded a batting average of .271 (38-for-140) with 30 runs scored, 67 total bases, seven doubles, two triples, six home runs, 22 runs batted in, 10 stolen bases, a .350 on-base percentage, and a .479 slugging percentage. The Sherman Oaks, California native found his groove with the I-Cubs once he got his first hit out of the way in his tenure with Iowa as he then proceeded to go on a 15-game hitting streak from August 4-22, which marked the longest hitting streak by an I-Cub this season. Despite being in Iowa for just a over a month, Crow-Armstrong provided multiple web-gem defensive plays, hit two grand slams in one week versus the Omaha Storm Chasers and blasted a walk-off homer on August 15 versus the Louisville Bats. 2023 was no doubt a big year for one of the faces of the future for Chicago as Crow-Armstrong achieved some milestones such as making his big-league debut on September 11 and hitting leadoff in the Futures Game during All-Star Weekend.

WHAT CAN BROWN DO FOR YOU: One of the most exciting, young prospects that I-Cubs fans got a good look of this season was right-handed pitcher Ben Brown. The 24-year-old entered the 2023 season as Chicago’s No. 7 ranked prospect and was elevated to No. 5 by seasons end. The Cubs acquired Brown during the 2022 season in a trade with the Philadelphia Phillies for David Robertson and have high hopes for the towering righty. Brown began this season in Double-A Tennessee, and it didn’t take him long to get promoted to Iowa as he was assigned to the I-Cubs on April 29. While with Iowa, Brown appeared in 22 games, making 15 starts, and posted a record of 6-8 with a 5.33 ERA. Over the course of 72.2 innings pitched, the East Setauket, New York native allowed 46 runs (43 earned) off 60 hits and tallied 51 walks compared to 100 strikeouts. He also posted marks including a 1.53 WHIP and an opponents average of .226. Unfortunately, Brown spent a month on the injured list from August 2-September 3 which put a dent in his season, but despite that he still led the I-Cubs pitching staff in strikeouts. In terms of league rankings, Brown’s mark of 100 punchouts put him tied for 15th. Another impressive mark that Brown carried into this season was an undefeated streak. Dating back to June 25, 2022, he made 16 starts in 17 appearances, going 7-0 with 119 strikeouts before he finally suffered a loss to the Indianapolis Indians on May 16. An accolade that Brown also added to his ledger this season was that he tallied the most strikeouts in a game for the I-Cubs this season with 11. He achieved this feat twice in 2023 with the first instance occurring on May 27 against Nashville and the second instance coming on June 14 versus Indianapolis.

FAST STARTS: Iowa was quick to jump out to leads against its opponents this season as it scored a total of 115 runs in the first inning across the 147 games played. The I-Cubs outscored their opponents 115-82 in the first inning for a run differential of 33. The run difference for Iowa in the first inning marked its second largest positive run differential on the year. The best mark for the I-Cubs was in the sixth inning at a positive 34 run difference (123-89). On the flip side, the eighth inning was a struggle, as opponents outscored Iowa by a mark of 107-64 for a difference of 43.

OFFENSIVE EXPLOSION: A definite highlight from this season came on August 9 when the I-Cubs laid a 20-spot on the scoreboard against the Omaha Storm Chasers. The game marked Iowa’s best offensive performance of the season as it racked up those 20 runs, which set a season high, off 17 hits, seven of which were home runs. In the game, five different players recorded multi-hit performances, with four of those players having three hits. It was an immediate offensive barrage from Iowa as it launched four homers in the first inning and totaled eight runs in the frame. Both of those achievements tied season highs as the I-Cubs also hit four home runs and scored eight runs once before this season. On April 29, the I-Cubs scored eight runs versus Louisville, which also happened in the first inning. Two days earlier on April 27, Iowa belted four homers in the fourth inning versus Louisville. The 20 runs scored by Iowa were the most runs the team had scored in over a decade. The last time Iowa scored 20 runs in a game came on August 30, 2010, on the road against the Albuquerque Isotopes. The final score in that contest was 20-9. The 19-run margin of victory also marked the second largest in franchise history. The largest margin of victory in franchise history for the I-Cubs was set at 21 on July 30, 2000, on the road against Fresno.

MOREL MAGIC: An instant hit to start the 2023 season for the I-Cubs came from none other than Christopher Morel. The 24-year-old was only with Iowa for about one month before he was promoted to Chicago on May 8 and for good reason. In just 29 games with Iowa this season, the Dominican Republic native hit at a clip of .330 (38-for-115), collecting 84 total bases with nine doubles, two triples, 11 home runs, 31 RBI, and four bag swipes. He added a .425 on-base percentage and a .730 slugging percentage to his stat line over that span as well. With his stellar play, Morel was honored by being named the International League Player of the Month for the month of April. Morel slashed .356/.456/.828 and led all minor league hitters in home runs (11) that month. He led the IL in RBI (26), runs scored (25), total bases (72), slugging percentage (.828) and OPS (1.284). In the month of April, Morel also ranked fourth in doubles (8) and sixth in average (.356), hits (31) and on-base percentage (.456). Morel had an 11-game hitting streak from April 8 – 22, hitting .364 (16-for-44) with five doubles, six home runs and 12 runs batted in over that span. In his 22 games played in April, Morel recorded two or more hits in nine of those games, including a four-hit game on April 27. Morel’s four-hit performance on April 27 versus Louisville was just one of two major highlights he produced this year for Iowa. Just two days later, on April 29, he torched Louisville again, going 3-for-4 at the dish with two runs scored, a double, a home run, and seven RBI. His seven runs batted in was just one shy of the franchise individual record and was the highest mark recorded by an I-Cub this season.

REHAB RECOVERY: With Iowa being the Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs there are often multiple times throughout the season that players up in the Major Leagues will don an I-Cub jersey for a period as part of their process coming back from injury. This season, the I-Cubs saw nine players on a Major League Rehab assignment from Chicago. Some notable names that joined Iowa’s roster in 2023 were a pair of World Series champions in Kyle Hendricks and Cody Bellinger, infielder and former No. 4 overall pick, Nick Madrigal, and outfielder Seiya Suzuki. Out of all the rehabbers that came through Iowa this year, Madrigal was the one who put up some eye-popping numbers. In 16 games with the I-Cubs, the infielder hit at a clip of .424 (25-for-59) with six doubles, three triples, a home run, and seven RBI to pair with a .514 on-base percentage and a .678 slugging percentage. A special feat that Madrigal achieved with Iowa was that he recorded five consecutive multi-hit performances in his first five games. In total, the infielder tallied 10 multi-hit games out of the 16 he played in.

GOT THE CALL: Every baseball player dreams of making it to the Major Leagues one day to play under the bright lights and on the biggest stage. That dream became a reality for a few players that made their way through Iowa on their journey to the big leagues this year. A total of seven players that were on Iowa’s roster this season made their Major League debuts in 2023. Those players were: Miguel Amaya, Alexander Canario, Pete Crow-Armstrong, Luke Little, Matt Mervis, Daniel Palencia and Jordan Wicks.

NOT SO SPECIAL: One of the unique aspects of Minor League baseball is when teams get to bust out some specialty uniforms. Whether it be throwbacks, Super Hero themed, or celebrating Spanish culture with COPA, the uniforms donned are sure to provide some flare. Unfortunately for the I-Cubs, they amassed a record of 5-10 this season when wearing specialty uniforms. In comparison, Iowa went 45-33 in blue uniforms, 13-8 in white uniforms and 19-14 in red uniforms. The I-Cubs did fare better in specialty uniforms this year than they did in 2022, however, when they went 2-6.

UNFORTUNATE REPEAT: Following an incredible 2021 campaign and an injury riddled 2022 season, outfielder Brennen Davis came into this season with high hopes. Unfortunately, it was another tough go this time around for the 23-year-old. Davis entered the 2023 season as the Cubs’ No. 3 ranked prospect and the No. 92 ranked prospect in all of baseball, despite playing in just 53 total games where he hit .191 over the course of last season. Looking to get back to the form of 2021 which saw him hit .260 (91-for-350) with 25 doubles and 19 home runs overall to go along with being named an Organization All-Star for Chicago for the second consecutive season, a Futures Game selection, the Futures Game Most Valuable Player and named the Buck O’Neil Cubs Minor League Player of the Year, the Chandler, Arizona native hit just .187 (27-for-219) with eight doubles and four home runs and 26 RBI over 62 games with Iowa this year. Another injury placed him on the injured list at the beginning of June and kept him sidelined until August 17 when he went to the ACL Cubs on a rehab assignment. After four games with the ACL Cubs, he then went to South Bend where he played five more rehab games before joining Iowa’s roster on August 31. Davis hit .161 (10-for-62) in his 17 games back with Iowa, clubbing one double and one home run along the way. Davis’ final hitting clip of .187 was the lowest among I-Cubs who played in at least 50 games, and he ended the season as the Cubs’ No. 19 prospect and fell out of the top-100 in all of baseball.

TAKE THE OVER: One of the craziest games of the season occurred on April 27 when the I-Cubs took on the Louisville Bats at Principal Park. The contest finished with a final score of 18-16 in an Iowa victory. Iowa and Louisville combined for 34 runs and 80 total bases on 42 hits including nine home runs, a triple and nine doubles. Each side used six pitchers, and the two combined to throw 408 pitches in the game. According to MLB Pipeline, nine home runs ties the Minor League high this year, while 42 hits is the most since Sugar Land and El Paso combined for 43 knocks on June 20, 2021. According to MLB Pipeline, only 10 Minor League games since 2005 have had more combined total bases, with the most being 112 on June 28, 2009. At least one team scored in each frame, while both teams scored in four of the eight opportunities. Louisville had two five-run innings and Iowa had a six-run fourth and a five-run seventh inning. Iowa had two different players record two home runs in the game, combining for seven total as a team.

For the full Iowa Cubs 2023 Season Review, CLICK HERE.