By virtue of an 11-2 rout (recap
), the Cubs beat the Marlins in the playoffs. Or, to be more precise, they swept
the Marlins in the playoffs. And Dusty Baker was nowhere to be seen.
No, I'm not day-dreaming about October 2003 and what could have been, but rather I'm talking about the Cubs' Double-A affiliate, the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx, who yesterday completed their three-game sweep of their Marlins' counterpart, the Carolina Mudcats. They'll now progress to the Southern League Championship Series for the first time since 2000, where, starting Wednesday, they'll take on either the Jacksonville Suns (Dodgers) or the Birmingham Barons (White Sox) in another best-of-five series [Update: Suns it is, they completed their own sweep of the Barons on Saturday].
The protagonist in yesterday's crushing win over the Mudcats was Brandon Sing, who homered in his first two trips to the plate. The first was just a first-inning solo shot; the second, an inning later, was a grand slam that well and truly blew the game open; and both were absolute monster shots to left field. It was quite a show of power from the 24 year old right-handed first baseman/corner outfielder.
Sing, who grew up a Cubs fan from Joliet, Illinois, was drafted out of high school by his favourite team in the 20th round of the 1999 draft. But through 2003 he struggled horribly just about everywhere he went. And he went places - Mesa, Eugene, Lansing, Daytona and West Tennessee, shortstop, third base, first base and the outfield, Sing did the rounds, invariably completely failing to hit for average because he struck out so frequently while showcasing power and patience that were merely good rather than great. To top it all, Sing's 2003 was ruined by mononucleosis - he lost the last 3 months of the year, and 25 pounds in body weight.
But last year things began to click for Sing. His strikeouts didn't go away, but his power and patience literally went from merely good to very great as he drew 84 walks and hit 32 home runs in 122 games, all career highs (and the 32 home runs fell just one shy of a Florida State League record that had stood for 54 years). Those improvements combined with the uptick in his average to a decent .270 gave him on-base and slugging percentages of .399 and .571 respectively, and he was named the FSL MVP. Were Sing not old for a league he was repeating a third time, his achievements would have caused quite a splash. Instead, Sing's had to mash for another year, hitting .276 and setting all-time Jaxx records with his 91 walks, 26 home runs, .404 on-base percentage and .538 slugging, to garner himself some real attention.
Sing has truly prodigious power, and he doesn't mind waiting for his pitch, but that's not to say he's necessarily a top prospect. He has some very considerable handicaps - he still strikes out at a very high rate, so doesn't project to hit for average, he's defensively limited and, at 24, for a high school draftee he's very old for Double-A. But do watch out for him in the years to come, because as the Mudcats found out last night, when he hits a ball, it stays hit. Perhaps better still, because this is the Cubs we're talking about, throw this guy four balls and you won't get a double play grounder.