As the Cubs gear up for their potential title defense in October, their future appears as bright as ever.
The Rookie-level AZL Cubs claimed the Arizona League Championship Series with a 13-3 victory in Game 3 over the AZL Giants on Thursday in Scottsdale, completing a remarkable turnaround from cellar dwellers to Arizona League champs. Shortstop Luis Vazquez scored twice as part of a 4-for-5 night, and fellow infielder Delvin Zinn scored three times while chipping in two hits and one RBI.
The Cubs finished the Arizona League regular season at 25-31, which was tied for the fourth-worst overall record in the 15-team league. They started even worse, winning just 12 of their first 41 games before rattling off wins in 13 of their final 15 regular-season games to claim the second-half title in the league's East Division. Chicago's Rookie club hit the switch once the postseason began, racking up more runs (44) than the other five playoff teams combined (43), while dropping just one game.
"We started off pretty slow, but everyone bought in and continued to have fun," Zinn told MiLB.com. "The second half, we fought and fought. We were fortunate to make it into the playoffs and we got hot at the right time. It's was good to see all of our hard work pay off and we came out on top."
Outfielder Nelson Velazquez, the Cubs' fifth-round pick out of Puerto Rico in this past June's Draft, paced the club with eight home runs during the regular season. He continued to lead the way come playoff time, leading all players with two home runs, nine RBIs and 16 total bases. Velazquez got the Cubs started in the third inning of their title-clinching Game 3 victory, knocking a two-run single to ignite an eventual four-run rally.
The Cubs also got a lift from No. 19 prospect Jeremiah Estrada, a sixth-rounder in this year's Draft who signed in early July. The right-hander from Palm Desert (Calif.) High School made four appearances down the stretch and allowed just one run over 6 1/3 innings.
Thursday's win marked the Cubs' third Arizona League championship, and the organization's first since 2002.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.