Minor League Team Of The Year: Title Tops Crazy Year for Daytona Cubs

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—Manager Dave Keller saw things he hadn't witnessed in 31 years of pro ball. First baseman Dustin Geiger saw things he might not see again if he plays for 20 years.

It was that kind of season for the Daytona Cubs, who had two no-hitters, a four-homer game, the most prospects in the franchise's 20 years as a Cubs affiliate, and oh by the way, a run to the high Class A Florida State League championship. So it should be no surprise that they're Baseball America's Minor League Team of the Year.

Daytona Cubs

The Daytona Cubs capped a wild season with a title (Photo by Tom Hagerty)

"Being there from day one, the first night we turned on the lights at Jackie Robinson Ballpark, to coming back on the bus from Port Charlotte as Florida State League champion, it was definitely an eventful run," said Geiger, who finished among the FSL leaders in RBIs (86), OPS (.824), on-base percentage (.365) and slugging (.458).

The season included special moments such as shortstop Javier Baez's four home run effort on June 10 against Fort Myers. Matt Loosen spun Daytona's first nine-inning no-hitter in 19 seasons, and Ben Wells, Kyler Burke and Zach Cates combined on a seven-inning no-no on Aug. 27, completing a suspended game that started six days earlier in Dunedin—meaning they completed a no-hitter at the Jack as the visiting team.

"I've been in professional baseball for 31 years, and there was stuff I hadn't seen in either forever or a long time," Keller said.

Baez opened the season in Daytona on his way to leading the minors in extra-base hits (75) and RBIs (111) and tying for second with 37 homers. Though he was promoted to Double-A Tennessee, and outfielder Jorge Soler was sidelined in June with a broken bone in his leg, the parade of prospects continued when 2013 first-rounder Kris Bryant and 2011 second-rounder Dan Vogelbach added pop for the stretch run.

In the end, though, this Daytona team will be remembered for storming through a 40-20 second half and the playoffs behind incredible starting pitching. "I don't care what level you're at, when you get to the playoffs it's all about pitching and defense," Keller said. "And you can't say enough about our pitching."

The D-Cubs swept Dunedin in two games and took the best-of-five championship series against Charlotte in four games, closing it out on the second combined shutout of the postseason for C.J. Edwards and Ryan Searle. Edwards, acquired from the Rangers in the Matt Garza deal, didn't miss a beat moving up from the low Class A South Atlantic League and finished a combined 8-2, 1.86 with 155 strikeouts in 116 innings.

"I didn't know anyone on the Cubs, but after my first start I got use to everyone real quick and they got to know me," said Edwards, who led the minors with 12 strikeouts per nine and was fourth in ERA. "Those guys really welcomed me."

The Cubs also put out the welcome wagon for Corey Black, obtained from the Yankees for Alfonso Soriano, and Ivan Pineyro, acquired from the Nationals for Scott Hairston. Along with righthander Pierce Johnson, promoted from the low Class A Midwest League near the end of June, Daytona's rotation went through a makeover in the second half, and Black, Edwards, Johnson and Pineyro combined for 33 scoreless innings in the postseason.

"It was amazing, funny, difficult, energizing. It was all that," Edwards said. "We all made that big play when we needed to. We turned it on real good and rode that momentum through the playoffs."

"Coming together as a team, it was a very good season from that aspect," Geiger said. "They meshed very well with everybody in the locker room and everyone can see the final outcome—a championship."

Sean Kernan covers the Cubs for the Daytona Beach News-Journal.