Bryant Flete at-bat for the Southern Illinois Miners.

Frontier League Cubbies

For those who don’t know the Frontier League is an unaffiliated league operating out of the midwest. Teams in the FL come from Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Indiana. Of the ten teams in the league five are based in Illinois cities, which is, you know, a lot. It’s also a league with plenty of former Chicago Cubs prospects.

First up is a 23rd round draft pick of the Cubs in the 2013 Amateur Draft, Tyler Alamo. Tyler was with the Cubs organization until the end of 2018. He was most productive in his 2017 season with the Single-A Advanced Myrtle Beach Pelicans. That year he split time between first base and catcher and put up a DRC+ of 106. The next year his production slipped considerably and by the end of 2018, he was out of the Cubs organization.

Things have been slightly better in Alamo’s first season with the Windy City Thunderbolts. He’s slashing .262/.327/.489 and has 6 home runs in 156 plate appearances. He has improved upon his dismal 2018, although not enough. Alamo still splits his time between catcher and first base, and his defense at catcher remains below par. He’s only 24 years old, but if he stays the current path Alamo will most likely find himself out of unaffiliated ball soon.

When your father is a former 1st overall pick in the Amateur Draft those are hard shoes to fill, Shawon Dunston Jr. should know. Junior never could quite fit into his father’s shoes, being drafted by the Cubs probably didn’t help things. Dunston spent the majority of his time in Minor League Baseball as a light-hitting outfielder who knew what to do on the basepaths but not on defense.

Unaffiliated ball has been more of the same for Dunston. He’s spending 2019 in Sauget with the Gateway Grizzlies. He’s performing much better, albeit as the same type of player as he was in his MiLB days. The Fremont, California native has 16 stolen bases in 18 tries, and of his 40 hits, only 7 have been for extra bases. His slash line of .270/.341/.378 is better than it’s ever been, but he needs to improve fast or he’ll find himself out of unaffiliated ball sooner rather than later.

Matt Rose was dealt from the Cubs to the Chicago White Sox in the deal that brought José Quintana to the North Side. Rose hit decently at every minor league level, but he never ran the bases or fielded all that well. Then in 2018 with the Birmingham Barons in the Double-A Southern League, Rose stopped hitting. Following his major regression, it wasn’t surprising to discover Rose out of affiliated ball rather quickly.

Rose is with the Schaumburg Boomers now, but he’s still not hitting. In 2019 Rose is slashing .208/.279/.328 with 40 strikeouts in 140 plate appearances. He’s not really hitting for power anymore either, only 4 home runs and 3 doubles so far. The former 11th round pick’s defense and baserunning still remain net negatives. It’s hard to see Rose managing to pull himself out of his current tailspin.

There are no such concerns with Bryant Flete. The Venezuelan hit, albeit minus power, at all levels while maintaining plus defensive skills at third and second base. When he was slated to spend an eighth season in the minors he made his way to the Southern Illinois Miners instead. With the Miners, Flete has been absolutely raking. His slash line of .368/.432/.436 is the best he’s ever been. Flete still lacks a power stroke, only 7 extra base hits in 148 plate appearances. However, as long as Flete keeps hitting for a high average he will enjoy many productive years at the unaffiliated level.

Sometimes former Cubs excel and sometimes they don’t. Simply having minor league or major league experience doesn’t guarantee success in unaffiliated ball. Sadly most of the players I wrote about today, minus Flete, are playing on borrowed time. That’s life in unaffiliated ball, it’s feast or famine and Flete is feasting while the rest are starving themselves out of baseball.

Lead photo courtesy of Byron Hetzler – The Southern

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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