Cubs’ Storylines of the Spring…The Non-Roster Position Players

The Cubs move down the street on Tuesday from Fitch Park to HoHoKam Park in preparation of their Cactus League opener on Wednesday against the Dodgers.

The Cubs announced on Monday that Carlos Zambrano will make his first start of the spring on Monday, March 2 against the Diamondbacks at HoHoKam. Lou Piniella has not announced his starter for Saturday against the White Sox or for Sunday in Peoria against the Padres.

The final spring preview is focused on the non-roster position players. While few could improve their stock in the Cactus League, Mark Johnson and So Taguchi have decent shots at making the team but the player to keep an eye on could be Bobby Scales…. Catchers

Welington Castillo

Welington Castillo is one of the prize prospects of the Cubs’ system. Oneri Fleita has compared him to Yadier Molina and several times this past winter, he looked like he would be dealt to the Padres for Jake Peavy.

Castillo was ranked as the Cubs’ fifth best prospect by Baseball America and outside of Josh Vitters, he is the best position player in the system. Castillo participated in XM Radio’s Futures Game during the All-Star festivities at Yankee Stadium last year and appears to have a very bright future.

Castillo has been described as a very good catch and throw guy and Baseball America thinks Castillo could be a better offensive player than Yadier Molina. Castillo threw out 36 percent of would be base stealers last season while being the youngest catcher in the Southern League….he will turn 22 on April 24.

Castillo spent time at three different levels in 2008 with a majority of the season in Tennessee. He hit .298 with a .362 OBP and a .414 SLG in 57 games with 4 home runs and 11 doubles at the Double-A level.

Welington Castillo figures to start the year behind the plate in Iowa and spend a full-season in Triple A.

Steve Clevenger

Steve Clevenger is another one of the young catchers in the Cubs’ system with a promising future. Clevenger was recently ranked the Cubs’ 11th best prospect by Baseball America, up 18 spots from a year ago.

Clevenger spent time at Daytona (.313/.393/.405 with 2 home runs and 20 doubles in 84 games, 284 at bats) and Tennessee (.247/.314/.360 with a home run and 5 doubles in 29 games, 89 at bats) last season.

The Cubs converted Clevenger from a shortstop to a catcher after they drafted him in 2006 (7th round) and catching became his primary position in 2008. Clevenger is described as a contact hitter that uses all fields.

Baseball America called Clevenger a better receiver than Welington Castillo. He has a strong arm and threw out 30 percent of baserunners last year.

Steve Clevenger figures to start the season at Double-A Tennessee but if the Cubs stick to their need of a balanced lineup, the southpaw Clevenger could be a good fit on the bench as Geovany Soto’s backup.

Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson spent time in the Cubs’ organization in 2005 and hit .266 with a .388 OBP for the Iowa Cubs. Johnson was the first round pick of the White Sox in 1994 and spent 2006 in the Brewers organization, 2007 in the Diamondbacks organization and last season with the Cardinals…including 10 games at the big league level (.294/.333/.294 in 17 at bats).

Johnson, 33, is another in a long line of left-handed hitters signed by the Cubs over the winter.

Mark Johnson, like Mike Stanton, could make the Cubs active roster out of Spring Training if certain players struggle and he impresses. Johnson is a career .218 hitter in the big leagues with a .314 OBP (332 games, 204-for-934 with 37 doubles and 16 home runs).

Infielders

Darwin Barney

Darwin Barney is one of the many young shortstops in the Cubs’ system with a bright future. Barney was recently named the 19th best prospect in the Cubs’ organization by Baseball America.

Barney is a winner and is coming off back-to-back College World Series Championships at Oregon State and in his first year of pro ball helped lead the Daytona Cubs to the Florida State League Championship.

Many think Barney is the best defensive infielder in the Cubs’ system and his energy has been compared to Ryan Theriot.

In his first full season in the minors, Barney hit .262 with a .325 OBP in 123 games for the Daytona Cubs with 22 doubles and 3 home runs.

Darwin Barney should be the starting shortstop for Ryne Sandberg in Tennessee once the season begins.

Andres Blanco

Andres Blanco (or Andy White) will be in big league camp with the Cubs for the second spring in a row. Blanco signed a minor league deal with the Cubs in November of 2007 and put together a solid season for the Iowa Cubs last year (.285/.327/.336/.663/1/8 in 102 games, 298 at bats).

Blanco is known as a solid fielder but the big question with Blanco has always been his offense. He has struggled offensively throughout his career and before last season had a career OBP in the minors below .300.

Last year was by far the best offensive year of Blanco’s minor league career. He was impressive with the glove last spring but the likelihood of the switch-hitting utility infielder making the team is slim at best.

Andres Blanco should start the year at Iowa if he remains in the Cubs’ system.

Luis Rivas

Ted Lilly should be glad to see Luis Rivas in a Cubs’ uniform. The former Pirate hit two of his three home runs off of Lilly last year in a game on the Sunday before Memorial Day. Rivas is known as a glove guy and can play three of the four infield positions.

Rivas spent the entire season a year ago with the Pirates and filled in for the injured Jack Wilson. He hit .218 with a .267 OPB in 79 games (206 at bats) with 6 doubles and 3 home runs.

The Cubs have better back-up options to choose from than Luis Rivas and he should start the year at Triple-A.

Bobby Scales

Bobby Scales, like Andres Blanco, is in his second straight big league camp with the Cubs. Scales was impressive last spring and kept hitting at Iowa. In 121 games at the Triple-A level, Scales hit .320 with a .415 OBP and a .499 SLG (15 home runs and 20 doubles in 387 at bats).

Scales has never played at the big league level and the switch-hitting utility man has as much of a chance of making the active roster as any other of the non-roster invitees.

Bobby Scales would give Lou Piniella more flexibility off his bench and a player that can play all seven defensive positions.

Here are two scouting reports on Bobby Scales:

“Plays many positions well, none exceptionally. Can play all outfield and infield positions, but mostly plays 2B, 3B and LF. Great clubhouse guy. Switch Hitter with gap power and decent speed.”

A report on MiLB.com from November of 2005 on Six-Year Free Agents:

“No love, no press, great guy, great baseball player. He’s a winner. Good numbers over the years in limited roles. He has a career in baseball. His only knock is the inability to play one position exceptionally. A great utility guy.”

Bobby Scales could be the surprise of camp and a player the Faithful should keep an eye on.

Outfielders

Doug Deeds

Doug Deeds was the player to be named later in the deal that sent Craig Monroe to the Twins last off-season. Deeds joined the Cubs’ organization in April and he excelled at Double-A Tennessee.

Deeds hit .325 with a .389 OBP and .514 SLG in 122 games (416 at bats) with 12 home runs and 37 doubles. He finished fourth in the Southern League in hitting and third in the league in doubles while leading his team. Last season was by far his breakout year offensively.

Doug Deeds should begin the season at the Triple-A level.

Jason Dubois

A lot has changed for Jason Dubois over the last four years. When camp began for the Cubs under Dusty Baker in 2005, Dubois was one of their up and coming prospects (ranked by Baseball America as the Cubs’ 10th best prospect). He hammered the ball in Triple-A in 2004, earned a call-up in September then figured prominently in their off-season plans when the Cubs let Moises Alou walk and traded Sammy Sosa to the Orioles.

Dubois began 2005 in a platoon with Todd Hollandsworth in left field. However, Dubois did not hit and was traded to Cleveland for Jody Gerut.

Dubois spent time in the Cleveland Indians organization in 2006 and with the Orioles organization in 2007 before rejoining the Cubs last year after a brief stint in the Washington Nationals organization.

Jason Dubois once again hit the cover off the ball for the Iowa Cubs and put together his best minor league season since 2004. In 76 games, Dubois put together an impressive line: .307/.399/.664/1.063 with 10 doubles and 25 home runs.

Barring injuries, Jason Dubois will start the year in Iowa and continue to hit the cover off the ball.

So Taguchi

All So Taguchi does is end up on one winning team after the other. The former Cardinal won a ring in 2006 with St. Louis and last year was around for the Phillies run to the title. Taguchi plays for winners but is coming off his worst season at the big league level.

Taguchi hit just .220 (59 points lower than his career average) with a .283 OBP (49 points lower than his career average) without a home run and only 5 doubles in 88 games (91 at bats).

Taguchi is a good utility outfielder and late inning defensive replacement that allows seems to find himself in the middle of the action, like Reed Johnson. Taguchi would give Piniella another option off the bench but the problem is they have the left-handed version of So Taguchi in Joey Gathright.

If Taguchi will accept the assignment to Triple-A he will likely start the season in Iowa and will be just a phone call and roster move away.

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