Cubs Down on the Farm Report – 04/01/10

Only one week to go until minor league Opening Day! Today we continue our countdown with a list of five things to watch for in the Cubs’ farm system this season!

The Progression of Starlin Castro
After putting up a slash line of .299/.342/.392 (BA/OBP/SLG%) with Daytona and Tennessee during the 2009 regular season, the Dominican born teenager continued to turn heads during the Arizona Fall League. Castro hit .376 in 26 AFL games.

If you follow the Cubs minor league system or the Cubs in general, you already knew how Castro performed last season. That’s because Castro has received a tremendous amount of media attention and is now rated as the top prospect in the Cubs’ organization by most baseball publications.

Castro enters 2010 with a lot of pressure on him, but there’s little debate that this kid knows how to play the game of baseball. Starlin, who turned 20 years old last week (March 24), will start the year at either AA or AAA. The Cubs’ brass appears to have learned their lesson when it comes to rushing prospects, but we could see Castro at the big league level at some point this summer.

Ryne Sandberg at the Helm for Iowa
Like Castro, Ryne is another “prospect” that the Cubs do not want to rush. In 2007, Jim Hendry decided that it would be best to let Sandberg work his way up through the system as a manager, just as he did as a player.

Sandberg started with two years at Class-A Peoria. Due to frequent promotions and demotions, it’s hard to judge minor league managers based on their records alone. The ’07 Chiefs were 71-68 before falling to 60-78 (12th in the Midwest League) in 2008. Ryne spent last season at Double-A Tennessee. His club finished with a 71-69 regular season mark, which was good enough to get them into the postseason. They turned it on in the playoffs, but they ended up losing in a tightly contested Southern League Championship Series.

Since 2010 is the final year of Lou Piniella’s contract, there will be even more of a microscope on Sandberg’s managing. It should be a fun season in Des Moines!

The Jacksons
The Cubs have two farmhands with the sir name of Jackson that have received a lot of attention in the past year.

Jay Jackson, who was selected in the ninth round of the 2008 draft, played in 24 games a year ago split between Daytona, Tennessee, and Iowa (one game at AAA). Overall he went 8-7 with a 2.89 ERA.

The newest Jackson in the organization is Brett, who was the Cubs first round pick last June. The left-handed hitting outfielder flew through Rookie Ball. It took only three games for him to prove he deserved to make the jump to Class-A Short Season Boise (.455 AVG). After that, Brett Jackson continued to hit with the Hawks, which earned him the promotion to Peoria.

Jay should be ticketed for the Iowa rotation and Brett could start the year at Class-A Daytona.

The Backstops
The Cubs have a lot of talent and depth at the catching position in the organization. Not only are many of these guys solid behind the plate, but they also hit fairly well. Hopefully Geovany Soto will be a fixture behind the dish at Wrigley Field for years to come. With relatively young backup in Koyie Hill (31 on March 9) also doing a great job, the Cubs may not need any catchers for a while.

Maybe some of this young talent can be used as trade bait.

Welington Castillo, a highly touted prospect, will likely split starting duties at AAA with Chris Robinson. Robinson got a lot of playing time in his lengthy stint with the big league team during Spring Training.

Blake Lalli and Steve Clevenger could both start the year with Iowa as well because they can play a number of different positions. Former big leaguer Mark Johnson is still listed on the roster as an inactive player/coach. He could be very helpful as a mentor to Robinson and Castillo this summer.

Robinson Chirinos will likely earn himself the starting job with the Smokies. He showcased his skills in the Venezuelan Winter League during the offseason. Chirinos converted to a catcher prior to the 2009 season after spending the first six years of his pro career as a middle infielder.

Jae-Hoon Ha and Jovan Rosa are guys in the organization who have made the switch from another position to catcher more recently. They will likely start the year with Peoria or extended Spring Training.

Michael Brenly, the son of Cubs’ TV broadcaster Bob Brenly, put up a slash line of .265/.307/.354 in his first full pro season last year after being drafted by the Cubs in 2008. He will likely continue his development with the Daytona Cubs.

The Surprises
Every year, there are a few prospects that come out of the blue and put themselves a lot closer to wearing blue pinstripes. These could be guys that are drafted in June and have an outstanding rookie year … or guys who have been in minor league ball for a few years and the “light” suddenly turns on and they start producing to expectations.

Starlin Castro and Brett Jackson were examples of this last season. It’s impossible to even discuss potential “surprise” guys because, well, they’re total surprises. We’ll see who jumps out at us this year!


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