Cubs Down on the Farm Report – 02/14/11

Greetings to everyone at the CCO! With the Winter League seasons over and Opening Day for the Minor Leagues weeks away, it’s time to step away from reporting and move to more feature articles. As a preview to Spring Training, our first article is entitled …

Bubble Players and Bubble Busters

By now, we should all be familiar with the phrase “a player on the bubble”. This refers to a player vying for one of the last roster spots. But, what is a “Bubble Buster”? Let me give you an example.

In Spring Training last year, outfielder/first baseman Micah Hoffpauir was a player “on the bubble” for making the squad. However, Tyler Colvin outperformed him during camp, and made the opening roster, “busting” Hoffpauir’s “bubble”. Who are some of the players that can duplicate Colvin’s feat this spring? Let’s take a look …

Bubble Player: Fernando Perez – Acquired in the Matt Garza deal, Perez comes to the Cubs with 41 games of experience in the majors. He battled injuries in 2009 and 2010, but has a career batting average of .279 in seven minor league seasons. His biggest asset is speed. He has 223 career minor league stolen bases, averaging 34 steals a season at a 77% success rate. He’s been a switch-hitter in the past, but injuries have caused him to hit right-handed only … at least for now. Perez is considered an above average outfielder, with a good throwing arm.

Bubble Buster: Brad Snyder – Signed as a Minor League free agent in 2010, Snyder had an outstanding season for Triple-A Iowa. The lefthander hit .308 with 25 home runs, 106 RBI, 19 steals, and seven outfield assists. In eight Minor League seasons, he sports an identical career batting average of .279 to Perez. Snyder has averaged 15 home runs and 64 RBI per season in the minors. His overall fielding percentage is .977 with 45 career assists.

Outlook: This shapes up as one of the more intriguing battles in the spring. While they have the same career batting average; the numbers say Snyder hits for more power, drives in more runs, is a better base runner, and is a better outfielder than Perez. If Snyder proves it on the field, will Cubs management be willing to swallow their pride and place him on the roster over Perez? The Cubs have signed veteran Reed Johnson as a hedge. Could they take the easy way out and place Johnson on the roster if they can’t make a decision on Perez and Snyder?

Bubble Player: Augie Ojeda – The Cubs’ management signed Ojeda to a minor league contract this off-season. He returns to the organization after leaving as a free agent in 2003, with a one-year stop at Iowa in 2006. Since then, he has bounced between the majors and minors in both the Twins and Diamondbacks organizations. He has a .251 major league batting average since leaving the Cubs. His fielding percentages include: .996 at second base, .976 at shortstop, and .950 at third base.

Bubble Buster: Darwin Barney – Barney had split time in 2009 between AA Tennessee and Iowa. He came to Spring Training in 2010, being considered as a second baseman and a utility infielder. Barney was sent back to Triple-A Iowa, where he hit .299 with a .970 fielding percentage. In a September call-up, he hit .241 in 79 at bats. The interesting statistic was that in reaching base 25 times, he scored 12 runs, demonstrating some heady base running. His overall play showed an uncanny knack for the nuances of the game.

Outlook: While Barney hasn’t done anything to demonstrate that he isn’t worthy of being on a big league roster, the Cubs like to have veterans in back-up roles. They are both are versatile, but Ojeda has major league experience. Can Barney’s promise and savvy hold Ojeda off? The Cubs could also choose a path they have taken the last two years, breaking camp with Jeff Baker the sole infield back-up, and possibly carry a third catcher.

Bubble Player: Koyie Hill – After the Cubs lost starting catcher Geovany Soto to shoulder surgery in September, they turned to Hill to start the bulk of the remaining games. This was surprising, since they had highly regarded catchers Welington Castillo and Robinson Chirinos ready at Triple-A Iowa. For the year, Hill batted .214 with an 18% caught stealing ratio. The Cubs traded Chirinos in the off-season, and then signed Hill to a one year, $850,000 contract. It has been widely reported that Hill is solidly entrenched as the backup to Geovany Soto.

Bubble Buster: Max Ramirez – The Cubs claimed Ramirez off of waivers from the Boston Red Sox in January. The 26-year old Ramirez, who was originally with the Texas Rangers organization, sports a .298 career batting average over seven minor league seasons. During that time, he also averaged 10 home runs and over 80 RBI. He’s only seen 45 games of action in the majors over the past three seasons. While his minor caught stealing percentage was 22%, he did average nearly five passed balls a season.

Outlook: After signing Hill, it seems as if the Cubs’ public relations machine went into high gear to provide the media with players and coaches singing his praises. There may be only one scenario possible for Ramirez to beat out Hill. If Hill and some of the other Cubs’ bats are quiet in spring, and Ramirez is hot, he could get the nod. The Cubs could opt to keep only one reserve infielder, as Ramirez does have some experience at first base.

Right-Handed Pitching
Bubble Player: Casey Coleman – Coleman’s minor league statistics aren’t overpowering: 28-16 with a 3.73 ERA, 187 strikeouts against 106 walks over three seasons. Called up to the parent club at the beginning of last August, Coleman posted a 4-2 record with a 4.11 ERA. What impressed both the Cubs’ management and fans was his determination and “bulldog” approach. This slight-of-build soft-tosser has become a fan favorite.

Bubble Buster: Marcos Mateo – The 26 year old appeared in 21 games for the Cubs last season. While his 5.82 ERA wasn’t impressive, his 26 strikeouts to nine walks were! Mateo has gone on to pitch for Estrellas de Oriente in the Dominican Winter League. In the regular season, Mateo was 2-0 with a 2.40 ERA, 19 strikeouts versus nine walks, and 10 holds. During the playoffs, Mateo has pitched 11.1 scoreless innings allowing only two unearned runs. He ended up striking out 17 while walking three, earning two saves.

Outlook: While Mateo’s performance this spring will matter, it will come down to who wins the fourth and fifth starter’s roles. Coleman is in a battle with Randy Wells, Carlos Silva, Andrew Cashner, and lefty James Russell. The Cubs also have veterans Todd Wellemeyer and Braden Looper in the mix for a starting job … or possibly a long-man role out of the pen. If everyone pitches well, the Cubs could place Cashner and Russell back in the minors. That would mean a choice between Wells, Silva, and Coleman. If Coleman can’t beat them out, Mateo may get the last bullpen spot.

Left-Handed Pitching
Bubble Player: James Russell – The Cubs selected James Russell in the 14th round of the 2007 draft for the first two years of his pro career, Russell was used mainly as a starter. Russell will be given an opportunity to earn a spot in the rotation out of camp this year. And his chances should be considered remote at best at this point to break camp in the big league rotation. If Russell is able to show an ability to record outs as a starter, the Cubs could send him to Iowa to stretch him out further when the season starts. Russell showed he could get left-handed hitters out under Mike Quade but will he be able to turn his success as a reliever into success as a starter.

Bubble Buster: Scott Maine – Acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Aaron Heilman deal in 2009, the big, hard-throwing 25-year old had a 3-1 mark with Triple-A Iowa last season. His ERA was 3.51 with 47 strikeouts and five Saves. Maine made 13 appearances after his call-up to the big leagues. He notched 11 strikeouts with five walks while posting a 2.08 ERA.

Outlook: Scott Maine seems to be the wild card in this equation. If Maine is able to throw strikes and record outs, the Cubs will have more time to convert James Russell back to a starter. The Cubs appear to want to break camp with three lefties in the pen (Sean Marshall and John Grabow) to counter the possibility of having an all right-handed rotation to begin the year.

Caribbean World Series
Congratulations to Mexican champions Yaquis de Obregon on winning the Caribbean World Series. With a 3-2 victory over Venezuela and Puerto Rico’s 3-0 loss to the Dominican Republic on February 7, the Tribe won the title with a 4-2 record in round robin play.

Marco Carrillo pitched 4.0 innings with no earned runs for Mexico in the tournament. Luis Montanez batted .200 with two RBI for Puerto Rico.

Congratulations also to the Perth Heat, champions of the Australian Baseball League. After losing 4-3 to the Adelaide Bite on February 11, the Heat rallied to 9-2 and 7-1 victories to claim the title.

Attention CCO Readers
When the minor league season begins, I will track the progress of ten players throughout the entire season. Let me know which minor leaguers you would like to see tracked in a post. I would like a representative sample of positions and levels of play, and I’d prefer to track at least one player acquired by the Cubs in the off-season.

Follow ChicagoCubsOnline on Twitter: @TheCCO

Quote of the Day

"From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life." – Arthur Ashe
  • Garrett

    Tom U great job again I think burgess, scuzzer,mcnutt Jackson jay and Brett,vitters,carpenter,castillo,hayden Simpson

  • Vivid_Reality

    Trey McNutt
    Josh Vitters
    Matt Szczur
    Hayden Simpson
    D.J. LeMahieu
    Robinson Lopez
    Aaron Kurcz
    Michael Burgess
    Zachary Rosscup
    Micah Gibbs

  • Steve23

    The expensive cuban
    marwin gonzalez

    • Tom U

      You must mean IF/OF Rubi Silva.

  • Tony

    Tom – Great job.

    Outfield – I would love to see Snyder make the team, but feel Perez and Reed J, have JH’s spot filled.

    Infield – Barney is the better player, hands down. He has put on around 17 lbs of muscle in Camp Colvin. If he adds a little pop, to that bat, he could surprise everyone and end up our starter at 2B.

    Catcher – I just don’t see 3 catchers, which makes me wonder WHY Max Ramirez, was even signed? I don’t believe we can send him to the minors, without passing waivers, and/or him accepting the move. I want Hill gone, someway, somehow.

    Right Handed Pitching – I don’t see Coleman in the bullpen, he is not a good fit there. I don’t think he will be given a real chance to make the rotation. He is the type of pitcher, that you always don’t consider, but I believe will produce. Iowa bound to start the year. Mateo, is in the running for the bullpen, but they could have to use roster spots for Silva, Samardzija, and Grabow in the pen, with Marmol, Marshall, Wood locks, that could leave only 1 spot for Maine or Mateo, not to mention Russell, Carpenter, Jackson, Looper, Wellemeyer. I think Mateo is Iowa bound as well to start the year.

    Left-handed pitching – Russell or Maine – I would like both, but if they truely are going to give Russell a chance to start, he will be in Iowa’s rotation to start the year.

    I am not sure I can give you only 10 to follow, but the names already listed by others, should cover it.

    • cubtex

      I hope Barney makes the team over Ojeda…but no chance he starts at 2nd! Why is everyone so down on Blake DeWitt???? His upside is much higher than Darwin Barney…hands down! He is a tough out and has much more pop than Barney will ever have!

      Relief- Mateo had a very good winter league and it wouldn’t surprise me that he makes the team. I think the Cubs bullpen will be much improved this year. Look for Scott Maine to make the team as the 3rd lefty. I agree that Russell should be starting in AAA next year.
      I don’t think they would use a roster spot for Silva if he doesn’t beat out Wells for a starter spot. If he gets lit up in spring…I see Silva being released. Best case scenario…he pitches well enough for a team to take a shot at him for a year and the Cubs unload him.
      The Cubs have way too many viable arms in the bullpen over Silva to waste a spot for him.
      Nobody has even been mentioning Jeff Stevens. I think he still can be a solid bullpen arm.

      • Tony

        No Chance Barney starts over Dewitt this year? Really!

        It would not surprise me at all if during this year, Barney becomes the starter at 2B over Dewitt. I’m not sure why you think Dewitt has more pop in his bat, he has a Slg % of 375, I don’t think that Barney is a power guy, but by putting on around 17 lbs of muscle at Camp Colvin, I can’t say, that Dewitt is the guy with more pop in his bat. That is why I said “IF, he adds a little pop to his bat, he could surprise everyone and be our starter at 2B.”

        • cubtex

          Yes, Really! No chance Barney starts over DeWitt. Barney could be a serviceable utility guy… Let’s compare minor league slugger %’s. Neither players are Babe Ruth! DeWitt 2008 in AAA slugging % .486(by far higher than Barney has ever had) 2009 AAA .426.
          Barney in 2009 slugging % .401 in AA and when moved up to AAA a whopping .330 and then 2010 in AAA .378.
          Again these are minor league stats but it is a fair comparison to show these players at the same level of competition since Barney has not had a great deal of MLB at bats. Another point…putting on 17 lbs of muscle is not going to turn a middle infielder like Barney into the 2nd coming of AROD! In fact, it could actually hurt an infielder with his flexibility and range. Nothing against Barney….but he is not nearly the player DeWitt is!

          • Tony

            Turn this around, not sure why you are so down on Barney and so high Dewitt. Dewitt is not the 2nd coming of Chase Utley. Neither guy is a power guy, or gonna be even the Top 15 or 20 for power production at 2B.

          • Tony

            Here is the guy, I would like to see at 2B in the near future. From the same article at Boys of Spring.

            “One of the other players showing big results is DJ LeMahieu the second round pick for the Cubs in 2009. LeMahieu has added 19 lbs this off-season to his 6’4” frame . This is a very good thing because LeMahieu can hit, I bet he’s never hit below .314 for a season in his lifetime, although I haven’t checked his T-Ball records. Cubs Director of Scouting Tim Wilken said a while back that he thought DJ would eventually develop power to go with his natural line-drive swing. So it will be interesting to see if the added weight ups DJ’s power numbers this coming year. DJ has been a middle infielder playing college ball at LSU (2009 College World Series All-Tournament team) and was at second base last year with the Cubs A+ Affiliate in Daytona. LeMahieu is a player to keep your eye on, as his added strength could eventually make him a future candidate to shift to third base.”

          • cubtex

            Tony, I agree! I would love to see LeMahieu develop some more power and be the Cubs 2nd baseman of the future. It makes sense for a 6’4 guy to add muscle and 19 lbs since I believe he was only about 175 at the end of last year. I am not at all down on Barney….I am just saying that I don’t believe he is an everyday player( I feel the same way about Theriot) Players like Barney could help every major league ballclub as a role player. They won’t hurt you on a part time basis but I think you could do much better finding an everyday player. I am defending DeWitt because I don’t think Cubs fans are giving him a fair shot. He played just over a month for the Cubs. Jaramillo says he envisions DeWitt hitting 15 homeruns this year and I think he is a huge upgrade over Theriot at 2nd! Just ask the Dodgers.

      • Tony

        Full article at Boys of Spring –

        “Speaking of Darwin Barney he really had a beneficial off-season here, adding 18 lbs to put him closer to 190 lbs after playing at about 170 at the end of last season. While watching some batting practice’s I noticed Darwin’s added strength giving him more pop with the bat (although he will likely never be confused with a power hitter). Barney is part of a dedicated group of Cubs organizational players who worked extremely hard this off-season.”

    • paulcatanese

      Tony,gret post. I just don’t get it with Hill he MUST have $$in Cub stock to stay with the team. Any way that one looks at it he does not belong there. The only way he could be gone is if another club wants him, and he is traded. I do not see that happening and he has become a real delema for the Cubs,certainly for their followers.

    • Tom U

      The Cubs have done goofier things in the the past than keeping three catchers.

      • Tony

        Seriously, how many teams have kept 3 catchers in the last 10 years, in which one of them wasn’t converted to another position as the starter. (How many have even done it in any way.)

        I don’t see any of Soto, HIll, or Max as real options at any other position (at this point) so it is highly unlikely they would go with a bench of 3 position players (IF/OF) and 2 back-up catchers, or go with only a 6 man bullpen in April to accomodate a 3rd catcher.

        • Tom U

          I guess “Q” answered this one today when he named Colvin the back-up first baseman. Max Ramirez could have been considered the back-up at that position.

          • Tony

            To me, this is there way of seeing if Colvin can play 1B, with out making him the starter. If he is able to handle it, and they don’t get a Pujols, Fielder, AGon next offseason, they could move Colvin to 1B. If only they would have given him some time there last year, before he got hurt, maybe they would already know, if he could handle it.

  • GrantJones7

    Szczur,McNutt, Golden, Simpson, Jackson, Cartpenter, Vitters, Ha, Gibbs, LeMahieu, Marwin

    • Tom U

      Which Jackson, Brett or Jay?

      • GrantJones7

        Brett, wouldnt mind hearing about Jay though

  • BillyFinT

    Tom, I recall that Yaquis is your wife and daughter’s favorite team for its cuteness.

    I wonder how will Cubs management sort this mess at backstop. Five catchers after two spots. There must be a more logical way to deal with them, other than the intangibles of Koyie Hill, right?

    • Tom U

      Yes, my family liked the Yaquis. We’re trying to find baseball caps, but no one on-line will quote us a price.

      The Caribbean World Series is usually dominated by the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. It was nice to see a team from Mexico win it all. The Yaquis didn’t have a lot of star power, but they played well as a team.

      And, in the future, one should never use Cubs management and logic in the same paragraph.

  • cheryl

    Can you track Snyder, Mateo and Coleman?

  • paulcatanese

    Way to go Tom,great post,that should shake up the troops. Lot’s of areas to post.

  • Cindy’s Corn Cob Dress

    If Fernando Perez, Augie Ojeda and Reed Johnson make team, the Cubs will not have any pop on the bench. They will have to keep Brad Snyder as an option or someone else who has some power coming off the bench.

  • Patrick_Schaefer

    Tom Thanks for your thoughts, Nice post!
    I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with you on several points.

    Brad Snyder struck out 12 times in 27 AB’s at the ML level that’s terrible.. There is a reason he will be 29 this year and has only had 27 AB’s at the ML level he has a large hole in his swing and is a AAAA player.
    Perez’s numbers aren’t spectacular, but when he was last healthy in 2008 he showed he could handle the bat decent enough to be a 4th / 5th outfielder at the ML level. Perez maybe a AAAA player too but the Cubs have ZERO speed on this team. Perez’s range in the outfield is far superior to that of Brad Snyder and either way I don’t see our 5th outfielder getting much playing time.
    I would rather take Reed Johnson over Snyder. Think Jake Fox, Micah Hoffpauir, that is Snyder, he is just outmatched at the ML Level! The Cubs do need power off the Bench, we have Soriano,Byrd, Fukodome, and Colvin. Baker who has solid pop vs. LHP when not starting.

    Casey Coleman is a starter and Mateo is a reliever, Coleman is not going to pitch out of the bullpen so I don’t see the comparison.
    If Russell doesn’t make it as a starter he will go to the minors. The Cubs don’t like him in the relieving role as he is not a hard thrower.
    Maine is a reliever and may win a spot depending on how many lefties they want to go with.
    I’d like to see Barney as a starter or staying fresh in AAA as I don’t see him getting any playing time on the ML club. Ojeda sucks but if someone is going to sit on the bench and not play all year I would go with him.
    D.J. LeMahieu
    Reggie Golden
    Matt Sczcur
    Hayden Simpson
    (Barney if sent to the Minors otherwise Junior Lake)
    Michael Brenly
    Chris Rusin
    Tony Campana
    I already listed 10 but if I have to list a player acquired in the Offseason Zachary Rosscup instead of Rusin I guess!

    • Tom U

      Patrick, I don’t favor any of these players over any other, it’s just a discussion.

      Yes, it seems that management have a lot invested in Perez and Johnson, but if they stink this spring and Snyder is hot, that would make things interesting.

      The thought process behind Coleman and Mateo concerns the composition of the entire pitching staff. The Cubs figure to keep 8 to 9 right handers and 3 to 4 left handers. Among the right handed locks are Zambrano, Dempster, Garza, Wood, Samardzija, and Marmol. Both Cashner and Wellemeyer can either start or relieve. The last 1 or 2 spots will come down to Coleman, Wells, Silva, Looper, amd Mateo. The thought is that if Coleman wins a starting spot, one of the other right handers could ace Mateo out for a bullpen spot. While not directly competing against each other, they can be competing for one of the final spots on the staff.

      One last thing, name as many players as you like! There will be a lot of interesting stories in the minors this year.

  • paulcatanese

    There is no question in my mind that I would prefer Barney over Ojeda. It is true that Ojeda has major league experience. When has he (Ojeda) demonstrated that that experience would be in his favor? I do not recall that he has been anything other than a fringe player. I believe Barney has more upside right now and only will improve his status with the Cubs. If the two are even right now,Barney should have the advantage over Ojeda,because Barney can only go up wheras Ojeda has gone as far as he can.

  • Patrick_Schaefer

    Players I could see outperforming are Darwin Barney over DeWitt. Cashner, or Russell over Silva.
    Jackson or Carpenter making the bullpen.
    If Samardzijza doesn’t show he can pitch out of the pen they need to cut him and their losses.
    Any number of options could be better than Koyie Hill!

  • Tom U

    Thank you everyone for your nice comments. I’ll run the poll for another couple of weeks to make sure eveyone can post their favorites.

  • Bjstanley

    1.Josh Vitters
    2.DJ Lemahieu
    3. Brett Jackson
    4. Reggie Golden
    5. Hayden Simpson
    6. Trey Mcnutt
    7. Jay Jackson
    8. Chris Carpenter
    9. Matt Szczur
    10. Micah Gibbs