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 … Outfield
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.
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.
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