Minor League Predictions – Part One
With a brand new season on the horizon, it’s time to gaze into the crystal ball and see what may be in store for many of the Cubs’ prospects. Part one of the two part series will take a look at the first possible call-up, a minor league player that could have a major impact and a player that could receive a surprise call-up to the show.
All of that and more in the first Down on the Farm Report of the week …
It’s a fairly safe bet to predict that a pitcher will be among the first call-ups, because pitchers have a greater tendency for injuries. Teams also tend to stay with struggling hitters longer than struggling pitchers.
I chose Jay Jackson in this spot for several reasons. First, because the pitching staff has more right-handers, there is a greater chance of a right-handed pitcher being needed. He aces out other pitchers with major league experience, such as Thomas Diamond, Casey Coleman, and Jeff Stevens, due to his versatility, being able to start or relieve. Jackson holds an edge over Robert Coello, an off-season acquisition that did not have a good spring. Jackson would have to be added to the 40-man roster in order to make his big league debut.
Minor Leaguer – Major Impact: Brett Jackson – OF
Again, it’s not much of a stretch to predict Brett Jackson being called up sometime this season. However, how much of an impact he will have will not only be felt on the field, but in the offices of Cubs’ management.
The Cubs will begin the season with four veteran outfielders in Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd, Kosuke Fukudome and Reed Johnson … plus Tyler Colvin. Add to that first baseman Carlos Pena. Among these six players, three are left handed hitters (Fukudome, Colvin, and Pena), as is Jackson. Four (Soriano, Byrd, Fukudome, and Pena) also have big-money contracts. In order for Jackson to be called to the team, there will need to be some resolution with at least one of those contracts. As usual, injuries will play a role.
It’s my opinion that part of the reason Cubs’ management didn’t address the leadoff question this off-season is because they anticipate Jackson taking over that role sometime this year. The decision to begin the year without a true leadoff hitter figures to have an impact early in the season.
Finally, if Jackson is added to the Cubs 40-man roster and recalled, finding playing time for both Jackson and Colvin could be a chore. This will be particularly difficult if Jackson is being counted on to leadoff. The dilemma could be a massive headache for a management team that has seemingly preferred to play a veteran over a younger player in recent years.
Surprise Call-up: Trey McNutt, RHP
If the Cubs fall out of contention early and attendance is lagging, nothing puts butts in the seats like some good old-fashioned hype. Teams in that position either turn to a power hitter, a flashy speedster, or their number one pitching prospect.
Since the system’s projected power hitters are a few years away, and the Cubs traded flashy speedster Hak-Ju Lee in the off-season, prospect Trey McNutt seems to be the best candidate. If McNutt shows any of the dominance at Double-A Tennessee that he did in Class-A Peoria or High-A Daytona, fans will be clamoring to have him promoted.
The Cubs have gone along a similar route in the past; bringing up 21 year-olds Mike Harkey and Mark Prior with about a season of minor league experience. Let’s hope, at least from an injury standpoint, that McNutt will fare better if he gets the call.
Player on the Spot: Matt Spencer – OF/1B
Along with Class-A right-hander Ronny Morla (Morla was lost in the minor league phase of last winter’s Rule 5 Draft), Matt Spencer is what’s left of the deal that sent Jake Fox to Oakland. Right now, Fox’s lights-out spring is the least of Spencer’s worries.
The left-handed hitting Spencer started out hot at High-A Daytona last season. He was promoted after nine games to Double-A Tennessee, where he continued swinging a solid bat until about mid-season. Then Spencer went into a tailspin, and lost playing time at first to minor league veteran Blake Lalli and in the outfield to Brett Jackson. Expected to be back in Tennessee this season, Spencer will have to jockey for playing time with Lalli and newly acquired first baseman John Urick, as well as outfielder Michael Burgess, all of them left-handed hitters.
Spencer is surrounded by left-handed prospects, with Bryan LaHair and Jackson blocking his progress at Triple-A Iowa; while first baseman Justin Bour and OF/1B Kyler Burke are applying pressure from Single-A. Spencer will have to come out swinging and find his niche, as prospects Josh Vitters, Ryan Flaherty, and D.J. LeMahieu will also be scratching for playing time at first in Tennessee this season.
Attention CCO Readers
This will be the last week to post the names of the minor league players you would like the Down on the Farm Report to follow this season. I will track the progress of ten players throughout the entire season. 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. You can name as many players as you like, but remember, only ten will be chosen. The winners will be revealed in next week’s Down on the Farm Report.