Cubs Down on the Farm Report – 03/28/11

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 …

First Call-up: Jay Jackson – RHP
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.

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  • Tony_Hall

    Nice article, loved the topic.

    First arm called up – I would be shocked if it is Jay Jackson. I expect to see Jackson, at Wrigley, at some point this year, but not being on the 40 man roster, makes it unlikely he is first call in April or May.

    Alberto Cabrera
    Robert Coello
    Scott Maine

    All 3 could see Wrigley before Jackson. I actually think the first call will be Scott Maine, with Cabrera a close second. The first spot that will open up, I am betting on Grabow to the DL, which will lead them to Maine. I think Cabrera opened enough eyes in ST, that he will be the first righty.

    J. Jackson and McNutt should see Wrigley this year.

    Brett Jackson, I am still saying late May/June he will be in Wrigley. Reed Johnson will be done by then, Fukudome will move into the 5th OF spot (or traded). Byrd will be the 4th OF, giving days off, to the guys. We will see an OF of Soriano, Jackson, Colvin.

    Lineup
    1. Jackson CF
    2. Castro SS
    3. Colvin RF
    4. ARam 3B
    5. Pena 1B
    6. Soriano LF
    7. Soto C
    8. Barney 2B

    5 homegrown products in that lineup. (I don’t think Colvin is a #3 hitter, but htis lineup lacks a #3 hitter, and someone has to bat there.)

    • Jon

      Tony, I like you linup and agree on it.. with one exception. IF Jackson does get the call up …I can see Bryd moving over to LF and giving up CF for Jackson. Byrd has spoken highly of Jackson throughout training camp and seems like the “team” type player to make that kind of move.
      That means Sori o no delegates to the 4th OF spot….
      I must say that that I do like that outfield with Bryd, Jackson and Colvin..lots of athletisism in the field and on the basepaths.

      p.s….I think we would all agree that Sori o no would be a great contract to dump and get rid of period…likily won’t happen thought considering the mony and term left on his contract. But he is at a time in his career, that he is good for nothing but a DH role or bat off the bench.

      A whole lot of Ifs factor into alot of these moves

      Either way…opening day is right around the corner and like or hate the moves the cubs have made during the off season or spring training..we’re all cubs fans here and you have be pumped to see the season get underway!!

      • Tony_Hall

        I agree, that I would like to bench Soriano, upon Jackson’s arrival, I just don’t see it happening.

        I have gone over the problems with trading Soriano, many times, as all money paid by the Cubs on his contract must be sent to the new team within 18 months of the trade. This alone makes it hard to trade Soriano, even if the Cubs are willing to pay a large chunk of his pay.

        Also Soriano on the bench as a pinch hitter is bad, as he struggles against the better pitchers, like he would face in late inning situations.

        I can’t wait for Opening Day!

    • Ottawabob

      Tony, There is absolutely NO WAY the Cubs will field that line-up. not in May or June, not 20 games out in September!! NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN..

      • Tony_Hall

        You may be right, but to say never is awfully hard to say.

        • Tony_Hall

          Like saying the Cubs will NEVER cut a player with a $10+M contract.

          Some nevers do happen.

    • paulcatanese

      Tony,I dont like to dis-agree with you,but I will,but only a little. Brett Jackson,I watched him really for the first time against Colorodo. While he is fast, I think he really needs to work more on his route to the ball and I think as you that he will be up May-June and will really help the Cubs.

  • JEFF MCDONNELL

    AUSTIN BIBENS-DIRKX

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_MGORJ2WKW52BJJMQD7HY7RPZZM RyanC

      I second this and add Junior Lake

  • cubtex

    Why has Chris Carpenter all of a sudden not being mentioned? Will he be pitching out of the pen in the minors or are they looking to start him? I would have thought he would be in the mix to be called up this year as well?

    • Aaron

      I believe they are going the pen route with him for now based on this spring and the role he had there as well as his 100 mph fastball that was showcased in relief at the AZFL this fall.

      He almost certainly will get the call for the pen this year. Jay Jackson, Casey Coleman, and Trey McNutt would likely get the call for the roatation if someone went down with injury or if Cashner was ineffective and gets sent down.

      Jackson, McNutt, and Carpenter aren’t on the 40-man, so they’d have to be added, and guys like Berg, Caridad, Gaub, Smit, and Stevens are candidates to be released, while Diamond could go either way. He’s basically still with the Cubs because of his connection to Randy Bush….and the fact he can start and be in relief as well.

      Keep in mind that quite a few high quality arms will need protected from the Rule 5 next year and the Cubs also must add Szczur and Vitters or risk losing them. They will have a lot of tough roster calls to make, so lke I said….keep the 40-man in mind when you start talking about potential call-ups.

      That’s why I’ve said repeatedly that the Cubs have too much dead weight on the roster with guys in the minors capable of producing the same…if not better than the likes of Hill, Johnson, DeWitt, Baker, and Fukudome (who thankfully comes off payroll at the conclusion of this season).

      I also wouldn’t be shocked at all, given their surprising willingness to eat Silva’s salary (I have to give kudos there as I thought they’d never do that), that if Soriano has another lackluster season at the plate and more importantly, in the field (as he can’t play anywhere else)….the Cubs might release him and eat $54 million. Obviously they’d attempt to trade him first but only AL teams with DH vacancies would bite in all likelihood and he still has the NTC. The Cubs would likely have to eat all but $15-20 million so his contract goes down to about $5-7 million/yr for the new team.

      Anyway, I didn’t mean to get that far on a tangent but the point is….the Cubs have HUGE roster issues coming at the end of this season and cannot afford to keep running veterans out there. All the pitchers I just mentioned, along with the hitters, need to show something to be included on the 40-man or be left out in the cold

      • cubtex

        Yes. I am glad that Silva’s and Fuko contract are off the books next year. If Ramirez can’t get thru this year being healthy…I can see him being gone next year as well.
        I really doubt the Cubs would eat 54 mill of Soriano’s contract. As I said, he is on the downside of his career but he is still a good offensive player. I know you don’t agree but I feel he will put up good numbers this year.

      • studio179

        I will not go as far as to say the Cubs will eat Sori’s contract. Yes, I am like most everyone else who NEVER thought Silva’s contract would be eaten. I think the things Silva said and done had a lot to do with Ricketts willingness to sign off on Siva’s bye-bye. Soriano is liked in the clubhouse and has not reached Silva bad yet. I think the Ricketts saw the Silva thing as something that was different because he was bad and a distraction. This is not something they will do often in dumping big contracts. Just my guess. But I never thought for a minute Silva would be let go, either. Quade can say it was his decision. We all know ownership had to sign off on it. The Cubs willingness to cut Silva was reported for a while now. I just did not believe it. Not many did. I do agree they keep trying to move Sori to the AL for a DH. Ofcourse, they will eat a vast portion of money, I just do not see them absorbing all of it. I hope you are right in they do conduct business better from here on out.

      • Tom U

        Thanks Aaron for picking up my vibe on the 40 man roster. I worried all day about being raked over the coals for that one.

    • Tom U

      Cubtex, where Chris Carpenter will end up is almost as big of a hot potato as where Marwin Gonzalez will end up. We’ll just have to see how rookie camp plays out.

      Right now, Scott Maine has the inside track on the closer job at Iowa, so Carpenter could end up there as a right handed complement.

      If Carpenter returns to Tennessee, it probably won’t be for long. Tennessee has a deep bullpen with Kyle Smit, Luke Sommer, Marco Carrillo, James Leverton, and Ty’Relle Harris.

  • StevenF

    Tom,
    That was an especially good article. Great observations and deductions.
    My votes are to follow the progress of posion players at 1B and 3B. As of now, these are the biggest question marks in the next few years.

    • Tom U

      Thank you Steven F, I’ll continue to look at the corner infielders as the season progresses. I’ve already mentioned 3B Matt Cerda and 1B Brandon May as people to watch. There will be a lot more options, as players grow and get shifted around to different positions.

  • Tom U

    Thank you to everyone for your comments.

    Remember, last chance to vote on what player you’d like to have followed.

  • Prince

    I would like you to follow Ryan Searle, young Australian could have a good year

  • Ciontea1988

    I will like to get an update on the first basemen by the name of randal rabbeting in high a ball last year.

    • Tom U

      Ciontea, I believe the player that you are referring to is Rebel Ridling, a first baseman at Daytona. If you are thinking of someone else, let me know.

  • Wolf2525

    Ryan Flaherty