Cubs Down on the Farm Report – 03/30/11

Minor League Predictions – Part Two

With a brand new season on the horizon, it’s time to gaze into the crystal ball once again and see what may be in store for several of the Cubs’ prospects. Part one took 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.

Part two will focus on fast risers, bounce-back players and a possible player and pitcher of the year in the system.

All of that and more in a midweek addition of the Cubs Down on the Farm Report …

Fastest Risers: Hayden Simpson – RHP and Matt Szczur – OF
Hayden Simpson hasn’t thrown one pitch in professional baseball, yet he’s already considered one of the top ten prospects in the system. His four-pitch repertoire includes a slider, curveball, change-up, and a fastball that tops out at 93 MPH. If Simpson displays the control he did in college, he could enjoy a Mark Prior-like rise through the system.

Former college wide receiver Matt Szczur has clocked 40-yard dash time of 4.50 seconds and less. This would make Szczur not only the fastest player in the Cubs’ system, but one of the fastest players in the majors when he arrives. In 21 games at Short Season-A Boise and Class-A Peoria, Szczur batted .347 with an on-base percentage of .414 and a slugging percentage of .465. If he continues that trend, Szczur can go through the system faster than his 40-time.

The Cubs are banking on Szczur moving rapidly through the system. The contract they signed him to in the off-season kicked in a provision in which he will have to be added to the 40-man roster in the off-season (or risk him being exposed in the Rule 5 Draft). Once added, Szczur will have three minor league options to show he’s the impact player the Cubs project him to be.

Look for Szczur to be promoted early and often if he excels like he did last summer.

Bounce-Back Players: Kyler Burke – OF/1B and Logan Watkins – 2B
Kyler Burke was the Cubs’ Minor League Player of the Year in 2009 after posting a .303 batting average with 15 home runs and 89 RBI at Single-A Peoria. Promoted to High-A Daytona in 2010, Burke slumped to a .212 average with seven home runs and 60 RBI. The second time around in the pitching dominant Florida State League may be all that Burke needs to get back on track. With the number of outfield prospects in the minors, the 6’3″, 205 lbs. left hander might want to consider a move to first, a relative weakness in the system.

Like Kyler Burke, Logan Watkins had a great 2009, hitting .326 with a .389 on-base percentage and 14 stolen bases at Short Season-A Boise. At Single-A Peoria, his 2010 season saw his batting average decrease to .261; his stolen base percentage also dropped, while his strikeout rate increased. However, he did form a slick fielding combination with the since traded Hak-Ju Lee. Watkins has the tools to be successful, but has to put it together in a hurry, as infielders Arismendy Alcantara, Pin-Chieh Chen, Wes Darvill, Pierre LePage, and Elliot Soto are coming up fast.

Worth the Wait: Austin Reed – RHP and Reggie Golden – OF
At 6’3″, 200 lbs., 12th round pick Austin Reed is “slowly gaining recognition as a steal”, according to Fangraphs. The 19-year old sports a fastball, change-up, and slider. According to reports, Reed has good control, but needs to work on velocity and a consistent release point. With young right-handers such as Andrew Cashner, Alberto Cabrera, Rafael Dolis, Robinson Lopez, Trey McNutt, and Hayden Simpson, there isn’t any need for Reed to be rushed. If the Cubs allow him time to develop, the cream will rise to the top.

Power hitters often garner plenty of attention, and 19-year old Reggie Golden fits the bill. The 5’10”, 210 lbs. second round pick has a lot of raw skills. He has a quick bat that should generate natural power and considered to have a right fielder’s arm. Golden needs some work with a professional hitting coach in order to overcome his tendency to pull the ball. Long-term contracts to Alfonso Soriano and Marlon Byrd will sew up two outfield spots for a few years. That and the presence of outfielders Tyler Colvin, Brett Jackson, Michael Burgess, Matt Szczur, and Jae-Hoon Ha should give Golden plenty of time to polish his skills.

Minor League Pitcher of the Year: Hayden Simpson – RHP
The Cubs’ organization will have numerous candidates for this honor, but it is my opinion that Hayden Simpson will come out ahead. Depending on the fortunes of the parent club, Trey McNutt and Alberto Cabrera may not spend the whole season in the minors. Insiders are already likening Simpson to Tim Lincecum and Greg Maddux. If he performs anywhere close to that level, his future will be very bright.

Minor League Player of the Year: D.J. LeMahieu – IF
While smart money might pick Brett Jackson for this honor, D.J. LeMahieu has the look of a winner. As in the case with pitcher of the year, Jackson appears destined for a big league call-up sometime this season. LeMahieu will need some seismic upheaval at the Major League level in order to make to The Show this season.

That will mean that the sweet swinging LeMahieu will pile up the offensive numbers, while the organization decides whether to play him at second, third, first, or the outfield … some reports have suggested the Cubs see LeMahieu as their future at second base. His consistency gives him the ability to outperform bigger name prospects such as Josh Vitters, Junior Lake, or Ryan Flaherty. For those looking for a true dark horse candidate, keep an eye on infielder Marwin Gonzalez.

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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  • Aaron

    Tom,

    Kyler Burke is no longer an OF…he will be at EXST trying to become a pitcher, which is what many thought he’d be drafted for anyhow, but the Padres wanted him to give it a go as an OF. He’s got time on his side…only 23 this year, and he’s got the best arm for a position player in the Cubs system supposedly. Hopefully he enjoys success. Wouldn’t it be something if he becomes Minor League Pitcher of the Year for the Cubs after being Player of the Year already as an OF?

    • Aaron

      also…supposedly Golden is being held back for EXST, but not because of performance or anything….it’s because he showed up to camp in a Carlos Silva costume (meaning he’s incredibly fat). I am shocked by this revelation, because in video from the Area Code games, he looked pretty muscular and toned. Hopefully he understands what it means to be a pro, and gets into shape, otherwise that’s a waste of good talent

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-Hood/100000706523521 Richard Hood

        LOL Aaron that kind of fits with the “looks like Puckett till he swings” assessment I have seen elsewhere. I really like this kid though. I hope he “gets it”. Maybe the next Camp Colvin he gets an invite.

    • Tom U

      Thanks for the updates Aaron.

    • http://chicagocubsonline.com/ Neil

      Aaron, this is the first I’ve heard about Burke converting back to a pitcher. In fact he played in a big league spring training game as an outfielder just a week ago.

      Could you post a link to a report? I am curious to read why.

      Thanks

      • Henry

        Has LeMahieu been considered for 3B. I understand they are looking for more power out of him.

        • Tom U

          According to his history, LeMahieu has lined-up at short, second, and third in his career. I’ve said this before, but at 6’4″, I have some concerns over his long term presence in the middle infield. That’s why I included first base and the outfield in my analysis.

          However, the Cubs have stated that they see him as their second baseman of the future. This proposition scares me a little. When the Cubs get locked in on a player, a lot of times it doesn’t end up well.

          An example was Corey Patterson. Patterson fancied himself as a middle of the order hitter, while the Cubs wanted him to bat lead-off. That, and Patterson’s hard-headedness, lead to a lot of confrontation with management.

          But LeMahieu doesn’t seem to have the same attitude as Patterson, so maybe it will work out. All I know is, tall infielders always seem to get moved around (see Mark DeRosa).

      • Aaron

        There is no official article from a Tribune, but AZ Phil goes to Fitch like everyday, and he was there went it happened evidently:
        **********************************************************************************
        http://www.thecubreporter.com/2011/03/28/grizzlies-marmolade-lunch

        “Also, infielder Marwin Gonzalez was moved down from Iowa to Tennessee, infielders Junior Lake, Jake Opitz, and Logan Watkins, and outfielder Nelson Perez were moved down from Tennessee to Daytona, infielders Pierre LePage and Elliot Soto were moved down to Peoria from Daytona, and infielder Dustin Harrington and RHP Ben Wells were assigned to Boise/Mesa (Extended Spring Training) from Peoria.

        And finally, OF Kyler Burke has been moved from Tennessee to the Boise/Mesa squad, where he will be converted to a LHP at Extended Spring Training. This is really not too surprising, since Burke is considered to have the best outfield arm in the organization, he was two-way player (LHP/OF) in high school, and some clubs supposedly had him rated higher as a pitcher than as an outfielder going into the 2006 June Draft.

        The San Diego Padres selected Burke in the Supplemental 1st round of the 2006 draft (35th overall) as an outfielder, and traded him to the Cubs (along with catcher Rob Bowen) for Michael Barrett in June 2007. Burke struggled to hit “A”-ball pitching for three years (2006-08), before finally having what appeared at the time to be a breakout season in 2009 at Peoria, when he hit 303/405/505 with 15 HR and 43 doubles, and was named Cubs 2009 Minor League Player of the Year. But he was unable to follow-up on his 2009 success at “Hi-A” Daytona in 2010, hitting a dismal 212/279/328 with only seven HR and 131 K, and there was just no room for him in the Tennessee Smokies outfield in 2011.

        Burke will be joining the likes of Carlos Marmol, Randy Wells, Blake Parker, Luke Sommer, Jake Muyco, Adalberto Mendez, and Charles Thomas as position players successfully converted to pitchers by the Cubs. Burke is still only 23 years old (he will turn 24 next month), and he has the added advantage of having been a pitcher previously in his baseball career, so he may not require a lot of time to make the move and get comfortable.

        Burke is eligible to be a Rule 55 Minor League Free-Agent (6YFA) after the 2012 season, so the Cubs will have two seasons to decide if Burke shows enough promise as a pitcher to get added to the club’s MLB Reserve List (40-man roster) before he has the option to leave as a minor league free-agent. (Burke became eligible for selection in the Rule 5 Draft for the first time post-2010, and he will continue to be eligible for selection until he becomes a 6YFA post-2012).”

        **********************************************************************************

        I actually saw this coming at the end of last year. He’s going to be 23, and couldn’t hack it at high-A. However, I thought maybe it was just the difficult parks in the FSL that caused him to perform poorly, and maybe starting at AA might do him some good. I guess they didn’t really like what they saw out of him this Spring Training, otherwise they wouldn’t have approached him about a switch. They clearly have other OF they value ahead of him, and he was probably destined for a repeat of high-A as a 23 year old (which technically isn’t the end of the world, but when you consider he’s been in the minors for 5 seasons….it is pretty bad).

        Also, someone said that Brenly had mentioned his son, Michael, claimed that Burke hit into some of the worst luck of any player he’s ever seen last year. That might be the case, but his numbers of:
        515 AB’s, 61 runs, 109 hits, 29 doubles, 5 triples, 7 hr, 60 RBI, 6 SB, 43 walks,131 K’s and a slash line of .212/.279/.328 is pretty bad. But on the other hand, his 109 hits and 29 doubles in an otherwise dreadful season led me to believe that he’s still got some talent in there.

        I don’t know…it is what it is…The Cubs have a phenomenal success rate with Fleita in charge of converting fielders to pitchers and even fielders to other positions they’re better suited for (Ex: Chirinos from middle IF to catcher, and Clevenger from primarily corner IF to catcher). I actually like their philosophy…when they approach a player to tell him his going to be released, or will never make it to MLB in his current position, they’ll put him on the mound, or even behind the plate, and see what he can do. If they like what they see, they send them to EXST, then if they do well there in their conversion, they’ll try to send them to one of their affiliates towards the end of the season.

        I saw an original scouting report of Burke’s after he was drafted that said he threw in the low 90’s to start off a game, but in the middle innings dropped off dramatically in velocity. So, that’d lead me to believe that either:
        a) they see him as a reliever
        or
        b) they will have him build more arm strength as a starter. I actually believe this is the option they’ll try to choose with him, because the Cubs lack depth in the organization with lefty starters.

        If you guys recall, the reverse of this situation played out with Ryan Harvey. He was a two-way star in high school as well, just like Burke, but he threw much harder, supposedly hitting 97 mph at one point (he’s rumored to be sitting at 95 mph now). But the Cubs were going to release him, and went to him to see if he’d give pitching a shot, but he wanted one more opportunity to hit, so they let him leave for the Rockies organization. He failed as a hitter there as well, and is now being converted to a pitcher. The Red Sox signed him in December, so we’ll see how that move goes for him.

        I wish both Harvey and Burke the best. That cannot be an easy decision, and your pride has to hurt if you know you failed at one aspect of the game, and have one last chance to make it as a pitcher, which probably puts even more pressure on them. Still, Wells, Marmol, and Parker made the switch successfully, so who knows?

        • http://chicagocubsonline.com/ Neil

          Thanks Aaron.

        • Dorasaga

          Thanks, Aaron. This is why I know you are a true Cubs fan.

          You really care, from bottom to top!

  • junior

    Some pretty optomistic picks here, especially with Simpson, Szczur, Golden and Burke. Burke, only because he’s changing positions completely. I saw all those guys at fitch for 2 weeks this spring and to be honest the first 3 guys I mentioned have a very long way to go. Simpson has a somewhat awkward delivery and seems to be a max effort guy ( not uncommon for a smallish pitcher) and needs to see pro hitters to be judged (not D2 guys). Szczur is quick but is an upper body swinger and not all that fluid at the plate or in the field (looked much more athletic as a running back) and he has spent 3 or 4 years in a D1 football weight room so his body doesn’t project any more other than becoming a baseball athlete and not just a speedy OF. Golden is doughy now big time(think Kirby Puckett without Kirby’s talent). Does have a quick bat but… Burke is a hard worker and I know he’ll give pitching his best shot, does have an excellent arm but we’ll see how he takes to working up from the low ranks again.

    I really hope all these guys pan out but until they have done something at at least the AA level, then it’s all pure speculation. My opinions only, based on what I have seen in my small sample of time, and not by anyone else’s evaluation.

    • Wickitkevin

      Do u know where I find video of Szczur and Simpson? I was a HS baseball Coach before I joined the Navy and have been hang out with Scouts in the area to refine my scouting skills.

      But to get back to szczur if his swing is all upper body I can understand I the hype on him. If you can refine his swing to incorperate his lower half considering strength of that lower half. You may just have power potentional,

    • Gary J

      Szczur is not being hyped because of his power potential – it’s because of his ability to barrel up a ball and his blazing speed. He rates as an 80 out of 80 on the scouting scale for his speed. In his last year of college ball he hit .443 and his A ball stats are given above.

      It’s hoped that he’ll be the leadoff guy that we’ve been lacking since Kenny Lofton (and before). Heck, Ichiro looks like he’s playing tennis and falling over when he swings, so I can live with “not all that fluid at the plate”. In his case results are positive so I’m not going to criticize :-)

      • junior

        Comparing any hitter to Ichiro is a stretch, but a lot of asian hitters swing like him with good results, watch S. Choo from the Indians. I hope Szczur can become more baseball athletic since he has given up football and concentrate on 1 sport. Again, get through AA with good success and then go from there. I have never seen baseball video of any of them, just seen them in person.

        I think Usain Bolt is an 80 out of 80 as well. If that translates on the baseball diamond to go along with the other required skills, then leadoff hitter he could be.

        • Gary J

          If Usain Bolt hit .443 and .347 in his last two stints of organized baseball, then I’d say give him a shot too :-)

          • junior

            I have seen many a high round speed merchant drafted who are now winning the dash to the beer tent at the company picnic. All I am saying is that if his skills catch up to his speed and he can do this above A ball level, then maybe we have a winner. I go by what I saw in the very limited 2 week period of ST, nothing else. I would find it hard to believe that the Cubs would have plopped down that kind of money and contract if they didn’t think didn’t think he could become a good player down the road. I guess the other spell check football star has made me a little leary of hype.

    • Tom U

      Junior, great post. Predictions are just pure speculation, but they are fun to talk about when they are bold. How fun is it to predict the sun will rise in the East tomorrow? I took some chances, and hopefully, I’ll be right. If I am, the team we all love will be in a great position. If not, I’m sure I’ll hear about it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-Hood/100000706523521 Richard Hood

    How has Burgess looked this spring? I saw one of the guys from Baseball Prospectus say he looks like Ron Gant just needs to get more consistant in his approach and be selective.

  • cubtex

    I just heard Max Ramirez cleared waivers. Will he be reporting to one of the Cubs minor league teams?

    • cubtex

      Ramirez is being sent to Iowa

  • Bryan

    So in looking at the online poll of how many games the Cubs will win in 2011 there are really 30 folks who project 96+ wins. Wow!!! Hats off to them if their projection turns out.

  • cubtex

    I heard a slight mention this morning that the Cardinals were kicking the tires(I mean gut) on Carlos Silva. Now that would be funny to see him pitch for them! Did anyone else hear this?

  • T_Leise

    So does sending Max Ramirez to Iowa mean that Castillo and Ramirez will split time. Because if that’s the case, then so much for the argument for sending Castillo down to get regular at bats.

  • cc002600

    Wow, Max Ramirez cleared waivers ?

    Having read some of the comments on here by some of the “experts” in the last 2 weeks, I can’t believe that no one would want to pick up a guy who is basically the 2nd coming of Johnny bench. I’m SHOCKED !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    LOL

    • cubtex

      those were comments of hope that the Cubs would keep Ramirez over Hill! More of a hatred for Hill than a love for Max Ramirez.

    • Bryan

      Oh, let’s get clarity here…I think it was the 2nd coming of Carlton Fisk.

  • cc002600

    Cubtex,
    I know. Just busting everyone’s chops.
    :-)

  • Tom U

    Thank you to everyone for your comments.

    Remember, last chance to vote for the minor leaguer you would like to see followed this season.

    • Wickitkevin

      I personal am going to follow, Szczur, Watkins, Simpson, Carpenter and McNutt.

      • Tom U

        I’ll put those down for votes.

        • Aaron

          Tom,

          Here are some I don’t think I’ve seen mentioned, but they’re kind of in a make or break year (in some cases), and I’m interested to see what they do. In most cases, they haven’t got much publicity at all:
          Cerda
          Clevenger
          Antigua
          Larry Suarez
          Ha
          Fitzgerald
          Bour
          Burgess
          Whitenack
          Gibbs

          • Wickitkevin

            I like Gibbs too.

  • Cheryl

    I’d still like to keep an eye on Max Ramirez and add to that Burgess, Simpson, Golden and McNutt.

  • Tom U

    Keep’em coming, this is starting to become an interesting race.

    • Wickitkevin

      Anyone say Brett Jackson?

  • Cheryl

    If the cubs draft Archie Bradley or Levi Michael (a third baseman) I’d be interested in following them. But dont know if they could be included.

  • Cheryl

    Add Flaherty and Ha for me.