Cubs Down on the Farm Report – 04/04/11

As the Big League club begins a new season, the future Cubs are hard at work in Spring Training. The minor league season begins Thursday, April 7 for the top four teams in the Cubs system.

The I-Cubs open against the Round Rock Express while the Tennessee Smokies will face the Chattanooga Lookouts in their first game of the year. Daytona faces the Brevard County Manatees and the Peoria Chiefs will host the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

Here is a preview of the Cubs’ top four teams. The Daytona Cubs released their Opening Day roster Sunday, which in turn slotted several of the players on both the Peoria Chiefs and Tennessee Smokies rosters. The Chiefs, Smokies and Iowa Cubs will announce their official Opening Day rosters over the next few days.

The Cubs made several personnel moves in the system over the past week as well … all that and more in this week’s Down on the Farm Report.

Matt Szczur has been hampered with a leg injury this spring and could begin the season on the DL or remain in extended Spring Training according to a report from Kevin Capie.

Where, and if, Matt Szczur begins the season could end up having a ripple effect throughout the system. If healthy, Szczur is expected to begin the year with the Peoria Chiefs.

Low Class A – Peoria Chiefs
Manager: Casey Kopitzke; Batting Coach: Ricardo Medina; Pitching Coach: Jeff Fassero

Pitching: Hayden Simpson will likely begin the year with the Peoria Chiefs. When Simpson throws a pitch this spring, it will be his first in a professional game. Austin Kirk and Robinson Lopez could join Simpson in the rotation. Cameron Greathouse and southpaw Jeffry Antigua could fill out the Chiefs’ rotation to begin the season.

As for the pen, Yohan Gonzalez, Larry Suarez, Manolin DeLeon, Justin Bristlow, Erik Jokisch, Bryce Shafer and Marcus Hatley are in the mix for a relief spot … along with Charles Thomas, and Casey Harman.

Outfield: Rubi Silva is slated to spend time in center, along with Matt Szczur. And Silva’s playing time early in the year in center will depend on Szczur’s availability. D.J. Fitzgerald could return for a third season of duty with the Chiefs along with Smaily Borges.

Infield: Elliot Soto, Pierre LaPage and Arismendy Alcantara are in the mix for the two middle infield spots. Brandon May could see time at third and first base. Richard Jones will be the Chiefs other first baseman.

High Class-A Daytona Cubs
Manager: Buddy Bailey; Batting Coach: Barbaro Garbey; Pitching Coach: Tom Pratt

The Daytona Cubs announced their 2011 Opening Day roster Sunday afternoon. Several of the better prospects in the Cubs system will begin the year with manager Buddy Bailey.

Pitchers

  • Frank Batista
  • Jeff Beliveau
  • Brent Ebinger
  • Tyrelle Harris
  • Aaron Kurcz
  • Jordan Latham
  • Jeff Lorick
  • Dae-Eun Rhee
  • Kevin Rhoderick
  • Zach Rosscup
  • Ryan Searle
  • Nick Struck
  • Brett Wallach
  • Rob Whitenack

Catchers

  • Michael Brenly
  • Chad Noble
  • David Macias (IF/OF)

Infielders

  • Justin Bour
  • Matt Cerda
  • Junior Lake
  • Jake Opitz
  • John Urick
  • Logan Watkins

Outfielders

  • Michael Burgess
  • Evan Crawford
  • Jae-Hoon Ha
  • Nelson Perez

The D-Cubs infield should be fun to watch, and follow, with Justin Bour, Matt Cerda, Junior Lake and Logan Watkins. Lake and Watkins are two of the big athletic middle infielders in the Cubs system that are primed for a big season.

The outfield of Evan Crawford, Jae-Hoon Ha, Michael Burgess and Nelson Perez has a solid mix of power, speed and athleticism.

Double-A – Tennessee Smokies
Manager: Brian Harper; Batting Coach: Mariano Duncan; Pitching Coach: Marty Mason

Strengths – Pitching: The question may be “Can anyone score against the Smokies?” While that may be overly optimistic, Marty Mason will have a great staff to work with. The starting rotation will include top ten prospects in right-handers Trey McNutt, Alberto Cabrera, and Rafael Dolis, as well as Craig Muschko. Left-handed pitchers Chris Rusin and Ryan Butcher will round out the rest of the slots. Converted starter Chris Carpenter will vie for the closer role with fellow righty Kyle Smit and lefty Luke Sommer. The bullpen could be filled out with impressive arms, such as Marco Carrillo and James Leverton.

Infield: The Smokies will begin the season with many of the top names in the system in the infield. Ryan Flaherty figures to spend time at all four spots and in the outfield. D.J. LeMahieu figures to start the year at second base with Marwin Gonzalez at short. Josh Vitters had a good camp with the parent club and showed he may indeed have the stuff at third base.

Catcher: Steve Clevenger returns to the Smokies this season, this time as a starter after sharing the position with now-departed Robinson Chirinos. Mario Mercedes, who put up decent numbers for Single-A Peoria last season, will likely serve as Clevenger’s backup. Lalli, a converted catcher, could also spend a little time behind the plate.

Outfield: All eyes will be on Brett Jackson as he progresses through the system. With the logjam in the outfield in Iowa, it would not be a surprise to see the Cubs promote Jackson from Double-A to the big leagues … like they did with Starlin Castro. Jackson needs a solid start to the season to keep his name in the mix for a mid-season call-up.

Tony Campana figures to begin the year in the Smokies outfield as well with Matt Spencer possibly splitting time at first base and in the outfield. James Adduci could be lost in the numbers in Iowa and begin his season back in Double-A.

Triple-A – Iowa Cubs
Manager: Bill Dancy; Batting Coach: Von Joshua; Pitching Coach: Mike Mason

Strengths – Catcher: The I-Cubs number one prospect is Welington Castillo, whose scorching Spring Training almost earned him a spot on the big league roster. Max Ramirez will back-up Castillo and could receive an early call if Koyie Hill cannot get the job done … or if Geovany Soto spends time on the DL. The Cubs front office wants Castillo to play everyday and continue to improve, not only offensively but also with calling a game. Also in the mix is minor league veteran Chris Robinson.

Starting Pitching: Dancy and Mason will have an interesting decision on their Opening Day starter. Right-hander Jay Jackson may have the most potential, but Thomas Diamond may provide more experience. However, Austin Bibens-Dirx has the “stuff”, while Casey Coleman has quietly become a favorite in the organization, mainly due to the time spent and the comparisons made to Greg Maddux. Coleman just missed the final cut at the end of big league camp. The rotation will be rounded out by minor league veteran lefty J.R. Mathes. Injured vet Todd Wellemeyer and Hung-Wen Chen could also be available to start.

Area in Flux – Infield: As of now, the I-Cubs’ infield is headed by third baseman Marquez Smith. If Augie Ojeda, injured in Spring Training, is not able to go at short, Matt Camp could be called on to replace him. If Ojeda is ready, Camp will battle Bobby Scales and Scott Moore for time at second. Moore will also see time at third and first, as Bryan LaHair will split time between first and the outfield.

Causes for Concern – Relief Pitching: Jeff Stevens recorded 10 saves at Triple-A last season. He will battle with David Cales and Scott Maine for the closer role. Justin Berg, Esmailin Caridad, Robert Coello, Blake Parker, and Jake Muyco are right-handers; John Gaub and Polin Trinidad join Maine as the left-handers in the I-Cubs pen.

Outfield: The I-Cubs’ outfield will be long on Triple-A production, but short on big league prospects. Heading the cast will be Fernando Perez, whose poor spring cost him a spot in the majors. Returning are Luis Montanez, Brad Snyder and Ty Wright. Bryan LaHair will also see some time in the outfield.

Cubs Minor League News and Transactions
The Cubs signed outfielder Brandon Watson according to Baseball America. The Montreal Expos selected the 29-year old lefty in the ninth round of the 1999 draft. Watson has played 40 games in the big leagues, last appearing in a Nationals uniform in 2007. Watson last played in 2009 at the Triple-A level in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.

Brandon Watson’s Page on Baseball-Reference

The Cubs also released several players
. Danny Keefe (RHP), Corey Martin (RHP), Mike Parisi (RHP), Scott Rice (LHP), Francisco Guzman (OF) and Cody Shields (OF). The Cubs took Parisi in the 2009 Rule 5 Draft but injuries and a rough spring forced them to send him to the minors.

The Cubs also released former second round pick Aaron Shafer. The Cubs selected Shafer in the second round of the 2008 draft with the 65th overall pick.

Aaron Shafer’s Page on Baseball-Reference

Kyler Burke, the Cubs 2009 Minor League Player of the Year, is being converted to a pitcher. Burke was a pitcher prior to being drafted by the San Diego Padres. The Cubs acquired Burke in the deal that sent Michael Barrett to the Friars in 2007. Burke will stay behind in Arizona and work in extended Spring Training.

Two Cubs minor league players were suspended 50 games for violating the Minor League drug policy. Catcher Erick Castillo and right-handed pitcher Amalio Reyes will begin serving their suspensions when the Dominican Summer League season begins.

McNutt, Simpson and Szczur Win Fan Poll
The results of this year’s minor league fan poll are now in. Forty-five players were nominated and a total of 126 votes were cast. In the end, right-handed pitchers Trey McNutt and Hayden Simpson, along with outfielder Matt Szczur tied with nine votes apiece. The top ten vote-getters are:

1. Trey McNutt – RHP
1. Hayden Simpson – RHP
1. Matt Szczur – OF
4. Josh Vitters – 3B
5. D.J. LeMahieu – IF
5. Reggie Golden – OF
7. Michael Burgess – OF
7. Micah Gibbs – C
9. Jae-Hoon Ha - OF
9. Brett Jackson – OF

However, since only two pitchers were selected and Brett Jackson may be a quick call-up, I’m asking readers if they would mind Jackson being replaced by pitcher Chris Carpenter, the next leading player? Post your comments, and the will of the people shall reign.

A special shout-out goes to Steve23, who has given a new nickname to Rubi “The Expensive Cuban” Silva, IF/OF.

Here is a list of the nominees and the number of votes received, in alphabetical order:

Jeffry Antigua – LHP – 1
Darwin Barney – SS – 1
Austin Bibens-Dirkx – RHP – 2
Justin Bour – 1B – 2
Michael Brenley – C – 1
Michael Burgess – OF – 6
Yaniel Cabeza – 1
Tony Campana – OF – 1
Chris Carpenter – RHP – 4
Wellington Castillo – C – 1
Matt Cerda – 3B/2B – 3
Steve Clevenger – C – 2
Casey Coleman – RHP – 1
Dustin Fitzgerald – RHP – 1
Ryan Flaherty – IF – 2
Micah Gibbs – C – 6
Reggie Golden – OF – 7
Marwin Gonzalez – IF – 2
Jae-Hoon Ha – OF – 5
Brett Jackson – OF – 5
Jay Jackson – RHP – 3
Aaron Kurcz – RHP – 3
Junior Lake – IF – 4
D.J. LeMahieu – IF – 7
Pierre LePage – 2B – 1
A.J. Morris – RHP – 1
Robinson Lopez – RHP – 1
Marcos Mateo – RHP – 1
Trey McNutt – RHP – 9
Max Ramirez – C – 1
Dae-Eun Rhee – RHP – 1
Rebel Ridling – 1B – 1
Chris Robinson – C – 1
Zack Rosscup – LHP – 2
Chris Rusin – RHP – 1
Ryan Searle – RHP – 1
Rubi Silva – IF/OF – 3
Hayden Simpson – RHP – 9
Brad Snyder – OF – 1
Elliot Soto – IF – 1
Larry Suarez – RHP – 1
Matt Szczur – OF – 9
Josh Vitters – 3B/1B – 8
Logan Watkins – 2B – 1
Robert Whitenack – RHP – 1

The results of the CCO fan poll are also posted in the community blog

Follow the CCO on Twitter: @TheCCO

Quote of the Day

"Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." - Abraham Lincoln

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  • Tony_Hall

    Tom – Have the Cubs made the decision to put Chris Carpenter in the bullpen and not try starting any longer. I know his body would probably not hold out to start, and he looked amazing in winter ball out of the pen. I think he will be in the majors quickly from the pen.

    • http://chicagocubsonline.com/ Neil

      Tony, I’m obviously not Tom but what from I’ve read they are going to leave him in the pen.

      • Tony_Hall

        Neil – Thanks. I think he can be a dominate back of the bullpen guy, maybe even this year at Wrigley. Guys that touch triple digits, just need a little control and 1 other pitch to be near unhittable.

        • Dorasaga

          I recalled the C.Carpenter, “Jr.” was scouted to have two or some multiple above avg. 2nd-ary pitches.

          Wouldn’t those be SP stuffs? or was Fleita thinking “Joe Nathan”?

          –edit– NM. K.Law mentioned he had injury concern.

          • Tony_Hall

            I don’t recall exactly, but Carpenter has had trouble getting deep into games, only good for 5 innings.

    • Tom U

      All indications are that Carpenter will remain in relief. Like Starlin Castro and Marwin Gonzalez’s performance made it easier (but was not the reason) to trade Hak-Ju Lee, having someone in the minors like Carpenter made it easier to let Andrew Cashner start. Also, with all the right handed starting pitching the system has, it is a good career move.

      • Tony_Hall

        Bullpen spots are always an easier way to the majors, especially when you hit 100 on the radar when you pitch 1 inning.

      • GrantJones7

        Called Carp to the pen in my top 10 list months ago!
        Im glad about that move

        • junior

          Carpenter is starting the year in Iowa, not Tenn. and indeed is going to be used in the pen as a setup guy. He has enought starting experience to get the occasional spot start I would guess.

  • Tony_Hall

    Tom – Thanks for the update to the rosters for each team. I wouldn’t mind watching the Daytona or Tennessee teams a few times.

  • Ripsnorter1

    “Area in Flux – Infield: As of now, the I-Cubs’ infield is headed by third baseman Marquez Smith. If Augie Ojeda, injured in Spring Training, is not able to go at short, Matt Camp could be called on to replace him. If Ojeda is ready, Camp will battle Bobby Scales and Scott Moore for time at second.”

    Gotta get Ojeda ready for a call up . . . gag!

    • Tom U

      :-)

    • paulcatanese

      Rip,heres a thought. I am getting darn tired of Aram and his arm.He does more damage on defense than he can makeup with the bat. Ojeda,I gag also. But how about Scales or Moore at 2b and Barney at third? It cannot be worse as I feel Aram is at the end of his string. If there is a lack of power at 3b so what,it would be made up by defense. What do you think?

      • Ripsnorter1

        As we considered Cubs’ defense last winter, we found out that Aram is one of the worst defenders in all of MLB. His defense has really degenerated.

        Still, I would not do it, for many reasons. #1 We need POWER BATS in the lineup. Barney hasn’t got enough for me to even start him at SS, let alone 3B. I would not sit 25 HR to be replaced with just 1 HR. Aram, if healthy, can drive in 100 runs. Barney, if healthy, can drive in 40 runs max. Moore could drive in 60 or maybe even 70 if he played everyday. But no body is giving him a chance. #2 Aram’s big contract sitting on the bench means he would be untradeable at the deadline. At least if he plays he can impress some GM, who wants to win it all this year, to trade for him. #3 You would destroy clubhouse morale with this move.

        I just think we are stuck.

  • Ripsnorter1

    SHOCKING NEWS:

    Since Buck Showalter has taken over as manager of the Baltimore Orioles (you know, the team chock full of ex-Cubs) on August 3, 2010, the Orioles have the best record in all of MLB, with a 4.5 game lead over the Phillies. Read it here:
    http://espn.go.com/mlb/team/_/name/bal/baltimore-orioles

    In the second half of 2010, the Houston Astros had the 4th best record in MLB.

    • Aaron

      Showalter’s a guy I wanted the Cubs to go after awhile ago.

      He takes teams that struggle, and turns them into winners. The year after he gets fired from the Yankees, they win the World Series. The year after he gets fired from the D’Backs, they win the World Series. He took a moribund Rangers franchise, and posted a couple good years, then 4 years later, they make the World Series. Fact is, he knows how to take crappy franchises, and turn them into winners. The problem with Showalter is that he’s a very fiery guy, and a lot of players nowadays do not respond well to that. It grows thin on them, just as it did with Piniella. If you look at Scioscia, Maddon (a Scioscia disciple), Francona, Manuel, etc., they really aren’t the fiery type….they’re not “player’s managers” either, as they command a huge amount of respect, but they’re not cut out of the same mold as Piniella, LaRussa, and Showalter, all fiery guys. LaRussa has a unique ability to internalize a lot of emotion, where you can see him fuming in the dugout, but he doesn’t erupt there on a player most of the time. Usually he reserves that for the confines of the clubhouse. Piniella, Showalter, and others, you’d see them laying into guys in the dugout, which, like I said, wears pretty thin on players nowadays.

      I wish Showalter well, but my feeling is that he will get the team on the cusp of the playoffs, get fired, and the next guy will have a World Series team. it’s just the way it works for him. Call it unlucky….but the guy actually knows what he’s doing:
      http://www.baseball-reference.com/managers/showabu99.shtml

      • Ripsnorter1

        I agree with your assessment.

      • oosh

        Aaron, maybe the Cubs should hire Showalter and then fire him immedaiately so they wouldn’t have to wait until next year win the World Series.

  • Ripsnorter1

    According to ESPN, the weakest part of the Cubs’ schedule is during the months of April/May.

    • Aaron

      and like other losing seasons, they’re NOT capitalizing on the easy schedule, which means they’re doomed from the start.

      I don’t like the make-up of this team one bit. I firmly believe that a lot of “good clubhouse guys” are wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy overrated. But there’s a caveat to that. I believe they’re wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyy overrated only when you’re talking about those veterans versus going with one of your own prospects. If you’re talking veteran vs veteran….and what I mean by that is Mark DeRosa vs Milton Bradley, then the “good clubhouse guy” rule applies, and you go with DeRosa. We’ve all seen the damaging effects Bradley had on the team, and I believe that fact is one of the primary reasons Hendry brought back Johnson and Wood, and signed Pena.

      But if you look at the work ethic of young guys like Barney, Cashner, Colvin, and some of the young guys coming up, you’ll see that they’re just as valuable (if not more) than the “good clubhouse guy” veterans. First of all, they tend to have more production. Secondly, they have more energy…Lastly, most of them have already developed chemistry with each other from coming up through the system.

      We’ve all seen what that does for teams like the Rays, Brewers, Reds, Rangers, and Rockies of recent seasons. It’s no wonder they’re all picked to compete for playoff spots…they have natural team chemistry, and don’t have to rely on crappy, aging, overpaid veterans.

      • Ripsnorter1

        Yup. If you can’t beat Pittsburgh and Lyle Overbay (man, is he awful!), then you are not winning the World Series. This Pittsburgh team has HUGE holes in it.

        Look at the Cubs’ hitting (sic) with RISP. It is simply awful. Again. That’s three years in a row. Jim Clueless simply hasn’t gotten a clue about how to fix it.

        Cubs’ 2010 TOP HITTERS with RISP: (min. 10 AB with RISP)

        #1 Theriot 35/77 .455
        #2 C. Tracy 5/13 .385
        #3 Fontentot 14/40 .368
        #4 DeWitt 12/36 .333
        #5 Z 6/18 .333
        #6 K. Hill 14/49 .286
        #7 Nady 16/56 .286
        #8 Byrd 40/142 .282
        #9 Soto 21/75 .280
        #10 Funko 19/68 .279

        That’s our top ten from 2010. 40% of these guys aren’t around anymore:
        Theriot, Tracy, Fontenot, Nady. Z is a pitcher, so he doesn’t hit everyday. DeWitt and K. Hill are bench players.

        Others:
        Colvin 19/95 .200 not great at all
        Soriano 32/115 .278
        Aram 37/133 .278
        Castro 28/146 .264
        Baker 11/53 .207

        Pena .239 34/142

  • paulcatanese

    Tom,great post,very informative and complete. At this point,I like to follow Matt Szczur and feel his story is close to what the experience I am familar with,Baseball over football. Ironic that Matt has a leg injury. I was one of the ones that hoped he would choose baseball over football because of injuries in football.

  • Tom U

    Thank you to everyone for your comments

    A special thanks to Neil. The Daytona Cubs released their roster at 3:00PM yesterday, sending the article I wrote into a tailspin. Neil picked up the pieces in order to make sure everyone at CCO has the latest and best information. Great job Neil!

    • http://chicagocubsonline.com/ Neil

      Thanks Tom!

  • Jay from Sandwich

    Can we get an update on Rebel Ridling first basemen who reminds me of Grace??

    • Tom U

      Rosters haven’t been set yet, but there is some indication that Ridling will open with AA Tennessee. If that is true, then the Smokies could have a very productive infield with Josh Vitters, Marwin Gonzalez, and DJ LeMahieu joining him.

  • Dominic Perry

    I agree, Chris Carpenter is intriguing. I would like to see how he does through out the season.