The Cubs Minor League System Quarterly Report
Time has passed quickly, and this week most minor league teams will be completing the first quarter of the season. Here’s how the affiliates in the Chicago Cubs’ organization have performed.
The Iowa Cubs have performed pretty much to standard of what most organizations consider their Triple-A club: a sort-of de facto “practice squad” made up of fringe major leaguers and slightly over-aged prospects. That attitude is also reflected in their record.
With the baseball draft looming in early June, big changes may be in store for the I-Cubs. The fact that the organization selected Bill Dancy, a manager with a reputation for developing prospects, to lead the team cannot be overlooked.
Therefore, I can foresee decisions to release anywhere from seven to thirteen players on the current roster. Iowa has already released RHP Jake Muyco, LHP Polin Trinidad, and C Max Ramrez. Veteran RHP Todd Wellemayer retired. Depending on who is released, the roster moves can provide promotion opportunities for players in the lower minors to both Triple-A and the parent club. One notable promotion was already made in the wake of Geovany Soto being placed on the DL. The Cubs promoted catcher Steve Clevenger to replace Welington Castillo on the I-Cubs roster.
As far as prospects go, there have been far more disappointments than encouraging performances. One of the lone bright spots has been OF Luis Montanez. The former shortstop has adapted well to the outfield, and has shown that he can make a meal out of Triple-A pitching. He would make a suitable fifth outfielder in the majors. Tony Campana has also made the most out of his opportunity to play at this level. The I-Cubs have gotten good work out of LHP Scott Maine. The big lefty leads the team in appearances, ERA and saves. Having a left-handed power pitcher in the bullpen is a luxury most major league squads would savor.
One of the biggest disappointments has been OF Fernando Perez. Acquired in the off-season, Perez has not been the top-of-the-order presence the organization was looking to get.
Right-handed pitchers Thomas Diamond, Robert Coello, and Esmailin Caridad, as well as LHP J.R. Mathes have all struggled. Despite having big performances in spring training, C Welington Castillo, 3B Marquez Smith, and IF Matt Camp have all faded since the season began. Castillo has now been called up to the parent club due to the Soto injury.
Double-A – Tennessee Smokies – (20-14)
Many anticipated the Smokies play this season, as they have many of the organization’s top prospects, and they haven’t disappointed. Tennessee leads the Southern League in batting average, slugging, on-base percentage, doubles, home runs, RBI, and mostly, wins. They are also tied for second in steals. Tennessee has mashed 311 hits, or an average of 10 a game.
Rebel Ridling, Steve Clevenger, and D.J. LeMahieu are all in the top ten in hitting, while Matt Spencer joins them in the top twenty. Ryan Flaherty is second in the league in home runs, while Ridling is tied for third. However, the headliner has been Brett Jackson. The Smokies’ leadoff hitter has batted .300 or better for a majority of the season, and leads the Southern league with 11 stolen bases. He is also fourth in on-base percentage.
Brett Jackson’s season took a slight detour Wednesday after he stole second in the first inning of a game against the Huntsville Stars (Milwaukee Brewers). Jackson hurt a ligament in his left pinkie and saw a hand specialist in Chicago Thursday. Jackson was placed on the 7-day DL later in the day.
If Tennessee has an Achilles Heel, it would be something once considered a strength, starting pitching. The current rotation of Chris Rusin, Alberto Cabrera, Brooks Raley, Trey McNutt, and recently promoted Robert Whitenack are 7-5 with an ERA of 4.84. Spot starters Rafael Dolis and Hung-Wen Chen have together posted a 2-4 record.
The savior has been the bullpen, which has a 9-3 record and is currently leading the Southern League in saves. Right-hander David Cales was tied for second in the league in saves. However, he has been lost for the season to shoulder surgery. Rubber-armed RHP Marco Carrillo has been a revelation; his 3-0 record includes winning one start while saving two games. Carrillo doesn’t have overpowering “stuff”, he just knows how to get outs. Carrillo and RHP Blake Parker have stepped up to close games since Cales was placed on the disabled list.
So the main questions won’t be “if” players will be called up, it will be “when” and “where”. Jackson, Ridling, and Flaherty are obvious choices, but LeMahieu and Spencer could also merit promotions. A surprise promotion might be IF Nate Samson, a steady defender who has emerged as a hitter. Pitchers Carrillo and Parker have also earned consideration.
Enjoy them in eastern Tennessee, while you can.
High Class-A Daytona Cubs – (24-9)
While Tennessee steals the headlines, Daytona has become the jewel of the system. The D-Cubs lead the pitching rich Florida State League in hitting, slugging, and home runs. Outfielder Evan Crawford is third in hitting, and is joined in the top twenty by OF Jae-Hoon Ha and SS Junior Lake. First baseman Justin Bour, OF Michael Burgess, and Ha are third, fourth, and fifth in home runs. Ha, Bour, Burgess, and Lake are in the top fifteen in RBI. Lake leads the league in stolen bases; Crawford is sixth. Since coming off the disabled list, OF Nelson Perez has also posted great numbers, but isn’t among the league qualifiers yet. Perez received a promotion to Double-A Thursday shortly after the Smokies placed Brett Jackson on the disabled list.
But hitting isn’t all that the D-Cubs do. Daytona pitching is third in strikeouts and second in WHIP. They lead the league in ERA and, most importantly, wins. It has been a team effort, as few Daytona pitchers rank highly in the major pitching categories. Right-handed pitcher Nick Struck is second in wins, twelfth in strikeouts, and twentieth in ERA and WHIP. Left-handed pitcher Zachary Rosscup is nineteenth in WHIP. The surprise of the pitching staff has been RHP Frank Bautista. Bautista sports a 1.38 ERA and 0.77 WHIP while being tied for third in the league with eight saves. Daytona has also lost some of their better pitchers, as RHP Robert Whitenack, RHP Kevin Rhoderick, and LHP Jeffrey Beliveau have already been promoted.
However, there have been some concerns. Daytona’s starting pitching has averaged less than five innings per start. They can also use a more consistent fifth starter. Outfielder Michael Burgess has displayed power, but disappointed with his plate discipline. But the biggest worry in the mounting number of errors by SS Junior Lake. With ten errors already, Lake projects for forty errors if he continues at this pace. It might be time for the organization to consider a switch of positions, to third base or the outfield, perhaps.
Once the organization makes some decisions about their outfielders, Jae-Hoon Ha appears ready for promotion. Third baseman Matt Cerda, as well as pitchers Nick Struck and Frank Bautista may soon follow.
Low Class-A – Peoria Chiefs – (18-14)
The lowest level of all the teams playing at this point, the Chiefs have kept themselves over .500 despite some roster flaws. The organization decided not to provide the Chiefs with an everyday third baseman. They have had to make do with 1B Greg Rohan, OF Anthony Giansanti, and Shortstops Elliot Soto and Arismendy Alcantara taking turns at the position. The Chiefs are also lacking a closer, with five separate relievers attempting to fill the spot. Right-hander Bryce Shafer, LHP Jeffry Antigua, RHP Yohan Gonzalez, RHP Marcus Hatley, and RHP Eduardo Figueroa have combined for a 5.79 ERA and six saves.
However, the Chiefs may be close to solving the problem with the recent promotion of RHP Su-Min Jung. With Jung joining a rotation of LHP Austin Kirk, RHP Hayden Simpson, RHP Robinson Lopez, and LHP Cameron Greathouse, Peoria can have LHP Graham Hicks and RHP Dallas Beeler join Shafer, Hatley, and recently promoted LHP Casey Harman to form a decent pen.
The star of the pitching staff has been LHP Austin Kirk. The left-hander is currently ninth in the league in ERA, seventh in WHIP. His nearly 4:1 (33 strikeouts, nine walks) has been superb. Following close behind Kirk is LHP Eric Jokisch. Jokisch isn’t technically considered a starter but he’s piggy-backed several pitchers. Jokisch ranks first in innings pitched and has a 2.51 ERA. Left-hander Cameron Greathouse has shown the greatest turn-around, with dominant performances in his last two starts. Right-handers Hayden Simpson and Robinson Lopez have also fared better lately.
After an early season slump, OF Matt Szczur has really turned it on. Szczur is currently batting .320 and has ten stolen bases. Catcher Micah Gibbs has also picked up his game. Gibbs is hitting .353 and has shown good plate discipline.
Another player coming on strong is 1B Richard Jones. The 23-year old left-hander has raised his average to.302, with many clutch hits. Pierre LePage has been a consistent contributor who appears to have natural hitting ability. And if you like current Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney, you’ll also like Elliot Soto. Like Barney, Soto won’t “wow” you with his offensive numbers, but he’ll impress you with his over-all fundamental play. He will be an asset in the future.
Despite being bounced between third and short, Arimendy Alacantara has also shown the makings of being a productive offensive player. Minor league veterans Greg Rohan and Smaily Borges have been steadying influences.
As far as moving on to the next level, I can see Szczur, Gibbs, LePage, Soto, Kirk, and Jokish as the best candidates.
Extended Spring Training
It’s difficult to follow the exact stats for the players in EST (I may be a minor league junkie, but I’m not THAT far gone), but I have been following the reports. Here are some of the players I have seen performing well in Mesa.
- Infielders: Wes Darvill, Pin-Chieh Chen, and Vismeldy Bieneme
- Outfielders: Reggie Golden, Dong-Yub Kim, and Kyung-Min Na
- Catcher: Yaniel Cabezas
- Pitchers: Alvaro Sosa, Matt Loosen, Larry Suarez, and Ben Wells
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