Cubs Down on the Farm Report – 05/12/11

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.

Triple-A – Iowa Cubs – (14-18)
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

Follow the CCO on Twitter: @TheCCO

Quote of the Day

"There are places I remember. All my life though some have changed. Some forever not for better. Some have gone and some remain. All these places have their moments ... " John Lennon/Paul McCartney
  • Tno13

    Thank you for the update. It seems there could be a very promising future ahead. The system has not been this rich with prospects and suspects in decades.

  • Ripsnorter1

     Nice report, Tom.

    Possibly releasing up to 13 players? Doesn’t speak well of the talent level in AAA Iowa. On another note . . . Jake Fox was used as a pinch runner last night and scored the winning run for the O’s vs. Mariners. I didn’t think he did such things . . .pinch run, I mean. 

    • Tom U

      Rip, its not uncommon practice to stack your Triple-A club like the Cubs did, so I’m not going to fault them.

       Remember, this is just my opinion. But from where I sit, the organization already has enough players to field teams at Boise and in the rookie league. When the draft comes, where will they find spots for all the players they sign?

      To me, with all the prospects they have at Tennessee and Daytona, it would make sense to drop some of the marginal players they have at Iowa in order to create space. It would also free up room on the 40 man roster, which will aid in call-ups to the parent club.

      • Ripsnorter1

        Who do you expect the Cubs to cut out of AAA? LaHair has 9 HR, 27 RBI and hitting .387. Scales, hitting just .287, has 13 2B in 94 AB, on a pace to hit 65 2B in 500 AB.

        Don’t think the Cubs would cut Fernando Perez, do you?

        • Tom U

          Sorry to get back to you so late. Sometimes, I try to pop a quick comment in before work.

          When it comes down to releasing players in order to create space, sometimes difficult decisions have to be made. Therefore, if I had a say in the process, here are some of the players that would be moving on:

          Esmailin Caridad
          Robert Coello
          Thomas Diamond
          John Gaub
          Angel Guzman
          Ramon Ortiz
          Matt Camp
          Scott Moore
          Augie Ojeda
          Bobby Scales
          Marquez Smith
          Fernando Perez

          I know that there will be some people that would have issues with one or two of these players. But these are the players that I feel both have no future with the organization and will not come back to hurt them.

          • Ripsnorter1

            Well, your list is probably dead on. Of course there are some I’d let go first before others . . .

            Pitchers.. . .
            1. Ortiz
            2. Gaub
            3. Diamond
            4. Coello
            5. Guzman
            6. Caridad

            Hitters1. Perez
            2. Ojeda
            3. Camp
            4. Moore
            5. Scales
            6. Smith

            I would hate to part with Smith (Aram’s backup), with Scales (for his versatility), with Moore, for his versatility, too. Pitchers I hate no particular affection for any of them except Guzman, and that is because of his effectiveness before the injuries.

      • paulcatanese

        Nice coverage Tom. Your’e first paragraph on the  Triple-A club seems like a mirror image of the parent team,under 500,older players and just in general, non-achieving. I’m not too swift on the minors so I may be out of focus here,don’t really know. 

        • paulcatanese

          Tom,every time I re-read the first paragraph I think of the Cub vets. Very little team play here. The only ones I think contribute as a team are Fuko,Baker,and Pena (I surprise my self with Pena) the rest are playing the string out for the year as total individuals. Byrd ticks me off in particular when he makes a catch on some flys and does an end zone dance out there along with Soriono. How can someone do that when your’e team is getting their brains kicked in? He may be having fun but what about everyone else?I don’t include pitchers here as they are depending on a team behind them. On Soriono’s defense he did go back to the wall   once   and jumped, misjuged it also and the ball hit him on his head, don’t remember when but it happened. As much as I was against the Pena,and Garza deal, those two are making an effort even with limited success they pull for the team, that would be nice to see all around. I cannot believe how much the computer and the posts and blogs by all of you guys have opened my eyes to the true workings of Major League,and Minor League baseball.

  • Ripsnorter1

     The ChiSox bullpen has been struggling. It gets hammered on most nights, it seems. SO who is their #2 reliever right now? Jeff Gray–the center piece of the Jake Fox trade (outside of Aaron Miles). Sporting an acceptable 2.70 ERA in 13 IP. 

    • Neil
      • Ripsnorter1

        After Sale, their best reliever!! WOW! I thought the Sox were desperate for help in the pen. I guess Gray didn’t want to go back down if he thinking he can pitch at the ML level.

        • Zonk

           13 innings isn’t much of a sample size.  Jeff Gray isn’t really that good.  Can’t hang Hendry for letting him go.  We have more than enough right-handed fringy bullpen guys as it is.

  • The Maven

     I know this is going to stir the pot a little, but minus Darwin Barney and Jeff Smardzija, Iowa is practically the same club as last year, but with a losing record.

    The Phillies’ AAA club is stocked the same way as Iowa, yet they have a winning record.

    Go figure!

    • Cloycub13

      Astute observation… wonder what the difference is hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm?!?!?!?!?!?!?! 

      • Aaron

        I think we all know what the difference was…..a certain #23 

  • paulcatanese

    The Cubs would be wise to bring up as many players as they can, and just release as many high paid players as they can. It’s either that or fire Quade. He has none or little communication with vets,who say they like him. Of course they do, here is a guy who is at a minimal salary,formerly their bench coach and not a big name,and seems to have little or no impact on what the vets on the team do. The only players he can involve with whatever theory he is trying to bring to the team . He just does not have enough muscle to pull this off. Don’t hate the guy,he is just trying to deal with guys that make ten times what he does, and what has been said “it goes in one ear and out the other”. These guys just say,yeah,yeah, yeah and do what they want anyway. Quade can make a lot of noise, but knowone their is listenng.

  • cubtex

    Bruce Levine mentioned that when Cashner comes off the DL that they might move him back to the bullpen. What????? I hope this is just Levine just trying to come up with a story but what sense would that make? Cashner could be a top of the rotation guy. Do they really want Doug Davis at 35 take starts away from Cashner? Makes no sense to me. 

    • Zonk

       The only way that makes sense is if they fear Cashner will develop arm problems in a starting role.  There may be some validity to that; he doesn’t have that clean a delivery. 

      I prefer Cashner as a starter, but I also prefer a healthy pitcher. 

  • bacboris

    I really appreciated this update. Out of all the sites trying to do a minor league update, this report here is far and away the most worthwhile. Tom, thanks for synthesizing the information for us without drowning us in stats or minutiae. Your efforts with this one, are much appreciated.

  • EqDoc

    Can we just replace the Cubs entire team with the Daytona Cubs team?  They would probably win the same number of games but be way more fun to watch… 

  • Tom U

     Thank you to everyone for your comments.