Cubs Down on the Farm Report – 07/04/11

The Cubs Minor League System Quarterly Report

We are now a little more than halfway through the minor league season. Many of the Cub affiliates have performed well, producing twenty-three All-Stars. Here’s how the affiliates in the Chicago Cubs’ organization have performed.

Triple-A – Iowa Cubs
The Iowa Cubs performance continues to reflect that of the parent club: a below.500 team struggling to find its identity. The purpose and direction the organization has for Iowa is confusing. Many organizations use their Triple-A club as a “practice squad” to supplement the parent club when injuries or poor performances occur. Others will use the team to develop their top prospects, having them face “near” big league conditions and competition. The Iowa Cubs are neither of these examples, but somewhere in the middle.

As a developmental squad, C Steve Clevenger, RHP Blake Parker, RHP Marco Carrillo, and RHP Ty’Relle Harris have all performed well when called-up to Iowa, only to be sent back down or relegated to spot duty. The I-Cubs created roster space by releasing LHP JR Mathes and RHP Thomas Diamond, as well as outrighting RHP Robert Coello, then demoting him to Double-A. However, the only prospect brought in was RHP Alberto Cabrera. The other two roster spots went to veteran SS Augie Ojeda and minor league veteran OF Ty Wright, coming off of injured reserve. The organization may be wasting the talents of manager Bill Dancy, who has a reputation for developing players, by not giving him players to develop.

As a “reserve” team for the parent club, the Iowa players have been only given a short enough rope to hang themselves. Pitchers Casey Coleman, Justin Berg, Scott Maine, Marcos Mateo and Jeff Stevens have yo-yoed between the big leagues and Triple-A. Outfielders Tyler Colvin and Brad Snyder and C Welington Castillo were given sparse opportunities to prove themselves. Snyder and Stevens have since been outrighted to Iowa.

The only players making some impact at the major league level have been OF Luis Montanez and OF Tony Campana. In Iowa, Bryan LaHair continues to be dominant. It’s time to tell it like it is. The organization made a major mistake by not giving LaHair a fair shot to make the team.

As to the direction for the I-Cubs remaining part of the season, it’s a mystery. With numerous prospects at Double-A and Advanced-A, it was felt that the organization would start finding a new home for many of their Triple-A players. For the most part, that has not happened. The organization drafted fifty players in the recent Amateur Draft, yet they have only signed ten picks, and only one above the eighteenth round. Perhaps as more players are signed, more movement will be seen.

Double-A – Tennessee Smokies
The Smokies are the team considered to be the jewel in the organizational crown, and there first half-season did nothing to disprove that notion. Tennessee’s record was the best in the Southern League, as they clinched a playoff spot for the fourth consecutive season. Manager Brian Harper has done a masterful job in rotating players at positions, as well as in-and-out of the line-up. He has a very bright future. The Smokies placed twelve players on the All-Star team, and has sent D.J. LeMahieu and Chris Carpenter directly to the major leagues.

Tennessee continues to lead the Southern League in batting average, slugging, on-base percentage, hits, home runs, RBI, and again, wins. Even though he spent over three weeks in Chicago, D.J. LeMahieu remains second in the Southern League in hitting. Rebel Ridling and Marwin Gonzalez are also in the top ten in hitting, while Ryan Flaherty joins them in the top twenty. Flaherty and Matt Spencer are tied for fourth in the league in home runs, while Ridling is tied for sixth. Brett Jackson is sixth in the league with 13 stolen bases.

Tennessee’s weak point continues to be starting pitching, although there are some signs of improvement. Highly touted right-handers Trey McNutt and Robert Whitenack have struggled with injuries this season and Whitenack had season ending surgery. Left-handers Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley remain inconsistent, but have recently had more good outings than bad ones. However, promising performances have been given by the promoted Nick Struck and Dallas Beeler.

The bullpen continues to be Tennessee’s secret weapon, and has been the big contributor in their league leading ERA. Converted starter Rafael Dolis has taken over the closer role, and is tied for fourth in the league in saves. Jeffrey Beliveau, Kevin Rhoderick, Ty’Relle Harris, and Ryan Searle all have ERA’s fewer than 2.25.

So once again, the main question isn’t “if” players will be called up, it is “when” and “where”. Marwin Gonzalez has already been bumped up to Triple-A and players such as Jackson, Ridling, and Flaherty continue to be obvious choices but Spencer, Steve Clevenger, Beliveau, and Rhoderick should also merit promotions. Time will tell.

High Class-A – Daytona Cubs
The Daytona Cubs are one of the most successful teams in professional baseball. In fact, one could argue that the D-Cubs are almost operating as a second Double-A club for the organization. Dominant is almost too mild a word to describe the team. Daytona is second in the Florida State League in hitting, and only one-one hundredth of a percentage point from being second in pitching.

Outfielder Evan Crawford remains third Florida State League in hitting, and is seventh in stolen bases; while 1B Justin Bour is second in home runs and RBI. Outfielders Michael Burgess and Jae-Hoon Ha, as well as infielders Matt Cerda and Jake Opitz are in the top twenty in several offensive categories.

Daytona has lost many of their top pitchers to promotion, but still sport All-stars in Aaron Kurcz and Frank Batista. Kurcz and left-handed pitcher Zachary Rosscup have anchored the starting rotation. Starters Dae-Eun Rhee, Jeffrey Lorick, and Brett Wallach have shown some promise, such as Rhee’s ten-strikeout performance on May 26, but they still remain inconsistent. Frank Bautista remains third in the league with sixteen saves. Batista has received bullpen help from RHP’s Oswaldo Martinez, Marcus Hatley, and Eduardo Figueroa.

Daytona solved some of their defensive problems by moving Logan Watkins to shortstop following the promotion of SS Junior Lake. The moved seemed to be just what Watkins needed, as he has hit at a .419 pace since making the move.

Once again, Daytona players will have to wait patiently while the organization makes some decisions about their other prospects. At this time, it looks as if Crawford, Bour, Ha, and Batista are ready for promotion.

Low Class-A – Peoria Chiefs
The Peoria Chiefs have kept themselves at about .500 until a ten game skid around the All-Star break brought their record down. This is despite that the organization rectified some of the team’s previous issues by adding 3B Brandon May and installing RHP Robinson Lopez as their closer.

The MVP of Peoria continues to be 3B-OF Greg Rohan. Rohan leads the Midwest League in hitting and is fourth in RBI. Outfielder Matt Szczur is third in the league in hitting, while 1B Richard Jones is fourth in home runs. Shortstop Elliot Soto is also in the top twenty in hitting. However, the team has been in a hitting slump, as Pierre LePage, Micah Gibbs, and Ryan Cuneo have seen a downturn in their averages.

The Chiefs’ rotation revolves around the left-handed pitching of Austin Kirk, Graham Hicks, and Eric Jokisch, with RHP’s Hayden Simpson and Su-Min Jung in the mix. The staff continues to develop, but has been the victim of the growing pains that all young pitchers experience. Even staff ace Kirk has had to deal with some adversity, having several poor performances recently.

Robinson Lopez seemed to solve the closer problem before going down to an injury. The role has now been assumed by Marcus Hatley. However, waiting in the wings are Casey Harman and big Larry Suarez.

As far as moving on to the next level, I can see Szczur and Kirk, with maybe a courtesy promotion to Rohan.

Mid-season Organizational All-Star Team

Left Field
Bryan LaHair (Iowa)
Honorable Mention: Evan Crawford (Daytona)

Centerfield
Matt Szczur (Peoria)
Honorable Metion: Brett Jackson (Tennessee)

Right Field
Jae-Hoon Ha (Daytona/Tennessee)
Honorable Mention: Matt Spencer (Tennessee)

Third Base
Greg Rohan (Peoria)
Honorable Mention: Ryan Flaherty (Tennessee)

Shortstop
Marwin Gonzalez (Tennessee/Iowa)
Honorable Mention: Junior Lake (Daytona/Tennessee)

Second Base
D.J. LeMahieu (Tennessee/Chicago/Iowa)
Honorable Mention: Matt Cerda (Daytona)

First Base
Justin Bour (Daytona)
Honorable Mention: Rebel Ridling (Tennessee)

Catcher
Steve Clevenger (Tennessee/Iowa)
Honorable Mention: Welington Castillo (Iowa/Chicago)

Right-Handed Pitcher
Nick Struck (Daytona/Tennessee)
Honorable Mention: Marco Carrillo (Tennessee/Iowa)

Left-Handed Pitcher
Austin Kirk (Peoria)
Honorable Mention: Eric Jokisch (Peoria)

Closer
Frank Batista (Daytona)
Honorable Mention: Rafael Dolis (Tennessee)

Note: Due to technical problems, the mid-season minor league report was delayed a week. Monday’s Down on the Farm report has been pushed to Tuesday … so check in tomorrow morning for the latest on the games down on the farm.

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

    Great Update as always Tom. Your assessment of Triple-A is right on the money and needs to be fixed. Hopefully over the next few weeks as more prospects sign we can cut some fat. At this point I am hoping that some of the guys just are outrighted. Some maybe used as throw ins in trades and some called up.

    I am thinking that we can almost totally retool the roster at Triple A with just a handful of moves.

    1. trades- As Reed Johnson, Baker, Fukudome, and Garbow are traded (hopefully more) we have opened spots for Montenez, LaHair, Colvin and Graub to be at the big leagues. We can also include the likes of Moore, Snyder and Marquez Smith  in some trades to give a team with a shot some injury insurance at Triple A. These guys are not in our future plans and need to be trimmed.
    That clears 6 spots for prospects like Rebel Ridings, Brett Jackson, and Flahtery to move up a level.

    2, Cuts- Bye Bye Augie Ojeda. We will see what Ortiz has left this week but I am pretty sure he is a good canidate as well. Perez should be at least outrighted to get him off the 40 man if not cut all together.

    See not a huge amount of moves and we totally reshape how Triple A looks. I know that some guys are going to be all over me for the Scott Moore and Marquez Smith but they deserve a shot to play in the big leagues and it is clear at this point that this regime has no plans of even giving them a shot so might as well move them as insurance at this point.

    With any luck we can trade a lot more guys in the next few weeks like DeWitt, Pena and Byrd then we can really see a reshaping at AAA. I just do not see that as a given yet though.

    With Coleman and Carpenter now on the Iowa Ferry and DJ with Gonzalez now in Triple A full time I really like the moves that the club is making as far as making Triple A relevant to the future. It seems like it has not taken that approach in long time.

    • J Daniel

      Do you think anyone wants Grabow?  Although the others, Johnson, Baker, And Fuku are serviceable do you really think you will be getting anything in return?  Probably low class A with no shot at doing anything is what you will get in return.

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

        If you notice I never mentioned any return that was at the major league level.

         I think those low A type prospect are what Hendry is good at finding. Garbow has value just not top prospect value. A lefty that has experience is always a premium and the number of arms that are going to be avaliable I think Grabow has value the amount of money we send will say how much value.

         Everyone seems to think just because we are in trade mode that the return will be guys that are in the majors. That is not reality. You get guys that will help you in 3 years not today. Hendry like him or not is very good at getting multiple guys that are pieces for the future. He found a gem in Rosscup, Archer, Guyer, and a number of other “prospects” that are in our top ten list. I think the subs trading is what he is good at. Let him do his thing on this.

        • J Daniel

          Richard,

          Absolutely agree with you those are the types of guys they will get in return.  I just have not seen the Cubs bring up young guys they have received in any trades.  Prospects usually do not pan out but that is what you would expect if you are trading junk that you do not want anyways.

          • Tom U

            Not always. If you do your homework, you can find a diamond in the rough. Last year, the Cubs traded Mike Fontenot for now minor league All-Star Evan Crawford. 

      • http://chicagocubsonline.com/ Neil

        I have heard rumblings that the Yankees are interested in Grabow. At this point anything they could get for Grabow would be a plus in two ways … it would get him off the roster and possibly save a little money on the final year of that contract.

  • diehardcubfan

    Tom, great report and dead on. Tom, I agree with Richard you are spot on with the situation at Iowa.  The Cubs I am sure will argue that it was brought on by the revolving injuries but at the same I blame it on the lack of philosophy and direction within the organization.

    This to me continues to signal a lack of understanding of how to build depth within an organization and even if JH signs an array of prospects what happens to them?  Will he actually get serious about developing them?

    What serves as the benchmark for promotion, what is the gauge used to determine if a player is MLB ready?  What is even the purpose of the Iowa ballclub?  Why are the Cubs even keeping Snyder, LaHair and Montanez if there was never even a intent to give them a shot or even play them?  Why is Augie Ojeda even on the team any longer? Depth, one would argue but I am not buying that.  As Tom noted several will likely get released if the Cubs ever get around to completing the signings of many of the draftees. 

    Given the majority of the teams talent is at AA tells me that it will be at least two or three years before the majority are ready to attempt to make the jump to become MLB players. 

    Has JH ever even hinted about how he plans to actually assess and progress players as they develop within the organization.  I am not aware of any.

    If AA serves as the launching pad for players to jump from the minors to the MLB is that fair to them and their development.  I say “NO!!”.  Yes, there are exceptions such as Castro but that is not realistic.  I do agree giving a player such as DJ L a cup of coffee at the ML level can serve as a educational experience at the same time should be limited in scope to not retard their development.

    This again continues to highlight the issue of why the Cubs made the Garza trade if there were not any players at the AAA level ready to contribute at the ML level.  Please excuse me for a moment.  I forgot JH actually believed the team he fielded could actually contend and that the club did not need to contend to develop talent that could immediately contribute.  Sounds short sighted to me.

    Given the Cubs are only 10 games out, JH will continue to live in fantasy land that the Cubs can get back in the race.  Anything is possible in baseball and if it happened that would be the miracle of miracles but at the same time is it realistic?  Given that JH continues to think the Cubs can contend I see no changes on how the Cubs handle the Iowa team.  Makes you wonder also why Ryno left.  He probably saw the same thing and did not agree with the philosophy so JH ran him out of town.

    This team continues to mystify me.

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

      I was never on the Sandberg band wagon but I think after looking at how the big club is being ran it had more to do with control than direction on why Sandberg left the organization.

       Quade is a Hendry puppet atleast as far as daily line ups is concerned. Why else would a guy put a bench player in DeWitt into the lineup everyday when he does not deserve it? Hendry is trying to find a replacement for Baker and pushing Quade to give DeWitt AB’s.

      Just for you guys wondering I was in the go outside the organization and get Eric Wedge camp because he is great at developing pitching at the majorleague level. Which I thought the Cubs needed. Look at the job that he has done with the M’s young pitchers and you can see why I thought he was the man to go after.

  • Bloomington Zelnio

    Season is over.  Also time to get rid of players not in future plans.  Trade or release(some trades won’t be possible, such as Soriano, but including him anyway): Soriano, Byrd, Fuku, Pena, Aram, Grabow, Hill, Snyder, Ojeda, Montanez, Johnson, Dewitt.  Bring up: Flaherty, B Jackson, LaHair, DJ, Coleman, J Jackson (time to see what he has), Castillo, Gaub, Colvin, M Gonzalez, Marquez Smith, Mateo, Dolis

  • Patrick_Schaefer

    Tom U. great stuff, as always thanks.

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

    Hey Tom is there any chance for a quick promotion to Boise or Peoria for some of the kids in Arizona Rookie League? It looks like we have about 4 guys down there that are just flat out raking it and could use some better competition.

    I especially like Blair Springfield because he is a local for me and would love to see the kid really make it good.

    Dustin Gieger seems to be a man among boys there.

    • Tom U

      Remember, Jim Hendry is having his “summit” of organizational staff this weekend. With interleague play over and the All-Star break next week, we can possibly expect some movement soon.

      You would like to see the organization sign some more draft picks, but with 32 players on the rookie roster, there is some wiggle room. You can also see a player or two move from the DSL to make up for the lack of signings. 

      If it were up to me, I would promote Gioskar Amaya and Dustin Geiger to Boise. Wes Darvill and Brad Zapenas would go to Peoria. Elliot Soto and Greg Rohan deserve to be in Daytona. 

      After that, it would get a little dicey. I would promote Evan Crawford and Matt Cerda to Tennessee, then Brett Jackson and Rebel Ridling to Iowa. I would move Junior Lake to centerfield, and move Matt Spencer to first and Nate Samson to short permanently.  Ryan Flaherty and Steve Clevenger would get direct call-ups to the parent club in September. 

      As for Springfield, if he keeps hitting as he recently has been doing, and the Cubs sign Zeke DeVoss, I can see him moving up to Boise.

      • Anthony

        My guess is the Peoria express will include at least one OF, maybe two to replace Szczur, a middle infielder, and at least one pitcher.

        If Rohan moves, as he was doing some DH and OF, and with BMay at 3B moreso, a MIF is likely, and two Boise OF’s to give Peoria a 4 man outfield again????

        • Tom U

          If they do move Darvill and Zapenas up, they may want to try Arismendy Alcantara in the outfield, as he has 25 errors  as an infielder already. 

          I’d also be a bit conservative with Szczur, as this is the first time he has played baseball full-time.

  • Tom U

    Thank you to everyone for your comments.