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.

Follow the CCO on Twitter: @TheCCO

Quote of the Day

"People who write about Spring Training not being necessary have never tried to throw a baseball." – Sandy Koufax