Cubs Down on the Farm Report – 09/08/11

The Cubs Minor League Fourth Quarter Report

As the minor league regular season has drawn to a close, players from Triple-A Iowa and Class-A Peoria are looking toward their off-season, with many looking to attend the Arizona Fall League or Winter Baseball. Double-A Tennessee, High Class-A Daytona, and Short Season-A Boise have furthered their seasons by making the playoffs. Rookie League AZL Cubs narrowly missed their chance at the post-season, and the Dominican Summer League Cubs bowed out in the first round of the playoffs.

Here’s an overview as to how well the affiliates have performed for this quarter.

Triple-A – Iowa Cubs
The Iowa Cubs posted a 20-18 quarter, which can be attributed to the additions of Marwin Gonzalez, D.J. LeMahieu, Ryan Flaherty, and Brett Jackson. The quartet completely changed the culture in Iowa, providing an aggregate .273 batting average as opposed to the.237 average of the five players they replaced. They were also responsible for a 15% drop in errors and helping the I-Cubs climb to third in the league in fielding percentage. That translated to Iowa starting pitching shaving an earned run off their collective ERA.

Iowa’s offensive leader was Bryan LaHair. LaHair was named the Pacific Coast League’s Most Valuable Player and led the league in home runs with 38. LaHair tied for the league lead with 109 RBI and finished sixth in batting with a .331 average. Welington Castillo’s 15 homers were good for second on the team, while Luis Montanez had 69 RBI.

Brett Jackson set the tone for the team, batting .297 from the leadoff spot and cracking 10 home runs, six to lead off a game. Marwin Gonzalez and D.J. LeMahieu were defensive stalwarts. LeMahieu committed only one error while splitting time between second, third and shortstop … and still hit .286. Gonzalez only had four errors in 53 games at short and hit .274. Although Ryan Flaherty hit only .237, he drove in 22 runs with just 41 hits, demonstrating the clutch hitting that appeared earlier in the season at Tennessee.

If a fifth player can be added to the “Fabulous Four“, it would be starting pitcher Chris Rusin. Rusin finished the season at Iowa with a 5-2 record and a 4.02 ERA. More importantly, the I-Cubs were 6-3 in all the games he started, and won the two other games he pitched in relief, accounting for 40% of the team’s wins this quarter. Twenty-one year old Nick Struck had his ups and downs, as he was 2-4 with a 5.20 ERA in 11 starts. Casey Coleman earned another call-up to the parent club by going 5-2 with a 3.65 ERA and a team leading 1.23 WHIP in 12 starts. Twenty-two year old Alberto Cabrera appears to be overmatched at this point, with an ERA of 6.18 and a 2-4 record over his last ten starts. Jay Jackson turned his season around in the final quarter, going 3-6 with a 4.50 ERA over his final ten starts. Jackson also had an 11-strikeout game on August 31, tying Rusin’s season-high on August 8.

Relief pitching continued to be a problem for Iowa, blowing several good chances to win games. Blake Parker led the relief corps with a 2.81 ERA and had four saves, while Scott Maine had a team leading 12 saves but an ERA of 3.68. John Gaub and Justin Berg each had four wins, with Gaub adding seven saves. Chris Carpenter and Carlton Smith also saw some action, Carpenter spending most of his time on the disabled list while Smith was 0-2 with a 10.80 ERA after coming over from the Cleveland organization in the Kosuke Fukudome trade.

Double-A – Tennessee Smokies
Tennessee’s first half title was won on shear talent. The Smokies came within two games of winning the second half with a combination of key performances by veterans, improved play by some newcomers, and the leadership of Josh Vitters and Rebel Ridling. All of this added up to an organizational best 83-57 record.

Josh Vitters continued to improve his offensive game, raising his batting average to .283 and grabbing the team lead in RBI with 81 while slugging 14 home runs. More importantly, Vitters seemed to come through in the clutch, providing many key hits down the stretch. And if it wasn’t Vitters, it was Ridling.

Rebel Ridling finished second to Vitters, driving in 80 runs while belting a team leading 20 home runs, as well as leading the team with a .309 batting average on the season.

Minor league veterans Ty Wright, James Adduci, Nate Samson, Jonathan Mota, and Blake Lalli provided experience. Steve Clevenger batted a combined .319 with eight home runs and 54 RBI between Tennessee and Iowa.

Young prospects Junior Lake and Jae-Hoon Ha came of age in the final quarter. Lake had struggled to bat over .200 prior to August, then turned it on to finish at .248 with six home runs and 19 stolen bases. The twenty-year old Ha was able to maintain a .283 batting average with three home runs and 25 RBI while hitting leadoff … or the number two spot.

Tennessee’s rotation was always its weak link, but if anyone could be considered a standout performer, it would be Ryan Searle. Searle stared the season as a right-handed reliever in Daytona, but was converted to a starter when he was promoted. Searle finished 5-3 with a 3.51 ERA. Trey McNutt tried to come back from injuries, but continued to be inconsistent. His numbers reflect that, with a 5-6 record, 4.55 ERA, 1.67 WHIP. Left-hander Brooks Raley was also inconsistent, ending at 8-10 with a .422 ERA. Marco Carrillo was brought back down to Tennessee and placed in a starting role, and provided a 5-4 record and 2.36 ERA in 76.1 innings. Matt Loosen, Larry Suarez, and Eric Jokisch all had time as the fifth starter.

Tennessee’s bullpen continues to be their secret weapon, but while all the attention goes closer Rafael Dolis, the real studs are Jeffrey Beliveau and Kevin Rhoderick. Rhoderick led the bullpen by going 7-0, and added a 3.47 ERA. Beliveau had a 1.90 ERA, a 0.88 WHIP … 69 strikeouts and 13 walks. Dolis was third in the Southern League with 17 saves, but had a 3.22 ERA. Oswaldo Martinez came up and went 4-0 with a 2.34 ERA in 34.2 innings. Veteran Jeff Stevens also contributed.

High Class-A – Daytona Cubs
Daytona limped into the playoffs on a 14-19 record in the final quarter. The rehab of Angel Guzman continued playing havoc with the rotation, as the club continued the practice of pitching him two innings every four days. All the extra attention didn’t pay off for Guzman as he ended 0-3 with a 4.26 ERA before being shipped to Boise.

Flamethrower Dae-Eun Rhee led the team with an 8-7 record and 117 strikeouts, while posting an ERA of 4.02. Jeffry Antigua was first among all starters with a 2.92 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. Casey Harman ended up 4-5 with a 4.47 ERA, while Matt Loosen was 2-3 and a 4.42 ERA upon his return to Daytona. The fifth starter had appearances from Frank Del Valle and P.J. Francescon.

Daytona’s bullpen also scuffled a bit down the stretch. Closer Frank Batista was second in the Florida State League with 26 saves, but saw his ERA rise to 2.36 ERA as he blew several leads toward the end of the season. Eduardo Figueroa continued to be the workhorse, sporting a 2.42 ERA over 70.2 innings. However, Aaron Kurcz struggled to hold leads, with a 3.28 ERA overall. Juan Serrano is 4-2 and had a 3.67 ERA, while Jordan Latham was 6-2 with a 4.70 ERA.

If a fourth quarter MVP could be awarded, it would go to Greg Rohan. Since joining The D-Cubs, Rohan hit .345 with six home runs and 19 RBI. Evan Crawford ended up seventh in the Florida State League in hitting with a .307 average and fourth in stolen bases with 32. Logan Watkins continued to be a spark plug for the team. Watkins hit .281 with 21 steals while playing second, shortstop, center, and left field. Justin Bour ended up second in the league with 23 home runs and RBI with 85. Michael Burgess’ 20 homers were good for fifth in the league. Matt Cerda came back from injury and hit .283 with 43 RBI.

Low Class-A – Peoria Chiefs
The Chiefs improved in the final quarter with a 16-18 record. With the amount of turnover the roster saw over the second half of the season, the record can be considered remarkable.

Richard Jones became the first Peoria player to lead the Midwest League in RBI with 98. Jones was also second in home runs with 24 and fifth in hitting at .309. Rubi Silva ended up ninth in the league in hitting with a .300 average. Anthony Giansanti ended up second on the club in home runs and RBI, with 11 and 56 respectively. Outfielder Ben Klafczynski and 3B Dustin Geiger have shown some promise, hitting .289 and .275 down the stretch. Jesus Morelli continued to adjust, hitting .244 since being called-up. Infielder Arismendy Alcantara has done as well in hitting .271while being only 19 year-old, but committing a whopping 40 errors between short, second, and third. Micah Gibbs hit only .254, but was given The Ryne Sandberg Award for hard work and determination.

Left-hander Austin Kirk continued his struggles, failing to post a win in his last ten starts. For the year, Kirk ended up 5-12 with a 4.29 ERA. However, Kirk did have a 122 to 38 strikeout to walk ratio. Luis Liria was able to step up as the Chiefs’ number two starter after Eric Jokisch was promoted to Tennessee. Liria was 3-3 with a 3.77 ERA in 6 starts. Starling Peralta showed that he has a way to go after being 3-5 with a 5.68 ERA in 12 starts. Dallas Beeler returned to Peoria after coming off the disabled list and went unscored upon in three starting assignments. P.J. Francescon struggled a bit as a relief pitcher, but shoed enough promise in two starts to be called up to Daytona for their playoff run. Brett Wallach was demoted at the beginning of August and went 1-4 with a 6.49 ERA.

The bullpen continued to be a sore spot, as promotion claimed saves leader Dan Berlind, going up the ladder to Iowa before settling at Tennessee. Robinson Lopez had a season to forget, going 4-3 with a 5.35 ERA. Ramon Garcia had a 13.1 inning scoreless streak before ending up 1-1 with a 3.45 ERA. Pete Levitt showed some improvement down the stretch, going 1-0 with a 3.50 ERA in his last ten appearances. Roderik Pichardo became the team’s closer after the promotion of Berlind, and he had a 2.70 ERA and two saves in four appearances in that role.

Short Season-A – Boise Hawks
Boise went 19-19 in the second half their season and earned a playoff berth. The Hawks also placed players among the leaders in several offensive categories. Leading the way was Paul Hoilman, who hit a Boise record 17 home runs to lead the league, and he was fifth with 44 RBI. Rafael Lopez was fifth in the league with a .316 batting average and tenth with 37 RBI. Pin-Chieh Chen was eighth with a .301 average and fifth with 20 stolen bases. Reggie Golden placed eighth with 39 RBI and tied for ninth with seven home runs. Zeke DeVoss was tenth in the league with 14 steals.

Manager Mark Johnson was able to sift through an over-abundance of infielders to nurture DeVoss as a second baseman and having him wind up hitting .311. Wes Darvill emerged at shortstop, raising his batting average to .256. Wilson Contreras improved to .261 and smacked two home runs and 27 RBI. Johnson was able to find playing time for Ryan Cuneo, who hit .347 with six home runs and 29 RBI since being assigned to the Hawks.

Yao-Lin Wang wasn’t as dominant as he was in the first half, posting a 3.22 ERA and a 4-4 record, while striking out 77 against 20 walks. Wang was second in the league in strikeouts, fifth in ERA, and fifth with a 1.25 WHIP. Jose Rosario emerged as the Hawks’ second best pitcher, with his 6 wins (6-3 record) was fourth in the league. He was also eighth with a 3.53 ERA. Ben Wells improved in the second half, going 4-4 with a 4.66 ERA, while his 1.32 WHIP was good for tenth in the league. Lefty Willengton Cruz finished the season 1-2 with a 3.71 ERA. Austin Reed still has a lot of work to do, as the 19-year old righty was 2-7 with a 6.08 ERA.

Bryce Shafer ended up second in the league with 12 saves and a 3-2 record with a 2.45 ERA. Dustin Fitzgerald ranked 10th in the league with four holds and was 3-1 with a 3.19 ERA and two saves. Joe Zeller was 2-0 with a 1.95 ERA out of the pen while earning three saves. Kyler Burke also showed improvement as a pitcher, going 2-1 with a 2.86 ERA and striking out 47 while only walking 18 in 44 innings. Draftees Michael Jensen, Andrew McKirahan, Sheldon McDonald, and Tony Zych all made appearances down the stretch.

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  • Dorasaga

    From his minor stats, Kevin Rhoderick looks interesting. He seems to have control problem, but again, Chris Perez had. He’s now the closer of the Indians.

    I’ll look forward to Kevin pitches in spring training next year.

  • Richard Hood

    Ok where are all the assessments saying that Flaherty, Gonzalez and Jackson should be on the Cubs for call ups? Oh yeah other than Jackson the other 2 have not hit enough yet to actually worry about being on the 40 man.

    With Gonzalez I think he just wore out as the season went on. He played a lot of baseball over the last 18 months and it caught up to him. His numbers in August seemed to really dip.

    With Flaherty he has not put it together totally against higher quality pitchers. He did get hot towards the end of the year so we will see in the spring but I really do not think he is ready yet. Lets say June if he gets off to a hot start.

    Jackson I still think would have been called up if he had not wanted to be on the National team. You can not be on the National Team if you are on a 40 man roster.

    • Zonk

      Not calling up Brett Jackson was the right move.  He isn’t eligible for Rule 5 this offseason, and wouldn’t gain much from a few September ABs.  Why use up the 40-man spot if you don’t have to?

      While our 40-man roster has alot of deadweight, I would want to give the new GM the ability to maximize it. 

      He’ll get his chance

      Flaherty and Marwin are not ready. 

      What is the 411 on Marwin’s defensive skills?  Offensively, he projects as more of a bench player, so his value is probably dependent on how good he is with the glove.

      • Tom U

        The best way to describe Gonzalez is that he is at a mid-point between Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney.

        Gonzalez is more explosive that Barney, and is much more apt to make a highlight reel-type of play, However, he’s not as flashy as Castro. 

        On the other end, Gonzalez is much more fundamentally sound than Castro, but not as much as Barney. 

        Gonzalez also has better athleticism than than Barney. You can line him up in left or center and get above average defensive play.

    • Tom U

      Historically, Flaherty has been slower in adjustments than Jackson, LeMahieu, and Gonzalez. However, once he does make the adjustments, he is very good offensively. 

      Consider this, Flaherty hasn’t played for Tennessee in more than a month, yet he is 15th in the Southern League in RBI and tied for 16th in home runs. He may not be ready for “the show” in training camp, but could be around June.

      As far as Gonzalez goes, I think that PCL pitching didn’t take him seriously for a long time, and he was up for that. Once they started bearing down on him, you saw his numbers go down. But because they were so slow to adjust, they essentially “ran out the clock” on Gonzalez, not giving him ample time to make adjustments before the season ended. . 

      • Richard Hood

        June is kind of where I see the time table on both Gonzalez and Flaherty. They come into spring training ready to play and maybe an offseason at “Camp Colvin”  they should be ready to flat hit it.

        I know that both are going to be Rule 5 eligible so I hope the new GM gets creative with a way to keep them. Remember that every round in the rule 5 draft we get to pull another guy back so we do not necessarily have to put them all on the 40 man. We have a lot of talent that will be eligible this year.

  • Zonk

    Overall, I think this was a disappointing year for the Farm System.  Sure there were some bright spots, but I don’t think a hot prospect really emerged.

    Some prospects progressed OK like Brett Jackson, and Josh Vitters (finally).  Some like Ha are moving into “prospect” status, but nobody with a really high ceiling.

    Other prospects I think regressed a bit, like Jay Jackson and McNutt.  McNutt has time to turn it around, but the clock is ticking on J. Jackson.  He did pitch better in the 2nd half, but the fact he stayed at Iowa while the Cubs signed Doug Davis and Lopez is telling.

    The assessment of the Cubs system going into the year was that there were alot of ML-possible players, but no superstars.  I think that assessment is still true.  We have lots of bench material, but nobody that’s going to lead us to the World Series.  That’s an improvement over the early 2000s, when we didn’t really even have bench players coming out of our system.  But the new GM needs to improve in this area. 

    • Richard Hood

      Totally agree.

       I also see some young guys that are a year or 2 away from making a huge impact as prospects in Zych and the kid from the DR leagues Candelario. That is not even talking about the other guys from this years draft that have yet to make an impact but should be expected to (Vogleburg, Baez, Maples,). DeVoss and Easterling are both better than advertised.

      So while the old guard seemed to grow stale as far as prospects the new kids stepped in and took some of there fire away as well.

  • Neil

    Congratulations to the D-Cubs on their series win. The D-Cubs are heading to the FSL Championship after scoring 4 runs in the eighth to take the final game of the series 4-3.

  • Tom U

    The Daytona Cubs advance in the Florida State League playoffs with a 4-3 win. The D-Cubs pushed across four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to get the victory.

  • Tom U

    Tennessee survived a rough outing from Brooks Raley and a wild ninth by Rafael Dolis to open the Southern League playoffs with a 9-6 win over Chattanooga. 

    Josh Vitters started the scoring with a two-run home run while Blake Lalli finished a 7 run 4th inning with his own two-run shot.

    • Brett

      Tom, I was wondering not having seen Vitters this yr but going by his improved numbers as the season has progressed, do you or Neil think his value is at a level where a package of he & Soto could bring a true #1 starter back? I’m thinking along the lines of a David Price or Felix Hernandez since those organizations have some top end pitching depth & could move those guys for the right return.

      • Tom U

        Sorry to get back so late Brett. In 2009, Vitters was one of the keys to a possible Jake Peavy deal that fell through, so other teams were aware of his potential back then. 

        I don’t know if Vitters has the same cache as he once did, but third base is one of the weaker positions in the system. Unless you feel Javier Baez or Jeimer Candelario can make rapid progress, I wouldn’t trade Vitters just yet. 

        If you want to trade someone with a high value, consider Brett Jackson. With Byrd still under contract for another year (and his resistance to playing anything but center) and a slew of prospects behind him (Ha, Szczur, and many more) you would be trading from a position of strength. 

        • Brett

          Thanks Tom. That was the next thing I was going to suggest. I’m not big on vitters playing 3rd based on his well below average defense. Poor defence just doesn’t play with this post PED era trending toward pitching and good glove work. Having Flaherty or even DJ play there till Castro could slide over or Baez is ready after ARam is gone…which I’m betting he’ll be here for 2 more yrs…seems possible. That said, since 3rd isn’t that deep & they have more CFer’s than they have room for I wonder if putting Szczur in & taking Vitters out would still be enough. They need a #1 badly & there’s no top end pitching close in the system.

          Just kicking ideas around to past the time of this mind numbing season.

  • Tom U

    Thank you to everyone for your comments.