Cubs Down on the Farm Report – 09/27/11

After taking a look at the infield and catching prospects throughout the Cubs’ system on Monday, next up on the CCO’s Minor League position analysis is the outfield.

Three of the Cubs’ top position prospects roam the outfield down on the farm. Brett Jackson, Jae-Hoon Ha and Matt Szczur had good seasons and each figure to be in big league camp next spring … Jackson and Ha on non-roster invites and Szczur as a part of the 40-man roster.

Position Analysis – Outfield

Welcome to the CCO’s series of articles to summarize and project how the minor league system looks on a position-by-position basis. For the position players, here’s the grading system I will use:

A = more than one player capable of starting in the major leagues
B = at least one player capable of starting in the major leagues
C = at least one player capable of making it to major leagues
D = in need of an upgrade
F = in serious need of an upgrade

Left Field – C
Left field is a very tough evaluation in the minors, as there are few pure prospects at the position. The main population are either career minor leaguers or players playing out of position.

It’s been a long, strange trip for Luis Montanez since he was the Cubs’ first round draft pick in 2000. Changing from shortstop to outfield, battling personal problems, trades, and brief stops in the majors have been a part of the 29 year old’s career. While seeing most of the action in left for Iowa, the right-hander batted .321 with seven home runs and 69 RBI and eight outfield assists. With his offensive and defensive ability, Montanez would make someone a perfect fifth outfielder.

First baseman Rebel Ridling lined up the most often in left for Tennessee, but minor league veterans James Adduci, Matthew Spencer, and Ty Wright also saw plenty of action. The speedy Adduci has 135 stolen bases in his eight-year minor league career, and wound up hitting .308 with four home runs, 20 RBI, and 21 stolen bases for the season. The 26-year old lefty, if he decides to remain within the organization, will probably end up filling holes in the Double and Triple-A rosters, until possibly settling in as an outfield/baserunning coach. Twenty-six year old Wright is like a right-handed version of Adduci, although he has less speed and more power. He split time between Iowa and Tennessee this season and hit .322 with seven homers and 43 RBI overall. He does have a specialized skill that may warrant some attention, as he is a very dependable pinch-hitter. The “Morristown Masher“, 25-year old Spencer played all three outfield positions, as well as first base, for both Tennessee and Iowa. However, it was his performance as a pitcher twice in blowouts that has led to a career shift. Spencer will now go to the Arizona Instructional League to convert to a pitcher full-time. For the 2011 season, the lefty hit .246 with 14 home runs and 70 RBI overall.

The first level fans can see a true prospect at the position is Daytona, where the 23-year old Evan Crawford finished seventh in hitting in the pitching-rich Florida State League. Acquired in the Mike Fontenot deal from San Francisco, the speedy lefty has smoothed out his stroke, although his 98 strikeouts will need improvement. For the year, Crawford batted .307 with two home runs and 50 runs driven in. He was fourth in the FSL with 32 steals, which was good for second in the Cubs’ organization. Crawford has the range to play centerfield, but he may not have the arm strength to see regular duty there.

Peoria ended the season with six players seeing extended time in left field. Among the tops in appearances was 2011 20th round pick Ben Klafczynski. The just turned 23-year old left-handed hitter played solidly for the Chiefs, hitting .243 with a homer and 13 RBI in 43 games for Peoria. Klafczynski is a very fluid athlete, with exceptional arm strength for the position. The organization would like to “fast-track” his development, hoping his offense will catch up soon. Toward the end of Peoria’s season, Klafczynski was platooned with right-hander Jesus Morelli. The 21-year old was signed out of Venezuela in 2008. At 6-foot-3, 180 pounds the organization is excited about his future power potential. Morelli played in the AZL, Boise, and Peoria this season and hit .252 overall with two homers and 13 RBI in 36 games. While lining up mostly in left field, he is said to have right fielder skills.

Boise also had multiple players getting looks in left this season. Seeing the most playing time was 20-year old Blair Springfield. Drafted in 2009, Springfield has battled injuries, which have caused him to struggle offensively. The right-hander played in 43 games between the AZL Cubs and Boise, batting .241 with three home runs and 23 RBI overall. Also seeing action was speedy Kyung-Min Na. The 19-year old South Korean was a man on the move, playing in the Arizona League, Boise, Peoria and Tennessee this season. Overall, the lefty hit .268 with 22 RBI and 20 stolen bases. Still considered a raw prospect, Na still has a lot of time to develop.

The bulk of the playing time in left field for the AZL Cubs went to Eduardo Gonzalez. The 19-year old lefty was signed out of Venezuela in 2009 as a pitcher. He converted to the outfield in the Dominican Summer League in 2010 before being assigned to Arizona this past season. He has shown a good batting stroke, hitting .336, but with little power (only four extra base hits, no home runs) or speed (five stolen bases in ten attempts). He also appears a little lost in the outfield, committing five errors and fielding .906 in 32 games. Also seeing action was South Korean Dong-Yub Kim. Turning 21 years old at mid-season, the righty surprised observers by stealing 12 bases, well for second on the team. At 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, there is hope that he can develop into a Hideki Matsui-type of player, as he hit .250 with two homers and 13 RBI in 37 games. While considered raw both offensively and defensively, he did field flawlessly in 29 chances. Also appearing in Arizona was ninth round draft pick Garrett Schlecht. The 18-year old left-hander batted .222 with two RBI in nine games.

Signed out of Cuba, 24-year old Mayke Reyes was one of the bright spots for the dismal Cubs-1 team in the Dominican Summer League. The right-handed hitter batted .297 with three home runs and 18 RBI in 55 games. Reyes may be a little too old to have an impact on the organization, but may be valuable in the future as a coach, much like his countryman Smaily Borges. Twenty-one year old Frammi Cabrera and 19-year old Randher Valdez, both right handed hitters, split time in left for C-2. Cabrera actually saw action with both teams in the DSL, and hit .265 with 25 RBI and 15 stolen bases combined. Valdez has a little more meat on his bones at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds and hit .229 with a homer and 14 RBI in 45 games. However, he may be searching for a position after fielding only .878 with five errors in 41 games. He has been previously tried at first base and catcher.

Centerfield – A+
For what seems like forever to Cubs fans, the centerfield/leadoff spot has been a source of frustration. However, scouting director Tim Wilken and his crew may have assembled the finest set of prospects the franchise has ever seen.

It all starts at Iowa with the organization’s number one prospect Brett Jackson. Some doubted Jackson as he started the year at Tennessee and suffered a hand injury. Coming off the DL, the just turned 23-year old was promoted to the I-Cubs and preceded to tear up the Pacific Coast League. In 48 games batting leadoff, the left-hander hit .297 with 10 home runs, 26 RBI, six stolen bases, and most importantly, a .939 OPS. For 2011 (Tennessee and Iowa), Jackson was .274 with 20 homers, 58 RBI, 21 stolen bases, and a .869 OPS, all from the leadoff spot in the batting order. He also served notice to PCL players not to take any liberties with his defense, with eight outfield assists. With most organizations, Jackson would have been promoted to the parent club after the All-Star break, or at worst, after the trading deadline. Now, Cubs fans will have to hold their breath as Jackson represents the USA on the World Cup/Pan Am team, hoping to avoid any further injuries and be ready for 2012.

Behind Jackson, the organization’s fastest rising prospect may be Tennessee’s Jae-Hoon Ha. In a parallel to 2010, Ha was brought to Tennessee cover Jackson’s injury and promotion, much like Marwin Gonzalez did with Starlin Castro. However, unlike Gonzalez, Ha didn’t need a half season of Double-A ball and the Winter League to show improvement. Just 20 years old and only his second full season in the outfield (Ha was signed as a catcher), Ha was moved to centerfield after spending almost all of 2101 in right field. He demonstrated that he was more than athletic enough to handle the switch, fielding a perfect 1.000 with three outfield assists in 61 games with the Smokies. Ha actually hit better (.283 to .276) when promoted from Daytona, and batted .279 with 11 home runs, 72 RBI, and 13 stolen bases overall. He showed great poise for a young player in his first post-season action, hitting .313 with two homers and five RBI in the playoffs. Ha still has some growing to do as a baseball player, as his 43-percent stolen base percentage illustrates, and on his 6-foot-1, 185-pound frame.

The clock will be running on Daytona’s Matt Szczur. Due to a procedural error by the last regime, the 22-year old will have to be put on the 40-man roster following the season. The former Villanova wide receiver showed that he has baseball skills by hitting .314 with five home runs, 27 RBI, and 17 stolen bases in 66 games with Peoria. The right-hander struggled a little in Daytona, going .293 with 10 homer, 46 driven in, and 24 stolen bases overall. Like Jackson, Szczur batted primarily leadoff; and like Ha, Szczur came alive in the playoffs, batting .368 for the Florida State League champions. Szczur was also named the Midwest League’s best defensive centerfielder.

Another player who is being “fast-tracked” is 2011 31st round draft pick Taiwan Easterling. Like Szczur, the former wide out is 18th on Florida State University’s all-time receiving list. Signing with the Cubs shortly after being drafted, the 22-year old tore through the Rookie league, Peoria, and a “cup of coffee” with Daytona, hitting .307 with two homers, 17 RBI, and 10 stolen bases in 48 games combined.

Earning a playoff spot with Daytona, he teamed with Evan Crawford and Matt Szczur to make probably the fastest outfield combination in the organization’s history. However, the righty will need to work on his defense, committing five errors and fielding .981 with two outfield assists overall.

Another big international signing, Cuban Rubi Silva, took over centerfield for Peoria between the promotions of Szczur and Easterling. The 22-year old was actually shuffled up to Daytona for 29 games to cover for players subbing for injured outfielders Brett Jackson and James Adduci. In 93 games with the Chiefs, the left-handed hitter batted .300 with three home runs and 37 RBI. While needing some work in the field, with an outfield percentage of only .967, he had 11 outfield assists and is generally considered to have the best centerfield arm in the system. Silva also appeared 29 times at second base, and is getting an extended look at the position this fall in the Instructional League.
After washing out as a second baseman in extended spring training, Taiwan native Pin-Chieh Chen was moved to center for Boise and took to it, as the saying goes, like a duck to water. The 20-year old was a perfect 1.000 fielding in 65 chances. Batting leadoff until Zeke DeVoss came to the Hawks; the left-handed hitter batted .301 with two home runs and 30 RBI. His 20 stolen bases were good for fifth in the Northwest League. Also seeing action in center for Boise was 19-year old Dominican Oliver Zapata. At 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, the bowling ball-like switch hitter stole 16 bases in 55 games between the AZL Cubs and the Hawks. While in Boise, Zapata only hit .224, but batted .278 with three home runs and 22 RBI overall. He need more polish in the field, committing four errors for a .957 average.

With Oliver Zapata, Taiwan Easterling, and Kyung-Min Na all flying through Arizona, the remainder of the playing time in centerfield went to 13th round draft pick Darien “Trey” Martin. The 18-year old played 18 games and hit .243 with four triples and eight RBI. A big kid at 6-foot-2, 188 pounds, the right-handed hitter may eventually outgrow the position. Another draftee was the son of a former Cub great, Shawon Dunston Jr. Signed at the deadline, the 18-year old left-handed hitter has the same type of raw talent his father had. Dunston made his professional debut in the Instructional League and hit a home run in his first game.

Two of the brightest prospects the organization has in the Dominican Summer League are 19-year old Kelvin Encarnacion and 17-year old Jeffrey Baez. Even in the stolen base-happy DSL, these two are burners on the basepaths. Right handed hitter Baez was fourth in the league with 32 stolen bases, while the switch-hitting Encarnacion was ninth with 28 steals. Both players traveled between the Cubs-1 and Cubs-2 teams, with Encarnacion batting .296 with a homer and 27 RBI, while Baez hit .297 with five home runs and 36 runs driven in.

Right Field – B-
The right field position is filled with interesting prospects throughout the system, any of which could turn out to be something special.

At the number 9 position on your scorecard for the Iowa Cubs, Brad Snyder enjoyed another good offensive season. The former first round pick (for the Cleveland Indians) lost 41 games due to injury and a brief major league call-up. Nevertheless, the lefty ended up hitting .290 with 11 home runs, 57 RBI, and six stolen bases. Always good defensively, Snyder tied a career high with 11 outfield assists. However, after being out-righted to Iowa at mid-season, the 29-year old may never see the majors in a Cub uniform.

Lining up in right for Tennessee was 23-year old Nelson Perez, perhaps one of the best niche players in the system. The left-handed hitter started the season at Daytona, but moved to Double-A after hitting .327 with four homers and 17 RBI in 26 games for the D-Cubs. Perez continued to show power with the Smokies, as 26 of his 59 hits (eight home runs) went for extra bases. He ended up batting .248 with 32 RBI for the season. Not the greatest in the field, his .962 fielding percentage is actually an improvement from his career mark. However, he did flash a big-time arm with 10 assists. But it was a talent he first displayed in the Winter Leagues that may be his ticket to “the show”. Left-handed power hitters that can deliver pinch hits don’t grow on trees.

After being acquired from the Washington organization in the Tom Gorzelanny deal, 22-year old Michael Burgess came with some lofty expectations. However, the lefty struggled some in Daytona, in the pitching-rich Florida State League. Hovering around the .200 mark for most of the season, Burgess finished with a .225 average. However, like Nelson Perez, Burgess was an extra base machine. With very little foot speed, 45 of his 96 hits went for more than one base, with his 20 home runs tied for fifth in the league. He was also 13th with 68 RBI. In a system filled with big arms at the position, his may be the best as he gunned down 11 runners.

Peoria right fielder Anthony Giansanti didn’t even start the season at the position, opening at third base as the organization had some early problems filling that slot. After Greg Rohan took hold of third, the 22-year old finally settled in right field. The hyper-aggressive right-handed hitter batted only .232, but socked 11 home runs and drove in 56. Showing better than expected range, Giansanti fielded .979 with a whopping 18 outfield assists. After being named the best throwing arm in the Midwest League, he will now add catching to his repertoire next season.
Blessed with possibly the best overall tools in the organization, Boise’s 19-year old Reggie Golden is just scratching the surface of his potential. The 5-foot-10, 210-pounder struggled in his first professional season. However, when the Hawks needed help down the stretch to make the playoffs, the right-hander came up big. He hit .391 with four home runs and 11 RBI in the final six games to capture Northwest League player-of-the-week honors. For the year, Golden hit .242 with seven home runs, 37 RBI, and five stolen bases. He’ll have to work harder on his defense, as his five errors led to a .955 average with six assists.

Twenty-two year old Venezuelan Gregori Gonzalez was a jack-of-all-trades for the AZL Cubs, lining up at five different positions. However, the righty had the most appearances in right field on the squad. His .330 batting average was good for fourth on the team, with two home runs and 23 RBI. But the 5-foot-9, 170-pound Gonzalez isn’t a very good defender at any position you put him at, making his probable future merely a system player. Seventeenth round draft pick John Andreoli also saw some time at the position, batting .176 with three stolen bases in 10 games between Arizona and Peoria.

With young players trying to find their place in baseball, right field can be rather fluid in the Dominican Summer League. Seventeen-year-old lefty Edwin Contreras saw the most playing time there with Cubs-1, batting .162 with 13 RBI in 31 games. Cubs-2 turned to 24-year old Elieser Bonne, among others, in right field. The Cuban national was second on the team with a .313 average, with 13 RBI and 17 stolen bases. The organization must feel there is a future for the right-hander, as he was invited to the Instructional League this fall.

Position Analysis – Infield and Catchers

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