Cubs Down on the Farm Report – 02/20/12

Five Players to Watch: Rookie and Short-Season A-Ball

This is the first in a series of articles highlighting some of the players not noted on off-season prospect lists. The players are listed in alphabetical order, and as they are presently listed on rosters. Inclusion in this list does not necessarily reflect where each player will start the season.

Jeffrey Baez, OF
This 18-year old was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2010 and was given a reported $350,000 bonus. Solidly built at 6-foot-0, 180 pounds, he played for both the C-1 and C-2 teams in the Dominican Summer league in 2011.

The right-hander combined to hit .282 with five home runs and 36 RBI while batting near the top of the order for both teams. What had him that high in the line-up was his speed. Even in the run-first DSL, Baez was a force on the base paths. His 32 steals were fourth in the league, and the three players ahead of him had at least two years more experience.

According to observers in the Arizona Instructional League, Baez is built like a running back or linebacker, and plays baseball like a football player. He’s an average defender, with some skills that can use refinement. Baez fielded .964 with 11 assists seeing the bulk of his playing time in centerfield. While it looks like he may return to the DSL this summer, his success there and in the Fall League last year can have him pushing draftees John Andreoli, Shawon Dunston Jr., Trey Martin, and Garrett Schlecht for a spot in the Rookie League or low A-ball.

Pin-Chieh Chen, OF
In a system that seems full of centerfield prospects, no one is more unheralded the Pin-Cheih Chen. If you a looking for a stealth prospect that can surpass some of the bigger names, Chen may just be the player.

The 20-year old was international free agent in 2009 after he appeared with the Taiwan National team in the Asian Junior championships. Originally signed as a second baseman, Chen saw action in both the rookie league and at Short Season-A Boise in 2010, hitting a combined .295 with 19 RBI and ten stolen bases in 190 at bats. The decision was made in extended spring training in 2011 to move Chen to centerfield. He returned to Boise and batted lead-off until the arrival of second baseman/outfielder Zeke DeVoss, and then moved into the number two hole. Chen batted .301 with 14 doubles, four triples, two home runs, 30 RBI, and 20 stolen bases.

Despite seeing his first outfield action, Chen fielded a flawless 1.000. Scouting reports like his arm, speed, range. There have been reports that Chen’s speed and defense are very close to Major League ready. A lanky 6-foot-1, 170 pounder, he still has room to grow. Chen squares ball up very well with his excellent hand-eye coordination, which could end up helping him as he moves through the system. If his offense can continue at this pace, or even improve, you could be looking at a special player.

Carlos Penalver, SS
If you’re a shortstop signed by the Cubs organization and are playing in the Dominican Summer League, the comparisons to Starlin Castro come with the territory. However, Carlos Penalver shook off that extra pressure and went on to perform well in his first professional season.

The 17-year old Venezuelan was signed by the Cubs in 2010 to $550,000 bonus. Penalver started the entire season with the powerful C-2 team in the DSL in 2011. While having an advantage hitting between Jeffrey Baez and third base prospect Jeimer Candelario, the right-hander held up his end by hitting .272 with 38 RBI and 21 stolen bases. Defensively, Penalver fielded .957 on the sun baked fields of the Dominican Republic.

Baseball America’s pre-season outlook reported that Penalver has good hands, body control, and footwork. Observers of the Fall Instructional League called his play at shortstop “flashy”. He unfairly draws comparisons to Castro and prospect Marco Hernandez, but isn’t as natural a hitter as Castro and Hernandez. Penalver is considered to be better defensively with much better speed and base running instincts.

Alexander Santana, RHP
Promising can best describe 18-year old Dominican Alexander Santana. Signed in September 2010 at just 16-years old, he was assigned to the Cubs-1 team in the Dominican Summer League, and then moved to the more advanced Cubs-2 team halfway through the season. Rated as the 24th best prospect in the league by Baseball Prospectus, Santana ended up with 14 starts and innings at 67.1, six coming for C-1 and eight with C-2. He posted a combined 4-2 record with 2.67 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. Not a strikeout pitcher, Santana still had a 36 to 20 strikeout ratio.

Santana struggled a bit in the Fall Instructional League, as some of the prospects he faced were a little further along in their development. He will probably return to the DSL this summer to build strength on his 6-foot-1, 170-pound frame. His high-80’s/low 90’s fastball is reported to have good sink, and he throws an advanced curveball for his age. Scouts like his future growth potential, and feel he has at least middle-of-the-rotation, sinkerball type of “stuff”.

Brian Smith, LHP
Recently, the Cubs organization has done a fairly good job developing left-handed control pitchers, such as Sean Marshall, James Russell, and prospects Jeff Beliveau and Eric Jokisch. They may soon be adding Brian Smith to that list.

Smith was drafted in the 40th round of the 2010 draft. A native of Pickering, Ontario, Smith was a member of the Junior Canadian National Team. The now 19-year old (December 12) spent his first professional season in the Arizona Rookie League in 2011. He led all Cubs starters in innings with 46.1 and ERA at 3.30. Smith finished the season at 3-4 with 41 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.489.

The 6-foot-0, 170-pounder has an upper-80’s fastball that tops out at 90 MPH. He also sports a good breaking ball and decent change-up. Smith does a good job keeping the ball down, surrendering only one home run all last season. His development could be similar to fellow Canadian, infielder Wes Darvill. There may be times in which he looks overmatched until he adjusts to the level of competition. If he does adjust and continues to develop physically, the organization may have another baffling lefty in the pipeline.

Attention CCO Readers
Please continue to post the names of the minor league players you would like the Down on the Farm Report to follow next season. I will track the progress of ten players throughout the entire season. I would like a representative sample of positions and levels of play, and I’d prefer to track at least one player acquired by the Cubs in the off-season. You can name as many players as you like, but remember, only ten will be chosen.

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