Cubs Down on the Farm Report – 02/27/12

Five Players to Watch: Low-A Peoria Chiefs and High-A Daytona Cubs

This is the second 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.

Frank Del Valle, LHP
While last week’s article discussed some of the left-handed control pitchers in the system, 22-year old Frank Del Valle is the opposite, a left-handed power pitcher.

The Cuban defector was signed by the Cubs in June of 2011 to an $800,000 bonus. Del Valle had been a member of the Cuban Junior National team in the past. He began in the Arizona Rookie League, but was promoted to Single-A Peoria after pitching eight innings in three games, allowing no runs and striking out 11 batters. In Peoria, he continued his success, going 3-2 with a 2.95 ERA, a nearly 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio (31 strikeouts, 11 walks), and a 1.102 WHIP. He was then sent to High-A Daytona to assist in their playoff run. While he was rocked in his first appearance, he came back five days later to three-hit the NY Mets’ affiliate over four innings. In the playoffs, Del Valle was used both in relief and as a starter and tossed 6.2 shutout innings with eight strikeouts. He finished off the year in the Fall Instructional League with a 1.80 ERA, 14 strikeouts, and a 0.70 WHIP in ten innings of work.

According to respected observer Arizona Phil, Del Valle throws a moving fastball, a plus breaking ball, and a change-up. He shows exceptional poise and a “nifty” pick-off move. However, there is some dispute over his fastball. While some claim he posted a 98 MPH pitch, others attribute it to a faulty radar gun and/or scoreboard. Whatever the case may be, Del Valle can bring heat and miss bats. The one concern is that at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, he may not be able to have the stamina to remain as a starter.

Ben Klafczynski, OF
When assessing the strength of the Cubs’ minor league system, several national publication report that the organization has a lot of talent, but lacks “special” players. But maybe what the experts mean is that they lack “obviously special” players. If they looked a little deeper, a player that has the ability to emerge as “special” could be Ben Klafczynski (pronounced kla-JHIN- ski).

As a high school senior in 2007, the Medina, OH native’s .613 batting average surpassed such players as Mike Moustakas, Matt Dominguez, Jason Heyward, Travis d’Arnaud, Josh Vitters, Taiwan Easterling, and D.J. LeMahieu. As a four-year starter for Kent State University, he hit .339, .319, .367, and .368 with 37 career homers and 197 total RBI. The 22-year old lefty was then taken by the Cubs in the 20th round of the 2011 draft.

After signing right away, he was sent to Short Season-A Boise where he batted .221 with a home run and 11 RBI in 19 games. He was then promoted to Single-A Peoria and hit .243 in 43 games with another homer and 13 RBI.

Defensively, Klafczynski is a very fluid athlete that tracks the ball well, with enough speed to cut off line drives to the gaps. He possesses a big throwing arm that is more than adequate for right field. At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, he has prototypical size for a corner outfielder. He may have been mishandled a bit by an overly optimistic scouting department. Had he been given a chance to get his feet wet in rookie ball, as fellow outfield draftees Easterling and John Andreoli were, his offensive output may have been better. He has the pedigree that, if he figures things out at the plate, he could be a four-tool player; with top-end speed the only thing he is lacking.

Rubi Silva, OF/IF
Under now Vice President/Player Personnel Oneri Fleita, the Cubs have been aggressive in pursuing former Cuban nationals, including four represented by Jaime Torres. Among his most promising clients is Rubi Silva.

A former member of the Cuban Junior National Team and La Habana in the Serie Nacional, Silva hit .212 and .276 in two seasons before signing with the Cubs in January 2011. The left-handed hitter was assigned to Single-A Peoria to start the season and became the team’s number three hitter, batting .285 with 16 RBI in 123 at bats while lining up mostly in center and right fields. He was then given a promotion to High-A Daytona after an injury to Brett Jackson caused a number of prospects to be moved around the system. Silva wound up hitting only .229 with two home runs and seven RBI in 29 games for the D-Cubs.

Returning to Peoria, Silva split time between centerfield and second base. However, he regained his batting stroke and was able to end the season at .300 with three home runs and 37 RBI for the Chiefs. Silva was part of the Fall Instructional League, where he mainly played second, with a one game stint at shortstop, and hit and “unofficial” .317.

Silva is a very aggressive hitter, and he will test the resolve of the new regime as he only walked 16 times in 495 at bats. But his saving feature is his defense. He has above average speed and a throwing arm that rivals Peoria teammate Anthony Giansanti, who was voted the best arm in the Midwest League. Several observers in Arizona this fall were impressed by his play-making ability and superior arm while playing second base. Whether he remains in the outfield or moves permanently to second, improved patience at the plate will be the key to Silva’s future.

Elliot Soto, SS
For all of us who have gone through performance reviews, we should be familiar with the phrase “exceeds expectations”. That phrase best describes suburban Algonquin native and self-professed “die-hard Cubs fan” Elliot Soto.

The 22-year old Soto was first drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 2007, but chose to attend Creighton University. In three years for the Blue Jays, he had a career .300 average with 72 RBI, 30 stolen bases, and most importantly a .964 fielding percentage. He was then selected by the Cubs in the 15th round of the 2010 draft.

After a brief stop in the rookie league, the right-hander batted .271 with 21 RBI and five stolen bases in 48 games for Short Season-A Boise.

Elliot Soto started the 2011 campaign at Single-A Peoria and hit .261 and had 24 RBI in 87 games for the Chiefs. But as High-A Daytona pushed toward the playoffs, a lingering issue at shortstop since the promotion of Junior Lake two months earlier continued. The organization summoned Soto, who surprised everyone by hitting .309 in 25 games in the tough Florida State League. He then proved that his hitting was no fluke by batting .450 in the playoffs for the FSL champions.

Wherever Soto has gone, he has brought his glove with him. He fielded a combined .970 at shortstop in 2011, and has a career .964 fielding percentage at the position. He also fielded .989 in 16 games at second base and 1.000 in eight games at third. Baseball America named Soto the system’s best infield defender in 2012.

When he was drafted, some scouts felt that Soto would be a system player who filled in gaps for a time, then settle into a coaching role. However, his eye-opening offensive performance over the last half of 2011 have others believing that on an offensive team, Soto can be the “missing ingredient” that could make a difference.

Yao-Lin Wang, RHP
How one evaluates Taiwanese right-hander Yao-Lin Wang depends on your point of view. If you are someone who is impressed by “stuff”, your opinion may not be favorable. However, if you are interested in success, you like what you see.

The 6-foot-0, 180-pounder was the first international amateur player signed by a Major League club in 2009, given a $260,000 bonus by the Cubs. Considered to be one of the hardest throwers in Taiwan, he had been on the 2006 National Youth team. He split time in 2010 between the rookie league and Short Season-A Boise, going 1-3 with a 4.06 ERA (29 strikeouts and 13 walks) in 31 innings. Wang returned to Boise in 2011 and posted a 4-4 record, and on many occasions was lacking proper run support. While his record was average, he was second in the Northwest League with 77 strikeouts and fifth in both ERA (3.22) and WHIP (1.254) in 67 innings.

Wang has a mid-90′s fastball that has some late breaking action. He also sports a slider and a change-up, which are not considered to be as good as his fastball. Some scouts are concerned that he won’t grow any further, and they feel he might have been a little over-aged for the competition … but he just turned 21-years old at the beginning of February, so that criticism may be a bit unjustified.

Wang still has some room to improve, but he has also experienced a high level of success early in his career. If he can sustain that success, he could be a future asset to any pitching staff.

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 during the upcoming 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.

ChicagoCubsOnline Five Players to Watch Series

Follow ChicagoCubsOnline on Twitter: @TheCCO

Quote of the Day

"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow." - Albert Einstein
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  • Redlarczykg

    Tom,

    How about Frank Batista 2011 Daytona 5-3  2.36 era 26 saves 46 so  20 w  in  61 inings of relief.  The right hander turns 23 in April.

    Also Jerry Antigua, Daytona lefty starter with big potential.  He finally agained some control, went 2-2 as a starter 2.92 era with 91 so – 18 w in 83.1 inings.

    • Tom U

      Hello Redlarczykg,

      I appreciate the suggestions, and I mean this in the nicest way: 

      Patience is a virtue.

      See you next week.

  • Anthony

    Tom, nice stuff.

    I saw 3 of these players in Peoria, as well as Klafczynski also in college.

    Del Valle reminded me of Mike Hampton, and his smaller stature may mean less moving parts and breakdowns mechanically, and with a solid lower foundation, he appeared durable. He may be a fast tracker, and Daytona is probable for his initial assignment.

    Silva looks good defensively at 2B, better than the OF, and where they play him in the field may determine his destination, i.e Torreyes at 2B, Szczur in CF. You are correct about the hitting. It is all there except one thing. Approach/Discipline/Selectivity, i.e Hacker. If he can improve on that, solid player.

    Klafczynski, pronounces klaf-CHIN-ski according to Kent State media, is very athletic(see video). Rookie ball would have been a waste of time in my opinion. Very experienced, History says he adjusts quickly(.321 BA in 8/11 Peoria), and has faced several 1st round arms in college, so Fleita and his scouts may have not been overly optimistic knowing that.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IM_P4hnABaQ

    You referenced Giansanti. Saw him play also. Very quick arm release. AZPhil said something also about moving to Catcher, and a quick Goog had an article where the player mentioned it himself. His throwing motion resembles that, nice athlete also and another player very worthy of a follow.

    Based on hitting performance in ST, Klafczynski and Giansanti should start at Daytona as they are both college experienced, and I like Del Valle also. Power LHP isn’t all too common.

    • Tom U

      Thanks for the video Anthony! You can see why some people are excited about Klafczynski.

      I got the pronunciation of his name through the Boise Hawks broadcasts. Being of the same ethnic background, I know there is an American way as well as a traditional pronunciation. The way you posted seems to be more of the American version while the way I posted may be more traditional. It’s okay though, as I use the American pronunciation of my name. Hopefully, I can ask him personally in the future.

      • Anthony

        Tom, heard he is coming to ST at 215lbs plus from a contact(scout) and its all good weight.

        That video is on YTube along with some hitting power when you Goog search.

  • paulcatanese

    Sutcliffes right, many hitters have taken Cub pitchers deep.
    Hope Rizzo can do it when it counts.

  • John_CC

    Great report, Tom.  I like the sounds of Del Valle.  Since when is 5’9″ – 190 considered frail?  I get so tired of the mentality that to be “durable” you have to be 6’2″ and 200lbs.  Tell Greg Maddux or Pedro that.  This isn’t football.

    On the topic of physical size and minor leaguers, the one guy that really stood out to me at camp was Junior Lake.  I had no idea that kid was so big.  I only got to see him do base running drills, I missed most of his infield workout, though he seemed to move well at SS on the couple plays I did watch.  What’s the word on him, Tom?  Seems like a natural place to move him would CF or maybe RF with that tall frame, good speed and decent arm.  Because to me, and this is still just going on body type, B. Jackson is built like a corner OF. 

    • cubtex

      I get so tired of the mentality that you have to have a tall frame,good speed and decent arm to be a cf. What does it mean that BJax is built like a corner of? What was Kirby Puckett built like? What was Jim Edmonds built like? Couldn’t resist giving you a shot after that opening statement! :)

      • Anthony

        tex, scouts feel that a taller frame allows for more “good weight” to be added when projecting

        I understand your response, and in baseball, all body types can play as you mentioned, and they always have

        The Mick was 5’10 185 and hit 500 foot bombs, and many also.

        I believe if you can play, you can play, and if you can hit, you can hit, and having extra size along with that may bring plus raw power versus average or below raw power

        notice I used the term raw, which is the alternative, or secondary method of power, the main, and most important being bat speed generation, which is genetic based on twitch muscles, hands, and wrists.

        a player with both can hit HR’s by either imparting backspin(polished hitter) and/or raw power(muscle the ball).

        • cubtex

          I know Anthony:) See Johns post above mine! Just joking around

      • Tom U

        Cubtex, I agree in looking past some of the “measure-ables” and judging a player on their play. Unfortunately, that no longer seems to be the case.

        I remember two excellent centerfielders, Tony Armas of the A’s and Gorman Thomas with the Brewers, that didn’t fit the profile. While they both eventually moved to corner spots, they both played the position better than most would admit.

    • Tom U

      John CC, I was just reporting from what I read through the scouting reports. I agree that until a player shows he can’t do something, you don’t change him into something else. I also feel that Del Valle should start until he proves differently.

      As far as Lake, scouts report that he has poor body control, which not only leads to errors, but puts him into bad positions. He then tries to use his arm to bail himself out, and, at times, further compounds problems. 

      If I were moving him to the outfield, I would start him in center, especially since he will probably return to Tennessee. The Smokies would then most likely flank him with Evan Crawford and Jae-Hoon Ha, both considered very good defenders. If he adapts to the outfield, I can see him eventually moving to right. But right is a tough field to start in, and Lake has only the few chances he received in the AFL this fall as his only outfield experience.

      However, the position I always felt he best projects to is first base. He has the size for the position, the offensive output, and has infield experience. History shows a lot of defensively challenged infielders who move to first and flourish, including our own Ernie Banks!

      • John_CC

        Thanks Tom, I agree.  Do you have a notion if he will be moved?  And how does he rank in the system, offensively?  Again, I was just a bit taken aback by his size and speed, and he had good SB% across two stops last year.

        • Tom U

          Lake had a little bit of a hard time adjusting offensively in Tennessee last season. However, he has a track record of improving with experience. Scouts feel he can develop more power if he closes his stance and becomes more selective. As far as speed, I have also read that he’s not as much as a fast base runner, but more of an opportunistic one. 

          I believe that the organization would like to move him off of the shortstop position, which is why they moved him around in the AFL. However, they will give him every opportunity to prove them wrong.

  • John_CC

    I had a realization last week I wanted to share. My father and I were standing on the little aluminum bleachers at Fitch waiting for something to happen on Field #2, that was the first time I had seen Epstein emerge out on the grass.  He came walking across, behind the hitting cage, a pretty normal looking tall guy in a dorky golf shirt tucked into his khakis.  I said to my dad, “there’s Epstein”. 
    “Where?” he asked, and “who, that kid?” with scoffing disdain in his voice. “Yeah, jeez, he’s my age dad. Shit, the Red Sox hired him when he was 28!”  Another grumble and “pffff” and that was the end of that “conversation”.  My dad doesn’t know anything about Epstein besides he was with the Red Sox and won there. If he’d looked like Don Zimmer, I’m sure he would have been very excited.

    I had a very small epiphany.  Is the disdain for, or willing acceptance of, Epstein by Cubs fans to some degree measured by the age of the fan himself?  I don’t many people in the 30s and early 40s – good ole Gen-Xer’s – that are really mad about Epstein having the job.  But it seems like older people are more easily weary of “the young punks”.  Think, “What the hell does he know, anyway?!” in Grampa Simpson’s voice. 

    It’s just an observation and maybe I am wrong. Like I said, it was sort of like a little epiphany brought on by my father’s disgust.

    • paulcatanese

      I don’t feel that way John, and nobody’s older than I.
      When I started out as a Cub fan, everyone was older than I, including the 20′s something guys, and I thought they were too old to hold the job, whether a player or front office.

      Younger should be better, more advanced, with all the advanced skills that go with it.

      I find that even Doctors age wise are better when younger, they are really up on the latest technology and we feel we are in better hands.

      That doesen’t say that all youth are smarter and don’t deserve dis-approval but for the most part they can pull it off.
      Judgement is still out for Epstein, but am satisfied to wait until the games get on the field.

      • Anthony

        paul, you said something prophetic

        but, you don’t give yourself enough credit

        at the age you purport to be, back in the day, someone your current age would be satisfied being out to pasture, but instead,

        you are on the internet, have accepted that this is not only the new Library and morning newspaper, but something you enjoy doing, communicating, therefore, you are what we call “with it”, and I am older than most here also.

        I worked with computers 35 years ago when high tech was a punched card…………..lol

        I like this better, and it appears you do to. Age and technology are all about having an open mind and a desire to learn each and every day, regardless of age.

        Big Thumbs Up!

        • paulcatanese

          Anthony, I was around when Cavaretta came from Lane Tech and joined the Cubs, that should give you an idea of my age.
          Worked with computers in my office for years,
          but didn’t get a personal computer until two years ago, a whole new life.
          Funny thing, when I take my wife to the Doctors, the first thing they say is,”What are you going to teach me today about medicine”?:)
          The possibilities are limitless.

  • Cubs1967

    I love every move made this off season and am very excited to see what happens.  I have a great positive feeling about this season.  I think this team is built to win.  You can take it to the bank that I, Cubs1967, said that.

    • Suzy S.

      Cubs1967…Is that YOU really posting????

      Got a big smile on my face…Whaaaaat Happened????

      • daverj

        It’s an impostor … the real “cubs1967″ does not have a capital “c” in “cubs” … nor would the real cubs1967 post today without a mention of the Sean Marshall extension.

        • cubs1967

          exactly…………..very good daverj.

          P.S. Marshall got extended…..probably worth it but 5.5M kinda rich for a relief pitcher.

          P.S.S. the real one and as a  36 yrs Cubs fans………..cubs1967.

    • jw

      Whaaat?

    • Anthony

      Wow, I don’t, but some were good and some are “wait and see”

      What I can say is this. It takes dreams, love of the game, hard work, dedication, and desire for anyone to chase MLB and forego a safe and normal life, so from that view, I admire the sacrifices they make in delaying a routine we all experience.

      The minor league guys, especially those who received small bonus amounts, make less money than being the Fries Guy at MacDowells/Donalds.