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.

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