Cubs Down on the Farm Report – 03/05/12

Five Players to Watch: Double-A Tennessee Smokies and Triple-A Iowa Cubs

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

Jeffry Antigua, LHP
Having the stuff and success that makes scouts sit up and take notice, Jeffry Antigua has been garnering a lot of attention as the season approaches.

The 21-year old Dominican was signed as a international free agent in 2007, and compiled a 7-2 record with a 3.15 ERA in 14 Dominican Summer League starts. He was already establishing himself as a pitcher with advanced control for his age, striking out 55 while only walking 14 batters. His 2008 season saw him in the Arizona Rookie League, where he was 2-3, 3.05 ERA, and a 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio (32 strikeouts and 16 walks), seeing action both as a starter and reliever.

Antigua split time in 2009 between Short-Season A Boise and Low-A Peoria, and went a combined 6-1with a 3.01 ERA, 0.990 WHIP, and 68 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. Returning to Peoria in 2010, he took a step backward by going 4-5 with a 4.16 ERA and 1.301 WHIP in 21 appearances (17 starts). He did strike out 88 in 93 innings. However, he was dealing with an injury that turned out to be a torn flexor tendon in his elbow.

Back in Peoria again for the 2011 season to rehab the injury, Antigua was used both in the bullpen and as a piggy-back starter, where he struggled and posted 8.56 ERA in 13.2 innings. However, as RHP Nick Struck was promoted and RHP Aaron Kurcz moved to relief, High-A Daytona needed arms and brought in Antigua.

Initially used in relief to continue to build in his rehab, he allowed only four earned runs over 17.1 innings and picked up a victory. But Daytona was the site of an odd form of pitching management, where rehabbing major leaguer Angel Guzman was allowed to start and pitch two innings every four days, bumping the scheduled starter for that game to the third inning. This is how Antigua got his feet wet, as he ended up losing four starts to Guzman. While his official line at Daytona reads 2-2 with a 2.92 ERA, 1.116 WHIP in 22 appearances (eight starts); if adjusted for the starts lost, he would be 1-2 with a 3.01 ERA, 1.06 WHIP. He struck out 81 in 83.1 innings, walking only 18.

In the playoffs for Daytona, Antigua was 1-1 and a 2.03 ERA, 0.750 WHIP (nine strikeouts and two walks) in 13.1 innings.

The 6-foot-1, 170 pound Antigua’s arsenal includes a mid-90s fastball with sink, a late biting slider and an above average change-up. He is also excellent at holding runners. While allowing 75 hits at Daytona, he stranded 75.9% of all base-runners and limited hitters to a .237 average. Completely recovered, he tossed 1.1 innings and struck out three in the Dominican Winter League.

Some scouts have likened him to Houston Astros’ pitcher Wandy Rodriguez. Antigua will likely start 2012 in Double-A Tennessee’s rotation, hoping to build on last season’s success.

Frank Batista, RHP
Large…Imposing…Intimidating. These are some of the adjectives fans like to associate with closers. None of these apply to Frank Batista. While some may consider him a curiosity, he may be one of the best relievers the organization has developed since Carlos Marmol.

Batista began with the Cubs organization in 2009, and was 4-2 with a 3.51 in 15 games (nine starts) in the Dominican Summer League. He struck out 63 and walked only seven batters and earned three saves. Moving to Low-A Peoria in 2010, Batista again split his time between the rotation and the bullpen. He made 22 appearances, 11 starts, and pitched 72.2 innings; he posted a 2-5 record with a 4.46 ERA and had a nearly a 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio (67 strikeouts and 24 walks).

The 22-year old was promoted to High-A Daytona for 2011 to be part of a “bullpen by committee”. However, he emerged as the go-to guy early on in the season, and finished at 5-3 with a 2.36 ERA and 1.164 WHIP in 61 innings. Batista struck out 46 and walked 20, as his 26 saves were good for second in the Florida State League, in which he was named an All-Star.

While most closers rely on one dominant pitch, the 5-foot-10, 170 pound Batista relies on one dominant trait, control. He has career strikeout ratio of nearly 4:1, while his career WHIP is slightly skewed at 1.245 from his days as a starter. With a 94 MPH fastball, slider, and change, his “stuff” isn’t considered outstanding. However, his pinpoint control gets him ahead in the count, and causes batters to be overly aggressive and get themselves out. But that sometimes leaves Batista vulnerable on days when his control escapes him.

A closer look at the numbers shows that he had only five appearances out of 51 in which he gave up more than one earned run. Four of those five were when he was asked to pitch more than one inning. If those four are eliminated, his ERA drops to 1.46, while taking away all five brings it down to 1.15. With proper use, Batista can become a reliable closer; provided he continues to demonstrate that he can get batters out as he rises through the system.

Kevin Rhoderick, RHP
It seems like Kevin Rhoderick has spent a lot of time taking a back seat to other pitchers. In high school, it was phenom Tim Alderson. At Oregon State, Pirates draftee Tyler Waldron got all the headlines. Now in the Cubs organization, relievers Frank Batista, Jeff Beliveau, and Rafael Dolis have gotten more attention. But this fast-rising player may end up turning some heads this coming season.

The 23-year old was first drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 18th round out of Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, AZ in 2007. However, Rhoderick opted to attend Oregon State University, where he was immediately shipped to the bullpen.

Rhoderick took over the closer role as a freshman and finished with a 0-1 record with a 2.39 ERA and 12 saves. He was named an All-American. As a sophomore, he went 3-3 with nine saves and a 4.18 ERA. Rhoderick was made a set-up man for Waldron in his junior year, and was honorable mention All Pac-10 after going 2-2 and four saves with a 3.13 ERA, striking out 35 in 31.2 innings. The Cubs then drafted Rhoderick in the ninth round of the 2010 draft.

He started his Cubs career at High-A Daytona in 2011, where he lost out on the closer role to Frank Batista. Roderick was 2-0 with a 1.26 ERA, striking out 19 and walking six in seven appearances (14.1 innings). But when Tennessee closer David Cales went down to injury, Rhoderick was called up to the Smokies.

In Tennessee, Rhoderick paired with Jeff Beliveau as top notch set-up men for Rafael Dolis. In 45 appearances, Rhoderick was 7-0, with a 3.47 ERA and 58 strikeouts to 37 walks.

At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, some scouts consider Rhoderick a little small for a closer, but they feel he has closer “stuff”. His sinking fastball is 94 MPH plus, and he has a plus change-up. However, his “out” pitch is a slider he can throw for strikes. In a perfect world, Rhoderick would start the 2012 season at Triple A-Iowa, with a possible post All-Star break call-up if his success continues. But with a glut of relievers at both the Major League level and at Iowa, Rhoderick may have to bide his time at Double-A Tennessee. Whether he evolves into a closer or remains a top-flight set-up man remains to be seen.

Rebel Ridling, 1B/OF
In many ways, the minor leagues are a collection of underdog stories, with each player’s struggle to make it all the way to the big leagues the basic plot line. Last season, Cubs fans became captivated by the story of Bryan LaHair, who came from toiling in obscurity, to Pacific Coast League MVP, to now a starting position in the majors. This year’s story may be Rebel Ridling.

A three-year starter at Oklahoma State, the Sentinel, OK native hit .336 with 14 home runs and 68 RBI in 60 games as a junior. He was drafted in 2008 in the 25th round by the Cubs. Assigned to Short-Season A Boise, he destroyed Northwest League pitching by going .366 with four homers and 19 RBI in 19 games. Ridling then came back down to earth with a promotion to Low-A Peoria, hitting .200 with 10 dingers and 35 RBI in 45 games.

Back in Peoria in 2009, Ridling ended up fourth in the Midwest League with a .310 average, as well as tied for sixth with 16 home runs and second with 97 RBI.
The 2010 season looked as if it would be another stepping-stone for Ridling, but it was marred by a pre-season appendectomy. In his fight to come back from the surgery, Ridling hit .267 with 13 home runs and 76 RBI for High-A Daytona. Fully recovered to start the 2011 season, he was assigned to Double-A Tennessee, and became a vital cog in the Smokies’ offensive machine.

Ridling’s .309 batting average was third in the Southern League, while his 20 home runs tied him for fifth and 80 RBI were ninth.

The 6-foot-4, 230 pounder is the target you like to have at first base. His career .991 fielding percentage and 8.95 range factor shows that he is good around the bag. Moreover, he was able to make 47 appearances in the outfield in 2011, committing only one error and having one assist with a better-than-expected throwing arm.

The soon to be 26-year old looks to start 2012 at Triple-A Iowa, where he will be sandwiched by the newly acquired Anthony Rizzo and teenage sensation Dan Vogelbach, as well prospects such as Justin Bour, Richard Jones, Paul Hoilman, and Ryan Cuneo. However, he has the hitting ability and versatility to perhaps become a right-handed version of Bryan LaHair.

Ryan Searle, RHP
Since being named scouting director in 2005, Tim Wilken has expanded both scouting and signing international free agents. One player who was the result of that increase is Australian Ryan Searle.

Signed in 2007, Searle began his Cubs career playing in both the rookie league and Short-Season A Boise in 2008. He compiled a 2-2 record and 1.05 ERA with 28 strikeouts against 10 walks in 34.1 innings. He was jumped all the way to High-A Daytona in 2009, where he was named a Florida State League All-Star. Seale ended the year at 7-11 with 4.42 ERA and 1.414 WHIP for the D-Cubs.

Searle was sent down to Low-A Peoria for 2010 and wound up going 7-8 with a 4.38 ERA in 109 innings, but saw his strikeout to walk ratio improve to nearly 3:1 (90 strikeouts and 37 walks). He was promoted back to Daytona to finish the season, and was 1-1 with a 4.60 ERA in 15.2 innings.

The 2011 season saw Searle back in Daytona, now re-cast as a reliever. He was 1-2 with a 1.59 ERA in 16 appearances by the end of May, which earned him a promotion to Double-A Tennessee.

In his first 10 appearances with the Smokies, he was used out of the bullpen and posted a 4.05 ERA. But as injuries and promotions depleted the staff, Searle was used as a starter again. He went 3-3 with a 3.08 ERA in that role, to wind up 5-3 and a 3.51 ERA with 66 strikeouts against 43 walks. Following the Southern League playoffs, Searle pitched for Australia during the 2011 World Cup, shutting out Canada through seven innings in the tournament’s second round.

The 6-foot-0, 190 pound 22-year old bears some resemblance to current Cub Ryan Dempster in both stature and style of play. He has both a two-seam and four-seam fastball that he can deliver in the 94 MPH range. He originally used a slurve as a third pitch, but has now been able to separate them into an above-average curve and a power slider. He is also trying to develop a change-up. Like Dempster, Searle projects as a pitcher you can hand the ball to every five days and eat innings, giving his team a good chance to win each outing.

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

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  • Tony_Hall

    This is a fantasy prospect list for this year.  I have cut out the Cubs players.

    http://insider.espn.go.com/fantasy/baseball/flb/story?page=mlbdk2k12_top50prospects 

    14. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Cubs

    Background: Where Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod go, Rizzo goes. Drafted by the Red Sox and then traded to the Padres, Hoyer made him the Cubs’ first baseman of the future by trading Andrew Cashner for him. Rizzo’s 2011 campaign was among the strangest in baseball; he had arguably the best numbers in the minor leagues, then hit a disturbing .141/.281/.242 in 128 at bats for the Padres.

    What he can do: Rizzo can hit for average and power, and until his disastrous stint in San Diego, he was doing both for the first time at Triple-A. At the same time, the offensive environment at Triple-A Reno produced some bad swing habits that will need to be corrected; he needs to focus more on contact and allow his strength to help him, as opposed to looking to hit home runs.

    Playing-time situation: The Cubs have made it clear that Bryan LaHair is their Opening Day first baseman. As such, Rizzo will begin 2012 working out the kinks in a more neutral environment at Triple-A Iowa. But he could be ready by midseason, and his arrival likely would kick LaHair to the outfield.

    Long-term value: Rizzo projects as an above-average first baseman, which gives him plenty of value, though not everyone is convinced he’ll be a star.

    21. Brett Jackson, OF Cubs

    Background: Jackson, the 31st overall pick in the 2009 draft, entered professional baseball with the reputation of an outstanding tools player who strikes out too much. Now on the verge of the big leagues, he is generally seen by scouts as an outstanding tools player … who still strikes out too much.

    What he can do: Jackson provides plenty of excitement both on the field and on a fantasy level. He had 20 home runs and 21 stolen bases last year in just 115 games split between Double-A and Triple-A. The question is just how much he’s going to hit. His .297/.388/.551 line in 48 Triple-A games last year created quite a stir, but with 64 whiffs in 185 at-bats, there are indications that there was a lot of luck involved and that high a batting average is unsustainable.

    Playing-time situation: While the Cubs were tempted to bring up Jackson last year, they want him to work on his contact issues at Triple-A Iowa, and there is currently no room for him on the big league roster. A Marlon Byrd trade could change that, but if Jackson makes strides during the first half of the season, the Cubs will bring him up regardless of their outfield situation.

    Long-term value: While he’ll never compete for a batting title, power/speed combinations are fantasy gold, and Jackson’s 20/20 season in 2011 shouldn’t be his last.

    26. Welington Castillo, C, Cubs

    Background: Castillo has been in the Cubs’ system for six years, and his development has been slowed by injuries. But he has made slow and steady progress over the years, and finally broke out in 2011 with a .287/.359/.516 line at Triple-A Iowa.

    What he can do: Castillo offers more offense at catcher than your average bear. His aggressive approach and tendency to strike out will keep his average down, and he runs, well, like a catcher, but he has above-average power for the position and could hit 15-20 home runs per season in a full-time role.

    Playing-time situation: Castillo will open the year as a backup to Geovany Soto, but with the Cubs in rebuilding mode and Soto heading to free agency in two years, a trade that provides Castillo with more at-bats is a distinct possibility, and it would up his value significantly.

    Long-term value: Castillo holds the title of Cubs catcher of the future for now, but that’s almost by default.

    49. Dave Sappelt, OF, Cubs

    Background: Ever since he was picked in the ninth round of the 2008 draft, all Sappelt has done is hit. He’s a career .309/.362/.459 hitter in the minors. He wasn’t able to duplicate that success in his big league debut in 2011, however; he often looked overmatched in his 107 at-bats.

    What he can do: While he’s hardly a physical specimen at 5-foot-9, Sappelt is an advanced hitter with outstanding hand-eye coordination and bat speed. He doesn’t offer much in the way of power, but he’s an above-average runner and should steal a few bases, while his ability to play all three outfield positions helps his value.

    Playing-time situation: Sappelt is battling for a bench outfield job this spring, and his primary competition besides Reed Johnson is Tony Campana, who brings nothing to the table other than speed.

    Long-term value: Sappelt might never be a long-term starter in the big leagues, but he belongs in the majors.

  • Redlarczykg

    Tom,

    Great job!  Antigua could be our future lefty in the rotation in 2014.
    Beliveau, “I predict!” will be in the Cubs bullpen sometime this year,
    And Rhoderick seems to be a real dark horse in the Cubs system.

    Aaron Kurcz seems to me to be another to keep an eye on.

    Any word how Daivd Cales is doing on his rehab?

    • Tom U

      Redlarczykg, Thank you for the compliment.

      Cales situation bears watching, as he was doing well prior to the injury. He’s currently listed on the Triple-A depth chart, but then again, so is Brian Schlitter. No word on his progress at this time.

      Aaron Kurcz is a very good prospect. I just wanted fans to get acquainted with some of the other players in the system.

      If Beliveau and Rhoderick can repeat how they did last year, the sky may be the limit.

  • Anthony

    Ridling is another of those solid players that proves talent is just one part of the process of getting to MLB. His production is above-average, the power and hitting are there, but when does the opportunity come, because at age 26, with LaHair, Rizzo, and all the other 1B prospects in the system, even a change to OF could block him.

    Ridling is a nice follow, and if he remains consistent once again, then what?

    In other words, you have to be twice as good as everyone else, and even then, get past the investment players to even get a chance to knock the door down.

    Hope the kid gets an Opp. Nice player.

  • Aaron

    Tom U,

    Thank you for the in-depth analysis.

    Couple thoughts:

    Antigua-I’ve been a fan of his since he was signed as a teenager along with Larry Suarez. The reports regarding those two were outstanding back then. Unfortunately, only Antigua seems to have taken the next step. Suarez, by all counts, is a younger version of Zambrano…mid-90’s moving fastball with control issues. He’s the one I had the highest hopes for as a starter, but it appears he is relegated to the pen right now. I really hope these 2 guys take off this year, because it’s about time.

    Batista-not a big fan…at least at the back-end of the pen. I view him more like a Chad Qualls type of reliever, where he’s got decent stuff, but nothing is overwhelming, and he pitches more to contact than anything…middle relief is his ceiling, at least in my opinion

    Rhoderick-Oregon State sure seems to put out some grinders, don’t they? Nothing he does is overwhelming, but you have to give it to the guy…he gets results…and they’re better than Batista’s. He also pitches to less contact than Batista does, which bodes well for his future as a set-up type of guy

    Ridling-I love this guy, and nobody else seems to care about him. He’s dealt with injury/health issues, yet all he does is bounce back, and continue to rake. I believe he also played football at Oklahoma State, and he’s proven to be agile enough to handle the OF. It’s a crime that he didn’t at least get a NRI, especially with this new staff. Obviously, I’m just hypothesizing here, but it wouldn’t shock me in the least if he was dealt to Boston or San Diego as the PTBNL, because he’s blocked everywhere right now, and unjustly so, I might add.

    Searle-roller-coaster doesn’t even begin to describe his career. He started off with one of the best starts to a career I’ve ever seen from a starter at Boise and Mesa with a 1.05 ERA in 34 IP (8 games, 6 starts), but the idiotic “braintrust” the Cubs had at the time thought it’d be wise to send a 20 year old all the way to Daytona in his first full season in the states the very next year…and he paid the price, with a 4.42 ERA that year. Then, the following year they shuttled him back and forth from Peoria to Daytona with bad results as well. Last year, he finally came into his own at Daytona and Tennessee with a 3.03 ERA overall. He’s still just 22 years old, so he has a chance to have a decent career at the very least. I must point out that 19 year olds simply do NOT have the starts to their careers like Searle did. Just think on his 1.05 ERA in 6 starts for a second….I realize it’s a small sample size, but that doesn’t happen too often. Here’s hoping he builds off last year’s success….

    • Tom U

      Aaron, you are, as usual, very well versed.

      I can see Batista resembling the career of former Cub Tom “Flash” Gordon. While he doesn’t have Gordon’s fastball, I can see Batista in and out of the closer/set-up/specialist/long man roles that Gordon went through in his career. However, I don’t think he’ll ever start like Gordon once did.

  • Texcubnut

    Excellent report, Tom. I love the prospect of  Jeffry Antigua this year. I also have a feeling that Dallas Beeler could take the next step this year. I look for the Smokies to be a strong team and fun to watch. I can honestly say I’m just as excited to watch our minor leagues this year as I am the ‘big boys.’

    • Tom U

      Excellent Texcubnut! I feel like I’ve done my job if I get more fans to pay attention to the minors.