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.

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