Cubs Down on the Farm Report – 04/23/12

As Casey Stengel once said “Can anybody here play this game?” Uneven efforts were the norm this week, as one or more elements, pitching-hitting-defense, were lacking throughout the system.

However, there are always silver linings. Peoria’s Oliver Zapata has extended his hitting streak to seven, and the offenses of both the Chiefs and Daytona seem to be perking up. Tennessee is now second in the Southern League in pitching and third in fielding. Anthony Rizzo is in the top ten in the Pacific Coast League in batting and RBI, and leads the league with seven home runs.

For more of the somewhat unpleasant details, have a look at today’s Down on the Farm Report …

Note: Monday’s report will cover games from Wednesday to Saturday. Thursday’s report covers games Sunday through Tuesday.

Low Class-A – Peoria Chiefs (6-10)
Peoria saw their winning streak end on Wednesday with a late inning rally falling short, giving Cedar Rapids the 5-2 victory. Overall, hitting has improved for the Chiefs, but timely hitting is still in short supply. Paul Hoilman was the hits leader as he was 2-for-4, and was driven in by Oliver Zapata (1-for-4) with a double. Zeke DeVoss was also 1-for-4 with a double, while Pin-Chieh Chen, Wes Darvill, and Eduardo Gonzalez each collected hits. Jose Rosario started for the Chiefs and yielded four runs (three earned) while striking out six in 4.2 innings. Peoria seems to be looking for a role for Luis Liria, who followed Rosario and gave up an earned run and struck out three in 1.1 innings. Andrew McKirahan may have settled down some, allowing no baserunners and striking out three batters in two scoreless innings. Lefty Jeffrey Lorick was given some late inning work and shutout the Kernels with a strikeout in the ninth.

The 2012 Chiefs were supposed to be built around pitching and defense, but both deserted them on Thursday night, as they dropped the first of a three game set with Great Lakes 11-4. Ben Wells was both the culprit and the victim, as he allowed ten runs in 4.2 innings, with six of them being earned. Four errors, including two by Ryan Cuneo and one each by Zeke DeVoss and Kyler Burke, didn’t help matters. Burke came on in relief of Wells and gave up his own earned run while striking out four in 3.2 innings. Austin Reed got the final two outs, including a strikeout. Oliver Zapata continues to be an unstoppable offensive force, going 3-for-5 with an RBI. The left side of the infield is trying to do their part, with third baseman Brad Zapenas having a 2-for-2 evening with shortstop Wes Darvill was 2-for-5 with a triple and an RBI. Ryan Cuneo was also 2-for-5 and an RBI.

Friday was another frustrating night for Peoria as their pitching failed once again as the lost 7-5 to Great Lakes. Left-handed pitcher Willengton Cruz had a promising 2011 for the Boise Hawks, but his 2012 hit another bump as he allowed five earned runs, including two solo home runs, and struck out four in 5.2 innings. Another Boise pitcher, Bryce Shafer was second in the Northwest league in saves, but has struggled in Peoria giving up two runs, on earned, in 2.1 innings. The lone bright spot was Yao-Lin Wang, whose ERA remains at 0.00 with a scoreless inning. The Chiefs’ offense was able to take advantage of some pitching wildness by the Loons, but lapsed back in their habit of poor situational hitting. Eduardo Gonzalez was 1-for-2 with an RBI, while Pin-Chieh Chen drove in two runs and was 1-for-5 with a double. Oliver Zapata has hit safely for the sixth straight game.

After a three game win streak, the Chiefs squandered another good pitching performance on Saturday to extend their losing streak to four with a 2-1 loss to Great Lakes. Peoria’s best pitcher to start the season, Michael Jensen, struck out six in seven innings, but allowed two earned run, as the Chiefs’ offense couldn’t support the effort. Peoria scored its lone run in the first inning, as Rafael Lopez (1-for-4) doubled, and scored on Paul Hoilman’s (2-for-4, double) single. With a seven-game hitting streak, Oliver Zapata was 2-for-4 for the afternoon. Scott Weismann kept the Chiefs in it until the end with two scoreless innings.

High Class-A – Daytona Cubs (4-11)
If things weren’t bad enough for Daytona this season, they started kicking the ball on Thursday night as they lost 5-2 to Tampa. Getting his second start, Eduardo Figueroa allowed four runs, but only one was earned as errors by Arismendy Alcantara and Richard Jones led to the winning margin. Figueroa struck out three in five innings and gave way to Ty’Relle Harris, who held the Yankees scoreless for two innings and struck out three batters. Brian Schlitter and Tony Zych each tossed an inning and shutout Tampa the rest of the way. The only offensive highlight was Nelson Perez, who was 2-for-4 with a home run and an RBI.

The D-Cubs resembled the team that most fans thought they would perform like on Friday, as they blitzed Tampa 9-2. Greg Rohan (1-for-2) struck the big blow with his grand slam home run in the second inning. Rohan would end up with five RBI on the night, as Richard Jones was 3-for-5. Ronald Torreyes seems to have finally broke out offensively, as he was 3-for-3 with two doubles and a triple. John Andreoli’s (1-for-4) double also drove in a run.

Left-hander Austin Kirk continues to impress, as he struck out three with one earned run in seven innings. Brett Wallach gave up an earned run in an inning of work, while Casey Harman finished out the game with a scoreless ninth.

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Daytona made it two impressive outings in a row on Saturday, as they overpowered Tampa 13-2. Everyone in the lineup had a hit, and all but two players had two or more hits. The big stick belonged to Nelson Perez, who was 3-for-3 with a home run, stolen base, and three RBI. Greg Rohan also drove in three runs, and was 2-for-5 with a double. Dustin Harrington was also a big contributor, going 2-for-5 with a double, triple, and two RBI. Ronald Torreyes went 2-for-4 with an RBI, while Matt Szczur was 2-for-8 and a stolen base. Elieser Bonne and Sergio Burruel each had two hits and a double, and Richard Jones and John Andreoli had an RBI apiece.

The offensive explosion gave starter Eric Jokisch the ability to pitch free-and easy, as he allowed two earned runs and struck out two in 5.2 innings. Larry Suarez followed with 1.1 scoreless innings, while Joe Zeller also struck out two as he shut out the Yankees for two innings.

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Double-A – Tennessee Smokies (9-8)
Tuesday’s rainout brought a double-header on Wednesday, as the Smokies dropped the opener 2-1 to Huntsville. Tennessee put two of their best pitchers on the mound in Dallas Beeler and Kevin Rhoderick, but the offense was only able to muster six hits. Beeler lowered his ERA to 1.08, sixth among starters in the Southern League, by allowing one earned run in 5.2 innings while striking out five batters. Rhoderick was the hard-luck loser after he gave up a triple and single for the game winner, after striking out two in 0.2 innings. Infielder Jonathan Mota (2-for-3) scored Tennessee’s only run as Michael Brenly (1-for-2) drove him in with a double.

Relegated to the bullpen after being a starter last season, Ryan Searle took the hill in the nightcap and combined with two other pitchers to shut down Huntsville 1-0. Recent addition Ty Wright (2-for-3) provided the game’s only run with his second inning homer. The Smokies continued their offensive struggles, managing only four hits over the seven innings. Searle gave the team a much needed boost by striking out five in four innings. Casey Weathers also received a shot of confidence as he went a scoreless inning and struck out two batters. Closer Frank Batista showed he just isn’t a last inning specialist, shutting down the Stars over two innings and recording his league-leading fifth save.

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A valiant comeback by Tennessee on Thursday after an underwhelming performance by their starter went by the wayside as they ended up losing 9-7 to Huntsville. Starter Dae-Eun Rhee did not have his A-Game, as he gave up five earned runs while striking out four in five innings. The Smokies stormed back as Nate Samson led the charge, going 4-for-4 with two doubles, a home run, and three RBI. Ty Wright was 2-for-5 with a double and RBI, while Justin Bour drove in a run and was 2-for-4. Michael Brenly was also 2-for-5. After tying the score, the Smokies turned to Dan Berlind to hold the Stars, and he let in two earned runs in two innings. Marcus Hatley gave up another two earned runs to put the final nail in the coffin.

On Friday, Tennessee got some great pitching and, frankly, overcame some poor managing decisions, bringing home a 3-2 victory over Chattanooga. The Smokies offense produced thirteen hits, but took at least two runs off the board as manager Buddy Bailey twice threw up a stop sign at third on plays that looked like the runner would score easily. Another time, Bailey sent Jae-Hoon Ha, who had originally broke back to second to let the ball go through the infield for a single, only to have him thrown out at home. Ha broke out of his slump by going 2-for-3, while Juan Apodaca was also 2-for-3. Logan Watkins was 2-for-5 with a double, and Nate Samson, Rebel Ridling, and James Adduci had RBI each.

Lefty Brooks Raley had a no-hitter through four innings. But the lack of offensive production seems to rattle him, as he started to be too fine with his pitches and gave up two earned runs in the fifth inning, as he would go six innings with three strikeouts. Kevin Rhoderick, after suffering two hard-luck losses, wound up with the win as he held the Lookouts scoreless and struck out two in 1.2 innings. In a somewhat shaky ninth, Alberto Cabrera was able to strike out two batters for his first save.

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After appearing somewhat snake bit during the first few weeks, Tennessee seemed to be putting things all together in Saturday’s 4-2 win over Chattanooga. The Smokies got good pitching and timely hitting, as Jae-Hoon Ha shook out of his doldrums and was 3-for-4 with a stolen base and two runs scored. Ty Wright has been a big part of Tennessee’s offensive turnaround, as he was 2-for-3 with two RBI. Rebel Ridling is also coming around and drove in a run as he was 2-for-3.

Tennessee pitchers combine to strike out ten of the Lookouts, with starter Nick Struck recording half of that total. Struck pitched five innings and gave up an earned run, being relieved by Jeffry Antigua. The left-hander struggled early to find the strike zone, but ended up striking out four in three scoreless innings. Scuffling pitcher Marcus Hatley got the last “K”, as he retired the side in the ninth for his first save.

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Triple-A – Iowa Cubs (7-10)
Frustration seems to be setting in for Iowa as they failed to get a decent pitching performance on Wednesday for the fourth time in five games and lost 8-4 to Albuquerque. An overtaxed bullpen may have kept Jay Jackson in the game too long, as he allowed three earned runs (five overall) in the sixth inning. Jackson did strike out five in 5.2 innings, but all of the runs came in via the home run, as he served up a two-run and three-run blast. Manny Corpas finished the game out, and allowed an earned run over 2.1 innings. Luis Valbuena can be placing some pressure on the organization as he continued to stay hot. Valbuena hit a two-run homer and was 2-for-3 to raise his average to .400. Welington Castillo (1-for-4) also drove in a run with a double, while Edgar Gonzalez (1-for-2) had an RBI.

If Wednesday’s loss wasn’t frustrating enough, Thursday saw some decent pitching and a big hitting day by Anthony Rizzo, but it still added up to a 4-3 loss to Albuquerque. While giving up four earned runs in 6.1 innings isn’t the stuff legends are made of, the five strikeout performance by Travis Wood should have been enough to win, considering the Iowa offense. But after pounding out 35 hits in the past five games, the I-Cubs could only manage six, as Rizzo was 2-for-3 with two home runs and three RBI. Dave Sappelt also collected two hits. Jeff Beliveau kept Iowa in the game by throwing 1.2 scoreless innings.

With scheduled starter Randy Wells back in Chicago to be ready for the parent club, Iowa tapped Frankie De La Cruz as a replacement, but would end up losing 5-4 to Albuquerque. Like other pitchers in the organization this week, De La Cruz, for the circumstances, pitched well enough for the I-Cubs to win. He ended his evening tossing three innings and letting in three earned runs. However, no one else on the squad picked up the slack. The Iowa offense was limited by journeyman (and former I-Cub) Mike Parisi. Iowa’s veterans showed up, with Edgar Gonzalez going 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI, while Alfredo Amezaga was 2-for-3 with a double. But as the offense attempted a comeback, Esmailin Caridad failed to hold serve, as he allowed two earned runs and struck out three in four innings. Blake Parker remained unscored-upon, as he struck out one in the eighth inning.

If any game could illustrate the fortunes of the Cubs’ minor league system this week, it would be Saturday’s 12-7 loss to Memphis. Casey Coleman and the I-Cubs were clearly in control at 5-2 when he left after six innings of work, giving up two earned runs and striking out seven batters. Jeff Beliveau came on and pitched a scoreless seventh, but was lifted in the eighth after a walk, double, and single. Manny Corpas relieved and after 12 batters and nine runs scored, the eighth inning finally ended. Iowa had to resort to position players Blake Lalli and Alfredo Amezaga to finish the game on the mound. Not only was Coleman’s effort spoiled, but good offensive performances by Anthony Rizzo and Adrian Cardenas were lost. Rizzo was 2-for-5 with three RBI, while Cardenas drove in two more and was 2-for-3 with a double. Brett Jackson was returned to the leadoff spot and was 2-for-5 with a double. Dave Sappelt (2-for-4, stolen base, two RBI) provided some late inning thrills with his inside-the-park home run.

News and Notes
The Chicago Cubs recalled LHP Scott Maine, RHP Randy Wells and OF Tony Campana from the Iowa Cubs; LHP Sheldon McDonald was assigned the Iowa Cubs from Boise; McDonald would be reassigned back to Extended Spring Training a day later. Outfielder Ty Wright and RHP Frank Batista were assigned to the Iowa Cubs. The Tennessee Smokies placed RHP Trey McNutt on the 7-day disabled list (blisters). The Daytona Cubs activated RHP Matt Loosen from the 7-day disabled list; LHP Casey Harman assigned to Tennessee.

CCO’s Prospect Watch

  • Javier Baez (IF) – Extended Spring Training
  • Jeimer Candelario (3B) – Extended Spring Training
  • Zeke DeVoss (2B) – .224, three doubles, triple, home run, seven RBI (Peoria Chiefs)
  • Reggie Golden (OF) – is currently on the disabled list
  • Junior Lake (IF) – is currently inactive
  • Dillon Maples (RHP) – Extended Spring Training
  • Matt Szczur (OF) – .194, double, two RBI, five Stolen Bases (Daytona Cubs)
  • Ronald Torreyes (2B) – .256, three doubles, triple, RBI (Daytona Cubs)
  • Josh Vitters (3B) – .269, two doubles, eight RBI (Iowa Cubs)
  • Dan Vogelbach (1B) – Extended Spring Training

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