Cubs Down on the Farm Report – 09/20/12

Second Half Minor League Report – Part 2

Part two of the CCO’s look at the Cubs’ minor league system for the second half of the 2012 season focuses on the Peoria Chiefs and Boise Hawks.

The Peoria Chiefs plodded along in the second half, as promotions and injuries to their pitching staff took its toll. Even a late influx of talent wasn’t enough to save the jobs of manager Casey Kopitzke and hitting coach Barbaro Garbey, as the organization looks for a new staff to guide a new affiliation with the Kane County Cougars.

The Boise Hawks made up for a lackluster first half by blitzing the Northwest League with a 24-14 record, the best in the second half. The roster, which was heavily populated by players from the 2012 draft, ended up in the playoffs at the end of the season, losing to Vancouver in the finals.

Here’s how the Chiefs and Hawks performed, along with CCO’s Post-season All-Star team.

Low Class-A – Peoria Chiefs (63-75)
Overview: Casey Kopitzke said in an interview last season, “Change is the nature of the business in ‘A’ ball.” But a late influx in talent wasn’t enough to save the Chiefs from a 28-41 record in the second half, which cost Kopitzke his job at season’s end but Cubs’ fans may have caught a glimpse of the future in C Chadd Krist, 1B Jacob Rogers, IF Tim Saunders, and OF Jorge Soler.

Position Players: Injuries and promotions created a lack of cohesion for the offense, but the amount of talent coming up should have off-set some of the inconsistency. The CCO’s Short-Season Player of the Year Tim Saunders seemed indifferent to changes in levels or positions. All Saunders continued to do was hit. Saunders hit .321 with two homers, 12 RBI and eight stolen bases in 20 games with the Chiefs. Jumping straight from rookie ball, Jorge Soler displayed his immense potential as he hit .338 with three homers and 15 RBI in 20 games. Jacob Rogers was like Saunders and Soler in Arizona, batting .341 before coming to Peoria and hitting .300 with two homers and ten RBI in 16 games. Showing some signs of being a two-way catcher, Chadd Krist came in from Boise and batted .274 including four home runs and 29 RBI in 56 games overall, while tossing out 25% of all base stealers over the same span. Thing weren’t quite as rosy for fellow Hawk OF Bijan Rademacher, who struggled to hit .221 for Peoria after batting .396 for Boise. Leading the first half holdovers was OF Pin-Chieh Chen, who batted .259 while leading the team with 36 stolen bases. Zeke DeVoss struggled mightily both at second base and hitting leadoff all season, losing out to Chen in the team leadership as he stole 35 bases while hitting .249 with six home runs and 38 RBI. Big things look to be in store for 3B Dustin Geiger, as the 20-year old tied Justin Bour for second in the organization with 17 homers while driving in 53 runs and batting .251 in 75 games after coming back from a hand injury. Youngsters Wes Darvill and Oliver Zapata showed that they may be long-term projects, as the batted .225 and .225 respectively.

Pitching: Leading the staff for Peoria this year was Michael Jensen, who completed his first full professional season. Jensen was fourth in the league with a 1.12 WHIP and ninth in strikeouts with 115. Jensen posted an 11-5 record and 3.47 ERA. After Jensen though, it was a bit of a mess as Gerardo Concepcion mysteriously left with a reported case of mono while Zach Cates and Ben Wells were injured. After leading the squad with 12 saves, Yao-Lin Wang was asked to go back to starting to relieve the hurting rotation. Starting nine games down the stretch, Wang was 2-3 with a 4.46 ERA, a 1.31 WHIP, and 44 strikeouts in 42.2 innings. Bringing his knuckleball to Peoria, Joe Zeller went 3-4 with a 3.75 ERA in ten starts. Starling Peralta flashed some big time potential by taking a perfect game into the seventh inning on August 7, and he ended up 5-8 for the season with 86 strikeouts and a 3.44 ERA in 99.1 innings. The final spot was split between Jeffry Antigua, who came all the way down to the Chiefs to prepare for a return to a starting role, and Ben Wells, who opted for rest rather than surgery for an arm injury. Antigua was 1-2 with a 2.91 ERA over four starts while Wells pitched four scoreless innings through two starts to end the season.

Once Wang went back into the rotation, it was “all hands on deck” for the bullpen as Larry Suarez emerged as the stopper. An enigma for most of his five-year career, Suarez went 2-1 with a 3.15 ERA, 24 strikeouts, and five saves in 25.2 innings as a closer. Converted starters Luis Lira and Austin Reed had their ups and downs in the pen. Liria recorded five saves and posted a 2-5 record with a 4.55 ERA in 59.1innings. Reed finished with a 5-8 mark with a 3.65 ERA and a save. Lefty Sheldon McDonald was second in the entire organization with a 0.98 WHIP in 62 innings with a 1.89 ERA and 1-3 record. Big Pete Levitt was more effective for the Chiefs than he was in Boise. Levitt struck out 25 batters in 22.2 innings and posted a 1.99 ERA. However, Boise’s 2011 closer Bryce Shafer never seemed to get things together. Shafer went 1-2 with a 4.63 ERA that included 36 strikeouts 35 innings. The real head scratcher was Justin Berg. The 28-year old was coming back from Tommy John surgery and was completely ineffective. Berg finished the season with a 0-3 record, a 5.40 ERA, and three blown saves in 26.2 innings.

Short Season-A – Boise Hawks (37-39)
Overview: Reflecting the development of players in the rookie league and the 2012 draft, the Hawks parlayed a 24-14 second half into a playoff appearance and within four outs of a Northwest League championship. Manager Mark Johnson struck a near perfect balance between player development and competitiveness, juggling at-bats and pitch counts while focusing on building confidence by playing winning baseball. Johnson’s star appears to be rising, as rumors swirl that he will join most of this year’s cast in moving to Single-A next season.

Position Players: It’s hard to find a starting point as Team President Theo Epstein was quoted, “There was a prospect at every position”. The best place could be second base, home to Stephen Bruno and Gioskar Amaya. While Bruno also lined up at short, third, and outfield, he led the league with a .361 average while hitting three home runs and driving in 37 runs. After taking over the leadoff spot, Amaya batted .298 and stole 15 bases as he smacked eight home runs and drove in 33 runs. Batting third and playing third, 18-year old switch-hitter Jeimer Candelario led the Hawks with 47 RBI as he hit .281 with five homers. Coming up from the rookie league, 1B Dan Vogelbach struck fear into Northwest League pitchers as he blasted ten home runs with a .322 average and 31 runs driven in while playing only 37 games. Rock Shoulders tied Vogelbach for the team lead with ten home runs and batted .250 with 37 RBI as he saw time at first base and in the outfield. After spending time at third base last season, Willson Contreras moved back to his original position of catcher as showed how he had developed as a clutch hitter. Contreras finished second on the team with 39 RBI and hit .273 with three home runs. Boise’s hottest hitter down the stretch was SS Marco Hernandez, batting .324 in August to end up a .286 average that included five home runs, 38 RBI, and eight stolen bases. Trey Martin was a defensive whiz in the outfield and proved to be no pushover at the plate as he batted .270 with three homers and 23 RBI. Martin moved from center to left field upon the arrival of 2012 first round draft choice Albert Almora. Almora hit .292 with a home run and six RBI in 15 games. Outfielders Izaac Garsez (.228), Xavier Batista (.198), and Dong-Yub Kim (.250 with five home runs and 14 RBI) also rotated into the line-up.

Pitching: The high wire act of providing innings to developing pitchers and trying to win ballgames was navigated well as the Hawks looked to get experience for Michael Heesch, Justin Amlung, and first round draft pick Pierce Johnson. The organization is uncertain how they want to use Heesch and Amlung, so they often piggybacked each other. Amlung (0-1 with a 6.00 ERA) started and tossed 12 innings while Heesch (3-1 with a 2.66 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 23.2 innings) was used more in relief. Johnson is clearly seen as a starter but still had his appearances limited to two innings. Johnson pitched a total of eight innings and struck out 12 while posting a 4.50 ERA. Piggybacking on Johnson was Felix Pena, who seemed to find himself this season after bouncing around for three years. Pena was 4-2 in 15 appearances (six starts) with a 3.43 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 63 innings. Heading the rotation was Jose Arias, ninth in the league with a 1.26 WHIP, while striking out 46 and posting a 3.25 ERA in 63.2 innings (4-2 record). Tayler Scott went 5-1 and was fifth in the league with a 2.52 ERA while striking out 43 batters. James Pugliese had a hard time picking up in the middle of a game as he slumped to 1-5 record and a 5.37 ERA, but led the team with 51 strikeouts. Ian Dickson also scuffled a little with an ERA of 5.60 and a 3-3 record, but struck out 48 in 62.2 innings.

Draft picks also dominated the bullpen, with Eduardo Orozco taking over the closer role as he was 2-1 with a 1.95 ERA, 31 strikeouts, and six saves in 27.2 innings. Righty Tyler Bremer and lefty Nathan Dorris moved into set-up roles. Bremer posted a 4.80 ERA and a save in 15 innings while Dorris saved four games and had a 1.93 ERA in 14 innings. Former first round draft pick Hayden Simpson continued to work through injuries that have plagued his career. Simpson would look unhittable one inning and anything but the next. Simpson (2-4 with a 6.18 ERA) was a workhorse for Boise and tossed 43.2 innings while striking out 47 batters. Rafael Diplan was another innings eater. Diplan threw 35 innings and went 3-3 with a 4.37 ERA. Right-hander Su-Min Jung and lefties Hunter Ackerman and Brian Smith also saw limited action.

The CCO’s Second-Half Organizational All-Star Team

  • First Base: Justin Bour (Tennessee); Dan Vogelbach (Boise)
  • Second Base: Stephen Bruno (Boise); Gioskar Amaya (Boise)
  • Shortstop: Tim Saunders (Peoria); Javier Baez (Daytona)
  • Third Base: Greg Rohan (Iowa); Dustin Geiger (Peoria)
  • Catcher: Willson Contreras (Boise); Chadd Krist (Peoria)
  • Left Field: John Andreoli (Daytona); Dave Sappelt (Iowa)
  • Centerfield: Albert Almora (Boise); Jae-Hoon Ha (Tennessee)
  • Right Field: Rubi Silva (Tennessee); Jorge Soler (Peoria)
  • Right-Handed Pitcher: Nick Struck (Tennessee); Michael Jensen (Peoria); Tayler Scott (Boise)
  • Left-Handed Pitcher: Eric Jokisch (Tennessee); Austin Kirk (Tennessee); Chris Rusin (Iowa)
  • Closer: Frank Batista (Tennessee); Eduardo Orozco (Boise); Larry Suarez (Peoria)

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