Cubs Down on the Farm Report – 10/08/12

Meet the Mesa Solar Sox: Position Players and Coaches

This is the second of two articles highlighting the players from the Cubs organization who will be taking part in the 2012 Arizona Fall League, which starts tomorrow (Tuesday, October 9). Today, the CCO will be looking at the position players and coaches that will be suiting up for the Mesa Solar Sox.

Javier Baez, IF
A somewhat surprising addition to this year’s AFL roster, 19-year old infielder is sure to make things interesting for observers.

The controversy surrounding Javier Baez began almost immediately after he was announced as the sixth overall pick by the Cubs in the 2011 draft. At the time, scouts loved his offensive potential but were concerned about his defense, projecting him anywhere from his drafted spot of shortstop, to third base, to the outfield, and even as a catcher. The Baez camp did nothing to quiet some of the concern, as a protracted contract negotiation ended with only six days left in the 2011 minor league season. Baez stayed three days in Arizona, and then was hustled up to Short Season-A Boise for a couple of games. In a short span of five games, Baez hit .278 with an RBI and two stolen bases in 18 at bats.

Javier Baez was held back in extended spring training to start the 2012 season and hit an “unofficial” .329, with five doubles, three triples, eight home runs, 26 RBI, and 10 stolen bases.

Javier Baez was promoted to Single-A Peoria on May 28, where he would go on to hit .333 with 10 doubles, five triples, 12 home runs, 33 RBI, and 20 stolen bases in 57 games. His defense, however, was a concern as he committed 15 errors at shortstop (.941 fielding percentage). In both locations, a checkered reputation followed as he alienated opposing coaches, players and fans as well as his own teammates in a few ugly incidents. At the beginning of August, he was swapped out for hot hitting draftee Tim Saunders and sent to High-A Daytona. There, Baez met his match and hit .188 with four home runs and 13 RBI to finish out the season.

With the Mesa Solar Sox’s roster, Baez will be in a battle for playing time. Shortstop figures to be in the hands of Houston’s Jiovanni Mier and Baltimore’s Jonathan Schoop. Third base will feature Detroit super prospect Nick Castellanos, while the Dodgers will push for Rafael Ynoa to get the bulk of the playing time at second base. Don’t be too surprised if Baez sees the majority of his playing time at designated hitter. Wherever he lines up, it promises not to be boring.

Rubi Silva, OF/IF
There may not have been a more consistent hitter in the Cubs’ system over the past two seasons than Rubi Silva. Often overlooked in favor of more high profile prospects, the AFL season could give Silva an opportunity to shine.

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, batting .285 with 16 RBI in 123 at bats while lining up mostly in centerfield and in right. He was then given a promotion to High-A Daytona after an injury to Brett Jackson, and wound up hitting only .229 with two home runs and seven RBI in 29 games for the D-Cubs. Returning to Peoria, he then split time between centerfield and second base. Silva regained his batting stroke and ending the season at .300 with three home runs and 37 RBI for the Chiefs.

Rubi Silva was assigned to Daytona at the start of the 2012 season. He hovered around .300 for most of the season, including hitting over .400 for the first month. But Silva had to wait as Greg Rohan and Matt Szczur were promoted ahead of him. Finally, it became his turn in the beginning of August. In the final 20 games of the season for Double-A Tennessee, Silva hit .263 with two homers and 13 RBI. Silva ended the 2012 season leading all Cubs’ minor league prospects with a .296 average and 14 triples, along with five home runs and 74 RBI. Silva is also considered an outstanding defensive outfielder, with 12 outfield assists in two years, as well as above average at second base.

The competition Silva will be facing in Mesa will mainly come from Baltimore outfield prospect LJ Hoes, but he’ll also battle the Dodgers’ Rafael Ynoa and another player from the Baltimore system, infielder Jonathan Schoop, for time at second base. At either position, Silva figures to be the best defensive player for the Solar Sox.

Matt Szczur, OF
The clock is ticking on Cubs outfielder Matt Szczur. Hopefully, his production will match the pace of time.

A fifth round selection in the 2010 draft, Szczur was a two sport star at Villanova University, rushing for 1803 yards, catching 126 passes, and scoring 30 touchdowns for the Wildcats in his career. Remaining a member of the Villanova football squad, Szczur played 25 games in 2010 in the rookie league and with Short Season-A Boise and Single-A Peoria, batting .347 with ten RBI and two stolen bases. He returned to play for the Wildcats for his senior year, but only participated in eight games due to a high ankle sprain. Fearing they would lose him in the NFL draft, management tore up his rookie contract and re-signed him to a baseball exclusive contract. In that process, Szczur had to be added to the 40-man roster or risk being exposed to the Rule 5 Draft. That gave the Cubs three years (three option years) to develop Szczur before he would be out of minor league options.

Matt Szczur opened the 2011 season in Peoria and was named a mid-season All-Star, and also participated in the MLB Futures game. Szczur hit .314 with five home runs, 27 RBI, and 17 stolen bases for the Chiefs. He was moved up to Daytona in July of that year and hit .260 the rest of the way with the D-Cubs. For the year, Szczur batted .293 with ten home runs, 46 RBI, and 24 stolen bases. Szczur was back in Daytona to start 2012, as a new front office wanted him to develop their “grinder” approach at the plate. Szczur struggled initially, but was seeing his batting average rise before being placed on the disabled list in early June with a strained knee. After returning from the DL, Szczur’s average continued to improve. When Double-A Tennessee outfielder Jae-Hoon Ha was injured in late July, Szczur was promoted. Szczur was hitting .295 with two homers, 34 RBI and 38 stolen bases. However, Szczur really struggled with the Smokies and hit only .210 with two home runs and four stolen bases in 35 games.

The main competition for Szczur as the starting centerfield and leadoff spot in Mesa will come from Dodgers super prospect Joc Pederson. But Szczur will be also pushed for playing time in center by Baltimore’s LJ Hoes and his own teammate, Rubi Silva. Also challenging Szczur at leadoff will be Dodgers second baseman Rafael Ynoa.

Brian Harper, Hitting Coach
Entering his third year in the Cubs organization, the Daytona manager was named hitting coach for the Solar Sox.

Brian Harper had a 23-year playing career as a professional, including 16 years in the majors as a catcher and outfielder for seven different teams, most notably the Minnesota Twins from 1988 to 1993. Harper ended his playing time with a career .295 batting average, with 63 home runs and 428 RBI. His career highlights include being a part of the 1991 World Series Champion Minnesota Twins and finishing ninth in the AL with a .307 batting average in 1992.

After Harper retired following the 1999 minor league season, he spent time as the Arizona Diamondbacks’ chapel leader and coached high school baseball. In 2001, he was named manager for the California Angels’ Arizona Fall League team. He would stay with the Angels organization until 2007, managing the Triple-A Salt Lake City Bees in 2006 and 2007. He then became roving catching instructor for the San Francisco Giants system and was named manager of their High-A team, the San Jose Giants, in 2009, winning the California League Championship in 2010. Harper was hired by the Cubs following the 2010 season and was named the manager of the Double-A Tennessee Smokies for 2011. He directed a team loaded with the Cubs’ highest rated prospects to the Southern League Championship that season, losing in the finals. In 2012, Harper was asked to lead the High-A Daytona Cubs, where he muddled through injuries and promotions to a 59-74 record.

Brian Harper has a reputation of being able to juggle the playing time of several prospects, yet still producing results. He is the in-house odds-on favorite to be named manager of the Triple-A Iowa Cubs next season.

Part One: Meet the Mesa Solar Sox: The Pitchers

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