Weekend Update: Cubs Still Have Work to Do Before Pitchers and Catchers Report

It’s the last Sunday in January, there are 14 days left before pitchers and catchers report to Fitch Park and the Cubs still have at least one more roster move to make … plus announce the rest of the players that will be in big league camp on NRIs this spring.

The Cubs finally announced the signing of Carlos Villanueva to a two-year, $10 million contract on Saturday ($5 million per year). The Cubs agreed to terms with Villanueva on December 20. To make room on the 40-man roster, the Cubs designated former Rule 5 Draft pick Lendy Castillo for assignment.

The Cubs reportedly agreed to a two-year contract with Scott Hairston that could be worth up to $6 million. Hairston should be added to the roster soon and it could end up costing a player like Tony Campana a spot on the 40-man roster.

During the convention Dale Sveum said there would be 64 players in big league camp this spring. Along with the full 40-man roster, the Cubs have signed 16 players to minor league contracts that included non-roster invites to Spring Training. So if Sveum has his numbers correct, the Cubs have eight more players to invite to camp … and a couple of the candidates should be Barret Loux and Tony Zych.

The Wrigley Field restoration project figures to remain front and center throughout the week … and continue making headlines.

Jair Fernandez

According to Baseball America and the transaction page on Cubs.com, the Cubs added catching depth to their system by signing Jair Fernandez to a minor league contract.

The 26-year old right-handed catcher has spent time in three different organizations over a seven-year minor league career. Fernandez reached the Triple-A level (one game) in the Mariners’ organization in 2006 and played in 12 games at the Triple-A level in the Twins’ system in 2010. Fernandez spent last season in the Astros’ organization.

In 58 games (56 at the Double-A level, two at the Triple-A level) last year, Fernandez his .263/.336/.407 with an OPS of .744 in 217 at bats he hit 10 doubles, six home runs and walked 15 times.

The Cubs lack depth at the catcher position in the upper levels of the system, which is the main reason they will not try to sneak Steve Clevenger through waivers. The Cubs have some very interesting catching prospects in the lower levels that are at least a couple of years away. The contract does not appear to include a NRI to camp and Fernandez figures to spend the year at the Double-A level with a possible call-up or two to the Triple-A level depending on injuries in Iowa and Chicago.

Jair Fernandez’s Page on Baseball-Reference

Tony Zych

Tony Zych, the Chicago area product and the fourth round pick of the team in the 2011 draft, is on the fast track to the big leagues according to a report from Comcast SportsNet. Zych should receive a non-roster invite to big league camp and while he will likely begin the year at the Double-A level, Zych should make his Major League debut at some point during the 2013 season.

Zych turned heads in the Arizona Fall League after posting a combined 5-4 record in 47 games with the D-Cubs and Smokies last season. In 61 1/3 innings, the hard throwing right hander struck out 64 batters and walked 19 while allowing 58 hits (3.67 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP). Zych struggled a little after being promoted to the Double-A level but he will play a majority of the 2013 campaign at 22 years old (August 7, 1990).

Zych needs to work on throwing strikes consistently and he credits Jeff Fassero with the progress that he made last season.

If Tony Zych is able to harness his ability, he could be a big part of the Cubs’ bullpen moving forward.

News, Notes and Rumors

John Sickels posted his player preview on Junior Lake … and Sickels perfectly described and gave an accurate report on the very talented Junior Lake.

Mike Olt checked in as the second best third base prospect in the game … while a lot has changed for Josh Vitters after being ranked as the seventh best third base prospect by MLB.com just two short years ago.

Dave Sappelt added to the roster speculation on Thursday when he said he was shutting down his Twitter account until April … the deactivation lasted less than 24 hours and Sappelt is back on Twitter. Sappelt said he is “starting to feel the chills of the 2013 Cubs and the team is shaping out good.” Sappelt should start the season as the Cubs’ fifth outfielder.

According to Ken Rosenthal, the trade between the Braves and Arizona for Justin Upton was nearly a three-team deal that would have included the Tigers. The D-Backs really like Rick Porcello and there were talks that Nick Ahmed would have been sent to Detroit with Rick Porcello ending up in Arizona. Kevin Towers is reportedly no longer interested in trading for a starter this winter.

The Rangers signed former Cubs’ utilityman Jeff Baker to a minor league contract that included an invite to Spring Training. The Cubs acquired Baker from Colorado on July 2, 2009 for reliever Al Alburquerque and the Cubs dealt him to the Tigers on August 5, 2012 for minor league right hander Marcelo Carreno and cash.

Comcast SportsNet named Darwin Barney the Cubs’ player of the year.

Cubs Convention

The 28th Annual Cubs Convention is in the books and the 29th annual gathering is scheduled for January 17-January 19, 2014. But if anyone missed the CCO’s coverage from last weekend, click on the links below.

27 days remaining until the Cubs kick-off their Cactus League schedule in Tempe against a Los Angeles Angels split squad … and for those with vivid memories of the wonderful summer of 1984, Edward Van Halen turned 58 years old on Saturday.

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Quote of the Day

"Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere." - Albert Einstein