Cubs Down on the Farm Report – 02/04/13

Winter League Wrap-up

A long and busy winter season wound down as the Caribbean World Series and Australian Baseball League playoffs opened on Friday. Altogether, 52 players that belonged to the Cubs system at one time or another in the 2012 off-season participated in winter ball. The notable performers, along with a recap of both the Caribbean World Series and the Australian Baseball League playoffs, are in today’s Down on the Farm report.

Organizational Player of the Winter

Luis Valbuena: There were several candidates for the Organizational POW honors, including Junior Lake, who hit .312 with five home runs, 24 RBI, and 11 stolen bases while playing five positions for Estrellas de Oriente in the Dominican Winter League. Dave Sappelt was also considered after he hit .336 with five homers, 15 RBI, and five stolen bases in only 30 games for Bravos de Margarita in the Venezuelan Winter League.

However, the clear choice became infielder Luis Valbuena after an electric performance for Cardenales de Lara in the VWL playoffs. Valbuena’s regular season also stacked up well against the performances turned out by Lake and Sappelt this winter. Valbuena batted .306 with six home runs and 39 RBI. On top of that, his on-base percentage of .414 and .912 OPS led all of the organization’s winter regulars.

But in the VWL playoffs, Luis Valbuena almost single-handedly carried the Braves to within one game of the Caribbean World Series. Valbuena hit a blistering .341 with an additional four home runs and 21 RBI. Valbuena was also a run-scoring machine. Valbuena crossed the plate 15 times in the playoffs after scoring 34 times during the regular season. All totaled, Valbuena went .323 for the winter with 10 home runs, 60 RBI, and 49 runs scored.

Organizational Pitcher of the Winter

Ryan Searle: As with the Organizational POW, the Organization Pitcher of the Winter had several options to choose from. Yoanner Negrin had a fine season in the Venezuelan Winter League. Negrin posted a 4-1 record, a 2.61 ERA, and struck out 38 batters in 58.2 innings while pitching for Caracas. However, after performing well in the regular season, Negrin was a no-show in the playoffs. Jay Jackson pitched well for Mazatlan in the Mexican Pacific League. Jackson was 3-2 with 34 strikeouts and a 3.86 ERA in 49 innings. Likewise for Ty’Relle Harris, who came late to the Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League and put up a 0.71 ERA in five appearances, with 17 strikeouts in 12.2 innings for Gigantes de Carolina.

The winter season started slowly for Ryan Searle and Brisbane, with the Bandits going 5-4 before Searle’s first appearance. Searle was first cast as the team’s primary closer and went 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA and four saves in seven appearances. At the end of December, Searle was converted to a starting pitcher and he assisted the Bandits in contending for the final playoff spot in the Australian Baseball League. Searle went 2-2 with a 4.11 ERA and 29 strikeouts against seven walks in 30.2 innings as a starter. Altogether, Searle’s 3.30 ERA ended up 11th in the league, while his four saves tied him for fourth. Despite tossing 13 innings in relief, Searle’s 40 strikeouts were good for 13th in the league. As a reward for his performance this past season, Australia named Searle as a representative on the national team for the up-coming World Baseball Classic.

Organizational Comeback Player of the Winter

Esmailin Caridad: While the numbers put up by Esmailin Caridad for Yaquis de Obregon in the Mexican Pacific League were good enough to place him in the running for Pitcher of the Winter but his back-story qualifies him for more special consideration.

Originally signed by the Hiroshima Carp in 2007, Caridad spent that season pitching in the Carp’s Dominican Academy team and pitched 0.2 innings with the parent club. Esmailin Caridad was then signed by the Cubs in December of 2007 and experienced a whirlwind rise through the Cubs’ system. Caridad was promoted four levels in two years and saw action at the Major League level for 14 games at the end of the 2009 season. Caridad was then counted on to be a major member of the Cubs’ bullpen in 2010. But after posting an 11.25 ERA in eight appearances, he was placed on the disabled list with an elbow strain.

That would be the first of three more DL stints, including one on the 60-Day disabled list in 2010 and all were for elbow and forearm related issues. Esmailin Caridad was also outrighted to the Iowa Cubs in 2011 and cleared waivers without being claimed. Caridad spent all of 2012 in Triple-A and was 1-4 with a 3.03 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 65.1 innings for Iowa.

Esmailin Caridad was a rock as a member of the Yaquis’ bullpen this winter. Caridad led the Mexican Pacific League with 12 holds and was second among relievers with 49 strikeouts in 42 innings. He also posted a 1-3 record with a save and a 2.57 ERA. Caridad is now 29-years old but it seems that he may have finally returned to the form that made him so promising back in 2009.

Player to Watch

Arnaldo Calero, OF: The 19-year old right-handed hitting outfielder is a study in just how rapidly a player can change perceptions at his age. Arnaldo Calero was signed by the Cubs in 2011 and played 15 games that year in the Dominican Summer League while hitting only .204. The Venezuelan was back in the DSL this past summer and played for the Cubs-1 team. Calero hit .269 with three homers and 23 RBI in 54 games. Calero was signed by Bravos de Margarita of the Venezuelan Winter League to finish out the season and showed that he wasn’t in awe of his competition. Calero hit .429 in seven at bats with a home run and three RBI. At 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, Arnaldo Calero has a strong frame that can fill out in the future, and be projected to any of the outfield positions.

Next Favorite Team

Atenienses de Manati: The Puerto Rican Winter League was a sad affair in the winter of 2012, with only four teams and very few prospects.  Re-christened as the Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League, the league expanded to six teams and attracted more Major League players and prospects.

AteniensesThe Athenians were one of the new teams and they suffered some of the growing pains of a new team by finishing last in the standings. Edwin Maysonet was the only player representing the Cubs. However, their red-with-blue-trim uniforms, unusual nickname, and striking logo were enough to pique some interest.

Caribbean World Series

In the bright sunshine of a 77 degree Friday afternoon and a capacity crowd at brand-new Estadio Sonora in Hermosillo, Mexico saw the opening of the 2013 Caribbean World Series.

After the opening ceremonies, the Dominican Republic squared off against Venezuela, where veteran Angel Castro pitched a gem for the Dominicans. Castro allowed two earned runs and struck out seven in seven innings. Outfielder Ricardo Nanita (Toronto) was 3-for-4 with two runs driven in as Leones defeated Venezuela 7-2.  In Game 2, Mexico received solid pitching from Luis Mendoza and a two run double from former Cubs’ outfielder Marlon Byrd. Mexico blanked Puerto Rico 3-0 and Mendoza struck out three over six shutout innings.

The Dominican Republic made it two in a row on Saturday as a three-run homer by first baseman Donell Linares in the top of the eighth inning helped them pull away from Puerto Rico 6-2. After starter Edward Valdez gave up two earned runs in 4.2 innings veteran relievers Ramon Garcia, Jailen Peguero, Armondo Rodriguez (Mets), and Fernando Rodney (Tampa Bay) held the Creoles scoreless the rest of the way. It looked as though tournament host Mexico would head into a showdown of unbeatens against the Dominican Republic on Sunday after they went up 3-1 on Venezuela. But Mario Lisson (Kansas City) cracked a two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning to tie the score. Lisson then singled home the winning run in the bottom of the ninth as Venezuela defeated Mexico 4-3.

Australian Baseball League

Rain forced Friday’s Game One of the first round of the ABL playoffs to be cancelled so a doubleheader between the Perth Beat and the Sydney Blue Sox was scheduled for Saturday. After nearly missing the playoffs, Perth swept both ends of the twin-bill and will face the Canberra Cavalry in a best-for-three series next weekend.

The opener saw Perth rally for three runs in the seventh inning to win 4-1. Catcher Michael Ohlman (Baltimore) delivered a bases loaded, two-out single that provided the winning margin. The nightcap saw Heat starter Warwick Saupold (Detroit) pitch a gem. Saupold allowed two earned runs in six innings and struck out seven batters. However, the Perth bullpen almost couldn’t close the deal as they allowed Sydney to get back into the game before finally ending in an 8-6 victory. Outfielder Tim Kennelly (Philadelphia) and first baseman Allan de San Miguel (Baltimore) homered for Perth.

Don’t Forget!

Another Tuesday’s with Tom U. chat from 7:00pm CST until 8:00pm CST (that’s from 2:00pm to 3:00pm GMT for our international followers) will take place on Facebook tomorrow, February 5. Join us for a Q & A session.

The CCO has a new Twitter feed dedicated to the Cubs minor league teams, prospects, and players @TheCCO_Minors … and now, minor league coverage has been included on The CCO’s Facebook page. Stay up to date with all minor league happenings by following Chicago Cubs Online on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+

Attention CCO Readers

The Down on the Farm reader’s poll continues this week. You can cast your votes on Twitter, Facebook, and the main site. The current leader is 3B Christian Villanueva with RHP Dillon Maples second. A new entry into the top ten was infielder/outfielder Tim Saunders. Please post the names of the minor league players you would like the Down on the Farm Report to follow next season. The CCO will track the progress of ten players throughout the entire season. A representative sample of positions and levels of play is optimal. You can name as many players as you like, but remember, only ten will be chosen. So from Luis Acosta to Tony Zych, all nominations will be accepted and given equal weight. Once a list is compiled of the top 20 vote getters, a poll will be placed on the site to cut the list in half.

Follow ChicagoCubsOnline on Twitter: @TheCCO and @TheCCO_Minors

Quote of the Day

"Don’t ever permit the pressure to exceed the pleasure." - Joe Maddon