Cubs Down on the Farm Report – 02/11/13

With the Winter League seasons over and Opening Day for the Minor Leagues weeks away, it’s time to step away from reporting and move to more feature articles.  As a preview to Spring Training, the Down on the Farm Reports returns to a feature entitled …

Bubble Players and Bubble Busters

Each year, a number of players are “on the bubble” as to making the Major League roster. This article takes a look at whom some of those players can be, and which players can “bust” their bubble.

Outfield

Bubble Player: Brian Bogusevic – It’s a homecoming of sorts for Chicago’s De LaSalle High School graduate Brian Bogusevic. Drafted by the Houston Astros in the first round of the 2005 draft, the Tulane product had been both an outfielder and starting pitcher. The Astros decided to try him at pitcher first, reaching the Double-A level and compiling a 14-21 record and 5.05 ERA through 2008. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder was moved to the outfield during the 2008 season, and quickly advanced. At the end of the 2010 season, Bogusevic played 19 games for the parent club and batted .179 with a .258 OBP and a .544 OPS. He returned to Triple-A to start the 2011 season, but was recalled at the beginning of August and hit .287/.348/.457 with four home runs and 15 RBI in 87 games. The Astros were expecting big things from Bogusevic in 2012 and he began the season with the Astros, primarily as their right fielder. However, the offensive promise he showed in 2011 quickly vanished and he ended up hitting only .203/.297/.299/.596 with seven home runs, 28 RBI and 15 stolen bases in 355 at bats. Bogusevic was also used in an inning of relief. Bogusevic served up a home run and allowed two earned runs. Bogusevic elected for free agency on November 3 after being outrighted off the Astros’40-man roster and he signed a minor league deal with the Cubs 18 days later.

Bubble Buster: Brett Jackson – After Cubs’ management stated that they wanted to see Brett Jackson start in Iowa, many may think that this is no contest. Certainly, after hitting only .256 with a .338 OBP and a .817 OPS in Iowa in 2012 and .175 with a 303 OBP and a .644 OPS after being called to Chicago in August, Jackson could be considered a longshot at best to break camp on the big league roster. But just hold your horses! At the annual Cubs Convention, Jackson wasn’t buying into this idea, saying “I have every intention of making the team”. It’s refreshing to see a player not just accepting his fate, but believing in himself and his abilities. Manager Dale Sveum and hitting coach James Rowson are happy with the changes Jackson has made in his swing … and one of the things lost in the in the shuffle is the defense he would bring to the table which would be above average for right field, outstanding for center, and Gold Glove level in left. Another is that his combined numbers for 2012 would project to .237 with 25 home runs, 76 RBI, and 36 stolen bases over 162 games. These are why Jackson is still considered by some as a top five prospect.

Outlook: With veterans Alfonso Soriano and David DeJesus on board, and the additions of Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston, it would be easy to write off Brett Jackson’s chances of going North with the Cubs. Most would figure a trip and a couple of month in for some regular at bats would be the right course for his career. But for a management trying to change a culture, Jackson’s bold statement can serve as notice to the veterans to not take things for granted. Poor showings in spring by any of the veteran left-handers may open a door. It is also not certain which direction this final roster spot will go. Based on how the rest of the roster shakes out, the right handed hitting Dave Sappelt may be favored over lefties Bogusevic and Jackson.

Infield

Bubble Player: Brad Nelson – Didn’t we do this just last year? Oh right, that was Bryan LaHair. Similarly to LaHair, Nelson is a 6-foot-2, 260-pound, 30-year old nearly career minor leaguer. He hits for power, and can play a lumbering, yet passable outfield while playing a decent first base. But that’s where the likenesses end for the two. While Nelson has played minor league ball for 12 seasons, he has only hit over .300 twice, over 20 home runs four times, and knocked in over 100 runs only once. In contrast, LaHair hit over .300 five times in nine minor league seasons, over 20 homers four times, and tallied more than 100 RBI twice. In addition, LaHair was named the Pacific Coast League MVP in 2011, Winter League Player of the Year in 2012, and was a 2012 Major League All-Star. Nelson’s main value to the club is a power hitting left-hander off the bench who has experience playing first base.

Bubble Buster: Logan Watkins – It’s a giant leap from being on the verge of release to Organizational Player of the Year, but Logan Watkins was able to accomplish that in a little over a season. Coming off a 2010 season in which he batted only .261/.351/.339 with a .689 OPS, Watkins started the 2011 campaign hovering around .100 for the first six weeks at Advanced-A Daytona. It looked as if Watkins was trending downward, but D-Cubs manager Buddy Bailey gave him a short stretch of playing in the outfield. Watkins responded favorably, hitting over .300 the rest of the way to end 2011 at .281/.352/.404 with a .756 OPS, moving back to second base with occasional stints at shortstop. Joining Bailey at Double-A Tennessee in 2012, the manager placed enormous pressure on Watkins and former Daytona Cubs Jae-Hoon Ha and Justin Bour to carry the Smokies’ offense. At times, he was asked to leadoff for the team rather than his preferred number-two hole, and responded by hitting .281 again  with a .383 OBP and a .805 OPS. However, Watkins increased his power numbers to nine home runs and a .422 slugging average without losing his speed. Watkins swiped a career high 28 bases. Defense was also a factor in Watkins receiving the award, as experts rank his abilities at shortstop and in the outfield as above average, and potential Gold Glove caliber at second base.

Outlook: While on the surface this seems as an odd pairing, a few other factors went into creating this match-up. The first is that starting first baseman Anthony Rizzo is only 23 years old, and may not need to have a back-up in Nelson to start the season. This has been reinforced by rumors that recently signed outfielder Scott Hairston could back-up first, even though he has never played there. In dire emergency, Josh Vitters (who is on the 40-man roster) and Greg Rohan will probably be a 45-minute flight away at Iowa should a replacement at first base be needed. That and the presence of non-roster invitee Brent Lillibridge may make the need for a specific back-up for first a moot point. Although it would fly in the face of the front office’s approach of having players spend a year at Triple-A, Watkins could provide a more versatile roster addition than Tony Campana with a good spring training.

Catcher

Bubble Player: Steve Clevenger – In a scenario similar to Brett Jackson, it seems that the possibility of the Cubs breaking camp with Steve Clevenger are remote after signing veteran Dioner Navarro. However, circumstances in Spring Training could swing things in Clevenger’s favor.

After spending six seasons in the minors, Clevenger got his first taste of the big leagues last year with mixed results. Clevenger started out hitting hot, but cooled down to .201/.260/.276 with a .537 OPS after seeing action in only 69 games and 199 at bats. With those numbers and young Welington Castillo taking over the starting catcher position, Navarro was signed as a potential mentor while Clevenger would receive more at bats in Iowa. However, performance, as well as roster make up can effect this decision.  If Clevenger hits well, his ability to first, second, and third base could be an edge.

Bubble Buster: J.C. Boscan – With the signing of Dioner Navarro getting all of the ink, the subsequent signing of minor league veteran J.C. Boscan could be just as important. Through 16 minor league season, Boscan had never hit higher than a combined .259 for a year. He only has 43 career minor league home runs. However, his defensive abilities are impressive. He has a career .990 fielding percentage, almost unheard of for a catcher, along with a 34% caught stealing percentage. Moreover, Boscan is known as both a great game manager and handler of pitchers. Even if he doesn’t make the big league squad, Boscan could prove to be valuable in the development of both pitchers and catchers at the Triple-A level, especially former teammate Arodys Vizcaino.

Outlook: In previous years, Navarro’s place on the Cubs roster would be secure no matter how he performed in the spring. But, as stated above with Brett Jackson, a front office trying to change a culture could easily dispose of an underperforming veteran if they have other options. Given Navarro’s uneven playing career, that is not out of the realm of possibilities. If Navarro isn’t up to par, the club could save $1.75 million dollars by cutting him and going with Boscan. Even is Navarro does well, part of the reason the Cubs broke camp last year with only one infield back-up was the fact that Clevenger can play multiple positions. If no one emerges from a bevy of back-up infield candidates, the Cubs could look in Clevenger’s direction again.

Right-Handed Pitchers

Bubble Player: Andrew Carpenter – In an effort to avoid pitching shortages that have plagued the Cubs the past few seasons, management signed numerous pitchers with big league experience during this off-season. One of the more intriguing acquisitions was 27-year old Drew Carpenter. Drafted by Philadelphia in the second round of the 2006 draft, Carpenter spent the first five seasons in the Phillies’ system as a starter, compiling a 45-35 record and career 3.50 ERA. He was converted into a reliever in 2011and was relatively successful, going 5-1 with a 1.79 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP that included 65 strikeouts in 60.1 innings. Carpenter had call-ups to the parent club each season from 2008 through 2011, appearing in 11 games and allowing 18 earned runs in that stretch. He was released by Philadelphia and picked up by San Diego toward the end of the 2011 season, where he had an 8.44 ERA and a 1.69 WHIP in six games for the Padres. Carpenter was then claimed by Toronto off waivers following the 2011 season. Carpenter was placed at their Triple-A team in Las Vegas in 2012 and went 6-3 with a 3.38 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP in 21 games. Carpenter was called up to the big league club in July of 2012 and pitched nine innings in five games and had a 5.00 ERA with a 1.44 WHIP before being released in August. He was picked up by the New York Mets and had 10 relief appearances for them at Double and Triple-A, and then was released at the conclusion of the 2012 season. Carpenter sports a low-90’s fastball, along with a slider and split-fingered fastball. Both his strikeout numbers and his strikeout-to-walk ratios have been good in the minors, but he has failed to get Major League hitters out.

Bubble Buster: Jaye Chapman – Acquired along with RHP Arodys Vizcaino in the deal that sent Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson to Atlanta, Jaye Chapman has the “make-up” to be a future closer. Drafted by the Braves in 2005, Chapman enjoyed a steady climb through the Atlanta system, culminating with a 3-3 record, 2.50 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, four saves, and 77 strikeouts in 68.1 innings in 2011. Chapman moved up to Triple-A Gwinnett in 2012, and continued his success. Chapman posted a 3.52 ERA, a 1.40 WHIP and 3-6 record, with seven saves and 60 strikeouts in 53.2 innings before the trade. Getting his feet wet in ten appearances between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa, Chapman was then brought to Wrigley Field when the rosters expanded in September. With the big league club, the 25-year old showed some moxie with a 3.75 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP in 12 innings pitched. While Manager Dale Sveum praised him for his composure, Chapman needs to throw more strikes. Chapman walked 10 and struck out 12 batters in 14 appearances. When space was needed on the 40-man roster due to a flurry of signings, Chapman first cleared waivers and was outrighted to Iowa.

Outlook: The right-handed reliever spots will be few and far between, as Carlos Marmol, Shawn Camp and Kyuji Fujikawa are virtual locks for the Opening Day roster … with Michael Bowden also close to being assured a spot on the roster. One spot will also have to be reserved for Rule 5 draftee Hector Rondon. That means training camp performance will determine who goes north and who goes to Des Moines.

Left-Handed Pitchers

Bubble Player: Hisanori Takahashi – In ten seasons for the Yomiuri Giants of the Nippon Professional Baseball League, Hisanori Takahashi compiled a 79-66 record and 1035 strikeouts. He survived some mid-career arm trouble and was signed by the New York Mets in 2010. Takahashi began the year as a starter, taking the mound 12 times in that role before an injury to Francisco Rodriguez moved him to closer. He finished the year at 10-6 with a 3.61 ERA, a 1.30 WHIP and eight saves. Not being able to agree on a contract, Takahashi was signed by the Los Angeles Angels, where he made 61 appearances, all in relief. Takahashi posted a 3.44 ERA with a 1.22 WHIP to go a long with a 4-3 record, two saves, and 52 strikeouts in 68 innings. However, 2012 saw a decline in his game as Takahashi had a 4.93 ERA with a 1.17 WHIP in 42 appearances for the Angels. He was released in late August and picked up by Pittsburgh, where he appeared in nine games for the Pirates and had an 8.64 ERA with a 1.68 WHIP. Takahashi was released by the Pirates and signed a minor league deal with the Cubs in December of 2012. His fastball now clocks in the upper 80’s, along with a slider, curve, and screwball.

Bubble Busters: Chris Rusin – Selected by the Cubs in the fourth round of the 2009 draft, Chris Rusin’s progress has been steady, but unspectacular. Rusin holds a career 22-21 record and 3.83 ERA with a 1.27 WHIP in four minor league seasons. Rusin has never had a year with double digit victories, nor an ERA under 3.00, but Rusin pitched well enough to get a promotion to the Cubs when the rosters expanded in September 2012. Rusin made seven starts down the stretch and went 2-3 with a 6.37 ERA and a 1.65 WHIP that included 21 strikeouts in 29 innings. Unlike fellow lefty Brooks Raley, Rusin has some limited experience in the bullpen that can be a plus when final cuts are made.

Outlook: One of the few pitchers that can say they have an absolute lock on a roster spot is left –hander James Russell. After that, it remains to be seen whether the club keeps two of three lefties in the pen. Another deciding factor could be Travis Wood, who could get squeezed out of a rotation spot but still make the pitching staff. Whether Takahashi has anything left in the tank remains to be seen. Once again, performance in Spring Training could hold the key.

Caribbean World Series

Congratulations to Mexican Pacific League champions Yaquis de Obregon on winning their second Caribbean World Series in the past three years. Their improbable run started with the Tribe actually losing their opening playoff series but advancing based on their regular season record. Obregon then went on a tear, winning eight out of nine games to take their league title. In the double round robin, Mexico had a 3-3 record, good for second best and the honor of facing 2012 champions Leones de Escogido in a one game final in Thursday.

The Lions had beaten Mexico twice in very close games, but the third time was the charm for the Yaquis. In a game that lasted a record tying 18 innings, Mexico was able to prevail 4-3 thanks to a Doug Clark solo home run. A pair of former Cubs contributed to the win. Rodrigo Lopez started for Mexico and allowed only an unearned run and struck out two in 7.2 innings. Marco Carrillo shut down the Dominican Republic over the last four innings and was credit with the win for the Championship.

Click Here for Complete Box Score

Australian Baseball League

Canberra ended the two year reign of Perth on Saturday with a sweep of the Heat in the best-of-three series. The Cavalry were led by Australian Triple Crown winner, second baseman Adam Buschini (San Diego), who hit .363 with 15 homers and 50 RBI during the regular season. The opening game of the finals saw Canberra jump out to a 6-0 lead, only to hang on for a 6-4 win. Starter Brian Grening (Kansas City) went 7.2 innings and allowed two earned runs while striking out six batters. He was aided by solo home runs from former Kane County Cougar, outfielder Ryan Stovall, and 19 year old first baseman Aaron Sloan.

Click Here for Complete Box Score

In game two, the Horsemen spotted Perth to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, and then scored six runs over the next three innings. However, the Heat fought back to tie the game before the Cavalry prevailed 7-6. Canberra starter John Holdzkam (Cincinnati) was knocked around for six earned runs in 4.2 innings. Shortstop Kody Hightower and DH Michael Wells homered in the victory.

Click Here for Complete Box Score

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 12. 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 site. The co-leaders are 3B Christian Villanueva and RHP Dillon Maples, with a new second place entry, infielder/outfielder Tim Saunders, in a tie with first baseman Dan Vogelbach.  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