Five Players to Watch: Rookie and Short Season-A Ball
This is the first in a series of articles highlighting some of the players not noted on off-season prospect lists. The players are listed in alphabetical order, and as they are presently listed on official rosters. Inclusion in this list does not necessarily reflect where each player will start the season.
The son of Chicago Cubs’ shortstop of the 80’s and 90’s, Shawon Dunston Jr. is trying to establish himself as one of the prospects that the front office can refer to as a “core” player. Drafted by the Cubs in the 11th round in 2011, Dunston Jr. spent up until the very last moment trying to decide whether to accept a scholarship to Vanderbilt University before signing. Prior to the draft, he had been regarded as a player with plus athleticism, plus speed, and plus range. Too late to participate anywhere in 2011, he went to the Fall Instructional League to prepare for the 2012 season.
Prior to the 2012 season, Shawon Dunston Jr. impressed a new front office with his physical attributes in both Spring Training and Extended Spring Training. That got him a ticket to Short Season-A Boise to start the season. The left-hander got off to a bumpy start with the Hawks. Dunston Jr. hit only .185/254/.323 with a home run, a stolen base, and two RBI in 19 games. He was sent down to rookie ball and he got some of his confidence back. Dunston Jr. was surrounded by talented players such as Dan Vogelbach, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora, and Justin Marra. As those players were slowly siphoned off to other assignments, Dunston Jr. emerged as the leading player on a squad that was fighting for a playoff spot. He raised his level of play down the stretch and finish with a .286/.357/.410 line with two home runs, four stolen bases and 24 RBI in 39 games.
Shawon Dunston Jr. will probably need to have an impressive Spring Training in order to open the season at Kane County, where they have an unanswered question in the left field spot. Most likely, the 20-year old will return to Extended Spring Training and open 2013 leading off for the Short Season-A Boise Hawks.
Jenner Emeterio, IF/OF
Jenner Emeterio has many of the same questions that surround a player that is just beginning his professional career. Emeterio has labored in the shadows of higher profile infielders Luis Acosta, Mark Malave, and Jhon Ortega, but the 19-year old was one of the most consistent offensive performers for the Cubs-1 team in the Dominican Summer League. Beginning the season as C-1’s primary shortstop, Emeterio hit .283/.380/.396 with two home runs, 20 RBI, and 12 stolen. Emeterio showed improvement on the bases and was successful in seven of his last 11 attempts in the second half of the season.
However, two things could factor into why Jenner Emeterio didn’t continue to improve as the season went on. The first is there are somewhat loose rules in the Dominican Summer League and team rosters aren’t a particularly set thing, especially when a parent club has more than one team, like the Cubs. As players improve, organizations move their players around to create a more competitive team and that seems to be what happened to Emeterio last season … as several of his teammates were moved to the C-2 team. With high profile prospects on the Cubs-2 infield such as Acosta and Malave, along with promising second baseman Bryant Flete, the young Dominican was kept on C-1, where opposing pitchers were able to concentrate a little more on him. And the other reason could be that management started moving him around more defensively in the second half and took him out of his comfort zone.
Whether it was Starlin Castro, Marco Hernandez, Gioskar Amaya, or Carlos Penalver, the Cubs have had some recent success developing two-way infielders in the DSL but Jenner Emeterio isn’t one of them. He is purely offensive player at this point and his speed is best asset. Emeterio’s 6-foot-1, 170 pound frame is perfect for a middle infielder right now, but he may outgrow it in the future. Emeterio did play seven flawless games in centerfield, and has the speed and range to move there on a permanent basis. While just starting his professional career, Jenner Emeterio has the beginnings of an intriguing offensive player.
Trevor Gretzky, 1B/OF
Considered by some to be a “novelty” pick in the seventh round of the 2011 draft, the son of NHL Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky has the makings to become a special prospect. Trevor Gretzky moved away from hockey at an early age and concentrated on baseball and football. He was part of a now legendary 2009 Oaks Christian High School team in Westlake, CA. Gretzky shared the quarterback position with Nick Montana (son of NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana), and had wide receiver Trey Smith (son of actor Will Smith) on a team whose average margin of victory was 35 points. On the diamond, the lefty had a .393 batting average and 1.043 OPS as a senior while playing first base.
After signing with the Cubs, Trevor Gretzky spent the remainder of 2011 rehabbing from shoulder surgery. He was assigned to the AZL Cubs in 2012 after participating in Extended Spring Training, where he received a crash course as an outfielder. Moving to left field to accommodate first baseman Dan Vogelbach, Gretzky struggled to a .159 average while not hitting a home run or driving in a single run. Gretzky was back at first base by mid-July after Vogelbach’s promotion and he went on a .394 tear to end the season at .304/.372/.330 with 10 RBI, four stolen bases and a .703 OPS.
At 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, Trevor Gretzky has the frame to fill out to become a power hitter. One of the reasons why that part of his game has yet to develop can be linked back to his shoulder surgery, which he has seemed to have fully recovered. The other goes back to the lack of repetitions he’s had playing baseball after being a multi-sport athlete in high school but many feel the power will come once he gains experience. With his high school background and great bloodlines, Gretzky has the athleticism that projects weel to several positions across the diamond that is if he develops a more well-rounded offensive game.
Ryan McNeil, RHP
Selected in the third round of the 2012 draft, Ryan McNeil has risen above more ballyhooed prospects with both his performance and leadership. The 19-year old signed with the Cubs out of Nipomo High School in Nipomo, CA, where he had a 1.10 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 57.1 innings. McNeil was assigned to the AZL Cubs were he quickly rose to the top of their rotation. He appeared in eight games, starting six, and was 1-0 with a 1.35 ERA in 20 innings. McNeil struck out 18 batters, but a high WHIP of 1.45 can be attributed to his ten walks.
McNeil came up with big performances as the AZL Cubs battled for a playoff spot down the stretch. McNeil tossed seven shutout innings with four strikeouts and a walk in his last two regular season appearances. McNeil held the San Francisco rookie team scoreless for four innings with three walks and two strikeouts in a must win game against the AZL Giants in order to make the playoff … and the Cubs went on to win 3-1.
A big kid at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Ryan McNeil sports a low 90’s fastball with a heavy, sinking action, according to scouting reports. He also has a slider and a change-up that also has some sink. McNeil figures to battle 20-year old Dillon Maples for the honor of Opening Day starter for the Short Season-A Boise Hawks.
Daury Torrez, RHP
The old adage among position players in the Dominican Summer League is “you don’t walk off the island”, emphasizing their proclivity toward offense. With its blistering heat, uneven playing surfaces, and the sometimes indifference to defense, a pitchers numbers in the DSL sometimes does reflect their true ability.
It is because of this that the season produced by Daury Torrez bears some notice. The 19-year old had a 6-3 record and was among the league leaders in ERA, WHIP and innings pitched. Torrez posted the third best ERA in the DSL (1.21) was tenth in innings pitched (74.2) and his 0.82 WHIP was good enough for second in the league. Torrez struck out 50 while issuing only four free passes and some of his numbers suggest that he is aggressive on the mound … six of his ten earned runs were home runs.
As usual with players from the DSL, there is scarce information about what pitches he throws and the scouting reports can be limited. Therefore, projecting where Daury Torrez will end up this summer is a challenge. Torrez may follow in the footsteps of countryman Jose Arias and jump straight to Short Season-A Boise. However, at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, there is a big physical difference between the 22-year old Arias and Torrez. The 6-foot-3, 170 pound Torrez is built more like Arias’ 2012 Boise teammate Tayler Scott, who was sixth in the Northwest League with a 2.52 ERA. Like Scott last year, Torrez will turn 20 years old in the middle of the upcoming season. If club officials don’t feel he is ready for that big of a leap, Daury Torrez surely will be a part of the AZL Cubs for 2013.
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Attention CCO Readers
The Down on the Farm reader’s poll continues this week. You can cast your votes on Twitter, Facebook, and on the main site. The new leader is infielder/outfielder Tim Saunders, with 3B Christian Villanueva and RHP Dillon Maples tied for second place. A new member of the top ten is outfielder Reggie Golden. 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.