Cubs Down on the Farm Report – 02/25/13

Five Players to Watch: Low-A Kane County and High-A Daytona

This is the second 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 rosters. Inclusion in this list does not necessarily reflect where each player will start the season.

The last report focused on five players in Rookie Ball and Short-Season A-Ball to watch during the upcoming season, next up are players that figure to be on Opening Day rosters for either the Kane County Cougars or Daytona Cubs.

Stephen Bruno, IF/OF/C

While being selected in the seventh round isn’t necessarily “coming out of nowhere”, both the season and off-season put together by 2012 draft pick Stephen Bruno has cause some to sit up and take notice. Bruno not only won the Northwest League batting championship, but did so playing six different positions.

A product of the University of Virginia, Stephen Bruno came to the Cavaliers with an impressive résumé. The right-hander hit .530, .545, and .515 in his final three years as a New Jersey high-schooler. As a freshman for UVA, he tied former Cubs’ prospect Brandon Guyer’s record by hitting safely in 15 straight games. Bruno missed most of his sophomore year due to injury, but as a junior led the Cavs with a .370 average, third overall in the ACC.

After signing with the Cubs, Stephen Bruno was assigned directly to Short Season-A Boise. The Hawks already had an established infield of Jeimer Candelario, Marco Hernandez, and Gioskar Amaya, and Bruno had to be content with alternating at second, shortstop, and third base. Joining first baseman Dan Vogelbach and outfielders Albert Almora and Izaac Garsez, the quartet combined with the other Boise players to form a devastating offensive attack that won the Northwest League’s Eastern Division second-half title by eight games.

With the playoffs secured, it all came down to a battle for the batting crown between Bruno and Yakima’s Kevin Medrano during the season’s final week. But with the post-season looming, manager Mark Johnson wanted to get as many bats as he could into the line-up, and that meant Bruno getting a crash course in playing the outfield. Despite the sudden position change, he kept his composure at the plate while Medrano faded, and Bruno won the batting title with a .360 average. He also had three home runs and 37 RBI. Bruno’s .360/.442/.496/.938 line was aided by the fact that he was hit by a pitch 20 times. After finishing his season with the Hawks, Bruno went to the Fall Instructional League where, among other things, added catching to his repertoire.

At 5-foot-9, 165 pounds, some might want to make comparisons of Stephen Bruno to former Cub Mike Fontenot. But Bruno’s overall ability makes him more like another former Cub, Mark DeRosa, just four inches shorter. The 22-year old may follow in the footsteps of 2011 draftee, outfielder John Andreoli, and jump directly to High–A Daytona for the 2013 season. If he does, the D-Cubs also appear to have a crowded infield for the up-coming season, which may mean Bruno may see a lot of time in the outfield. Although, it doesn’t seem to affect Stephen Bruno either way, as long as he gets to hit.

Dustin Geiger, IF

With Javier Baez, Christian Villanueva, Junior Lake, Josh Vitters and a few others sharing the spotlight among minor league infielders, third baseman Dustin Geiger could be flying a little under the radar.

Selected in the 24th round of the 2010 draft directly out of Merritt Island High School in Florida, Dustin Geiger bypassed a scholarship offer from the University of Central Florida to sign with the Cubs. Going directly to the AZL Cubs at 18 years old, Geiger played 35 games and hit .244 with a .312/.358/.669 line, a home run and 15 RBI. He returned to the AZL Cubs to start the 2011 season, but after batting .342 with two homers and 20 RBI in 19 games, his next stop was Single-A Peoria. The jump may have been too much for Geiger, as he only hit .227 with a home run and 13 RBI. For the year, his slash line was .264/.299/.405/.704.

Geiger got off to a rough start in 2012, as he had to have the hamate bone removed from his right hand and needed to rehab in Arizona. That meant that Dustin Geiger couldn’t open for the Peoria Chiefs to start the season. He was ready to go at the beginning of June, and hit the ground running by hitting .318 with eight home runs and 21 RBI in his first 25 games. Geiger did tail off a bit, ending with a .251/.301/.456/.767 slash line and 53 RBI. But his 17 home runs tied Double-A Tennessee’s Justin Bour for the most at a single level in 2012. For that, Geiger was named the Peoria Chiefs’ MVP.

Turning just 21 years old this past December, the 6-foot-2, 180-pounder is a classic corner infielder with a very powerful arm. He told the CCO in an exclusive interview that he would be attending strength training (Camp Bussy) in Arizona following the season. Geiger still has some parts of his game to work on, as his .927 fielding average can stand some improvement. Plus, Geiger has struck out 157 times in 172 career games.

Geiger’s game is somewhat reminiscent of former MLB All-Star Jim Thome, who started his career as an adequate third baseman before moving over to first base. Those who follow Twitter know Dustin Geiger as someone who enjoys life, and likes to give away signed bats and other personal items. If he continues to develop, Cubs’ fans may soon have “Geiger Fever”.

Kyle Hendricks, RHP

Improving the level of pitching throughout the organization has been one of the priorities under Theo Epstein’s regime, which is why the front office acquired several starters at the trading deadline last season, including Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks, along with third baseman, Christian Villanueva, came to the Cubs’ system last July in the Ryan Dempster deal with the Texas Rangers.

The Texas Rangers selected Kyle Hendricks in the eighth round of the 2011draft. As a high school player, Hendricks went 86-21 over four years, including an 8-2, 0.93 ERA, 65 strikeout senior season. The Los Angeles Angels drafted Hendricks in the 39th round back in 2008 but he chose not to sign with the Halos and enrolled in Dartmouth University. As a junior for the Big Green, Hendricks was 5-3 in nine starts, with a 2.47 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP that included 70 strikeouts in 82 innings.

Starting his professional career with the Short Season-A Spokane Indians, Kyle Hendricks pitched 20 games in relief and was 2-2 with a 1.93 ERA, a 0.74 WHIP, and 36 strikeouts in 32.2 innings. He also received a late season start for Double-A Frisco and gave up an earned run in three innings. Moving into a starting role in 2012, Hendricks was assigned to High-A Myrtle Beach, and in 20 starts was 5-8 with a 2.82 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP (112 strikeouts). The Cubs placed him at High-A Daytona following the trade, where he posted a 1-0 record with a 4.24 ERA in 17 innings. For the season, Hendricks had an overall ERA of 2.99, a 1.07 WHIP, and an impressive 123:18 strikeout to walk ratio in 147.2 innings.

Exceptional command of all five of his pitches counteracts Kyle Hendricks’ high-80’s fastball. Along with that fastball, he also has a cutter, change-up, curve, and slider. According to Baseball America, he pounds the strike zone and the cutter gives hitters one more thing to think about. At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Hendricks may need to add a little muscle in order to stand up to the rigors of a Major League schedule. While he could be a sleeper, the 23-year old needs to step up his development before his time runs out.

Michael Jensen, RHP

The phrase “coming out of nowhere” is not usually associated with top pitching prospects, but could be an accurate description for Michael Jensen.

After graduating from Salinas High School in 2010, Michael Jensen moved on to pitch for Hartnell Junior College in Salinas, CA. As a sophomore, Jensen caught the eyes of recruiters from USC and the University of Texas as he went 6-3 with a 2.00 ERA, compiling 81 strikeouts over 84 innings as a starter. Jensen was named a Junior College All-American and signed a National Letter of Intent to USC. That may have scared away some teams from selecting Jensen in the 2011 draft, but the Cubs reached out for him in the 26th round. After signing him to an over-slot bonus, the Cubs assigned Jensen to the rookie league AZL Cubs, where he tossed three innings of scoreless relief. Added the roster of Short Season-A Boise prior to their playoff appearance, he threw another 1.2 scoreless innings.

With his 6-foot-1, 185 pound frame and previous bullpen work, it was felt by most observers that the organization was looking to make Michael Jensen into a closer for 2012. It came to some as a surprise that he was named the Opening Day starter for Single-A Peoria. But Jensen was more than up to the task, as he proceeded to go 11-5 in 26 starts with a 3.47 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP that included 115 strikeouts in 140 innings.

The 22 year old told the CCO in an exclusive interview that he has a fastball, curve, and change-up while working on a cutter. Prior to the draft, scouts had Jensen throwing in the low-to-mid 90’s. Jensen reported that the biggest thing that he had to learn were the mental aspects of the game, such as pitch sequence, slowing things down and becoming a pitcher, not a thrower. He seems to have learned his lessons well, as the soon-to-be Daytona Cub is emerging from the shadows to become a bona fide prospect.

Chadd Krist, C

The Cubs organization has had some lean times at the catcher position recently, but that seems to be turning around, thanks to a bevy of young prospects led by Chadd Krist.

A product of the University of California, Chadd Krist was selected by the Cubs in the ninth round of the 2012 draft. He had originally been drafted by the White Sox in the 13th round in 2011, but chose to return to school rather than signing. After completing a prep career in which he batted .359 with seven homers and 73 RBI, Krist saw 27 games of action as a freshman for the Golden Bears. He blossomed in his sophomore season, clubbing ten home runs and hitting .344 with 44 RBI and a .609 slugging percentage. Krist followed that up with .297 and .294 season to finish his college career at .300 with 18 home runs, 133 RBI, and a .367/.479/.846 line. He left California as their career doubles leader with 65.

Upon signing with the Cubs, Chadd Krist was assigned to the Short Season-A Boise Hawks following the draft, where he shared time behind the plate with Willson Contreras. However, after 16 games in which he batted .328 with six RBI and erased an astonishing 56% of all base stealers, Krist was promoted to Single-A Peoria. In 40 games with the Chiefs, his numbers fell to earth a little, hitting .253 with four home runs, 23 RBI, and a more realistic 20% caught stealing ratio. For the year, Krist displayed his gap power as 27 of his 57 hits were for extra bases, along with a .274/.335/.433/.767 line.

Defensively, Chadd Krist is an excellent receiver with good movement behind the plate and soft hands. He has very quick feet, a smooth transfer and throwing motion. After seeing time in Peoria last season, Krist is slated to begin 2013 with Advanced-A Daytona. But at 23 years old, don’t be too surprised if you see this all-around performer as part of the Double-A Tennessee Smokies squad.

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 26. 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. Our leader continues to be infielder/outfielder Tim Saunders, with 3B Christian Villanueva, RHP Dillon Maples, and OF Reggie Golden close behind in second place. Please post the names of the minor league players you would like the Down on the Farm Report to follow this year. 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.

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