Cubs Down on the Farm Report – 05/28/13

Special Assignment – Kane County Cougars v. Dayton Dragons

Recently, I had the pleasure of being able to cover the series between Kane County and the Dayton Dragons. I’d like to thank Shawn Touney, Director of Public Relations and the Kane County Cougars.

I’d also like to mention reporter Mike Knapp of the Beacon News, who has been an excellent resource, a great baseball conversationalist, and was a welcoming presence in the press box. Another tip of the cap to John Arguello from Cubs Den, who helped provided the analysis on pitcher Michael Heesch.

First Impressions

This was my first time back to Fifth Third Bank Ballpark since Kane County had become an affiliate of the Cubs (it had been the affiliate of Kansas City), and I could see some of the changes. The most notable were the video cameras, two each stationed on either foul line and another from the press box focused on home plate. The team not only someone game tracking on a laptop computer, they also had someone tracking each pitch. On top of that, pitchers for the next scheduled game tracked on a laptop up in the box, as opposed to the traditional pen-and-paper charting from the dugout. The press box was expanded to include an area for scouts, who had usually taken seats among the crowd in the past.

Player Chat

With the 2013 season so young, I eschewed trying to secure a player or two for a formal interview for a chance on getting to know more of the players.

The two players that stopped to talk the longest were catcher Willson Contreras and third baseman Jeimer Candelario. Contreras said that he is finally starting to get comfortable catching again after moving around to several positions over the past few years. Contreras had been moved to third base and also played first base, left field, and right field. He was worried a little about his batting average, but soon after our interview he went on a tear at the plate. Contreras also said that his overall comfort level with his position, along his teammates, had contributed to him being more confident at the plate and hitting with more power.

Candelario was also a little worried about his batting average, but agreed that as long as he kept his on-base percentage up, the hits would start to fall. He also remarked about how close everyone on the team was, and that he was working hard and taking pride in his defense.

I was a little concerned to meet Rock Shoulders, as the rumors were that he tried to crush everyone’s hand that he shook. Whether it’s because he has moved on from that, or perhaps because I am almost as big as he is (Shoulders still has about sixty pounds on me), my hand survived the meeting. Shoulders said that the plan for him was to get at least one start at first base and in the outfield a week.

Bijan Rademacher acknowledged that he remembered talking with me in the past, and would only stop briefly before heading out for drills. He related that he felt better adjusted at this level than he did last season, and that using yoga has help with his conditioning and flexibility. It has also been the subject of some good-natured teasing by his teammates.

One surprise was pitcher Ian Dickson, who recognized me after I had introduced myself from the CCO’s new minor league Twitter feed.

One disappointment was Dan Vogelbach, who I met outside of the clubhouse. His answers to questions seemed straight out of Bull Durham, and basically not worth noting. Given the fact that he was getting ready for a game, and that he appeared to be very gregarious with his teammates, he gets a pass for now.

The Scouts’ Corner

One of the perks of covering a minor league team at the ballpark is meeting scouts from several other organizations. There were about a half a dozen scouting the Kane County series, and a majority of them had just come from the Florida State League. Here is what they had to say about some of the Cubs’ prospects.

They spoke at great length about Javier Baez and Jorge Soler and, unfortunately, confirmed just about every red flag that has ever been mentioned about them. One NL East scout emphatically said that the Cubs should stop ‘fooling around’ and move Baez to third base. He reported that Baez loses concentration in the field and can’t make routine plays. Baez has good hands and a strong arm, but little else defensively. Baez’s power and speed are considered on the plus side, but that he is now “Hollywooding” after going to the big league camp, and not hustling on the basepaths. His relationship with the other players isn’t the best, running hot and cold.

One scout reported that he saw the incident that Soler got into (Soler was suspended earlier for a bat-swinging incident) and said that if he was in their system, he would have stayed in Arizona for the rest of the season in order to ‘grow up’. Another said that Soler ‘was paid about 29 million too much’. All agreed that Soler has tremendous defensive ability, but that he is lazy. Soler is also reported to have a very bad attitude, glaring at the umpires every time they call a strike on him, trying their patience. Of the two, they like Baez’s power better, saying that Soler is more of a line drive hitter.

Drawing the biggest raves from Daytona were John Andreoli and Ben Carhart. An AL scout said that Andreoli has ‘all the tools’ to play any of the outfield positions, good speed, great base-running instincts, and a solid approach at the plate. Carhart is a solid contact-line driver hitter and grades out very well at third, and can also play second and first base. All of the scouts also had a lot of good things to say about Tim Saunders, and felt that he was the best shortstop on the team (Daytona). They also said that while Stephen Bruno wasn’t playing when they were there, he grades out best at third base.

One NL scout felt that Jae-Hoon Ha was an “excellent” prospect, but that the Cubs probably won’t give him a chance. He sarcastically added that the Cubs keep “buying” outfielders to put ahead of him that ‘aren’t as good as he is’.

Many agree that Rock Shoulders has more than earned a promotion already. It was also said Dan Vogelbach has worked to increase his agility at first base. In general, nobody seems to like the Cubs’ offensive approach, feeling it takes away from the hitter’s natural aggressiveness. One scout had a sarcastic little pun about their philosophy that I can’t publish here.

Player Reports

Here are my impressions of the performances of some of the Chiefs, in alphabetical order.

Lendy Castillo – Had an above average fastball, clocking in the 94-95 mph range (by the stadium gun) but breaking pitch looked flat. You could tell the difference between his fastball and breaking ball by arm speed. He has no “out” pitch, and struggles with command. Opposing players can sit on his fastball.

Willson Contreras – Really looks comfortable behind the plate, showing quick feet and good transfer and release. He definitely has the throwing arm to get baserunners out. Offensively, he is still finding his way, chasing some pitches out of the zone. He has good balance and quick hands.

Michael Heesch – He has a fastball that sits anywhere from the high 80’s to low 90’s. His ball has a downward movement that is difficult to pick up. He can throw his slider for strikes. He is very fit and has the frame of an innings-eater.

Marco Hernandez – Insiders have said that he loses concentration in the field during games, so the team has him taking extra practice in order to keep sharp. He is very fluid around the bag and possesses enough arm strength to remain at short.

Felix Pena – Looks more confident his second time around in the league. He can spot his fastball in the zone, which runs in the low to mid 90’s. Sports an average breaking ball but is confident in it enough to throw it for strikes. Like Heesch, he is a big, strong man that looks as if he can pitch a lot of innings.

Bijan Rademacher – Appears to be a man on a mission as he was all over the field offensively and defensively during the series. From a defensive standpoint, he is reminiscent of former Cubs outfielder Jim Edmonds. Broad shouldered and barrel-chested, he doesn’t appear to be going fast but tracks down every ball. Has a very strong throwing arm. He was hitting everything in sight and was adept enough to drop down a bunt for a hit.

Rock Shoulders – He still has a slight upper cut to his swing, but Shoulders has toned down his all-or-nothing approach that he had a Boise last season. Still a little pull conscious. Has decent agility and better range than Dan Vogelbach at first, but isn’t as polished defensively. Insiders informed me that Shoulders is also taking ground balls at third during pre-game drills.

Brian Smith – When with fellow Canadian Wes Darvill, it looked as if the shorter Smith was the middle infielder and the tall, lanky Darvill the pitcher. He had a little trouble with control, but was able to work himself out of a jam. Fastball sits in the low 90’s, while breaking ball seems to roll up to the plate at times. However, he is able to spot his breaking pitch and use it like a change-up when the situation dictates a fastball.

Dan Vogelbach – Quick initial movement allowed him to move around well in a limited area, despite the lack of speed. He is very take-charge in the field, calling out the plays to the defense. Still needs to work on maintaining his concentration, failing to make a catch on a routine pop foul after trying to one-hand it. Still displays a very quick bat, but he is now more willing to stay within himself. Appears to be very well liked among his teammates.

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  • Uncle Ruckua

    Its interesting to hear what people outside the cubs organization have to say about the “cubs way”. It worries me that naturally aggressive hitters like castro and baez have to adjust their mind sets at the plate, which is to see more pitches, even though it might end up hurting their game. Castro was a .300 hitter before the thoyer era. Now he’s hitting well below and looks confused lately.

    • http://theboardridersuite.wordpress.com/ Theboardrider

      I was bothered by that as well Uncle. I like the “Cubs way,” but there certainly isn’t a consensus as to if if works or not. Perhaps it will take more time and the drafting of more players that fit more naturally into the mold.

      • Brp921

        I agree with Uncle’s assessment as well boardrider. I too, like the new “Cub’s Way”, looking for the high OBP and going deep in the count, driving up pitch counts. What I find myself worrying about, though, is the young players in the organization who weren’t drafted by this new front office, who are free swingers. I think that they may be being hurt more than helped by trying to change their approach at the plate. I’m beginning to change my opinion on keeping some of the players that weren’t drafted by the current regime, because I feel like they will be being hindered more than being helped, by trying to mold them into what they are not. So I wonder , should guys like Castro and Baez and maybe a few others be traded while they still have value for prospects or established MLB players that fit closer to the mold of the new “Cub’s Way”. I am not being facetious, I am seriously reconsidering my opinion on how they should handle some of these players. I would welcome opinions from any and all contributors to this website on this matter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rich.hood.144 Rich Hood

    When you are talking about scouts you have to keep in mind they are reactionary people by nature. Very few would be inclined to change until they are told to. What Team Theo is trying to do is different than what most of these guys have had to deal with so questioning the approach does not surprise me at all.

    Top notch write up as always Tom. Now if we could only get Neel to spring for that Dominican and Venezuela trip so we can see those teams with our eyes and not just read scouting reports and box scores then we would be set (you notice I am saying we because if he can spring for you I am stowing away too).

  • Dylan Steele

    So they hate Baez and Soler and love Tim Saunders? Glad they work for other teams…

  • 07GreyDigger

    Could the Soler hate stem from the fact he wasn’t drafted? Seems like there’s some venom about how highly regarded he is due to the amount they spent on him.

    Also what makes Ha a better prospect?

    • Tom U

      GreyDigger, I have a lot going on today and I’ll try to respond when I can.

      The scouts I talked to don’t “hate” Baez. and Soler, they think they aren’t handled properly. The tone of what I got is that both are feeling a little entitled, and that the front office needs to correct that.

      To clarify the point on Ha, they feel that he will be or already is a better player than outfielders like Scott Hairston, Darnell McDonald, Brian Bogusevic, Ryan Sweeney, and Johermyn Chavez.

      • paulcatanese

        Excellent post Tom, I too have a lot going on. When I get back will read the post again, worth three or four re-reads.
        Great job.

      • 07GreyDigger

        Makes sense. I think a lot of players are better than McDonald, Bogusevic, Sweeney and Chavez. I think that some organizations like to use AAA as a stashing ground for bench players and the Red Sox were always like that, so it’s not surprising the Cubs do the same. They do need a better balance of developing prospects vs. useful veterans down there though.

      • redlarczykg

        Apparently the new “Cub Way” doesn’t include the needed discipline to set a high priced rookie attitude in the right direction!? I thought the mind set of a player is of prime importance!

        • paulcatanese

          Agree with you but, one must remember (and not a knock) where Baez and Soler came from. They were assuredly the big thing on the teams they played with. They are not accustomed to the ways of players they are associated with here. Plus the fact that they may have more money combined than the whole teams they are playing with.
          If in fact that is what they are doing according to the other scouts it does need to be addressed, their attitude reflects directly to the Cubs and fans.
          No one likes “hot dogs” and they better be ready to back it up.
          Unfortunate but all too true, large amounts of money placed in the hands of people that don’t know how to handle it will happen every time.
          How do you(or anyone) discipline this kind of mindset? They could just take their marbles and go home, richer than anyone around them.

          • 07GreyDigger

            The best way to handle it is for the organization to have their managers have some autonomy. If the manager of Daytona thinks Soler or Baez are putting their needs above the team’s, then they should be benched or disciplined accordingly. They need to know that despite their high regard, they are still a part of the team.

          • SomeGuy27

            This is going to sound bad but it comes from years of playing and coaching including dealing with a number of international-particularly Caribbean- players. I think culture may be the problem; both from the players AND the scouts.

            My experience with Caribbean players is that they feel they need to “Showboat” to stand out and with good reason…it works. The problem is once they come to the states, they have to adjust to the low-key don’t show up your opponent culture we play by. Couple that with language, lifestyle, etc…and it’s a tough row. Most can’t adjust and management/coaching staffs can only do so much to get them into the Gringo way of doing things. Now, take an outsiders view and all you see is an arrogant, flashy player who doesn’t respect the game.

            I could be wrong and they’re both asses, but I suspect it’s more about growing pains than anything else.

          • John_CC

            Good post. Soler has been in playing baseball here for less than a year.

            And it shouldn’t be surprising that scouts from rival teams would find and accentuate the negatives about rival players with star potential? Jealous maybe?

          • paulcatanese

            Agree John, it also brings back the movie “Money Ball” with scouts sitting around the table and disagreeing with the whole concept of what was trying to be done. Star potential is another reason to be jealous as well, I know it they had signed the two players their motives and reasoning would be different.

          • 07GreyDigger

            That’s a good point. Of course rival scouts are going to downplay other team’s prospects, it’s kind of like fans who downplay rival team’s star players compared to their favorites. Just because they aren’t yours, doesn’t mean they aren’t talented.

          • http://theboardridersuite.wordpress.com/ Theboardrider

            Interesting insight…very possible.

          • http://theboardridersuite.wordpress.com/ Theboardrider

            We heard the same things about Bryce Harper and he’s turned out well. Some of these guys will fit in better once they get to the show and are around other big-time players.

          • paulcatanese

            Agree 100%, Harper is one that I thought was a hot dog, he isn’t.
            He plays the game 110% and it shows. He is in a world all his own, win the game and that’s all that counts. Like to have 8 more of him on the field.

    • http://theboardridersuite.wordpress.com/ Theboardrider

      Very true. Also, these older scouts just approach things differently. Theo and co are very “sabermetric,” oriented and these guys probably go more off gut feelings about a guy and base what they see off past experience. Which many times gives you a skewed result.

  • Tom U

    I’m happy that everyone is taking this for what it is, a snapshot in time. These are all very young men we are talking about. Hopefully, their assets will continue to shine while they work on their deficits.

  • http://theboardridersuite.wordpress.com/ Theboardrider

    Absolutely great information Tom! I really appreciate the insight on each player and particularly the comments from opposing scouts. Some of these guys sound great such as Rademacher. With reports like this why aren’t they better rated as prospects? For example the description of Rademacher makes him sound like an “A,” prospect? My knowledge of scouting and the farm prospect is limited at best but the way he sounds and a guy like say, Jae Hoon-Ha, they appear to be future MLB starters.

    • Tony_Hall

      I saw Rademacher last year when they played in Beloit along side Soler. It is not even close, i would take Soler every single time over Rademacher. Soler looked like a men among boys and I did not see Rademacher standing out, at all, on that team, I remember thinking that he seemed overwelmed.

      His numbers this year are more promosing and hopefully he will continue with his good start to the year.

      • Tom U

        There has been a big difference in Rademacher from last year to this season. He seems very focused and determined to rise through the system.

        • Tony_Hall

          I am sure he was overwelmed having gone from playing college ball in California then to Arizona for rookie ball, right up to Boise for short season then finishing the year in the Midwest for Peoria. It is an awful lot for a young man. Of course, not nearly as much as coming from another country and doing about the same tour like Soler did.