Checking Down on the Farm … Cubs Minor League News, Notes and Transactions

While the front office stays on The Girardi Watch and is busy compiling a list of managerial candidates that is thought to have Sandy Alomar Jr. and Manny Acta just under Girardi’s name, the Cubs minor league system has continued to make news.

The Instructional League is in full swing and the Arizona Fall League gets underway on Tuesday. Jed Hoyer said on Friday that Jorge Soler is fully recovered from the fractured left tibia that sidelined him at the end of June. According to Hoyer, Soler is ready to participate in the AFL along with Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Wes Darvill, Dallas Beeler, Matt Loosen, Armando Rivero and newly added Lendy Castillo.

Several of the top players in the system have ended up on more top prospects lists and the Cubs signed a couple of players, as well as resigning a familiar name.

John Sickels – Minor League Ball

John Sickels updated his ranking of the top 75 prospects in the game and six of the top young players in the Cubs’ system made the Sickels’ list while two others received honorable mentions.

Javier Baez (8) checked in at number eight on Sickels’ ranking, up 10 spots from his pre-season ranking (18) and six spots from the mid-season list (14). Kris Bryant cracked the top 20 at number 19 while Albert Almora came in at number 22. Almora improved his stock from Sickels’ pre-season ranking (44) but slipped due to injury from number 14 in July.

Jorge Soler (27), C.J. Edwards (41) and Arismendy Alcantara (70) were the other three players from the Cubs’ system listed among the top prospects in the game. Pierce Johnson, who quietly had a very good year, and Dan Vogelbach received honorable mentions.

John Sickels said, “The Cubs are going to have one hell of a lineup someday.”

Midwest League Top 20 Prospects

Baseball America is releasing a list of the top 20 prospects in each league throughout Minor League Baseball. Kris Bryant (1), Paul Blackburn (7), Yasiel Balaguert (9), Dillon Maples (10), Shawon Dunston Jr. (12) and Kevin Encarnacion (17) were ranked among the best in the Northwest League and three players made it into the top 20 in the Midwest League.

Albert Almora (6), Pierce Johnson (10) and Dan Vogelbach (17) were the three players from the Kane County Cougars that stood out in the league this past season according to Baseball America.

For those keeping score, that is nine players out of 40 in two lower levels of the minor leagues.

Minor League Transactions

According to Baseball America, the Cubs signed RHP Alan Oaks and C Danny Canela out of the Frontier League.

Danny Canela partied ways with North Carolina State in January, signed with River City and won the Frontier League rookie of the year award after posting a .360/.455/.582/1/037 line. The 22-year old right handed throwing, lefty batting catcher hit 14 doubles, 12 home runs, walked 41 times with 50 strikeouts in 67 games. Canela turns 23 on December 14 and is 5-foot-11, 200 pounds.

Alan Oaks was drafted by the Marlins in 2010 and did not fare too well in parts of three seasons in the Marlins’ system. The 25-year old, 6-foot-3 right hander was 2-4 in 37 relief appearances last season in the Frontier League with a 1.99 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP.

According to Baseball America, the Cubs re-signed RHP Marcus Hatley. The 25-year old right hander posted a 3-2 record in 35 relief appearances with the I-Cubs this past season with a 4.22 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP. Hatley also spent time in Double-A and posted a combined 4-4 record in 49 games with a 3.86 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP. In 60 2/3 innings, Hatley gave up 53 hits with 35 walks and 74 strikeouts.

As part of the year end procedural roster moves, the Cubs recalled RHP Trey McNutt, RHP Neil Ramirez, 3B Mike Olt, 3B Christian Villanueva, 3B/1B/OF Josh Vitters, OF Brett Jackson, OF Jorge Soler and OF Matt Szczur.

The first wave of minor league free agents hit the open market this past week. Players who have at least three years of Major League service time, or who qualified as a Super Two player and were outrighted to a minor league club may elect for free agency instead of accepting the outright assignment.

The Cubs had two minor league players elect for free agency, right handed pitchers Michael Bowden and Eduardo Sanchez. Other former Cubs or Cubs’ farm hands that elected for free agency this past week included: RHP Jairo Asencio, RHP Chris Volstad, LHP Hisanori Takahashi, OF Tyler Colvin, C Blake Lalli, IF Brent Lillibridge, IF Alberto Gonzalez, RHP Dave Bush and RHP Justin Germano. IF/OF Eric Patterson was released by the Brewers.

Defense, Defense, Defense

Baseball America took a look at the up-the-middle prospects in the minors that are worth loving for their gloves. And four of the top prospects in the Cubs’ system made the cut defensively.

Marco Hernandez and Javier Baez converted less than the average number of chances into outs this past season but both shortstops were among the leaders in assists per game. The regular full-season minor league shortstops in 2013 converted about 95.6 percent of their total chances into outs while recording 2.79 assists and 1.43 putouts per game according to Baseball America. Hernandez averaged 3.18 assists per game with a .939 percent conversion rate while Baez averaged 3.07 assists per game with a .922 conversion rate in 73 games with Daytona.

Albert Almora, who received rave reviews for his defense, led all centerfielders in putouts per game with a minimum of 45-69 games played. According to Baseball America, “even with a lack of eye-popping raw speed, the Cubs’ Albert Almora is a potential Gold Glove winner at the Major League level thanks to terrific first-step quickness and wide ranging territory.” Almora is “also a plus-thrower who racked up seven assists in 59 games.”

Willson Contreras slipped in the top 10 in assists per game for a catcher in the minor leagues with at least 70 games played.

Cubs Minor League Position Analysis

For those that might have missed Tom’s series of reports on the positional depth in the Cubs’ system, click on the links below to learn about the players in the system that might not be at the top of the prospect lists at this point of their professional careers.

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Quote of the Day

"People who write about Spring Training not being necessary have never tried to throw a baseball." – Sandy Koufax