The CCO’s off-season look at each position in the Cubs’ farm system continues today. The series of articles to summarize and project how the organization stacks up on a position by position basis has already examined all four infield positions, catcher, left field and centerfield. Up next is right field, a position that has some of the most interesting players in the system.
While there are never any sure things as far as minor league assignments, Rubi Silva as the starting right fielder for Triple-A Iowa may be as close as it gets. The Cubs signed the left-hander out of Cuba in 2011 and immediately assigned him to Low-A Peoria. Silva played 29 games for the Chiefs and batted .285 with 16 RBI and two stolen bases before being promoted to High-A Daytona to fill in for an injured Matt Szczur. In 29 games for the D-Cubs, Silva hit .229/.250/.362/.612 with six doubles, one triple, two home runs and seven RBI. Back in Peoria, Silva hit at a .307 clip the rest of the way for the Chiefs as he ended up batting .300/.319/.400/.719 with 16 doubles, seven triples, three home runs, 37 RBI and six stolen bases while playing a total of 82 games in the outfield and 29 at second base. Silva returned to Daytona to start the 2012 season and was a one man wrecking crew on a poor offensive team. Silva hit over .400 for the first month before he cooled down somewhat but was able to put up a .302/.322/.412/.734 batting line with 15 doubles, 11 triples, three homers, 61 RBI, and seven stolen bases in 111 games before receiving an overdue promotion to Double-A Tennessee. In his time with the Smokies, Silva hit .253/.277/.413/.690 with three triples, 13 RBI, three stolen bases and a pair of home runs in 20 games. Once again, Silva played mostly outfield (91 games), but also spent time at second base (28 games) at second base. The 2013 season saw Silva back in Tennessee, but an injury to Justin Bour was thrust into more of a run producing role. Silva responded to the challenge by cracking a career high 15 homers and driving in 52 runs while batting .284/.310/.483/.793 with 13 stolen bases. Silva is a study in contrasts offensively. Hyper-aggressive at the plate, Silva only has a career .310 on base percentage but has never struck out 100 times in a season (he had 99 in 2013). His career slugging percentage .428 comes with only 25 career home runs, as he has 123 extra base hits out of a total of 422 total hits. Blessed with great speed, Silva has only 29 stolen bases in 60 attempts. Silva takes his aggressive approach into the outfield with him as his total .976 fielding percentage reflects the risks he takes. Silva has a laser beam for an arm, and with 44 career assist teams no longer risk running on him. There has been some speculation in the mainstream media that Silva could be groomed for a super-utility role, but that would take a monumental shift in development. The 24-year old hasn’t played second base since mid-2012, and has never played shortstop or third base. There hasn’t been any word of Silva playing ball this winter, so giving him infield reps would take valuable developmental experience away from Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, Mike Olt, and/or Christian Villanueva at Triple-A.
The organization seems to be putting a lot in Jorge Soler opening as Tennessee’s right fielder, but at this time, that’s not quite a sure thing. The Cuban national was the first major signing by the Theo Epstein regime in June of 2012. Soler got his feet wet in 14 games for the AZL Cubs and hit .241/.328.389/.717 with two doubles, two homers, 10 RBI, and eight stolen bases. Soler moved to Peoria for the rest of the season and hit .338/.398/.513/.910 with five doubles while driving in 15 runs with three home runs and stealing four bases. Many thought Soler would begin the 2013 season with Low-A Kane County, but those plans changed during the winter and his performance in Spring Training justified him beginning the year in High-A ball. The 21-year old found the sledding a little tougher in the Florida State League, and wasn’t quite prepared for opponents going after him. Soler was baited into an on-field incident which escalated in a bat-swinging confrontation and a suspension. When Soler returned, he was hampered by a leg injury that dated back to Spring Training. When the injury was diagnosed as a fracture in his shin, Soler was shelved for the rest of the season. Soler’s final line at Daytona was .281/.343/.467/.810 with 13 doubles, one triple, eight home runs, 35 RBI, and five stolen bases in 55 games. Soler is currently in the Arizona Fall League trying to scrape some of the rust off. When in one piece, Soler projects as a prototypical run-producing right fielder. Defensively, Soler has a gun for an arm and good mobility, but sometimes spins his wheels on defense before getting in motion. He also has a reputation for being immature and entitled, loafing at times and antagonizing umpires.
If Soler proves not to be ready for Double-A, the Cubs will really have to scramble to fill the void at Tennessee. One option would be to demote one of the players looking to be a part of Triple-A Iowa, including Brett Jackson, Dave Sappelt, Rubi Silva, or Josh Vitters. Another could be a mix-and match approach with Anthony Giansanti and John Andreoli, along with infielders such as Stephen Bruno, Jonathan Mota, or Tim Saunders also getting reps. Another option could be turning to a minor league veteran, Ty Wright.
Ty Wright is the consummate system player. Wright was selected by the Cubs in the seventh round of the 2007 draft. The 28-year old has now spent seven seasons in the organization and has a career batting line of .292/.352/.429/.781 with 60 home runs, 381 RBI, and 39 career stolen bases. Wright is only a decent outfielder, with a career .963 fielding average but when the organization needed it, played first base for nine games for the first time in his professional career this past season.
The idea of Soler returning to Daytona may be welcome in central Florida, because the options of Reggie Golden, Jose Dore and Taiwan Easterling are less than inspiring.
Reggie Golden was the Cubs second round pick in the 2010 draft, and he has been somewhat of a disappointment. After a brief appearance in four games for the AZL Cubs in which he batted .333 with and RBI and a stolen base, Golden reported to Spring Training in 2011 terribly out of shape. When the season started for Short-Season A Boise, Golden still was not ready and struggled offensively. Golden finally put things together in the last month of the season and was named Northwest League Player of the Week to close out the 2011 season. Overall, Golden hit .242/.332/.420/.752 with 10 doubles, five triples, seven home runs, 39 RBI and five stolen bases in 64 games. Golden reported to Mesa in better condition to start the 2012 season, but his season ended almost as soon as it began. Golden tore a ligament in his knee in his seventh game and he spent the rest of the year rehabbing after surgery. Golden wasn’t ready for game action until Extended Spring Training ended in 2013 and when he was ready to play, he began the year at Low-A Kane County. The now 22-year old was notably rusty upon his return and hit .227/.282/.382/.664 with seven doubles, one triple, nine home runs, 29 RBI, and a stolen base in 64 games. Even prior to surgery, Golden was somewhat of a lumbering outfielder but has a very strong throwing arm.
The acquisition of Jose Dore is directly attributed to General Manager Jed Hoyer, who selected Dore in the eighth round of the 2010 draft for the San Diego Padres. The 21-year old’s career has yet to justify his promotion pattern as he played 98 games between Short-Season A Eugene and Low-A Fort Wayne in 2011 while batting .226/.289/.354/.634 with nine home runs, 34 RBI and three stolen bases. Dore dealt with injuries in 2012, played in only nine games and hit an overall .242 with stops at both Eugene and Fort Wayne. Traded to the Cubs in the spring of 2013, Dore was tried at every position in Extended Spring Training except pitcher and catcher. Once Kris Bryant was drafted, the plan was for Dore to hold down the fort at third base for Boise until Bryant arrived. However, Dore was absolutely ghastly at third base, and an emergency shake-up of the roster was needed to cover the position. Dore then moved to the outfield for 18 games and was a DH seven times. Despite batting only .200/.284/.356 for the Hawks, Dore was inexplicably promoted to Kane County for the rest of the season. For the year, Dore hit .206/.279/.337/.616 with 10 doubles, two triples, three home runs, 20 RBI, and two stolen bases in 55 games. Scouts describe Dore as a toolsy type of player, but none of that was evident in his time with the Cubs. Dore showed no instincts as an infielder, has average to below average speed, and an average throwing arm. With that said, Dore should continue to bounce around the minor league system and perhaps get an undeserved promotion or two as he appears to be a favorite of Hoyer.
It appears as if time may be running out on Taiwan Easterling, as the former Wide Receiver from Florida State will turn 25 years old next February. The Cubs drafted Easterling in the 27th round back in 2011 and immediately put him on the fast track. Easterling spent seven games with the AZL Cubs and 40 with Peoria before going to Daytona just in time to be a part of their Florida State League Championship team. For the season, Easterling hit .307/.332/.407/.739 with eight doubles, three triples, two home runs, 17 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 48 games. It was felt that Easterling would begin 2012 at Daytona, but injuries held him back in Extended Spring Training and he never got himself on track that season. In 70 games at Peoria, Easterling batted .243/.316/.366/.681with 17 doubles, two triples, four homers, 28 RBI, and 18 stolen bases. Many felt that Easterling was given a “social” promotion to Daytona for 2013, but it did not seem to help as he had a hard time making it into the line-up. Easterling hit only .216/.282/.332/.614 with 11 doubles, two triples, three home runs, 26 RBI, and 10 stolen bases in 64 games. Although Easterling has good mobility and an above average arm, he saw less and less time in the outfield and more at DH as the season progressed.
Demonstrating that development is not always linear is Yasiel Balaguert. One of a flurry of international signings prior to the 2012 season, the Dominican was sent to Low-A Peoria to start the season but was really over his head. Balaguert hits only .208/.232/.262 in 39 games. He was moved down to the AZL Cubs when their season began and was able to somewhat regroup. Balaguert posted a combined .220/.258/.303/.561 with nine doubles, two triples, three home runs, 33 RBI and a stolen base in 71 games. It was unclear as to what to expect from Balaguert to start the 2013 season, but he was able to answer the call early and often as he led the Northwest League with 48 RBI and tied teammate Kevin Encarnacion for second with eight home runs. Balaguert batted a combined .261/.334/.439/.773, as he did a four game stint in the rookie league while the Hawks traveled to Canada. The 20-year old compares favorably to Jorge Soler, but a little more raw at this stage of his development. Balaguert is a power hitter with a knack for driving in runs that has decent mobility and a strong throwing arm.
A little unconventional as far as a typical right fielder is concerned, Jeffrey Baez is still a player to be reckoned with. Signed in time for the 2011 season, Baez split his time between the Cubs’ two Dominican Summer League teams and batted .282/.353/.408/.761 with 12 doubles, three triples, five home runs, 32 RBI and 36 stolen bases in 68 games. Once again in 2012, Baez saw action in the DSL (with six games in the rookie league) and put up great offensive numbers. Baez hit .284/.368/.426/.794 with 10 doubles, four triples, three home runs, 30 RBI and 29 stolen bases in 54 games. After playing mostly center in his career, the 20-year old played nearly an equal amount of games in right (24 to 19) in 2013. As the primary leadoff man for the AZL Cubs, Baez had a batting line of .287/.357/.384/.741 with nine doubles, two triples, one home run, 12 RBI, and 25 stolen bases in 45 games. You have to like the pure speed of Baez as he has stolen 87 bases in 171 career games. Baez is also no slouch in the outfield, with a .977 fielding percentage and 27 assists in his career.
Also seeing time in right field for the AZL Cubs in 2013 was 20-year old Garrett Schlecht. A ninth round draft choice by the Cubs in 2011, the lefty has been a slow developing prospect. After playing in nine games following his signing, Schlecht saw his most action in 2012 and played in 35 games while batting .252/.359/.345/.704 with six doubles, one triple, one home run, 16 RBI, and eight stolen bases. More was expected of Schlecht in 2013, but he was squeezed out by the sheer numbers of rehab players taking away precious at bats. While playing in 29 games, Schlecht only got 68 at bats, which could explain his .176/.250/.235/.485 batting line with two triples, six RBI and three stolen bases. Whether he is similar to another skinny high-schooler such as Wes Darvill, and starts to put things together as he physically matures remains to be seen. Schlecht does have pitching in his background, and lefties are always hard to find.
The Cubs may have a real prospect in Shamil Ubiera of the Dominican Summer League. Ubiera just turned 21 years old following the 2013 season, and he has put up some good offensive numbers in his two years with the organization. In 2012, Ubiera played in 66 games and batted .297/.360/.450/.810 with 24 doubles, one triple, four homers, 41 RBI and 14 stolen bases. This past season, Ubiera hit .301/.375/.441/.816 with four home runs, 18 doubles, three triples and 13 RBI while leading the league with 56 RBI. Ubiera needs some work in the outfield, but has the tools to work with.
Manning right field for the VSL Cubs was Ricardo Marcano, who turned 19 years old just two weeks ago. The lefty has made some progress since his debut for the DSL Cubs in 2012. Starting in 63 games, Marcano batted .245/.350/.332/.682 with nine doubles, five triples, 18 RBI and six stolen bases. This past season the Venezuelan moved back home and batted .279/339/.450/.789 with 19 doubles, six triples, four home runs, 45 RBI, and 13 stolen bases. He could also use some work on his defense, but a career .973 fielding average with 18 assists is a good base to build on.
The Cubs also signed 16-year old switch hitter Eloy Jimenez. Ben Badler posted a scouting report for the gifted outfielder who recently finished participating the Instructional League. From Baseball America: Jimenez is athletic for his size and in January ran the 60-yard dash in 6.72 seconds, which is above-average speed. Others have said his speed plays closer to average and because of his frame and unusual gait, he will continue to slow down as he fills out, so he’s a corner outfielder all the way. With a slightly above-average arm, he should be able to play right field…Some scouts have seen him hit in games, while others haven’t seen the game dominance that would merit the type of bonus he’s expected to command. His long arms create length to his swing and he will need to keep his hips from flying open too early, but he has good hand-eye coordination and uses the middle of the field. Jimenez has average raw power and a flat swing that results in hard line drives rather than loft power. With his size and strength potential, he could grow into above-average power. Some scouts think he has the ingredients to hit, so it may be a matter of making subtle adjustments.