Winter League Wrap-up
It seems the winter leagues opened just yesterday, but we are already at the Caribbean World Series and the Australian Baseball League playoffs. Altogether, 28 players that belonged to the Cubs system at one time or another during the 2013-2014 off-season played winter ball. The notable performers, along with a recap of both the Caribbean World Series and the Australian Baseball League playoffs are inside today’s report.
Organizational Pitcher of the Winter
Carlos Pimentel: A fortunate turn of events brought Carlos Pimentel to the Cubs organization this off-season. Originally signed by the Rangers as an 18-year old in 2007, Pimentel decided to opt for seven-year minor league free agency rather than resigning with the Rangers this winter. Pimentel spent most of his time at the Double-A level in the Rangers organization, but also appeared in six games for Triple-A Round Rock this past season. Pimentel was a combined 8-7 with a 3.87 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. In 128 innings, Pimentel recorded 133 strikeouts while walking only 44 and allowing 110 hits. Reports have Pimentel, who had been ranked as high as the 17th best prospect in the Rangers’ system, sporting a low-to-mid 90s fastball and a slider.
The 24-year old Pimentel was virtually untouchable this past winter for Escogido in the Dominican Winter League. Pimentel went 5-0 with a 1.67 ERA and 1.09 WHIP with 32 strikeouts in 37.2 innings (seven starts, 11 appearances). For his efforts, Pimentel was named the top pitcher in the Dominican Winter League. Pimentel appears to be ticketed to be in the rotation for Triple-A Iowa to begin 2014.
Organizational Player of the Winter
Junior Lake: Last winter, Junior Lake and infielder Luis Valbuena vied for Player of the Winter honors. Valbuena pulled ahead of Lake after a blistering post-season performance. This winter both missed the playoffs, so it was Lake’s regular season numbers that prevailed.
Playing for only the first two months of the season and appearing in 27 games for Estrellas de Oriente, Lake was the early leader in the Dominican Winter League with a .343 batting average. Lake’s further line was .386/.457/.843 while slugging two home runs with 13 RBI and 11 runs scored. His six stolen bases were good enough to tie for ninth in the league, despite only playing half a season. However, Lake’s penchant for swinging away was still on display. Lake struck out 29 times in 105 at bats. Outside of a few starts as his team’s designated hitter, Lake spent the winter working on his defense in the outfield.
Organizational Comeback Player of the Winter
Ryan Searle: Last season’s Pitcher of the Winter built on some late success in 2013, and may now be primed for a big 2014.
Ryan Searle came off of a successful winter performance in 2013 which landed him a bullpen role for the Daytona Cubs to start the 2013 season. But shortly after he earned Florida State League Pitcher of the Week honors in April, Searle landed on the disabled list and was lost for most of the season. However, Searle was able to come back as the D-Cubs were making their championship push and bolster their bullpen. Searle combined with starter C.J. Edwards to shut out Charlotte in the title-clinching game.
Returning to his homeland for the winter, Searle showed no ill-effects from his injury. Searle started eight games and averaged just under seven innings a start while completing three games. Searle’s 3-4 record for the Brisbane Bandits was more a reflection of the team’s lack of offense. Despite the lack of support, Searle was third in the league with a 0.96 WHIP, tied for sixth with 50 strikeouts in 55 innings, and seventh in the league with a 2.78 ERA.
Searle gets a little lost among some of the Cubs’ emerging pitching prospects, but he will only be 24 years old when the 2014 starts, despite being with the organization for six seasons. Searle has had experience at the Triple-A, Double-A, and High-A levels the past two seasons. Searle also has been used as a starter, closer, and in middle relief. Finding a level and a role for Searle will be key in whether he can finally turn the corner as a prospect.
Player to Watch
Marcus Hatley: Another pitcher that seems to get lost when looking at the Cubs’ minor league system is 25-year old right hander Marcus Hatley. Selected by the Cubs in the 39th round of the 2006 draft, Hatley was converted from an outfielder to a pitcher and had to overcome Tommy John surgery during his career. The organization has fluctuated on how they wanted to use Hatley over his time in the system. Hatley has started 39 games and finished 65 games during his seven-year minor league career. Hatley recorded only 18 career saves over that span before joining Culiacan in the Mexican Pacific League for the winter. Hatley quickly emerged as the closer for the Tomateros and notched six saves in eight chances, a third of Culiacan’s wins in the first half. Despite pitching for only two months, Hatley still tied for ninth in the league in saves. Overall, Hatley had a 1-3 record with a 3.94 ERA with a 1.56 WHIP (19 strikeouts in 16 innings). Hatley features a fastball that can reach the upper 90s along with a slider and a curve.
Next Favorite Team
Tomateros de Culiacan: The Mexican Pacific League by far has some of the most unusual and interesting nicknames for their clubs. With their unique maroon and black color scheme, the Tomateros translates to the “Tomatomen” or “Tomato-Pickers”. Culiacan’s overall record of 34-33 doesn’t seem that impressive, but they finished four games out of first place in both the first and second halves of the season. They qualified for the playoffs, but were eliminated in the first round. Marcus Hatley was the closer for the Tomateros during the first half of the season.
Caribbean World Series
Naranjeros de Hermosillo bested Navojoa 8-3 last Wednesday to win the Mexican Pacific League Championship and became the last team to qualify for the Caribbean World Series. Hermosillo joined Tigres de Licey from the Dominican Winter League, Indios de Mayaguez from the Roberto Clemente League, and Navegantes de Magallanes of the Venezuelan Winter League. This season, the four winter leagues will be joined in the tournament by a team representing Cuba.
With the Cuban team being a wild card, the odds-on favorite is Licey, who defeated perennial power Escogido for the DWL title. Licey can call on players such as the Angels’ Eric Aybar, the Rangers’ Jurickson Profar, and veteran reliever Carlos Marmol. With their abundance of veteran players led by former White Sox outfielder and league batting champ Jerry Owens, Hermosillo ranks second in the race for the crown. Magallanes has some star power with Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval, infielder Ronny Cedeno, and the Rangers’ hot prospect Rougned Odor. The RCPL still has a way to go to catch up with the other leagues, but Mayaguez does feature Dodgers’ prospect Dee Gordon.
Saturday’s opener saw Puerto Rico score a huge upset by defeating the Dominican Republic 7-6 in 10 innings. Second baseman and leadoff hitter Rey Navarro (Cincinnati) had a big game for Puerto Rico as he was 2-for-5 with two doubles, two RBI and two runs scored. Former Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol (free agent) pitched a scoreless inning of relief for the Dominican Republic. In the nightcap, Mexico received a brief scare from Cuba in the middle innings before blowing past them 9-4. Alfredo Aceves (Baltimore) went seven innings for Mexico and allowed three earned runs while striking out three batters. Centerfielder Chris Roberson (formerly Phillies, Orioles) was 4-for-5 with a double, a home run, and four RBI.
Australian Baseball League
The Sydney Blue Sox and the Canberra Cavalry are in a playoff to determine who faces the Perth Heat in the Australian Baseball League Championship. Their opener on Friday was a real barn-burner with Sydney building up a big lead and then holding on to win 18-11. Veteran minor league outfielder Trent Oeltjen (Twins, Brewers, Diamondbacks and Dodgers) was the big story for the Blue Sox. Oeltjen went 3-for-5 with a home run and six RBI. Saturday saw Canberra even the series and force a decisive Game 3 by beating Sydney 4-3. Starter Ethan Cole went six innings and throttled the potent Blue Sox attack. Cole allowed an unearned run and struck out six. Third baseman Jeremy Barnes (formerly Phillies) was 1-for-4 with a solo home run.
Attention CCO Readers
The Down on the Farm preliminary reader’s poll is underway. Please post the names of the minor league players you would like the Down on the Farm Report to follow closely during the upcoming season. The CCO will take the top 20 vote getters and run a special poll for the final month of Spring Training. The CCO will then track the progress of the top 10 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 10 will eventually be chosen. The field expanded to 51 after four weeks of voting, with pitchers C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson still tied for the lead. So from Luis Acosta to Tony Zych, all nominations will be accepted and given equal weight.
Race to Wrigley
For the second straight year, I will be competing in the Race to Wrigley 5K run on April 12, 2014. If anyone is interested in making a donation, please visit ChicagoCubsOnline – Race to Wrigley to register. All proceeds go to Chicago Cubs Charities and Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago (formerly Children’s Memorial Hospital).