Cubs Down on the Farm Report – 03/03/14

Five Players to Watch: Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa

The CCO wraps up our three-part series today that has looked beyond the top 20 lists and explored other players in the Cubs organization that may have an impact on the Major League club. Over the years, the CCO has profiled players such as Arismendy Alcantara and Kyle Hendricks, among others, before they were recognized as top prospects.

This is the last in a series of three articles highlighting some of those players. 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.

Charles Cutler, C

If you enjoy mysteries, then you don’t need to go to the movies or bookstores this summer. Just pay attention to the Cubs’ minor leagues, and try to figure out why a player such as Charles Cutler hasn’t had more opportunities.

Born in San Francisco, the 27-year old enjoyed an illustrious prep career. Cutler hit .614 in his senior season and graduated the California State High School leader in career hits (219), RBI (203), triples (32) and runs (197).  Cutler then moved on to the University of California, where he hit .246 as a freshman and .310 in his sophomore season. As a junior, the lefty was third on the team with a .321 average, had a .395 slugging and .414 on-base percentage, and drove in 17 runs.

Cutler was then selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 40th round of the 2008 draft. He advanced quickly at the onset of his career and reached High-A Palm Beach in his first full season by hitting .322/.408/.430/.839 overall that season. Cutler then moved up to Double-A Springfield in his second full season and hit a combined .260/.350/341 for the year. But his career stalled there. Cutler returned to Springfield in 2011 and hit .333/.398/.475 with five homers and 34 RBI, but the Cardinals didn’t protect him for the Rule 5 draft. The Pirates selected him, even though their system was well stocked with catching prospects. Cutler then spent the next two seasons at Double-A Altoona and hit .296/.407/.421 and .298/.397/.420 respectively. Once again, Cutler was not protected and selected by the Cubs in the 2013 Rule 5 draft. Cutler has a career minor league average of .303/.389/.414 with 71 doubles, 19 home runs and 182 RBI in six seasons.

Several scouting reports say that Cutler has a strong arm, but his career caught stealing average is only 24 percent. He has a good fielding percentage at .992, and had only 30 passed balls in six seasons. Cutler has since been assigned to Triple-A Iowa, where he will probably share catching duties with Rafael Lopez. Cutler also has some experience in the outfield and at first base. The Cubs will only have this season to evaluate Cutler as he will be eligible for minor league free agency following the year.

Carlos Pimentel, RHP

If Cubs fans want to see what the idea of ‘positional redundancy’ can bring, they should take a look at Carlos Pimentel, a victim of his former parent club and system’s successes.

Signed as a 17-year old international free agent by the Texas Rangers in 2007, Pimentel had an inauspicious beginning as he was 0-5 with a 5.53 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP with the AZL Rangers. He fared much better the following two seasons, as he was 6-1 with a 3.31 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP that included 54 strikeouts for Short-Season A Spokane in 2008. Pimentel was 5-4 at Single-A Hickory in 2009 with a 2.39 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP (101 strikeouts in 123 innings).

But then Pimentel’s career began to stall as he spent almost all of the 2010 season with High-A Bakersfield, where he was 7-7 with a 4.96 ERA and a 1.59 WHIP (97 strikeouts). Pimentel spent the next two seasons at Double-A Frisco where he was 7-9 and 8-3 respectively. Pimentel’s ERA and WHIP in 2012 improved to 2.55 and 1.25. However, Pimentel spent most of his 2013 at Frisco, but also appeared in six games for Triple-A Round Rock this past season and was a combined 8-7 with a 3.87 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP that included 133 strikeouts in 128 innings.

A fortunate turn of events brought Pimentel to the Cubs organization this winter. After being frustrated with his career stalling out at Double-A for the past three seasons, Pimentel decided to opt for seven-year minor league free agency rather than resigning with the Rangers this off-season.

The 24-year old went to the Dominican this past winter and was virtually untouchable for Escogido. Pimentel went 5-0 with a 1.67 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP that included 32 strikeouts in 37.2 innings (seven starts, 11 appearances). For his efforts, Pimentel was named Dominican Pitcher of the Winter. 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. Pimentel appears to be ticketed for the rotation for Triple-A Iowa to begin 2014.

Armando Rivero, RHP

The phrase ‘lightning in a bottle’ might best describe relief pitcher Armando Rivero, and the Cubs hope to uncork that energy soon.

Officially signed by the Cubs on March 18, 2013, the Cuban national was the closer for Industriales in Havana, the same team that current Cubs minor-leaguer Gerardo Concepcion pitched for. There was some question as to Rivero’s age, but when his age was officially reported at 25, he was no longer subject to the international bonus pool.

Rivero reported to extended spring training and was sent to Low-A Kane County when camp broke. After having more than a year off from pitching to establish residency in Haiti, Rivero was given a bit of a baptism with the Cougars as he had a 5.40 ERA with a 1.53 WHIP that included 28 strikeouts in 18.1 innings over 11 games. Rivero showed improvement in his next two stops in the system. Rivero posted a 2.70 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP (five strikeouts in 3.1 innings) for Daytona. Rivero ended the season with Tennessee and appeared in six games while striking out 12 batters in 8.1 innings and putting up a 2.08 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. Following the season, Rivero headed to the Arizona Fall League to make up for some of the innings he missed. Baseball’s top prospects battered Rivero a little as he posted a 4.91 ERA and a 1.73 WHIP in 11 appearances with a 0-1 record (nine strikeouts in 11 innings).

Most reports say that Rivero’s bread-and-butter pitch is a two-seam fastball that is in the low-90s and tops out at 96 MPH with late drop. He needs to work on his secondary pitches, but his repertoire includes a slider and a curve. While it is early in camp, Rivero has impressed coaches, front office personnel, and the beat writers.

Brian Schlitter, RHP

While some may call Brian Schlitter a survivor, it is actually his persistence that has placed him in position to compete for a spot on the Major League roster.

Schlitter was originally selected by the Phillies in the 16th round of the 2007 draft. Schlitter spent nearly two full seasons in the Phillies organization before being acquired as the PTBNL for LHP Scott Eyre. Schlitter finished the 2008 season with Daytona and was a combined 4-5 with nine saves (2.21 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 67 strikeouts in 57 innings). Schlitter was then assigned to Tennessee for the 2009 season and went 1-7 with 22 saves and a 4.38 ERA with a 1.40 WHIP (51 strikeouts in 61.2 innings). Moving up to Iowa in 2010, Schlitter was 2-1 with a 3.15 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP that included 42 strikeouts and 13 saves in 45 innings. Schlitter also spent about a month with the parent club in 2010, pitching eight innings in seven appearances (0-1 with a 12.38 ERA).

In early August of 2010, the Cubs placed Schlitter on the disabled list with a shoulder injury. After the season, Schlitter was placed on waivers and claimed by the Yankees, who then cut him in February 2011. The Phillies then claimed him off of waivers, but the commissioner’s office returned Schlitter to the Cubs because of a past elbow injury. Schlitter spent all of the 2011 season on the shelf and returned Daytona to start the 2012 season. Schlitter split time between Daytona and Tennessee and went a combined 3-5 with a 2.61 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 63 strikeouts, and eight saves in 68 innings.

Schlitter returned to Tennessee to begin the 2013 season, but was promoted to Iowa at the end of May. Between the two clubs, Schlitter was a combined 1-6 with a 2.42 ERA, 1.216 WHIP, 58 strikeouts, and 22 saves in 63.1 innings. The 28 year old (December 21) looks the part of a classic closer at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds. Scouting reports have Schlitter with an upper 90s moving fastball and quality change-up, along with a so-so slider.

Tim Saunders, IF/OF

Beating the odds has been something Tim Saunders has been doing for quite some time. This coming season, the odds seem even higher for a player that many feel is the fastest in the entire organization.

Selected in the 32nd round of the 2012 draft, Saunders compiled an impressive résumé while attending Division III Marietta College in Ohio. As a senior, Saunders hit .441 while leading Division III in hits (94) and runs (80) while also swiping 41 bases. What brought Saunders’ final grade down were varying opinions on his defense. Some scouts were reporting him being a plus-defender with a plus-arm, while others didn’t feel he could handle the shortstop position.

After signing with the Cubs, Saunders took the Arizona Rookie League by storm. In 17 games with the AZL Cubs, Saunders hit .493/.532/.690 with three home runs, 17 RBI, and five stolen bases while lining up at shortstop, third base, second base, and centerfield. When the Daytona shortstop Arismendy Alcantara went on the disabled list, Saunders was moved up to High-A ball to play with the D-Cubs. He ended up hitting .310/.362/.381 with four stolen bases and four RBI in 12 games with Daytona while seeing action primarily at shortstop. However, Saunders was then flipped with 2011 first round draft pick Javier Baez and moved down to Low-A Peoria. In 20 games with the Chiefs, Saunders hit .321/.380/.481 with five doubles, two home runs, 12 RBI, and eight stolen bases while splitting time between shortstop and third base. Saunders’ final line was .381/.431/.536/.967 with five home runs, 33 RBI, and 17 stolen bases in 49 games.

Saunders and Baez would cross paths again in 2013, and some feel that it may have cost Saunders the season and put his career in jeopardy. Both players were assigned to Daytona to begin the season, but Baez drew the assignment at shortstop. With 2012 Northwest League batting champion Stephen Bruno at second base, Saunders opened the season at third base. But in the fifth game of the season, Saunders started in centerfield and was replaced after two at bats with an injury that landed him on the disabled list for 11 days. When Saunders returned, Bruno was dealing with injuries and he moved into the second base position. However, things were not right with Saunders as he struggled to hit .214 in April and .159 in May. In June, Saunders looked to be getting back to his old self as he hit .307 with a home run, 15 RBI, and six stolen bases. But his season would come to a crashing halt after the Fourth of July as Saunders spent the rest of the season on the DL and had elbow surgery. Sanders scrapped to hit .226 for the season with three home runs, 27 RBI, and 21 stolen bases, essentially with one arm.

When he is physically fit, the 23-year old is a talented hitter that has a good on-base percentage (.369 for his career) and practically ‘steal at will’ ability on the basepaths (38 steals in 44 attempts in only 111 games). While initially shaky in the field, Saunders improved to respectable fielding averages of .967 at shortstop, .950 at third base, and .984 at second base. It is not clear where Saunders will land in 2014. Double-A Tennessee has needs in the middle infield and in the outfield, but Saunders only has a combined 415 at bats in the past two seasons. If Saunders is to return to Daytona, he may have to compete with the likes of Gioskar Amaya, Jeimer Candelario, Marco Hernandez, and Giuseppe Papaccio for playing time. It may be Saunders’ game-changing speed that makes the final determination.

Attention CCO Readers

The Down on the Farm preliminary reader’s poll is entering its final week of preliminary voting. Please post the names of the minor league players you would like the Down on the Farm Report to follow next season. The CCO will then take the top 20 names to run in a special poll for the final month of preseason. The CCO will then track the progress of the top 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 eventually be chosen. The number of players nominated stands at 68, with outfielder Jacob Hannemann and pitchers C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson tied for the lead in the fan vote. 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).

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  • Richard Hood

    I loved Saunders last year at this time and still do. I think he is going to end up in Chicago. I never thought he was going to be a star or even a starter but a guy that just flat out hit and could play any position on the field other than catcher has big value. Lets see what he does with a healthy year this year before we totally write him off as a non-prospect.

  • Tony_H

    Talk about hitting it out of the park!

    All 5 guys are that under the radar player who can make the majors with the Cubs in the next few years, if not even this year. The top 3 show how some of those signings that don’t get the headlines can still be very good for an organizations system. These players can still have major league careers, even though at some point someone told them they would never make it.

    • Tom U

      Thank you Tony!

    • Zonk

      I concur, nice article. It’s a good example of scrapping for every possible advantage. If just one of these guys works out, it will be found money, since the investments were pretty much nil.

  • Tony_H

    The Dodgers are in need of a 2B, since their 27 year old Cuban signing, Alex Guerrero is not major league ready (even with a 4 year $28M deal this winter). It is said that Guerrero will need extensive time at AAA to refine his skills at 2B and regain his timing at the plate.

    http://insider.espn.go.com/blog/the-gms-office/post?id=9009

    They have some internal solutions in Dee Gordan, Chone Figgins, Justin Turner, and Brendan Harris, but none that fit on a team thinking World Series. Of the external options, Darwin Barney is said to be the best fit, by Jim Bowden, though that is not where he would place his bet on what the Dodgers will do. Barney’s gold glove defense will help their up the middle defense and their offense is good enough to keep his bat in the 8 hole. The cost is said to be a SP in return which the Dodgers have depth in minors to be able to afford.

    I don’t know when Barney will be traded, but it is likely by the trade deadline, if not sooner.

    • Zonk

      Hey, what do you expect for only $28 mil? Seriously, not just him but apparently reports on Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, the $12 mil (originally $48mil) Phillies signing out of Cuba are very, very bad….like it’s a mistake already. Not to mention the $6mil-ish we gave to Concepcion. Be very wary of these Cuban guys, the prices are way inflated, which is also why it seems like every baseball player in Cuba is trying to defect right now

    • Zonk

      PS: Which also makes the 9-year, $30 mil contract we gave Soler look pretty good so far

    • mutantbeast

      Josh Beckett, anyone? If hes healthy hed be worth a flyer on.

  • mutantbeast

    Isnt Saunders the one his college coach called the “steal of the draft” when the Cubs took him in the 32nd round?

    • Tom U

      I believe so.

    • Tony_H

      Yes

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  • SuzyS

    Thanks Tom, another stellar piece on our minor leaguers!!!
    Just for kicks…why not add Ryan Searle to your list of minor leaguers to follow. Thanks again!

  • paulcatanese

    They were holding the story on Buckner for a few weeks.
    I wish him well in his next endeavor and hopefully there is no
    hidden agenda or reason behind his removing himself as hitting coach for Boise. He would and is a nice guy to have around, his knowledge of hitting is needed.