Cubs Down on the Farm Report – 04/07/14

Welcome everyone to a new minor league season. Jacob Hannemann, Pin-Chieh Chen and Gioskar Amaya have started the season hot at the plate, while Tyler Skulina, Daury Torrez and Tayler Scott have sparkled on the mound.

PrintAlbert Almora ended his 0-for start to the season in a big way on Saturday night. Almora went 5-for-6 with three RBI and two runs scored as part of Daytona’s 21-hit attack.

Javier Baez was ejected from Saturday night’s game and sat out the start of Sunday’s contest against the Redbirds. Marty Pevey used Baez as a pinch-hitter for Eric Jokisch in the seventh and Baez tied the game with his first Triple-A home run. Josh Vitters is off to a good start as Iowa earned their first victory of the season on Sunday afternoon. Vitters is hitting .375/.375/.688 after four games with two doubles, one home run and a 1.063 OPS.

But the Smokies are off to a slow start on the young season after running into the Blue Wahoos pitching staff in Pensacola.

A special shout out to my big brother Mike. Happy Birthday Oosh!

Low Class-A – Kane County Cougars (2-2)

Kane County posted their first winning record as a Cubs’ affiliate by beating Quad Cities in their opener 8-4 on Thursday. Jacob Hannemann (2-for-5) started the season off right with an infield single and moved to second on a passed ball. A sacrifice fly from Danny Lockhart (0-for-3 with a RBI) sent Hannemann to third, and a walk by Ben Carhart (1-for-2 with a RBI) put runners on the corners. Clean-up man Yasiel Balaguert (4-for-5 with three doubles and two RBI) hit the first of his three doubles that plated Hannemann. And Carhart scored on a ground out by Jacob Rogers (0-for-4 with a RBI). The Cougars would go on to score three more in the second, and one each in the fourth, seventh, and ninth innings. Shortstop Carlos Penalver was in the thick of the action. Penalver went 3-for-3 with two stolen bases and a flashy defensive play in the first.

Starter Paul Blackburn must have been experiencing either the 40 degree temperatures or opening night jitters. Blackburn put together an uncharacteristic outing in which he allowed four earned runs in four innings while striking out three batters. Lefty Nathan Dorris gave up only a walk and a hit, but struck out two as he tossed two scoreless innings for the win. James Pugliese followed and also surrendered a hit and a walk, but had three strikeouts as he also held the Bandits without a run. A run in the ninth spoiled a save opportunity for Jose Arias. Arias picked up two strikeouts in a scoreless ninth.

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Cold and damp conditions postponed Friday night’s contest and forced a doubleheader on Saturday. Tyler Skulina pitched a gem in game one but his effort was spoiled by the bullpen as the Cougars lost 2-1 to Quad Cities. Skulina allowed only two hits through six scoreless innings, while striking out two batters. Zach Godley had a rough outing in his Single-A debut. Godley nearly gave up a home run to the first batter he faced. The hit was ruled a double, but first-time catcher Ben Carhart (1-for-3 with a double) could not corral a rather wild Godley as he went on to strikeout a batter, walk two, and uncork a wild pitch that allowed the tying run to score. Godley was replaced by Tyler Bremer. And Bremer surrendered a walk-off single.  The only run for Kane County came in the fourth after Danny Lockhart (0-for-3) reached on an error and ended up on second base. A ground out by Carhart moved Lockhart to third and he scored on a single by Jacob Rogers (1-for-3 with a RBI).

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Game two saw Kane County jumped out to an early lead in game two, but ended up needing extra innings to defeat Quad Cities 5-4. Jacob Hannemann (2-for-5 with a home run and two stolen bases) led off the game with his first home run of the season, while Danny Canela (1-for-5 with a home run) led off the second inning with his first home run as a member of the organization. The Cougars added two more in the fifth after Will Remillard (1-for-4) led off with a single and Carlos Penalver (0-for-4) reached on an error. Danny Lockhart (1-for-4) moved the runners up ninety feet base with a groundout, and both scored on a single by Yasiel Balaguert (1-for-5 with two RBI). But the Cougars allowed the River Bandits to tie the game at four and it would remain tied at four until the tenth inning. Hannemann led off the 10th by reaching on a dropped third strike. A single by Lockhart and a double play off the bat of Balaguert pushed Hannemann to third base. And Jacob Rogers (2-for-5 with a RBI) delivered a single that plated Hannemann with the game winner.

Daury Torrez saw his first extended action in A-ball and put together a good outing. Torrez allowed an earned run and scattered five hits over five innings with four strikeouts. Gerardo Concepcion was very shaky in his first A-ball appearance in two years. Gerardo struck out a batter but was charged with three earned runs in 0.2 innings. While Jose Arias wasn’t charged with any earned runs, he blew the save as he allowed a game-tying single and was only bailed out by Hannemann cutting down a runner at second base. Arias went on to pitch 1.1 innings and strike out a batter. Justin Amlung worked three scoreless innings and struck out two to pick up the win.

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Kane County could not hold off Quad Cities on Sunday and lost the game 7-3 after Scott Frazier was charged with five runs, three earned, in the seventh inning. Juan Carlos Paniagua got the start and settled down after allowing two runs in the first inning. Paniagua ended up pitching four innings and allowing two runs on three hits with four walks and four strikeouts. James Pugliese tossed two scoreless innings.

The Cougars took a 3-2 lead into the seventh. Scott Frazier struggled with his command and two batters into the inning Quad Cities tied the game. Frazier walked two, hit a batter and uncorked a wild pitch before Nathan Dorris replaced him. David Bote committed a throwing error that allowed two runs to score.

All three of Kane County’s runs scored in the fourth inning. Yasiel Balaguert (1-for-4 with a runs scored) singled with one out, back-to-back walks by Jacob Rogers (0-for-3 with a RBI and a run scored) and Danny Canela (1-for-3 with a walk and a runs scored) loaded the bases. Trey Martin (1-for-4 with a RBI) singled in Balaguert. David Bote (1-for-3 with a walk and a RBI) worked a bases loaded walk that plated Rogers. After Carlos Penalver struck out swinging, Jacob Hannemann (0-for-4 with a walk and a RBI) worked another bases loaded walk that forced in Canela with the Cougars’ third run.

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High Class–A – Daytona Cubs (1-2)

It must have been Opening Night jitters, because it wasn’t the 76 degree weather as both teams combined for only nine hits as Daytona lost 1-0 to Brevard County on Thursday. Felix Pena got the opening call for the D-Cubs and went six innings while allowing an earned run on three hits with three strikeouts. Zach Cates followed and struck out two as he tossed a scoreless inning. Arodys Vizcaino then saw his first game action in two seasons and worked out of a minor jam. Vizcaino gave up a hit but did not allow a run in an inning of work. Second baseman Gioskar Amaya had two of Daytona’s five hits as he went 2-for-2 with a walk and a stolen base. Dan Vogelbach (1-for-3 with a walk), Jeimer Candelario (1-for-3 with a walk) and Marco Hernandez (1-for-3) also collected hits.

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Daytona’s offense was having trouble clicking as they came up short against Brevard County on Friday in a 4-3 loss in ten innings. The D-Cubs scored their first run of the season in the third inning after Bijan Rademacher led off with a double, and scored on a double from Pin-Chieh Chen. Daytona then tied the score in the sixth after Gioskar Amaya walked and scored on an error on a ball hit by Albert Almora. Jeimer Candelario walked to load the bases, and Chen scored on a ground out by Rock Shoulders. Jose Rosario was a little rocky in his first two innings as he is trying to work his way back from an injured plagued season. Rosario let in three earned runs before he settled down and struck out five batters in four innings. Another pitcher returning from injury, Michael Jensen, picked up three strikeouts in two scoreless innings. Lefty Andrew McKirahan followed Jensen’s lead and also blanked the Manatees for two innings. Austin Reed surrendered the winning run in the tenth despite striking out three batters in two innings of work.

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The Daytona team that many expected this season finally showed up on Saturday as the D-Cubs pummeled Brevard County 13-2. Tim Saunders took an important step in his recovery as he lined up in the field at shortstop after battling arm problems last season. Saunders ignited the D-Cubs from the leadoff spot and went 3-for-5 with a double, two RBI, and a stolen base. However, Saunders couldn’t overshadow the red-hot starts Pin-Chieh Chen and Gioskar Amaya have had to their seasons. Chen also went 3-for-5 with three doubles and four RBI, while Amaya is now batting .600 after going 3-for-5 on Saturday night. Top prospect Albert Almora also lit up the scoreboard has he was 5-for-6 with three RBI. Both Willson Contreras (2-for-5 with two RBI) and Oliver Zapata (2-for-5) also collected two hits.

With all that offensive firepower, the effort turned in by starter Tayler Scott could easily be overlooked. The South African took a no-hitter into the seventh inning with one out and allowed only two hits with two strikeouts in seven innings. Starling Peralta continued to hold the Manatees scoreless for an inning, but Austin Kirk ran into trouble. Kirk gave up two earned runs on a hit and two walks with two strikeouts in the final inning.

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Double-A – Tennessee Smokies (1-3)

The Smokies squandered a five-run lead on Thursday as Tennessee lost their opener to Pensacola 6-5. Former first round draft pick Kris Bryant (1-for-3 with a home run, two RBI and a stolen base) put Tennessee on the board first by slugging a two-run homer off of rehabbing major leaguer Mat Latos. Tennessee added a run in the second and two in the third, as leadoff hitter Zeke DeVoss went 2-for-5 with a triple and a RBI, while Rafael Lopez (1-for-4 with a RBI) doubled in another run. Starter Dae-Eun Rhee had trouble throwing strikes and his command issues would catch up to him in the third inning. Rhee loaded the bases with a hit and a pair of walks but looked like he was going to escape a big inning. The Smokies could not turn a double play after shortstop Jeudy Valdez dropped Stephen Bruno’s throw. A run scored and the error allowed the inning to continue. Rhee ended up pitching four innings and allowed three runs (two earned) with three strikeouts. Ryan Searle replaced Rhee rung up five batters in three innings, but also gave up an earned run. Clinging to a 5-4 lead, Tony Zych simply could not get the job done. Zych surrendered two earned runs … and the ballgame.

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C.J. Edwards made his Double-A debut on Friday and led the Smokies to their first win of the season as Tennessee out-dueled Pensacola 1-0.  Edwards was in command and blanked the Blue Wahoos for four innings. Edwards threw strikes (63 pitches, 38 strikes) and picked up four strikeouts in his first start of the season. P.J. Francescon ate up some innings and struck out two batters over three shutout innings. Armando Rivero was a little shaky in the ninth, but earned his first save as he went two innings and struck out four batters. The winning margin was provided by Kris Bryant (1-for-4 with a home run) in the seventh inning as he went deep for the second day in a row with his second homer of the season.

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A rain shortened contest on Saturday saw Tennessee manage only two hits as they were shut out 5-0 by Pensacola. Major Leaguer Jake Arrieta took the mound in a rehab start for the Smokies and pitched well. Arrieta struck out three batters in three innings, but Arrieta threw the game away with an errant pick-off attempt that led to an unearned run. Lendy Castillo replaced Arrieta and was not good. Castillo struggled with his command and allowed two earned runs in 0.2 innings. Lefty Hunter Cervenka bailed Castillo out of the inning, but Corey Black also ended up having trouble. Black struck out three in two innings, but also gave up two earned runs on five hits and a walk. While Tennessee faced Major Leaguer Jonathan Broxton for an inning, it was the Wahoos’ Robert Stephenson and Daniel Renken that dominated the Smokies. Stephenson struck out a career-high 11 batters and Renken punched out two more. Rubi Silva (1-for-3) and Charles Cutler (2-for-2 with a double) managed the Smokies only hits.

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Tennessee’s struggles in Pensacola continued on Sunday as the Smokies lost 3-2 to the Blue Wahoos.

Ivan Pineyro made his Double-A debut and took the loss after allowing two runs, one earned, on four hits with three walks and three strikeouts in four innings. It was Pineyro’s error that led to the unearned run. Pineyro threw 72 pitches, 43 for strikes. Jeffrey Lorick kept Pensacola off the board for two innings but Frank Batista struggled and allowed one run on four hits with two strikeouts in four innings.

The Smokies’ offense continued to swing and miss on Sunday. The Blue Wahoos struck out 10 more batters while issuing only two walks. Dustin Geiger (2-for-3 with a home run and a walk) hit is first longball of the season in the ninth that cut Pensacola’s lead in half. Jonathan Mota (2-for-4 with a RBI) drove in the Smokies’ first run in the second inning. Kris Bryant (1-for-4 with a run scored) collected a hit while Zeke DeVoss (1-for-4 with a double) managed the Smokies’ other extra basehit.

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Triple-A – Iowa Cubs (1-3)

Even though the 2014 season held the promise of more prospects at the Triple-A level, Thursday’s debut of the Iowa Cubs turned out to be a familiar story as they were pummeled 10-2 by the Memphis Redbirds. Chris Rusin started the opener for the I-Cubs for the second straight season after narrowly missing the big league roster. Rusin did not appear focused as he surrendered two home runs in the first inning in route to allowing five earned runs in 3.2 innings. Yoanner Negrin stemmed the tide by striking out four in 3.1 scoreless innings. But Casey Coleman was rocked for five runs (four earned) in an inning of work. Coleman would then refuse an assignment to Short-Season A Boise after the game in order to make room on the roster for Alberto Cabrera. Marcus Hatley mopped up in the ninth and recorded two strikeouts. The I-Cubs scored in the third inning and a consolation run in the ninth. Josh Vitters (2-for-4 with a home run) marked his return from an injury-marred 2013 with a solo home run. A ground out by Matt Szczur (0-for-5 with a RBI) drove in Christian Villanueva (2-for-4 with a double) with Iowa’s other run.

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It was more of the same on Friday as the I-Cubs managed only two hits in a 9-0 shellacking by Memphis. Signed as a minor league free agent this off season, starter Carlos Pimentel gave up hits over the first three innings but was able to escape the jams with a pick-off and a double play. But the hits just kept coming and it finally caught up with him. Pimentel gave up four earned runs with six strikeouts in five innings. Major League veteran Jonathan Sanchez replaced Pimentel and was clearly overmatched. Sanchez served up a grand slam and allowed five earned runs in 0.2 innings. Marcos Mateo, Blake Parker, and Zac Rosscup kept the Redbirds off the scoreboard for the remainder of the game, but the damage had already been done. Matt Szczur collected Iowa’s only two hits and stole a base.

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The beatings continued for Iowa on Saturday as they were drubbed by Memphis 11-1. It was actually close early as the I-Cubs tied the score at one in the third after Matt Szczur led off with a walk, stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error. A sacrifice fly by Arismendy Alcantara plated Szczur home. Minor League Pitcher of the Year Kyle Hendricks held the Redbirds to three hits and an unearned run through three innings, but was lit up for six earned runs in the fourth inning and ended up allowing seven runs (six earned) with five strikeouts in 4.2 innings. Alberto Cabrera returned to Iowa’s pen after being designated for assignment and struck out two in 1.1 innings. But Neil Ramirez was also hammered. Ramirez gave up four earned runs while striking out two batters in an inning of work. Marcus Hatley mopped up again and recorded four strikeouts in two scoreless innings.

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Iowa posted their first victory of the season on Sunday with a 4-3 come from behind win over the Redbirds. Eric Jokisch was excellent in his first start of the year. Jokisch allowed two unearned runs on six hits in seven innings. Jokisch struck out three batters and walked one. But Iowa’s defense committed three errors on Sunday that led to two of Memphis’ three runs. Marcos Mateo surrendered a run on three hits in 1.1 innings before Zac Rosscup closed the door and picked up the win.

Arismendy Alcantara (1-for-4 with a double and a run scored) and Matt Szczur (1-for-4 with a walk and a run scored) scored two of the I-Cubs’ four runs while Josh Vitters (3-for-4 with a double and a RBI) stayed hot at the plate. Javier Baez (1-for-2 with a home run) tied the game at two in the seventh with a pinch-hit home run but it was Chris Valaika (2-for-4 with a walk, a RBI and a run scored) that delivered the game winner. Valaika singled in Szczur in the bottom of the ninth.

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News and Notes

The Chicago Cubs assigned RHP Frank Batista to the Tennessee Smokies from extended spring training; outrighted RHP Alberto Cabrera to the Iowa Cubs. The Tennessee Smokies placed OF Anthony Giansanti, OF Jorge Soler, and C Taylor Davis on the 7-day disabled list. The Daytona Cubs placed C Lance Rymel on the 7-day disabled list retroactive to April 3. The Kane County Cougars placed C Cael Brockmeyer on the 7-day disabled list.

The Cubs released veteran outfielders Darnell McDonald and Mitch Meier prior to the start of the minor league season. Darnell McDonald announced his retirement from baseball on Instagram on Saturday.

Top Prospect Watch

  • Arismendy Alcantara (IF) – .231/.214/.462/.676 with three doubles (Iowa Cubs)
  • Albert Almora (OF) – .333/.333/.333/.667 with three RBI (Daytona Cubs)
  • Corey Black (RHP) – . 0-0 with a 9.00 ERA and a 3.00 WHIP, five hits, one walk and three strikeouts in 2 innings (Tennessee Smokies)
  • Paul Blackburn (RHP) – 0-0 with a 9.00 ERA and a 2.25 WHIP, four hits, no walks and three strikeouts in 4 innings (Kane County Cougars)
  • C.J. Edwards (RHP) – 0-0 with a 0.00 ERA and a 0.50 WHIP, one hit, one walk and four strikeouts in 4 innings (Tennessee Smokies)
  • Jacob Hannemann (OF) – .250/.333/.438/.771 with one home run and three stolen bases (Kane County Cougars)
  • Kyle Hendricks (RHP) – 0-1 with a 11.57 ERA and a 1.93 WHIP, seven hits, two walks and five strikeouts in 4.2 innings (Iowa Cubs)
  • Christian Villanueva (IF) – .333/.455/.444/.899 with one double (Iowa Cubs)
  • Dan Vogelbach (1B) – .154/.214/.154/.368 (Daytona Cubs)
  • Rob Zastryzny (LHP) – has not pitched yet (Daytona Cubs) 

Note: Outfielder Eloy Jimenez will start the year in the Dominican Summer League. Outfielder Jacob Hannemann will take his place until the season begins. Outfielder Jorge Soler was placed on the disabled list. Third baseman Christian Villanueva will take his place. Pitcher Pierce Johnson opened the season on the disabled list. Pitcher Paul Blackburn will take his place.

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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Quote of the Day

"Build up your weaknesses until they become your strong points." – Knute Rockne