Minor League Preview: Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa
Good Morning to everyone at the CCO! Today is the last of a three part installment previewing the 2013 minor league season. We will be discussing each level’s strengths, weaknesses, and things to look for. Please note that the previews are based on current roster assignments and anticipated Spring Training success. All assignments, both as to position and level, are subject to change pending the completion of Spring Training.
In the first part of this series, the CCO took an overall look at the system, with three areas to keep an eye on this year, as well at the Rookie level and the Boise Hawks. The second part focused on the teams in A-ball, the Kane County Cougars and Daytona Cubs. The series wraps up with the upper levels of the Cubs’ minor league system.
Double-A – Tennessee Smokies
Feeling the squeeze from both of the teams on top and below, the fans in eastern Tennessee may benefit from the consolidation of talent.
Outfield – What the Smokies’ outfielders may lack in run producing ability, they will more than make up for with speed and athletic ability. Leading the way will be two of the best athletes in the system, Jae-Hoon Ha and Matt Szczur. In most organizations, a player like Ha would be looking at a year-long assignment at Triple-A to add some final polish to his game. But Ha always seems to take a back seat to the flavor-of-the-month prospect in the system. Despite having to deal with some nagging injuries (including one suffered from running into a concrete wall), the 22-year old hit .273/.352/.385 with six home runs, 11 stolen bases, 47 RBI and a .737 OPS. Due to a contract foul-up, Szczur was promoted from High-A Daytona to accelerate his development despite only hitting .295/.394/.407/.801 in 78 games. The 23-year old struggled with the jump (.210/.285/.357), and ended up hitting a combined .267/.360/.390 with four home runs, 40 RBI and 42 stolen bases. Just a hair below those two athletically is Rubi Silva. Blessed with the best outfield throwing arm in the system, the 23-year old Cuban national never hit below .300 in 111 games at Daytona last season. After getting an overdue promotion to Tennessee toward the end of the year, the lefty wound lead the entire minor league organization with a .296 combined batting average, along with five home runs, ten stolen bases, 74 RBI, and .727 OPS. Battling for playing time will be 22-year old John Andreoli. The Cubs selected Andreoli in the 17th round of the 2011 draft and he seemingly came out of nowhere last season to lead the entire organization with 55 stolen bases, along with a .289 batting average and a .402 on-base percentage. While some may criticize his one home run and 23 RBI, Andreoli spent most of his time either batting second or leading-off. Supplying the thump should be left-hander Nelson Perez. The 25-year old slow developing prospect split playing time between Daytona and Tennessee last season. Perez hit .254/.349/.464/.814 with 16 home runs, 63 RBI and nine stolen bases. The wild card is off-season free agent acquisition Johermyn Chavez. At 24 years old, it seems as if Chavez has seen better days, posting averages of .216 and .242 the past two years at the Double-A level. The big right-hander received a non-roster invite to Major League camp in Spring Training and displayed a nice throwing arm in the outfield. Chavez hit 32 home runs at the High-A level in 2010, but has added only 23 taters since then.
Bullpen – With both consolidation and the repurposing of some pitchers, there should be a lot of options for Tennessee management this season. First in line for the closer role will be 2011 fourth round draft pick Tony Zych. At 22 years old, the right hander seems to be teetering on the edge of greatness. Zych pitched for both Daytona and Tennessee last season, and combined for a 3.67 ERA, six saves, and a 5-4 record. He still has a lot to learn, but his 64 strikeouts in 61.1 innings and a 1.26 WHIP are a good starting point. Vying with Zych should be former starter Trey McNutt. A lot of tarnish has gathered on this once sparkling prospect after dealing with injuries for the past two seasons, and the organization hopes a move to the pen will be just the thing to turn the tables. Between starting and relieving last season, the burly 23-year old was 9-8 with a 4.26 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP with 66 strikeouts in 95 innings. Should either of those two falter, 23-year old Ryan Searle picked up some valuable experience as a closer in the Australian Baseball League this winter. As a swingman, Searle was 8-5 with 70 strikeouts in 90.2 innings (3.87 ERA and 1.35 WHIP) last season in stops in Daytona, Tennessee, and Triple-A Iowa. Other arms from the right side are Lendy Castillo, Scott Weismann, and the newly signed Armando Rivero. A Rule 5 selection, Lendy Castillo suffered the fate that goes with that designation, as he was lit up by Major League hitters for a 7.88 ERA in 16 innings. Now he’s back in the minors and will be able to develop at a slower pace. Weismann is more of a classic set-up man, as the 23-year old swallowed up 58.2 innings over three levels … Peoria, Daytona, and Tennessee. He had a combine 4.91 ERA and 52 strikeouts to go along with a 1.31 WHIP. In order to get some innings, Rivero will most likely start some games, but his experience has been as a closer in Cuba. Jason McLeod recently said the plan, for now, is for Rivero to be stretched out and used as a starter this season once he is ready to compete in minor league games. Rivero is projected as a reliever, and if he is used as a starter this year it would only be as a way to increase his innings. The 25-year old has a high 90s two-seam fastball, as well as a slider and curve. Also looming about is Eduardo Figueroa. The 24-year old has carved out a niche as a valuable spot-starter/long reliever, posting a 2.90 ERA with a 1.16 WHIP with Daytona last season while striking out 59 batters in 77.2 innings.
Options from the left-side are not as plentiful but are just as intriguing, beginning with Jeffry Antigua. It doesn’t seems as if the organization is quite sure what they want to do with the 22- year old, as he has been a starter in nearly half the games he has pitched in during his career. Last season, Antigua spent time with both the Smokies and Chiefs. Between the two, he posted a 3-4 record with a 3.22 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP that included 78 strikeouts in 81 innings. Returning for another season should be 24-year old Casey Harman. Like Antigua, Harman also has starting experience, but was mainly used in the bullpen last season. Harman went 1-4 in 34 games, two starts, for the D-Cubs with a 4.88 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP (43 strikeouts in 55.1 innings). If he can keep himself in one piece, Zac Rosscup can be a promising young pitcher. The 24-year old has had various injuries over his four year career, but had a 3.45 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP to go along with a 2-1 record in 17 appearances in three stops in the Cubs’ system last year. Rosscup struck out 45 batters in 31.1 innings on the comeback trail last season. Also available will be 25- year old Jeffrey Lorick. Another pitcher coming back from injuries, Lorick registered eight saves along with a 3.34 ERA and 2-4 record between Peoria and Daytona last season with 66 strikeouts in 56.2 innings.
Second Base – As of right now, it appears as if the position will be contested for by a couple of system players, Dustin Harrington and Elliot Soto. Drafted in 2010, the 24-year old Harrington can play second, third, and short and hit .213/.235/.300/.535 with nine RBI in 68 games between Daytona and Tennessee. Soto opened 2012 as the Smokies’ starting shortstop, and the 23-year old hit .221/.307/.285/.592 with 16 RBI in 91 games, mainly with Tennessee. Because of the options available, you may see Rubi Silva spend a lot of time at second base. There are some that feel the second will be Silva’s best position, as he fielded .961 in 28 games there last season. Another option could be Tim Torres. The 29-year old switch-hitter has spent most of his time playing the outfield the past few seasons, but has fielded .973 at second over his career. Torres hit .226/.331/.322/.653 with three home runs, 23 RBI, and 14 stolen bases with Double-A Tulsa (Colorado) last season. If you think Torres may be too old, remember that the Cubs brought in veteran catchers Juan Apodaca and Brian Esposito last season when holes appeared at that position in the minors.
Catching – The concern at this position isn’t necessarily talent, but uncertainty. The prime candidate for the starting catcher’s job is Rafael Lopez. The 25-year old left-hander has always been considered a good defensive catcher, with a career fielding percentage of .982 and a 29 percent caught stealing rate. What has been surprising has been his offense, as he has a .297 career batting average, with eight home runs and 67 RBI in two seasons. However, Lopez was limited to only 70 games last season after suffering a concussion. Trying to make a comeback is 2008 seventh round draft pick Luis Flores. The 26-year old was flying high in 2011, hitting .275 for Tennessee with seven home runs and 20 RBI in 40 games before being hit with a 50 game suspension for using PEDs. Flores returned from the doghouse in 2012, but after hitting .167 in 26 games, he retired. Now, he’s back in minor league camp and trying to see whether he can recapture some of that offensive magic now that he is off the juice. The Cubs also signed Jair Fernandez in the off-season. The 26-year old has bounced from Seattle, to Minnesota, to the Houston systems, spending only 32 games at the Triple-A level in his nine minor league seasons. Fernandez hit .269/.341/.419/.761 with six homers and 29 RBI in 56 games at Double-A Corpus Christi last year. Like Lopez, Fernandez is a good defender, throwing out 39 percent of all baserunners and fielding at a .986 clip.
What to Watch for
Pitching – The starting rotation for the Smokies will probably have something old, something new, and something uncertain. The pitchers that look most likely to return from last year’s staff are lefties Eric Jokisch and Austin Kirk. Despite not having overpowering stuff, Jokisch posted more than a 2:1 strikeout ratio and a 1.13 WHIP in 18 starts at Tennessee last season. Overall, the 23-year old was 10-6 with a 3.11 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP that included 115 strikeouts in 159.1 innings. The 22-year old Kirk is more of a power pitcher, receiving an overdue late season call-up to Tennessee last year. In 152.2 innings between Daytona and Tennessee, Kirk was 9-3 with a 3.12 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP (91 strikeouts). Joining them should be a pair of right-handers, Matt Loosen and Robert Whitenack. Loosen, who will be 24 years old shortly after Opening Day, is one of the best strikeout pitchers in the organization. He fanned 110 in 112.2 innings at Daytona, while posting an 11-5 record and a 1.15 WHIP. The 24-year old Whitenack was one of the most promising young pitchers in the organization before Tommy John surgery in 2011. He still looked a long way from returning to his previous form in Spring Training. Whitenack was 1-6 with a 5.96 ERA and a 1.89 WHIP that included 31 strikeouts in 51 innings for Daytona last season. The fifth starter is a bit of a mystery, with holdover Dae-Eun Rhee as the prime candidate. After a 2011 in which Rhee struck out 117 batters, the 24-year old remains somewhat of an enigma. In 26 starts for the Smokies last season, Rhee went 9-8 with a 4.81 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP, striking only 79 in 142.1 innings. Rhee also struggled in the Arizona Fall League, posting a 6.27 ERA in six starts. The Cubs also signed free agent Yeiper Castillo from the Boston organization. The 24-year old right-hander has never pitched above the High-A level, and was 3-4 with a 3.17 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP that included 49 strikeouts in eleven starts for Salem last season. Newly signed Cuban national Armando Rivero may get some reps here, while a numbers crunch at Triple-A Iowa may cause a few pitchers to be temporarily assigned to Tennessee.
Infield – Despite the hole at second base, the infield for Tennessee looks almost as promising as the ones at High-A Daytona and Low-A Kane County. One player who may be disappointed in all of this could be first baseman Justin Bour. After having a season in which a player leads the league with 110 RBI, to go along with 17 home runs and a .283/.360/.455 slash line with a .815, a promotion to Triple-A should be in line. However, Bour will probably remain in Tennessee until the organization is comfortable with him being a call away from the big leagues. With a sizzling Spring Training, there is a lot of anticipation surrounding third baseman Christian Villanueva. Acquired from the Texas Rangers in exchange for pitcher Ryan Dempster, the 21-year old Villanueva dazzled observers with his Major League ready defense in Spring Training. Between the Rangers and Cubs organizations last season, Villanueva hit .279/.353/.427/.780 with 14 home runs, 68 RBI and 14 stolen bases. Shortstop should be home for switch-hitting Arismendy Alcantara. The 21-year old was on his way to an MVP-type of season with Daytona when a leg injury shelved him for the last month and a half. Alcantara hit .302/.339/.447/.786 with seven home runs, 51 RBI, and 25 stolen bases in 85 games. He showed no ill effects during his play in the Dominican League with winter, but he’ll have to improve on his 30 errors and .903 fielding percentage. Back-ups include the previously mentioned Harrington, Soto, and Silva up the middle. The back-up for first base is a little dicier, with Andreoli, Lopez, and Torres having some sparse experience at the position.
Triple-A – Iowa Cubs
Due to the uncertainty of final spring training cuts, the make-up of Iowa’s roster is difficult to predict. Therefore, this section will concentrate on the prospects in each area.
Bullpen – Although right-hand dominant, the pen for the I-Cubs looks like it will hold the most Major League ready prospects. Starting with the closer position, there will be a close contest between Frank Batista and Jaye Chapman. The soon-to-be 24-year old Batista has been the leader in saves for the minor league system for the past two seasons, amassing 50 saves over that period. He has also steadily decreased his ERA over that period, down to 2.22 with a 1.120 WHIP at Tennessee last season. He’s not a huge strikeout pitcher (39 in 52.2 innings), he just knows how to get batters out. Acquired from Atlanta in the Paul Maholm-Reed Johnson deal, the 25-year old Chapman has never been a designated closer in his minor league career, but the front office believes he has that ability. Chapman is more of a strikeout pitcher, fanning 60 in 53.2 innings at Triple-A Gwinnett last year, along with a 3.52 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. If those two falter, either Rafael Dolis or Brian Schlitter will be ready to step in. After making the big league club and picking up four saves early, the 25-year old Dolis struggled and ended up with a 6.39 ERA and 1.66 WHIP to go with a 2-4 record. Dolis will have to work on secondary pitches to offset his heavy, sinking fastball. The pride of Maine South High School in Park Ridge, IL, Schlitter lost all of the 2011 season to injury after racking up 48 career saves in the previous four seasons. Making a comeback last season, the 27-year old spent time at both Daytona and Tennessee, where he was a combined 3-5 with a 2.61 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP that included eight saves and 63 strikeouts in 69 innings.
The competition for the set-up role begins with 24-year old Kevin Rhoderick. There are many who think the Rhoderick has closer stuff, although he has not been used in that role throughout his career. Battling blister issues last season, he was 2-8 with a 4.99 ERA and a 1.67 WHIP in 57.2 innings. Challenging Rhoderick will be 25-year old Marcus Hatley and 27-year old Blake Parker. The 6-foot-5, 220 pound Hatley, who pops up now and again on top prospect lists, was a combined 4-1 with a 4.62 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP that included 64 strikeouts in 60.1 innings between Tennessee and Iowa. Parker actually pitched in seven games for Chicago before injuries sidelined him in 2012. No stranger to Des Moines after being part of the I-Cubs over the past four seasons, Parker has 59 saves over his six year minor league career. Parker was 1-1 with a 3.42 ERA, a 0.93 WHIP and six saves in 21 games last season.
Long relief looks like it will be the domain of Casey Coleman, Ty’relle Harris, and Esmailin Caridad and Jay Jackson. While is seems as though he has been around forever, Coleman is just 25 years old and is making the conversion to reliever after five years as a starter. For Iowa last season Coleman posted a 4.34 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP to go along with a 2-4 record and 52 strikeouts. Going the opposite way last season was the 26-year old Harris. Coming back from serious injuries suffered in a hit-and-run automobile accident, Harris was pressed into service as a starter for Iowa last season. He fared okay, going 2-3 with a 4.88 ERA in five starts, with an overall ERA of 3.84 and 1.39 WHIP in 82 innings. Battling injuries for several years, Caridad seemed to finally have things back together after a successful campaign with Caribbean World Series champion Mexico. Now at 29 years old, Caridad had a decent 2012, going 1-4 with a 3.03 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP, with 65 strikeouts in 65.1 innings. Jackson has been a bit of an enigma since injuring himself in 2011. At 25 years old, Jackson is looking at his fifth turn with the I-Cubs. Used as a starter to begin 2012, he was moved back into the bullpen after failing to maintain his stamina as his pitch count increased. For the year, Jackson was 3-7 with a 6.57 ERA, 1.71 WHIP, and 76 strikeouts.
Second Base – One of the most promising prospects that may be ready to touch the big leagues is 2012 Minor League Player of the Year Logan Watkins. The 23-year old left-hander brings gold glove caliber defense to the position, and is a way above average defender at both shortstop and centerfield. Watkins won his award by hitting .281/.383/.422/.805 with nine home runs, 52 RBI, and 28 stolen bases at Double-A Tennessee … and the home run and stolen base totals represent career highs. Backing him up will be jack-of-all-trades Jonathan Mota. Mota is another player that seems to have been around for as long as people can remember, but is only 25 years old. Capable of playing every position on the diamond, including pitcher and catcher, Mota will probably say “no thank you” to any suggestions that he take the mound again after he suffered an arm injury while pitching in garbage time last year. For the year, Mota hit .280/.333/.533/.867 with four homers and 15 RBI in 28 games between Tennessee and Iowa.
First Base – The Spring Training shoulder injury of Junior Lake may cause a ripple effect that touched this position. Lake was supposed to log a lot of time in the outfield, but with him gone, most likely opening day first baseman Greg Rohan will now see more time in the outfield. This has thrown a lifeline to 30-year old Brad Nelson. While some liken Nelson to the Cubs’ first baseman last season, Bryan LaHair, Nelson has been nowhere as successful in his minor league career as LaHair. Primarily a designated hitter in 2012, Nelson played 54 games at first base and hit .279/.364/.488/.882 with 24 home runs and 81 RBI at Triple-A Round Rock (Texas) last season. Backing Nelson will be Rohan and Josh Vitters, and possibly veteran Edwin Maysonet.
Catching – If management was aiming to have a group of catchers that handled a pitching staff well, they hit their mark. As for offensive production, well, that’s another story. The front office went out and got J.C. Boscan from the Atlanta organization solely to work with the pitchers and catchers in the system. The 32-year old is the owner of a career .990 fielding percentage and 34 percent caught stealing rate. However, Boscan hit only .189 in 70 games for Triple-A Gwinnett, and has a career batting average of only .222. Another fine receiver could also split time with Boscan, 26-year old Michael Brenly. Like Boscan, Brenly is great defensively, fielding at a .995 career rate and wiping out 28 percent of all baserunners. Last season Brenly batted .227 with six homers and 28 RBI for Tennessee. Filling the important role of system catcher should be 25- year old Chad Noble. As a system catcher, Noble will be traveling up and down throughout the minor league, plugging any gaps that occur due to injury. Between Daytona and Tennessee last season, Noble hit .170 with 25 RBI in 68 games. In the same vein as Boscan and Brenly, Noble makes his living controlling things behind the plate, throwing out 29 percent of all base stealers and fielding .991.
When Spring Training began, multiple reports had Steve Clevenger beginning the year as the I-Cubs starting catcher. With Ian Stewart on the shelf, Clevenger is still in big league camp fighting for a job on the Cubs’ active roster. If Clevenger is optioned down, which is still expected, the catching corps will be adjusted throughout the system.
What to Watch for
Pitching – While the make-up of the rotation will be effected on which veterans fail to make the final Spring Training cut, the focus of this preview are players heading upward in the system. The rotation should begin with 2012 Minor League Pitcher of the Year Nick Struck. This won’t be his first time in Des Moines, pitching 12 games for the I-Cubs in 2011. With Tennessee in 2012, the 23 year old led the system with 123 strikeouts and had a 1.18 WHIP to go along with a 14-10 record and 3.18 ERA. Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley are a pair of lefties that saw action with the parent club last season. The 26-year old Rusin was one of the last cuts in Spring Training, and figures to be on the fast track to return to the show this season. On a bad Iowa Cubs team last season, Rusin was 8-9 with a 4.55 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP that included 94 strikeouts in 25 starts. Raley is 24 years old and made 14 starts for Iowa last season, going 4-8 with a 3.62 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP (69 strikeouts in 82 innings). Splitting up the lefties should be Barret Loux. Coming over from the Texas Rangers organization, the soon-to-be 24 year old was sent due to a snafu with the medical reports on RHP Jacob Brigham, who was traded for Geovany Soto. A medical question mark himself, Loux quelled some of those concerns by going 14-1 and striking out 100 at Double-A Frisco while posting a 3.47 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. Rounding out the starting five should be 24-year old Alberto Cabrera. Back to starting after a stint as a closer, Cabrera is a pitcher that tantalizes with his stuff but has yet to find a way of using it productively. While his numbers at Tennessee don’t look too bad … 2-0 with a 2.52 ERA, 1.121 WHIP, five saves, and 45 strikeouts in 35.2 innings … he infuriated teammates by consistently allowing inherited runners to score, then skating out of the game with little damage to his own numbers. Where this puts 23-year old Dallas Beeler is unclear. Beeler repeated at Tennessee last season, going 6-7 with a 4.24 ERA, 64 strikeouts, and 1.57 WHIP. However, he was placed on Iowa’s roster at the end of the season, and seems to be in limbo between Double and Triple-A. Someone who can also figure into the rotation may be 28-year old Yoanner Negrin. Last season, the Cuban national was loaned to the Mexican League, only to be recalled when the system ran short of starting pitchers in the final weeks. With stops in both Tennessee and Iowa, Negrin was 8-7 with a 3.05 ERA and 91 strikeouts, including his time in Mexico. The biggest question mark is Arodys Vizcaino. The 22-year old has not thrown a pitch in a Spring Training game as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery. Vizcaino is expected to be back sometime this year. Just when and in what capacity remains uncertain.
Outfield – As stated above, the injury to Junior Lake certainly alters the make-up of this area. Although he’s played most of his career at shortstop, and received the bulk of his playing time at third base this spring, the 23-year old spent a lot of time in the outfield in the Dominican Republic this winter. With third base occupied, Lake would have seen the bulk of his at bats while lining up in the outfield. Lake also started last season on the disabled list with a bad back, but went on to play 103 games for Tennessee, hitting .279 with ten home runs, 50 RBI, and 21 stolen bases. However, a .341/.432./773 line isn’t all that impressive for someone with Lake’s offensive talent. With a rebuilt swing, Brett Jackson hopes to put a .256, 15 home run, 47 RBI season at Iowa last year behind him. As he makes a push to join the parent club, two things that the 24-year old has always had is defense and speed … stealing 27 bases last year. With Lake on the mend, it looks as if Greg Rohan will spend more time in the outfield. Twenty-seven years old in May, Rohan languished in the system under the old regime until he was set free by a management shake-up late last season. The big right-hander led the entire minor league system with a combined 21 home runs and was second in RBI with 106. Seeing time at Daytona, Tennessee, and Iowa, Rohan was .282 overall with a .349 on-base percentage, a .491 slugging percentage and .839 OPS while also playing third and first base. Lining up in right field should be minor league veteran Ty Wright. At 28 years old, the odds of Wright seeing the big leagues are long, but he still is a useful player. Wright hit .287 with five home runs and 33 RBI in 68 games for Iowa as he battled with injuries. Major League veterans Brian Bogusevic and Darnell McDonald will have to decide whether to accept a minor league assignment or opt for free agency.
Third Base/Shortstop – Coming into this season, it looked as if Josh Vitters, Greg Rohan, and Junior Lake would all see time at third base for Iowa, spending time at first base, the outfield, or DH when they weren’t at third. Lake’s injury cedes third base to Vitters, at least for the time being. The 23-year old former first round pick spent his spring dealing with a quad injury, losing some valuable time to help improve on his .121, two home run, five RBI showing in 36 Major League games last season. At Iowa, Vitters lit things up batting .304 with 17 homers, 68 RBI, a .513 slugging average, and .869 OPS. Beyond an occasional turn by either Logan Watkins or Jonathan Mota at short, the position is up in the air. The Cubs signed Major League veterans Edwin Maysonet and Alberto Gonzalez, and both players figure to be in the mix. A waiver acquisition after final roster cuts could also end up here.
The I-Cubs’ Opening Day roster is starting to come into focus. When the front office decides where players such as Steve Clevenger, Alberto Gonzalez, Cory Wade, Zach Putnam and Hisanori Takahashi begin the season, it will have a ripple effect throughout the system.
- Minor League Preview: Rookie and Short Season-A Ball
- Minor League Preview: Low-A Kane County and High-A Daytona
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