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 2014 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.
Double-A – Tennessee Smokies
Tennessee has been one of the more successful teams in the Cubs’ chain, always seeming to be in contention for the playoffs. Two years ago, the Smokies made it to the Southern League Championship, and ended up in the playoffs after winning the second half of the season last year. In 2014, Tennessee will benefit from having the 2013 first round pick and a pitching staff that dominated the Florida State League playoffs last season. It should make for an exciting year in the Smokey Mountains.
Infield – Tennessee appears to be set at the corners, but the middle of the infield is another story. The talk is centered on the first rounder, 22-year old Kris Bryant. After a whirlwind of a 2013 in which Bryant was the second overall pick in the draft, Bryant had a two game stint with the AZL Cubs, blew away Northwest League pitchers in an 18 game stretch with Boise, won a Florida State League Championship as the starting third baseman for Daytona, and won MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League. And he will begin this season at the Double-A level. Bryant hit a combined .336/.390/.688/.1.078 with 14 doubles, nine home runs, 32 RBI, and a stolen base in 36 games. This spring, Bryant has surprised observers with his defense at third base. Across the diamond, the emerging prospect for the Cubs’ system appears to be Dustin Geiger. Like Arismendy Alcantara last season, the 22-year old Geiger has flown under the radar of national scouts until he put up some big numbers with High-A Daytona last season. Geiger batted .281/.366/.459/.825 with 28 doubles, 17 home runs, 86 RBI and six stolen bases. After spending most of his career at third base, Geiger took over first base last season and has made himself the best defender at that position in the Cubs’ system. Second base looks like it will eventually go to Stephen Bruno. The 23-year old is still recovering from injuries that derailed the former Northwest League batting champion in 2013, and he may start the season on the disabled list. Bruno hit .362/.436/.478/.914 with seven RBI and two stolen bases in limited action with Daytona last year. Until Bruno is ready, the second base position will likely fall to Wes Darvill. The 22-year old Canadian impressed Cubs’ brass so much that he was a late replacement for Javier Baez in the 2013 Arizona Fall League. Darvill split last season between Kane County and Daytona. Darvill hit a combined .267/.339/.380/.719 with 16 doubles, seven triples, three home runs, 35 RBI, and 11 stolen bases. When Bruno returns, Darvill will most likely move over to shortstop. Keeping the seat warm at short should be 26-year old Walter Ibarra. Signed in the off-season, Ibarra spent the last eight years in the New York Yankees’ system. At Triple-A Scranton last year, Ibarra batted .254/.300/.344/.644 with two homers, nine RBI, and a stolen base in 38 games. An available back-up should be super-sub Jonathan Mota. The 26-year old Mota has played every position, including pitcher and catcher, in his nine-year minor league career. Last season for Tennessee, Mota hit .276/.348/.409/.757 in 109 games, including seven home runs and 40 RBI while adding first base to his repertoire.
Outfield –The Tennessee outfield will have more firepower than last season starting with top prospect Jorge Soler. Now 22 years old, Soler played 55 games with Daytona last season before going down with a broken leg. In that time, Soler batted .281/.343/.467/.810 with 13 doubles, eight home runs, 35 RBI, and five stolen bases. While Soler could use some more time at High-A, the organization plans to start Soler at the Double-A level with the hopes that his talent will be the equalizer. Playing left and leading off for the Smokies should be 23-year old John Andreoli. Splitting time between Daytona and Tennessee, Andreoli led the system for the second straight season in stolen bases (40) and hit a combined .305/.379/.402/.781 with 23 doubles, eight triples, two homers and 44 RBI. With a numbers crunch looming for Triple-A Iowa’s outfield, it looks as though Rubi Silva will be getting a return trip to Tennessee for 2014. But with Soler on the roster, Silva probably ends up in centerfield. Blessed with one of the best outfield throwing arms in the system, the 24-year old Cuban national had earned a promotion to Triple-A after posting career highs in home runs (15) and stolen bases (13) while batting .284/.310/.483/.793 with 30 doubles, nine triples and 52 RBI. Providing back-up most likely will be Anthony Giansanti and Zeke DeVoss. The 25-year old Giansanti is the type of player minor league managers’ love as he can back-up any position on the diamond, including pitcher and catcher. Playing for Daytona, Tennessee, and Iowa last season, Giansanti hit a combined .278/.343/.363/.705 with four stolen bases, and 30 RBI in 102 games. DeVoss had his first full season as an outfielder in 2013 after previously playing at second base. The 23-year old switch-hitter was shaky at the beginning, particularly outside of centerfield, but improved his fielding over the course of the season. DeVoss narrowly missed leading the system in stolen bases, as his 39 steals were edged out by Andreoli. While DeVoss hit only .244, his .392 OBP has management’s interest. DeVoss slugged .353 for an OPS of .744 with six homers and 51 RBI. Bruno, Mota, and Rohan also have outfield experience, so expect a lot of shifting line-ups.
Catcher – The corps behind the plate may have the most question marks for the Smokies this season. The presumptive starter looks to be 24-year old Chadd Krist. A ninth round pick in the 2012 draft, Krist spent 12 games with Kane County and 65 with Daytona, hitting .255/.361/.373/.734 with five home runs, 36 RBI, and four stolen bases. Backing Krist up appears to be 24-year old Taylor Davis. Davis is the definition of a system catcher, moving from team to team, filling holes and providing depth for the system. Davis batted .217/.293/.313/.607 with two homers and eight RBI in 34 games between Daytona and Tennessee. An unknown at this time is 22-year old Will Remillard. Selected in the 19th round of last year’s draft, Remillard did not play after signing. Remillard used the time to recover from a back injury. The organization seems to be very high on his ability as Remillard spent a good deal of time in the Major league camp this spring. Some scouts believe that Remillard is the best defensive catcher in the system, and that he has the best throwing arm. Just where Remillard ends up at this time remains a mystery.
Pitching – It will be a blend of youth and experience to open the season for the Smokies. Certainly at the top of the rotation, but maybe not the Opening Day starter, will be 22-year old Pierce Johnson. The 2012 first round sandwich pick had quite a 2013 season. Johnson started the year at Kane County and ending up pitching for the championship with Daytona. Johnson went a combined 11-6 with a 2.74 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP that included 124 strikeouts in 118.1 innings. Johnson will miss the opening of the season with some hamstring tightness. Fighting it out for Opening Day honors should be a pair of seasoned right-handers in Matt Loosen and Nick Struck. Loosen, who will be 25 years old shortly after Opening Day, fared better at High-A Daytona than at Tennessee last season and even tossed a no-hitter for the D-Cubs. For the season, Loosen was a combined 8-5 with a 4.20 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP (116 strikeouts in 120 innings). Also 24 years old, Struck is a star on the decline as he ended up being demoted from Triple-A Iowa toward the end of the 2013 season. Struck’s 6.17 ERA and 1.765 WHIP with Iowa were the prime reasons why Struck was sent down. Joining the Smokes for 2014 should be Ivan Pineyro, Corey Black, and Ben Wells. The 22-year old Pineyro was acquired for Washington for outfielder Scott Hairston, and went 3-1 with a 3.40 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP that included 38 strikeouts in 45 innings in eight starts for Daytona following the trade. Another 22- year old, Black is slight in stature, but the organization still wants to see what he can do as a starter. Coming over from the Yankees for outfielder Alfonso Soriano, Black used his near triple-digit fastball to go 4-0 with a 2.88 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP that included 28 strikeouts in five starts. Overall, Black recorded 116 strikeouts in 107.2 innings at High-A last season. Wells is the youngest of the three at 21 years old and did surprisingly well at Daytona in 2013 after an injury marred 2012. Wells made 23 appearances (21 starts) and was 9-6 with a 3.28 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. A sinkerball artist, Wells recorded only 69 strikeouts in 112.1 innings. Also available are a pair of 23 year olds in Starling Peralta and Jose Rosario. Both were injured for most of 2013, and put up some pretty horrid numbers when they were able to take the field. Just where they fit in the grand scheme is unknown.
Tennessee should have an interesting four-way battle for the closer position in right-handers Zach Cates and Armando Rivero, and in lefties Hunter Cervenka and Frank Del Valle. Twenty-four year old Cates started 20 games for Daytona last season, but was shifted to the bullpen toward the end of the year due to promotions and to better utilize his 98 mph fastball. Cates still had his control problems as witnessed by his 4.12 ERA and 1.42 WHIP but went 9-9 with three saves and 87 strikeouts in 109.1 innings. Rivero had to scrape the rust off after inactivity while establishing residency following his defection from Cuba. The 26-year old worked his way up gradually in 2013, moving from Kane County to Daytona and finally to the Smokies. For the year, Rivero pitched in 20 games and went 0-1 with two saves (4.15 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 45 strikeouts in 30.1 innings). Twenty-four year old Cervenka dealt with some arm issues last season, but still was able to make 41 appearances and post a 6-1 record with six saves, a 3.00 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP (54 strikeouts in 60 innings) between Daytona and Tennessee. Another 24-year old, Del Valle spent the entire 2013 season at Daytona and was their de facto closer. Del Valle saved nine games and struck out 64 batters in 51 innings while going 3-3 with a 2.29 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. Four more right-handers looking for opportunities may be Tyler Bremer, P.J. Francescon, Austin Reed, and Ryan Searle. Bremer spent 2013 as the closer for Short-Season A Boise, but at 24 years old may get a chance to make the jump to Double-A. Bremer was pretty reliable for the Hawks. Bremer was 0-3 with seven saves and a 2.15 ERA with a 1.02 WHIP (48 strikeouts in 29.1 innings). A converted starter, the 25-year old Francescon became an innings–eater after a mid-season promotion to Tennessee last year and moving to the bullpen. Francescon went a combined 7-4 with a 4.59 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP that included 83 strikeouts in 100 innings. The 22-year old Reed was singled out for praise by management before the season, but he did little to live up to the recognition. Reed went 4-2 with four saves and a 4.07 ERA with a 1.46 WHIP (40 strikeouts in 66.1 innings) for Daytona. Searle was actually Florida State Pitcher of the week early in 2013 for Daytona, but an arm injury shelved him for most of the season. The 24-year old Searle was able to get the save in the championship clinching game, putting a positive spin on a 2-3, 5.67 ERA and 1.56 WHIP 28 strikeouts in 27 innings) season. More left handed options are available in Nathan Dorris and Jeffrey Lorick. Dorris, 23 years old, could make the jump for Kane County after putting up good numbers as their innings-eater. For 2013, Dorris was 7-3 with a 2.87 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP (55 strikeouts in 69 innings). It seems as if the 26-year old Lorick has been around ‘forever.’ Lorick came to the Cubs in 2011 as part of the deal for first baseman Derrek Lee. Spending all of 2013 at Daytona, Lorick was 3-0 in 26 appearances and recorded three saves (3.32 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 35 strikeouts in 43.1 innings).
What to Watch for
Comings and Goings: Tennessee appears to be a transition team for 2014, much like Daytona was in 2013. Look for vastly different teams in both halves of the seasons. The organization will look to promote players such as Bryant, Johnson, Rivero, Silva, and possibly Soler quickly. Meanwhile, it may be put-up or shut-up for players such as Struck, Loosen, Francescon, Lorick, Rohan, and Searle. Before the second half, Smokies fans could be seeing players such as Dan Vogelbach, Tim Saunders, Bijan Rademacher, C.J. Edwards, Rob Zastryzny, and Juan Carlos Paniagua.
Triple-A – Iowa Cubs
Almost as difficult as previewing rookie and Short-Season ball due to its roster being determined at almost the last minute is the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. Based on what has been said by the club in reports, here is the best effort for Iowa.
Infield – One of the most anticipated squads of the minor leagues by the Cubs faithful is Iowa’s infield. It all starts with number one prospect, shortstop Javier Baez. The 21-year old took the baseball world by storm in 2013 by hitting a combined .282/.341/.578/.920 with 34 doubles, four triples, 37 home runs, 111 RBI, and 20 stolen bases between Daytona and Tennessee. Before being reassigned to minor league camp on March 22, Baez hit .310/.310/.738/1.048 with three doubles, five home runs and five RBI. The I-Cubs will have options at shortstop and second base with the presence of Arismendy Alcantara and Logan Watkins. In a minor league system that didn’t include Javier Baez, the 22-year old Alcantara would be considered the top infield prospect. The switch-hitter exploded on the national scouting scene after batting .271/.352/.451/.804 with 36 doubles, four triples, 15 home runs, 31 stolen bases, and 69 RBI at Double-A Tennessee. Watkins, the Cubs 2012 Minor League Player of the Year, was totally mishandled last season. Miscast as Iowa’s leadoff man, the 24-year old hit .243/.333/.379/.711 with 10 stolen bases, eight home runs, and 26 RBI in 107 games before being called to the parent club. There, Watkins rotted on the bench, appearing in only nine games in a little less than two months. Holding down third base should be Christian Villanueva. Acquired along with teammate Kyle Hendricks for pitcher Ryan Dempster in 2012, Villanueva had a very good season for Tennessee. Villanueva hit .261/.317/.469/.787 with 41 doubles, two triples, 19 home runs and 72 RBI, while provided sparkling defense. Available for back-up will be veterans Jeudy Valdez and Edgar Gonzalez. Signed from the Padres, the 24-year old Valdez played for Double-A San Antonio last season and hit .251 with 10 homers, 48 RBI, and 16 stolen bases in 125 games while playing short and second base. Gonzalez returned to Iowa after signing with Japan last season. At 35 years old, Gonzalez is more of an extra coach than anything else and should provide guidance and experience while being able to fill in anywhere in the infield or outfield. A big question will be first base. The organization signed former top prospect Lars Anderson, but the 26-year old hit only .194 in 66 games for the White Sox Triple-A team last year. Anderson may not make it out of Spring Training, leaving the position wide open. Among the players that might see time there would be Mike Olt (if he doesn’t make the big league club) and Josh Vitters.
Outfield – This may be the last stand for some of the Cubs’ perennial prospects, as the footsteps of other outfielders in the system are starting to grow louder. Shifting to left field from third base will be 24-year old Josh Vitters. Vitters had leg problems for the entire 2013 season, but when he was available, he hit well. In only 28 games, Vitters batted .295/.380/.511/.891 with five home runs, 12 RBI, and a stolen base. Moving over to right field should be Brett Jackson. Jackson’s 2013 season was a mess as he struggled with a rebuilt swing, injures, and actually being demoted. Now 25 years old, Jackson hit a combined .210/.296/.330/.626 with six home runs, 27 RBI, and nine stolen bases. Sliding into the centerfield spot looks like Matt Szczur. Recently optioned to Triple-A, the 24-year old Szczur played well at Tennessee last season. Szczur hit .281/.350/.367/.717 while stealing 22 bases with 27 doubles, four triples, three home runs and 44 RBI. Also available will be 31-year old Mitch Maier. No longer considered a prospect after being selected by Kansas City in the first round way back in 2003, Maier is around in case of an early season emergency. Batting .310/.431/.451/.882 with three homers and 22 RBI in 31 games at Triple-A Pawtucket in the Red Sox chain, Maier can play all three outfield positions along with third and first base. After batting a combined .254/.318/.365/.684 with six home runs, 35 RBI, and 15 stolen bases in 90 games between Tennessee and Iowa, 23-year old Jae-Hoon Ha will likely begin this season on the disabled list following wrist surgery.
Catcher– Still a glaring weak spot in the organization, The Cubs hope to make do with Welington Castillo at the Major League level and eventually developing a back-up for him while concentrating on upgrading the position throughout the system. A primary candidate for that eventual back-up should be 26-year old Rafael Lopez. The left-handed hitter would be a good compliment with his backstop skills. Lopez hit .247/.350/.392/.742 with eight homers and 43 RBI in 95 games for Double-A Tennessee. Another possibility is Rule 5 Draft pick Charles Cutler. Selected in the Triple-A phase out of the Pirates’ system, the 27-year old lefty played 86 games at Double-A Altoona and hit .298/.397/.420/.816 with 16 doubles, three triples, three home runs and 26 RBI. Staging a comeback last season, 27-year old Luis Flores showed the effects of nearly two years away from baseball. Flores was suspended in 2011 for PEDs and retired in 2012 after 26 games. Returning to action for the first time at Triple-A Iowa last year, Flores scratched out a .204/.295/.325/.620 line with five homers and 17 RBI in 61 games. Iowa may also receive one of the veterans, Eli Whiteside or John Baker, that are still in the Major League camp to stay at the ready in case of emergency.
Pitching – Going just with the players that have already been reassigned, the I-Cubs are working on not just a pretty good minor league rotation, but one that has a future. It all starts that 2013 Minor League Pitcher of the Year Kyle Hendricks. The 24-year old dominated the Southern League by going 10-3 with a 1.85 ERA before being promoted to the I-Cubs. For the year, Hendricks went 13-4 with a 2.00 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP that included 128 strikeouts in 166.1 innings. Coming off a no-hitter and an impressive spring, 24-year old lefty Eric Jokisch should fall in right behind Hendricks in the rotation. A hard luck pitcher for Tennessee in 2013, Jokisch was only 11-13 but had a 3.42 ERA with a 1.23 WHIP (137 strikeouts in 160.2 innings). Falling to third in the rotation appears to be another 24 year old, Dallas Beeler. Beeler had his 2013 season cut short when he tore a tendon in his pitching hand after putting up a 4-2 record with a 3.13 ERA with a 1.10 WHIP (35 strikeouts in nine starts). Appearing in the Arizona Fall League, Beeler showed no lingering effects as he was 4-1 with a 2.49 ERA and 1.340 WHIP in 21.2 innings. Next in the rotation is a 24-year old signed as a free agent this off-season, Carlos Pimentel. Pitching in the Rangers organization, Pimentel spent most of the year a Double-A Frisco where he was 8-7 with a 1.18 WHIP (122 strikeouts in 116.2 innings) and a 4.09 ERA. The last member of the rotation is always a mystery, with a possibility of Neil Ramirez or Chris Rusin from the big league camp. The front office appears to favor Ramirez as a reliever at this point but he has been used as a starter for a majority of his career. Other possibilities include Paolo Espino, Dae-Eun Rhee, and Yoanner Negrin. Signed out of the Indians organization, the 27-year old Espino was 4-6 in 17 appearances (eight starts) for Triple-A Columbus. Espino had a 3.92 ERA and a 1.339 WHIP while recording 68 strikeouts in 62 innings. Twenty-four year old Rhee has experienced arm trouble for the past two seasons after an impressive Spring Training in 2012. On the comeback trail last season, Rhee was a combined 6-1 in 15 games started (AZL Cubs, Boise and Tennessee) with a 2.90 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP (43 strikeouts in 71.1 innings). It seems as though the Cubs like the 29-year old Negrin, but don’t know exactly what to do with him. Negrin made 34 appearances with the I-Cubs (14 starts) and was 4-7 with a save, a 4.17 ERA, a 1.45 WHIP, and 118 strikeouts in 108 innings. Starting the season on the disabled list should be 24-year old Barret Loux. Nursing both arm and hamstring injuries last season, Loux made 19 appearances (16 starts) for Iowa and was 4-6 with a 4.84 ERA and a 1.64 WHIP (76 strikeouts in 60 innings).
There will be no controversy as to who the Iowa closer will be as management will most likely want Arodys Vizcaino to get some consistent work after spending a majority of the past two years rehabbing from surgery. Vizcaino looks like he has fully recovered with his performance in Spring Training. Providing set up will be lefty Zac Rosscup and former closer Frank Batista. The 25-year old Rosscup got a taste of Major League action and posted a 1.35 ERA with a 1.50 WHIP in ten late season appearances. Splitting time between Tennessee and Iowa in 2013, Rosscup was 2-2 with three saves in 46 appearances (2.12 ERA, 1.20 WHIP), and an amazing 83 strikeouts in 51 innings. With 74 career minor league saves, Batista is the most experienced closer in the organization. Batista went 3-3 with 19 saves, a 2.60 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and 52 strikeouts in 62.1 innings. However, the 25-year old lacks the dominating stuff that is associated with Major League closers. When Vizcaino needs a break as a closer, 25-year old Marcus Hatley should be the man manager Marty Peavy turns to. Seeing action at Tennessee and Iowa, Hatley was 4-4 with two saves, a 3.86 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP (74 strikeouts in 60.2 innings). Another option for late in games should be Brian Schlitter. The 28-year old right-hander was 1-4 in 38 games for Iowa last year with a 3.24 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. Schlitter picked up 20 save as Iowa’s closer. Also available is 23-year old Tony Zych. Similar to former Cubs prospect Kyle Farnsworth, Zych has a 100 mph fastball but doesn’t seem to have the make-up of a closer. Zych performed fairly well as a set-up man at Tennessee last season. Zych went 5-5 with three saves (40 strikeouts in 56 innings) and a 3.05 ERA with a 1.286 WHIP. Providing middle relief should be Casey Coleman. The one-time starter is now 26 years old and had a decent 2013 campaign as a swing man for Iowa. Coleman went 5-3 in 41 appearances (four starts) with a 3.16 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP (66 strikeouts in 88.1 innings). Other left handed arms are Austin Kirk and Tommy Hottovy. After an impressive 2012, Kirk actually ended up being demoted to High-A Daytona last season. Kirk compiled an 8-5 record in 96.1innngs and rang up 72 strikeouts, but had a disappointing 5. 61 ERA and a 1.67 WHIP. The 32-year old Hottovy made only 24 appearances for the Blue Jays Triple-A Buffalo team, posting no record with a 3.44 ERA and a 1.58 WHIP (19 strikeouts in 18.1 innings). Former top prospect Trey McNutt also looks to start 2014 on the disabled list. McNutt had a horrendous 2013 as the 24-year old was force fed into the closer role at Tennessee. McNutt was 2-5 with two saves and a 4.60 ERA with a 1.34 WHIP (23 strikeouts in 31.1 innings) before his season ended in late June. McNutt’s numbers would have looked even worse had he not been yanked out of several contests and had others clean up his messes.
It is unclear at this point what the front office has in mind for veteran LHP Jonathan Sanchez. Sanchez was signed as a reliever and was reassigned to minor league camp on Saturday.
What to Watch for
Readiness – In their third season in running the ballclub, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer need to put their money where their mouth is and use the Triple-A club to finish a player’s development. The insanity of loading up the Triple-A squad with some marginal Major League veterans to back up a non-contending team must stop. With several prospects on the verge of making the majors, and several more coming right behind them, playing time needs to go to the prospects.
- Minor League Preview: Rookie and Short-Season-A Ball
- Minor League Preview: Low-A Kane County and High-A Daytona
- The CCO’s Top 20 Prospects for 2014
Minor League Player Poll
The CCO’s run-off poll is underway to determine which ten players will be highlighted by the Down on the Farm Report this season. You can vote for up to 10 players with the same IP address. So vote early and vote as often as you would like from different computers.
Attention CCO Readers
Tuesday’s with Tom U. Facebook chat is making a comeback. Starting April 8, Tom will be taking your questions and providing real-time reports on any minor league games in progress. There will also be a later starting time, from 8:00pm CDT until 9:00pm CDT (that’s from 3:00pm to 4:00pm GMT for our international followers). So mark your calendars, and join us for a Q & A session.
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).