Tonight is opening night for the AZL Cubs, heralding the beginning of a new class of players on their journey through the minor league system. Among the players to watch are catcher Tyler Alamo, corner infielder Roney Alcala, infielder Gleyber Torres, outfielder Eloy Jimenez, and pitchers Frailin Figueroa and Jefferson Mejia. As the 2014 draft choices are signed and filter into camp, they will provide further intrigue into what appears to be a very strong roster.
The signings from this year’s draft class can have a bottom-up effect on the rosters of both the Daytona Cubs and the Tennessee Smokies. Both clubs have underperformed so far, and the organization has already assigned 20th round shortstop Alex Tomasovich and 21st round outfielder Charlie White to the Boise Hawks. With Boise’s mature roster, some “jumps” can take place, with more than a few players bypassing Kane County and being promoted directly to Daytona. Among the players that could be feeling the heat are infielder Jeudy Valdez, infielder Wes Darvill, outfielder Zeke DeVoss, and utility player Rock Shoulders.
There had to be some heavy hearts in the Daytona locker room after they heard the news of Jeimer Candelario being sent down to Kane County. He, along with Gioskar Amaya, Albert Almora, Willson Contreras, Marco Hernandez, Felix Pena, Bijan Rademacher, Rock Shoulders, and Dan Vogelbach have been playing together in some form since they were all a part of the 2012 Boise Hawks team that went to the Northwest League championship series.
While the drafting of Kyle Schwarber, Mark Zagunis, Cael Brockmeyer, Will Remillard, and Tyler Alamo over the past two years has improved the catching depth in the system, the position has also gotten a boost from Willson Contreras and Justin Marra. Contreras is hitting .271 with a home run and 18 RBI overall and is hammering right-handed pitching to the tune of .290 with a home run and 15 RBI. His defense behind the plate is solid, with a .997 fielding average and 25 percent caught stealing. Always considered an offensive player, Marra has batted .346 with three homers and 10 RBI in six games and has improved to a .982 fielding average while nabbing 21 percent of all baserunners.
In an unexpected turn of events, the loss of Kris Bryant to promotion may have made the Tennessee Smokies a better team. With a player of Bryant’s caliber, a team can sometimes wait for them to deliver rather than being as aggressive as they should be. The Smokies have won their first two games back from the All-Star break, and emerging from the shadows has been outfielder Rubi Silva. Silva has gone 5-for-9 in the last two games as he has cracked two home runs and driven in four runs.
Among the things for observers to watch for with Kris Bryant now at Iowa is not just how well he hits, but where he bats in the lineup. Two games into his promotion, Bryant has batted fifth behind veterans Chris Valaika and Josh Vitters. If Bryant returns to the form that had him hit at a .355 pace for Tennessee, his rightful place in the order would be third. However, shortstop Javier Baez is currently occupying that spot, and has never hit anywhere else in the order for his entire minor league career. If Baez continues to hit .226, this could be a test of wills worth watching.