Minor League Preview – Rookie and Short Season-A Ball
Good Morning to everyone at the CCO! Today is the first installment of a series previewing the 2015 minor league season. A brief overall look at the system will precede the team summaries. 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.
After three seasons, the management team of President Theo Epstein, General Manager Jed Hoyer, and Vice President of Player Development Jason McLeod has brought the Cubs’ minor league system to the number one ranking in all of baseball. Included is the consensus top prospect of the minors in 3B Kris Bryant, and well as top five prospect SS Addison Russell. Moreover, some of the Cubs’ former top prospects, such as Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, and Jorge Soler are beginning their Major League careers. The organization continues to move closer to achieving positional redundancy as a previously perceived weakness of pitching has been remedied with an infusion of talent at the lower levels.
The system has also produced on the field, with Low-A Kane County winning the Midwest League Championship, High-A Daytona losing in the Florida State League championship, and Short-Season A Boise appearing in the playoffs for the fourth straight season. The Cubs had numerous prospects appear in the top ten statistical categories of their respective leagues, with Daury Torrez leading the Midwest League in WHIP.
While the Cubs have brought several of their minor leaguers to the majors, there are still some concerns about the direction of the franchise. The front office has said all along that they want to attain sustained success by building a core of players developed through their minor league system learning the Cubs Way. However, management waded into murky waters last year. They gave up an above average prospect in INF Marco Hernandez for a fringe pitcher, and traded a very promising RHP Jefferson Mejia for a veteran that may end up blocking one or several prospects.
It will be important in the coming months that management doesn’t get too itchy and start feeling the pressure to make deals they may end up regretting. While it may happen a little slower, the surest way to sustained success is staying the course.
Rookie – AZL Cubs
Predicting at this level is especially challenging as many of the players usually come from the draft. However, there is enough young talent in the organization to make a few guesses here.
Infield – Judging by the players from the Dominican Summer League and the Venezuelan Summer League, the infield could be the main story for the rookie team in Arizona. It all starts with 18-year old third baseman Wladimir Galindo. A big man at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Galindo was a one man wrecking crew, batting .278 with seven home runs and 30 RBI in 62 games. Backing up Galindo and seeing the lion’s share of playing time at first base should be Miguel Rico. The 21-year old has plenty of raw power, belting 15 home runs in 126 games over the past two seasons, but hitting only .252 last year. Occupying second base should be Frandy Delarosa. The 18-year old switch-hitter should be fully recovered from injuries sustained in a fiery auto accident two years ago. Delarosa batted .281 with 50 RBI in 62 games while easing his way back in primarily as a designated hitter. Covering shortstop should be 21-year old Carlos Jimenez, who hit .301 with 30 RBI and 21 stolen bases in the Dominican Republic last year. Pressing for playing time at second, short, and third could be 20 year old Henrry Pedra, who hit .254 in 46 games in Venezuela. A player with an outside chance of coming stateside is 17-year old Andruw Monasterio. The switch-hitter batted .292 with 14 stolen bases in 36 games for the VSL Cubs.
Outfield – The AZL Cubs will probably net some outfield help in the 2015 draft, but should have a returning player in Ricardo Marcano. The 20-year old lefty didn’t do poorly in 43 games for the A-Cubs last year, but could probably use more seasoning. Marcano batted .265 with two home runs, 14 RBI, and five stolen bases, but needs a lot of work on his defense. A good bet for center field and leadoff would be 21-year old Roberto Caro. The switch-hitter picked up his game after returning to the DSL last year, batting .289 with three home runs, 37 RBI, and 35 stolen bases in 66 games. Another speedy outfielder is Jenner Emeterio. The 21-year old also showed marked improvement in his offense as he batted .309 with 32 RBI and 24 stolen bases in 56 games. An intriguing option for the Arizona outfield could be 19-year old Luis Hidalgo. Originally tried at catcher, Hidalgo put up some big numbers in the VSL, hitting .318 with three home runs and 19 RBI in 42 games, but none after mid-July. A talent that has yet to put things all together is 20-year old Humberto Garcia. First signed by the White Sox, the switch-hitter was tried at five different positions in the VSL, including pitcher. Garcia performed best in the outfield and hit .275 with 18 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 58 games.
Catching – The A-Cubs will have a lot of promise at this position in a pair of teenagers in Yohan Matos and Jhonny Pereda. The 18-year old Matos looks as if he will be a force to be reckoned with as he made a splash in his DSL debut, batting .289 with six home runs, 39 RBI, and seven stolen bases in 53 games. Also 18 years old, Pereda provides a contrast to Matos as a defensive specialist. Pereda has erased 40 percent of all would-be base stealers in his two year career while hitting .228 with a home run and 14 RBI in 63 VSL games last season.
Pitching – Looking for redemption with a return to the rookie league should be Adbert Alzolay. The 20-year old right hander looked to be on his way after a terrific debut in the VSL in 2013. Alzolay broke extended Spring Training with Short Season-A Boise, but was sent back down to the AZL Cubs after only one appearance. Alzolay did not take the demotion well, as we went 2-5 with an 8.51 ERA in nine appearances, but had 26 strikeouts in 24.1 innings. Looking to come back from serious injuries are Anthony Prieto and Jose Zapata. A fifth round draft pick in 2012, the left handed Prieto has not pitched since 2013, as he underwent arm surgery. The 21-year old had been projected anywhere from a middle of the rotation starter to a closer before the surgery. The 21-year old Zapata was one of the top pitchers in the DSL in 2013, but he was also one of the players that suffered severe burns in an auto accident in the Dominican Republic two years ago. A potential top of the rotation starter, 20-year old Oscar De La Cruz may sneak his way onto Short Season-A Eugene’s roster with a good spring, but most likely will see his first action in the States for the A-Cubs. De La Cruz was among the DSL league leaders with an 8-1 record, 1.80 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 64 strikeouts. Joining De La Cruz from the D-Cubs should be a pair of 20 year olds in Santiago Rodriguez and Jose Morel. Rodriguez also was a league leader as he went 8-1 with a 1.67 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 71 strikeouts in 81 innings. Morel is a load at 6-foot-6, 204 pounds. And while not as impressive as his teammates, Morel nevertheless performed well in 2014, going 5-1 with a 3.13 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 57 strikeouts in 62.2 innings. Twenty-one year old Yapson Gomez did very well in the VSL last season, but it remains to be seen whether that can translate to success in the rookie league. The lefty was 6-2 with a 1.52 ERA and 0.817 WHIP, but only 37 strikeouts in 71 innings. Looking to get back on track, 19-year old left-hander Carlos A. Rodriguez should return to the AZL Cubs, where he pitched in 2013. After getting beat up pretty well two seasons ago, Rodriguez went back to VSL in 2014 to find his game. While going only 0-3, Rodriguez had a 1.23 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and 56 strikeouts in 58.1 innings. While establishing a closer is not typically a priority in the rookie league, the AZL Cubs will have some options to close out ballgames in 22-year old Assael Aquino and 21-year old Jesus Arias. Aquino was relatively successful in his debut with the DSL Cubs last season, going 1-1 with three saves, a 2.11 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, and 39 strikeouts in 42.2 innings. Arias came over from the Cleveland organization and went 2-1 with five saves, but had a 4.02 ERA and 1.88 WHIP, along with 39 strikeouts in 40.1 innings for the VSL Cubs.
What to Watch for
The Cubs organization bounced back well in 2014 from a 2013 in which they clogged up their rookie league with dozens of rehabbing players, most of whom they ended up getting rid of. Look for the pattern the Cubs have established to continue, as they have invested middle round draft picks in high school players with high upside potential.
Short Season-A – Eugene Emeralds
While the Cubs are moving west for the 2015 season, the organization is remaining in the Northwest League where they have dominated for the past four seasons. Manager Gary Van Tol, who took the Boise Hawks to the playoffs for his second consecutive season, returns with a promising outfield and an exciting young rotation.
Infield – Perhaps the weakest area going into the season, the Emeralds are going to need some help from the draft in this area. A lot will hinge on the decision on where to start super prospect SS Gleyber Torres in 2015. Only 18 years old, the Cubs may be conservative and have Torres work his way up the system one rung at a time. But Torres has also seen some time already with the big league club in Spring Training, so the possibility of opening at Low-A South Bend is real. Torres batted .279 with a home run and 20 RBI in 43 games for the AZL Cubs, but .393 in seven games for Boise at the end of 2014. Seeing time somewhere in the middle infield should be Ho-young Son. The 20-year old Korean has some leadoff potential as he hit .254 with 12 stolen bases in 25 games in the rookie league. Son fits better at second base, but will line up a short if there aren’t any other options. Seeing time at second, short, and third should be Varonex Cuevas. The 22-year old switch-hitter actually opened with Boise last season, but spent most of his time in the rookie league. Cuevas batted .318 with a home run and six RBI in 26 games for the AZL Cubs. Another switch-hitter that most likely will hold down the first base position is Roney Alcala. After dominating the VSL in 2013, Alcala had a rough time in the rookie league last year, hitting .242 with two home runs and 10 RBI in 38 games. However, the organization is high on the 21-year old’s ability, and they believe he can make the same one year improvement that Jesse Hodges did last season. Third base is a bit questionable as 20-year old Adonis Paula hit only .228 in the rookie league last season while having his troubles at third. An outside possibility is last year’s 22nd pick Joey Martarano. A linebacker for Boise State University, Martarano was touted by scouts to be one of the best power hitters available in the 2014 draft. The 20-year old would have to be cleared by the NCAA and the university to play as he suited up for only four games last season.
Outfield – In an area that will clear carry the ballclub, it all starts with Charcer Burks. The 20-year old is caught in a numbers game, and most likely will need to return to Short Season ball, barring any unforeseen injuries to players above him. Burks split time between the rookie league and Boise last season, batting a combined .311 with a home run, 30 RBI, and 13 stolen bases. If he returns to the Northwest League with Eugene, Burks will probably challenge for the league batting crown. Knocking at the door of the Top 20 prospects in the organization, Kevonte Mitchell will most likely hold down the center field position. The athletic 19-year old impressed the Cubs brass in the rookie league last season, batting .294 with 12 RBI and 19 stolen bases in 39 games. In right field, 18-year old Eloy Jimenez oozes power potential. Jimenez bypassed the Caribbean leagues and went straight to the rookie league last season, where he hit .227 with three home runs and 27 RBI in 42 games. Backing up the trio should be speedy Calvin Graves. The 23-year old 27th round draft pick is the type of mature player the organization likes to steady a young team. Graves split 30 games between Boise and the A-Cubs, batting .265 with nine RBI and six stolen bases.
Catching – A solid position for the Emeralds, it appears that there will be a pretty even split for playing time between Tyler Alamo and Alberto Mineo. The 20-year old Mineo has spent a long time polishing his skills, and it appears to be paying off. Mineo signed as an international free agent out of Italy in 2012, and the lefty batted .241 with a home run and 24 RBI in 43 games for the A-Cubs last season. Nineteen-year old Alamo wasn’t as successful at the plate, hitting only .215 with 10 RBI in 31 games, but the front office is very high on his potential. Both Mineo and Alamo are considered to be good defensive catchers, and both had exposure to playing first base. In charge of providing maturity and handling the pitching staff will be 22-year old Tyler Pearson. The 25th round draft pick hit .235 with two home runs and six RBI in 21 games for the AZL Cubs after signing.
Pitching – With recognition to last season’s Kane County Cougars’ pitching staff, the front office appears to have assembled their potentially best pitching staff for this year’s Eugene Emeralds. The “Class of ‘14” all starts with fourth round pick Carson Sands. The 19-year old lefty was sparkling in his professional debut with the AZL Cubs last season, going 3-1 with a 1.89 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 20 strikeouts in 19 innings. Nineteen-year old Justin Steele was just a notch below Sands. The 2014 fifth round pick, also a left-hander, had no record but a 2.95 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and 25 strikeouts in 18.1 innings. One of the two pitchers acquired from the Diamondbacks for OF Tony Campana, 19-year old Jesus Castillo came into his own last season. After two nondescript seasons in the Caribbean, Castillo went 1-0 with a 2.67 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and 23 strikeouts in 30.1 innings in the rookie league last year. Another 19-year old left-hander, Jose Paulino, had a rougher time but was a workhorse for the AZL Cubs. Paulino went 3-4 and had a 5.98 ERA and 1.61 WHIP, but logged a team high 46.2 innings and struck out 42 batters. The youngest of the bunch, 18-year old Austyn Willis, is loaded with potential. An 18th round selection, the 6-foot-6, 205 pound Willis saw action in 10 games and was 0-1 with a 4.20 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and nine strikeouts in 15 innings.
The Emeralds potentially have an effective right/left combination at closer in Yomar Morel and Jordan Minch. Morel rotated between Arizona and Boise last season, and was more effective in the rookie league where he had a 0.00 ERA with three saves in seven appearances. Overall, the 21-year old went 2-0 with three saves, a 4.11 ERA, 1.30 ERA, and 22 strikeouts in 30.2 innings. A 35th round draft pick, 21-year old Minch flashed some potential in seven appearances in the rookie league, saving two games and striking out 14 in 10.1 innings while posting a 3.48 ERA and 1.16 WHIP.
The rest of the bullpen will not lack for talent, beginning with Pedro Araujo. The 21-year old has been with the organization since 2011 when he was signed as an international free agent. Araujo split his time between the DSL and the rookie league, going 2-1 with a save, 1.98 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 41 strikeouts in 36.1 innings. Tanner Griggs was selected in the 12th round of the 2014 draft. The 20-year old was 1-1 with a 3.52 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and 11 strikeouts in 15.1 innings as he made nine appearances for the AZL Cubs. Another 20-year old, 17th round pick Michael Knighton, had production similar to Griggs. Knighton made five appearances and was 0-1 with a 3.38 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, and five strikeouts in eight innings. Providing another left handed arm could be Andin Diaz. The 22-year old also played for both the DSL Cubs and the A-Cubs last season as he went a combined 5-3 with a 2.47 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 43 strikeouts in 47.1 innings. Another player who will add some maturity to the staff is 22-year old Zach Hedges. The 26th round draft choice had a somewhat easy time in the rookie league after signing, as he went 2-1 with a 1.40 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 23 strikeouts in 19.1 innings.
What to Watch for
Enjoy the pitching staff and outfield while you can. There most likely will be a breakout performance or two, which will alter the make-up of the roster. The draft will probably provide more talent, especially for the infield. Keep an eye on Roney Alcala, who nearly won the triple-crown in Venezuela two seasons ago. Alcala may feel a bit more comfortable in his second year stateside.
Five Minor League Players to Watch
- Rookie and Short Season-A Ball – Down on the Farm Report – 02/23/15
- Low-A South Bend and High-A Myrtle Beach – Down on the Farm Report – 03/02/15
- Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa – Down on the Farm Report – 03/09/15
Attention CCO Readers
The Down on the Farm preliminary reader’s poll has been completed, and the top 20 players nominated are part of an online poll to reduce the number down to ten players. Please vote at the CCO home page in order to ensure that that your favorite player is followed by Down on the Farm Report for the 2015 season.
Race to Wrigley
For the third straight year, I will be competing in the Race to Wrigley 5K run on April 25, 2014. If anyone is interested in making a donation or joining the CCO team, please visit Race to Wrigley – Chicago Cubs Online to register. All proceeds go to Chicago Cubs Charities and Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.