Minor League Preview – Triple-A Iowa Cubs
The fifth installment of a series previewing the 2015 minor league season focuses on the Iowa Cubs.
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. Click here for the Cubs’ minor league camp rosters.
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, Triple-A Iowa should be more exciting toward the end of the season than it will be to start. Based on what has been said by the club in reports, here is the best effort for Iowa.
Infield – For the first few weeks of the season, or perhaps the first few days, the I-Cubs could have the best left side of the infield in all of minor league baseball with Kris Bryant at third and Addison Russell at short. When the Cubs’ front office is satisfied with Bryant, it is anybody’s guess as to who will replace him. Christian Villanueva could be promoted, one of a number of Major League vets could be assigned, perpetual minor leaguers such as Jonathan Mota or Elliot Soto can be placed there, or Russell himself could be moved over to learn the position. For the most part though, Russell will be stationed at shortstop after batting .294/.332/.536 with 12 home runs and 36 RBI in 50 games at Double-A Tennessee.
At present, it appears that there is no real indication as to who will be lining up next to Russell at second base to start the season. With the Cubs uncertain as to whether Javier Baez will be with the parent club, either Baez or Major League utility infielder Jonathan Herrera will see time there for the I-Cubs. For the second straight year, Iowa will not have a clear-cut first baseman until the Major League roster is set. The position will most likely be shared by veterans Chris Valaika and Mike Baxter, or filled by a waiver claim, depending on who makes Chicago’s final roster.
Outfield – The Iowa outfield seems a little more set than their infield, as the parent club has a better idea as to who they want for this squad. Stationed in left field should be Junior Lake. The 25-year old Lake is actually having a good spring on the heels of a very impressive winter in the Dominican Republic. Last season, Lake batted .211/.246/.351 with nine home runs, 25 RBI, and seven stolen bases in 108 games for the parent club. Patrolling center field could be Matt Szczur. Like Lake, Szczur, also 25 years old, is having a great spring. Szczur was in his first season at Triple-A last year, and hit .261/.315/.312 with a home run, 24 RBI, and 30 stolen bases.
As for right field, look for a combination of Rubi Silva and Jae-Hoon Ha to cover the position. The cannon-armed Silva spent most of his 2014 injured, as the 25-year old lefty batted .252/.292/.379 with six home runs, 40 RBI, and eight stolen bases in 84 games. Ha also had a lost season, as he was recovering from wrist surgery.
The 24-year old Ha saw time both with Tennessee and Iowa, hitting .229/.274/.310 with six home runs and 51 RBI. Both Silva and Ha are considered plus defenders who may be nearing the end as part of the Cubs organization unless they have strong bounce-back years. Also on hand may be Major League vets Baxter and Adron Chambers.
Catcher– Rafael Lopez appears to have been marginalized as the front office loaded up on Major League catchers while bringing in several high profile prospects. In between, the left handed hitting Lopez became caught despite posting some of the best numbers of his consistent minor league career. Between Tennessee and Iowa, Lopez batted .290/.393/.386 with five home runs and 51 RBI while fielding .990 and throwing out 37 percent of all base stealers. Backing up Lopez should be former Major League defensive specialist Taylor Teagarden.
Pitching – The prime candidate for the top of the rotation would be lefty Eric Jokisch. Last season was the first for Jokisch at Triple-A Iowa, and he turned out to be one of the best pitchers in the Pacific Coast League. Jokisch was second in the league in strikeouts (143) and third in the PCL with a 1.18 WHIP. And Jokisch’s 3.58 ERA was good enough for fifth in the league. The 25-year old remained impressive in short stint in the majors, starting a game and pitching in three more, with a 1.88 ERA and 10 strikeouts in 14.1 innings. Jokisch has done well with the parent club in camp, and will probably be the first pitcher recalled from the minors.
While his spring started off on a bad note, Corey Black will probably follow in the rotation. One of the pitchers that were able to stay in the Tennessee rotation, the 23-year old Black had to carry the pitching staff last season. In 26 starts, Black was 6-7 with a 3.47 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP that included 119 strikeouts in 124.1 innings. Early in the pre-season, Black hit Giants’ OF Hunter Pence and broke his arm, which seems to have affected his composure.
Coming to the Cubs’ organization on a waiver claim, Donn Roach appears to have been rushed a bit last season. Making the jump from Double-A to the majors out of Spring Training in 2014, the 25-year old Roach was 1-0 with a 4.75 ERA and a 1.68 WHIP (17 strikeouts in 30.1 innings) before being sent to Triple-A El Paso by the Padres. As a member of the Chihuahuas, things didn’t get any better for Roach as he went 4-6 with a 5.26 ERA and a 1.79 WHIP that included 44 strikeouts in 77 innings.
Picked up last off-season after he was released by the Rangers organization, Carlos Pimentel was a little disappointing in his first exposure to Triple-A last year. Used mainly as a spot-starter, the 25-year old was 4-9 in 29 appearances (15 starts). Pimentel had a 5.35 ERA and a 1.59 WHIP with 95 strikeouts in 101 innings. Due to his age and level of experience, Pimentel may be better in his second time around in the PCL.
Another pitcher that was among the best in the PCL last season was Dallas Beeler. The 25-year old finished second in the league with a 1.16 WHIP and third with a 3.40 ERA. Beeler ended up with a 9-6 record with 83 strikeouts in 124.1 innings. The sinker-ball pitcher also had two starts with Chicago last year, going 0-2 with six strikeouts and seven walks in 11 innings with a 3.27 ERA. Beeler has been a little dinged up this spring, so do not be surprised if he ends up on the disabled list.
Among others vying for starts with Iowa will be righties Yoanner Negrin and Barret Loux, along with lefty Jeffry Antigua. Like Frank Batista, Negrin was loaned out to Tabasco in the Mexican League when there was a roster crunch early last season. Between Tabasco and the I-Cubs, Negrin was 1-4 with five saves in 31 appearances, three starts, with a 5.02 ERA and a 1.70 WHIP (57 strikeouts in 66.1 innings).
The 25-year Loux had surgery and missed the entire 2014 season. Loux has been pitching in camp but there has been no word whether he is ready to start the season with the I-Cubs. Antigua has great ‘stuff’ but just can’t seem to put it to good use. The 24-year old split time between Tennessee and Iowa and was 1-2 combined in 22 games (four starts, eight games finished) while posting a 3.90 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP (34 strikeouts in 55.1 innings).
There are several options for a closer, but the first in line will be Armando Rivero. Beginning the 2014 season at Double-A Tennessee, the 26-year old Rivero was one of the best pitchers in the Southern League, ringing up 10 saves and a 1.56 ERA with 54 strikeouts before moving to Iowa in mid-June.
With an already established closer for the I-Cubs in place, Rivero would only finish nine games in 23 appearances and record one save. For the entire year, Rivero was 5-1 with 11 saves in 49 appearances. Rivero put up a 2.22 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP that included 100 strikeouts in 65 innings. That already established closer was Blake Parker.
There are few players that had the success that the 29-year old Parker had in 2014 for the Iowa Cubs. Parker not only led the PCL with 25 saves, his total was seven more than his nearest competitor. Parker also posted a 1.77 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP, along with 52 strikeouts in only 35.2 innings.
Coming from the left side will be Zac Rosscup. The 26-year old Rosscup was 2-0 with four saves in 29 appearances. For the second year in a row, Rosscup posted an ERA under 2.50, with a mark of 2.10 and a 1.10 WHIP along with 38 strikeouts in 30 innings. The opinions on Hunter Cervenka fluctuate between being a good set-up man and as a possible closer.
The 24-year old Cervenka saw more playing time in middle relief than at closer this past season, as he ended up with a 4-4 record with a save in 48 appearances. Cervenka had a 3.79 ERA, a 1.22 WHIP, and 65 strikeouts in 61.2 innings.
Also available will be players with Major League experience, such as lefties Francisley Bueno and Joseph Ortiz, as well as right-handers Daniel Bard, Anthony Carter, Jorge De Leon and Gonzalez German, depending on the language in their contracts.
What to Watch for
Both Iowa fans and long-time minor league followers need to be prepared to say goodbye to many players, as the front office seems to be ready to back up the truck and dump what is left of the previous front office’s prospects. One of the principles of position redundancy is player movement. Prospects either have to move up or move out, as the next wave is always a level away. The present management is seeing some of the first players they acquired reach the top levels of the minors, so room must be made for their development.
Minor League Previews
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.