Minor League Preview – Triple-A Iowa Cubs
Opening Day in the minor leagues is in eight days so our last preview on the Cubs’ system focuses on the organization’s Triple-A team, the Iowa Cubs.
Please note the previews of the Cubs affiliates 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.
Triple-A – Iowa Cubs
While Manager Marty Peavy has done a good job since being named Iowa’s skipper in 2013, piloting them to a 220-212 record, he has to be looking over his shoulder. Looming at Double-A is Mark Johnson, who has managed a class of players to three championship appearances and two titles in four years. With expectations sky-high for the parent club, the trickle-down effect for Iowa is more Major League fringe players with prospects mixed in the roster. Peavy will have to balance development with keeping players sharp in case of an emergency call-up.
Infield – There is a lot of uncertainty in the infield, as it may come down to final cuts before the roster is finalized. One position that seems fairly set is second base, where Stephen Bruno will line up. The 25-year old has dealt with injuries the past three seasons, but has put together a good camp. Last season with Double-A Tennessee, Bruno went .263/.335/.336/.671 with 17 doubles, a triple, two home runs, 48 RBI and nine stolen bases in 105 games. Presently, his double-play partner will be Logan Watkins. The 2012 Minor League Player of the Year sat out last year with a leg injury, but was known as a plus defender at second short, and centerfield before he was hurt. While third base and first base should belong to Jeimer Candelario and Dan Vogelbach, the Cubs are being very coy as to where these two high profile prospects will end up. Currently, the front office has few options at third, which bodes well for the 22-year old switch-hitter. Candelario split time between Myrtle Beach and Tennessee in 2015, hitting .277/.339/.431/.770 with 35 doubles, four triples, 10 home runs and 64 RBI while playing well both in the Arizona Fall League and Spring Training. With the Cubs signing major league veteran Jesus Guzman and to a minor league contract, first base may already be sewn up. More Major Leaguers on minor league contracts also figure in the middle infield as Munenori Kawasaki and Kris Negron are expected to be in the mix. The infield may also get a boost if one or more of Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, or Tommy La Stella is not with the big league club.
Outfield – As in the infield, there will a blend of prospects and Major League hangers-on, with the main focus being on Albert Almora Jr. The initial first round draft pick of the present front office has now made it to the top of the system, albeit on a very hot final month of 2015. The 21-year old’s line for last year was .272/.327/.400/.727 with 26 doubles, four triples, six home runs, 46 RBI and eight stolen bases. Causing quite a stir in training camp has been John Andreoli. Veteran minor league watchers are not surprised by the 25-year old’s success, but nobody could have predicted Andreoli hitting .313 with four home runs. Andreoli had a very good Triple-A debut last year, going .277/.372/.401/.773 with 20 doubles, six triples, five home runs, 32 RBI and 33 stolen bases. Keeping mostly in the background, lefty Bijan Rademacher consistently puts up numbers that are just as good, or better, than some high profile prospects. Another player from that first draft class, the 24-year old played all 2015 with Tennessee and batted .261/.379/.370/.748 with 19 doubles, four triples, four home runs, 47 RBI and seven stolen bases. Backing up at all three positions should be 2015 Rule 5 pick Mike O’Neill. A 28-year old left-handed hitter, O’Neill split time between Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis in the Cardinals’ system and hit .289/.400/.319/.719 with eight doubles, 24 RBI and four stolen bases in 90 games. Once again, there are plenty of former Major Leaguers and minor league veterans available in Kelly Dugan, Matt Murton and Juan Perez.
Catching – The reigning Minor League Player of the Year, Willson Contreras seems only steps away from a big league career. The 23-year old has had a blistering spring, hitting .357. This is on top of a 2015 in which Contreras led the Southern League in hitting, batting .333/.413/.478/.891with 34 doubles, four triples, eight home runs, 75 RBI and four stolen bases. The back-up situation has some intrigue with versatile Taylor Davis and front office favorite Tim Federowicz. It seems as if the 25-year old Davis has been around forever, but it has only been five seasons, with his best happening last year. As a member of both the Smokies and the I-Cubs, Davis hit .311/.361/.483/.845 with 26 doubles, two triples, nine home runs and 43 RBI while playing third and first base along with catching. Federowicz is 28 years old and coming off an injury shortened season, but he has Major League experience although frankly, he was not very good. Federowicz has hit only .194 over four seasons, but does have ties to the front office. Also lurking is David Freitas a six-year minor league veteran with the Nationals, Athletics and Orioles.
Pitching – Just how many off-season pick-ups the Cubs retain in the minors remains to be seen. The front office was busy, acquiring Andury Acevedo, Scott Barnes, Aaron Brooks, Stephen Fife, Brandon Gomes, Jean Machi, C.J. Riefenhauser, Drew Rucinski and Manny Parra. Each has had their moments this spring, but none have really stood out.
As for prospects in the rotation, the first of the home developed pitchers are starting to arrive at Triple-A. Beginning with the front office’s first pitching selection Pierce Johnson. Knock on wood, but the 24-year old has seemed to survive Spring Training without any injuries for the first time in three seasons. The maddening, nagging minor injuries and inconsistency dogged Johnson last year, as he didn’t begin the season until June, but lit up the Southern League for Tennessee by going 6-2 in 16 starts, with a 2.08 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and he had 72 strikeouts in 95 innings. But in the Arizona Fall League, Johnson was a pedestrian 1-2 with a 5.47 ERA in seven starts. Coming up fast is 2014 tenth round pick Ryan Williams, the Cubs’ 2015 Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Splitting time between Low-A South Bend and Double-A Tennessee, the 24-year old was 14-3 in 26 appearances (24 starts), with a 2.16 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 98 strikeouts in 141.2 innings. Rounding things out are seemingly perennial prospects Dallas Beeler and Eric Jokisch. Once again, Beeler is having a spring in which he will not be ready for the opener. The 26-year old has yet to throw any meaningful innings in practice, and will be behind considering the sheer numbers the Cubs have at this level. Last year for Iowa, Beeler made 21 starts and was 8-5 with a 4.07 ERA, 1.36 WHIP and 83 strikeouts in 110.2 innings. Jokisch, also 26 years old, missed an opportunity last year as an injury put him on the shelf for over three months. Jokisch was not himself all season long, and he went 5-4 in 14 starts, with a 4.37 ERA, 1.48 WHIP and 39 strikeouts in 70 innings.
A player who’s star seems to be on the wane in Armando Rivero. The 28-year old Cuban national had an unexplained drop in velocity last year, resulting in a 2-2 record in 48 appearances, with a 3.16 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and 53 strikeouts in 57 innings. Rivero appeared to regroup in the Venezuelan Winter League, but has been hammered this spring. Carl Edwards Jr. is expected to spend most of the season with the I-Cubs. The decision is that the 24-year old is to remain in the bullpen, where he spent his first season last year. The results were mixed for Edwards as he was a combined 5-3 with six saves in 35 appearances that included a 2.77 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 75 strikeouts in 55.1 innings. Fire-balling Corey Black had a season to forget as he also transitioned to the pen. After going 3-5 in 37 appearances with a 4.92 ERA, 1.40 WHIP and 101 strikeouts in 86 innings, the 24-year old was taken apart in the Arizona Fall League. Felix Pena was assigned to Tennessee and will have to wait on a numbers game before receiving the call to Iowa. The 26-year old swingman spent most of his time starting for Tennessee in 2015 and finished with a record of 7-8 in 25 appearances (23 starts). Pena had a 3.75 ERA, a 1.23 WHIP, but most important, 140 strikeouts in 129.2 innings. Two big arms that may see some time with the I-Cubs are Starling Peralta and Jose Rosario. Both players can bring the heat, but have dealt with arm trouble in the past. A veteran of eight minor league seasons, Peralta is still only 25 years old and went 4-1 with seven saves in 42 appearances that included a 2.16 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in 58.1 innings between High-A Myrtle Beach and Tennessee. Rosario, 25, sat out all of last year and last pitched with High-A Daytona in 2014. The lone lefty is another long-time Cub prospect Jeffry Antigua. The 25-year old has been with the Cubs for nine years and has both started and been in the bullpen. Last year, Antigua played for both Tennessee and Iowa and was 6-6 in 30 appearances (22 starts). Logging 133.1 innings, Antigua can carry a heavy load as he had a 3.85 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 77 strikeouts.
Minor League Previews
- Rookie and Short Season-A Ball
- Low-A South Bend Cubs
- High-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans
- Double-A Tennessee Smokies
Five Minor League Players to Watch
- Rookie and Short Season A-Ball
- Low-A South Bend and High-A Myrtle Beach
- Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa
Down on the Farm Prospect Poll
The nominations were made and for the next two weeks our readers will be able to vote for the 10 prospects you would like us to highlight in a weekly report throughout the minor league season.
This year we will be posting the Top Prospect Watch in a separate article on Tuesdays.
You can vote for up to 10 prospects, per IP address, either above or in the right side bar.
So if you want to know Willson Contreras OPS or the number of walks and doubles Billy McKinney has in a given week. Or how well Oscar De La Cruz is pitching in the Midwest League. Or how many strikeouts Pierce Johnson has in the hitter-friendly PCL, cast your votes, and we will bring you the details every week in a detailed report.