Welcome to the first weekly minor league report on WSD of the 2013 season! Â For those of you unfamiliar with this weekly feature, it focuses specifically on the actual prospects in the minor leagues â and sometimes the younger players already in the majors â and tracks their recent and season-long successes and unfortunately, failures as they present themselves.
Last year, the minor league reports tended to focus more upon just the top ten-to-thirteen players on the farm, but this year the intent is to expand these boundaries a bit further, especially given the fact that the farm system today has significantly improved in depth since this time last season.
Typically, these reports will be published on Monday nights, though as a student, sometimes personal schedules donât allow for this, in which case it can be expected by Tuesday.
Off-season Analysis -Â The Cubs greatly improved their farm system between the time the Epstein-led regime took over and the trade deadline last season, but less was accomplished over the off-season due to Matt Garzaâs health scenario and the inability to find a suitor for Alfonso Soriano. Â The Cubs instead chose to make some free agent moves with Nate Schierholtz, Scott Hairston, Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, Edwin Jackson, Kyuji Fujikawa (technically a prospect, but older than the typical scope of these reports), Dioner Navarro, and coming up just short on (or having been played by) Anibal Sanchez. Â The Cubs did make a few moves on the farm, picking up Yao-Lin Wang being among the more notable. Â Prospects such as Junior Lake had resurgent off-seasons in the Caribbean to reclaim some lost stock, though Lake ended up getting injured in spring training and has yet to play a game for Iowa.
The Farm System for 2013
The Cubs made two changes to their farm system alignment for the 2013 season, as the Peoria Chiefs signed on with the St. Louis Cardinals, only to be replaced by the more local Kane County Cougars in the Cubsâ organization. Â The Cougars play near Chicago in Geneva, Illinois and are an affordable way to see some of the most interesting prospects in the organization. Â The other change the Cubs made was to replace the DSL Cubs2 with the VSL Cubs based out of Venezuela. Â In a corresponding, but far less important move, the DSL Cubs1 are now simply the DSL Cubs.
MLB Chicago Cubs -Â Starlin Castro, still only 23 years old, is heating up as of late, and is now hitting .315/.315/.519. Â Normally it would be an issue that a player hasnât taken a single walk in the first twelve games of the season â and trust me, it is â but when that same player has an OPS of .833 from the relatively weak position of shortstop, its easy to let it pass. Â Anthony Rizzo on the other hand, needs to improve as he is batting just .163/.280/.419, and OPS under .700. Â With that said, it is very important to remember that it is still very early in the season and that all sluggers go into slumps at times. Â In this case, it just happens that the slump is coming at the start of the season. Â Jeff Samardzija, the first-time Opening Day starter, has been striking out batters at a phenomenal rate, with 27 strikeouts in his first 19.2 innings.Â The Cubs have gotten off to a slow start â as expected â and sit at 4-8 and in fourth place with the off-day on Monday. Â But hey, it could be worse, one could always be Milwaukee and have to deal with the fact that the Cubs are actually ahead of them in standings.
AAA Iowa Cubs -Â The Iowa Cubs are one of the few teams in organized baseball who have a worse record than their Chicago counterpart, just 3-9 and in fourth place (donât take too much pride into not being fifth, the I-Cubs play in a four team division) in the Pacific Coast Leagueâs American Conference North Division. Â The individual performances havenât been much better from the young prospects, as Brett Jacksonâs slash line of .244/340/.366 is far from phenomenal in a very hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Â Second baseman Logan Watkins is batting just .220, but hit OBP of .373 and slugging percentage of 439 give him a very respectable OPS of .812. Â Josh Vitters had one at-bat as a pinch hitter, but has otherwise seen no action and has been placed on the seven-day disabled list. Â Darwin Barney has played in three games as part of a rehab assignment, and is batting .500, getting on base at a .615 clip, and slugging an even .600, good for a mind-blowing OPS of 1.215 in an extremely small sample size.
AA Tennessee Smokies -Â The Smokies have gotten off to a slightly better start, going 5-6 through their first 11 games, and they are sticking with the trend by being in fourth place in the Southern Leagueâs North Division. Â As if Darwin Barneyâs small sample size of games didnât created distorted enough numbers, Ronald Torreyes, through three games, has an even more insane OPS of 1.467. Â Rubi Silva has a line of .394/.394/.727, good for an OPS of 1.121, as the Cuban import is hitting for solid power with three doubles, a triple, and two home runs in nine games. Â Jae-Hoon Ha is putting together a solid early season, with an impressive line of his own at .368/.455/.447 in the early going in 2013. Â Matt Szczur is hitting for a decent average of .279 and a solid OBP of .347, but continues to show the same glaring weakness that is holding him back. Â For Brett Jackson, it is strikeouts; for Matt Szczur, the problem is an utter lack of power that dropped him off of the Baseball America Top 100 prospects list this season after starting last season just three spots away from Javier Baez. Â Arismendy Alcantara and Christian Villanueva, both on the WSD Top 13 Prospects List, are having similar problems as neither is slugging over .400 â Villanueva not even nearing .300). Â Converted starter Alberto Cabrera has pitched to a respectable 4.50 ERA so far, and will be interesting to keep an eye on as the season progresses, for he could break out into a candidate for the Cubs rotation as soon as next season.
Advanced A Daytona Cubs -Â The Daytona Cubs are 6-5, the first time a winning record has appeared in this report, and sit in third place in the FSLâs North Division. Â Besides actually being a decent ballclub, the Daytona Cubs have received most of their attention for their two superstar prospects in Javier Baez and Jorge Soler. Â Baez has struggled pretty mightily early on, but of course, it is just that â early â while Soler was off to a solid start before he snapped. Â A comment was made by a Clearwater Threshers player about Solerâs family and Soler promptly retreated to the dugout and proceeded to charge the Threshersâ dugout wielding a baseball bat. Â Seemingly, it wasnât quite as bad as it sounds, for Soler received only a five game suspension and should be back in action shortly. Â Solerâs OPS, by the way, was 1.258, while Baezâs mark of just .599 makes Rizzoâs early season struggles look a lot better by comparison. Â Some may begin to speculate that Baez could be an A-ball flame-out if the struggle persist, for he struggled similarly after being called up in 2012, following absolute domination of the Low-A Midwest League. Â However, Baez is still a tremendous talent and it isnât hard to maintain full confidence that heâll figure it out again shortly. Â Prior to Mondayâs 0-5, Baez had hit two doubles and a triple in his previous two games.
A Kane County Cougars -Â The Cougars sit at 3-6 in the young 2013 season, not as bad as Iowa, but their position in standings makes it seem that way as the Cougars are currently eighth place in the eight team Midwest League Western Division. Â Kane County is absolutely stacked with prospects, even with Almora sidelined with injury. Â Big-time slugger Dan Vogelbach is off to a pretty mediocre start, hitting just .282/.318/.385 with one home run, but his .703 OPS is all but guaranteed to improve significantly and he seems poised to mash in the Midwest League this season. Â Jeimer Candelario is producing a respectable .742 OPS, led by a very good on-base percentage of .409. Â Gioskar Amaya, on the other hand, has an OPS of just .514, with neither his on-base percentage or his slugging percentage breaking .300. Â Marco Hernandez, meanwhile, has done even worse, with an almost unfathomable â albeit small sample size â line of .143/.194/.336 with a team high three errors. Â Trey Martinâs batting average is even lower, though his OPS is a better-yet-still-dismal .422. Â Pierce Johnson â the best pitching prospect in the organization that isnât sidelined by injury or visa issues â has gotten off to a shaky start, with a 8.59 ERA and lasting just 7.1 innings combined between two starts. Â His second start was much better than his first, though there still plenty of room for improvement from the young pitcher possessing a WHIP of over 2. Â Johnsonâs strikeout-to-walk ratio, however, is pretty nice with a mark of 2.667.
In all, the Cubs farm and specifically the top prospects are off to pretty poor starts in general, should they even be playing rather than facing injury, visas, or rage-induced suspensions. Â Hopefully, by this time next week, some of these young players will take the headline with a fine streak in the next seven days.