It's been a while since we did a preview because of the start of game action in spring training. Now that we're all settled in with the present team, it's back to the future. In case you missed it, here is the preview of the Daytona position players, which is now just about certain to include Jorge Soler. You can see all of the minor league previews here.
- I think Pierce Johnson can pitch in high Class A already but that's not my decision. The Cubs may want to take it slow and start him in Kane County, in which case he probably won't be there very long as long as he stays healthy -- which has been a legitimate question already in his young career. Johnson features a 93-94 mph fastball that can reach 96 and a power curve. He can also throw a cutter that reaches the mid 80s. The changeup -- as in with most young pitchers -- is still coming along but it's serviceable for now. Johnson has ideal height at 6'3" and is all about coming after you with hard stuff. He's not going to try and fool you with location or by changing speeds all that often. As such, there's a chance he can be a front of the rotation pitcher but doesn't have the kind of command or control you like from an ace. The Cubs like his mental makeup about as much as they like Almora's -- it's a factor we emphasize here because, while mental makeup alone won't make you a major league ballplayer, it greatly increases the odds that you will take advantage of the tools you already have. And Johnson has a lot of them. He's probably more suited to be a #3 starter with a ceiling of a #2.
- Starlin Peralta was scooped up in the Rule 5 draft by the Arizona Diamondacks and they reportedly are impressed enough already where they are considering keeping him. I saw Peralta a few times last year between Kane County and Beloit. He seemed to get better as the year went on. His command was spotty but his stuff was overpowering at times. He ran his fastball up to 97 mph and showed a good hard slider at times, though that pitch seemed to come and go. The raw tools are there but Peralta may end up in the bullpen if he doesn't develop better command and a change-up.
- Juan Carlos Paniagua: I have him in the Kane County preview and you can read about him there, but he does have a chance to jump to Daytona given his age (23). He'll likely start in extended spring training so the Cubs can get a longer look and they'll decide from there.
- Robert Whitenack may well wind up in Daytona considering how he struggled as he tried to come back from TJ surgery. He's 24 and on the 40 man roster, so the Cubs will want to move him quickly. If he starts here, the hope is he ends in A Ball or above. Whitenack struggled to get over 90 mph last year and had trouble commanding his breaking pitches, but when right he can reach 96 -- but is best when using his 92-93 mph two seamer, plus command, and height (6'5") to pitch downhill and keep the ball low in the zone. He has the upside of a #3 starter.
- Austin Reed is a guy who wasn't overpowering when drafted. He relied on an an 89-91 mph fastball that he balanced with an advanced change-up. But Reed projected well and has filled out as well as hoped. He's an ideal sized 6'3" and at least 200 lbs and his fastball is up into the mid 90s. It sat at around 94-96 when I saw him in September. Overall, Reed was up and down last season, at times appearing dominant and at other times he was much too hittable. I think part of that has to be chalked up to adjusting to his larger build and an increase in velocity that requires a change in his approach. It'll be interesting to see what happens this year as he gets more comfortable and does some offseason work with new minor pitching coordinator Derek Johnson. He also has that change all ready to go with his hard fastball and slider. Add that to a big durable build and I'd really like to see him tried out as a starter this season. The Cubs have shown a propensity to convert pitchers with this profile (i.e. Jeff Samardzija, Alberto Cabrera) from the bullpen to the rotation.
- Michael Jensen put up some good numbers in Peoria last season: 11-5, 3.41 ERA (3.29 FIP) with a strikeout rate of 7.39/9 IP and a walk rate of 2.57/9 IP. Like Johnson, he features a good fastball and curve, but he's not the same kind of pitcher overall. Jensen is more Maddux-sized at 6'1, 185 lbs. and his fastball is more in the 90-92 mph range. His curveball is a big breaking 12-6 offering that gets a lot of swings and misses right now but he's going to have to command it well because big league hitters may lay off of it more. His command is pretty good already and he has a good feel for pitching for his age. Stuff-wise Jensen profiles more as a #4 or #5 type in the majors but if he can build on his solid command, his intelligent approach may allow his stuff to play up a little. He's a bit of a sleeper despite putting up some of the best numbers in the organization.
- Hunter Cervenka is a LH reliever who was putting up atrocious numbers in the Boston organization. The Cubs must have seen something they liked and got him as the PTBNL in the Marlon Byrd deal. Cervenka is a rare Cubs power lefty, often pitching at 93-94 mph last season and complimenting it with a mid 80s cutter. According to one scout, his fastball also has good tail and sink, so it's about movement as much as it is about power. The key for Cervenka is to harness his good stuff and throw strikes. If he does, he has a legit shot to make it as a late inning LH bullpen arm.
Others prospects to keep your eye on..
- Jose Rosario is about the same size as Jensen but he's all about power. He can reach 97 mph and has a hard mid 80 slider that was making some MWL hitters look pretty helpless last year. Rosario has had trouble staying healthy and developing a change-up, however, so his future is likely as a power reliever. He was injured again last season so he may not be ready to start the season in Daytona.
- Yao-Lin Wang has put up some great strikeout numbers in his short career. He whiffed 10.3 batters per 9 innings in Boise and then put up 9.5 strikeout/9 IP rate last season. If you were to judge him by that metric alone, you'd probably think he brings some serious heat. He doesn't. He's more of a low 90s pitcher who plays it up with an advanced change up. It's been enough to over-match lower level hitters. the question with Wang is will it fly at the upper levels? It's a big question because Wang, despite his young age (22), doesn't project to get bigger. He's an even 6'0 tall with a body that's already filled out.
- Ben Wells is still young (won't turn 21 until September) so the Cubs could start him back at Kane County. He looked promising to start the season in 2012, reportedly getting his fastball into the 97-98 range before an elbow injury took a big chunk out of his season. The Cubs elected to avoid surgery and rehab his arm instead, but when I saw Wells in September he was more in the 87-90 mph range. We'll have to see if he bounces back this season.
- Marcelo Carreno, 21, was acquired for Jeff Baker. He is a control pitcher who walked just 1.8 batters per 9 innings while strikng out 7.7/9 IP. He put up a very respectable 2.63 FIP, in the Midwest League (Class A). Carreno throws about 88-89 and was once thought to have a chance to project for more but he's grown into more of a thick build. He projects more as a bottom of the rotation/middle relief type, but his ability to throw strikes gives him a chance to move quickly and he may reach Tennessee later this year.
P.J. Francescon had 17 starts in Daytona and while he didn't dominate the way he did in Peoria (1.86 ERA and hitters batted just .158 against him), he probably showed enough to move on to Tennessee and we'll cover him in that preview. Some viewed Zach Cates as a sleeper last year -- Keith Law had him ranked as his #5 Cubs prospect -- but arm troubles derailed him and when Cates did come back he struggled to show the velocity and command he displayed as a Padres prospect. Larry Suarez is a mountain of a man with a mid 90s fastball that can touch 97. There isn't much else there, however, and Suarez has moved through the system slowly. Joseph Zeller is a knuckleball artist who befuddled MWL hitters when that pitch was dancing. Matt Iannazzo is undersized at 5'9 but the LHP has a pretty big fastball, able to reach the mid 90s at times. Hayden Simpson may be hanging on and needs to show more this season. He did hit 90-91 at times, which was encouraging but he more often pitched in the 87-89 range. He has a full repertoire but needs better command if he's going to pitch at that velocity. LHPs Andrew McKirihan and Sheldon McDonald put up some good numbers out of the bullpen in Peoria last year. McKirahan is the more projectable of the two, though both are already 23. They're best hope to reach the majors will be as LOOGYs. Luis Liria has a good arm and reached 94-95 at times but does so with maximum effort and spotty command. Su-Min Jung has good size and did a good job of missing bats at Boise but walked too many hitters (18 in 25 innings). He's otherwise advanced enough to jump to Daytona -- but could well start out in Kane County.