Opening Day for the minors meant my first trip to Kane County this year. The day started warm enough but gradually got colder as the night went on. We stayed on for all 9 innings, though. There were some good players on the field, including last year's 1st overall pick Carlos Correa, who was the best player on the field, and the game featured a good pitching matchup with Pierce Johnson facing Vincent Velazquez. Correa showed good discipline at the plate, laying off a lot of bad pitches. He also showed plus bat speed, but was not as quick as Cubs prospect Javier Baez.
But first, let's get on with our first minor league recap of 2013. Most of the detail will be from the Kane County game, since it was the only one I saw, though I will watch video of the Iowa and Tennessee games later. I should also have pictures of the Kane County game soon.
- Chris Rusin made a run at a spot on the Cubs staff this spring and his consolation prize is getting the opening day start for Iowa. He wasn't quite as sharp but he did keep the I-Cubs in the game, allowing 3 runs (2 earned) on 4 singles and 2 walks. Rusin also struck out 4 batters.
- For all the bullpen depth the Cubs acquired this offseason, it was old stand-bys Casey Coleman and Rafael Dolis who were the most effective. I'm particularly intrigued with Dolis, who has plus power stuff. He used the winter to tinker with his delivery, speeding it up and employing more of a leg kick. Except for one poor performance he did well this spring and he continued that with an 8 pitch perfect inning. He didn't walk a batter, which is key for him --- but he also didn't strike anyone out, which continues to be puzzling considering his stuff. Coleman also pitched a scoreless inning but Jensen Lewis (1/3 IP, 5 R, 3 ER) and Zach Putnam (2/3 IP, 2 ER) really let the game get away.
- Logan Watkins and Brett Jackson were the 1-2 punch at the top of the lineup and one thing you'll get from them is some OBP and a lot of pitches seen. Today, however, they only got one hit each, though Brett Jackson was also hit by a pitch. Jackson also helped create a run with his aggressive base-running. In case you're wondering, Jackson struck out twice in 5 PAs.
- The main offensive star was spring training star Brian Bogusevic, who had 3 hits, all singles, an RBI and a run scored.
- Dallas Beeler opened up the year and it was a mixed bag compared to last season. Beeler pitches off his 2 seam fastball, which means his game is to keep the ball down in the strike zone and keep the ball in the park. He also needs to throw strikes. One the one hand, he got hit pretty hard, allowing 7 hits and 3 solo HRs in 5 1/3 innings. On the other hand, he threw strikes and missed some bats (1 walk, 5 Ks).
- Relief prospect Tony Zych gave up two unearned runs in an innings worth of work. He walked one and struck out one.
- All the offense was provided by two players, CF Matt Szczur and SS Arismendy Alcantara. Alcantara drove in all 3 runs with a 2 run HR and an RBI single. He also walked and stole a base. The walk is encouraging as Alcantara walked in just 5.3% of his PAs last year, though he did improve as the season went on.
- Matt Szczur had 3 singles and scored one of the Smokies 3 runs.
- Ben Wells made the start as he tries to rebound from an elbow injury that led to a lost season after a promising spring. The bad news is he have up 7 hits -- but the good news is 6 of them were singles and he didn't walk a batter. He also struck out 4. That was enough to keep Daytona in the ball game, as Wells allowed just 2 runs.
- CF Zeke DeVoss did his job as a leadoff man, getting a single and a walk. He scored a run.
- 3B Tim Saunders doubled, scored a run and drove in another.
- Javier Baez, SS, struck out twice but did drive in a run with a sac fly.
- The Cubs other top propect, Jorge Soler hit a pair of singles.
- 2B Stephen Bruno jumped up from the short-season Northwest League and didn't skip a beat. He doubled, drew a walk, and scored a run.
- Pierce Johnson went just 2 1/3 IP and allowed 5 runs, though he wasn't as bad as that sounds. His defense let him down a bit and he gave up a weak ground ball single on a perfectly executed hit and run. He did give up a couple of hard hits but overall he pitched better than the line indicated. I don't know how accurate the stadium gun was but it seemed a few ticks slow. Johnson was at 88-92 mph but nobody hit more than 93 mph in the entire game. The Quad Cities pitcher, Velasquez, normally pitches in the 92-94 mph but I didn't see him break 90 once on the stadium gun. What you did notice, especially in the first inning was the pop on Johnson's fastball and some of the late swings it was generating. He also showed a nasty breaking ball early but seemed to lose his feel for it in the second inning. It lost some bite and he had some trouble commanding it. The control was solid, however, as he only walked one batter while striking out 4.
- Justin Amlung (2.1 IP, 1 R, 2W, 2Ks) piggybacked the start but didn't fare much better. He was a little wild and while he's not really a finesse guy, he's also not the kind of guy that's going to get away with poor command. It's just one bad night but he didn't look as polished as I thought he'd be.
- RHP Steve Perakslis (1.1 IP, 0R 0W, 1K) and LHP Brian Smith (2IP, 1 R, 2W, 4 Ks) showed some pretty good life on their fastballs. Both of them hit the low 90s on that stadium gun, though Smith was mostly high 80s. Smith, however, got some real late swings and showed an occasional good slider, but was inconsistent overall. Perakslis was aggressive with his fastball and went right after the QC hitters. Both pitchers struck out prized Astros prospect Carlos Correa.
- Dan Vogelbach (2-4) walks to the batters box to the sounds of House of Pain which seems pretty appropriate when you consider how he can inflict a world of hurt on a baseball. He got too loud, line drive singles but the hardest hit ball may have been a foul ball down the first base side that he got around just a bit too quickly on.
- My wife and I had seen Jeimer Candelario (1-3, R, BB) at instructs and the first thing we noticed is how good of shape he's in right now. It's not that he was in bad shape in AZ, in fact, it was an improvement over what I saw in Boise, but it looks like he continued to work on it and he looked a lot more lean and athletic than I remembered him. It showed in the field as well as Candelario displayed good quickness, once ranging far to his left to make a play. His hands and arm strength were good, as usual. It's one game but I came away thinking he could stick there at 3B. We'll see how the rest of the weekend goes. At the plate, Candelario showed his usual discipline, working counts and drawing a walk to go with his single. He's my first day candidate for breakout prospect.
- Rock Shoulders (1-4, 2 run HR) showed he could work counts but it was feast or famine once again for the burly slugger. He struck out twice, hit into a DP, and hit a 2 run shot to account for Kane County's only runs.
- I was also impressed with catcher Wilson Contreras (1-2, 2B, HBP). I've liked him more since seeing him in instructs where you could really see how athletic he is and how quick he moves behind the plate. He complements that with a strong throwing arm and looks like he has the potential to be a plus defensive catcher, though he's still rough around the edges. At the plate, Contreras showed some pretty good pop the opposite way, crushing a double off the RF wall. If I had a second breakout candidate, especially a sleeper-type, I'd go with this guy.
- Both Trey Martin and Oliver Zapata showed good arm strength when given the opportunity, though neither threw a runner out.
Filed under: Daily Cubs Minors Recap