Good morning to everyone! Today is the first installment previewing the 2017 minor league season. 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.
Triple-A – Iowa Cubs
Although Manager Marty Peavy has done a good job since being named Iowa’s skipper in 2013, he has only piloted them to a 287-288 record over that period. Peavy may be looking over his shoulder at some of the other managerial candidates in the system. Looming at Double-A is Mark Johnson, who has managed teams to three championship appearances and two titles in five years at four different levels. Further down the chain, Low-A South Bend manager Jimmy Gonzalez is in his third year at the helm and has a 171-161 record and a playoff appearance as a head man. This season, Peavy will be given what is most probably his most competitive team of his tenure. What Peavy does with that talent may determine his future in the organization.
First Base – After several years of this position being a revolving door, it appears some stability has come and with that, greater confidence of the fellow infielders. Last season, Dan Vogelbach held down the spot for the majority of the season, with the position becoming more of a free-for-all after his trade. This year, it appears that veteran Chris Dominguez will get the bulk of the playing time. The 30-year old has played 22 games in the majors and is a veteran of the Giants, Reds, and Red Sox systems. Dominguez also has the ability to play third base and corner outfield, so there will be plenty of opportunities for others at first while keeping Dominguez’s bat in the line-up.
Second Base/Shortstop – For the Iowa Cubs, these two positions with be seen as a combination due to the abilities of the players most likely to be assigned. The opening double play partners look like veteran Munenori Kawasaki and Chesny Young. The Cubs like the experience and energy the 35 year old Kawasaki brings and will dip down to Triple-A for him should there be a short term need at the big league level. Young brings a lot of athleticism, versatility, and hitting ability to the middle of the diamond. The two-time batting champ (sort of) has a career batting average of .314 and a .384 on-base percentage, and can play all four infield positions as well as the outfield.
Also seeing time, but now behind Kawasaki and Young, is the seasoned Jemile Weeks. The six year major-leaguer has seen a downturn in production over the past few campaigns and is sideline in training camp with a sprained knee, but can be valuable due to his experience and versatility. Primarily a second baseman, Weeks can also fill in at short and third, as well as the outfield. A final infield position will come down to one of two long-term minor leaguers in Elliot Soto and Stephen Bruno, with the loser most likely ending up with Double-A Tennessee.
Third Base – One of the best prospects in the Cubs’ system, the question is not “if” but “when” will Jeimer Candelario make his way to a big league roster full time. With a crowded roster situation at Wrigley, many consider the 23 year old as a prime candidate for a trade. But switch-hitting third basemen with power and above average to outstanding defensive ability do not grow on trees, so expect all possibilities. Whenever Candelario “graduates”, the position most likely will be filled internally as Young, Weeks, and Dominguez will all get a shot.
Catcher – The Cubs are experiencing a wealth of abundance at this position, beginning with 23 year old Victor Caratini. The switch-hitter was in the hunt for the Southern League batting title last season, and considered one of the best defensive catchers in the organization, while also having experience at first base. Making a favorable impression this spring, Taylor Davis has come a long way since being an undrafted free agent. A two-way player, Davis can also field at first and third base as well as behind the dish. Another switch-hitter, Carlos Corporan provides a veteran presence but little in the way offense.
Outfield – Considering the versatility of the infield and catching corps, Iowa will probably carry only four outfielders, with each capable of contributing significantly should they get the big league call. Coming off of a broken foot, Mark Zagunis will likely get the nod in left field. Plate discipline is the strong suit of the former catcher, as the 24year old has a .401 career on-base percentage. Added to the forty man roster this off-season, Jacob Hannemann will probably patrol center. Speedy and athletic, the 25 year old Hannemann needs to improve on offense but is a defensive whiz. Steady and undervalued, the left-handed hitting Bijan Rademacher can contribute in a variety of roles. Capable of hitting at any place in the batting order, Rademacher also has the ability to play first base. Backing all three positions is the gritty John Andreoli. Quite possibly the best base-runner of the bunch, Andreoli continues to evolve offensively and is steady but unspectacular on defense.
Starting Pitching – The Iowa Cubs stand to have their best success in years based on the talent and depth of their pitching staff, beginning with starting pitching. Off-season moves have added Eddie Butler and Alec Mills to the rotation. Former first round pick Butler is a power pitcher that has had command issues in his major league appearances. It is the Cubs’ hopes to refine the 25 year old and tap into his immense ability. Scouts are split on where Mills would be most effective, but he is another 25 year old who throws strikes. A promising future for Ryan Williams hit a bump last season, as he was sidelined with shoulder issues. Williams is a ground ball machine that had a meteoric rise through the system before the injury. While Rob Zastryzny saw his major league action primarily in the bullpen last season, Player Development feels that the big lefty can be a back end of the rotation innings-eater.
Competing for the fifth spot and other roles on the staff are a bevy of pitchers with major league experience, including Aaron Brooks, Jake Buchanan, Seth Frankoff, Casey Kelly, and Williams Perez. The most compelling of the bunch is Buchanan, who had a hot-and-cold season with the I-Cubs last year. The Cubs feel that another year in their system can help bring out greater consistency in Buchanan.
Relief Pitching – Strong and deep, the relief corps for Iowa will have plenty of pop in Jose Rosario. Another member of the forty man roster, Rosario brings his 100 MPH fastball to the I-Cubs’ pen and has first crack at the closer role. A pitcher that piles up strikeouts, Felix Pena got his first taste of the big leagues last season. While his command is solid, Pena has to concentrate on giving up more weak contact and less hits. New to the relieving game, Pierce Johnson will also get a chance to close out games. With a starter’s repertoire, the Cubs are hoping a change in expectations brings increased velocity and greater consistency. Coming in from the left side, Jack Leathersich is bouncing back well from Tommy john surgery. Results for Leathersich have been encouraging in spring training and because he is left-handed, the chances of him being the first player recalled from the minors are great. A very tempting middle reliever is Stephen Perakslis. Fully recovered from surgery to remove a blood clot in this throwing shoulder, Perakslis had a very successful stint in the Arizona Fall League.
As with the starting rotation, the front office signed a lot of veterans to compete for the bullpen. While not all of them will make it, having Maikel Cleto, Dylan Floro, Jim Henderson, Jhondaniel Medina, Conor Mullee and lefties Dave Rollins and Zac Rosscup available will give manager Peavy a lot of options.
Tags: Aaron Brooks, Alec Mills, Bijan Rademacher, Carlos Corporan, Casey Kelly, Chesny Young, Chris Dominguez, Conor Mullee, Dave Rollins, Dylan Floro, Eddie Butler, Elliot Soto, Felix Pena, Jack Leathersich, Jacob Hannemann, Jake Buchanan, Jeimer Candelario, Jemile Weeks, Jhondaniel Medina, Jim Henderson, Jimmy Gonzalez, John Andreoli, Jose Rosario, Maikel Cleto, Mark Johnson, Mark Zagunis, Marty Peavy, Munenori Kawasaki, Pierce Johnson, Rob Zastryzny, Ryan Williams, Seth Frankoff, Stephen Bruno, Stephen Perakslis, Taylor Davis, Tom U, Victor Caratini, Williams Perez, Zac Rosscup