Minor League Preview – Triple-A Iowa

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.


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  • Excellent review. Thanks.

  • In reply to Hagsag:

    Thanks! Great to see a familiar name.

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    Great, great read Tom. I forgot about Caratini--what a treat to have a defensive switch-hitter batting title catcher, and he's behind a young, terrific defensive/offensive force in Willson Contreras.
    It must be spring if we're talking about the minors, although we're going to get 2-4" of snow in Chicago today.
    AAA sounds stacked and we're not even talking about our top prospects yet! Every position is a potential major leaguer, and I'm really excited about our pitchers. We're finally seeing some sure prospects there and young ones coming off injuries too. thanks.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Thank you. I commented on Twitter this weekend that the Iowa Cubs are potentially better than some major league teams.

  • Gotta believe Happ will spend most of the year in Iowa also. Not a lot more to prove in TN. Where he breaks camp may come down to late trades or assignments to others, e.g. Candelario. Being groomed as a rover it is a shame AAA doesn't play the game with short center.

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    yeah if Happ is @ 2nd - the CY switches to 3rd & Candelario to 1b ?

    Chesney Young looks good -we might have another DJ LeMahiue on our hands.

  • In reply to deport soriano com:

    That ball Happ hit on Saturday was a shot. When it took off, I thought it was splitting the gap in rightcenter field. Yeah it did, but landed half way up the grass in RC field. Offensively, he could be something real special.

  • Given his spring, I would assume Happ might be pushing the AAA roster if not at the start but soon.

    Pitching wise, it will be interesting to see how many of the AA pitchers push the roster during the season. I am thinking of Tseng and/or Underwood. But also bullpen arms like Wagner & Garner

  • In reply to Gator:

    Given Underwood's injuries and limited time in AA last year, not to mention his struggles there, I think he's starting in AA.

    Tseng is still just 22 and he didn't do that well in AA last season (4.29 ERA, 1.50 WHIP). I think he'll likely repeat AA.

    We could see some AA pitchers join the Iowa bullpen (Skulina, Markey, etc.) though. I expect the 5th starter spot in AAA to be filled by one of the veteran FAs like Frankoff, etc.

  • With Caratini and Candelario blocked, I wonder what type of coast controlled pitcher the pair might bring in return. I know that you rarely see a prospect for prospect trade, but regardless, these could be a couple of assets used to build the rotation for the future.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    Caratini is blocked for, at most, one year, and he could use some AAA seasoning anyway. If the Cubs like his future as a catcher, I'm not sure they want to trade him. Zagunis, Candelario, P. Johnson, maybe even Underwood are better trade options.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    I do not know if Caratini is officially blocked. Montero is in his last year of his deal so Caratini has #2 catcher potential next year. And being a switch hitter with 1B potential only helps him long term with Maddon's style of play. I do not think Schwarber becomes more than a #3 catcher/ OF/ DH / 1B. (that seems like plenty).

    Candelario is kind of blocked everywhere he goes 3B, 1B, OF. Given his ability and age, you let it play out (in my opinion) as long as you can for resiliency sake. The Cubs were relatively healthy last year or at least managed it well. Having both Young and Happ can offset his value in the system. Candy looks more in control this spring so that is good to see.

  • Thank you Tom!

    From what you can tell how does Caratini's pitch framing skills look?

  • I too think Happ will be in Iowa soon and maybe chicago later in 2017.

    I would also assume Lastella will start at iowa unless he or szczur is traded. So I think young may start at AA as well.

    Here is my view of the cubs future:
    Happ replaces lastella
    Young replaces szczur.
    Candelario replaces jay.
    Caratini replaces montero. Jiminez replaces zobrist or hayward before that. That would be a bench of 3 switch hitters a lefty and a righty.

    Obviously one or two could be trade options. But I think they will sign a TOR starter in 2018 for 4 years (arrieta or whomever). Lackey will be replaced from within the organization (with butler, mills, zastrnsky, williams, johnson or underwood).

    Anyway, that's my opinion. You know what they say about opinions.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    I also don't see the Cubs trading Caratini. A switch hitting catcher who makes good contact and plays decent defense - I keep him around as a backup to Willson.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    Happ looks really good to me as well. It would not surprise me if he's in Chicago this year. Of course, the "problem" is where to play him. He and Candelario seems like really good backups if/when someone gets hurt.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    What is it they say about opinions? That every one is wrong except mine?

    I agree with some of your suggestions and disagree with others, both in time frames and flexibility, but that's beside the point. No matter how these moves shake out, the bigger picture is we have options, lots of good options.

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    In reply to bleachercreature:

    I agree that Caratini would replace Miggy after next year and then we'd have 2 of the best young catchers in the ML.

  • One thing to bear in mind with the present front office is that during their tenure with the Cubs, they are generally conservative with their player assignments.

  • In reply to Tom U:

    Not sure I completely agree. It is true they were exceptionally conservative during the rebuild (see Bryant). But they weren't with Soler. And particularly starting in 2015, there was a shift toward winning on the Major League level. Schwarber only played 17 games in AAA, and Russell only 11. The driving force behind decisions now, in my belief, is what helps the current team win its division, do well in the playoffs, and win a World Series. If a player in the minors is better than a player in front of him, he'll play.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    The key word is "generally". There are always exceptions. I know that there were quite a few players unhappy with their initial assignments last year. Many of those players were high draft picks and/or Top 20 types. Those feelings have surfaced often over the past five years.

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    Just read on Yahoo sports an article in the New York Post about the quandary the Yankees are in w/Startlin Castro. Do you know he has the 3rd most hits for an active player of 26 playing today (1147). He shows flashes but then commits an error or two. It's not that he doesn't work hard but it just isn't what they're looking for. Sound familiar? It's also not that he isn't a good guy in the clubhouse either.
    I agreed that we had to trade him and wish him the best. Maybe he could be a DH although he doesn't have a ton of power, although he did hit 21 HRs last year, but if you have some power maybe that's the answer. Idk.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    I wonder as regards Castro - if he would make as smooth a transition as did Ian Desmond did last year to the OF playing for Texas?

    I know that some of us (myself included) wondered if the Cubs should try Castro out as a CF guy prior to him being traded. His arm is probably strong & accurate enough to play OK in the OF, but I'm guessing he would have some work to do out there to get his OF defense better put together first.

    An at least passable CF/OF guy who can get you 20 or so HR and 25-30 2B is a guy who can find work in MLB.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    Starlin has always had a little trouble staying focused for whatever reason. Baseball is a game dependant on consistent execution. Castro has improved with maturity, but still cannot be totally trusted. Competitive teams will give up some hits for dependability.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    His defense (and maybe in part that was the move to 2B in action) last year for the NYY was actually not bad. He cut back to a fairly respectable 12 errors on the season for NYY last year. Still not GG-level defense, but not bad. Slightly negative dWAR, but above 2 for oWAR.

    Starlin always had the ability to look like a GG defensive guy one play & then completely muff the next one. He'll get bumped out of 2B in NY within a season or two with some of their younger talent breathing down in next,... It will be interesting to see where and how he lands.

    Still pulling for the kid - Still have great respect for both his talents, and the team-player kind of way he took being moved out of the Cubs SS spot for Russell to close out 2015. He came back from that with some solid offense focus when they started playing him at 2B.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    I think you are confused..we are talking about Starlin Castro. When was the last time that he had 20..or even 10 stolen bases in a year?

  • In reply to CubsFaninNC:

    Didn't say anything about stolen bases CubsFaninNC. Go back and re-read what I wrote. Mentioned HR and 2B, but never SB.

  • Interesting stuff there Tom - love the background and information.

    I don't think that Manager Peavy can be 'blamed' much for the slightly losing record in Iowa though - not that much blame was laid out here in the article.

    Peavy has had to deal with a train-wreck of injuries to pitchers (especially last season), and the big-league team keeps stealing all of this best position player talent to go play at Wrigley, or trading them like Vogelbach for more talent to fill gaps.

    The fact that he's managed to keep Iowa near 0.500 over the last couple of seasons while 'losing' talent like Bryant, Schwarber, Russell, Szczur, Baez, and Contreras, and when he last essentially 4/5ths of his starting rotation last season.,.... I think the guy is doing OK.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    Absolutely agree that it is not Peavy's fault, but there are other forces at work here. Johnson and Gonzalez are considered rising stars among the coaching ranks, and the Cubs would like to keep them in-house. Good soldiers like Peavy usually get reassigned to other positions.

  • Good work, Tom. I have my 25-man MLB roster written down with many of these guys listed as depth, but it's nice having all this info condensed in one place. Thank you.

    We are fortunate to have a talented roster mostly set going into the season. There aren't many spots open based on performance. Even in case of the inevitable injuries, I think we have a pretty clear line of succession: Candelario at the CI spots, Kawasaki in the MI, Hannaman, Zagunis, or Andreoli (based on need) in the OF, and a host of starting and relief arms.

    The one area I see in-season turnover is left-handed relievers. I'm not sold on Duensing, but I understand the confidence in a proven arm. Montgomery or Anderson (if healthy) will fill a spot. If one of those two were to miss time, Zastryzny is the logical replacement there, as he is of the same mold, and showed very well out of the pen last year. Leathersich and Rosscup can both be deadly against lefties, but both are coming off injury and will need at least a month or two to re-establish themselves. I wouldn't be surprised to see one or the other push Duensing out by season's end.

    I know Grimm, Edwards Jr., and especially Uehara can handle LH hitters quite well, but with an 8-man pen, I'd like to see two highly-effective lefties. It speaks to the strength of this team that this may be the most glaring weakness, but even here we have internal options, and of course may target a lights-out lefty reliever at the deadline as we prepare for another deep postseason run. It's good to be a Cubs fan!

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    Thank you!

  • There is a bit of hyperbole with the statements that Caratini is "one of the best defensive catchers" in the system and Rosario has a 100 mph FB.

    Rosario has hit triple digits, but sits more 95-96. And to say Caratini is one of the best defensive catchers in the system isn't really saying much. Is being "one of" mean he's top 3, top 4?

    If were looking at the entire system, the reports on Miguel Amaya have him as having the best defensive catching tools in the system with Jhonny Pereda getting high grades as well. Cael Brockmeyer is highly respected for his present catching skills and PJ Higgins is raw but his athleticism (something Caratini lacks) has scouts giving him a good ceiling defensively.

    Caratini has, by all accounts, been diligently working on his catching skills. As a 3B convert he's still catching up (no pun intended). He's shown improvement and can continue to get better, but he's seen mostly as a bat first back up at this point.

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    I hope you are right about Candelario and Caratini on defense. Most reviews of them have said they can play passably at 3B and C respectively. I LOVE having switch-hitters, though. The cubs are setting up to have a super flexible defense/offense for a while.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Be careful what you read and where. Both John and I agree that we have never seen anything to be concerned about with Candelario at third base. A lot of the criticism is old from when he was first starting out.

    Up until the national scouts started paying attention to some guy named Contreras, they all thought that Caratini was the best defensive catcher in the system. Now, all of the sudden, there are some doubts.

  • In reply to Tom U:

    see, Kyle Schwarber. Or Bryant defensively. Nationally, there were/and are doubts about Kyle's hit tool to play in LF. I have learned to defer u who have followed them. And my eyes confirm it.

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    In reply to Tom U:

    I would be thrilled to have the places I have read shown wrong. And don't deny that it is very possible. I also admit that both you and John--and many others here--have a far better read on these guys' defensive abilities than I do. I didn't mean to contradict you or question your conclusions. I was trying to make a "hopeful" statement that their defense will be as good as you say. If it is, I would love to keep them or see what other teams will trade for them. To me I am very comfortable having Caratini, Candelario on the roster. I am not convinced that everyone, or even anyone, needs 600-650+ PAs.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Joel, thank you. I do not feel questioned or contradicted. Last year, I monitored about 400 players and parts of 400 games in the Cubs system alone. Imagine that on a league-wide scale! Its a near impossible task to know everything about everyone's players, which is why national scouts rely heavily on contacts rather than personal knowledge. Sometimes, that is not entirely reliable.

  • Love what u have added to Cubs Den Tom U.

    Interesting view on the manager front. Never thought of an MiLB manager in a win-loss context. I could surmise that 5 years at the helm is for a reason. But also now see the up and comers point-of-view.

    Iowa is deep and versatile in the Infield and Catching, With a nice mix of veteran and prospect depth.
    But Outfield, in case of emergency, not so much. But that would be a prety big emergency, based on the versatility and depth of the MLB roster. And reinforcements at the lower levels are close behind.
    Pitching, I just pray for health and a few to make that next step.

    "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."
    Falls into the "I did not know that" category. Saw him do well in a game recently and wondered where he came from.

  • Thank you. As with an earlier post, I do not want to have what I said about Marty Peavy get blown out of proportion. Peavy has done well with a lot of less than good material. But now he has a talented team along with some successful managing prospects further down the system. If Peavy cannot get this group to produce, perhaps he may be more useful in another role.

  • No, I get it. Just never considered it. In a good organization, a manager or coach is, and should be a prospect to develop in his own right.

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