My Vineline (monthly magazine of the Chicago Cubs) came in the mail last week. It’s the annual Minor League Prospectus issue, which I look forward to every year for its “50 Names from the Farm” feature.
Fans have long bemoaned the lack of productivity from the Cubs’ farm system. Admittedly, our “can’t miss” prospects of recent years have all, well… missed. It is fortunate that we’ve gotten guys like Ryan Theriot, Carlos Marmol, Geovany Soto, and Randy Wells – all of whom basically came from out of nowhere.
Despite recent history, I am optimistic that the farm system really has begun to improve. A few of these kids down there now (some of them really are just babies) seem brimming with promise. It is possible that I am being naive, yes. Fine-sounding magazine blurbs have been known to sway me. I don’t care, in any case. It is much pleasanter to be optimistic than not. But let us get on with looking at some of our laddies!
Quick rundown: Among the “50 Names from the Farm,” 9 are outfielders, 10 are infielders, 2 are catchers, 8 are left-handed pitchers, and 21 are right-handed pitchers. Sixteen were not on last year’s list. Of those, most were either drafted this year (Like Brett Jackson or DJ LeMahieu) or acquired by trade (such as Jeff Gray.) A few made the leap from fringy to bonafied prospect. Robinson Chirinos, for example, had toiled in the system for nearly 10 years as a middle infielder without getting his name in Vineline’s top 50. In ’09, Robinson converted to catching and finally made the list. I love a good underdog!
Shortstops comin’ out the wazoo: SS #1- Wesley Darvill… I tend to be wary of high-school draftees, but Wesley here is Canadian and also played hockey. So. He’s cool. He’s also one of the “babies.” As in, he won’t turn 19 until September. SS #2- Ryan Flaherty… Not your prototypical shortstop at 6’3”, 220 lbs. He is built along the lines of Cal Ripken Jr. The Cubs may likely try him at a few different positions. [See next category.] SS #3- Junior Lake… Another baby, and a toolsy one. He has one of the strongest arms in the system, but is still very raw. Some execs feel he may have a future in center-field. SS #4- Darwin Barney… Last name-first name, first name-last name. The more I read about Darwin, the more I feel that he is essentially an infield version of Sam Fuld. He’s an intelligent guy who plays all-out and has a stellar glove, with his bat being the one iffy factor. I am inclined to like him. SS #5- Hak-Ju Lee… One to start watching, if you haven’t already. Vineline describes him as “balletic.” He is said to be the farm’s best contact hitter, an agressive fielder, and have fantastic speed/baserunning ability. He won’t turn 20 ’til November. SS #6- Starlin Castro… Regarded as the number-one prospect in all of Cubdom, many expect Starlin, 20 in March, to make his big-league debut in 2010. He finished the ’09 season in double-A and the proceeded to light the Arizona Fall League on fire. Earlier last year, high-A Daytona manager Bobby Dickerson sent Cubs brass a scouting report on Starlin that read, “When he plays in the big leagues- his team will be a contender to win a championship every year.” Mr. Dickerson has been a minor league coach/manager for 27 years and says he’s only ever written such a report on one other player. Maybe you’ve heard of the other guy, who’s a shortstop, too. His name is Derek Jeter. So, yes… I very much look forward to seeing what the future holds for Starlin Castro.
Hey, haven’t I seen you someplace before? Ryan Flaherty and Rebel Ridling both played in the Valley League. Rebel played for the Covington Lumberjacks. I thought Ryan Flaherty played for the Winchester Royals, but according to the VBL website it was actually the Waynesboro Generals. OK.
Jeffs: Antigua (LHP), Beliveau (LHP), Gray (RHP), Stevens (RHP)
You know you’re getting old when… your prospects begin to have names like “Trey,” “Blake,” and “Kyler.”
Odd/Fun first names: Darwin, Brooks, Junior, Rebel, Welington
International flavor: Alessandro Maestri (Italy), Ryan Searle (Australia), Hung-Wen Chen (Taiwan), Dae-Eun Rhee, Hak-Ju Lee and Su-Min Jung (South Korea.)
Who? Jeff Beliveau and Aaron Schafer? OK, well… I’ve heard of you all now!
As time goes by: How does this year’s list compare to last year’s? I pulled out the February 2009 issue, the cover of which was not encouraging (it featured photos of the Cubbies exciting new acquisitions Milton Bradley, Luis Vizcaino, Aaron Miles, Kevin Gregg, and Joey Gathright.) A few guys made the transition from prospect to big-leaguer during the course of the year. Micah Hoffpauir, Sam Fuld, Jake Fox, Jeff Samardzija and Randy Wells stand out. A handful of others (Jeff Stevens, Justin Berg and Esmailin Caridad, for example) spent a bit of time in the bigs. If I were going to invent an award for the best product from ’09 and call it, say, the Rah! Rah! Player of the Year award, it’d go to Randy Wells.
The majority of the rest of the 2009 list recur in 2010. I am encouraged by new trends of youth and athleticism. The Cubs farm system as a whole is younger and more athletic than it used to be. It seemed a few years ago that everyone in double-A was a 26-year-old designated hitter, or a 25-year-old defensive replacement. Our prospects just seem “prospectier” nowadays.
As long as I’m on this topic I guess I should mention… Josh Vitters: the oft-hyped third-baseman who was the second all-around pick in the 2007 draft. I am inclined to be more wary of him, for no particular reason. Brett Jackson: First round pick from last year’s draft. Vineline compares him to a speedier Jim Edmonds. He was an art major at California. Intriguing, eh? Andrew Cashner: Top of the list as far as pitching prospects go. I feel it best not to get too enthused over pitchers. Too many things can (and often do) go wrong. DJ LeMahieu: Second rounder from ’09. Although he attended LSU and has a French-sounding last name, he is from Michigan, not Louisiana. I expect this fact to confuse me for years to come. Trey McNutt: OK, so he is a pitcher… but as I’ve already mentioned once, I love a good underdog. And if being a 32nd round pick doesn’t constitute an underdog, I don’t know what does. Vineline says, “Cubs fans should know his name.” Logan Watkins: Just another ‘un I’ll have my eye on.
It is probably obvious by this point, but I have a great interest in the minor-league system, and had a lot of fun compiling this post. I hope to follow up with more farm-y reports as the 2010 season begins and progresses.