Welcome To Chicago: Brett Jackson & Josh Vitters

Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson.

We have been hearing about these guys for a long time, and it seems their time has come at last. Both were recalled from Iowa and made their big-league debuts yesterday.

The future is now. Sort of.

Welcome to the show, B-Jax. Welcome to the show, Joshy V. I hope you’re both here to stay.

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The Farm Boy Files: 2012 Outlook

Here’s the deal:

I started writing this post during Spring Training (probably the beginning of it, but perhaps the middle. It was definitely well ahead of the end.) For some reason it didn’t want to come together in a presentable form, and the process of writing it had me ripping my hair out. By the time the regular season started, and a week or so elapsed, I decided to abandon the idea of a Minor League “preview”.

Nevertheless, last week I decided a return at least to the ordinary Farm Boy Files was in order. My love for the kids is strong, even if my love of writing about a bunch of them at the same time is nonexistent. Before choosing a subject, I took a peek at what I’d managed to scrap together for the original preview. While it wasn’t much, it was slightly more assembled than I’d thought, and it seemed like a waste not to go ahead and publish it.

So here we are. This overview of the Cubs farm system is neither extensive nor cohesive, but I’ve tacked on some recent stats to try and prevent its being completely irrelevant. I hope those of you who share my affinity for prospects will enjoy. To those who don’t, here is a nice baby sloth photo to make your stop here today worthwhile.

Baseball America’s Top 10 Cubs Prospects, 2012:
1. Brett Jackson (OF)
2. Javier Baez (SS)
3. Anthony Rizzo (1B)
4. Matt Szczur (OF)
5. Trey McNutt (RHP)
6. Dillon Maples (RHP)
7. Welington Castillo (C)
8. Rafael Dolis (RHP)
9. Junior Lake (SS)
10. Josh Vitters (3b)

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Recapping Cubs Con: Day Three

If you visit The FBB often, you will know that I have a great love for our up-and-coming minor league boys and it won’t be much of a surprise to learn that I looked forward to Sunday’s “Down on the Farm” forum with much anticipation. The line-up was a solid one: Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Junior Lake, Matt Szczur, Jeff Beliveau and newcomer Anthony Rizzo appeared along with Jason McCleod, Tim Wilken, and Oneri Fleita. The latter three did most ofh the talking, while the players mostly sat in silence, or fidgeted with their drinking glasses and pens. Brett Jackson (prospecto numero uno in the Cubs system) was the exception. He took the reins on the majority of questions leveled at the players, speaking well and with a good sense of humor. Anthony Rizzo also spoke a bit (on the challenges of being traded, among other things) and smiled more than the rest. 

I’m more than a little ashamed to admit that up until the midpoint of this session, I was completely unaware Junior Lake is Latino. I should know that sort of thing, I really should. In any case, Oneri Fleita translated a question for Junior, who rattled off an answer in his native tongue. Dave Otto, who was officiating, jokingly turned to Mr. Jackson for an interpretation. Brett’s response: “He said that Brett Jackson was the best player he’s ever seen… that I’m his best friend, and that my Spanish is above average.” Brett also playfully turned an audience inquiry about how closely the minor leaguers follow the Cubs over on Junior…

Brett: “Junior, did you watch the Cubs at the end of the year?”

Junior: *Confused, non-commital look*

Brett:  “Just say ‘yes.'”

On the whole, “Down On The Farm” lived up to my expectations, although it seemed to go by really fast. We finished off our Cubs Convention experience by collecting a few more autographs, all from fellows who had appeared in this session (Matt Szczur, Jeff Beliveau, and Josh Vitters.) It can’t hurt to collect before these guys hit the big-time, can it?

Here are a few more random notes to wrap up my recap… they didn’t really fit anywhere else:

-I am extremely sad to inform everyone that my little friend Theo 2 was lost somewhere in Chicago. Jed Jr. is all alone now. Let us observe a moment of silence in his memory…

Their last photo together, taken shortly before the Opening Ceremony on Friday.

-Darwin Barney cited chewing gum as one of his superstitions…. Bubblegum Power Activate!!!

-Reed Johnson is a Redskins fan (haha) and he uses Canadian imported birch bats.

-During the Cubs Caravan (which took place the day or so before the convention) some of the younger minor league guys dared Tony Campana to eat a large number of some Fruit-By-The-Foot-like product in 10 minutes (or some such minuscule amount of time.) Apparently, he didn’t quite make it. And I’m guessing it will be a long time before he voluntarily eats any Fruit-By-The-Foot again.

-Josh Vitters as some really sparkling eyes. Usually, I would not make a point of sharing such an observation, but it’s really true.

Well guys, this is all I’ve got for now. I’m heading to California tomorrow, but when I get home I hope to put up a few more pictures (better ones. I hope.) Until then, thank you for putting up with my inefficiencies.

Peace out.

The Farm Boy Files: Arizona Fall League Round-Up

With all the hubbub surrounding Theo Epstein’s defection to Chicago, I almost completely failed to realize that the Arizona Fall League is now well underway. Never fear, though… today the AFL will receive it’s due.

The Cubs have eight farmhands representing the Mesa Solar Sox in Arizona this year. They include pitchers Jeff Beliveau, Chris Carpenter, Andrew Cashner, Marcus Hatley and Trey McNutt as well as infielders Junior Lake, DJ LeMahieu and Josh Vitters. There are some familiar names, and a few not-so-familiar. I, for one, had never heard of Marcus Hatley in my life. And I try to be up on my Cub prospects. So, let’s give these boys a look-see:

Jeff Beliveau: Jeff, an 18th round selection from the 2008 draft, worked his way to the Solar Sox by putting up some sparkling stats between high-A and AA in the 2011 season. Seriously. In 74.1 innings, his ERA was a microscopic 1.57. He struck out 89 batters and walked just 19. You’ve got my attention, Mr. Beliveau. Beliveau. That’s fun to say, isn’t it? Beliveau, Beliveau, Beliveau.

Jeff hasn’t pitched for Mesa yet, but I’ll keep you posted.

Chris Carpenter: Chris was the star of a Farm Boy Files posting here at The FBB about a year ago. He also got a shot in Chicago this season, pitching 9.2 innings and allowing three earned runs. He has been solid for the Solar Sox so far, logging a 2.70 ERA in five appearances. He has also struck out 10 to only one walk in his 6.2 innings. Keep it up, Chris!

Andrew Cashner: Cash is basically in Mesa for a sort of rehab stint. He is limited to relief appearances of two or fewer innings. He’s made three thus far, all one-inning deals and allowed two runs. Baby steps, Cash, baby steps…

Marcus Hatley: As I mentioned already, I’d never heard of Marcus until Saturday. Yet he has, apparently, been in the Cubs system since 2006. I am sorry, Marcus. I am better than that.

He missed some time between 09-10 due to Tommy John surgery, but came back strong in 2011 (which, I assume, is how he earned himself a berth in the prestigious AFL.) He bounded from low-A Peoria, to high-A Daytona, all the way to AA Tennessee this year, performing very well as a reliever at each stop. In 59.2 total innings, he registered a 3.32 ERA with 60 strikeouts and 11 saves.

Marcus has had a rougher go of it this fall (it should be noted that the AFL is notoriously hitter-friendly) putting up an unsightly 17.05 ERA in 6.1 IP. He’s allowed at least one earned run in each of his five appearances.

He’s got time to bounce back, however. And now that I know he exists, I will be cheering Marcus on all the way.

Trey McNutt: You probably already know that Kenneth Trey McNutt is regarded as the #1 pitching prospect in the Cubs system, but did you know that his real first name was Kenneth? I’m betting not. I only do because I covered him earlier this year. His name has been swirling about in the Boston compensation-talk rumors, but the Cubs won’t be letting go of the kid any time soon.

Trey’s numbers with Mesa thus far won’t blow you away (4.05 ERA in 6.2 IP, 1 K, 4 BB) but he appears to be working on a pretty sweet beard. So, there’s that.

Junior Lake: Junior has put up a great showing in his first 13 games as a Solar Sock. The young, toolsy short stop is batting .340/.407/.979 with four home runs, 11 RBI, and 13 runs scored. Add in his 10 stolen bases and you can definitely say that Lake is making a splash (pun totally intended.) He has done more than enough to move well up on my personal “watch” list.

DJ LeMahieu: You know DJ. He’s wore the Cubbie blue already (he’s the skinny one.) He’s batting .286 in Mesa, with a .375 OBP in 14 games. He has driven in 11 runs, and also scored 11. He may be figuring heavily into the Cubs plans in 2012, whether anyone likes it or not.

Josh Vitters: Joshy V. may finally be proving why he is perenially atop the list of Cubs top prospects. He is currently sitting at 4th in the AFL’s top batters with a .375 average. He’s knocked in 10 runs with two homers and three doubles, also recording six runs, four walks and two stolen bases in 11 games.

The Farmboy Files: Midseason Roundup

Since the season is halfway through, I thought it would be a good time to take a peek at a few of the farmboys in the Cubs system and see how they are faring in 2011. First lets look at an overview of where our Cubs affiliates are currently standing…

Peoria Chiefs (Low A): The Chiefs are 41-49 and in next to last place in the Western Division of the Midwest League.

Daytona Cubs (High A): The D-Cubs, under the tutelage of Buddy Bailey, are currently sitting high atop the Florida State league with an impressive 57-33 record. The next best team is 8 games back. Keep it up, Daytona!

Tennessee Smokies (Double A): The Smokies aren’t doing too bad themselves with a 53-38 record on the year. They are easily in first place in the North Division of the Southern League.

Iowa Cubs (Triple A): And the I-Cubs, currently sitting on a 41-51 record, bring us back down to earth. They are in last place in their division of the Pacific Coast League.

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Now that we know where the teams are at, let’s get on to some individuals! Here we go.

Josh Vitters: Long considered the golden boy of the Cubs system, Joshy has yet to really live up to the hype. He has been healthy so far this year, though, which is good. His offensive numbers are respectable, but hardly mind-boggling. He’s batting .279/.316/.442 with 34 runs and 39 RBI through 80 games in Tennessee and has hit 8 homers and 19 doubles. He has a fielding percentage of .885 at 3B, where he has spent the most playing time. I don’t mean to dis the boy, but I’m a bit concerned at this point about what the post-Aramis era is going to look like for the Cubs.

Kyler Burke: The one time Cubs Minor League player-of-the year is a pitcher now, apparently. Whoa.

Matt Szczur: My new favorite prospect. Recently promoted from low-A Peoria to high-A Daytona. He was the Cubs rep in the MLB Futures Game. Follow him on Twitter! @SuperSZCZ4

It’s pronounced “See-zur.” Get it down now, folks!

Rebel Ridling & Ryan Flaherty: Two former VBL players, both doing tremendously well in AA Tennessee. One or other of the two leads almost every offensive category… convincingly ahead of Mr. Jackson and Mr. Vitters. It’s paying off, too. Ryan Flaherty was promoted to Iowa on Monday.

Drafted as a SS, Ryan has moved around a lot the past few years due to the Cubs depth at that particular position. And when I say moved around, I mean moved around. In 2011, he has played short (14 games), 1st (4), 2nd(37), 3rd (12), left (21), right (13), and has acted as DH a few times. It strikes me that Mr. Flaherty might be coming in handy in Chicago in a very short time.

Evan Crawford: I hadn’t heard of Evan up to this point (blast you, Vineline, and your less extensive 2011 minor league prospectus!) He was drafted by the Giants in 2009 and came to the Cubs I know not how.  Evan has registered 98 hits in just 78 games this season in Daytona, which caught my eye. He has also scored 52 runs, stolen 21 bases, and been hit by 12 pitches.

Not to be confused with Toronto double-A pitcher Evan Crawford.

Justin Bour: A Virginia native and George Mason alum. Woot. Justin, who plays 1B, has put up a good showing in Daytona, hitting 17 long-balls and 21 doubles in 85 games. He has driven in 63 runs and scored 45.

Ima be keeping my eye on him now.

Pitching, in general: It’s hard to judge. A lot of our farmboy pitchers have put up some less than exciting stats, but numbers rarely tell the whole story in minor league baseball.

Marwin Gonzalez: BRING HIM UP NOW, BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE TO ACHIEVE THE STARLIN-MARLON-MARWIN-DARWIN COMBO!

Brett Jackson: Promoted Monday to triple-A Iowa along with Ryan Flaherty. Look for one or both in Chicago soon. We are going to need something cooler than “B-Jax” to call him. Get working on that, people.

D.J. LeMahieu: Premature cup-of-coffee stint in Chicago aside, D.J. has been very impressive so far this season. In 61 games between double and triple A, he has batted .353, hit 17 doubles, driven in 31 runs and scored 36. He’s only walked 12 times, but he’s also only struck out 27. I’ll take that.

Angel Guzman: After undergoing major surgery at the beginning of last year, Angel is finally back in the game. He has thrown 4 innings for Peoria and allowed one run. After all that he has been through, you can’t help but get behind this guy and root him on. I hope we will see him back in Chicago soon.

Draftees: Through Thursday, the Cubs had signed 17 of their draft picks from ’11, including first round selection Zeke DeVoss (an outfielder from the University of Miami.) Welcome to the Cubs, Zeke and company!

Stay tuned for more FBB Farmboy coverage throughout the year!

The Farm Boy Files: 2011 Preview

Vineline magazine’s annual minor league prospectus issue arrived in my PO box last week. As a lover of prospects, you must know that this is usually my favorite issue the folks at VL put out all year. I pride myself on keeping a good knowledge of the Cubs system. Sadly, the traditional “50 Names from the Farm” feature was this year slashed to just “20 Names from the Farm.” This was disappointing (I mean, we didn’t lose that many kids in the Matt Garza trade) but I still enjoyed the article. I was inspired enough to compile the following thoughts on our Cubs farmboys for the 2011 season.

Before I launch off, let me remind you to think of none of these lads as geese who will lay us golden eggs. Rather, think of them as flesh-and-blood young men with the potential to help out the team some day.

OK. Away we go.

First, I’m just going to throw some names at you…

Chris Rusin: VL calls him a “crafty lefty.” And it looks like he’s got a Rich Harden-ish nose. That’s all it really takes to get me on your good side.

Alberto Cabrera: I don’t know who you are, but I think you have a good face (an Angel Guzman-Esmailin Caridad sort of face) and VL thinks you will “make a splash” this season.

Kyle Smit: I wrote up young Mr. Smit in September, and consider myself a cheerleader for him. He is so going to make any Baseball America snobs and scouts that spoke un-highly of him eat their words. I am officially calling it. On a side note, look how skinny he is!

Hayden Simpson: The same sort of goes for Hayden as for Kyle. There was a more-than-warranted amount groaning last year when the Cubs drafted him in the first round. People said he wasn’t first round material. People also once said that Tyler Colvin wasn’t first round material. I respectfully disagree and expect Hayden Simpson will show minor league hitters no mercy 2011.

Brett Jackson: Looks like a lion. Try and tell me it isn’t so.

Josh Vitters: I’m going to say that this is a make-or-break year for the much-hyped but oft-injured Mr. Vitters. Not that he isn’t still young or anything, but I feel that it’s about time for him to step up and make an impression if he is going to do it.

Trey McNutt: I don’t have anything in particular to say about Trey, but (as he is reckoned by most to be our #1 pitching prospect) I wanted to throw his name in here anyway. Also,  I accidentally found his MySpace page

Farm boy filed already: Kyle Smit, Chris Carpenter, Ryan Flaherty

On the short list to be farm boy filed soon: Tony Campana, Trey McNutt, Chris Rusin, Rafael Dolis

Prospectus first-timers: Kyle Smit, Micah Gibbs, Hayden Simpson, Aaron Kurcz, Reggie Golden. It should be noted that none of these fellows was actually in the Cubs organization at the start of last year. Gibbs, Simpson, Kurcz, and Golden were all 2010 draftees while Smit was acquired by trade.

#20 by position:

C: 2

IF: 3 (4 including Logan Watkins)

OF: 3 (4 including Logan Watkins)

RHP: 8

LHP: 2

Didn’t crack the top 20:

Matt Szczur: Probably just because he hadn’t committed to the Cubs yet. But he has now! I suggest we all start learning to spell and pronounce his name.

Marwin Gonzalez: Don’t you just want this kid to get called up ASAP so that we could have Darwin, Marwin, Marlon, and Starlin all on the same team?!?!

Kyler Burke: Somehow Kyler went from being the Cubs minor league player of the year in 2009 to being completely left out of Vineline’s Names from the Farm. What gives?

“Successes” from 2010’s List: Darwin Barney, Justin Berg, Andrew Cashner, Welington Castillo, Starlin Castro, Casey Coleman, James Russell, and Tyler Colvin all jumped from last year’s list to the major league roster. Not too shabby, eh?

“How do you do whatcha do- when you’re growin’ them [prospects] down on the farm?”

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!

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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.

Hak-Ju Lee

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.

Rebel Ridling

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.

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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.

Starlin Castro