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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Springing Forward

I can already tell that I’m going to run out of quotes and clever post titles with “spring” in them before I run out of spring training related posts. Blogging… don’t let anyone tell you it’s an easy life, kids.

In any case, here are my latest commentaries on all things Cub.

Intrasquad Games: The great thing about intrasquad games is that it’s impossible for the Cubs to lose. Of course, it’s impossible for them to win, too, but that’s a small detail that I am personally willing to accept.
So far, the victories have all lain with the hitters (though they had help from some interesting wind conditions, from what I hear.) Brett Jackson has been showing his mettle, hitting jacks and doubles all over the place, as has FBB-favorite Matt Szczur, who scored from second base on a sacrifice fly (it may have been due to right-fielder David DeJesus’s having got his hand stuck in a chain-link fence, but still…) AND hit a grand slam. You go, Matt.

“Real” Games: The Cubbies played their first “real” match-up of the spring yesterday afternoon, against the A’s. Of course, these games are not REALLY real, but they are more real than intrasquad affairs.
The farmboys showed up the veterans in this match-up. The same thing sort of happened in the intrasquad games, and I am delighted. Watching the youngsters have success is a joy to behold, even in the preseason. Outfielder Jae-Hoon Ha, one of several Cubs prospects who hails from South Korea, knocked in 2 runs with a triple. Infielder Adrian Cardenas (of whom I have no further knowledge to offer as of now) drove in three with a home run in the 6th inning. Keep up the good work, kids!
In the end, the A’s came out on top with a very typical Spring score of 12-10. Fortunately, as it IS the spring, we have no reason to care for scores or outcomes. We can just be happy that baseball, once again, is.

Bunt Tourney Update: Dale Sveum has pulled off a couple of upsets, defeating Kerry Wood and favorite Ryan Dempster respectively in the first two rounds. There are just sixteen competitors remaining, now, and it’s hard to say who will come out on top. I can’t see a clear-cut favorite anymore, especially not the way things have gone so far. Pretty much all the guys we assumed would excell have been eliminated.
The sweet 16 match-ups, as per Carrie Muskat, are as follows:
Jeff Beliveau vs. Trey McNutt

Chris Rusin vs. Casey Coleman

Jeff Samardzija vs. Randy Wells

Paul Maholm vs. Dale Sveum

Adrian Cardenas vs. Blake Lalli

Welington Castillo vs. Steve Clevenger

Joe Mather vs. Starlin Castro

Jeff Baker vs. David DeJesus

I’m going to be super random and pick Chris Rusin to go all the way. I think he’s crafty enough to pull it out. On a side note, I’ve been meaning to dedicate a Farm Boy Files post to Chris for at least a year. Hopefully I’ll get that done one of these days.

Dale Sveum celebrates his victory over Kerry Wood.

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 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?