Farm Report Wrap-Up: Peoria featured top prospects in last year as Cubs affiliate

Third baseman Dustin Geiger was named the Chiefs’ season MVP (Photo by Roger Wood)

Today we continue our tour around the Cubs farm system, taking a level-by-level look at performances the organization hopes to build on in 2013. The low Class-A Peoria Chiefs take the spotlight.

There weren’t many constants on the Chiefs roster this year, but the Cubs hope several players featured there will develop into cornerstones in Chicago.

Many locals got a sneak peek at the future when Peoria visited Kane County in Geneva, Ill., during the last weekend of the minor league season. Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler hit the longest home run of the season at that ballpark, a monstrous shot over the trees in left field. MLBlogger Born On Third Cubs caught the bomb on video (skip to 1:40 for the last swing):

That’s the sort of middle-of-the-order power potential that earned Soler a nine-year contract from the Cubs in June. Just 20 years old, Soler hit for a .338/.398/.513 slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) with three home runs and five doubles in 20 games after his mid-August promotion from Short-Season Boise. He’ll now continue his season in the fall instructional league at the organization’s complex in Mesa, Ariz. That will allow him to get controlled instruction—as well as cultural immersion—under the watchful eyes of Cubs coaches.

He was replacing, in effect, Javier Baez, who showed he was worthy of the ninth-overall pick in the loaded 2011 draft class. He started the year in extended Spring Training before being assigned to Peoria when the weather warmed up around Memorial Day. From that point to his Aug. 4 promotion to high Class-A Daytona, Baez had a .333/.383/.596 slash line with 10 doubles, five triples and 12 home runs in 235 plate appearances. The shortstop also added 20 steals in 23 tries while establishing himself as arguably the organization’s top prospect.

Beyond that, the Peoria roster was a bit of a carousel due to injuries and promotions. The Chiefs featured 53 players this season.

Final Records:

First Half / 35-34, third place, 9.0 GB

Second Half / 28-41, seventh place, 19.5 GB

Storylines: The 2012 season marks the Chiefs’ last as a Cubs affiliate, as the organization announced a new player development contract with the Kane County Cougars this month. That will bring the Cubs within 50 miles of their low Class-A team or “right in our backyard,” as Jason McLeod put it.

The advantages are multifold and include the ability for Cubs brass to see the team more frequently, for players to get to know the Chicago market in a low-pressure environment, and for rehabbing major leaguers to have a relatively local option. It does end an eight-year affiliation with the Chiefs (plus another 11 years between 1985-95).

Peoria’s pitching staff featured some good arms to start this season, with P.J. Francescon and converted position player Kyler Burke among those earning promotions to Daytona. Ben Wells missed most of the second half due to injury as did Cuban signing Gerardo Concepcion, who had mononucleosis. Rankings: Two Chiefs players were on the team’s end-of-season top 20 prospect list, according to prospect expert Jonathan Mayo. Soler was ranked 5th, and Ben Wells was ranked 15th. Baez, who finished with Daytona, was ranked No. 1 in the organization.

Top Performances: Besides Soler and Baez, third baseman Dustin Geiger (24th round, 2010) had a standout season and was named the Chiefs’ MVP. He slugged 17 home runs with a .251/.301/.465 slash line in 332 plate appearances. Geiger was in his first full season in Class-A, after playing a few months with Peoria in 2011.

Pin-Chieh Chen (international, 2009) is a Taiwanese import who was found and signed by the Cubs’ excellent Pacific Rim operation, and he showed a number of his talents in a full season with the Chiefs. Chen stole 36 bases in 50 tries, hit 15 doubles and 10 triples, walked 62 times against 78 strikeouts, and hit for a .259/.345/.347 line in 539 plate appearances. He collected seven assists between center field, his primary position, and left.

Zeke DeVoss (third round, 2011) similarly had a good all-around season. Praised for his approach coming out of the University of Miami, DeVoss hit for a .249/.370/.382 slash line with 24 doubles, seven triples and six home runs in 581 plate appearances. The second baseman also stole 35 bases in 51 opportunities and walked 82 times against 118 strikeouts.

Starting pitcher Ben Wells (seventh round, 2010) is a sinkerball expert who was getting nearly 2.5 ground outs to every fly out before being sidelined with an elbow injury. The 20-year-old returned for two brief appearances at the end of the season and finished with a 3.27 ERA, 12 walks and 36 strikeouts in 40 innings. He complements his 94 mph two-seamer with a slider and a splitter.

Yao-Lin Wang (international, 2009) went from closing to starting in August and managed to maintain his impressive strikeout stuff. Wang had a 3.19 ERA and 39 K/12 BB ratio in 36 innings as a reliever; in 41 innings as a starter he struck out 43 while walking 15 and had a 4.57 ERA. Wang is 21 years old and was throwing in the low-90s already when he was signed out of Taiwan a few years back.

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