Farm Report Wrap-Up: The Iowa-Chicago shuttle was active in 2012

Josh Vitters was one of the top hitters on the Iowa Cubs this season. (Photo by Stephen Green)

Today we wrap up our tour of the Cubs farm system, which took a level-by-level look at performances the organization hopes to build on in 2013. The Triple-A Iowa Cubs are last in the spotlight.

For those of us who subscribe to MiLB.TV, all eyes were trained on Iowa to start the year. Between Anthony Rizzo, Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters, some of the organization’s top prospects could be found just a step away from the major leagues.

In fact, of the 59 players to appear for the I-Cubs this year, 32 appeared in the major leagues at some point this season. And 24 finished the year on a big league roster (though it should be noted that total includes rehab assignments in Des Moines for Geovany Soto, Carlos Marmol and Steve Clevenger).

Of course, Rizzo dominated Triple-A until his mid-June call-up, and he more or less became the Chicago Cubs’ best hitter after that. On the other hand, both Vitters and Jackson weren’t able to take off in their major league debuts and, according to Theo Epstein, are expected to start back in Iowa next season.

Lost in the franchise-record 153 transactions was a team that finished in last place, largely because of an offense that finished 15th out of 16 teams.

Still, some specific performances stood out even beyond Rizzo, Vitters and Jackson. Infielder Luis Valbuena showed some pop and patience to go along with a good glove. First baseman Greg Rohan did well in his third stop of 2012. Catcher Welington Castillo once again showed some power, as he continues to develop his good tools behind the plate. And infielder Adrian Cardenas has produced at pretty much every minor league stop.

The Chicago-Iowa shuttle was active on the pitching side as well. Alberto Cabrera has a live arm and was fairly successful in the majors outside a handful of bad appearances. Left-hander Jeff Beliveau could be a key matchup pitcher for the Cubs—and has shown the ability to get righties out too. Rafael Dolis has a great, hard sinker, and his success in Triple-A and lack of it in the majors largely had to do with control. Lefties Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley each made a handful of starts down the stretch in the majors and could be outside challengers for rotation spots next spring.

Final Record:

Overall: 53-87, fourth place, 28.0 GB

Storylines: The Iowa Cubs will be hiring their sixth manager in as many seasons, as 2012 skipper Dave Bialas was one of six minor league coaches who were told their contracts would not be renewed. Bialas had been in the organization for 18 years.

Eight players were called up from Iowa (including four who had a weekend stop in Tennessee first) in September: pitchers Miguel Socolovich, Jaye Chapman, Rusin and Dolis; outfielders Tony Campana and Dave Sappelt; infielder Cardenas; and catcher Anthony Recker.

The Iowa Cubs finished 22-32 in one-run games, tied for the second most one-run contests in all of minor league baseball.

MLB.com Rankings: Three Iowa players were on the organization’s end-of-season top 20 prospect list, according to prospect expert Jonathan Mayo. Jackson ranked third, Vitters was 11th and Cabrera came in at 20. Rizzo would have been near the top of the list but he is no longer eligible.

Top Performances: Vitters (first round, 2007) made tremendous strides in Triple-A this year. He hit for a .304/.356/.513 slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) and had a 6.6 percent walk rate that shattered his previous career rate of 4.3 percent. Besides a few spot starts at first base, Vitters was Iowa’s starting third baseman, where he continues to work on his throwing fundamentals. He’s still just 23 and will likely return to Triple-A to start next season.

Jackson (first round, 2009), much like Vitters, found himself a bit overmatched in the big leagues, but he continues to impress with his broad toolset. The left-handed hitter had a .256/.338/.479 slash line, though Cubs Manager Dale Sveum said a week ago that he’d like to see Jackson “completely revamp his swing and lower half.” That’s mostly to address contact issues, which have continued to plague him. Epstein also said he expects Jackson to start in Triple-A next year, though the 24-year-old did show flashes of brilliance in the majors this year.

Raley (sixth round, 2009) had a breakout season in Iowa this year to earn his big league call-up in August. He set a career-best in strikeout rate (19.4% of batters faced), though he also witnessed an uptick in walks. Raley had a 3.62 ERA in 14 Triple-A starts, after beginning the season in Tennessee. He only throws in the high-80s, but he can sink or cut his fastball in addition to throwing a change-up and sweeping curve.

Beliveau (18th round, 2008) enjoyed success in Chicago as well as in Iowa. With the I-Cubs, he struck out roughly 28 percent of batters faced in 44 innings over 37 appearances. He’s been surprisingly effective against both right- and left-handed hitters over his last two minor league seasons. Lefties have had a .227/.262/.305 slash line, while righties hit .215/.294/.353.

Rohan (21st round, 2009) is someone we’ve been saving for the Iowa recap after he climbed three levels in 2012. A corner infielder/outfielder out of Kent State, Rohan hit a combined .282/.349/.491 with 21 home runs in 130 games. Most of those games were spent in Daytona, but Rohan took full advantage of the cascade of vacancies created by trades this season. He turns 27 next May, and coming off two tremendous minor league seasons, he could compete for a bench spot next spring.

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