Daytona’s offense packs a punch

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Javier Baez will be Daytona’s shortstop to start the 2013 season. (Photo by Stephen Green)

If there’s any Cubs minor league affiliate that’s going to attract attention at the start of 2013, it’s the organization’s High-A Daytona squad. Daytona season ticket holders will likely see an increase in occupied seats, thanks to the heart of the Cubs’ order.

Sitting third and fourth in the lineup are Javier Baez and Jorge Soler, two of Baseball America‘s top 34 prospects in baseball heading into the year. The talented shortstop Baez crushed Single-A pitching in 2012, hitting .333/.383/.553 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 12 home runs and 33 RBI in 235 plate appearances. He did struggle in 23 games at Daytona to end the season, but after a strong Arizona Fall League and an even better Spring Training—spent mainly with the big league club—his late-summer slide seems like a distant memory.

Likely batting right behind Baez will be hulking Cuban expat Jorge Soler. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound right fielder signed a nine-year, $30 million free agent deal in early July. Though he played just 20 games for Single-A Peoria last year, he hit .338 with three homers and 15 RBI. A member of the 40-man roster, Soler was invited to big league Spring Training, where he hit .222 in 36 at-bats, but also flashed some impressive leather and showed Cubs management he’s more than just a big bat.

Other notable offensive weapons include John Andreoli, Stephen Bruno, Zeke DeVoss, Dustin Geiger and Tim Saunders. Former Florida State wide receiver Taiwan Easterling could also be an exciting player to watch. After hitting .307 in 2011, the 23-year-old’s average slipped to .243 last year in Peoria.

The pitching staff doesn’t have as many headline names, but getting right-hander Starlin Peralta back, after initially losing him to Arizona in the Rule 5 draft, helps. Austin Kirk returns after going 7-3 last year with a 3.13 ERA in 21 starts. Eduardo Figueroa was the club’s go-to reliever last season, appearing in 37 games and posting a 2.90 ERA.

Here are the players manager Dave Keller will have on his roster as Daytona opens its season Thursday:

PITCHERS
Yeiper Castillo, RHP
Zach Cates, RHP
Frank Del Valle, LHP
Eduardo Figueroa, RHP
P.J. Francescon, RHP
Austin Kirk, LHP
Luis Liria, RHP
Sheldon McDonald, LHP
Starlin Peralta, RHP
Austin Reed, RHP
Ryan Searle, RHP
Yao-Lin Wang, RHP
Ben Wells, RHP

CATCHERS
Taylor Davis
Micah Gibbs
Chad Noble

INFIELDERS
Javier Baez
Stephen Bruno
Ben Carhart
Zeke DeVoss
Dustin Geiger
Tim Saunders

OUTFIELDERS
John Andreoli
Taiwan Easterling
Jorge Soler

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