(Photo by Roger Hoover)
Spring baseball is just one week away, with pitchers and catchers slated to report next week. This also kicks off one of the best times of the year for prospect watching. On Thursday, ESPN senior writer Keith Law unveiled his Top 100 prospects list, which includes six Cubs. Though the team graduated one of the greatest crops of young talent in organizational history to the majors last year, the quantity of players still on Law’s list demonstrates the waves of talent in the system.
Here is a small portion of what Law had to say on each Cubs prospect:
15. Gleyber Torres, SS
Torres looked much older than 18 in terms of his plate skills during the 2015 season; he stayed behind the ball really well, with great hand-eye coordination and the ability to shoot a ball to the outfield the way Derek Jeter would do with two strikes. It’s a very easy swing, and Torres keeps his head steady throughout in a way many major league hitters couldn’t emulate. He’s very smooth at shortstop already, with plus hands and a plus arm, showing me in Myrtle Beach’s playoff series against Wilmington that he could come across the bag well on a difficult double play. He needs to continue to get stronger, as well as work on some of his reads in the field and on the bases, where his physical tools have exceeded his acumen. He has a good chance to jump into the top 5 by next year.
Torres burst onto the scene in the Low-A Midwest League in 2015, hitting .293/.353/.386 with 24 doubles for South Bend. Despite his age, he was named the league’s prospect of the year for both his offense and his smooth defense at shortstop.
27. Willson Contreras, C
Contreras is a strong, coordinated, athletic kid with great body control, but none of that had manifested in his performances prior to 2015, except in his generally good contact rates. His bat speed seemed to pick up in ’15, and with a clean, direct path to the ball, he’s going to make a lot of hard contact, though mostly singles and doubles. There isn’t big loft in the swing, although he’s physically strong enough to hit for power, especially if he had a little more rotation in his path. Behind the plate, he has an easy 70 arm and good energy and actions but needs work on the mechanics of receiving and framing, as well as the finer points, like calling a game.
Contreras’ eye-opening 2015 season, during which he won the batting title in the Double-A Southern League, earned him organizational player of the year honors. He finished with eight home runs, 46 extra-base hits and a .413 on-base percentage in 521 plate appearances.
47. Ian Happ, 2B
Happ is a switch-hitter, smoother and shorter from the left side, less consistent and longer right-handed, although the latter could improve with coaching help and more reps. He has 15-20 homer potential, driven more by his contact rate than any need to get stronger or change a swing.
A 2015 first-round pick, Happ spent all of his debut season in the outfield, where he played a large portion of his college career. Offensively, the 21-year-old demonstrated both his power and on-base abilities, hitting nine homers and reaching base via walk in 13.5 percent of his 295 plate appearances between Short-Season Eugene and South Bend.
69. Billy McKinney, OF
McKinney has a beautiful, fluid, left-handed swing, very easy to repeat, geared toward line-drive contact but without a ton of leverage in it, so he projects as a high-OBP, high-doubles guy, but his ultimate power ceiling might be south of 20 homers as a result. McKinney played center in the lower minors, but that was a pipe dream, especially since he’s a below-average runner. He should settle in as an average defender in left, which will be fine given his offensive profile but limits his potential to be a star unless he starts hitting .320, which isn’t out of the question given his swing and eye.
In 2015, McKinney continued to do what he does best: hit. Between High-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee, the Athletics’ 2013 first-round pick hit .300/.371/.454 with 31 doubles. This season could be a big one for the outfielder, who is one of the toughest outs in the Cubs’ system.
88. Albert Almora, OF
Almora is a 70 defender in center with outstanding reads on balls off the bat, which makes up for his below-average running speed, and the defense will get him to the big leagues even if he doesn’t hit. He boosted his stat line with a huge August at Double-A, but the real difference was that he started making better quality contact as the season went on, squaring up the ball more frequently and thus improving his BABIP and hitting for more power, mostly doubles power.
Though he may be known for his defensive prowess, Almora’s offense in 2015 was strong as well. As mentioned above, the 2012 first-round pick started making better contact and improved his plate discipline, drawing 32 walks—that’s more than his previous two campaigns combined. He spent the entire season in Double-A, hitting .272/.327/.400 with six homers and 26 doubles.
91. Dylan Cease, RHP
Cease was a potential top-10 pick in 2014 after his fastball hit 99 mph and he showed a plus curveball that spring, but he suffered a partial tear of his elbow ligament that didn’t respond to treatment, requiring Tommy John surgery after he signed an overslot deal as a sixth-round pick of the Cubs that June. Cease returned this summer and was back up to 99, easier than ever with a cleaner delivery.
The sample size is limited (24 innings pitched), but the Cubs front office raves about Cease’s potential whenever there’s an opportunity. During Theo Eptstein’s postseason recap, he mentioned the right-hander as a player who could really break out in 2016.
(Photo courtesy Myrtle Beach Pelicans)
With Javier Baez now in more of a utility role, Starlin Castro wearing a different shade of blue pinstripes, and Addison Russell settled in as the club’s regular shortstop, the organizational middle-infield morass seems to have sorted itself out. But it might pop up again in the not-too-distant future. On Wednesday, MLB.com unveiled its top 10 shortstop prospects, with 2013 international signee Gleyber Torres coming in at No. 9. Here’s what they had to say:
Chicago’s logjam of talented infielders is only going to get worse when Torres is ready in a couple of years. He has solid-or-better tools across the board, and he ranked as the Class A Midwest League’s top prospect and helped Myrtle Beach win the Class A Advanced Carolina League championship last year as an 18-year-old.
The Venezuela native hit .287/.346/.376 last year between Low-A South Bend and High-A Myrtle Beach. In 487 at-bats, he recorded 24 doubles and swiped 22 bases while playing solid defense. His age likely means he’s farther away from the major leagues than many of the other players on the list, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. With a majority of the Cubs’ former high-upside farmhands now at the big league level, Torres could spearhead another wave of players set to arrive in a few years.
(Photo courtesy Myrtle Beach Pelicans)
The 2014 season was not a great one for high-upside infielder Jeimer Candelario. But after some positive reinforcement from the front office and an altered mindset, Candelario drastically improved his performance in 2015. Among those to take notice was MLB.com, which on Tuesday rated the Cubs farmhand the seventh-best third base prospect in baseball. Here’s some of what they had to say:
Signed for $500,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2010, Candelario more than held his own last season in his first taste of the Double-A level and then opened eyes in the Arizona Fall League, where he ranked among the league leaders in several offensive categories. The 22-year-old switch-hitter makes consistent contact from both sides of the plate, leading scouts to project him to hit for average and power. He has all the necessary tools to stick at third base, including soft hands and above-average arm strength.
In 525 plate appearances between High-A and Double-A, Candelario hit .277/.339/.431 with 49 extra-base hits. His batting average was a 54-point improvement over his 2014 numbers. The third baseman had such a productive season in 2015, he was invited to the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .329 in 89 plate appearances against some of the top prospects in all of baseball. It will be interesting to see which level Candelario starts at in 2016, but it appears he’ll stick at third base for the time being.
(Photo courtesy Eugene Emeralds)
The Cubs have demonstrated a unique ability to find young hitting talent, even if it doesn’t come from one of the top few picks in the amateur draft. On Tuesday, MLB.com unveiled its top 10 second base prospects, and recent first-round pick Ian Happ came in at No. 3 on the list. Here’s some of what MLB Pipeline had to say about the 2015 draftee:
There isn’t much that Happ can’t do offensively. A switch-hitter, he exhibits a quick stroke and good balance from both sides of the plate, and he owns deceptive strength and solid speed. Happ should post high batting averages and on-base percentages, and he has the upside of a 20-20 player.
Undrafted out of high school, Happ played all over the diamond in his three seasons at the University of Cincinnati. The ninth-overall selection in the 2015 draft played exclusively in the outfield during his time in Short-Season Eugene and Low-A South Bend, but the Cubs front office worked him primarily at second base this offseason, a position at which he feels most comfortable, according to his draft day press conference. Regardless of where he plays in the field, the 21-year-old provides a lot offensively. Though he only hit .259 in his first pro stint, he managed an .822 OPS with nine homers and 17 doubles to go along with 40 walks in 295 plate appearances.
(Photo by Jeff Waymire)
Out with one catching prospect, in with another. A year after backstop prospect Kyle Schwarber shot up the charts—and into the major leagues—after being selected in the 2014 draft, the Cubs have another young player rising in prospect polls. According to MLB.com, Cubs farmhand Willson Contreras is the top catching prospect in all of baseball, which is a quick ascent for a player largely unknown as recently as a season ago. Here’s some of what MLB.com had to say:
Contreras has a good chance of sticking at catcher. Signed for $850,000 out of Venezuela as a third baseman in 2009, he moved behind the plate in 2012. Contreras is quicker and more athletic than most backstops, and he owns a strong arm and has made progress with his receiving.
The 23-year-old organizational Minor League Player of the Year led the Double-A Southern League in hitting last year with a .333 average and reached base at an impressive .413 clip. He hit eight homers and drove in 75 runs in 454 at-bats while playing solid defense behind the plate. Contreras backed up his strong 2015 campaign with a solid stint in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .283/.361/.547 in 53 at-bats, with three homers and eight doubles. Though the Cubs are mostly set at catcher for 2o15, some believe the third baseman-turned-catcher could be ready for major league action as soon as this year.
The Chicago Cubs today announced the club’s minor league coordinators for the 2016 season.
Tim Cossins returns for his fourth season as the organization’s minor league field and catching coordinator following 10 years in the Miami Marlins farm system, including the final six as the minor league catching coordinator. He was also a manager in the Marlins minor league system from 2003-07. Cossins began his coaching career in 2000 and in 2001-02 was the major league bullpen catcher for Kansas City. The former catcher played eight minor league seasons (1993-2000) in the Rangers, Yankees and Expos organizations.
Jim Brower enters his first year as the Cubs minor league pitching coordinator after spending the last three seasons as the pitching coach for the Kansas City Royals Double-A affiliate, Northwest Arkansas. He served in the same role for two seasons at Single-A Kane County prior to joining Northwest Arkansas. Brower appeared in nine big league seasons, going 33-32 with a 4.67 ERA (298 ER/574.0 IP) and 397 strikeouts in 354 major league games (28 starts). The right-hander led the majors with 89 appearances in 2004 with San Francisco.
Andy Haines enters his first year as the Cubs minor league hitting coordinator after spending the last two years as manager of the Marlins Triple-A affiliate, New Orleans. In 2012, Haines led Single-A Jupiter to the Florida State League Championship Series, falling one game short of capturing the title. All told, Haines was a manager in the Marlins system for seven years, compiling a 449-467 (.490) record. Prior to joining the Marlins, he was the manager of the Windy City Thunderbolts of the independent Frontier League, going 68-28, in 2007.
Jose Flores returns for his fourth season as minor league infield coordinator and his 16th year as a coach or manager. Flores spent two seasons as manager of the Puerto Rico National baseball team (2011-12) and was a bench coach for Ponce Leones in the Puerto Rico Baseball League (2010). He handled similar duties for the Gaguas Criollos baseball club in 2008, the same year he managed the Cleveland Indians Dominican Summer League team. After playing six seasons in Houston’s minor league system (1990-95), he began his coaching career in the Puerto Rico Winter League (2001-06).
Doug Dascenzo begins his second year as the organization’s minor league outfield and baserunning coordinator. Dascenzo has 17 years of coaching experience following a career that saw him play in parts of seven seasons in the majors, including five with the Cubs from 1988-92. Prior to joining the Cubs, Dascenzo spent the previous three seasons with Atlanta, including serving as the third base coach for the major league club in 2014. After retiring from baseball, he coached in the Padres farm system from 1999-2011, including six seasons as a minor league manager.
Dave Keller enters his 31st season as a minor league coach or manager, his 13th year in the Cubs organization and his second as minor league Latin America field coordinator. He managed Single-A Daytona in 2013-14 and led the club to the 2013 Florida State League title after he served as Iowa’s hitting coach in 2012. In 2011, he was the Cubs major league staff assistant after seven years (2004-10) as the organization’s minor league hitting coordinator. Keller was a major league staff assistant and bullpen catcher for Cleveland from 2001-03 following two years as the organization’s minor league hitting coordinator. He managed in the minor leagues in the Cincinnati (1987-89), Cleveland (1990-94) and White Sox (1996) organizations, and was named the 1993 Carolina League Manager of the Year with Single-A Kinston. The former first baseman played in the Reds organization for three seasons (1982-84).
Mike Mason begins his third season as assistant pitching coordinator after spending the previous six years as Triple-A Iowa’s pitching coach. He has 24 years of coaching experience following a seven-year big league playing career with Texas (1982-87), the Cubs (1987) and Minnesota (1988). Prior to joining the Cubs, he served as Kansas City’s minor league pitching coordinator (2004-07), while also handling interim pitching coach duties at the major league level in 2004. Mason served as pitching coach for Philadelphia’s Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre club in 2002-03 after serving as Kansas City’s minor league pitching instructor the previous two seasons (2000-01). He began his coaching career in Kansas City’s minor league system from 1991-99.
Tom Beyers returns for his 17th season with the Cubs organization and his second as the minor league assistant hitting coordinator, following two seasons as Single-A Kane County’s hitting coach. He was the short-season hitting coordinator in 2012 following one season as the minor league hitting coordinator in 2011. Beyers joined the Cubs in 2000 and was a minor league manager or coach for 11 seasons, including manager of Single-A Boise in 2004, a season in which he led the club to the Northwest League title and earned league manager of the year honors. A former outfielder, he spent his first 21 seasons in professional baseball with the Dodgers as a player, coach or manager after he was selected by Los Angeles in the 15th round of the 1979 draft.
Josh Lifrak returns for his second season with the Cubs as the club’s director, mental skills program. He is tasked with the development, implementation and supervision of the Cubs mental skills training program for all levels of the organization. Prior to joining the Cubs, he spent 10 years as the Senior Mental Conditioning Consultant for IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Lifrak earned his Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of Rhode Island in 1994 and earned a Masters of Science, Exercise Science with a concentration in Sports Psychology from Ithaca College in 2005.
Rey Fuentes begins his fourth season with the organization and second as Latin Coordinator, Mental Skills Program, following two years as cultural programs coordinator. In this role, he oversees all educational classes and mental skills programs for the Cubs Latin American players. Prior to joining the Cubs, he coached and taught physical education in the Orlando area. Fuentes graduated from Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida, in 2002 with a degree in Exceptional Student Education.
Darnell McDonald begins his second season as the organization’s mental skills program coordinator and will work with players throughout all levels of the farm system. McDonald served as a Cubs baseball operations assistant in 2014 following his retirement after 16 professional seasons. He was selected by Baltimore in the first round of the 1997 draft and played for the Cubs in 2013.
Doug Jarrow begins his ninth season as Chicago’s minor league strength and conditioning coordinator. He previously spent five years in the Dodgers organization, including 2003-05 as the minor league strength and conditioning coordinator and 2006-07 as the major league strength coach. Jarrow began his career as a minor league strength and conditioning coach with Tampa Bay in 1998 and Pittsburgh in 1999.
Nick Frangella begins his 13th season with the organization and his third as head minor league athletic training and performance coordinator. He spent the previous two seasons as Triple-A Iowa’s athletic trainer.
Chuck Baughman enters his 16th year with the Cubs organization, his third season as assistant athletic training coordinator. He spent the previous eight seasons as a rehabilitation coordinator and joined the organization as Single-A Boise’s athletic trainer in 2001. His career in professional baseball began in 1999 when he was the athletic trainer for Single-A Clinton in Cincinnati’s system.
Rick Tronerud returns for his 21st year with the Cubs and his third as minor league rehab pitching coordinator. He spent the previous 13 seasons with Rookie League Mesa, serving as the club’s rehab pitching coach. Tronerud joined the organization in 1996 as the pitching coach at Rookie League Fort Myers after pitching (1972-81) and coaching (1982-89) in Oakland’s farm system.
The Chicago Cubs today announced their minor league managers and coaching staffs for the 2016 season.
Team: Triple-A Iowa
Manager: Marty Pevey
Pitching Coach: Rod Nichols
Hitting Coach: Brian Harper
Assistant Coach: Leo Perez
Athletic Trainers: Shane Nelson, Sean Folan
Strength Coach: Ryan Clausen
Marty Pevey begins his fourth season as Triple-A Iowa’s manager after serving as Chicago’s catching coordinator for three seasons from 2010-12. Pevey served as the Single-A Peoria manager in 2009, his first season with the organization. He has a combined 32 years of professional experience (13 years as a player and 19 years as a manager, coach or coordinator) and was named the 2009 Midwest League co-Manager of the Year. Joining Pevey at Iowa will be newly hired pitching coach, Rod Nichols, who spent the last three years as the Philadelphia Phillies major league bullpen coach. The 2016 campaign will mark Nichols’ 17th season as a coach. Originally selected by Cleveland in the fifth round of the 1985 draft, he appeared in seven big league seasons, going 11-31 with a 4.43 ERA (203 ER/412.2 IP) in 100 games (48 starts). Brian Harper returns for his fourth season as Iowa’s hitting coach after managing Double-A Tennessee in 2011 and Single-A Daytona in 2012. A former catcher, Harper played 16 seasons in the majors with seven teams. Rounding out the coaching staff is former Cubs farmhand Leo Perez, who begins his eighth season as a coach in the organization and second with Iowa. Shane Nelson joins Iowa as the team’s athletic trainer after handling the same responsibility in Tennessee the past two seasons. Sean Folan is the club’s assistant athletic trainer after last year serving as Mesa’s minor league rehab athletic trainer and strength coach, while Ryan Clausen enters his third season as Iowa’s strength and conditioning coach.
Team: Double-A Tennessee Smokies
Manager: Mark Johnson
Pitching Coach: Terry Clark
Hitting Coach: Desi Wilson
Assistant Coach: Osmin Melendez
Athletic Trainer: Jon Fierro
Strength Coach: Mike Megrew
Mark Johnson begins his first season as Tennessee’s manager after last season guiding Myrtle Beach to its first Carolina League Championship since 2000. Under Johnson, the Pelicans finished the regular season with an 81-57 mark, the best record in the Carolina League. In 2014, Johnson helped the Kane County Cougars win 91 games and record a .650 winning percentage, the highest winning mark of any full-season team. The 2016 season will mark Johnson’s sixth in the Cubs organization. Terry Clark begins his first season with the organization after spending the last two as the minor league pitching coordinator for the Seattle Mariners. In 2002, he guided the Double-A Akron pitching staff to an Eastern League-leading 3.09 ERA. Clark appeared in parts of six big league seasons, going 10-23 with one save and a 5.54 ERA (143 ER/232.2 IP) in 91 games. Desi Wilson, entering his ninth season with the organization, returns as the hitting coach for a fourth year after handling the same duties at Daytona in 2012. Osmin Melendez joins as an assistant coach after serving in a similar role last season with Single-A South Bend. Jon Fierro, in his fifth year with the organization, is the team’s athletic trainer, and Mike Megrew enters his third season as the team’s strength and conditioning coach.
Team: High-A Myrtle Beach
Manager: Buddy Bailey
Pitching Coach: Anderson Tavarez
Hitting Coach: Mariano Duncan
Assistant Coach: Juan Cabreja
Athletic Trainer: Toby Williams
Strength Coach: Jason Morriss
Buddy Bailey takes over as the manager of Single-A Myrtle Beach after spending the last four seasons as Tennessee’s manager, going 290-266 (.521). Bailey spent three years as Daytona’s skipper prior to joining the Smokies and helped the team to the 2011 Florida State League championship. Next season will mark Bailey’s 28th year as a manager and his 11th with the organization. Handling pitching coach duties at Myrtle Beach will be Anderson Tavarez, who served as Single-A Eugene’s pitching coach last season. Prior to joining Eugene, Tavarez spent two years with Rookie League Mesa. Tavares played in the Cubs system from 2000-05 and worked as a pitching coach with the Cubs Dominican Summer League team from 2007-12. Mariano Duncan returns for his fourth season as the club’s High-A hitting coach after serving the previous two campaigns as Tennessee’s hitting coach (2011-12). The 12-year major league veteran (1985-87, 1989-97) joined the Cubs in 2011 after spending the previous five seasons (2006-10) as the Dodgers major league first base coach. Juan Cabreja is the team’s assistant coach after serving as the Dominican Cubs manager in 2014-15. Toby Williams begins his third year as a trainer in the Cubs organization and his first with Myrtle Beach after serving as the trainer in Mesa last season. Jason Morriss enters his fourth season in the organization, second with Myrtle Beach, as a strength and conditioning coach.
Team: Single-A South Bend
Manager: Jimmy Gonzalez
Pitching Coach: David Rosario
Hitting Coach: Guillermo Martinez
Assistant Coach: Ricardo Medina
Athletic Trainer: Mike McNulty
Strength Coach: Ed Kohl
Jimmy Gonzalez begins his third season as a manager in the organization and his second with Single-A affiliate South Bend. Gonzalez made his managerial debut in 2014 with Rookie League Mesa after serving as hitting coach with the club in 2013. A former catcher, he played 14 minor league seasons after he was selected in the first round of the 1991 draft by Houston. Handling pitching coach duties at South Bend will be David Rosario, who begins his 12th year in the Cubs system. Rosario served in the same role with Myrtle Beach last season. Guillermo Martinez begins his third season as a coach in Chicago’s organization and first as a hitting coach with South Bend. He spent last season as a coach with Double-A Tennessee. Ricardo Medina joins South Bend as the team’s assistant coach and has been with the Cubs organization since 1999 as a coach, manager or scout. Mike McNulty joins South Bend as the team’s athletic trainer after serving in the same role last season with Eugene. Ed Kohl enters his sixth year in the organization and his second as South Bend’s strength and conditioning coach.
Team: Low-A Eugene
Manager: Jesus Feliciano
Pitching Coach: Brian Lawrence
Hitting Coach: Ty Wright
Assistant Coach: Gary Van Tol
Athletic Trainer: Logan Severson
Strength Coach: Ryan Nordtvedt
Jesus Feliciano begins his third season as a coach in Chicago’s organization and his first as a manager with Eugene. He spent last season as South Bend’s hitting coach and enjoyed a 16-year playing career from 1998-2013, including action in 54 games with the Mets in 2010. Joining the staff at Eugene will be pitching coach, Brian Lawrence, who enters his first season as Eugene’s pitching coach after serving in the same role with South Bend in 2015. Lawrence made his coaching debut in 2012 in the Independent Frontier League and spent 2013 as the pitching coach of Single-A Lake Elsinore in the Padres system. The former right-hander went 50-63 with a 4.19 ERA during a six-year big league career with the Padres and Mets. Ty Wright, who spent seven years as an outfielder in the Cubs minor league system, is the team’s hitting coach after serving as a coach with Mesa last year. Gary Van Tol will serve as a coach after spending the last three seasons as Eugene’s manager. Logan Severson begins his first season as the athletic trainer in Mesa after interning with Triple-A Iowa in 2012. Ryan Nordtvedt enters his fourth season in the organization and his second as Eugene’s strength and conditioning coach.
Team: Mesa Rookie League
Manager: Carmelo Martinez
Pitching Coach: Ron Villone
Hitting Coaches: Jeremy Farrell, Chris Valaika
Athletic Trainer: TBD
Rehab Coach: Lance Rymel
Carmelo Martinez enters his 19th season in the organization and begins his second-straight season as manager with Mesa after also serving in the role from 1999-2003, and again in 2006. Martinez previously served as the Cubs Latin America field coordinator for six seasons and played in the majors from 1983-91 with the Cubs, Padres, Phillies, Pirates, Royals and Reds. Ron Villone begins his fifth season as a coach in the Cubs organization and second with Mesa. A former left-handed pitcher, he played in all or part of 15 major league seasons from 1995-2009 with 12 teams. Jeremy Farrell and Chris Valaika are the team’s hitting coaches. Farrell, the son of Red Sox manager John Farrell, begins his first season as a coach after a seven-year minor league career. Valaika, who played in 99 major league games with the Reds (2010-11), Marlins (2013) and Cubs (2014), begins his first year as a coach in the organization. Lance Rymel, a former catcher selected by the Cubs in the 28th round of the 2012 Draft, is in his first season as Mesa’s rehab coach.
Team: Dominican Rookie League 1
Manager: Claudio Almonte
Pitching Coach: Eduardo Villacis, Jose Cueto
Hitting Coach: Carlos Ramirez
Assistant Coach: Antonio Valerio, Jovanny Rosario
Athletic Trainer: Jose Alvarez
Strength Coach: Tomas Sanchez, Amaury Gonzalez
Claudio Almonte is the manager of the Cubs first of two Dominican League teams after serving as the team’s hitting coach the previous two seasons. Eduardo Villacis is the team’s pitching coach after serving in the same role with the Venezuela League team last year. Jose Cueto, who spent four seasons in the Cubs farm system from 1999-2001 and 2004, joins the organization as the team’s assistant pitching coach. Carlos Ramirez joins the organization as the team’s hitting coach, while Antonio Valerio and Jovanny Rosario will serve as assistant coaches. Jose Alvarez begins his third season as the club’s athletic trainer, and Tomas Sanchez enters his third season as the team’s strength coach. Sanchez will be joined by Amaury Gonzalez, who joins the organization as a strength coach.
Team: Dominican Rookie League 2
Manager: Pedro Gonzalez
Pitching Coach: Armando Gabino
Hitting Coach: Franklin Blanco
Assistant Coach: Carlos Rojas
Athletic Trainer: Arnoldo Goite
Strength Coach: Manny Estrada
Pedro Gonzalez is in his first year at the helm of the second Dominican League club after managing the Venezuela Cubs the previous two campaigns. Armando Gabino enters his second season as a pitching coach in the organization after a playing career that saw him pitch in seven games over two seasons with the Twins and Orioles. Franklin Blanco will be the club’s hitting coach and is in his 10th season with the organization. Carlos Rojas joins the organization as an assistant coach following a 10-year minor league career as an infielder from 2003-12, including 2003-07 in the Cubs farm system. Arnoldo Goite enters his third year in the organization and his first as an athletic trainer for the Dominican club. Manny Estrada enters his second full season as a strength and conditioning coach in the organization.
(Photo by Roger C. Hoover)
The crop of Cubs prospects representing the organization at the 2015 Arizona Fall League might have lacked the hype that accompanied Kris Bryant, Javier Baez or Addison Russell in recent years. However, a few prospects did raise their profile in the showcase league and could be part of the next wave of budding stars.
On Tuesday, MLB.com’s Jim Callis unveiled his top 20 prospects from the AFL, and a pair of Cubs made the list.
5. Willson Contreras, C, Mesa (Cubs No. 10 prospect): After leading the Double-A Southern League in batting (.333) and extra-base hits (46), he continued his breakout 2015 by hitting .283/.361/.547 before straining a hamstring. Like [Gary] Sanchez, Contreras is an offensive-minded catcher with enough defensive skills to be a big league regular.
MLB ETA: 2017
11. Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Mesa (Cubs No. 20 prospect): The Cubs keep churning out impressive offensive prospects, and here’s yet another. Candelario is a switch-hitter with legitimate power (he ranked second behind Sanchez with five homers, 13 extra-base hits and 50 total bases) and arm strength, though he may not have the agility for third base.
MLB ETA: 2017
The 23-year-old Contreras, a converted third baseman, slugged .891 during the Double-A season and was named the Cubs Minor League Player of the Year. He debuted in the Cubs system in 2009 as a 17-year-old in the Dominican Summer League and could be knocking on the major league door sooner than later.
Candelario, who turned 22 on Tuesday, hit .291/.379/.462 between High-A and Double-A in 2015. It was a nice jump from a subpar 2014, though he’s always been one of the younger players at each of his respective stops. He signed with the Cubs in September 2010.
Mesa struggled as a team during the 2015 Arizona Fall League season, limping to a 9-21 record and a last place finish in the East division. Despite a poor showing in the standings, there were some promising players who raised their stock heading into the 2016 season. Here are the final stats from the Cubs prospects in the AFL:
The headliner in this group is certainly Jeimer Candelario, who made the midseason Fall Stars team. He finished second in the league in total bases and tied for second in home runs. The infielder was also top three in doubles and hits and top 10 in batting average and runs batted in. Willson Contreras had a solid season before a hamstring issue shortened his fall. One of the more interesting stats was Mark Zagunis’ 19 bases on balls, which was tops in the league and gave the catcher-turned-outfielder an on-base percentage more than 200 points higher than his average—and second best OBP in the AFL. Cael Brockmeyer, who got into games only twice a week as a taxi squad player, didn’t have a great line, but he also demonstrated his on-base abilities.
Though the offensive numbers have dropped in recent years, the AFL is still seen as a hitters league, and the Cubs’ pitching prospects might have fallen victim to their power-hitting opponents. Rob Zastryzny flexed his strikeout muscles, finishing third in the league in punchouts. He put up a solid WHIP as well, taking fourth among pitchers with five starts or more. Pierce Johnson, one of the organization’s top pitching prospects, didn’t have the greatest fall season, but his last few starts better represented the player many believe he can be. Overall, his strikeouts were sixth in the league. David Garner surprised some with a steady effort out of the bullpen. Though his walk total was a tad high, his 9.0 K/9 rate was good.
The Cubs today acquired right-handed pitcher Spencer Patton from the Texas Rangers for minor league infielder Frandy Delarosa. The club’s 40-man roster now stands at 33 players.
Patton, 27, broke into the big leagues with Texas in 2014 and went 1-0 with a 0.96 ERA (1 ER/9.1 IP) in nine big league relief appearances before splitting the 2015 campaign between the Rangers and Triple-A Round Rock. Patton went 2-0 with 11 saves and a 1.67 ERA in 26 Triple-A relief outings and went 1-1 with a 9.00 ERA in 27 big league relief outings. Overall, Patton is 2-1 with a 6.75 ERA in 36 major league relief outings over the last two years, averaging more than one strikeout per inning with 36 strikeouts in 33.1 frames.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Patton has gone 15-14 with 33 saves and a 3.49 ERA in 147 career minor league appearances, all but 12 in relief, covering five minor league campaigns. He has struck out 364 batters in 268.1 innings pitched, an average of 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Patton was named to the 2014 Pacific Coast League All-Star team.
Patton is a native of Urbana, Illinois, and was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 24th round of the 2011 draft out of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He was acquired by Texas for right-hander Jason Frasor on July 16, 2014.
Delarosa, 19, batted .273 (70-for-256) with 20 doubles, two triples, no home runs and 30 RBI in 62 games for Short-Season A Eugene last season. He originally signed with the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent in 2012.