Josh Vitters will man the hot corner for the Iowa Cubs. (Photo by Stephen Green)
By just scanning down the 2013 Opening Day roster, it’s apparent that the Iowa Cubs have some major league experience. Though the lineup doesn’t include a top prospect of Anthony Rizzo’s pedigree and Jeff Samardzija’s days of shuttling back and forth between Chicago and Des Moines are a thing of the past, this Iowa side has enough talent and experience (17 of the 26 players on the Opening Day roster played in the majors last year) to make things interesting in the Pacific Coast League this season.
Center fielder Brett Jackson will be the centerpiece to this season’s squad. The organization’s No. 4 overall prospect (according to MLB.com) struggled putting the ball in play last season, striking out 217 times combined in Triple-A and in the majors. He spent the offseason reworking his swing, with the hopes of cutting his K total down. If it works, he’ll receive a call-up, or—at worst—there could be an increase in his 15 homers and 47 RBI in 106 Triple-A games from a year ago.
Josh Vitters also returns to the fray after struggling with an August 2012 call-up. He crushed Triple-A pitching last season though, hitting .304/.356/.513 in 110 games, with 17 homers and 68 driven in. He spent much of the offseason working on his patience at the plate, looking to see more pitches and be more selective.
Ryan Sweeney will give the organization a boost as well. The new Cub (signed April 2) has spent seven seasons in the majors, and owns a career .280 average, including hitting .260 with the Red Sox in 2012. The Cedar Rapids, Iowa native will get an opportunity to play in front of his home fans before a hopeful return to the bigs.
Much like the other minor league affiliates, the pitching staff doesn’t have a top-level arm. But that’s not to say there aren’t intriguing pitchers.
The rotation boasts three players with 2012 big league experience in lefties Chris Rusin, Brooks Raley and right-hander Drew Carpenter. Rusin’s numbers are the most notable of the three, starting eight games last year and compiling a 6.37 ERA. But during the spring, the 26-year-old surrendered just five runs during 23.1 innings.
The organization’s minor league pitcher of the year Nick Struck and Barret Loux both received promotions from Double-A, and round out the rotation. Struck went 14-10 in Double-A Tennessee last year, with an ERA of 3.18 in 155.2 innings, fanning 123. Loux, a former first round pick, recorded a 14-1 record with a 3.17 ERA in 25 starts for Double-A Frisco of the Rangers’ system.
Marty Pevey will take over as manager of the I-Cubs. Here’s the full roster he’ll have to start the season:
Esmailin Caridad RHP
Drew Carpenter RHP
Jaye Chapman RHP
Casey Coleman RHP
Rafael Dolis RHP
Jensen Lewis RHP
Barret Loux RHP
Yoanner Negrin RHP
Blake Parker RHP
Zach Putnam RHP
Brooks Raley LHP
Chris Rusin LHP
Nick Struck RHP
Cory Wade RHP
Brett Jackson recorded a team-high two RBI for Iowa Monday. (Photo by Stephen Green)
The Kane County Cougars picked up their first win of the season Monday, while the Iowa Cubs surrendered their fifth-straight loss. Here are the highlights from Monday’s games:
IOWA CUBS (0-5)
Iowa suffered its fifth-straight loss to open the season, surrendering six first-inning runs in a 13-5 setback at Round Rock.
- 2B Logan Watkins (.368) went 2-for-4 with a double, a homer, two runs scored and a RBI.
- CF Brett Jackson (.238) was 2-for-4 with a double and a team-high two RBI (2).
- SS Donnie Murphy (.300) was 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored.
- RF Brian Bogusevic (.389) reached base three times, going 2-for-3 with a walk, a run scored and an outfield assist.
- RHP Blake Parker (6.75) walked one and fanned two in 1.1 scoreless innings of relief.
TENNESSEE SMOKIES (2-3)
Tennessee lost its second game in a row, dropping a 2-1 pitchers’ duel at Pensacola.
- CF Matt Szczur (.409) reached base three times, going 2-for-3 with a walk, a run scored and a stolen base.
- SS Arismendy Alcantara (.261) added two hits, going 2-for-4.
- LF Rubi Silva (.154) went 1-for-4 with a stolen base.
- LHP Zach Rosscup (0.00) allowed one hit while fanning three in 1.0 scoreless inning of relief.
- RHP Trey McNutt (0.00) fanned one in a perfect eighth inning.
DAYTONA CUBS (3-1)
Daytona had the day off. The D-Cubs return to action Tuesday, hosting Clearwater.
KANE COUNTY COUGARS (1-4)
Kane County squandered a 5-1 eighth-inning lead, but plated a run in the bottom of the 10th to defeat visiting Clinton 6-5 in walk-off fashion, snapping a season-opening, four-game skid.
- 2B Gioskar Amaya (.238) went 3-for-5 with a triple, a run scored and a stolen base.
- C Chadd Krist (.625) was 3-for-5 with two doubles and two runs scored.
- RF Bijan Rademacher (.214) added three hits, going 3-for-5 with a team-high three RBI and an outfield assist.
- 1B Rock Shoulders (2-for-5, R) and LF Pin-Chieh Chen (2-for-5, R) both had multi-hit performances.
Jorge Soler homered and drove in two on Sunday. (Photo by Stephen Green)
The Tennessee Smokies and the Daytona Cubs picked up a win after Sunday night’s games while Iowa and Kane County both continue to search for their first victories of the season after falling short this weekend. Here are the highlights from Sunday’s games:
IOWA CUBS (0-4)
Iowa suffered its fourth consecutive defeat to start the season, falling 7-3 at Albuquerque.
- RF Ryan Sweeney went 2-for-3 with a walk and a solo home run.
- CF Brett Jackson (1-for-4, R) and LF Darnell McDonald (1-for-4, R, 2B) also collected hits and a run.
- RHP Casey Coleman allowed two runs on three hits in 2.0 innings out of the bullpen, striking out two.
TENNESSEE SMOKIES (2-2)
Tennessee stranded the tying run on second base in the ninth inning, losing 5-4 at Pensacola.
- 1B Justin Bour (2-for-4, R, RBI) collected two hits including a RBI double in the third inning.
- 3B Tim Torres walked and singled twice in three at bats.
- RHP’s Tony Zych (1.2 IP, 2 H) and A.J. Morris (1.1 IP) combined to hold the Blue Wahoos scoreless over the final three innings.
DAYTONA CUBS (3-1)
Daytona scored nine runs over the final four innings to shutout Brevard County on the road, 9-0.
- RHP P.J. Francescon (1-0) surrendered one hit in five scoreless innings, striking out six.
- RF Jorge Soler (2-for-4, 2 R, BB, 2 RBI) homered for the second-consecutive day, knocking in SS Javier Baez (1-for-4, R, SB) in the sixth inning.
- LF John Andreoli reached base four times, going 2-for-3 with two walks, two runs, a triple and a RBI.
- RHP Yeiper Castillo struck out three batters in two scoreless innings.
- RHP’s Luis Liria and Austin Reed recorded the final six outs in order to complete the shutout.
KANE COUNTY COUGARS (0-4)
Quad Cities scored two runs in the 13th inning to defeat host Kane County, 3-1, and finish off the four-game sweep.
- CF Oliver Zapata went 2-for-5 with a walk from the leadoff spot.
- LF Rock Shoulders (2-for-3, BB) extended his hitting streak to four games.
- LHP Michael Heesch took a no-hitter into the fifth inning before surrendering the first hit and run of the game.
- RHP Felix Pena pitched 5.2 innings of scoreless relief, allowing three hits and walking one while striking out five.
The Smokies return slugger Justin Bour. (Photo by Rodger Wood)
Coming off of a 2011 Florida State League title, many believed the Tennessee Smokies were destined to repeat in 2012. But that didn’t happen, as the team hovered around .500 for much of the year, finishing 72-68.
This year’s Smokies might not have the hype of the 2012 squad, but after retaining 17 players and adding a few highly touted prospects, a league title could again be in their sights.
The 2013 offense is fronted by a few key returnees in Justin Bour and Matt Szczur. Bour, a 24-year-old first baseman, was the rock in the middle of the order last season, hitting .283/.360/.455 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 17 homers and a franchise-record 110 driven in. If he’s not moved up, he could near that RBI total again, especially considering Szczur and newcomer Arismendy Alcantara will bat ahead of him in the lineup.
Former fifth-round pick Szczur was all over Single-A hitting before his call-up last season. Though he struggled at Double-A (.210/.285/.357 in 35 games), he performed well in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .264 and drawing 14 walks in 105 at-bats. He also stole nine bases.
The 21-year-old Alcantara was promoted after a stellar 2012 in Daytona, where he hit .302/.339/.447 with 13 doubles and swiped 25 bags. The versatile infielder will likely line up at short, and he’s a tough out at the plate.
Alberto Cabrera is a Tennessee newcomer who will head a rotation that features three returnees. The 24-year-old Cabrera pitched in relief for the first time in his career last season and reached the majors, where he went 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA in 21.2 innings. Eric Jokisch, Dae-Eun Rhee, Dallas Beeler and call-up Kyle Hendricks round out the starting staff.
Buddy Bailey returns to manage the Smokies, who play Friday night at 7 p.m. CST. Here’s the roster Bailey will have to work with to start season:
Frank Batista RHP
Dallas Beeler RHP
Alberto Cabrera RHP
Marcus Hatley RHP
Kyle Hendricks RHP
Eric Jokisch LHP
Trey McNutt RHP
A.J. Morris RHP
Kevin Rhoderick RHP
Dae-Eun Rhee RHP
Zach Rosscup LHP
Brian Schlitter RHP
Tony Zych RHP
Matt Szczur recorded three hits Thursday night. (Photo by Stephen Green)
All four Cubs minor league squads struggled in their Thursday debuts, resulting in a quartet of losses. Despite the problems on the scoreboard, here are the Cubs highlights from last night’s action:
IOWA CUBS (0-1)
Iowa allowed seven runs in the seventh inning and dropped its season opener at Albuquerque, 10-3.
- 1B Brian Bogusevic went 3-for-5 with a run and an RBI in his Iowa debut.
- LF Ty Wright (2-for-4) had two hits, including a two-out RBI in the fifth, scoring Bogusevic.
- C J.C. Boscan had two singles in a 2-for-4 outing.
- RHP Rafael Dolis tossed a scoreless eighth inning, retiring the side in order with three groundouts.
TENNESSEE SMOKIES (0-1)
Tennessee jumped ahead in the third inning but fell 7-3 on the road at Pensacola in their season opener.
- LF Matt Szczur went 3-for-4 from the leadoff spot with a run scored.
- SS Arismendy Alcantara went 2-for-3 with a two-run homer that put the Smokies ahead in the third inning. He finished with a walk, one run scored, three RBI and a stolen base.
- RHP A.J. Morris allowed one hit and a run in 1.2 innings of work. He struck out two while walking one.
DAYTONA CUBS (0-1)
The D-Cubs fell in their home opener 4-3 to Brevard County after giving up two runs in the seventh inning.
- RF Jorge Soler got off to a fast start going 2-for-4 in the opener.
- SS Javier Baez (0-for-3) recorded an RBI on a sacrifice fly in the first inning.
- 3B Tim Saunders (1-for-4, R, RBI, SB) registered a double in the opening frame
- 2B Stephen Bruno also doubled, going 1-for-3 with a run scored.
- RHP Eduardo Figueroa held the Manatees scoreless, allowing two hits in 2.1 innings of work with two strikeouts.
KANE COUNTY COUGARS (0-1)
Kane County dropped a 7-2 decision to the visiting Quad Cities River Bandits in the team’s first game as a Cubs affiliate.
- 1B Dan Vogelbach went 2-for-4 with two singles.
- DH Rock Shoulders notched the team’s only home run with a two-run blast to right in the fourth inning.
- RHP Stephen Perakslis allowed no hits and no runs in 1.1 IP while striking out one
- RHP Eduardo Orozco added a scoreless inning, striking out one and walking one while allowing no hits.
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:
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
(Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
The Cubs officially came to terms with outfielder Ryan Sweeney on a minor league deal Wednesday morning. The 28-year-old spent seven seasons in the majors after being drafted by the White Sox in 2003. A career .280 hitter, Sweeney has 102 doubles in 1,900 plate appearances and hit .286 or better in three consecutive seasons (2008-10).
The big league veteran played 33 games with the White Sox in 2006-07 before being dealt to Oakland in January 2008. He spent four productive seasons with the Athletics before being traded to Boston prior to the 2012 season. Sweeney struggled to find playing time with the Red Sox and was released March 30 after hitting just .217 on the spring.
Sweeney’s best year came in 2009, when he hit .293/.348/.407 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with six home runs and 53 RBI in 134 games with the A’s. That season, he posted a 2.9 WAR, the best mark of his career.
The Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native will spend at least the beginning of the season back home, as he’ll be playing for Triple-A Iowa in nearby Des Moines. He made the announcement yesterday on his Twitter account.
“So pumped to get this opportunity with the Cubs,” he tweeted. “I know I have made a lot of Midwest people happy. Looking forward to a great 2013 season!”
2011 Rule 5 pick Lendy Castillo will start 2013 with the Kane County Cougars. (Photo by Stephen Green)
The Cubs made their fair share of organizational changes during the offseason, from roster transactions to the proposal to restore Wrigley Field. But one of the bigger moves this winter was partnering with the Kane County Cougars as the club’s new Single-A affiliate. The Cougars play their home games in Geneva, Ill., roughly 40 miles west of Chicago, which gives fans a chance to view the future of the organization up close.
On Tuesday morning, the Cougars announced their Opening Day roster, and it’s full of high-upside talent that Cubs fans should (and now can) keep an eye on.
First baseman Dan Vogelbach headlines the squad’s roster, along with a trio of exciting young infielders in Jeimer Candelario, Gioskar Amaya and Marco Hernandez. Vogelbach, a 2011 second-round pick, is viewed by many as the best power hitter in the organization.
Pierce Johnson, a right-hander the Cubs selected in the supplemental first round of the 2012 draft, could be one of the organization’s best young arms. Lendy Castillo, a 2011 Rule 5 pick who got into 13 games last year for the Cubs, will also start 2013 with Kane County.
Here is the full roster manager Mark Johnson will have at his disposal when his squad opens up on Thursday:
Justin Amlung RHP
Jeff Antigua LHP
Jose Arias RHP
Lendy Castillo RHP
Ian Dickson RHP
Nathan Dorris LHP
Michael Heesch LHP
Pierce Johnson RHP
Eddie Orozco RHP
Felix Pena RHP
Stephen Perakslis RHP
Tayler Scott RHP
Brian Smith LHP
At this point in Spring Training, the lineup card starts to get a little repetitive. David DeJesus, Anthony Rizzo and Alfonso Soriano—in some variation—will be in the lineup. So whenever a new name enters the fray, it’s cause for excitement. With Starlin Castro out, as his girlfriend gives birth to their first child, top prospect Arismendy Alcantara will get the nod Thursday.
While Castro will undoubtedly be the Cubs Opening Day shortstop (he’s expected to rejoin the team in Houston), this gives the management group another opportunity to evaluate the 21-year-old minor league infielder. In Vine Line‘s February prospectus issue, we broke down more than 60 Cubs prospects, and Alcantara was among the group. Here’s what we said about him:
Ht/Wt: 5-10/160 • B/T: S/R
Born: 10/29/91 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Acquired: 2008 NDFA
Alcantara popped onto the radar last season at just 20 years old with a hit tool that played up in the Florida State League. He has a lot of strengths, including a line-drive bat from both sides of the plate, a middle-of-the-field profile and good speed. Though he’s not big, he has sneaky strength and some surprising power. Alcantara has good range, and his arm rates at least plus, but his footwork (the cause of many of his throwing errors) was a focus during fall instructs. Overall, it’s an exciting package—watch for him in a loaded middle infield at Double-A Tennessee.
Alcantara hit .302/.339/.447 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with seven home runs, 51 RBI and 25 stolen bases in High-A Daytona last season.
He’ll be batting ninth as the Cubs bid farewell to HoHoKam Stadium Thursday, before heading east to Houston to finish out the spring. Carlos Villanueva will start for the North Siders, opposite Seattle’s Hisashi Iwakuma. The game can be seen on Comcast SportsNet or fans can go to Cubs.com to listen live. Here’s the lineup the Cubs will be sending out Thursday:
CF David DeJesus
2B Darwin Barney
1B Anthony Rizzo
LF Alfonso Soriano
RF Nate Schierholtz
C Dioner Navarro
3B Luis Valbuena
DH Scott Hairston
SS Arismendy Alcantara
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Last week’s roster cuts gave Cubs fans a better view of who will be on the Opening Day roster—a total of 11 players were sent to various minor league squads on Friday, and reliever Rafael Dolis was shipped to Triple-A Iowa later in the weekend—but there is still at least one spot up for grabs.
Zach Putnam, Hisanori Takahashi and Cory Wade all will be vying for the final spot in the bullpen, following the news that Michael Bowden and Rule 5 pick Hector Rondon were likely in.
The 25-year-old Putnam signed with the Cubs this past Christmas after spending 2012 with Colorado. The right-hander has pitched nine innings this spring, posting a 3.00 ERA, a 1.56 WHIP and notching five strikeouts. In Triple-A last year, he racked up 12 saves in 49 games and posted a 4.15 ERA in 60.2 innings of work.
Takahashi is a 37-year-old veteran who spent most of his career playing in Japan before coming to the U.S. in 2010. The left-hander split time with the Angels and Pirates last year, posting a 5.54 ERA in 50.1 major league innings. With James Russell the only lefty locked into the bullpen, the Japanese native might have the inside track.
Wade comes over as an offseason signing as well, having spent the previous two seasons with the Yankees. The 30-year-old right-hander posted a 6.46 ERA in 39 innings in 2012. That came after a 2011 campaign in which he had a 2.04 ERA in 39.2 innings. This spring, he has a 5.63 ERA in eight innings pitched.
Cubs.com’s Carrie Muskat reported that Steve Clevenger is likely going to beat out utility infielder Alberto Gonzalez for the final bench spot on the roster. Clevenger played 69 games for the Cubs in 2012, mostly at catcher. This spring, the organization has tried out the 26-year-old at first base. He’s hitting .395 in 41 plate appearances.
Clevenger will be batting third and playing first Monday as the Cubs host defending World Series champs San Francisco. Lefty Travis Wood will get the start for Chicago, opposite Ryan Vogelsong. The 3:05 CST game can be seen on Comcast SportsNet, or fans can listen in on Cubs.com. Here’s the lineup the Cubs will send out Monday:
CF David DeJesus
SS Brent Lillbridge
1B Steve Clevenger
LF Alfonso Soriano
RF Nate Schierholtz
C Dioner Navarro
3B Luis Valbuena
2B Alberto Gonzalez
P Travis Wood