(Photo by Rodger Wood)
The 2012 season was a good one for right-hander Tony Zych. The reliever successfully made the difficult jump from High-A Daytona to Double-A Tennessee while retaining a K/9 ratio of around nine. He also got better acclimated to tougher opponents.
Once the Smokies wrapped up their 2012 campaign, the Chicago-area native made the trek to Mesa to represent the Cubs in the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League. There he finished with a 3.86 ERA and made the All-Star team for his bullpen efforts. And in mid-January, Zych was one of 12 prospects invited to the Rookie Development Program, a week of seminars in Chicago designed to better prepare prospects who are nearing the major leagues.
Though the power arm will likely start the season in Double-A, Zych could find himself on the major league roster by the end of the season.
Zych is one of more than 60 players covered in Vine Line’s annual Minor League Prospectus. The issue is on newsstands now, with single issues available by calling 800-618-8377. It’s an exhaustive rundown, perfect for Spring Training and beyond.
RHP | Tony Zych
Born: 8/7/90 in Crete, Ill.
Acquired: 2011 Draft (4)
Tools: Velocity, Fastball, Slider
2012 STATS (High-A): 3.19 ERA, 36.2 IP, 32 H, 7 BB, 36 K (Double-A): 4.38 ERA, 24.4 IP, 26 H, 12 BB, 28 K
It’s max arm, max effort for Zych, the former University of Louisville closer who has been on the fast track to Chicago. He throws a mid-90s fastball with a hard slider, and has a short, deceptive delivery that features some ugly recoil. Still, he isn’t an extreme strikeout pitcher—merely a good one who uses his slider as more of a complementary offering. McLeod envisions Zych’s fastball as one that will run in on hands and stay off barrels. Both his velocity and mound makeup profile for the late innings. Though he’s just two years out of college, that future could come as soon as 2013.
Other players featured in this section: infielders Junior Lake, Josh Vitters and Logan Watkins; outfielders Brett Jackson and Matt Szczur; and pitchers Alberto Cabrera, Trey McNutt, Brooks Raley, Nick Struck and Robert Whitenack.
Plus, tidbits on OF Jae-Hoon Ha, LHP Chris Rusin, LHP Frank Del Valle, LHP Zach Rosscup, RHP Matt Loosen, IF Justin Bour, RHP Marcus Hatley, LHP Austin Kirk and RHP Eric Jokisch.
Other Prospectus Previews:
In a farm system that has received much praise over the last few weeks for its steady improvements, there’s nobody in the Cubs’ minor league system that has the power of Dan Vogelbach.
The 2011 second-round pick got 61 games under his belt in 2012, and had a successful first full season. In 24 games with the rookie ball team, Vogelbach hit .324/.391/.686 (AVG/OBP/SLG), belting seven home runs and recording 12 doubles.
Then the slugging first baseman jumped onto the Short-Season Boise squad midway through the campaign, where he managed to maintain the similar numbers despite facing better pitching. Hitting .322/.423/.608 with 10 home runs and driving in 31 in 37 games, Vogelbach took the league by storm, aiding the Hawks to the championship series.
Vogelbach is just one of more than 60 players covered in Vine Line’s annual Minor League Prospectus. The issue is on newsstands now, with single issues available by calling 800-618-8377. It’s an exhaustive rundown, perfect for Spring Training and beyond.
1B | Dan Vogelbach
Born: 12/17/92 in North Fort Myers, Fla.
Acquired: 2011 Draft (2)
Tools: Hit for Average, Power
2012 STATS (Rookie): .324/.391/.686 (Short-Season): .322/.423/.608
Vogelbach is a bat-only prospect, but what a stick it is. He has elite, 80 raw power and incredibly fast hands. He bashed a home run every 14 at-bats for Boise, showing the light-tower reach that made him a second-round pick in 2011. Perhaps most impressive is his surprisingly short stroke considering his ability to mash. He hits to all fields with power, and he controls the strike zone well. His makeup and personality are top-notch too. On the other hand, his defense and body have always been a struggle, and Vogelbach knows he has to work hard on both.
Other players featured in this section: Catcher Wilson Contreras; Infielders Arismendy Alcantara, Gioskar Amaya, Javier Baez, Jeimer Candelario and Marco Hernandez; Outfielder Trey Martin; and Pitchers Lendy Castillo, Dillon Maples and Ben Wells.
Plus, tidbits on IF Ronald Torreyes, RHP Jose Rosario, RHP Austin Reed, IF Carlos Penalver, RHP Tayler Scott, RHP Michael Jensen, OF Jeffrey Baez, OF Pin-Chieh Chen and IF Zeke DeVoss.
(Photo by Scott McDaniel)
Other Prospectus Previews:
Stephen Bruno has spent only a few months donning Cubs minor league attire. But from what the organization has seen out of the 2012 draft pick, it’s safe to say he knows how to handle the bat.
The seventh-round pick from the University of Virginia crushed anything and everything opposing pitchers threw at him in 2012. He jumped right into Short-Season A Boise, and was a key piece of the team’s championship series run. The organization hasn’t found a set position for the 22-year-old infielder yet, but he can play a variety of spots effectively.
Chicago-area Cubs fans should be excited as Bruno could start the 2013 season playing with a young but exciting Single-A Kane County squad, the new minor league affiliate located about 40 miles west of downtown.
Bruno is just one of more than 60 players covered in Vine Line’s annual Minor League Prospectus. The issue is on newsstands now, with single issues available by calling 800-618-8377. It’s an exhaustive rundown, perfect for Spring Training and beyond.
IF | Stephen Bruno
Born: 11/17/90 in Audubon, N.J.
Acquired: 2012 Draft (7)
Tools: Hits for Average
2012 STATS (Short-Season): .361/.442/.496 (AVG/OBP/SLG)
Bruno, who was a standout among standouts on the stacked Boise short-season squad, is a professional hitter who can flat-out rake. Few are capable of going on a tear like he did in his first pro season. It’s not clear where he’ll play—he could be an average second baseman or play third base/outfield (Bruno also tried on the catcher’s gear in fall instructs, though it’s an unlikely landing spot). Still, his bat will keep him in the lineup, despite lacking big power. There weren’t many college hitters available in the draft, but the Cubs feel they got a good one out of the University of Virginia.
Other players featured in this section: Outfielder Albert Almora; and pitchers Paul Blackburn, Pierce Johnson and Duane Underwood.
Plus, tidbits on RHP Ryan McNeil, RHP Josh Conway, LHP Michael Heesch and IF Tim Saunders.
(Photo courtesy Louisville Bats)
If anybody has a major league pedigree, it’s new Cubs third-base coach David Bell, a third-generation major leaguer. David, the son of Buddy Bell and grandson of Gus Bell, played for 12 years before transitioning into coaching. Before coming to the Cubs, he was the manager of the Triple-A Louisville Bats in the Reds system. For the February issue of Vine Line, we talked to the former player and current coach about stepping away from the game (and then back into it), hitting for the cycle (it’s a family thing) and making the major leagues (for the second time).
CAREER CHANGE When you’re playing, you just think you’re going to play forever. You’re so locked into what you’re doing. And really you have to be to be able to play the game at this level. You have to be focused on the present and what you’re doing, and I was. You get locked into that, and all of a sudden, the end of your career sneaks up on you. It’s difﬁcult to be prepared for it really. [Coaching] crossed my mind a few times, but it wasn’t something I spent a lot of time thinking about.
THE CYCLE It was deﬁnitely a day I felt locked in. And I was so locked in I didn’t realize I had hit for the cycle until I ended up on third. The triple was the last hit I got, and John Vukovich, the third base coach, told me I hit for the cycle. I said I was surprised, and I don’t know if he believed me or not. If I hit a triple earlier in the game, it probably would have crossed my mind because they’re so rare. I think I was just happy I got four hits because I needed them pretty bad at the time. After the game, someone reminded me my grandfather had done it too. Then all of a sudden, it became really meaningful.
THREE’S A CHARM [Baseball] was never something that was forced on us, so we were allowed to choose the game as our career. The approach my dad and grandfather taught us, both on and off the ﬁeld, made it a big advantage once I started playing. And getting to do what I’ve done the last three or four years—coaching in the minor leagues—it’s been a huge advantage. My dad and my brother are both in player development, so it was nice to have some kind of understanding of what it’s all about before I jumped in too.
PERFECT PITCH [Dale Sveum and I] spent quite a bit of time on the phone. Just hearing his voice and the excitement he has, the passion he has—both for the game of baseball but also for the situation he’s in right now and the situation the Cubs are in—working with him made it an obvious decision for me. To be a part of something that’s building and something you can contribute to and make a difference in is really what it’s all about.
ALWAYS BE PREPARED [Coaching third base] is the one part of coaching you can compare a little bit to playing in that the more prepared you are, the better you’re going to be at it. The preparation part of it is in your control, and I think that’s what‘s fun about it. Once the game starts, you’ve done that preparation, and now it becomes reaction, instincts. Now it becomes the same things that made you play well as a player. You’re only going to be able to get to that point where you can react and let your instincts take over if you’re prepared.
To read the complete interview with David Bell, pick up the February issue of Vine Line, featuring he Minor League Prospectus, available now at select Jewel-Osco, Walgreens, Meijer, Barnes & Noble and other Chicago-area retailers. Or subscribe to Vine Line today.
Other Prospectus Previews:
One year after the Cubs stocked up by paying a premium for impact talent, the game changed. New leaguewide spending restrictions implemented prior to the 2012 draft now mean the only option is to out-scout and out-draft other teams.
“We’re very fortunate here in that I think we have such great evaluators,” said Jason McLeod, Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development. “We just changed some processes of how we were acquiring information.”
New scouting responsibilities included video capture for biomechanical analysis and deeper background work. Albert Almora became “the guy” early in the year, with the team sold on his innate two-way abilities and passion for the game.
But after that sixth-overall pick, the Cubs went all-in on arms with their next seven selections. It’s a haul that falls to new pitching coordinator Derek Johnson, who tutored his share of first-round picks—including Cy Young winner David Price—as Vanderbilt’s pitching coach.
“It’s the area where we feel, if we’re going to be a good organization and get to where we want to go, has to be a point of emphasis,” McLeod said.
Pierce Johnson is one of the high-ceiling pitchers the Cubs selected last June. He is also one of more than 60 players covered in Vine Line’s annual Minor League Prospectus. The issue hits newsstands in February, with single issues available by calling 800-618-8377. Get up to speed on the Cubs’ 2012 draft class and the rest of the minor leagues for Spring Training and beyond.
P | PIERCE JOHNSON
Born: 5/10/91 in Arvada, Colo.
Acquired: 2012 Draft (1s)
Tools: Velocity, Fastball, Curveball
2012 STATS (R): 0.00 ERA, 3.0 IP, 4 H, 0 BB, 2 K; (SS): 4.50 ERA, 8.0 IP, 10 H, 3 BB, 12 K
Johnson, the first pitcher chosen by the Cubs in the June draft, fell to the 43rd pick only because of a minor elbow strain he suffered last spring. His power arsenal includes a low-90s fastball and a power curveball that may have been the draft’s best. He pitches with competitiveness and from a good, high angle, and has the stuff to miss bats as he climbs through the minors. His frame is tall but very lean, so the focus will be on adding strength and weight while he develops his change-up. This season, the goal is to log innings and show his potential as a future mid-rotation horse.
Other players featured in this section: Infielder Stephen Bruno, outfielder Albert Almora, and pitchers Paul Blackburn and Duane Underwood.
Plus, tidbits on IF Tim Saunders, RHP Ryan McNeil, RHP Josh Conway and LHP Michael Heesch.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Other Prospectus Previews:
Jorge Soler has the unique ability to leave baseball people gushing and speechless at the same time—like how McLeod wrapped up a report on the Cuban with, “Yeah, he’s awesome.” Soler “drips with tools,” similar to first-rounders Albert Almora and Javier Baez. There are several potential pitfalls, but Soler’s assimilation on and off the field has been promising so far.
Both Soler and Gerardo Concepcion were signed in the flurry of get-’em-while-you-can moves before international spending caps hit on July 2. Frandy De La Rosa and Juan Carlos Paniagua were the team’s two big gets afterward, inked for roughly three quarters of the Cubs’ $2.9 million pool. But most international signings are of toolsy 16- and 17-year-olds who won’t head stateside for years—if ever.
In the background, the Cubs are investing heavily in their Latin American infrastructure. Work continues on a new Dominican facility, which will provide more fields, workout space and classrooms. They’ve also returned to Venezuela, in lieu of a second Dominican squad. Both moves should signal to prospects how seriously the Cubs take player development.
Soler is just one of more than 60 players covered in Vine Line’s annual Minor League Prospectus, which hits newsstands in February, with single issues available by calling 800-618-8377. It’s an exhaustive rundown, perfect for Spring Training and beyond.
OF | JORGE SOLER
Born: 2/25/92 in Havana, Cuba
Acquired: 2012 NDFA
Tools: Power, Arm, Speed
2012 STATS (R): .241/.328/.389 (14 G); (LoA): .338/.398/.513 (20)
Baseball people don’t often throw around 80s—as in “elite” on the 20-80 scouting scale—so it shouldn’t be taken lightly when McLeod slaps that grade on Soler’s raw power. Think Giancarlo Stanton in the tape-measure home run department. Soler pairs that with an impressive approach at the plate, which allowed him to excel at low Class-A Peoria. Soler profiles perfectly for right field, where he runs well and has a plus arm. It’s still early, so Cubs brass will hold their breath and hope the skills he’s shown hold up as he faces tougher pitching. Soler will be just 21 this season, but the Cubs aren’t going to be conservative with him—he’ll move as he proves he’s ready.
*Slash line includes AVG/OBP/SLG
Other players featured in this section: Infielder Frandy De La Rosa, outfielder Yasiel Balaguert, and pitchers Juan Carlos Paniagua and Gerardo Concepcion
(Photo by Alex Yocum-Beeman/Frisco RoughRiders)
Other Prospectus Previews:
Are you a pitcher? Do you have an electric arm or good peripheral statistics? Do you have a top-round pedigree but were pushed off the 40-man roster while you rehab from Tommy John or shoulder surgery?
Congrats, you’ve probably been scouted—or already acquired—by the Cubs.
It’s a joke the front office makes about itself, as the first year-plus of the Epstein/Hoyer/McLeod Era has proved the Cubs will acquire arms any way they can. Arodys Vizcaino and Hector Rondon could turn out to be steals if they end up as starters, though they’d also have plenty of utility as back-end relievers. Meanwhile, Barret Loux and Carlos Gutierrez are former first-rounders who have undergone shoulder surgeries. Of course, this list doesn’t include veterans like Scott Baker, who the Cubs hope will be a starting rotation bargain in his comeback from elbow reconstruction.
Loux is just one of more than 60 players covered in Vine Line’s annual Minor League Prospectus, which hits newsstands in February, with single issues available by calling 800-618-8377. It’s a perfect guide for Spring Training and beyond.
P | BARRET LOUX
Born: 4/6/89 in Houston, Texas
Acquired: 2012 Trade (TEX for G. Soto)
Tools: Pitchability, Slider
2012 STATS (AA): 3.47 ERA, 127.0 IP, 120 H, 41 BB, 100 K
From sixth-overall pick to unsigned free agent, it’s hard to imagine a more chaotic summer than Loux’s in 2010. The Diamondbacks declined to sign the Texas A&M ace after a physical uncovered a torn labrum. He’s since had two successful seasons with the Rangers, including a 2012 campaign that earned him Double-A Texas League Player of the Year honors. He is a four-pitch guy with an 89-93 mph fastball and a slider that is probably his best out pitch. He’s likely more of an innings-eating depth guy, as his stuff rates average across the board.
Other players featured in this section: Infielder Christian Villanueva; Pitchers Arodys Vizcaino, Hunter Cervenka and Hector Rondon.
Plus, tidbits on RHP Marcelo Carreño, RHP Carlos Gutierrez, RHP Kyle Hendricks and RHP Jaye Chapman.
Other Prospectus Previews: Down the Pipeline/Jeimer Candelario
Who wants it? That’s the question being asked in the system’s upper levels, where opportunity knocks.
It was just one year ago that Triple-A hosted the system’s most exciting lineup—featuring Anthony Rizzo, Welington Castillo, Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters. The first two already have established themselves as big league starters, while Jackson and Vitters both got crash courses in what they need to do to stick. Lump in toolsy Junior Lake, and there’s still a trio of capable prospects who should make a push for Chicago this year.
But for all the promise at the plate, it’s the dearth of ready impact arms that has received the most focus. That’s why the front office recently debated whether to try Alberto Cabrera as a starter again, after a career year in relief. The development team saw the makings of a good secondary arsenal, and he’d be a power starter (something every organization covets) if it’s there. Whether it’s Robert Whitenack, Matt Loosen or some of the other intriguing arms in the system, everybody wants to know who will break out and answer the call.
At last weekend’s Cubs Convention, Assistant General Manager Randy Bush identified Nick Struck as a pitcher Chicago fans should keep an eye on. Struck is just one of more than 60 players covered in Vine Line’s annual Minor League Prospectus. The issue will hit newsstands in February, with single issues are available by calling 800-618-8377. It’s an exhaustive rundown, perfect for Spring Training and beyond.
P | NICK STRUCK
Born: 10/7/89 in Damascus, Ore.
Acquired: 2009 Draft (39)
Tools: Pitchability, Fastball
2012 STATS (Double-A): 3.18 ERA, 155.2 IP, 140 H, 44 BB, 123 K
Struck, the Cubs’ 2012 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, doesn’t have big stuff but pitches like he does, to paraphrase McLeod’s end-of-season report. Struck’s ultra-competitive approach helped him put together a phenomenal 155-inning year at Tennessee. He stands only 5-foot-11 but is big, strong and durable. His fastball touches 92 mph with heavy movement, and he’s not afraid of contact. He also mixes in a change-up and slider. A former 39th-round pick, Struck provides starting depth, though his best role may be as a swingman who can spot start or eat a couple of innings at a time from the bullpen.
Other players featured in this section: Infielders Junior Lake, Logan Watkins and Josh Vitters; outfielders Brett Jackson and Matt Szczur; and pitchers Alberto Cabrera, Trey McNutt, Brooks Raley, Rob Whitenack and Tony Zych.
Plus, tidbits on LHP Frank Del Valle, IF Justin Bour, OF Jae-Hoon Ha, LHP Austin Kirk, LHP Chris Rusin, RHP Marcus Hatley, RHP Dallas Beeler and RHP Matt Loosen.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
For the January issue of Vine Line, we talked to Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein about the state of the organization. In part one of the interview, Epstein talked about his first year with the team and instituting the Cubs Way throughout the system. In part two, he spoke about the need for veteran leadership and the Cubs’ desire to add pitching at all levels. In part three, we talk playoffs. To read the entire interview, pick up the January issue or subscribe to Vine Line today.
VL: With one-third of the league now making the postseason, is it tempting to try to make a splash with a big-money free agent?
TE: There’s always going to be temptation. I think 30 teams face it every winter. There’s temptation to sacrifice a little bit of your future, whether it’s in terms of your best prospects or whether it’s in terms of future dollars that you want to allocate. You might not get the most bang for your buck in those future dollars, but gosh, that player’s sitting right there for you to sign. And maybe we’re just one player away.
The bottom line is there is a time when you’re one player away. We’re not quite there yet. We’re still in the mode where we’re building toward something that’s going to provide great results for us on a consistent basis year in and year out. We want to do it as much as we can with homegrown players. We want to do it with a nucleus of players who enter their prime together, who play the game the right way and who are proud to be Cubs. Then, at the appropriate time, we’ll supplement it with the right impact free agent.
Along the way, we’re going to sign free agents. We’re going to do everything we can to have a season like Oakland had last year, or Baltimore had last year. But I think you’ll know by the talent that’s on the field and under control and under contract for a long period of time when we’re about to go on our run and extend it and sustain success.
VL: If you are at or around the .500 mark halfway through the 2013 season, do you see yourself adding pieces to make a Wild Card push?
TE: I think any opportunity to get into the playoffs is something you have to take very, very seriously. If we’re fortunate enough to be in contention this year, I think adding is something we would definitely pursue. It’s up to us to really budget our money appropriately during the offseason so we do have a little bit of room during the season. But typically when you’re having a good year, attendance is better, and you generate more revenues. I know with the Rickettses’ commitment to winning, we certainly would be aggressive and stretch and do what’s necessary to supplement that type of a team.
The preferred route into the postseason is always winning the division, but realistically, as we continue this process of trying to get better and better every year and building a strong foundation, if we have things break our way and we have a realistic chance at the Wild Card, we’re not going to be picky about how we get in. We’re going to go for it, and get in that tournament because anything can happen in October.
(Photo courtesy Boise Hawks)
The Cubs front office—and Midwest fans of the team—already are planning to wear out their odometers on day trips this spring. Located about an hour west of Wrigley Field, the Class-A Kane County Cougars will feature a host of legit prospects, many of whom starred for the ultra-exciting Boise Hawks last summer.
One player expected to start there is Jeimer Candelario, just one of more than 60 players covered in Vine Line’s annual Minor League Prospectus. The issue will hit newsstands in February, and single issues are available by calling 800-618-8377. It’s an exhaustive rundown, perfect for Spring Training and beyond. And if you’re heading to the Cubs Convention this weekend, make sure to stop by the Down on the Farm panel Sunday at 9 a.m., hosted by broadcaster Dave Otto and Vine Line Managing Editor Gary Cohen.
IF | JEIMER CANDELARIO
Born: 11/24/93 in New York, N.Y.
Acquired: 2010 Non-Drafted Free Agent
Tools: HIT, POW
2012 STATS (Short-Season): .281 AVG/.345 OBP/.396 SLG (71 G)
Barely the age of the typical high school draft pick, the 18-year-old Candelario held his own against college-age competition in the Northwest League. He’s a big-framed, stocky kid who can really swing the stick, and he has a chance to be a special hitter. If you’re willing to spare the expectations, he’s a bit like Pablo Sandoval in that he’s a switch-hitter who hits for average, has man strength and will try to stick at third base. But Candelario’s defense needs work, as he battled inconsistency in the field for the Boise Hawks. Most promising may be his surprisingly advanced plate approach. He plays the game under control and with a real rhythm to his work in batting practice. He’s one to keep an eye on in his first year of full-season ball.
Other players featured in this section: Infielders Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, Gioskar Amaya, Marco Hernandez and Dan Vogelbach; catcher Wilson Contreras; outfielder Trey Martin; and pitchers Dillon Maples and Ben Wells.
Plus, tidbits on IF Ronald Torreyes, RHP Jose Rosario, RHP Austin Reed, IF Carlos Penalver, RHP Tayler Scott, RHP Michael Jensen, OF Jeffrey Baez, IF Zeke DeVoss and OF Pin-Chieh Chen.