Most of the winter leagues are now underway, and once again there are several Cub minor league players and prospects playing. These league range from the prospect heavy Arizona Fall League to the national leagues scattered around the Caribbean. MLB.com provides easy access to the statistics for all Cub players in any of the leagues, except for those playing in the World Cup. The stats for guys like Brett Jackson and Ryan Searle do not appear on that page.
While most of the players we are interested in have limited at bats and innings so far, it is never too early to check in on the prospects and see what trends might be developing.
In Venezuela, Bryan LaHair currently has the unbelievable OPS of 1.548. He only has 24 at bats, but with 5 home runs and 4 walks, he is making the most of them. He does have 8 strikeouts for a strikeout rate that is far higher than I would like to see, but given his production and the patience he showed in Iowa, I am not worried about it. If the Cubs do not decide to give LaHair another chance in the majors, he will probably have his pick of lucrative Japanese contracts. Simply put, he is having an unbelievable year.
Junior Lake is playing in the Arizona Fall League. Once again, with 9 steals and 4 home runs, he is showing off that tantalizing mix of power and speed that leaves scouts and baseball writers drooling. He also has 11 strikeouts in 44 at at bats for a rate of 25%. That is right on my line of acceptability for a slugger, and somewhat higher than I think is good for Lake’s game. If he can get that rate down to around 18% or so, he could be poised to take second or third base in Wrigley Field. He needs at least one more year in the minors, I think, including some time in Iowa. However, if he keeps improving like he did this year, Lake could be the center of conversation for Cub fans next winter.
Pitchers have very few innings so far, but even so there are two positive trends to watch. Trey McNutt has a batting average against of just .118 over 5 innings pitching in the AFL. Since the AFL is a notorious hitters league, that is a very good sign. Despite his injury plagued regular season, McNutt’s arm is fine and he still projects as a front of the rotation starter.
Meanwhile, the lesser known and probably underrated lefty Chris Rusin is off to an equally good start in Venezuela. His WHIP of 0.75 over four innings in one start is exactly the sort of efficiency he will need to demonstrate if he is going to sneak into the Cubs rotation plans in spring training. We are a long way from pitchers and catchers reporting, but Chris Rusin should be a name that we hear more about when February arrives. He may be the fifth starter for the 2012 Cubs.