Part of the fun of minor league baseball is waiting each year to see which players will suddenly come out of nowhere and arrive in the majors. Thanks to the internet most fans are familiar with their team’s top prospects; players like Brett Jackson or Trey McNutt making it to Chicago will not surprise anyone. On the other hand, how many Cub fans had heard of Tony Campana before the 2011 season started?
In a farm system as deep as the Cubs, surprise players like Campana are bound to crop up from time to time. The Cubs are so thin on star-level talent in the upper reaches of the system that it is easy to keep track of those guys. The prospects we lose track of are the role players. There are plenty of them who could emerge for the Cubs over the course of the next season, but today I’ll only talk about two of them: Rebel Ridling and Nelson Perez.
Rebel Ridling is likely the more familiar of the two players, and prior to the signing of Rock Shoulders he probably had the most interesting name in the farm system. Ridling is also one of the Cub prospects most likely to break out in 2012. He is a right handed slugging first baseman / left fielder who had some success in Tennessee in 2011. Given the hitter-friendly nature of the Pacific Coast League, I expect that Ridling will put up some gaudy numbers when he adjusts to Triple A pitching.
At the plate, Ridling holds his strike outs to an acceptable level and walks at a fairly decent pace. That combination should catch the attention of the Cubs new front office and could result in him getting a shot at the majors by the end of the season. The way the roster looks right now, the Cubs will be a little thin on power at the major league level. That should make Ridling one of the first players to be considered if a need appears at first or in the outfield.
Nelson Perez is a longer shot to reach the majors in 2012, but he could get his chance in the second half of the season. Perez began 2011 in Daytona and hit well enough to earn a fairly rapid promotion to Tennessee. I think he’ll return to Tennessee to start the 2012 season, but should be promoted to Iowa around the middle of the season. Perez is another power hitting outfielder, but unlike Ridling his strike out rate could be a problem. If he can keep that number no higher than 25% or so in his time at Iowa, the Cubs would likely be willing to give him a shot to fill a spot in the majors in case of an injury to someone else. 2011 was a bit of a breakout season for Perez, so I would not be surprised to see him exceed expectations again in 2012. He has a shot to make the roster by the end of the season.