Spring training is right around the corner and before you know it we’ll be watching the snow fall during the Cubs home opener. By now we have a pretty good idea what the Cubs will look like, what the big Cub stories will be heading into the 2012 season, and the general path this team is taking under its new front office. But what about the minor leagues? Every winning organization is built on a strong farm system, so we don’t want to ignore the minor leagues. The Cubs are well on their way to building one of the best player development systems in the game. 2012 will be a critical year for the system, and for several of the individual prospects in the system
Even though we are weeks away from the opening of camp, we can still get a pretty good idea of what some of the biggest stories in the Cubs farm system will be in 2012.
Whitenack was having a stunning breakout season in 2011 when he was sidelined with elbow surgery. That surgery has almost become routine for pitchers these days, so I am not worried about his long term recovery. At the Cubs Convention, in fact, we learned his recovery is going so well that the team expects he will break camp with the Daytona Cubs. This is great news.
It will still take some time for him to build up the arm strength and to reestablish his feel for pitching after missing most of the 2011 season, but there is no reason to think he will emerge any less dominant than he was last spring. If Whitenack is able to take on a starter’s work load early and can stay healthy, I think he should finish the season no lower than Double A. As of now, I expect to see him in the majors sometime during the 2013 season.
The Peoria Pitching
While the Chicago media will be watching every pitch made by Trey McNutt in anticipation of his major league debut, the mother load of Cub pitching talent is likely to be found a few miles down the Interstate. Last season the Boise Hawks pitching staff boasted a number of very impressive arms, and I anticipate that a large number of those arms will find their way onto the Chief’s roster in the spring. I strongly encourage Cub fans to take the drive down to Peoria to see guys like Ben Wells, Luis Liria, Yao-Lin Wang, Frank Del Valle, Starlin Peralta, Austin Reed, and more. Thanks in large part to their successful international scouting efforts, the Cubs have assembled as good a collection of young pitchers as I can remember seeing in their farm system. The Peoria rotation has the potential to be something special. I would not be surprised if multiple pitchers who play for the Chiefs in 2012 are playing for the Chicago Cubs in 2015.
The Young Bats
There are three prospects in the low levels of the Cubs’ system we need to be watching closely: Javier Baez, Dan Vogelbach, and Jeimer Candelario. Baez and Vogelbach came out of the 2011 draft while Candelario broke out in the Dominican Summer Leagues at the age of 17. All three could start their careers anywhere from the Arizona Rookie League to the Peoria Chiefs of the Midwest League, and they may all three see time at both stops with a layover playing for the Boise Hawks as well. In a farm system thin on impact bats, these three teenagers might be the most likely to emerge as future anchors to the Chicago lineup.