The long winter is over and baseball has finally returned. The Cubs have their first intersquad spring training game today, but it is still baseball. Before we know it, we’ll be celebrating Opening Day in Chicago, Des Moines, Kodak, Daytona, Peoria, and eventually in Boise and Mesa as well. This is going to be an exciting year for the Cubs both in the majors and on the farm, but particularly on the farm. There are some things happening in the system that no Cub fan will want to miss, and I have a few of them listed for you right here, along with a bit of news.
The Peoria Chiefs
While we won’t know minor league rosters for about a month yet, we can safely project that Peoria will be loaded with talent. At some point this season, Chief fans could see an outfield that includes the slugging Reggie Golden in right and the lightening fast Pin-Chieh Chen in center. The infield will be manned by some combination of Javier Baez, Dan Vogelbach, Dustin Geiger, Marco Hernandez, Gioskar Amaya, and Wes Darvill. That is one of the most exciting collections of talent anywhere in the Cubs farm system. I would not completely rule out an appearance by Jeimer Candelario as well.
The pitching staff could include Dillon Maples, Luis Liria, Ben Wells, Austin Reed, Yao-Lin Wang, Starlin Peralta, Frank Del Valle, Taylor Scott, and more. With a staff of promising arms that deep coupled with an offense that should have no trouble scoring runs, the Chiefs ought to be a very good team.
If you attend just one minor league game this season, make sure it is in Peoria.
Batting Practice in Iowa
Especially early in the season, the outfield bleachers in Iowa could be souvenir city. The Cubs Triple A team is likely to open the season featuring sluggers Anthony Rizzo, Brett Jackson, Steve Clevenger, and Rebel Ridling. Josh Vitters is capable of smacking more than a few long balls as well. Rizzo and Jackson in particular have already been putting on shows in Arizona during spring training, and I doubt that will change when the season begins. Ball hawks and autograph hounds alike should flock to the outfield bleacher area both before and during Iowa Cub games. I’d be careful about parking too close to the stadium, though. With that much power, there will be balls leaving the park in all directions, including foul territory.
Tennessee in September
The Cubs have a miniature dynasty in Double A. The Tennessee Smokies have been one of the best teams in the highly competitive Southern League for the past three seasons, and 2012 promises to be no different. While a number of stars from the 2011 team, including players like Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson, will have moved on to Iowa this year, their replacements will be coming from the 2011 Florida State League Champion Daytona Cubs. I think it is safe to predict that Tennessee will once again be among the best teams in the league. Odds are good that the Smokies will be making their fourth consecutive trip to the playoffs in 2012, so Eastern Tennessee in September is the place to be if you want to see some Cub prospects performing in playoff baseball.
Arizona in August
Lost among the debate over the amateur draft spending limits has been a very significant change that is fantastic for baseball teams, players, and fans alike. The signing deadline for drafted players has been moved from August to July, and that means a much higher percentage of the best players taken in the June draft will be on display in the Arizona Rookie League. Regardless of draft rules or slot bonus sizes, there is no doubt that the Cubs will be loading up on the best talent they can find during a draft in which they have four of the top 65 picks. Because of the signing deadline change, we should see even those top picks in action this season. If you want a first person look at the very newest Cubs, then plan a vacation to Mesa in August.
As all of the excitement of the 2012 minor league season unfolds, you will be able to read all about it on Cubbies Crib… but not from me. This is my final article as a Senior Staff Writer for Cubbies Crib and a part of the Fansided Network. I want to thank Jordan, Joe, Wally, John, and all the rest of the Fansided staff that I have worked with over the past year, and wish all the best to the new staff of writers that have joined Cubbies Crib in the past few weeks. I had a great time writing for this site, and that is mostly due to you, my readers. I want to thank all of you for reading, commenting, tweeting, and sharing my minor league coverage over the past season. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I have.
This is not the end of my coverage of the Cubs minor league system, though, not by a long shot. There are some exciting things happening that I can’t talk about publicly yet, but my leaving FanSided is far from the end of the road for me. In the meantime, you can continue to follow me on Twitter (@ltblaize).
Thanks again to Cubbies Crib, FanSided, and my readers. You’ll be hearing from me again soon.