Season Preview: Forecasting The Season

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  • Luke’s Forecast

The Other Players To Watch

On any list of minor league players to watch this season, three names stand out: Josh Vitters, Brett Jackson, and Hayden Simpson. But what about the rest of the system? Who else should Cub fans with an eye on the future be watching? Here are three names you may not have heard of, but will likely hear more about.

As a 19 year old in Peoria last season, Jae-Hoon Ha hit .317/.334/.468. While his lack of walks is a bit concerning, he did strike out less than 20% of the time. He signed with the Cubs as a catcher, but his relative inexperience in the outfield did not seem to hurt him much. In 137 games as a professional, he has committed just four errors.

Ha will progress to the Daytona this season. Hits are harder to come by in the Florida State League than they are in the Midwest League. If he puts together another strong offensive season, he just might put himself in the Cubs future outfield conversation.

Michael Brenly has a lot of work to do in order to move up the Cubs catching depth chart, but the opportunity is there. For a guy taken in the 36th round in 2008, I think it is safe to say he has performed better than most expected. In Daytona last season he hit .270/.333/.354. That lack of power is discouraging, but he only struck out 16% of the time. His average of .270 may not look like much, but it was good for third on the team, behind LeMahieu and Flaherty, and is well above the league average.

Brenly should step up to Double A next season. If we ranked Cubs catching prospects today, Brenly would certainly finish behind Wellington Castillo, Max Ramirez, Micah Gibbs, and probably Steve Clevenger as well. If he keeps hitting, we may have to rethink that.

Peoria fans in 2010 got to witness a rain-shortened five inning no-hitter pitched by Nick Struck. Struck is another late draft pick, taken in the 39th round in 2009. His first professional appearance was in Peoria in 2010, and he handled it pretty well. His K/9 (6.6) and HR/9 (0.5) look good, but his BB/9 (3.1) could use some work. If he can improve his control and get the walks reigned in, his ERA of 3.22 should come down as well. With one no-hitter under his belt, there is no questioning how effective he can be.

Nick Struck should go to Dayona in 2011. He has a long way to go before he can emerge among the upper echelon of Cubs pitching prospects, but there is clearly some potential here. He has a good chance of standing out with a good year in High A.

Minor League Trends

Minor league rosters are not yet set, but even so we can get a pretty good idea where the big stories for each of the Cubs full season farm teams should be.

Iowa – Without any question, the story in AAA Iowa will be the pitching. Trey McNutt is likely to be the headliner, but don’t ignore Jay Jackson, James Russell, Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Chris Carpenter, Thomas Diamond, or Casey Coleman if he doesn’t make the major league roster. And that’s just the potential starters. The bullpen should be every bit as deep. If Iowa contends for the playoffs, this pitching staff will be a big part of the reason why.

Tennessee – The AA Smokies roster is likely to read like a who’s-who of Cubs infield prospects. Starting, possibly, with Josh Vitters, the likely infielders here include potential second baseman of the future DJ LeMahieu, lefty slugger Ryan Flaherty, the ever intriguing Junior Lake, Rebel Ridling who is posisbly the Cubs best first base prospect, and maybe even the small but talented Matt Cerda. That should be enough prospect watching to keep any fan busy.

Daytona – Under the Florida sun in High A Daytona will be several Cub prospects looking to define themselves. Jae-Hoon Ha I’ve already mentioned, and I think 2B/3B Matt Cerda is likely to start here as well. Logan Watkins has all the tools to play at SS or 2B, but so far his bat has been inconsistent. With his speed, he could be an asset to the Cubs if he can continue to improve. Robinson Lopez, Aaron Kurcz, and Dae-Eun Rhee join Hayden Simpson on the list of pitching prospects likely to at least make a stop in Daytona. When looking for a player to break out in 2011, Daytona is a good place to search.

Peoria – Peoria might have the best collection of outfield talent in the Cubs system… Chicago included. Led by two sport star Matt Szczur, the starting outfield here could include the power bat of Reggie Golden and Cuban defector Ruby Silva. That’s not to say that the outfield is the only place to watch. Micah Gibbs behind the plate and Pierre LePage at second could both be among the best the Cubs have at their positions. Keep an eye out for Arismendy Alcantara as well. He could add to the Cubs depth of athletic infielders.

Boise – Boise’s roster will largely be defined by the 2011 draft. That draft is both deep and talented so expect some very good players to pack their bags for Idaho.