Minor League Update


The minor league season is nearly over. If you were planning to make it to a game this year, better hurry. The full season and short season leagues will holding their playoffs next week. And speaking of playoffs, don’t forget that the Double A Tennessee Smokies will be competing for the Southern League Championship and the High-A Daytona Cubs will be competing for the Florida State League Championship. And that might not be all. Things are looking very good in Boise.

We will check in on the Northwest League Playoff race as well as other minor league notes after the break.

The Hawks

If the season ended today, the Boise Hawks would be in the playoffs. There are two games to go in the Northwest League and there are still two scenarios by which Boise could miss the postseason. Right now, Yakima is just one game behind Tri-City for the second half division title. If Yakima can win the second half, Boise is out of the playoffs. Meanwhile, Boise is just one game ahead of Spokane in the playoff hunt if Tri-City wins the division. With two games to play, Boise could still see Spokane surge past them if they stumble. One more win for Boise puts Spokane away for good, but other than that all they can do is sit back and root for Tri-City.

LaHair Is Coming

Bryan LaHair has been named the MVP of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Considering that Iowa is a last place team, this accomplishment is even more remarkable. Now we have reports that LaHair has been called up by the Chicago Cubs and will probably spend the remainder of the season sitting on the bench wondering why in the world the Cubs bothered to call him up.

Of course it is possible that Mike Quade will actually let him have a few at bats since LaHair is neither all that young nor a rookie, but since he doesn’t play second base I really wouldn’t count on it. Barring an injury, I’d be surprised if LaHair gets more than five starts at first this month. He might see a little time in left field where he has played sparingly during his minor league career, but LeHair’s defensive numbers in the outfield do not convince me that he would be any better than Soriano. He might actually be worse. His future, if he has one with the Cubs, is at first base. Unfortunately, with a healthy Carlos Pena on the roster and Jeff Baker no doubt ahead of him on Quade’s depth chart, I don’t think we can count on LeHair getting enough action to show anyone what he might be capable of.

Arizona Fall League

The Cubs will be sending six players to the prospect heavy Arizona Fall League. I can’t argue with any of these choices, but there is one omission from the list that I find interesting. The six Cubs to join the Mesa SolarSox will be:
Andrew Cashner – Cashner is going to Arizona just to get in some work and to start to stretch his arm back out with the idea of rejoining the starting rotation in 2012.
Trey McNutt – The Cubs top pitching prospect also had an injury-plagued season, and will be going to Arizona to get some experience, now that he is finally recovered from his blisters and rib injuries.
Chris Carpenter – A bit of a surprising choice, but I like this move. Carpenter opened some eyes in the AFL last season by touching 100 MPH while working out of the bullpen. He had some injuries at the end of the year, and the most important thing now is to make sure he is healthy and his mechanics are in good shape.
DJ LeMahieu – I like this choice as well. Now for the big question… where does he play? I think we can get a good idea what the Cubs plan for LeMahieu next season by watching what they do with him in Arizona. If he plays primarily at second base, then Darwin Barney might have some serious competition in spring training next year. If he plays primarily at third, then Aramis Ramirez might want to start packing his bags. If he splits time between the two or plays in the outfield, then I think the Cubs are considering him in a super-sub / utility role for next season.
Brett Jackson – The Cubs top prospect will go to the AFL, and I think that means he will not be in Chicago this September. That is a good thing. He will play more in Arizona than he would under Quade, and most importantly, this keeps him off the 40-man roster which will allow the Cubs to protect another player from the Rule 5 Draft.
Junior Lake – This choice greatly surprised me, but I am very happy to see it. Lake had a career year in the minors this season and has definitely established himself as one of the key prospects to watch in 2012. He played mainly at short for Daytona and Tennessee, but I don’t think his future is at short. He is already showing off some decent power, and at 6’3″, 215 pounds I think he will develop still more power as he progresses. I see Lake as a third baseman, though second would certainly be a possibility. With 36 stolen bases, he has the speed to move into the outfield. The one place we can be pretty sure he won’t play for the Cubs is at shortstop, where he is firmly blocked by Starlin Castro. I expect he will continue at shortstop in the AFL, but I would not be surprised if the Cubs move him to second or third full time when he returns to Tennessee next season.

UPDATE: Brett Jackson is apparently off the AFL roster, and has been replaced by Josh Vitters. I still do not expect to see Jackson in the majors this year.

And now for the name I expected to see, but didn’t. Ryan Flaherty. Flaherty has the power and athleticism to play third base, though he has had limited experience there. With the Cubs having a question mark at the hot corner for 2012, I expected that Flaherty would head to Arizona as the everyday third baseman. If he did well, the Cubs could give him the majority of the starts there in 2012. That did not happen. However, that is not to say that Flaherty won’t be playing ball this winter. He seems like a good candidate for one of the Caribbean winter leagues. Just like with LeMahieu, keep an eye on where he plays. He has spent quite a bit of time in the outfield lately. If the Cubs can move Soriano, Flaherty might be a candidate to take over left next season. He can also play second and third. The Cubs might view him as another super-sub and might be planning to keep him moving all over the diamond. We will get a clue of their intentions this winter.

Some Cub sites have questioned the lack of Josh Vitters on the AFL list. I wouldn’t worry about it. Vitters did pretty well there last year, and I really don’t think he has anything left to prove in Arizona. His future will be at third if he can clean up his defense, or at first if he can’t. His power has been slow in showing up, but he is young and there is no reason to give up on him yet. I expect Vitters will be in winter ball somewhere and will likely split his time between first and third with maybe a little bit of left field thrown in. He will proceed to Iowa next season regardless.

UPDATE: And in fact he is now on the AFL roster in place of Jackson. Everything else I wrote still applies. I still don’t think his bat has much to prove in Arizona, and the major question will be where he plays defense. If he can show that he can defend third, he is the presumptive Heir to Aramis. If he can’t, first base is waiting. Either way, I still see him as a .290+ 25 HR guy in the majors.

Line of the Week

Thanks to Hurricane Irene’s visit to the east coast, the last Line of the Week of the season did not appear on Wednesday. Well, the suspense is over. With some very good outings to finish the year in Tennessee, this week’s honor goes to Eric Jokisch. I think he caught some people by surprise this year, and it will interesting to see what he does in 2012.