Recapping Iowa Player By Player


The Iowa Cubs had a disappointing season. The Chicago Cubs Triple A affiliate finished with a record of 66-77, 13 games out of first place. They never put together any consistent runs to lift themselves into contention and spent much of the year hanging out in the bottom half of the division. To be honest, that result was not too surprising.

The Cubs have a very deep farm system, but it lacks in star-level talent and, at the beginning of the season, it lacked in high quality talent at the very highest level of the minors. The Iowa Cubs in April were full of minor league veterans and players who are not likely to have long major league careers. By the end of the season, that had started to change. Iowa ended 2011 with a good core of young talent that will be playing in Wrigley in the near future.

So let’s take a look at the players who finished the year with Iowa and consider their performance, their status, and their likely future.

I’ll start with the pitchers.

Justin Berg – Berg has been in the minors for a long time, and has yet to stick in a major league pen. He keeps showing every sign that he can be a reliever for the Cubs, but it just hasn’t worked out yet. If he doesn’t manage to find a role in 2012, he could be forced to the side by a wave a higher ceiling talent.
Austin Bibens-Dirkx – I have been talking about Bibens-Dirkx for awhile, and I still think he should get a shot in spring training. Ultimately, if he makes it in the majors, I think it will be as a reliever. He does offer some depth for the system, which is good.
Alberto Cabrera – This guy is ranked as one of the Cubs top pitching prospects, and it is because of his stuff. He has some great pitches. He also has some trouble locating them. The Cubs promoted him very aggressively this season, and I think that hurt his numbers as well. I’d like to see Cabrera get another season in Iowa in 2012, but long term I still think this guy has the ability to be a major league starter. If he can’t harness that stuff, his future may be in the bullpen.
Chris Carpenter – Carpenter has a great arm and is deservedly one of the best bullpen prospects in the system. He is a candidate to close in the majors. Hopefully he can stick in Chicago all through 2012.
Robert Coello – Coello had an up and down year, but he pitched very well as a reliever. If the Cubs leave him in the pen, I can see him jumping to the majors in 2012.
John Gaub – Gaub is a pretty good lefthanded reliever who might fit best as a specialist in the majors. So far he hasn’t managed to lock down a job in the Cubs bullpen, but he should get another chance in the spring.
Jay Jackson – Jackson got off to a slow start, in part due to some health concerns coming out of spring training. He did have several strong starts at the end of the year, and I think he should be competing for a starting pitching job for Chicago in the spring.
Scott Maine – Maine might be one of the best lefthanded reliever prospects in all of baseball. His numbers for Iowa were spectacular, and there is no reason to think he won’t be a big part of the competition in the spring.
Blake Parker – Cub fans may not be familiar with Parker, but he has been hanging around the upper minors since his second season as a pro. That was 2008. If he hasn’t broken through to the majors yet, he isn’t likely to. He does provide some bullpen depth for the Cubs, but is not likely to be a big part of their future.
Chris Rusin – Rusin is one of the most advanced left handed starters in the Cubs system. His numbers as a starter for Iowa were not great, but he continued to get ground balls at a very high rate and that bodes well for his future as a major league starter. Look for Rusin to compete for a job at the back of the Cubs rotation in the next year or two.
Kyle Smit – Smit came into the season with a shot to finish the year in Chicago. After his disaster of a season, I don’t think we will be seeing him in the majors any time soon. There are some positives with Smit, but he will spend 2012 just looking rebound from a truly awful 2011.
Carlton Smith – Smith came over from Cleveland in the Fukudome trade, and did not impress anyone. He could still figure into a major league bullpen, but the Cubs won’t be counting on him in 2012.
Nicholas Struck – Struck sprinted from Daytona to Iowa and pitched well at every stop, though his numbers at Iowa don’t really reflect that. Struck is not overpowering, but he does throw strikes. He could be factor at the back of the Cubs rotation in the second half of 2012, if not before.

Welington Castillo – Castillo is the Cubs top catching prospect, and when he was healthy he basically was the only catcher for Iowa. There are still some questions about his bat, but when he got hot this summer he hit as well anyone in the minors. Castillo should be the backup catcher in Chicago next season. I wouldn’t rule him out as a starter one day.

Mario Mercedes and Chris Robinson also caught for Iowa, but neither are likely to factor into the Cubs major league plans. Veteran catchers are both common and extremely valuable in the minor leagues, and it is not surprising to see the that the Cubs have several of them up and down the system.

Ryan Flaherty – Flaherty offers left handed power and defensive versatility. I think he’ll be in the major for a long, long time primarily as a utility guy. With his fairly patient approach, I think he could hold down a starting job on a lot of teams, including the 2012 Cubs. He should get a look at second, third, and left in spring training. Ultimately, I think he starts next year in Iowa, but he may not stay there long.
Marwin Gonzalez – Even though switch hitting shorstops are good to have, Gonzalez is a little limited by his lack of power or speed. Despite being young for Triple A he put up some decent numbers after being promoted. I think he returns to Iowa next year, but we need to keep track of this guy. He could land in Chicago before the year is out.
D.J. LeMahieu – By now all Cub fans should be familiar with LeMahieu and his puzzling lack of playing time on the Cubs. He should open 2012 in the majors where he could take an everyday job and hit .300. Ultimately I think he lands at second, but he could be the Cubs third baseman next season. Long term, LeMahieu could join Flaherty as a super-sub.
Scott Moore – Moore is a borderline minor league veteran. He had a nice year for Iowa, but it looks like he is being passed by the younger guys coming out of the minors. He could be a valuable bat off the bench for a major league team next season, but I don’t think that team will be the Cubs.
Marquez Smith – Like Moore, Smith is a potentially valuable guy who is just getting passed by higher ceiling talent in the Cubs system. Smith is a very good defender, but I don’t see that being enough for him to make the Cubs in 2012.

Bryan LaHair was not on the Iowa roster at the end of the season, but I’ll toss him in here anyway. LaHair is a first baseman who won’t embarrass himself in left field, but only because Cub fans are used to seeing Soriano out there. I was skeptical that LaHair was a major league hitter until I saw the rate at which he was drawing walks. I’d be content if LaHair had a chance to start for the Cubs next season.

Brett Jackson – Jackson is the Cubs top prospect and he should be competing for a job in spring training, but don’t expect All-Star number from this guy. He will be a rock solid major league player, but he doesn’t have any one tool that is likely to lift him to stardom. That said, she should be a part of the Cubs outfield for a very long time.
Matthew Spencer – Spencer has posted some nice numbers in the minors, but Iowa was not good to him. He has been around the minors for awhile, but I wouldn’t write him off as a AAAA guy quite yet. Long term, though, I don’t think his future is with the Cubs.
Lou Montanez – Montanez is the perfect example of a AAAA guy: too good for Triple A, but not quite good enough to stay in the majors. He is not likely to be a part of the Cubs future.
Brad Snyder – Another minor league veteran. I would not be surprised if Snyder took a shot at Japan in the next few years.

And there are your Iowa Cubs: a lot of pitching prospects who could factor into the Cubs bullpen, a few back of the rotation starters, and a very nice crop of major league caliber infielders. Now that the first wave of the improved Cub farm system has reached Triple A, we can expect better things from Iowa in the future.