I have been going through the Cubs farm system and commenting on every player on the final roster for each of the teams. Iowa and Tennessee have already been reviewed, and now it is time for the High-A Daytona Cubs.
Daytona not only had a great season, they also won the Florida State League Championship. In the first half of the season they tore off winning streak after winning streak on the way to a dominate first half division title. However, many of the key players from that first half team were promoted to Tennessee. Without Jae-Hoon Ha, Nicholas Struck, or Junior Lake… not to mention a large chunk of their bullpen… it took the Cubs a bit to relearn how win.
They did figure it out, and ultimately Daytona cruised to a Florida State League title. Since this is a championship team, it should come as no surprise that it is loaded with talent. I think you will find a lot to like on this roster.
Jeffry Antigua – A mixture of caution and injuries kept Antigua in Peoria for part of three seasons, but he proved he is ready for a higher level. He worked as a starter and a reliever and posted good numbers in both roles. The lefty should return to Daytona to start 2012, but I think he could finish up in Iowa.
Frank Batista – In his first full season as a dedicated reliever, Batista led the team with 26 saves. His numbers don’t reflect overpowering stuff, so it will be interesting to see how he handles Tennessee next season. A good year at Double A could put him in the mix for Chicago’s bullpen in a few years.
Frank Del Valle – Del Valle made just two regular season starts in Daytona. One was a disaster, but the other was pretty good. He also pitched well in the playoffs. He is absolutely a player to watch, even more so in that he reached High-A in his first season as a professional. The lefty should start next year in Daytona, but don’t be surprised if he quickly moves to Double A. He is definitely one of the most intriguing guys in the system.
Brent Ebinger – Ebinger struggled with Daytona, primarily in relief. He gave up way too many hits this season, both in Tennessee and in Daytona, for me to be too confident about his future. This was his first full season as a professional, so there is plenty of time for him to get things straightened out. He should return to Daytona next season.
Eduardo Figueroa – Working exclusively as a reliever, Figueroa had a nice year for the Cubs. No one number jumps out at me, but he held his opponents to a sub-.250 batting average, and that will usually get the job done. If he can keep that effectiveness up, he’ll have a nice future.
Patrick Francescon – In his first year as a professional, Francescon jumped all the way to High-A. That alone is an accomplishment. He played at three levels, piling up 44 strikeouts in less than 40 innings. This right handed reliever should be back in Daytona for 2012.
Casey Harman – A left handed pitcher, Harman pitched half the season in Daytona where he was converted into a starter. His numbers are not great, but they are good enough that I want to see what he can do with a full season as a starting pitcher. He should get that chance next year, starting in Daytona.
Aaron Kurcz – The Cubs worked Kurcz as both a starter and a reliever, but I think his future is in the bullpen. His numbers out of the pen are very impressive. He should find himself in Tennessee early in 2012. If he continues as a reliever, I would not rule out Chicago by the end of the year.
Jordan Latham – Another reliever, Latham did not allow many hits, but he walked nearly a man an inning. If the walks come down, he could have a bright future. He will probably start 2012 with the Smokies.
Matt Loosen – Loosed bounced around three levels as a starter and a reliever, but he was much more effective as a starter. He is a little prone to giving up home runs, but with more than one strikeout per inning, I am OK with that in young pitcher. Hopefully he can stick in Tennessee for most of 2012.
Yoannis Negrin – When a 27 year old pitcher has an opponents batting average of .280 in A-ball, you can usually assume you are looking at a minor league veteran. In this case, though, you are seeing a Cuban defector in his first season as a professional. He only pitched 13 innings with the Cubs, so there just isn’t enough data to draw any conclusions.
Dae-Eun Rhee – Rhee started 17 games for the Cubs, and I like what I see. Lots of ground ball outs, a little under a strikeout an innings, and very few home runs add up to a starting pitching prospect worth watching. He will head to Tennessee to start next season, and could be in the conversation for Chicago sometime in 2013.
Zach Rosscup – Before he went down in June with an injury, Rosscup was pitching very, very well. In 42 innings as a starter he had struck out 47 to go with just 14 walks and a mere 3 home runs. If he comes back healthy, he could start 2012 either in Daytona or Tennessee. He could finish the season with Iowa.
Juan Serrano – Another reliever who bounced around three levels, Serrano posted good but not great numbers on the season. He should get a longer stay in Tennessee next season, and I look forward to seeing if he can repeat this year’s success at that level.
Michael Brenly – Brenly repeated High-A this year, but that was more of a compliment than a comment on his progress. The Cubs want their top catching prospects to catch everyday. That meant Castillo caught most games in Iowa, forcing Clevenger to catch in Tennessee. And that, in turn, forced Brenly to repeat Daytona as an everyday catcher. Offensively this season was a big step back for him. Defensively, he was the primary catcher for one of the best pitching staffs in the FSL. I think he will get a crack at Tennessee next season. Long term, I think his ceiling is as a major league backup.
Chad Noble – Noble bounced around the minors some this year, but spent most of the season as the number two catcher in Daytona. I think he will continue to bounce around next season as the Cubs try to find at bats for all their catchers, but I think Noble has a shot to move himself up the ranks of Cubs catching prospects. Like Brenly, I think his ceiling is as a major league backup.
Justin Bour – At 6’4″ 250 lbs Bour commands attention at the plate and at first base. The lefty slugger slugged quite a bit in Daytona this year, and I see no reason to think he won’t keep slugging next year in Tennessee. If the Cubs don’t sign a high profile free agent at first base, Bour could eventually get a chance in Chicago. If the Cubs do make a big free agent splash, I think Bour could be a very attractive trading chip. He could stand to improve his walk rate, though, and really needs to improve his hitting against left handers. Smokey fans should have a lot of fun watching him beat up Double A pitching next season.
Matthew Cerda – Cerda is an interesting guy. At 5’9″ he looks like yet another undersized infielder, but there is a difference. Cerda walked 71 times this year and drove in 43. He uses what power he has to hit doubles, and seems willing to take a walk. He also bats left handed. I honestly think Cerda shows every sign of hitting his way into the majors, but where on the diamond will the Cubs play him? I would guess second base, but only time will tell. Don’t be surprised to see him in Chicago in 2013.
Gian Guzman – Guzman is listed on the Daytona disabled list, but has not played in the Cubs organization since 2008.
Jake Opitz – Opitz spent much of the year as the DH, and his left handed swing worked out pretty well for Daytona. I think he will need to walk a little more if he is going to make a name for himself. He should get a chance in Tennessee next season.
Greg Rohan – Rohan was having a good season in Peoria playing both first and third. Then he went to Daytona, and his bat really lit up. In 31 games in High-A he posted an OPS of .996. The Cubs are crowded at first, so I think Rohan’s best shot at Wrigley will come as a third baseman. If he can handle the defense and keep hitting in Tennessee, he could add his name to Chicago’s hot corner competition by late 2013.
Elliot Soto – Now we have the prototypical Cub undersized middle infielder. His ceiling looks to be in the Barney / Theriot ballpark, but he will have a tough time climbing over the rest of the infield candidates in the Cubs system. He looked good in a short stent with Daytona, and will probably begin the 2012 season back in Florida.
Logan Watkins – We will be hearing more about Watkins. He could ultimately land at short, second, or in center, but I think he will one day land in Wrigley. Watkins plays good defense, shows plenty of speed (21 steals), has a surprising amount of power (SLG .404, 5 HR, 45 RBIs), and turned in a second half OPS of .821. Don’t be surprised if he starts turning heads in spring training, 2013.
Abner Abreu – Like Junior Lake in Tennessee, Abreu is one of those tantalizing power/speed guys that shows a ton of potential. It can pay off to be patient with those players, as Lake is starting to show, but Abreu still has a ways to go. He strikes out too much, walks too little, and yet still put up a respectable OPS of .700. Cleveland left him in High-A, and he hasn’t responded. I hope the Cubs challenge him. Let him start the season in Tennessee and see how he responds. The raw tools here are impressive, but he has to learn to harness them. So far, he has only shown flashes of doing that.
Michael Burgess – Burgess’s season numbers do not look good, but his second half splits tell a bit of a different story. His OBP in the second half was a decent .351, and his OPS a very healthy .832. Burgess still has a lot of work to do before we can realistically project his powerful bat into right field at Wrigley, but there is legitimate reason for optimism. Just like with Abreu, I hope the Cubs challenge Burgess with a promotion to Double A.
Evan Crawford – With a .362 OBP and 32 steals, Crawford effectively elevated his stock in the organization. His walk rate is a little low for a player whose game revolves around getting on base, but he did show some improvement in that area this season. He should advance to Double A next season, and could be in line to replace Tony Campana a year or so after that.
Taiwan Easterling – When Easterling was selected out of Florida State University, I don’t think he ever imagined he would be returning to the Florida State League by the end of the year. Easterling played in one regular season game and the playoffs for Daytona. He will start 2012 in either Daytona or Peoria, but he should finish the season no lower than High A.
Matthew Szczur – After Brett Jackson, Szczur is probably the best position prospect in the Cubs system. The feature of his game is speed, but there is more to it than just speed. He makes very good contact and has more power than you might expect. It is easy to imagine Szczur as the leadoff man for the Cubs in a few seasons, but he would probably be just as effective as number two, or even a seven or eight. The Cubs won’t rush Szczur, but they won’t hold him back either. He will likely start next season in Daytona, but he will likely finish the year in Tennessee.