June 15, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein before the game against the Boston Red Sox at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
While the big league club limped its way to the finish of another dismal campaign, hope abounded in the organization’s minor league system.
The Daytona Cubs (Class A-Advanced), Double-A Tennessee Smokies and short-season Boise Hawks all notched postseason berths, a strong indication of the strength that is building in the Cubs’ minor league affiliates. Chicago director of player development Brandon Hyde was impressed by the growth he saw this season.
"We had a good year organizationally. Not only did we have the three teams in the playoffs over here [in the United States], but we were in the [Venezuelan Summer League] playoffs and the [Dominican Summer League] playoffs too."
All the information listed below comes from the MiLB release, written by Josh Jackson.
Catcher — Rafael Lopez, Tennessee (95 games): Lopez was an infielder until his coach at Florida State University shoved him into the “tools of ignorance” in 2010. This year, he spent more Minor League innings behind the plate than any other Cubs catcher and he had a .984 fielding percentage there.
“He is a little new to the position, but he gained great experience in Double-A, and he played really well,” said Hyde. “He turned into a very solid defensive catcher. He can really throw well. I think he made big progress this year, defensively and offensively.”
He had 30 extra-base hits and a .350 on-base percentage.
First baseman — Dustin Geiger, Daytona (123 games): Geiger was a key part of Daytona’s success, playing in more than 100 games for the first time since being drafted in 2010 and hitting 17 homers and 28 doubles. The 21-year-old was sidelined for much of 2012 after breaking a hamate bone in Spring Training.
“Dustin played every day in the Florida State League. When there was a lot of movement around him, he was really a solidifier there,” Hyde said. “He missed half the year the year before, and he was an everyday player in the middle of the lineup on a championship club. He was a little young for the [league], and he was a run producer. He had a really good year defensively too. We’re excited about Dustin’s future.”
Second baseman — Wes Darvill, Kane County (15 games), Daytona (79 games): Darvill, who’s listed at 6-foot-2, 175 pounds, hit .267 across the Class A and Class A Advanced levels.
“He’s come a long way in terms of his offensive approach and his swing,” Hyde said. “He’s a bigger-type guy, and he has the ability to play multiple positions.”
Darvill collected 131 total bases in 94 games, and he boasted a perfect fielding percentage in his 15 Midwest League games and a .983 mark over 55 games as a second sacker in the FSL.
“Wes played every day in the second half. The guy has moved around the infield already at this point in his career,” said Hyde. “And he has the chance in the [Arizona] Fall League to gain even more experience.”
Shortstop — Javier Baez, Daytona (76 games), Tennessee (54 games): Baez was an even tougher out in the Southern League than he had been in the FSL before his promotion. The Cubs’ top prospect hit .294 with 20 homers with the Smokies in 22 fewer games than it took him to hit 17 while batting .276 with the D-Cubs.
“Obviously, he had a monster year. I don’t even know what to say. The numbers speak for themselves offensively,” Hyde said.
There were, however, some adjustments he made after his promotion.
“He made huge strides defensively once he got accustomed to Double-A,” Hyde said. “He made major improvements with his throwing mechanics.”
The 37 total long balls Baez hit were more than any other player in the Cubs system — including big leaguers — as were the 111 RBIs he collected.
“He’s an instinctual player — an instinctual baserunner and an instinctual fielder,” said Hyde. “Obviously, we’re looking forward to big things from him.”
Third baseman — Christian Villanueva, Tennessee (133 games): Villanueva tied for third in the system with 19 home runs. The 22-year-old native of Mexico batted .261 with 41 doubles and 72 RBIs.
“He put together a really good season with a lot of extra-base hits. He had big hits on a Southern League playoff club at a young age,” Hyde said. “We’re really happy with the offensive adjustments he made. Defensively, he’s a special case. He’s got great hands and an accurate arm and good feet too.”
Villanueva came to the Cubs from the Rangers in the Ryan Dempster deal last year. Although his average dipped this season, his power numbers were up.
Brian Bogusevic: AZL (seven games), Iowa (79 games), Chicago (47 games):Bogusevic hit .317 with 10 homers, 14 doubles and 16 stolen bases at the Triple-A level. That was good enough to earn the Minor League veteran a prolonged trip to the big leagues, where he finished the season.
“He really swung the bat well. He played all three outfield positions [in the Minors] and he played them well,” Hyde said. “He’s hard-nosed [and has] got a great work ethic and drive.”
Bogusevic hit .273 for Chicago.
Rubi Silva, Tennessee (126 games): Even if Silva had done nothing but whiff all season long, he still might merit consideration for this spot. The 24-year-old Cuban notched an unbelievable16 outfield assists.
“He can really throw. He’s got a plus arm that’s accurate, he gets to the ball quickly,” Hyde said. “He’s a natural outfielder.”
As it happens, he’s a threat with the bat too. Silva hit .284 with 15 homers, nine triples and 30 doubles.
“His approach at the plate really improved this year, and in the second half, he really started taking off,” Hyde said. “He did a lot of damage with extra-base hits.”
John Andreoli, Daytona (68 games), Tennessee (59 games): Andreoli’s .318 batting average in the FSL was impressive, and in his first crack at the Double-A level, he hit .289.
“He’s a blue-collar mentality type of player. He got promoted halfway through the season and didn’t miss a beat,” Hyde said. “He gives 100 percent at all times. He’s an unbelievable makeup kid, and he made some nice adjustments. He’s still improving. He’s a grinder. He grinds it out.”
Andreoli stole 40 bases in 45 attempts across the two leagues to lead the system and he scored 74 runs.
Utility — Arismendy Alcantara, Tennessee (133 games): Alcantara started the year as the Smokies’ shortstop, but moved over to second base for Baez. The Cubs believe he handled his duties in his new position with aplomb.
“He made a nice transition to second base when Javy went to Double-A. That proved he can play both spots in the middle of the field,” Hyde said.
Alcantara’s offensive numbers — a.271 average with 55 extra-base hits and 31 thefts — are at noteworthy any position.
“He had a great first half, hit a home run in the Futures Game. He swings the bat well from both sides of the plate,” Hyde said. “He might not be the biggest guy or the tallest guy in baseball, but he has serious punch for his size. He can run, can bunt and can do the little things offensively. He can steal bases. He’s an exciting ballplayer.”
Right-handed starting pitcher — Kyle Hendricks, Tennessee (21 games), Iowa (6 games): The Cubs’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Hendricks went 13-4 over the two highest levels, striking out 128 and walking 34 over 166 1/3 innings. He won the Southern League ERA title with a 1.85 mark.
“He had an incredible season. A 2.00 ERA combined from Double-A and Triple-A? After he got promoted in the last month of the season, he didn’t miss a beat,” Hyde said. “He showed command of four pitches. He’s not afraid to throw inside. He pitches to both sides of the plate. He’s extremely intelligent, and he really knows how to read a lineup.”
Hendricks is finishing his degree at Dartmouth College this fall.
Left-handed starting pitcher — Eric Jokisch, Tennessee (27 games): Last year’s recipient of this honor, Jokisch put together another solid season.
“We got a really good year from Eric. He threw a nine-inning no-hitter in Jacksonville. He has a plus changeup that he keeps the hitters off balance with,” Hyde said. “His breaking ball is improving, and he put together a good year.”
The no-hitter was one of two complete games Jokisch tossed. He was something of a workhorse for the Smokies, going 160 2/3 innings over 27 games, 26 of which were starts. He posted an 11-13 record with a 3.42 ERA. He struck out 137 strikeouts while walking only 54.
Reliever — Brian Schlitter, Tennessee (16 games), Iowa (38 games): Schlitter saved 20 games in 21 opportunities in the PCL this year, and he didn’t even join the team until the end of May.
“‘Schlit’ became the anchor in the Iowa bullpen,” Hyde said. “He pitches with zero fear — attacks hitters and trusts in his stuff. He goes right at guys with his stuff and forces contact. He did an excellent job this year.”
Oh, and before he got to Triple-A? He had an 0.83 ERA in 16 appearances with the Smokies.