Fortnightly Cubs Top Prospect Update – High Minors

This is the first of what will be a recurring feature here. Only 70% of the reason I’m writing this is to get to use the word “fortnightly”, which I love.

It has been almost 3 weeks of minor league baseball, but given all the rainouts, I think I’m only a day or two late on the “fortnightly” label. The Cubs minor league system has been pretty terrible in aggregate, but luckily minor league win-loss records don’t mean much, and it is still early enough that we don’t have to seriously discuss how bad a lot of top prospects have been.

This post will specifically focus on the high minors (AA & AAA) and anyone at those levels who could maybe be considered a prospect.

Iowa Cubs – 5-10, Last in Division, 2nd to Last in League

There aren’t a whole lot of big-name prospects in the higher levels of the Cubs’ system, but the Iowa team does have two prospects who were once Big Time Prospects struggling to adjust to the high minors in Brett Jackson & Josh Vitters. I honestly don’t know how this team is going to win games, and there isn’t much immediate help for the big league club sitting on the roster now. If I lived in Des Moines I’d have a lot of trouble justifying going to games this year.

  • Brett Jackson – .262/.354/.381; 31.25% K%; 8.3% BB%; 0 HR. The new swing Jackson is supposedly employing this year doesn’t seem to be doing the trick yet, but its so early into the adjustment phase that I’m going to wait a long time before worrying any more about Jackson than I already was. One thing that does strike me as odd is the depressed walk rate. I had assumed this was due to a more aggressive approach aimed at cutting down on the strikeouts, but he’s still striking out at an alarming rate. Hopefully this is just a product of a small sample size, and hopefully Jackson’s power will come with time, more walks, and warmer weather.
  • Josh Vitters – Injured. 1 game played, 1 plate appearance.
  • Logan Watkins – .226/.369/.415; 27.7% K%; 18.5% BB%; 2 HR. The massive increase in K% and BB% appears to indicate that Watkins has been extremely selective early in the count so far. Once he feels more comfortable I imagine the walk and strikeout rates will move to a much more reasonable level.
  • Brooks Raley – 3.18 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 17 K, 2 BB, 17 IP. I’m using the term “prospect” very loosely here, but it’s good to see Raley having a good start to the year.
  • Nick Struck – The 23 year old has been knocked around so far (13 hits in just 9 innings), but he’s only walked one. He’s young for the level, and is probably going to spend quite some time in AAA before heading to Chicago.
  • (Not really a prospect in the traditional sense) Yoanner Negrin – 9 2/3 IP, 0 ER, 13 K, 2 BB. One of the more interesting pitchers in the system only because of his odd path to the team (signed out of Mexico at the age of 28 last season), it appears the Cubs have moved him to a full time long-relief spot. I don’t know anything more about the guy, but he supposedly has ok stuff, and could be an effective last man in the bullpen type.

Tennessee Smokies – 10-6, First in Division, First in League

The Smokies are an intriguing team with a bunch of guys who aren’t quite “top” prospects, but are legitimate prospects nonetheless. The group has been extremely hot as of late, going 6-1 in the last week of games. The list of prospects here is quite long, and is a testament to the talent currently playing in Tennessee.

  • Arismendy Alcantara – .286/.370/.444; 8 SB; 12% BB%; 24.3% K%. Alcantara has my second favorite name in the system, and one of my favorite deeper-level prospects. It’s encouraging to see Alcantara taking more walks than before (4.6% stateside walk rate before 2013). He’s got good speed, and he’s going to have to get on base at a high rate to take full advantage of it. The strikeouts are also way up, and that is disappointing. I expect both rates to drop by 5 percentage points or so over the rest of the season, and if he can keep his triple-slash somewhat close to what he is doing now he’s going to be a legitimate MLB roster option sometime in 2014.
  • Ronald Torreyes – He’s only played in 7 games so far in 2013, but he’s hit to a .900 OPS with 5 walks and no strikeouts in 30 plate appearances.
  • Jae-Hoon Ha – .333/.431/.407; 5 SB; 13.4% BB%; 16.4% K%. The centerfielder with a gifted glove is off to a hot start to the year, increasing his walk rate and cutting his strikeout rate. He’s not likely to continue hitting .300+, but as a prospect with the profile of a future 4th outfielder, the plate discipline numbers are in the right place, and they’ll need to stay strong if he is going to have an MLB career.
  • Christian Villanueva – .222/.300/.370; 1 HR; 8.3% BB%; 20% K%. The player the Cubs got back for Dempster last year, Villanueva is not known for his bat. He’s a talented defensive 3B and may provide a HR total in the mid-teens down the line. Despite that, you would really like to see more out of him so far. The jump to AA can be quite difficult, so he may just be going through an expected adjustment period.
  • Matt Szczur – .302/.352/.444; 6 SB; 2 HR; 7% BB%; 15.5% K%. Seemingly forgotten by most Cubs fans after a disappointing 2012 campaign, Szczur is off to a great start in 2013. His plate discipline numbers are mostly unchanged, and the pair of home runs are hopefully a sign that he’s getting more of his body into his swing this year.
  • Rubi Silva – .327/.339/.582; 1 BB; 10 K; 3 HR. Silva’s line is boosted by his three home runs to start the year, a power total that is totally anomalous. Expect the ISO to return to a pedestrian .120 or so in the future. More troubling is the total lack of patience to start the year, which is right in line with what he did in 2012. Tough to survive with no power and a 2.8% BB%.
  • Alberto Cabrera – 18 IP, 19 K, 4 BB, 4.00 ERA, 1.28 WHIP. The conversion project for Cabrera has been a success so far. He’s made three starts so far, averaging 6 innings per start, and though he’s given up 8 earned runs his peripherals look great early on.
  • Eric Jokisch – 18 IP, 17 K, 3 BB, 1.00 ERA, 0.78 WHIP. The Northwestern University product has picked up right where he left off in AA, and has increased his strikeout rate upon returning to the level. He’s simply gotten results at every level in the minors, and it will be interesting to watch if hitters finally start to hit him upon his likely mid-season promotion to AAA.
  • Dae-Eun Rhee – 10 IP, 4 K, 3 BB, 0.87 ERA, 0.581 WHIP. Rhee is repeating AA after a disappointing 2012 in which he posted a 4.81 ERA. Rhee pitched better upon repeating High-A, and hopefully he can do the same in AA. However, at 24, lets hope he isn’t always repeating a level before getting comfortable, or his future is as a long reliever.
  • Tony Zych – 7 IP, 3 K, 3 BB, 2.45 ERA, 1.36 WHIP. The low strikeout total is troubling, especially after seeing it explode upon arrival in AA last season. Its only been 7 innings though, so while it’s not a great thing to see, he’ll more than likely start striking more guys out soon.
  • Trey McNutt – He’s walked more than he’s struckout, and only walked four in six innings. Another disappointing start for a former well regarded pitcher.
  • Zach Rosscup – 8 IP, 13 K, 2 BB, 1 ER. Rosscup, who I liked when the Cubs acquired him from the Rays as a throw-in on the Garza deal, has flourished in his relief role this season. His stuff is reportedly pretty strong, so I’m excited to see what he’ll do in a larger sample over the course of the season.

Low Minors recap will be out tomorrow!

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