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Chicago Cubs 2009 Minor League Review
Overall farm ranking via Baseball America:
2009 (27) | 2008 (20) | 2007 (18) | 2006 (15) | 2005 (10) | 2004 (7)

Record of Major League Team and Affiliates
Majors: 83 – 78 (NL Central)
AAA: 72 – 72 (Pacific Coast League)
AA: 71 – 69 (Southern League)
A+: 64 – 71 (Florida State League)
A: 81 – 57 (Midwest League)
A(ss): 34 – 52 (Northwest League)
R: 29 – 27 (Arizona League)

The Run Down
Two really interesting factoids from Baseball America’s preview on the 2009 Cubs, factoid number 1 – “Chicago hasn’t gotten long-term production out of a first-round pick since Kerry Wood in 1995; factoid number 2 – other than Geovany Soto, who as drafted in round 11 in 2001, they “haven’t developed a position player it signed into an All-Star since they drafted Joe Girardi in 1986.” With a couple of trades this past year (Sean Gallagher and catcher Josh Donaldson for Rich Harden; Jose Ceda (#4 ranked prospect) for Kevin Gregg) the Cubs traded away a third of their top ten prospects. Through trades in the recent past, Chicago has built a contender each year at the expense of their farm system.

After another disappointing season on the north side, the Cubs have several pressing issues about their team. Milton Bradley was a flop, Rich Harden is a free agent, Alfonso Soriano got old really fast, and second base was a tale of two halves. Bradley looks like he on his way out of town, Harden may be too costly to keep around, Soriano is on the tail end of his career, and there are few solid options from within to replace the outfield spot of Bradley let alone another injury ravaged season of Soriano. On a positive note, Derrek Lee was his old self hitting 35 homers and .306/.394/.579, Randy Wells came out of nowhere to have an extraordinarily great rookie year, and Ryan Theriot provided good defense and sufficient offense from the shortstop position.

Arizona Fall League Players – Mesa Solar Sox
Andrew Cashner, John Gaub, Blake Parker, James Russell – All SP
Welington Castilo (C) ,Starlin Castro (SS), Josh Vitters (3B)

Players of Interest
*A number prior to a player’s name indicates Baseball America’s 2009 prospect Ranking

#1 – Josh Vitters | 3B | A/A+ | 19 | totals – .284/.314/.456 | 458 AB | 18 HR | .172 ISO | 65:12 K:BB
If you’ve been reading Razzball all summer, you would have saw here that I wasn’t sold on Vitters being a stud major league hitter in his career. This isn’t to start a debate, but a harsh analysis on Vitters may not be terrible. Each prospect has their pros and cons. I will look at Vitters again next summer and see where he is at. His overall total numbers look pretty good, but he struggled at High-A this year. Look at his slash line at each level:

A – .316/.351/.535 in 269 AB
A+ – .238/.260/.344 in 189 AB

Not what you want your hitter doing upon a promotion; granted his BABIP at Single-A was .330 and at High-A was .258 indicating he was having some “bad-luck.” He is only 19, is a level-or-so above his age, but his walk ratio will start to become a larger red flag as he progresses through the minors unless he can change his walking ways. He still is one of the best young hitting prospects in the entire majors, so patience may be a HUGE key (and for me, as well).

Kyler Burke | OF | A | 21 | .303/.405/.505 | 465 AB | 43 2B | 15 HR | .202 ISO | 99:78 K:BB
2009 was a career year for Burke. He cut his strikeout rate by a third and increased his walk-rate from 7.7% to 14.4% since 2008. With an aging outfield in Chicago, he may be a bright spot if he can reproduce these numbers at higher levels. Take this all with a grain of salt, this year was his first full year at Single-A, but he has had half seasons there in the past two seasons.

#10 – Hak-Ju Lee | SS | A(ss) | 18 | .330/.399/.420 | 264 AB | .090 ISO | 25/8 SB/CS | 50:31 K:BB | .401 BABIP
Chicago’s big international signing out of Korea did pretty well for his first year in America. He looks to be a light hitting, defensive shortstop with some speed. Keep in mind he had an extremely high batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Being so young, his ceiling is still sky high. Look for him to play at Single-A in 2010 and ideally progress to Double-A by the end of ’10.

#7 – Starlin Castro | SS | A+/AA | 19 | totals – .299/.432/.392 | 429 AB | .093 ISO | 28/11 SB/CS | 53:29 K:BB
Another prized shortstop in the Cubs organization put things together this year.  The upper brass is really hoping that Theriot can keep the spot warm for Castro. He has more speed than his steals would even lead one to believe as he is still learning the stealing craft. Playing predominately at Single-A, his late season promotion to Double-A proved that he could handle the higher competition. Look for him to start at Double-A in 2010, even if he performs above expectations at Arizona this fall.

#3 – Andrew Cashner | SP (RHP) | A+/AA | 22 | totals – 6.7 K/9 | 3.8 BB/9 | 100 1/3 IP | 2.60 ERA | 1.18 WHIP
Once he was promoted to Double-A his stats started to fall. Both his strikeouts and walks took large hits at Double-A. One positive is he only gave up one homer all season. His ranking should take a hit as he didn’t produce like a top prospect. If he has a strong Fall League performance, he may be nearing a mid-season look or September call up in 2010. Look for him to start in Double-A.

#9 – Jay Jackson | SP (RHP) | A+/AA/AAA| 22 | totals – 9 K/9 | 3.3 BB/9 | 127 IP | 2.98 ERA | 1.22 WHIP
His level spread is a bit deceiving as he only started and pitched in one game at Triple-A. Once he started pitching in Double-AA his walk rate went from .8 BB/9 in 36 1/3 innings at High-A to 4.2 BB/9 in 82 2/3 innings at Double-A. His dominance in High-A is truly what makes his stats look really impressive. He might start 2010 in Double-A, waiting for the warmer weather of the Pacific Coast games, or could start in Triple-A.  Either way, he should be given the chance to play in the majors next summer.

Jeff Antigua | SP (LHP) | A(ss)/A | 19 | totals – 8.9 K/9 | 2.5 BB/9 | 68 2/3 IP | 3.01 ERA | .99 WHIP
A little under the radar, Antigua pitched brilliantly aside from his seven home runs he gave up. Being left-handed will increase his stock greatly as the Cubs don’t have many top left-handed prospects. He’ll probably start again in Single-A with a mid-season promotion to Double-A.

Honorable Mentions
Brett Jackson | OF | R/A(ss)/A | 20
Drafted number 31 in the 2009 draft. Hit seven of his eight homers, 11 of his 13 stolen bases, and five of his six doubles at Single-A.

Rebel Ridling | 1B | A | 23
As both ranked first basemen above him in the Cubs organization have graduated, look for Ridling to be a prospect rated in the low twenties for 2010. He finally produced in his second year at Single-A. He cut his strikeouts by nearly half, almost doubled his walk rate (not hard when you start so low), yet he still has a long ways to be more than organizational depth.

#16 – Tyler Colvin | OF | A+/AA | 23
Actually got promoted in September with three hits in 17 at-bats.

#8 – Ryan Flaherty | 3B/2B | A | 22
Hit 20 homers in 485 at-bats while producing an above average slash line of .276/.344/.470 and a decent K:BB of 98:50.

#18 – Chris Carpenter | SP (RHP) | A/A+/AA | 23
Finally moved up a few levels to match his talent and age. Still performed below expectations at each level besides Single-A, while pitching the best overall at High-A

  1. DrEasy says:
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    Is Rich Harden going to be healthy at the start of next season? If so, he’d be an intriguing free agent for a team (the Jays?) to take a chance on.

  2. Stephen says:
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    @DrEasy: He wasn’t that injured at the end of the year. He made this comment before he was shut down for the season, “Harden said he was healthy and would have stayed in the rotation had the Cubs remained in contention for a playoff spot (via CBS).” I think he’ll be ready wherever he plays next year. If he ends up in the NL, he should definitely do better than this year. However, I don’t see the Jays taking a chance on him unless he comes for cheap. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up with the Dodgers or Mets.

  3. Mark G says:
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    Vitters will never succeed in the majors. I never liked the pick considering it was third overall.

  4. Quintero says:
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    Kinda wanna hear u addressing the Bradley/OF;in-house or out-sourcing topic. Enlighten me if you have time. There ain’t much of in-house option right? (or there are?) Where did IowaCubs go these days?…

  5. IowaCubs

    IowaCubs says:
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    I think that this is pretty much right on. The Cubs have depleated their farm system and pretty much given up on many of their big cheap prospects in recent years (Pie, Rich Hill, Gallagher, Donaldson , Ceda, Murton).

    They’ve signed some pretty amazing talent from Korea in the last two years, and for some reason this is the brightest spot in their international talent pool. Here’s a pretty good article from Fangraphs about the talent they’ve been able to steal from Korea:

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/hak-ju-lee-leads-impressive-wave-of-talent/

    Also, I’m very excited about Brett Jackson and Tyler Colvin. Colvin plays some pretty kick ass defense, but his stick is another issue. Jackson has some Victorino in him, but he needs to continue to develop his patience at the plate, since that seems to be the biggest knock on him in college. His line of .295/.383/.545 in high-A ball is fine by me.

    I hope that either one of these two emerge as the next centerfielder in the near future, hopefully by the end of 2011.

  6. Stephen says:
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    I apologize for the absence on my part. I had a paper to write on Wednesday that merged into Thursday (aka 5 am) and yesterday, the day didn’t stop until 11:30 pm (which started at 8 am). Anyway. I have a brief meeting and I will get to all of your questions. To tide you over, here is an article from MLB trade Rumors on Rich Harden.

  7. Stephen says:
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    @Mark G: Ok, I know your bias is against the Cubs as you’re a White Sox fan.

    @Quintero: Tyler Colvin could be an in-house option if the Cubs want to save a bit of money. He is still young, and before 2008, the Cubs thought he was similar to Steve Finley or Shawn Green. He has had Tommy John surgery after the 2008 season. He projects to hit between 15 and 20 homers, below average plate discipline, and a decent arm in right. He missed the first month of the 2009 season recovering from TJ surgery. The reason the Cubs brought him up this September was because of his defense.

    As IowaCubs said, the Cubs have traded away any viable options to even plug the gap for Brett Jackson (bet they wished they still had Felix Pie or Matt Murton). If Brandon Guyer didn’t bomb this last year, he may have been an option. Sam Fuld is an option, but not a good one. You could play Jake Fox, Michael Hoffpauir or switch Ryan Theriot/Mike Fontenot’s position to the outfield. Andres Blanco could then cover the open vacancy (of Jeff Baker if Fontenot changed). There is always Reed Johnson.

    The short answer is either Colvin / Fuld / Hoffipauir. However, Hoffipauir’s defense if terrible in the field (not sure his UZR, couldn’t find it). I would love to see Tyler Colvin given a shot to win it. The Cubs are going to struggle to find anything in house that has the up-side of a healthy Milton Bradley.

    I know that didn’t give you an answer, but that is what they got.

    @IowaCubs: The Cubs have some great Korean players, that much is true. Their Korean pitching prospects I think have better upside than the hitting Koreans. Hak-Ju Lee had power power numbers, but his speed and defense are what make him an above average prospect anyway. I also agree that Brett Jackson looks stellar. He hasn’t played at High-A yet though. He’ll be the player that will eventually fill the Bradley gap.

    Looks like Vitters and Castro are dueling for top prospect bragging rights. Not sure how Castro could truly do that as Vitters has the better power potential and plays a position that requires either amazing defense or stellar hitting.

    Additionally, Colvin may not stay in center-field because of his Tommy Johns surgery. Just a heads up. He played in LF and DH most his minor games this year and played nearly half his games in CF and half in LF in 2008. I would expect him to probably play in RF because of Soriano is in LF.

  8. Quintero says:
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    Enjoy your wisdoms very much, thank you guys. Did you guys see the Wells for Bradley rumor? Don’t even bother to reply me…because I could really see it happen if Jays take on some part of Wells’ check…

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