With another sub .500 season expected for the Chicago Cubs in 2014, most attention will be focused on their minor league affiliates. After the Cubs began their season last Monday, the minor league teams got started on Thursday, except for Short-A Boise which will start in June. Here is a look at some of the highlights from the first weekend of play down on the farm.
AAA Iowa Cubs:
Iowa is the current home of the Cubs top prospect Javier Baez for at least the first couple months of the season. Baez had a rough first couple of games going 0-10 with six strikeouts before getting ejected during the Iowa’s game on Saturday.
He was given the day off on Sunday but came in and hit a pinch-hit home run. Baez has been known for slow starts when he begins at a new level so his slow start is nothing to worry about. For the rest of the team, prospects 3B Christian Villanueva and OF Josh Vitters have had the best starts. Villanueva is batting .333 with a home run and Vitters is hitting .353, also with one home run. Pitcher Kyle Hendricks got roughed up in his first start giving up six earned runs over 4.2 innings.
AA Tennessee Smokies:
The Smokies are the Cubs affiliate with the most promising pitching prospect in the Cubs system and is also the starting spot for 2013 first round draft pick, Kris Bryant. Bryant homered in his first at-bat on Thursday night against Cincinnati Reds ace, Matt Latos. He then followed up on Friday with his second home run. Jorge Soler is also in Tennessee to begin the year.
After doubling on his first at-bat, Soler re-injured his hamstring and was placed on the 7-day disabled list. After missing most of the 2013 season due to injury, this is not the start Soler was hoping for. The Cubs’ top pitching prospect, C.J. Edwards, pitched four shutout innings allowing just one hit in his first start. Corey Black, Ivan Pineyro, and Pierce Johnson are all intriguing pitching prospect to keep an eye on in Tennessee.
High-A Daytona Cubs:
After winning their league championship in 2013, Daytona begins the season with a number of top prospect in the Cubs system. Most notable is CF Albert Almora who is off to a fast start after a five hit performance on Saturday.
Dan Vogelbach and Jeimer Candelario are the other two intriguing hitting prospects to watch here. P Arodys Vizcaino is also in Daytona to start the season. Some thought the he would begin the season in Iowa, but with warmer weather and less developed player, he will work on his command.
If Vizcaino stays healthy all season, he will be up at Wrigley at some point in 2014. In his second appearance on Monday night, his fastball was clocked in the upper 90’s. Cubs 2013 second round draft pick, P Rob Zastryzny was roughed up in his first start for Daytona.
Full-A Kane County Cougars:
While the 2014 Cougars roster may not have the big name players like they did last year, there is still a lot of prospect that could begin to climb the rankings this year. The first two most notable players and pitchers Tyler Skulina and Jen-Ho Tseng. Skulina, the Cubs’ fourth round pick in 2013, pitched six scoreless innings in his first outing. Tseng was an international signing by the Cubs last July and gave up three runs over five innings in his first start.
Two other names to keep a close eye on are OF Jacob Hannemann and P Paul Blackburn. Hannemann was the Cubs third round pick last June and has a very high ceiling but will be more of a long-term project. His game is still very raw after taking two years off of competitive baseball for religious reasons but he has tremendous athleticism.