There were a total of 23 non-roster invitees this year in Cubs camp, and of those, only Blake DeWitt and Joe Mather made the team. Just for posterity’s sake, here’s where everyone else ended up in (or out) of the Cubs’ system.
Jim Adduci – Tennessee
Alfredo Amezaga – Iowa
Michael Brenly – Tennessee
Esmailin Caridad – Iowa
Marco Carrillo – appears to be with Monterrey of the Mexican League
Manuel Corpas – Iowa
Edgar Gonzalez – Iowa
Jae-Hoon Ha – Tennessee
Brett Jackson – Iowa
Jay Jackson – Iowa
Jason Jaramillo – Released (signed with Brewers)
Blake Lalli – Iowa
Rodrigo Lopez – Iowa
Trey McNutt – Tennessee
Trever Miller – Released (unsigned)
Jonathan Mota – Tennessee
Blake Parker – Iowa
Dae-Eun Rhee – Tennessee
Chris Rusin – Iowa
Bobby Scales – Released (signed with Mets)
Matt Tolbert – Iowa
This spring roster is now at 31 players, after the following cuts (* – denotes player is on the 40-man roster and has been optioned to Iowa):
C Welington Castillo*
INF Edgar Gonzalez
C Blake Lalli
P Scott Maine*
P Blake Parker
OF Dave Sappelt*
INF Matt Tolbert
P Randy Wells*
P Travis Wood*
The most important decisions first:
1) Sending Wells down was a surprise, I think for everyone, and probably not least of all Wells himself. He’s been in the rotation for three solid years now, although he’s experienced a big drop in performance from each year to the next, to the point where he managed only a 78 ERA+ last season in 23 starts. His early arm injury was used as an excuse for why the Cubs got off to such a bad start last year, but after he returned he wasn’t much better than his replacements. He made only 9 quality starts, and had a career-high walk rate and a career-low strikeout rate. Just about the only bright spot was on August 29, when he threw the Cubs’ only complete-game shutout of the year (and first since 2009), a two-hitter against the Giants. I can’t say that I have any problems with this move, since Wells is not a young pitcher any more (he’s 29), and his peripheral stats last year were bad enough that his struggles can’t plausibly be explained by just bad luck. If he turns it around, he’ll probably be back in the majors before too long, either after injury or after the luster of Chris Volstad’s good spring wears off.
2) Sending Travis Wood back down to AAA isn’t as surprising, but I bet it’s pretty disappointing for the front office. Wood was acquired in the Sean Marshall trade and was no doubt expected to be a part of the rotation this year, but he had a miserable spring, allowing 17 runs in only 8.1 innings. I don’t put much faith in spring stats, but it’s easy to see why the front office lost confidence in Wood’s ability to get outs. I hope he turns it around quickly, and it’s possible he might; his minor league career shows a few bumps in the road before returning to effectiveness.
3) Welington Castillo is no doubt another tough call. It’s a good problem to have, though, as the Cubs have two guys competing for the backup catcher role (Castillo and Steve Clevenger, who has won the job), and they’re both very similar and both pretty good. Castillo is a year younger, and bats righthanded while Clevenger is a lefty. Castillo has better power, while Clevenger hits more for average. Other than that, though, they both had nearly identical numbers in the spring, and both look to have about the same ceiling in terms of upside (i.e., worthy starters, probably not stars). The front office is spinning the decision to go with Clevenger as having to do largely with the desire to give Castillo everyday playing time in AAA, as opposed to sitting on the bench in the majors. But the good news is that, after years of suffering with Koyie Hill – one of the worst Cubs players in recent memory – the Cubs now have three catchers who are probably good enough to hold down a starting job in the majors. I won’t be surprised if they take advantage of the situation and deal Geovany Soto, especially if he gets off to a good start.
4) Dave Sappelt lost the competition for the last outfield spot to Joe Mather, who has crushed the ball this spring to the tune of .418/.467/.745. Of course Sappelt was unable to compete with that, but didn’t help his cause by hitting a weak .216/.293/.405. In this case, my inclination would probably have been to disregard the spring stats and go with Sappelt’s relative youth (he’s 25, Mather’s 29) and more impressive minor league track record (.309/.362/.459 for Sappelt vs. .260/.334/.450 for Mather). If anything, Sappelt’s minor league numbers are even more impressive than they seem at face value, since he’s played AAA exclusively in the more pitcher-friendly International League, while Mather’s played mostly in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Plus, Sappelt has played much more in CF, which would give manager Dale Sveum more flexibility. It’s not the biggest deal in the world, but I think this is the wrong call.
5) Maine has served a couple of stints on the Cubs roster in 2010 and 2011, appearing in 20 games overall. Last season, he managed to give up 4 homers in 7 innings. He probably had a good shot to earn a bullpen spot this spring, but then walked 7 in 8 innings, although he didn’t give up a run. He’ll be back, though; he’s a big, 6’3″ lefty who strikes out a ton of hitters (12.6 per 9 innings for Iowa last season), which makes his high walk total (4.4 BB/9 last season) much easier to tolerate.
6) Along those lines, Blake Parker is similar, but righthanded, and without quite the same panache for strikeouts. He still gets his (9.6 K/9 between Tennessee and Iowa last season), but he walks just as many as Maine does (actually 4.8 BB/9 last year), and of course doesn’t have the advantage of being a lefty. As a non-roster invitee, he’s been assigned to minor league camp, where one assumes he’ll be assigned once again to Iowa when the season begins.
7) I don’t know what it is about the Cubs’ catchers this spring, but in addition to Soto, Clevenger, and Castillo, Blake Lalli also had a tremendous spring, hitting .316/.350/.684. Hard to say what the future holds for him, though, because he’s 29 and still hasn’t broken past AA. I don’t think he has much of a future as a catcher – he’s been a first baseman throughout most of his minor-league career – but if he can handle the position defensively, that’s his only foreseeable path to the majors.
8 and 9) Neither Gonzalez nor Tolbert really had a shot to make the team, as they’re both major-league castoffs that don’t seem to have a lot to offer. Tolbert is a weak-hitting infielder that would probably have been more favored with the previous front office regime than the current one, and Gonzalez has spent most of his career giving up homeruns for the Diamondbacks. They’ve been assigned to minor league camp, although it’s doubtful that they’ll remain in the organization.
Camp, a 36-year-old righthander, spent the spring with the Mariners before being released. The Cubs have given him a shot to win a bullpen spot, and I suppose it’s possible that he might do it. He’s spent the last four seasons with the Blue Jays, and he looks like a very average reliever to me. His career numbers (all games as a reliever):
432 G, 488.1 IP, 4.40 ERA, 101 ERA+, 50 HR, 2.7 BB/9, 6.2 K/9
Personally, I’d rather see someone like Rafael Dolis and/or Lendy Castillo win the open bullpen spots than Camp. The team figures to have a rough year, and it seems like a better long-term strategy to see how good some of the younger pitchers are than to give the spot to a 36-year-old who is unlikely to be much better than average. That said, the Cubs have run a lot of below-average relievers out there through the years, so it’s hard to get upset if someone like Camp is able to give the bullpen a litte stability in middle relief.
As for Miller, he’s been a lefty specialist for most of his career, and even though he’s 39 this season, he might still be able to perform decently in that role. But the Cubs just don’t need him. A good team with a strong bullpen could probably afford a luxury like a one-out specialist – Tony LaRussa (natch) found a spot for him last season – but the Cubs aren’t that team.
Seven more, leaving the spring roster at 40 players (* – denotes player is on the 40-man roster):
OF Jim Adduci
C Michael Brenly
INF Adrian Cardenas*
OF Brett Jackson
P Jay Jackson
INF Anthony Rizzo*
INF Bobby Scales
Obviously the big news here is that Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo have been sent to minor league camp, with Rizzo being optioned to Iowa. The organization has been very clear throughout the spring that both would start the season at AAA, so this news is no surprise. But they are the Cubs’ two biggest prospects, and both are widely expected to join the Cubs at some point during the upcoming season.
For what it’s worth, both played well in the spring:
B. Jackson: 36 PA, .276/.400/.586, 2 HR, 10 K, 1 SB in 1 attempt
Rizzo: 36 PA, .364/.417/.545, 2 HR, 9 K, 1 SB in 2 attempts
It’s folly to put much stock in spring stats, of course, but it’s frankly nice to see them both playing well offensively. In all likelihood, this is going to be a rough season, but if these two guys are able to continue their upward trajectories, it will go a long way to making it a worthwhile year despite all the losses. Hopefully it’s sooner rather than later that they get a call; Rizzo especially seems like a good bet to be the team’s best option at 1B right now.
As for the others, the most notable cut is Adrian Cardenas, who was optioned to Iowa, and who I was hoping would get a long look for the starting 2B job. I’ve written before how inadequate Darwin Barney is, and Cardenas is both younger than Barney and has a better minor league track record (he’s yet to make his ML debut). For what it’s worth (not much!), he’s hit well this spring also, putting up a .286/.355/.643 line in 31 PA. Jed Hoyer doesn’t need any criticism from me, but it’ll be frustrating to see Darwin Barney starting at 2B again this year when there are seemingly better options available, although Barney’s had a terrific spring himself.
Heck, even Bobby Scales represents a plausible alternative to Barney. Scales is 34 and a minor league lifer, save for two short stints with the Cubs in 2009 and 2010. In those two stints, though, he put up a combined 91 OPS+ in 158 plate appearances, which is pretty well in line with what you’d expect from his minor league numbers (Barney has a career 79 OPS+ in the majors). Scales has long deserved a better shot than what he’s gotten, as his career minor league .377 OBP and OK power make him a seemingly better option than the Cubs have used up the middle over the last few years. But so it goes.
Jay Jackson was once a decent prospect, and as recently as 2010 looked like he might be about to make the jump to the majors. He put up an ugly 5.34 ERA last year for Iowa, though. He’s not a lost cause, only 24 and with decent control, but he has to work himself back into the picture. He gave up a single run in 9 IP this spring.
Neither Adduci nor Brenly (Bob’s son) would appear to have much of a place in the Cubs’ plans. Brenly simply can’t hit, his homer this spring notwithstanding, and after failing to show any offensive game at all while repeating at Daytona last year would seem to have hit his ceiling. Adduci is marginally more promising, at least showing some on-base skills in the minors. He’ll be 27 in May, though, and doesn’t seem to have a position, splitting time between all 3 outfield positions during his minor league career. He doesn’t have much power, though, and players his age in AA rarely make the majors.
EDIT (4/2/2012): Bobby Scales has been released.
I would have guessed that lefty Rusin would see a little bit of a longer look this spring, since he’s been fairly successful in the minors. He did make an appearance in 3 spring games, pitching 4.2 innings, while giving up a lone hit, walking 3 and striking out 2. His career minor league stats, all in the Cubs system:
60 games, 54 starts, 284.2 IP, 3.51 ERA, 20 HR, 1.9 BB/9, 7.1 K/9
He turned 25 last October, and spent the second half of the season in AAA Iowa, where he made 9 starts and posted a 4.02 ERA. I don’t think he’s a future star or anything, but I think his minor league profile compares favorably to someone like Randy Wells. From what I understand, Rusin doesn’t have dominating stuff, but striking out more than three batters for each walk issued is nothing to sneeze at.
The following seven players have been sent to minor league camp, reducing their spring roster to 48 players (*denotes player is on the 40-man roster):
P Jeff Beliveau*
P Alberto Cabrera*
P John Gaub*
C Jason Jaramillo
INF Junior Lake*
OF Matthew Szczur*
INF Josh Vitters*
Not much to say here in general terms, since it’s still early enough in the spring that no one is getting cut who had a real chance to make the team. Gaub may be a minor exception to that, since he got a September callup last season, when he made four appearances out of the bullpen. That said, he’s had tremendous control problems throughout his minor league career, walking 5.8 batters per nine innings (against an impressive 12.6 K/9), and it’s become pretty clear during the offseason that those kinds of numbers just aren’t going to cut it in this organization anymore. He’s been optioned to AAA Iowa, where he’ll presumably be encouraged to stop walking people, even if it comes at the expense of a few strikeouts.
I think Beliveau actually had the best (very long)shot coming into the spring, since he made real progress in the minors last year and the Cubs’ bullpen is in flux. He had three appearances this spring, the first two of which were not very good. Then he found his stuff in the third and struck out five batters in 2 innings. He’s been optioned to AAA Iowa as well.
Cabrera was added to the 40-man roster after the 2010 season, when he had a very good half-season at high-A Daytona before struggling upon his promotion to AA Tennessee. Like I’ve had to say about virtually every other pitching prospect from the Hendry era, he walks too many hitters, although in his case not as many as Beliveau or Gaub (only 4.1 BB/9 over his minor league career). He doesn’t strike out nearly as many, though, only 7.2 per nine innings, so that ratio still isn’t very good. He was still a starting pitcher last year, but got hit pretty hard in Iowa, posting a 6.60 ERA in 88.2 innings. He’s been optioned back to Iowa to start the year.
Jaramillo – once again, no relation to hitting coach Rudy – is a no-hit catcher who was given an NRI. He’ll serve as minor league catching depth if he stays in the organization at all. (EDIT 3/30/12: Jaramillo has been released.)
Lake is a 22-year-old shortstop who managed a hit in 9 PA this spring. He’s been optioned to Tennessee, where he spent the second half of last season and struggled. He had an impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League in the offseason, and he’s shown up pretty regularly on the Cubs’ top 10 prospect lists this offseason, although it should be noted that none of those evaluators seem to think all that highly of him. Put in perspective, he’s younger than Starlin Castro, and at least as defensively raw, although he might have slightly more power. Perhaps he might be a long-term answer at 2B, but for now, he’s not close to major-league ready.
Centerfielder Szczur will also be familiar to perusers of prospect lists, as he’s one of the Cubs’ top 10 by consensus. He has been optioned to Tennessee as well, which I think shows that the new front office is excited about him given how he struggled in high-A last season. On the other hand, he hit his first 10 professional homeruns last year, and still maintained his very low strikeout rate (only 20 in 182 PA). It’s possible that I’m overstating his struggles at Daytona, since the only real difference in his performance there compared to previously is that his batting average plummeted. I’m interested to see how he does in AA.
I think all Cubs fans will be familiar with Vitters by now, since it seems like he’s been around forever – having been first named the Cubs’ top prospect four years ago already – but is only 22. He had his best year last year than in 2010, but the pattern with him is that he struggles when first promoted before improving on his second go-around at a given level. He’s been optioned to Iowa, where he’ll make his AAA debut, so we’ll see if that pattern holds. The basic shape of the situation seems to be that he’ll need to show an increase in power, because by all accounts his glove is problematic at third but his bat is insufficient at first.
Caridad was a late addition to the NRI list, and did not appear in a spring training game for the Cubs. He pitched in 22 games for the major league Cubs between 2009 and 2010, and was actually quite effective over 19.1 IP in 2009. He struggled in the minors last year though, and was removed from the 40-man roster after the season.
He’s already 28, and his minor league record is unremarkable. He’s been assigned to minor league camp, and one has to suspect that if he’s going to get another chance to pitch in the majors, it will be with another organization.
Two more players have been sent to minor league camp, reducing the spring roster to 57 players:
C Micah Gibbs
P Dae-Eun Rhee
Gibbs was a very late addition to the spring roster when Geovany Soto was unable to play, and he actually got three hitless ABs. He is not a serious prospect, only reaching Peoria last season as a 22-year-old. His .229/.327/.293 career minor-league batting line makes it hard to see him as a future major league player.
Rhee is more of a prospect, although this will be a big year for him in determining his future. He looks likely to be assigned to AA, after repeating at high-A Daytona last year. He showed improvement during his second year in the Florida State League, but he turns 23 in two weeks, so I assume that a move to the bullpen is likely if he has a rocky start this year. He allowed 5 runs in 2.2 IP this spring.
The following four players have been sent to minor league camp, reducing the Cubs’ spring roster to 59 players:
P Marco Carrillo
OF Jae-Hoon Ha
P Trey McNutt
INF Jonathan Mota
All four players saw some game action this spring, with Ha leading the way with 8 AB. He managed 3 singles, and did not make an error in 12 innings in the field. He’s 21 this season, and made it to AA last season, where he played 61 games and held his own.
Mota had a single in three AB, and will be assigned to AAA Iowa, where he’ll hope to be recalled as a utility player.
McNutt gave up a run in an inning pitched, allowing two hits, no walks, and striking out one. Tough to say what the next step for him is; he’s 22 and pitched in AA last year, where he struggled. Does he start the year repeating AA or get pushed to AAA? We’ll see.
Carrillo unfortunately was touched for 4 runs in 0.2 IP, giving up 2 walks and allowing 3 hits. Presumably he returns to Iowa.
The Cubs have invited 21 non-roster players to spring training. I think the easiest way to look at these players is by sorting them into groups:
Prospects and minor leaguers with a chance of seeing the majors in 2012:
P Marco Carrillo
OF Brett Jackson
P Jay Jackson
INF Jonathan Mota
P Blake Parker
P Chris Rusin
Carrillo pitched for AA Tennesse (29 games, 2.36 ERA) and AAA Iowa (11 games, 6.10 ERA) in 2011, mostly as a reliever. He’ll be 25 this season, and since the bullpen looks likely to have a lot of turnover this year, he could get a major-league opportunity at some point in 2012.
Brett Jackson, of course, is the team’s centerfielder of the future. If he doesn’t make the team out of spring training, he’ll probably be a mid-season callup. He dominated AAA last year (939 OPS in 215 PA), has performed well at all levels of the minors, and will be only 23 next season. He strikes out a lot, but can also take a walk and hit for power. We’ll have to see about his defense at the major league level, but by the end of the year, he ought to be patrolling center for the Cubs.
Jay Jackson will be 24 and coming off two full seasons as a starter in Iowa. Once one of the organization’s top prospects, he’s struggled in AAA, where he’s put up a cumulative ERA of 4.91 in over 300 innings pitched. Especially concerning is that he’s had difficulty getting strikeouts after very high K rates in the lower minors. In his favor, he’s kept his walk rates down, but it’s getting close to the time for him when he needs to take a step up or find the Cubs moving on. A good spring could put him back on the organization’s radar.
Mota will turn 25 in June and spent most of his 2011 season playing in the middle infield for Iowa, where he batted .289/.321/.446 over 220 plate appearances. That’s a considerable improvement over his career minor-league numbers, but he could find his way into a utility infield role if he can put up numbers like that again (keep in mind, though, that the Pacific Coast League is notoriously high-offense).
Parker is old to have not yet made the majors (approaching his age-27 season), and he walks a ton of batters (4.4 BB/9 over 303 career innings), which makes him a questionable fit for the kind of staff that GM Jed Hoyer is assembling. On the other hand, he racks up strikeouts as well, 10.5 K/9 with Iowa last season and 9.6 K/9 over his minor-league career. Again, the team looks like it will have issues with bullpen depth this season, so Parker may get his shot.
Rusin will be 25 for the 2012 season, and looks like the kind of low-walk pitcher that the new front office regime seems to favor. Since being selected in the fourth round of the 2009 draft, he’s walked only 1.9 hitters per nine innings over 284.2 innings in the minors while striking out 7.1 per nine. He appeared in 11 games for Iowa last year after being promoted from AA.
Prospects on schedule for 2013 or later:
OF Jae-Hoon Ha
P Trey McNutt
P Dae-Eun Rhee
Ha played centerfield for both Daytona (71 games) and Tennessee (61 games) last season, putting up a composite .279/.315/.413 line that was actually nearly identical at both levels. That’s pretty impressive for a CF at his age, but he’s not major-league ready and obviously he’s blocked for now by Brett Jackson in CF anyway. I’m guessing that he goes back to AA out of spring.
McNutt’s one of the organization’s top prospects, but he struggled last season in AA. He put up a 2.0 BB/9 and a 10.8 K/9 for high-A Daytona in 2010, but those numbers became 3.7 BB/9 and 6.2 K/9 over 22 starts in 2011, and he posted a 4.55 ERA in a low-offense league. He’s still young (22), and I assume he’ll start the year in AA again but earn a quick promotion if he starts well.
Rhee spent his second full season in Daytona in 2011, and was vastly improved over his first season there. His K/9 rate jumped from 5.5 to 8.2, kept his BB/9 rate even and shaved over a full run off of his ERA. He’s entering his age-23 season in 2012 and I imagine will enter the rotation in AA.
Other minor-league non-prospects just hoping for a break:
OF Jim Adduci
C Michael Brenly
C/INF Blake Lalli
Adduci will be 27 next season and has simply never found the offense he needed to rise up through the minors (career .279/.352/.356 in 2513 PA). He actually spent 2010 in AAA, where he hit .248/.302/.302, and found himself back in AA last year. He but up a career-best batting line (.308/.379/.430), but a guy his age stuck in AA is in an uphill struggle, to say the least.
Brenly, son of Cubs broadcaster Bob, hit .206/.248/.248 while repeating high-A Daytona as a 24-year-old. That’s pretty much all that needs to be said. A defense-first catcher is one thing, but even Koyie Hill was light-years ahead of Brenly at that age.
Lalli is a strange case in that, last year at a 28-year-old, he played more games at catcher (37) than he ever had before. He actually played more at 1B (45 games) than behind the plate, and the team had him play some time at third (7 games) as well, just for good measure. He hit very well (.287/.359/.433) although it was his third straight full year in AA. I guess the Cubs were trying hard to find a role for him, but again, he’ll be 29 next season and still hasn’t made it past AA.
Major-league vets just looking to stay in the game:
INF Alfredo Amezaga
P Manuel Corpas
INF Edgar Gonzalez
C Jason Jaramillo
P Rodrigo Lopez
OF Joe Mather
P Trever Miller
INF Bobby Scales
INF Matt Tolbert
Amezaga has spent most of his 9-year career with the Marlins, where he provided defensive value in the infield and in centerfield and never was much of a hitter.
Gonzalez brings a 5.90 career ERA over 8 seasons in the majors, mostly with Arizona. He doesn’t get many strikeouts (5.8 career K/9), walks too many for that low of a K rate (3.2 career BB/9) and gives up a ton of homers (1.6 career HR/9). I know Arizona’s a hitters park, but yikes.
Jaramillo – not related to hitting coach Rudy – has played parts of the last three seasons in Pittsburgh, where he’s posted a 67 OPS+ in 366 plate appearances. He’s thrown out 30% of opposing basestealers in that time, which isn’t terrible, but it’s not good enough to make up for his weak bat. For context, Geovany Soto has thrown out 27% over his career, including an even 30% last year.
Lopez spent time with the Cubs last season, so we’re all familiar with what he brings, and it ain’t all that great.
Mather has spent time with the Cardinals and Braves, posting a 78 OPS+ in 294 plate appearances while playing all three outfield positions. His minor-league stats are OK and he has some power; he hit 31 homers in 2007 between AA and AAA. Honestly, teams including the Cubs have done a lot worse for their reserve outfield spots. Unfortunately for him, the Cubs look set in the outfield for now.
Miller made his debut in 1996, and has been bouncing around various organizations’ bullpens ever since. He’s had a decent career as a lefty specialist, but at 39 the end is near. Even lefties have to retire sometime.
Scales made appearances with the Cubs in both 2009 and 2010, and honestly, I could never figure out why he didn’t get a better chance than he did. All the crappy middle infielders that the Cubs have had over the past few years, and they’ve had Scales languishing in AAA (and last season, Japan) since 2008. If nothing else, he could have given them some desperately needed OBP, and yet Aaron Miles (among others) got more plate appearances in 2009 than Scales did over those four years. Bizarre.
Tolbert has spent the last four seasons with the Twins, posting a 65 OPS+ and providing questionable defense in the infield. In short, he’s been exactly the kind of player than the Bobby Scaleses of the world are around to replace.
EDIT (2/21/12): INF Blake DeWitt will also report as an NRI, since he has accepted a minor-league assignment after being designated to make room for Adrain Cardenas. Obviously, he fits in the “Major-league vets just looking to stay in the game” category.
Also added to the NRI list is P Esmailin Caridad, who has been in the Cubs system since signing with the organization out of Japan in 2007, and did a couple stints for the team in 2009 and 2010. Last season, though, he struggled with injuries and his control, making only 31 appearances in the minors (mostly at AAA) and walking nearly 6 batters per nine innings.