With the minor league season ready to open in 15 days, Fitch Park in Mesa, Arizona, is a busy place as the Cubs' youngsters prepare for the 2013 season.
While top prospects Javier Baez and Jorge Soler grabbed the headlines this spring, other minor leaguers made an impact in Cubs camp including 2B Logan Watkins and infielder Junior Lake, before he broke his rib. Watkins hit .250 in 13 games with a OBP of .348 while Lake was 7-23 with a homer and 3 RBI in 10 games.
Several roster moves have ben made recently to trim the roster to 25 by opening day in Pittsburgh on April 1. Those assigned to AAA Iowa include LHP Brooks Raley, RHP Trey McNutt, RHP Alberto Cabrera, Watkins, Lake, and 3B Josh Vitters. OF Matt Szczur, RHP Robert Whitenack and 3B Christian Villanueva were all assigned to AA Tennessee while Soler will start the season in Daytona, where he is expected to team up with Baez.
The Cubs have added two new minor leaguers since camp opened—Cuban pitcher Armondo Rivero and outfielder/first baseman Jose Dore. ‘Arizona Phil' of TheCubReporter.com was the first to break the news that Rivero was in Cubs minor league camp on March 6 and twelve days later it became official. The Cubs signed the 25-year-old right-hander for $3.1 million and he projects as a middle reliever with a 90 mph plus fastball as his primary pitch. The 6-foot-3, 180 pounder was a teammate of Gerado Concepcion, a prospect in cubs minor league system. Rivero was assigned to Arizona Rookie League but will most likely start the season at either Class A Daytona or AA Tennessee. Dore, obtained from the Padres for a player to be named later or cash considerations on March 19, played in only nine games last year due to injury. In 2011 in Class A, he hit 9 HR with 35 RBI in 320 at-bats but hit just .212 between Eugene in the Northwest League and Fort Wayne in the Midwest League. He was an 8th round selection of the Padres in 2010, signing for $450,000 out of The First Academy High School in Orlando instead of attending Florida State University. Dore played outfield in 2011 but moved to first base for 2012. He played in three games for Fort Wayne and went on the disabled list and returned to action in the Arizona Rookie League on Aug. 22. After three more games in the AZL, he played the final two games of the season at Eugene in the Northwest League. He got hits in 4 of 6 games after returning from injury.
The Arizona Diamondbacks returned RHP Starling Peralta, who was claimed from the Cubs during the Rule 5 draft. The 22-year-old was signed by Chicago out of the Dominican Republic as a free agent in 2008 and spent his first three seasons of pro ball in the Dominican Summer League before coming to the US in 2011 where he split time between Arizona and Peoria. Last season, the 6-foot-4, 180 pounder started 17 games for Peoria in the Midwest League, throwing 99.1 innings with a BAA of .217 and a WHIP of 1.228. He finished the year 5-8 with 3.44 ERA and 86 strikeouts. His best game of the season came on July 11 against Dayton as he tossed seven shutout innings allowing just two hits with no free passes and 4 Ks. He followed that performance up with five more shutout innings against Bowling Green five days later. Peralta will most likely start the season at Class A Daytona.
To make room for the additions, the Cubs released four minor league pitchers on March 12: Austin Urban, RHP; Arturo Maltos-Garcia, RHP; Anthony York, RHP; and Kyle Shepard, LHP. Urban (40th) and Maltos-Garcia (30th) were both 2011 draft picks and were coming off arm surgery. York was signed as a free agent in 2012 out of UC-San Diego pitching two games in the Arizona Fall League last year allowing four hits in 1.2 innings for a 16.2 ERA. Shepard was a 2012 free agent signing from Stonehill College and did not pitch last season.
Outfielder Albert Almora, the Cubs #1 pick last year and sixth overall, broke his hamate bone swinging a bat on March 14 and then broke the news on his twitter account that night. He had surgery on his hand the next day and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks of baseball activity and return in mid- to late-May. Almora was expected to begin the 2013 season at Kane County but he will probably get some at-bats in extended spring training games before being assigned. It will be interesting to see who replaces Almora at Kane County but I expect Trey Martin to fill in at centerfield in Almora's absence. The newly acquired Dora may be added to the Kane County roster but it could open the door for one of the 2011 draft picks: Trevor Gretzky (7th round) Garrett Schlecht (9th round) or Shawon Dunston Jr. (11th round).