WTNYOctober 19, 2004
Cubs Winter (2 of 2)
By Bryan Smith

Yesterday, we looked at five Cubs minor leaguers vying for spots on the 40-man roster. This is just one of the many reasons players are sent to winter ball, the other primary reason being simply for more work. Today, well look at five more Cubs players still playing, and look at their status as a prospect, and their future in Cubdom.

Moises Alou, following one of the best seasons of his career, is a virtual lock to head to free agency. One might think with so many holes in the 2005 roster, the Cubs would take Jason Dubois to fill Alous hole. In 2004, Dubois hit .316/.389/.630 in the Pacific Coast League, right in line with his FSL line of .321/.422/.562. The problem is that Dubois has never played more than 130 games in a season, and walked less than ever in 2004.

Dubois is currently playing in the Mexican League, probably to get more at-bats. Rumors of the Cubs interest in Carlos Beltran have heated up in recent weeks, increasing the likelihood that Dubois will not receive starting time with the organization. Hes either destined for the bench, as a lefty-masher, or the trade market. There should be a value for him, and the combination of Dubois and Sergio Mitre could make for an attractive package.

No Cub pitching prospect broke out this season more than Renyel Pinto. Despite respective ERAs of 3.31 and 3.22 in the Midwest League and FSL, Pinto didnt draw a lot of hype despite less than stellar K/9 and K/BB ratios. Things change. As a 22-year-old in the Southern League, Pinto changed all that, striking out 179 in 141.2 IP, while allowing 107 hits and ten home runs. His BB/9 has gone up in each of the last three seasons, a trend that must stop if Pinto is to have a future with this organization.

Any North Side pitching prospect having a future is highly doubtful, but there is a glimmer of hope. Matt Clement is a free agent at seasons end, and Greg Maddux will likely be gone after 2006. As Alex Ciepley commented yesterday, Jim Hendry will unfortunately lean on Ryan Dempster to fill the fifth starters spot. I believe that Mitre is ready, and Bobby Brownlie, Ricky Nolasco and Pinto are turning the corner. Pinto had the best ERA, H/9, K/9 and HR/9 of the bunch, and right now is the frontrunner. Lets just hope the extra innings in the Venezuelan League dont hurt that left arm.

Before the season, the Cubs two best southpaw arms belonged to Justin Jones and Andy Sisco, a few high-talent, low-performance prospects. Jones was dealt to the Twins, and Siscos poor season in the FSL puts his future in doubt. Now, the Cubs top two lefties have shifted, to Pinto and Sean Marshall. As a 21-year-old in the Midwest League, Marshall dominated, with a 1.11 ERA in seven starts. Marshall allowed just 29 hits in 48.2 innings, with an awesome strikeout-walk ratio of 51-4.

According to Baseball America, a publication while amazing that I try to not use too often, Marshall shows great sink on his fastball, and has promise with three other pitches. For some reason, the Cubs aggressively moved Marshall to AA, where he struggled in six starts before hurting his left hand. Sent to the AFL to get more work, Marshall has done well in two starts, posting a 3.18 ERA in 5.2 innings. Hopefully the Cubs wont take risks like promoting Marshall to the Southern League to start 2005, because he might just be my favorite arm in the system.

Good stuff, bad head. Leon Lee didnt expect this when he signed Jae-Kuk Ryu out of a Korean high school, where Ryu had been one of the best starters in the nation, amateur or not. I wont get into the bird incident of 2003, but questions of Ryus character have begun. It was an injury, not character issues, that limited Ryus innings total to 26 this season. Furthermore, all twenty of Ryus appearances this year came in relief, a destination where Ryu is apparently headed.

Like Marshall, JK has been sent to the AFL for more work. While Ryus ERA might sit at 3.68 after four games, hes allowed ten hits in 7.1 innings. Jon Leicester, Todd Wellemeyer and Mike Wuertz all currently could encompass roles in the 2005 bullpen. After that, Jermaine Van Buren went from an Independent League signing to possibly the next Joe Borowski. Where does Ryu fit in? Well, the Korean has stuff that none of the aforementioned four can match, and now it just comes down to his head.

The last prospect well touch on today will be, in all likelihood, the top ranked Cubs prospect this winter. After nearly breaking the Midwest League home run record, Brian Dopirak won both the MVP and Prospect of the Year Award in that level. His power is a lot more developed than the average 20-year-old, and his patience made huge strides this year. For Dopirak, the only skill left to perfect is more contact, as the first basemen has struck out 226 times in 229 career minor league games.

Sending low-A players to the AFL is risky, but the Cubs need to decide where Dopirak fits on the prospect scale. Hes off to a predictable slow start, hitting just .214/.241/.464 after seven games. The former second rounder will surely be sent to Daytona next year, where hell try to top Brandon Sings club record of 32 home runs. Hell do it. Somewhere I read on the Internet the plan is to move Dopirak to right field and have him replace Sosa. Completely incorrect. Dopiraks lack of athleticism will constrict him to first base, with a possible opening after Derrek Lees current contract runs out (2006).

Finally, I want to finish on concluding on yesterdays article. I posted this in the comments, but find my work to be enough to re-post here. I went through Geovany Sotos day-by-day box scores, and researched his 2004 month-by-month splits. They go as follows:

April: .280 (14/50)
May: .224 (15/67)
June: .242 (15/62)
July: .357 (25/70)
Aug.: .250 (18/72)
Sept.: .273 (3/11)

If anything, this only furthers the doubt in my mind that Soto will stall in prospect-land. One month, and particularly an eight-game stretch, changed Sotos season from his career numbers. Hes just 21, and could really be the hitter he is showing, but Im not sold yet. I am sold on his defense, as the catcher threw out 39 of 100 would-be basestealers, for a solid 39% CS percentage. John Hill mentioned in the comments yesterday that Soto appears to be a back-up catcher, and in my opinion, that would be the optimistic thought right now.

As the rules have been explained to me, the 2004 Rule 5 draft will include all college players drafted in 2002, and high school players drafted in 2001. Well, those, and all the players preceding them, not currently on the 40-man roster. By that token, here is the list I compiled of currently draft-eligible Cubs, to be commented on at another time:

Nic Jackson, Josh Arteaga, Eric Eckenstahler, Jason Szuminski, Carmen Pignatiello, Andy Sisco, Ricky Nolasco, Geovany Soto, Jon Connolly, Russ Rohlicek, Chadd Blasko, Rich Hill, Luke Hagerty, Matt Clanton, Matt Craig, Chris Walker, Adam Greenberg, Keith Butler, Jason Welie, Rocky Cherry, Jerem Spearman, Donnie Hood, Thomas Atlee, Paul O'Toole, Randy Wells.

Please drop any thoughts or corrections in the comments.

Comments

On your list: I don't see how the Cubs can't protect Jon Connolly, this guy has done nothing but succeed. He is a classic case of today's scouts being too enamored with how hard a guy throws, and not taking into account how well he PITCHES. Connolly may turn out to be a zero eventually, but he could fashion a Jamie Moyer, Terry Mulholland type career and what the heck is wrong with that? Give the kid a chance.

Blasko really had a tough 2004, didn't he? Man, projecting minor league pitchers is usually little more than a crap shoot.

Shouldn't Ronald Bay be on your list?

I'd hate to see the Cubs totally give up on Nolasco (potential setup man), Hagerty (big lefties hard to find) or Soto. The rest, gah.

Andy Sisco, never should have got into that fight, my friend.

I admit, I can't decipher the Rule 5 eligibility rules: does the year you're drafted really count as one of your three/four years? I'd just be really surprised if Nolasco, Hagerty, Sisco, and Blasko were all actually eligible.

Guzman, Koronka, Leicester, Mitre, Ohman, Pinto, Vasquez, Wellemeyer, Wuertz, Cedeno, Lewis, Dubois and Kelton are all currently on the 40-Man roster, along with all the usual suspects. Bryan (or Alex), which would be Rule 5 eligible if they were taken off the 40, and which can still be optioned to the minor leagues without passing through waivers? I think the answers to those questions are important when it comes to determining what our 40 should be and who we should protect.

Also, how do free agents impact the 40? If one of this year's Cubs files for free agency in the 15 days after the Red Sox have beaten the Astros (hopefully!), and hasn't accepted an offer before December 13 (the day of the Rule 5 draft), does he have to be included on it? This situation applies to Clement, Mercker, Rusch, Bako, Garciaparra, Martinez, Perez, Walker, Goodwin, Grieve and Hollandsworth, and potentially Dempster, Grudzielanek and Alou too if their options are declined.

And finally, does Jae-Kuk "good stuff, bad head" Ryu project to be the next Kyle Farnsworth then?!

Anybody know why Larry Rothschild got a pass at the end of the season when other coaches and the players came in for criticism?

You're the pitching coach and all your young pitchers except one (Zambrano) have off years. I'm thinking in particular of Wood, Prior and Farnsworth.

Most teams teach changeups to their young pitchers nowadays. Not the Cubs. Wood, Prior and Farnsworth throw lots of curves and sliders up in the strike zone. Often, the hitter's eyes light up (just before the bat lights up).

The curve may be an obsolete pitch the way hitters handle it nowadays. Maddox seldom throws it, and he could tell Rothschild a thing or two about pitching and coaching.

It's also strange that Farnsworth never uses the inside part of the plate, let alone the zone between the plate and the hitter. Unless this changes, he'll never instill fear the way he should in batters. I don't understand why the pitching coach is MIA on this.

They don't teach Farns to throw off the plate inside because he'd kill somebody! He has a hard enough time hitting his spots away. There's a fine line between intimidation and homicide.

Is Blasko really a Rule 5 guy already? I guess he played in '02 '03 and '04 and was 21 when he was drafted. While these are names we all know too well, none of them is at a real risk of being taken since a Rule 5 pick has to stay in the majors all season or be offered back to his original team for half of the $50,000 draft price.

It's not really a proper curve that they're throwing though, it's 80 mph. The slurve, as I've heard it called and now refer to it as.

Interesting point on Farnsworth, I've never really noticed that (though I haven't been looking either). But if he's not doing it and not backing hitters away from the plate, he's making his slider a lot less effective, which is criminal when you rely on that pitch far too much (he works off it, as opposed to working off the FB like most pitchers).

Wood used to throw a change-up, but he scrapped it a few years ago, according to ESPN.com's scouting report. Why I don't know (do change-ups wear on the arm, I think I might have read that somewhere?), both he and Wood could probably use a change to devastating effect with their fastballs (like Santana does). With Farnsworth (and Hawkins), an large arsenal of pitches isn't quite as important though, but I doubt it'd hurt.

"There's a fine line between intimidation and homicide."

Superb.

I know guys, it doesn't seem like these guys are ready to be taken from us, but they are. Case in point, Chris Shelton, the first overall pick in the Rule V draft last year. Shelton had been chosen in the 2001 draft out of the University of Utah, meaning this season, all collegiate players in the 2002 draft not on the 40-man are subject to being drafted.

Luckily, Bear Bay and Bobby Brownlie don't factor on this list, because they are draft-and-follows. Each will have another year off the 40-man before being eligible.

As Dave mc reminds us, it will be hard for these players to stay on a Major League roster all season. So for Jim Hendry and staff, the job is protecting potential players that could be kept all season. Russ Rohlicek seems more likely than Will Ohman, and I think both Blasko and Sisco could make it on stuff alone. On the other hand, I don't think Luke Hagerty could, as evidenced by his lack of playing time.

Protect Sisco, Nolasco and Connolly for sure, and replace Will Ohman with Rohlicek as I've said.

Do they have to be kept on a team's 25-man roster or 40-man roster if chosen?

D--
The player must be kept on the 25-man roster, or the DL, for the entire season.

Any responses to the questions in my original comment, Bryan?! Sorry for my ignorance when it comes to the finer details of roster construction.

John--
You asked some very thought-provoking questions that are probably better for Rob Neyer than me, but I'll tell you what I think. All the players you named would be eligible for the Rule 5 draft if they weren't on the 40. To be taken off, I believe they have to be outrighted, which requires a trip through waivers. I imagine Ohman and Cedeno could skate through fine. Byron Gettis and Dewayne Wise were victims of this in the last week, I believe.

Once these players file for free agency, they are taken off the 40-man. Yes, this opens a lot of spaces, but you have to leave room for the free agents you sign. If the team offers the player arbitration, they aren't added back to the 40 until the player accepts, in my opinion.

That help?

Minor leaguers who are taken off the 40 Man for the first time do not have to go through waivers.

What about Szuminski? I mean, I'm not necessarily sure he *should* be protected, but with another year under his belt, it is more likely that he'd be able to stick with a team if taken, unlike what happened this year when the Padres ended up returning him...