(Forgive my introduction recycling)
The mid-point in the season is a good time for reflection.
I wanted to take this opportunity to review the AAA Cubs' roster and to reflect upon the information I've gathered through the team statistics and by following the season's boxscores.
This is by no means an exhaustive analysis. I've only seen the I-Cubs play once this year (early in the season versus Round Rock), and am unable to comment anecdotally or statistically about our position players' defensive abilities, our pitchers's mound presence, or anything of that nature.
Furthermore, my evaluation will rely heavily on primary peripheral statistics, rather than on more sabermetrically sophisticated models of evaluation (simply because I'm not overly knowledgeable of their applications).
What I can offer in this analysis is a fair, thoughtful reflection of the cursory information at hand.
With that in mind:
THE IOWA CUBS POSITION PLAYERS
Buck Coats, RF (24 yrs, 1 month)
4 HR, 32 RBI
.268/.327/.349 (.676 OPS)
298 AB, 23 BB/59 K, 10-3 SBs
Coats is a converted infielder who has played all over the diamond at Iowa, but mostly in RF. He's started games in RF, CF, LF, 3B, and 2B. He's versatile and athletic, with a good arm and decent speed. But his bat is pretty light.
Coats appeared to have turned a corner earlier this season when he went on a pretty impressive hitting-streak. But since then he's cooled off, dropping his BA to .268 and exposing his peripheral numbers as being fairly weak.
His career OPS coming into 2006 was .716 with only 15 HRs in over 2000 ABs, so it's not expected that he turn into a hitting machine. With his versatility, however, if Coats could muscle up a little and improve his On Base numbers, he might be a useful utility player at the next level.
Jeff Deardorff, 1B (27 yrs, 11 months)
4 HR, 19 RBI
.243/.318/.401 (.719 OPS)
152 AB, 17 BB/46 K, 5-0 SBs
Deardorff is a career minor-leaguer (3538 ABs in 9 seasons) who has backed up 1B, 3B, and played some DH against AL teams. He's never turned into the hitter Milwaukee was hoping for when they picked him in the 3rd Round of the 1997 draft. At almost 28 years old and a career OPS in AAA of about .770 in over 800 ABs (and a career K/600 rate of 180/600) in three seasons, he's likely to continue kicking around the upper levels of the minors at best.
Mike Fontenot, 2B (26 yrs, 1 month)
6 HR, 20 RBI
.305/.390/.453 (.843 OPS)
256 AB, 35 BB/47 K, 5-3 SBs
Fontenot is a scrappy little guy (5'8", 160 lbs) that came over in the Sosa trade with Baltimore. And if allowed to play at the Major League level, I think Fontenot would contribute more than the other spare parts we received-- Hairston, and then, indirectly, Nevin (and Fontenot will definitely contribute more than Jerry Crouthers who promptly retired!).
In his minor league career, Fontenot has posted a career OBP of .362, but has been closer to a .370 OBP in his last 1150 ABs in AAA over two and a half seasons. He also has surprising power for his size, posting roughly a .430 SLG over that same period.
During the last three seasons at AAA, Fontenot has also shown improvement his K rates and his BB rates.
- AB: 524 BB/600: 55 K/600: 127
- AB: 379 BB/600: 93 K/600: 122
- AB: 256 BB/600: 82 K/600: 110
And while Fontenot is a little old to be considered a first-rate Major League prospect, I feel he might be a very comparable replacement to Todd Walker, and certainly a better hitter than the other platoon of ML Second Basemen we've endured (Neifi, JHJ, Womack, Bynum).
Micah Hoffpauir, 1B (26 yrs, 4 months)
9 HR, 27 RBI
.239/.328/.458 (.786 OPS)
155 AB, 22 BB/40 K, 0-1 SBs
Hoffpauir started the season at West Tennessee and went on a hitting tear (.956 OPS in 138 ABs) when Brian Dopirak broke his foot in the first game of the year. And then Hoffpauir was called up to Iowa after Brandon Sing failed to do anything positive other than draw a lot of walks.
Hoffpauir isn't exactly tearing it up at Iowa, but he's been solid in his second tour of duty (.676 OPS in 392 ABs in 2005) and much better than either Sing or Dopirak. Hoffpauir's been much more selective at the plate, walking 42 times in 293 combined ABs between AA and AAA, which might be contributing to his success. His current 86/600 AB ratio is a huge improvement upon his career numbers of 48/600.
Hoffpauir's a little old to be drooling over, and his K rates are pretty high (and his BA is pretty low), but he's a nice surprise especially considering how Sing and Dopirak have flopped so far this year. It will be interesting to see how the minor league depth chart and 1B works out over the season. Luckily for us, 1B is not a current weakness on the major league roster.
Casey Kopitzke, C (28 yrs, 2 months)
0 HR, 5 RBI
.214/.318/.232 (.550 OPS)
56 AB, 8 BB/11 K, 0-0 SBs
Kopitzke has advanced up the organization as the perennial number 2 Catcher. He has an outstanding reputation as a fundamentally sound backstop and a hard-worker.
His professional advancement has likely stalled at Iowa due to a really weak bat (.559 carer OPS in 1402 ABs).
From multiple accounts, I've read that Kopitzke projects as a really good coach someday or perhaps as a really good peer to help develop the catching skills of prospect Jake Fox.
Casey McGehee, 3B (23 yrs, 9 months)
5 HR, 32 RBI
.285/.336/.394 (.730 OPS)
302 AB, 23 BB/45 K, 0-1 SBs
McGehee took a step forward in his hitting last year at West Tennessee, posting career highs in almost every catergory and finishing with a .776 OPS at the age of 22. His batting average has been fairly solid all season at Iowa, but his OBP and SLG have been lower than you'd like at a premium offensive position like 3B.
McGehee is still young-ish, though he has no history of a very high rate of Isolated Power. And while he seems like a solid-enough minor league hitter, it is unlikely that McGehee will break into the Bigs unless he finds a power stroke.
Luis Montanez, LF (24 yrs, 7 months)
3 HR, 11 RBI
.220/.286/.346 (.632 OPS)
127 AB, 10 BB/22 K, 0-1 SBs
"The" Luis Montanez?
The 3rd Overall pick in the 2000 draft, Montanez finally made it out of A-ball last year after six seasons of trying. Originally a SS, Montanez began the season in LF at West Tennessee and hit very well in his first 38 games (.927 OPS in 140 ABs). Hoping that Montanez had found his magic, he was promoted to Iowa, where he has struggled.
In 127 ABs, Montanez has hovered around the .550-.650 OPS mark.
It's difficult to predict how Montanez will continue to develop (he will need a good second half at Iowa to keep him in the organization), but it's nice to at least see him out of A-ball.
Augie Ojeda, SS (31 yrs, 7 months)
0 HR, 14 RBI
.252/.379/.294 (.673 OPS)
163 AB, 31 BB/21 K, 3-0 SBs
Former Chicago Cub Ojeda signed a minor league deal this off-season and has played an important role in Iowa. He backs up Theriot at SS, allowing Theriot to play multiple positions and filled in for Theriot while he was on the ML roster.
A historically light hitter, Ojeda has been productive offensively with an impressive .379 OBP thanks in large part to a BB/600 rate of 114BB/600. He's also pitched a scoreless inning of relief.
Felix Pie, CF (21 yrs, 5 months)
7 HR, 39 RBI
.256/.320/.393 (.713 OPS)
336 AB, 29 BB/84 K, 7-9 SBs
Pie is another highly controversial Cubs prospect. After starting out really hot in Iowa this year, Pie has really flamed out. He's flashed a lot of raw skill, but is critically hampered by terrible strike-zone judgement statistics. From the reports I've read, at least Pie is aware of where he needs to improve and at least says he's trying to work on his plate discipline.
The second half of the season seems critical for him. It is my feeling that Pie needs to improve his K/BB rate significantly if I am to believe he can be a productive Major League hitter.
I've seen him play in person and he was damned impressive-- beautiful in the outfield, ridiculously strong arm, very fast around the bases, serious bat speed, and super star presence. But the statistics will likely bear out that he needs to control the zone better if he's going to make it.
Pie is still only 21 years old, which is young for AAA. It is my hope that the organization doesn't expect too much from him too soon and will allow him to continue to develop in AAA without the Wrigley Faithful on his back before he's given a fair shake.
Coming into 2006, Pie had a career .816 OPS in 1402 minor league ABs, which is highly impressive for a hitter who has consistently been one of the youngest players at each level. If Pie can reach the .800 OPS neighborhood in the second half and improve his K/BB ratio, there is still plenty of optimism to have in his future.
Michael Restovich, RF-LF-DH (27 yrs, 6 months)
14 HR, 44 RBI
.299/.383/.568 (.951 OPS)
241 AB, 31 BB/71 K, 1-1 SBs
Restovich has been the biggest thumper in Iowa's line-up all year (except for those couple of weeks he sat on the bench in Chicago). By putting up career numbers, he has displayed the kind of talent that once made him an elite prospect in the Twins organization.
Historically good against LHPs, had Restovich been given an opportunity in the bigs, he may have made Phil Nevin redundant, meaning the Cubs might have been able to trade Hairston for something other than a guy who's sure to be gone before the season's even over.
Restovich was a shrewd, low-risk signing in the off-season who has proved he has value as a guy with power potential. He still has hugely un-ignorable K rates which might make him easy for ML pitchers to pitch to. But he's been able to solve AAA pitchers this year despite some ugly K numbers.
Restovich has probably passed his window of opportunity to develop into a regular ML player, but he may have value as a platoon partner for a left-hand-hitting corner outfielder.
Jose Reyes, C (23 yrs, 5 months)
0 HR, 2 RBI
.083/.185/.167 (.352 OPS)
24 AB, 3 BB/2 K, 0-0 SBs
After marginally improving at the plate last year (.631 OPS) at West Tennessee, Reyes has stalled as a hitter. He began the year repeating AA with a .525 OPS over 144 ABs. I'm assuming Reyes was promoted to Iowa mostly to make room for Jake Fox's promotion to West Tennessee. But now Iowa has 3 Catchers who really don't hit very well. I assume Reyes is playing behind Soto (and maybe even behind Kopitzke), which might very well mean the organization has given up on Reyes as a prospect (Reyes, I believe, is currently on the Cubs 40-man Roster).
Geovany Soto, C (23 yrs, 6 months)
1 HR, 24 RBI
.274/.349/.339 (.688 OPS)
230 AB, 25 BB/48 K, 0-1 SBs
Soto has been Iowa's number one Catcher this season after playing in 91 games for the I-Cubs in 2005. He's had a cup of coffee in each of the last two years with the big league club and is mostly-well regarded as a decent "throw and catch" backstop.
As a hitter, he's never shown much power (career SLG .367), though his On-Base skills seem decent. He has a career .342 OBP, drawing 72 BB/600 ABs over his minor league career (1232 ABs). His .688 OPS at the mid-point of 2006 is well in-line with his career .709 OPS mark and almost identical to what he put up last year at Iowa (.699). His K/600 ABs are fairly alarming, with a career rate of 132K/600.
Ryan Theriot, SS (26 yrs, 7 months)
0 HR, 21 RBI
.308/.370./.381 (.751 OPS)
273 AB, 27 BB/33 K, 14-3 SBs
Theriot is another Cubs farmhand that has sparked lots of discussion at BCB. After winning the admiration of a number of fans with his gritty, hustling play in Spring Training, he was the last man sent to Iowa (to make room for Freddie F. Bynum) only to be called up later in the season and sit on the bench for his entire tenure on the Major League roster.
Many people have argued back and forth for or against Theriot's inclusion on the ML roster. It seems clear to me, at the very least, he would likely outplay Womack and Bynum and offer better offense than Neifi, though perhaps not as much defensively.
Theriot has played SS, 2B, 3B, LF, and RF at Iowa this season, so he may be grooming for a utility role in the future. This is likely something he would excel at and it's too bad he hasn't had the opportunity to begin such a role this season.
At the plate, Theriot has very little power (.331 career SLG), though he has muscled up more in the last three seasons (.342, .391, .381). Theriot's strength is at getting on base, and over the last three years has posted OPS's of .367, .365, and .370. He seems capable of working the count, and putting the ball in play (career K/600 of 78K/600). His career K/BB rate is solid, at 260 BB/263 K in just over 2,000 minor league ABs, demonstrating he has skill in controlling the strike zone.
All of these skills likely translate into (at the very least) a decent, useful Major League bench-player-- which is something the Cubs could really use.
Tony Womack, 2B (36 yrs, 10 months)
Do we really need to get into this?
Ah well...to his credit, Womack played a few games at Iowa, better than expected. But by the time he joined the ML club, the season was already lost and there wasn't much point for him to be around. He was DFA'd recently to make room for Derrek Lee (I think) and is being listed on the Iowa roster so presumably he's accepted a minor league assignment.
I don't feel there are nearly as many position player prospects at Iowa as there are on the mound. In fact, I don't know if there are any real impact players whatsoever at Iowa.
Of the roster, I feel there are a few guys who could serve as useful role players. Mike Fontenot, Ryan Theriot, and Michael Restovich might be useful bench players. Fontenot and Theriot have more of a ceiling to me than Restovich because of their athleticism and flexibility and because of Fontenot's offensive potential at 2B.
I also feel Buck Coats has an outside shot of developing into a decent bench player because of the athletic skills he shares with Fontenot and Theriot.
The most interesting development, however, will be the second half performance of Felix Pie. Pie is likely the most talented player on the roster, but his difficulty with plate discipline may keep him from fully using his undeniable tools. It is my hope that he will make tremendous strides forward in his development and become a real impact player. At this point, it is tricky at best to predict his future.
Geovany Soto, already broken into the majors, albeit briefly, may find his way back onto a ML roster as a reserve Catcher.
The rest of the AAA roster (Deardorff, Hoffpauir, Kopitzke, Reyes, McGehee, Ojeda, Womack) project out as career minor leaguers.
And lastly, it might still be too early to tell what will develop with Luis Montanez. He will be an interesting player to watch in the second half.
In all, there may be a few useful role players from Iowa that could help this season and in 2007, but it appears there are no immediate impact position players on the Iowa roster.