This is the final installment of my look at the Cubs four full-season minor league teams. Today's topic is the High-A Daytona Cubs from the Florida State League. The D-Cubs are a bit of an oddity in the Florida State League, as they are the only team that does not play in a stadium that is also used in the Grapefruit League. Ten of the twelve teams in the FSL play in their parent club's spring training park. (The Brevard County Manatees, a Brewers farm club, play in the Washington Nationals spring training home.)
As far as prospects go this season, the Daytona Cubs are not as loaded as the Tennessee Smokies are and I'd probably rank them even with Peoria. (Better pitching in Peoria, better hitting in Daytona.) But they do have more interesting players than Iowa does.
Before I start, if you are new to the Minor League Wrap, every night I do a summary of the games for that day, listing the starting pitcher and whomever did something interesting that day, usually defined by getting a decision or a save pitching or getting two hits or a home run hitting. Exceptions are made on unusual days. I don't do a running tally of top prospects, because I learned long ago that the top prospects today are not necessarily going to be the top prospects tomorrow. I also provide a link to that days box scores. You're always free to ask about certain players, as long as you don't mind if the answer is "I don't know."
You can also follow me on twitter at @Cubsminorswrap. I try to only tweet about the Cubs minor league system, or occasionally the majors. I can promise you I won't tweet about what nightclub I was at that night, and not just because I never go to nightclubs. I am hoping to tweet about Hayden Simpson's start tomorrow night, although I'll just be listening on the internet like everyone else.
One player on the D-Cubs that I'm going to mention right away is catcher Welington Castillo. Castillo is apparently suffering from a minor hand injury that prevents him from catching but doesn't bother him when he hits. Since the Florida State League is a DH-only league, the Cubs sent him here so he could stay in shape swinging a bat. The Pacific Coast League and the Southern League only use the DH in the parks of AL farm teams, so he wouldn't be able to get in enough bats at those levels. I presume he will be promoted to Iowa when he heals, probably in ten days or so.
After the jump, the rest of the Daytona Cubs roster.
Coaching Staff: At the helm of the Daytona Cubs for the third straight year (and fourth overall) is Buddy Bailey, another long-time veteran minor league manager. This season will be his 23rd season managing in the minor leagues. He's spent most of his career with the Red Sox organization and had two long stints as the manager of their Triple-A Pawtucket franchise. He also spent a season as the bench coach for the Red Sox in the majors. This is his sixth season with the Cubs, having previously managed Iowa and Tennessee for a season.
Bailey will have to do without long-time Daytona hitting coach Richie Zisk, who had been with the Daytona franchise for the past 16 seasons. (They've retired his number there.) Jim Hendry finally convinced Zisk to take a promotion to being in charge of pro scouting in Florida, both the minors and the Marlins and Rays. Taking over for him will be former Detroit Tiger Barbaro Garbey, who has been the hitting coach for Peoria the past two seasons.
Bailey will still have Tom Pratt as his pitching coach, who is entering his eight season as Daytona's pitching coach and twelfth season in the Cub organization.
I've never actually been to Daytona Beach, but from the lack of turnover there I get the impression that it's a tough place to get people to leave. I don't think that will be a problem for most of the players, however. I'm pretty sure none of them would turn down a move to eastern Tennessee or central Iowa.
Pitching: Dae-Eun Rhee is back for his second season in Daytona this summer. Rhee pitched for Peoria for the first half of 2008 where he dominated the Midwest League with a low 90s fastball, a solid curve and a devastating change-up. Unfortunately, he then developed arm problems and went under the knife for Tommy John surgery. He missed the rest of 2008 and most of 2009. When he returned to the mound last season, he showed signs of the pitcher he once was, but the consistency just wasn't there. He went 5-13 with a 5.27 ERA last year.
Lefty Brett Ebinger was a 32nd round draft pick last year out of NAIA Lambuth University (Yeah, I've never heard of it either) but was very effective in Boise last year, going 3-2 with a 3.60 ERA and 48 strikeouts as opposed to only 5 walks in 45 innings. That he's skipping Peoria shows that the franchise has some faith in him.
Right-hander Nick Struck pitched well for Peoria last year, including throwing a rain-shortened no-hitter. He'll need to work on his control this season, as he walked 46 in 128 innings. Fellow righty Robert Whitenack throws a knuckle-curve and is the only player ever drafted out of SUNY-Old Westbury. He's an extreme groundball pitcher who threw well for Daytona last season after a mid-season promotion from Peoria.
The Cubs got right-hander Brett Wallach in the Ted Lilly trade. He's had problems throwing strikes, but the Cubs think they can fix the flaws in his delivery, much as they did with Chris Archer. He's a work in progress and he'll have a long leash this season.
There are some exciting arms in the Daytona bullpen this season as well. Aaron Kurcz was the top pro prospect coming out of the College of Southern Nevada last season, a reliever with a 93-95 and a sharp breaking curve. (Wait. I'm being told Kurcz was actually the second-best prospect out of Southern Nevada last season.) He dominated Boise last season to a tune of a 2.05 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 26 innings. He did walk 11, so his control is something to watch. Kurcz also has the makings of a solid changeup, so it's not out of the question that the Cubs move him to the rotation.
Another promising reliever is Kevin Rhoderick. The ninth-round pick out of Oregon State signed too late last year season to make his professional debut, but he'll pitch for Daytona this year. Lefty Jeffrey Beliveau struck out an amazing 97 batters in 64 innings between Peoria and Daytona.
Catcher: Chad Noble has a strong defensive reputation and was a 37th round pick out of Northwestern last year. He struggled hitting in rookie ball, but he's essentially skipping two levels to get to Daytona.
Catcher Michael Brenly probably deserved to be promoted to Tennessee, but he's blocked by other catchers in the organization. You're probably already pretty familiar with him from other sources.
Infielders: Third baseman Matt Cerda is a little guy with plus makeup and a great hitting stroke. He's also got surprising power for someone so small, although probably not the kind of power you're looking for in a third baseman. His bat would play better at second base, but his glove plays better at third. He might end up being a super-utility player.
Second baseman Logan Watkins had a "blah" year in Peoria last season, but he's still young and very athletic. He's good enough defensively to play shortstop, and now that Hak-Ju Lee is gone, he may get some time there again.
Junior Lake is a big infielder with a tremendous arm and good power potential. Unfortunately, he just doesn't make enough contact. He's a shortstop for now, but his long-term position is probably third base.
First baseman Justin Bour is a huge, left-handed slugging first baseman. He hit pretty well for Peoria last season (.291 with a .375 OBP and a .436 SLG) and if he does that again this year, he's going to start showing up on top prospect lists.
Outfielders: Right fielder Jae-Hoon Ha can flat-out hit the ball. He hit .317 in Peoria last season and he has decent gap power. He's also got a strong arm and should be an excellent defensive right fielder. What he really can't do yet is take a walk. His speed is also just average.
Center fielder Evan Crawford is a speedster who came over from the Giants in the Mike Fontenot trade. He struggled last season and strikes out more than you'd like in a lead-off hitter. Nelson Perez has good power, but strikes out more than you'd like in anybody. He'll need to make more contact to make the majors.
Finally, outfielder Michael Burgess was the prize from Washington in the Tom Gorzelanny trade. He's a left-hander with tremendous power potential and projects as a "three-true-outcomes" guy. (Walk, strikeout, home run.) A former first-round sandwich pick, Burgess has struggled with conditioning in the past, and he's going to have to work hard to keep his weight down. But if he can stay in shape and lay off bad pitches, he's potentially a 30-40 HR guy. Those are two big "ifs" however.
Hope you make it out to see the Cubs farmhands play this season. If you do, be sure to tell everyone what you saw!