Kingsburg, California -- Somehow it's fitting on the second-to-last day of spring training that Al takes the day off like the rest of the Cubs starters and calls me up from the minor leagues to take over the recapping duties for today's game. (Just to be clear: Al isn't slacking. He's driving home to Chicago.) So like Jay Jackson getting today's start, I'm handling the recap duties for today. Like almost all of the rest of you, I just listened to Len Kasper and Mick Gillispie call the game on the internet.
Speaking of Jackson, today we got a pretty good look at what he's become. Just a few years ago he was one of the top prospects in the Cubs system, but after a few injuries, a suspension (for what, we don't know) and the Cubs moving him back and forth between the pen and the rotation, he's fallen off the radar. He's no longer one of my Top 30 prospects.
But if you combine Jackson's pitching, and impressive outing by the bullpen, some timely hitting and some poor defense by Arizona, you get an 8-3 Cubs victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Jackson was facing a Diamondbacks lineup that was made up mostly of Diamondback regulars and held his own but didn't impress. He pitched well enough in his first three innings until getting hammered for back-to-back home runs in his fourth and final inning. He'll head back to Iowa this week and as Len and Mick said, Iowa looks to be loaded this season. Really for the first time in memory. Jackson had the stuff to succeed in the majors, but he never had the consistency and now some of that stuff is gone. He will try to resurrect his career there.
The Cubs hitters also faced a minor league starter, but in this case it was the Diamondbacks #9 prospect (according to Baseball America) Patrick Corbin. The Cubs got to Corbin early in first inning with a two-run inning highlighted by a Starlin Castro double, but then Corbin shut down the Cubs until the sixth inning afer Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson pulled the starters and the backups had trouble catching the ball. That opened up a five-run inning for the Cubs and they never looked back.
After the Cubs took the lead, the Cubs bullpen of Kerry Wood, Esmailin Caridad, Blake Parker and Manuel Corpas held the Diamondbacks (or what was left of them) without a hit until Lendy Castillo gave up two hits in the ninth, but no runs because of a double play. I think it's clear now that Corpas should make this team. It's less clear what should be done with Castillo because he should be working on his craft in Double-A. Maybe a deal can be worked out, but the Phillies have to be asking why they should give up on him. The Cubs may have to carry him until he can hit the disabled list with an "injury."
Finally, Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney were the hitting heroes today. Castro had two doubles and a sacrifice fly and was hitting the ball with authority all day. Barney had another two hits and a double today, which is his tenth double of the spring. There have been a lot of studies about spring training stats and almost all of them say they're meaningless. One exception found a correlation between an increase in power in the spring and a regular season surge of power. Of course, since that study was done by examining the early 00's, I'm not sure we want to go citing it too much. But from all accounts, Barney does look stronger this spring. If this power increase turns out to be real, Barney could end up being a decent major league regular.
This was also the last game for Smokies announcer Mick Gillispie, who returns to Double-A Tennessee almost like any other hot prospect. I've had the pleasure of listening to Mick call Smokies games for a while now and he's one of the best around. (As is Nate Baliva down in Peoria.) So give him and the Smokies team a listen some time this summer.
And like Mick handing the mike back to Len Kasper, Al will be back in Chicago tomorrow and I'll start covering the minor leagues for you.