Cubs System Sonogram: Rotation Vexation

Ralph Freso

A cool thing about Twitter is finding questions addressed to other people you think you can answer. That happened on Monday; it was about how the Cubs might fill the rotations throughout the system this year.

On Monday, someone Tweeted a question regarding the Cubs minor league rotations for 2013. They didn't ask me, but that doesn't usually stop me from answering. I figured I had some hunches, and it felt like I could learn my blind spots from trying. It went fairly well.

Triple-A Iowa Cubs: It looks like the starters in Iowa are as set in stone as anywhere. Brooks Raley, Chris Rusin, Barrett Loux, Alberto Cabrera, and Nick Struck ought to get the ball every fifth day. I'm comfortable projecting those five in Iowa.

Double-A Tennessee Smokies: Paul Jokisch is a lefty from Northwestern. His radar numbers aren't especially exciting, but had a Double-A WHIP just over one. As players get called up, Jokisch might be the first to visit Triple-A Iowa. Dae-Eun Rhee is from Korea, and started 26 times in Tennessee in 2012. Rhee's numbers aren't Jokisch-good, but he deserves a repeat try in the Southern League. Dallas Beeler started 27 times in Tennessee last season, with somewhat ordinary numbers. 2013 would be Beeler's third try in the Southern League. Robert Whitenack had zoomed to Tennessee in 2011 before needing Tommy John surgery. After a season rehabbing in High-A Daytona, I see Whitenack (who is on the Cubs 40 Man roster) in Tennessee. Austin Kirk might well round out the Smokies rotation. Kirk had four starts at the end of 2012 in the Southern League. He went 2-0, 3.09, which would indicate Kirk might get another try in Tennessee. Last but not least, Kyle Hendricks came over from Texas in the Ryan Dempster trade. He will oust one of the above in this race.

High-A Daytona Cubs: In the Florida State League, the starting rotation ends up being larger than five. Some pitchers will start every five days. Some will 'piggy-back' with another pitcher, with both going about four innings. I will lead off the D-Cubs rotation with Pierce Johnson, a 2012 first-round supplemental pick, drafted as compensation for Aramis Ramirez. Johnson has a three pitch mix, with a 93 mile per hour fastball, a breaking ball, and a change. When pitchers start getting moved up, look for Johnson to climb the ladder.

As Starling Peralta has been returned from the Arizona Diamondbacks in Rule 5 chicanery, he will be in line to start in Daytona. Juan Carlos Paniagua ought to start in High-A Daytona or Low-A Kane County. I'll place him here, though he may not yet be in camp, possibly due to proof of identity issues. Michael Jensen was Peoria's best starter last season, and belongs in High-A. Jose Rosario was leading the Midwest League in strikeouts in 2012 until he was shut down due to injury. If healthy, Rosario belongs in the Florida State League. Marcelo Carreno was the PTBNL for Jeff Baker, and figures to jump to Daytona when healthy. Some holdovers from last season's squad might be Frank del Valle, P.J. Francescon, and Matt Loosen.

Low-A Kane County Cougars: Three Boise Hawks from 2012 look to jump to the newest Cubs affiliate in Kane County. Jose Arias, Tayler Scott, and Felix Pena look to start, or at least piggy-back, for the Cougars. One or two of the projected Daytona Cubs may initially start here. 2012 fourth round selection Josh Conway figures to start in the Midwest League, as may a few later-round 2012 selections that perform well in March in Mesa. Ben Wells figures to get more innings this season, as might Zach Cates if he is throwing strikes. Dillon Maples may start here this season, or he may come to Geneva, Illinois in the middle of the season.

I'm confident I'll miss on a few, but there is a ballpark guess.

***

Here's the Three Up/Three Down section, where I mention which prospects are doing well, and which ones are having difficulties.

Three Up

1. Javier Baez and Jorge Soler. As much as I had looked forward to listening to them this spring, they have exceeded my hopes. They make bad swings on off-speed stuff, and Baez hopefully will learn that if he takes the first pitch, he will be given another afterward. I saw Baez botch three routine grounders in a game last season, but he's been better with the glove so far in 2013. Soler has the basics down better than many big league Cubs of the past decades, and he hasn't reached High-A Daytona yet. I'm very much enjoying their progress.

2. Hector Rondon. As per my rules, he is a prospect until he gets to 30 innings, and I expect he will carry the pink backpack of sugar in Pittsburgh. (The reliever with the least MLB seniority carries the pink backpack filled with sunflower seeds and other snacks out to the bullpen, in a case of gentle hazing.) That Al thinks he even (gasp) belongs is a reason for his inclusion.

3. Dan Vogelbach. Not only did his two pre-season trips both last six pitches at least (walk and a strikeout), he's also taking grounders at third. I'll see him in Beloit in April.

Three Down

1. The aforementioned Triple-A Iowa rotation. While Chris Rusin might challenge for a bullpen spot due to his solid spring, the other four have been hit fairly hard. My hopes to watch Iowa games the day after rests on the games being worth the watch. If the starter isn't surviving the third inning in the Pacific Coast League, I might only watch the hitters in I-Cubs games.

2. Junior Lake is injured. He broke a rib, and will be back in late April or early May. Injuries will be a sad feature of Three Down. He replaces Dillon Maples, who was reported as injured, then pitched the next day.

3. Logan Watkins. The Cubs' 2012 hitter of the year in the minors hasn't done much in spring training yet. Historically, he has started slow, and that trend continues.

4. Albert Almora. This article was completed when the Twitterverse broke over Almora's broken hamate bone, so there's a fourth to add to the "three down". Dustin Geiger had the same procedure, and the same doctor, last season. He rebounded with 17 homers after returning. Yes, I will update Almora's recovery.

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