The fifth Cubs minor league team takes the field tonight for the first time this season. The Boise Hawks are the Cubs short-season A team that plays in the Northwest League. Last year, the Hawks fell just short of a league title, losing to the Vancouver Canadians in the Championship Series,, two games to one. Come to think of it, that's exactly the same way the 2012 season ended as well.
The Hawks are managed by Gary Van Tol, who is back for his second season as the Hawks skipper. Replacing the retired Bill Buckner as hitting coach is Jesus Feliciano, who's 16 year career in the minor leagues with the Dodgers, Rays, Nationals and Mets ended last season. He did play 54 games with the major league Mets in 2010. The new pitching coach is Brian Lawrence, who made 152 major league starts, mostly with the Padres. He comes over to the Cubs organization after serving as the pitching coach for the Padres High-A affiliate in Lake Elsinore last season.
The Hawks don't have a lot of big names yet, as the Cubs top draft picks are just signing now. But they do have a big one, in more ways than one, in Cubs first round pick Kyle Schwarber. We've discussed Schwarber a lot around here already in the past week, so there isn't much point in going over him again. Let's just say we all expect him to provide a lot of thump in the lineup, even if we need to remember that he's not Kris Bryant and we shouldn't expect him to repeat what Bryant did last season. Schwarber is listed as a catcher and will catch in Boise, but the assumption is that he will play the outfield some as well.
Beyond Schwarber, the most interesting players on the Hawks are mostly on the mound. The biggest name here is Ben Wells, who has been a Baseball America Top 30 Cubs prospect since he signed an overslot bonus in 2010. Wells was a member of Daytona's incredible 2013 rotation, but he started this season back in Daytona and he couldn't find the plate. He'll try to get find his delivery and his control back in Boise, where he last pitched in 2011.
One thing you will notice about this team is that it has a heavy Venezuelan presence. After Wells, two of the more intriguing arms are two Venezuelans that I know very, very little about. Francisco Carrillo and Greyfer Eregua both pitched for the Cubs Venezuelan Summer League team last year and both posted some impressive numbers, especially with their strikeout-to-walk ratios. (Carrillo struck out 53 and walked five while Eregua struck out 42 and walked three.) At 20, I'd presume Eregua is the better prospect over the 24 year old Carrillo, but pitchers don't necessarily have the same aging curve as position players.
Josh Conway is another pitcher that I'm looking forward to seeing. The Cubs took Conway in the 4th round of the 2012 draft knowing he'd need Tommy John surgery. He's going to finally make his professional debut in Boise. I expect the Cubs will make a reliever out of Conway as he eases his way back onto the mound.
Ryan McNeil is another former high draft pick (3rd round in 2012) who missed all of last season with Tommy John surgery.
Erick Leal is another Venezuelan pitcher that a lot of observers have been interested in since the Cubs picked him up from Arizona last year in the Tony Campana trade. He pitched very well for the Cubs Arizona rookie league team last year.
Scott Frazier and the two Treys, Trey Lang and Trey Masek, are repeating Boise again this season. Trevor Graham is making his Boise debut, but he pitched well for Daytona in a short stint there earlier this season. Tyler Ihrig didn't pitch as well in his Daytona stint. David Garner was one of the better pitchers in the Big 10 with Michigan State in 2013.
Schwarber will have to split catching duties with Mark Malave, who is making his US debut after signing with the Cubs out of Venezuela for $1.6 million in 2011.
The most experienced infielder on the Hawks is shortstop Giuseppe Papaccio, who skipped Boise last season and went straight to Kane County, where he did OK. He's in Boise after being overmatched in Daytona earlier this year.
Second baseman David Bote played for Boise last year. He's back after struggling in Kane County earlier this year. First baseman Danny Canela did well in a short stint in KC earlier this year, but he is 23 years old already.
Third baseman Jesse Hodges actually played for the Hawks last season, but he'd never been to Boise before this week. Hodges is from British Columbia and played for the Hawks on their trip to Vancouver last year, filling in for players who couldn't cross the border for one reason or another.
Outfielder speedster Jeffrey Baez closes out the Venezuelans on the team. He'll need to get on base a lot for Schwarber. Oliver Zapata spent the past two seasons in the Midwest League. He's back in Boise for the first time since 2011 and will try to provide the lineup with some additional thump. Kevin Brown and Rashad Crawford finish out the outfield. Brown played two games with Boise last season.
As I said earlier, this is not a prospect-heavy team at this moment. Schwarber is certainly worth the price of admission and there are interesting pitchers coming off of injuries or making their US debuts. But I have no doubt this team will get an influx of star power once more of the draft picks start signing.