This is the third of my previews of the four Cubs full-season minor league teams. It's also likely to be the shortest of the four previews since I think that most of you are pretty familiar with the players on the Iowa Cubs.
If the Tennessee Smokies are loaded with prospects, the Iowa Cubs are not. It has been the pattern of the Cubs organization to keep the top prospects in Double-A and load up Iowa with minor league veterans who can come to Chicago at a moment's notice. There is some sense to having several veterans at Triple-A. If a major league player goes on the disabled list and is expected to return quickly, you don't want to disrupt the development of your top prospects by calling them up to the majors and having them sit on the bench. I think the Cubs maybe go a little overboard on this, but it hasn't seemed to hurt the development of Starlin Castro or Tyler Colvin, neither of whom ever played Triple-A baseball. Andrew Cashner only threw 21 innings for the I-Cubs.
In case you don't know, the Iowa Cubs have been the Cubs Triple-A franchise since 1981. Only Omaha (Royals) and Pawtucket (Red Sox) have been affiliated with the same club longer.
The Iowa Cubs play in the Pacific Coast League. Deal with it.
However, there are a few names to watch this summer in Des Moines. After the jump, a look at the Opening Day Roster.
There are two players who aren't here in Iowa, and I'm going to address them first because I'm sure most of you will notice they're not here. Neither catcher Welington Castillo nor right-handed pitcher Jay Jackson are currently on the Iowa Cubs roster. Both of them are staying in Mesa for extended spring training as they deal with injuries. Castillo apparently has a minor hand issue that's supposed to keep him out for 7-10 days. I don't know what's wrong with Jackson, except that I know that his velocity was way down this spring. I'm hoping it's just a matter of building up arm strength.
Coaching Staff: The I-Cubs are led this season by Bill Dancy, a minor league veteran who is in his second season in the Cub organization after managing the Smokies last season. Dancy has been managing in the minors since 1979, and one of his players on his first team was Ryne Sandberg, the man he's replacing as Iowa manager. His 1604 minor league victories ranks him fourth among all active managers.
Iowa's hitting coach is Von Joshua, who has been the Iowa hitting coach for the past six seasons, except for a short detour for part of the season in 2009 when he was the hitting coach in Chicago. The pitching coach for the past four seasons in Iowa is former Cub hurler Mike Mason.
Pitching: Normally I lead with the starters, but the best prospect on the Iowa Cubs this season is Chris Carpenter, otherwise known as "The Good Chris Carpenter." Carpenter has been a starter in the Cub system previously, but last fall he was pitched in relief in the Arizona Fall League. In relief, he added about five miles per hour onto his fastball and was regularly clocking in at 97 mph. He even hit 100 on the gun once. There were a lot of other factors that played into the decision to convert him to the pen as well. While he has been generally healthy for the Cubs, he had a lot of arm problems at Kent State. While he has a decent slider (or maybe a "slurve"), his changeup has lagged behind his other two pitches. And finally, the Cubs are just a lot more likely to need his help in the bullpen.
I don't know if Carpenter is going to start out the season as the closer and even if he does, I imagine that Esmailin Caridad will get some save chances. But he does have closer heat. If Carpenter pitches well to start this season, he could be in the bullpen in Wrigley by June.
The starting pitchers for Iowa are names you are probably already quite familiar with. Thomas Diamond will get the opening day start. Casey Coleman (assuming he doesn't get called up to Chicago to replace Andrew Cashner) will follow him. I've said this before: Coleman might not throw hard, but he throws smart. The Cubs signed former Mariner farmhand Austin Bibens-Dirkx out of the Independent Leagues in 2009 and he's pitched well for them ever since. His fastball tops out around 90-92, but it has good movement. He's also got a decent slider. He's not a great prospect and he's probably a bullpen arm if he does make the majors, but he's a really nice guy to have in Iowa.
The Cubs got Robert Coello from the Red Sox this spring. After getting shelled in his major league debut, he pitched pretty well for Boston last September. He'll be starting for Iowa, at least until Jay Jackson gets healthy, but his major league future is definitely in the pen. He combines a low 90s fastball with a forkball.
At this point, J.R. Mathes is as much an Iowa summer institution as RAGBRAI. This will be Mathes fifth season with the I-Cubs. He's the only lefty in the rotation.
Catchers: The catchers on the I-Cubs are Max Ramirez and Chris Robinson. Robinson isn't much of a prospect at this point, but he's a much better player than Neifi Perez, who we traded for Robinson back in 2006. He'd be an emergency option in Chicago.
Infielders: Third baseman Marquez Smith gets a lot of love around here, and there's a lot to like. His glove is decent enough to play 2B in a pinch. He's got some power and he hit .314 last season. However, he's already 26 years old and he's mostly a dead fastball hitter. He might have some use in the majors as a utility player.
Matt Camp is definitely a utility guy. He's an energy guy with speed and no power. He'll play all over the diamond for Iowa. Shortstop Jonathan Mota is a great glove, but he's never hit anywhere in the minors.
You already know who Bobby Scales is. He's a great example of an organizational guy who has a job because he's a great teammate. He's really not a bad player for Triple-A either, although at 33 years old he's clearly not a prospect.
Scott Moore is one of two I-Cubs this season returning after a stint in the Orioles organization. He last played for Iowa in 2007.
Outfielders: Left fielder Bryan LaHair tied for the I-Cub team lead in home runs last season at 25. At 28 he's really not a prospect anymore, and he was decidedly mediocre in his stint with the Mariners in 2008. But he's got very good power and he hit .308 for the Cubs last season. The odds are against it, but I wouldn't rule out a chance for him to be a bat off the bench for the Cubs. Matt Stairs didn't get his major league career going until he was 28 either.
Fernando Perez is a Ivy League-educated poet, writer and pretty funny guy. He's also pretty fast. He'll need to hit better than he did in spring training to get back to the majors. Tony Campana is a little guy with tremendous speed. Still only 25, he hit .319 with a .378 OBP for Tennessee last year. His game is a lot like Perez or the recently-departed Sam Fuld.
Lou Montanez is also returning to Iowa for the first time since 2006. Ty Wright is a corner outfielder with some power, but not really enough power to be a right-handed corner outfielder in the major leagues. He struggled at Iowa last season after a mid-season promotion from Double-A.
We'll finish the previews tomorrow with the Daytona Cubs, the Cubs High-A team in the Florida State League.