Keep your children and pets indoors, Des Moines. Even on sunny days, use a reinforced umbrella wherever you go. Actually, especially on sunny days. Empty your bank account and invest in a local car glass franchise. Javier Baez is in town.
Baez is easily the most hyped prospect in the Cubs system since Mark Prior and maybe the most hyped position player prospect ever. Corey Patterson was ranked as high, but back then most fans paid a lot less attention to the minor leagues. Baez, of course, is planning on not suffering the same fate as those two heralded Cubs prospects of years past.
There's not a lot I can tell you about Baez that you probably don't already know. You likely already know about his bat speed through the hitting zone, which rivals Gary Sheffield. He attempts to commit a felony on the baseball every time he swings the bat. In a recent online chat, someone asked Keith Law if maybe Baez could maybe not swing so hard everytime and then he'd maybe make more contact. Law said you might as well ask him to not be Puerto Rican. That violent, whip-fast swing is who he is. The good news is that he has tremendous plate coverage, so there aren't many pitches he can't drive with authority. He did get more patient at the plate as last season went on. He'll never be a high OBP guy, but he'll learn to lay off enough pitches that his on-base skills won't be a liability.
As a shortstop, he's got all the tools to be a superior defensive player, but his aggressiveness often works against him in the field. Sometimes he'll rev up his strong arm and let it rip, leading to disastrous consequences.
At media day yesterday, he said "I feel like I'm ready, but I honestly know that I've got to work on more stuff." That quote shows not only Baez's confidence bordering on cockiness, but also his work ethic and willingness to learn.
So how long is he going to be down in Des Moines? It's going to depend on how well he does in Iowa, of course, but I don't think they're going to rush him. He certainly won't be up before the cutoff for super two status, which will likely be sometime in late May or early June. But I doubt he'll get the call even then. I'd expect to see him in Wrigley sometime after the trading deadline, assuming everything goes right.
But there are other players in Des Moines. Some of them are actually good prospects. A lot of them you are already pretty familiar with because they have major league experience.
I've been writing about the Cubs minor league system since 2007, and since then there usually hasn't been a lot to say about Iowa. But this season, there are several legitimate prospects on the I-Cubs and there is more to see here than just Javy Baez.
The Iowa Cubs are led by Marty Pevey, who is now in his second season as the Iowa manager and his seventh season in the Cubs organization. Last year Iowa went 66-78, which doesn't sound good but it was only four games out of the division title. The hitting coach is Bryan Harper, who returns from last season. He managed Tennessee and Daytona before becoming the I-Cubs hitting coach. Bruce Walton is the new Iowa pitching coach. Most recently, he was the pitching coach for the Toronto Blue Jays from 2010-12.
The opening night starter tonight is Chris Rusin, whom I probably don't need to tell you much about since he's made 20 starts for Chicago. He's a left-handed curveball specialist who not only profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter, he already is a back-of-the-rotation starter and is only pitching for Des Moines because he still has options.
The game two starter is right-hander Carlos Pimentel, whom the Cubs signed as a minor league free agent from the Rangers organization. Last year between Double-A and Triple-A, Pimentel went 8-7 with a 3.87 ERA. He struck out 133 and walked 44 over 128 innings.
The third starter for Iowa is last year's Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Kyle Hendricks. He's a control specialist with a below-average fastball and an average changeup and curve. The stuff won't wow anyone, but he knows how to use it and he's pretty fearless. I've heard Dillon Gee as a comp and if he turns into a pitcher like Gee, we'd all be pretty happy.
Left-hander Eric Jokisch is pronounced "YO-kisch," so don't go around pronouncing it like a homonym for Jock Itch. The central Illinois native is also a Northwestern alum, so his Illinois roots go deep. He threw a no-hitter for the Smokies last season. He's another finesse lefty who needs to be perfect to succeed. He did strike out 137 batters in 160 innings last year for the Smokies. He'll start game four.
The fifth and final member of the rotation is Tsuyoshi Wada, After a nine-year career in Japan, Wada signed with the Orioles before the 2012 season and promptly needed Tommy John surgery. He pitched in Triple-A Norfolk last season.
Coming back to Iowa is the I-Cubs all-time career saves leader, Blake Parker. Parker was very good for the Cubs in the majors last season and likely the only reason he's here is that he has options and other guys don't. He'll return to Wrigley as soon as there is an injury.
Marcos Mateo was taken by the Diamondbacks in the Rule 5 draft this offseason, but he didn't make their bullpen and now he's back for his fourth season in Iowa. He had 23 innings in Chicago in 2011. Right-hander Marcus Hatley throws hard and strikes out a lot of batters, but he also walks a lot of batters which is why he's in Iowa and not Chicago. He's hoping to find some better control in now his third season in Iowa.
Zac Rosscup is the I-Cubs left-hander in the bullpen. He also strikes out a lot of hitters and walks too many of them. Yoanner Negrin is a Cuban who served as a swingman for Iowa last year, making 14 starts and 20 relief appearances.
I really don't need to tell you who Casey Coleman is by now, do I?
I've already covered Javier Baez, who is going to get most of the attention on the team, but second baseman Arismendy Alcantara is a strong major league prospect as well. He's a second baseman with good power and speed. In Tennessee last year, Alcantara hit .271/.352/.451 with 15 home runs and 31 steals. He became a much more patient hitter last season, upping his walk total from 19 in 331 AB for Daytona in 2012 to 62 in 494 AB last season. With that increased patience came an increase in strikeouts as well, so that is something to be on the lookout for.
Alcantara could push Barney out of a job sooner rather than later, although again, I'm sure the Cubs will wait until after the arbitration deadline has passed. He may not stay at second base, however, as Castro or Baez might have to move their first. In such a case. Alcantara could transition to center field.
The other top prospect in the infield is third baseman Christian Villanueva. He's a superior defensive third baseman whose power took a step forward last season. He led the Southern League in doubles last season with 41 and he even chipped in 19 home runs in 490 AB. He does strike out a lot and he'll likely always be a low-OBP guy. But a lot of teams would live with that if he brings along his glove and doubles power. The Rangers traded him to Chicago because he was being blocked by not only Adrian Beltre, but Mike Olt as well. Now with the Cubs, he's being blocked by Olt again. But he should be ready to step in this season if Olt falters.
Heading into the 2009 season, first baseman Lars Anderson was the top prospect in the Red Sox system. Since then, it's been pretty much all downhill, thus proving that teams other than the Cubs are sometimes disappointed by their top prospects. He was supposed to be a left-handed first baseman who could hit for average and power, as well as walk a lot. As it turned out, drawing a lot of walks was the only thing he really could do as he moved up in the Red Sox system. Since the Red Sox finally gave up on him and traded him to Cleveland at the 2012 trade deadline, he's been employed by the Indians, Diamondbacks, White Sox, Blue Jays and White Sox again. The White Sox released him mid-season last year after he hit .194 with 2 home runs in Triple-A. He'll try to become the next Bryan LaHair as he attempts to revive his career in Iowa.
Logan Watkins got the honor of sitting on the bench at Wrigley Field for half a season last year, thanks to Dale Sveum. Presumably he'll get to play more in Triple-A. He can also play the outfield. Chris Valaika will also serve in a utility role in Iowa. I-Cubs veteran Edgar Gonzalez. Adrian's big brother, starts the season on the disabled list.
The outfield is full of four names you are likely already familiar with. Brett Jackson is back in Iowa after a disastrous 2013 season. He's junked the well-publicized 'swing rebuild" of 2013 and gone back to hitting the way he always had. He'll hope that he can make enough contact to get back to the majors and as you know, that's all that's keeping him from being a solid major league player. Of course, that's a pretty big thing to not be able to do.
Josh Vitters was just injured all last season. He's still got to work on his selectivity and stop swinging at anything in the strike zone and wait for a pitch to drive. His line drive swing isn't likely to generate 30 to 40 home runs at this point, but if he can put it together there's still a chance he could be a high-average hitter who doesn't walk much and hits a ton of doubles in addition to 20-25 home runs. That's a big "if" about putting it all together though. Vitters has been told about his selectivity problems from his first days in the minors, and he still hasn't been able to change.
Matt Szczur opened a lot of eyes in spring training with several great defensive plays in the outfield. But he didn't match that stellar performance at the plate, which is a big reason why he's here in Iowa. Szczur will have to demonstrate that he can get on base often enough and to use his speed better before he'll get the call to the majors. If he can do that, he's going to have a long career as a fourth outfielder.
Oh, and if you still haven't seen the story about the little girl whose life he saved by being a bone marrow donor, watch it now.
Chris Coghlan was the 2009 NL Rookie of the Year. This spring, he got beat out for the last outfielder spot by Ryan Kalish. If Kalish falters, the two of them will switch places.
I've given the catchers in the system short-shrift, but only because there's not a lot interesting here. Luis Flores is back in Iowa after hitting .204/.295/.325 last season. He'll split time with veteran backup catcher Eli Whiteside.