The MLB Draft is now over and that means it's time for the Eugene Emeralds to take the field. The Emeralds are the Cubs Short-Season A team that plays in the Northwest League. The start their season Friday night at PK Park against the Boise Hawks, the Rockies affiliate (and former Cubs affiliate). PK Park is also the home of the Oregon Ducks baseball team and is considered a state-of-the-art facility.
The Ems, as they are often called, had two big pieces of news this week. The first is that the Cubs and the Ems have extended their Player Development Contract (PDC) until 2018. So the Ems will be a Cubs affiliate for at least the next three seasons.
The other big news, which will affect many of you, is that the Ems are going to make all their games available on milb.tv! So if you're a subscriber to the minor league video package, you will now be able to watch all the home games of the top five minor league affiliates.
The Cubs rookie league team that plays at Sloan Park in the Arizona League, starts on Monday. I don't cover them as much around here because their roster changes so much and it's really not any different than extended Spring Training, except that they keep score now. Also, I'm not located in Arizona and it's very hard to get any information out of there unless you're sitting in the stands as there is no media coverage.
Who is in charge? The Ems, like the rest of the Cubs minor league system, have gotten an extra coach, as every team now has a manager and an assistant manager. The new manager of the Ems is Jesus Feliciano, who played 54 games with the Mets in 2010 as well as a 15-year minor league career. Feliciano was South Bend's hitting coach last season. The Cubs have also decided that every minor league affiliate have at least one Spanish-speaking coach, and Feliciano meets that requirement.
Assisting Feliciano is assistant manager Gary Van Tol, who managed the Emeralds last season and the Boise Hawks the year before. The pitching coach is Brian Lawrence, who had the same job with South Bend last year. You may remember Lawrence from his five seasons as a starting pitcher for the Padres in from 2001 to 2005. Before joining the Cubs organization last year, he had spent a year coaching in the Padres system for their High-A affiliate in Lake Elsinore.
Finally, the hitting coach is Ty Wright, and if you're a long-time reader of the Minor League Wraps, you no doubt recognize that name. Wright was an outfielder in the Cubs system from 2007 to 2013, reaching high as Triple-A Iowa. After playing the 2014 season in independent ball, he retired from playing and joined the Cubs coaching staff as the hitting coach for the rookie ball team in Mesa last year.
Who are the pitchers? The roster for the Emeralds is going to change a lot this summer, and I especially expect a lot of turnover in the pitching staff. The Northwest League is often the first professional step for pitchers drafted out of college, and the Cubs drafted a lot of college pitchers last week. But most of them haven't signed yet and the ones that have are still undergoing physicals and other processing down in Arizona. The Cubs top pick, pitcher Tom Hatch, is still pitching for Oklahoma State in the College World Series. I expect to see Hatch in Eugene sometime this summer, but it's going to be at least a couple of weeks.
But the one pitcher that everyone wants to see in Eugene is right-hander Dylan Cease. The Cubs picked Cease in the sixth round out of high school in Georgia in 2014, after he dropped because of an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. They believed enough in his arm that they gave him a compensation round bonus of $1.5 million. After missing all of 2014, he returned to Mesa last season where the Cubs strictly limited his innings. When he did pitch,the reports were that his fastball was sitting 96-97 mph and he flashed an impressive curve. Obviously the Cubs are still going to be cautious with Cease and his control was still something he needed to work on last year and will likely need to still work on this season. But Cease is a guy with top-of-the-rotation potential.
Another interesting pitcher in Eugene is lefty Bryan Hudson, last year's third-round selection. Hudson is huge at 6'8", but his fastball is only 91-93 mph. Instead, Hudson relies on a curveball with a monster break and exceptional command for a pitcher who just turned 19 last month.
Left-hander Justin Steele joins the Ems after starting the season in South Bend and struggling there. He was quite successful in Eugene last year (2.66 ERA in ten starts) so he'll be looking to reclaim whatever worked for him last year.
Over three years ago, the Cubs got right-hander Jesus Castillo, along with Erick Leal, from the Diamondbacks in exchange for Tony Campana. Still only 20, he reaches Eugene after spending the past two years in Mesa. He's probably a reliever, but he's shown some promise with his changeup.
Mark Malave is a converted catcher looking to make it as a reliever. Alex Santana had some success out of the bullpen for South Bend last season, but he's back in Eugene to start this season. The Cubs got left-hander Manuel Rondon from the Angels for catcher Rafael Lopez last season.
Who are the catchers? I'm sorry to say the catchers are not a very interesting group at the moment, but at least Alberto Mineo is only 21 and he was signed out of Italy, so that's interesting. He hit .202 in 99 at-bats in Eugene last year. He's joined by Tyler Payne and Marcus Mastrobuoni, who both struggled to hit in Mesa last year. I imagine that the recently-drafted Michael Cruz and Sam Tidaback will make it here eventually this summer.
Who are the infielders? The interesting name here is Wladimir Galindo, and not just because he has an interesting name. Galindo is a big third baseman who hit .358/.400/.522 in 19 games in Mesa last summer before getting hurt. He could be a big slugger, but he'll likely have to move off third to first base eventually.
First baseman Matt Rose can also play a little third base. He's back in Eugene after struggling in South Bend earlier this season. I don't know much about shortstop Yeiler Peguero, but he's only 18 and he's making his US debut after putting up some nice numbers in the Dominican Summer League last year. He walked more than he struck out (39 to 30) and he stole 15 bases. So he could be a leadoff hitter.
Who are the outfielders? All eyes here will be on D.J. Wilson, the Cubs fourth-round pick last year who impressed everyone who saw him in Mesa last year. Although short at 5'8", he gets rave reviews for his athleticism and speed. His wrist strength and bat speed through the hitting zone are considered very good too. He's been compared to Whie Sox outfielder Adam Eaton.
Kevonte Mitchell is another great athlete whom I was very high on coming into the 2015 season after a strong season in Mesa. But he struggled badly in Eugene last year and got sent back to Mesa. He'll try again this year.
Robert Garcia is a switch-hitter who put up some terrific numbers in Mesa last year. Over 47 games, he hit .341/.409/.445 with two home runs and 17 steals.
Who is that green guy? That's Bigfoot. He's a big Ems fan. You have a problem with that?