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Cubs sign Ian Miller, 4 others to minor-league contracts

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It’s not big Cubs news. But it is news.

Ian Miller on base during Spring Training 2020
Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

While everyone else was paying attention to the Cubs news this week that Jed Hoyer would replace Theo Epstein as President of Baseball Operations, the team quietly signed five players to minor-league deals.

The guy you’ve heard of before is Ian Miller, who had played in 12 MLB games in 2019 for the Twins. He was assigned to the Cubs’ alternate site in South Bend after hitting .350/.450/.4757 (13-for-35) in Spring Training with eight stolen bases in 20 games.

Miller was called up from the alternate site August 23, appeared as a pinch runner in the game that day against the White Sox, was optioned back to South Bend August 25 and designated for assignment August 31. He cleared waivers and returned to the alternate site September 3, and eventually became a minor-league free agent.

His signing gives the Cubs another bench option, if there’s room for a pinch-runner/defensive replacement type. Miller is 28 years old.

Here are the other four minor leaguers signed this week.

Rafael Ortega, a lefthanded-hitting outfielder, has played 143 big-league games spread over four seasons (2012, 2016, 2018-19) with the Rockies, Angels, Marlins and Braves, hitting .229/.287/.290 (94-for-410) with 17 stolen bases. He’s 29 and was in the Braves organization in 2020 but did not play in the major leagues.

Taylor Gushue, a catcher, was the Pirates’ fourth-round pick in 2014 out of the University of Florida. He has never played in the major leagues and was acquired by the Nationals in September 2016 in a minor-league deal. He turns 27 next month.

Jerry Vasto, a lefthanded pitcher, was in the Cubs organization in 2019 after he was claimed on waivers from the Royals in October 2018, though he did not pitch for any Cubs affiliate that year due to injury. He’s 28 and became a minor-league free agent earlier this month and the Cubs re-signed him. He’s pitched in six big-league games for the Rockies and Royals without much success (8.31 ERA, 1.846 WHIP).

Jake Jewell, a righthanded pitcher, was the Angels’ fifth-round pick in 2014 out of Northeast Oklahoma A&M College. He’s 27 and pitched in 21 games for the Angels in 2018 and 2019 without much success (6.99 ERA, 1.376 WHIP). Like Vasto, he became a minor-league free agent earlier this month.

None of these signings is going to move the needle for the Cubs very much; these players will all likely spend most or all of 2021 at Triple-A Iowa. But I thought you would like to know about them.