The Pacific Coast League schedule doesn’t end for another week, but Iowa can rest easy. The I-Cubs topped Oklahoma, 5-3, on Sunday night, upping their lead over Memphis (St. Louis’ Triple-A affiliate) to nine games and securing their first playoff berth since 2004. With the division title, Iowa hosts the first two games of the first round of the playoffs on Sept. 3-4 at Principal Park.
The roster will be gutted by September call-ups, so let’s take a look at some of the players who will be on the big-league radar over the next week.
C Koyie Hill (pictured, .275, 16 HRs, 63 RBIs): Hill is an ex-Dodger, Diamondback and Yankee prospect whose big-league highlight may have come in Spring Training six years ago when he took Roger Clemens deep, reportedly 485 deep to be exact. At 29, he’s not a prospect anymore, but he’s not exactly an organizational catcher, either. Hill hit .161 in 36 games for the Cubs last season.
Projection: No doubt he will be brought up as the Cubs’ third catcher behind All-Star Geovany Soto and sturdy veteran Henry Blanco. If Chicago can clinch the division early, Hill may see extended playing time in the final few games to rest Soto. Hill would have to be added to the 40-man roster to get called up, which shouldn’t be a problem.
1B/OF Micah Hoffpauir (.368, 23 HRs, 92 RBIs): If he had the requisite number of at-bats, Hoffpauir would rank second in the PCL in hitting. But Cubs fans already know he can hit, as he batted .378 (14-for-37) during multiple stints with the big-league club this year.
Projection: Again, a no-brainer call up for General Manager Jim Hendry. Hoffpauir’s use is as a key left-handed bat off the bench, joining veteran pinch-hitter Daryle Ward. Like Ward, he won’t get many starts at first base because of Derrek Lee, and he may be a bit of a liability defensively in the outfield.
CF Felix Pie (.288, 9 HRs, 48 RBIs): Pie was handed Chicago’s starting center field job but struggled until getting demoted in mid-May. At first, Pie continued his downturn in the Minors but scorched in July with a .373 average. He has since cooled a bit in August, hitting .290 this month.
Projection: Should be called up just to keep his confidence from tumbling. Imagine what Pie would think if he went from the club’s starting center fielder in April to useless to the team in September. Pie won’t be pushing Jim Edmonds for his platoon spot, but could see a few starts if the Cubs clinch early.
RHP Kevin Hart (2.91 ERA, five saves): Hart began the season in the Cubs’ bullpen. He was sent down to Iowa and started 10 games. He came back to the Cubs as a reliever and is now in the Iowa bullpen. It’s been a busy year for Hart to say the least.
Projection: Given the fact the Cubs switched him from starter to reliever in the last month, you’ve got to think Hendry had a plan to use Hart in relief for the stretch run. Expect him to be thrown into middle to long relief.
RHP Michael Wuertz (4.00 ERA, four saves): Like Hart, Wuertz started the year in the Chicago ‘pen. Unlike Hart, Wuertz hasn’t started a game this year.
Projection: It’d be tough to find a lot of work for Wuertz and Hart in the bullpen in September, but you can never have enough arms. There’s no reason not have him in Chicago.
RHP Angel Guzman (1-0, 1.80 ERA): Guzman has worked his way up quickly and impressively from a rookie league to Triple-A since the All-Star break in his comeback from elbow surgery. In two Iowa appearances, he has given up one earned run in five innings, striking out five and walking one. In five outings among Class A Daytona, Double-A Tennessee and Iowa, Guzman has a 1.18 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 13 innings.
Projection: Guzman has passed every test in his rehabilitation, and there’s only one more promotion left. Imagine the collective head scratches from Cubs fans the next time Guzman pitches in Wrigley Field; he had been all but forgotten about. If anyone has something to prove in the final month, it’s Guzman. He’s pitching to reclaim the roster spot he earned to start the 2007 season.
Note: RHP Jon Lieber (baseball’s version of a healthy inactive) and RHP Chad Fox (rehabbing in Arizona) are likely to be activated from the disabled list to rejoin the team in the final month.
— Nick Zaccardi