Regular Season: 83-59, Pacific Coast League American League North Division champions
Postseason: Lost to Oklahoma in a first-round, five-game series, 3-2.
Statistical Leaders: 1B Micah Hoffpauir (.362, 25 homers, 100 RBIs), RHP Randy Wells (10-4, 4.02 ERA, 102 Ks)
The Lowdown: The I-Cubs had a tremendously successful season, winning the division for the first time since 2004. Manager Pat Listach was named the PCL Manager of the Year and looks in line to become a prime candidate for any Major League skipper job, let alone with the Cubs if/when Lou Piniella decides to call it quits. The club boasted oodles of hitting talent, beginning with bash brothers OF Jason Dubois and Hoffpauir, who both launched 25 homers. They were balanced by base stealers OF Eric Patterson (19-for-21 stealing) and OF Andres Torres (29-for-33 stealing). OF Felix Pie, C Koyie Hill, OF Josh Kroeger, 2B Bobby Scales, SS Luis Figueroa and 3B Casey McGehee were no slouches either. The order was solid from top to bottom. The pitchers showed a string of dominance late in the season. Starters LHP J.R. Mathes, RHP Mike Burns, RHP Justin Berg and Wells aren’t huge names, but they got the job done for the most part. Ten different relievers received saves, as the bullpen was constantly morphing.
Regular Season: 62-77, (27-43 first half, 35-34 second half)
Statistical Leaders: 1B Jake Fox (.307, 25 homers, 79 RBIs), RHP Mitch Atkins (9-6, 3.76 ERA, 88 Ks)
The Lowdown: The Smokies have got to be pleased with the way they finished the season, in second place of the Southern League’s North Division after tallying the worst first-half record among the league’s 10 teams. Atkins became a big story among the Cubs’ Minor matters in the second half, as he won 12 straight decisions between Tennessee and Iowa to finish the year at 17-7 overall. Like Fox, OF Sam Fuld got a taste of the big leagues in 2007. He started 2008 in Triple-A and was demoted after hitting .222 in 20 games. Fuld went on to hit .271 in Double-A, 30 points below his average with Class A Daytona in 2007. OF Tyler Colvin, the club’s first rounder in 2006, recovered from a .238 first half to finish the year at .256.
Class A Daytona
Regular Season: 73-59, (35-35 first half, 38-24 second half)
Postseason: Florida State League champions (first round: 2-1 over Palm Beach, championship: 3-1 over Fort Myers)
Statistical Leaders: OF Ty Wright (.300, 8 homers, 72 RBIs), LHP Jayson Ruhlman (8-6, 2.84 ERA, 58 Ks)
The Lowdown: Daytona weathered the late-season storm that punched holes in its schedule to win its first outright FSL title since 2000. The Cubs didn’t clinch a playoff spot until the final day of the season. Championship series MVP 2B Tony Thomas (pictured), of Florida State fame, went 14-for-29 in the playoffs. OF Ryan Harvey, Chicago’s first-round pick in 2003, continued his plate struggles by hitting .228 in 59 games. Meanwhile, LHP Jeremy Papelbon, brother of Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, finished the season with a 35 2/3-inning scoreless streak. Papelbon was converted from a reliever to a starter near the end of the season.
Class A Peoria
Regular Season: 60-78, (30-38 first half, 30-40 second half)
Statistical Leaders: 1B Luis Bautista (.313, 13 homers, 50 RBIs), RHP Stephen Vento (7-5, 3.38 ERA, 14 saves)
The Lowdown: It was an ugly season for the Chiefs, and not solely because of the club’s record. The 2008 Peoria squad will be remembered for an infamous brawl at the Dayton Dragons on July 24. Seventeen players were suspended, and pitcher Julio Castillo was jailed. The Chiefs finished the season 9-30 after that forgettable night. Though the melee went on while he was at Hall of Fame weekend, manager Ryne Sandberg’s hopes of a big-league managerial job in the near future took a body blow as well.
Class A Boise
Regular Season: 43-33
Statistical Leaders: OF Andrew Rundle (.292, 8 homers, 36 RBIs), RHP Bubba O’Donnell (6-3, 3.97 ERA, 2 saves)
The Lowdown: Boise hosted three big names this season, C Michael Brenly, 3B Josh Vitters and RHP Andrew Cashner. Brenly, who hit .325, is the son of Cubs broadcaster Bob Brenly. Vitters, who hit .328, was the Cubs’ 2007 first-round pick. Cashner, the 2008 first rounder, went 1-1 with a 4.96 ERA before being promoted to Daytona.
— Nick Zaccardi
Cubs manager Lou Piniella announced the first round of the club’s September callups after Sunday’s loss to Philadelphia. The only head-scratching name on that list was McGehee (pictured), who’s not currently on the 40-man roster and spent parts of the last three seasons in Triple-A, yet has never played in the Majors. A September playoff chase is quite a welcome to the big leagues.
Judging by McGehee’s recent numbers, his name deserves mention. He batted over .300 the last three months (.330 in June, .314 in July, .330 in August) for Triple-A Iowa. For the season, he’s hitting .296 with 12 home runs and 92 RBIs. If you recall, he shined in Spring Training with a .405 average.
Just what will McGehee’s role be in Chicago? Minimal, like his fellow callups. He’ll join Reed Johnson, Ronny Cedeno and Henry Blanco as right-handed pinch-hitting options. Perhaps he’ll get a start or two in place of Aramis Ramirez if the Cubs can clinch home-field advantage with a few games left.
More players could be added after Iowa’s season concludes in the playoffs. Names to keep an eye on are CF Felix Pie and RHP Kevin Hart.
— Nick Zaccardi
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
CHICAGO — Updates on Colvin, Cashner and Vitters below, but first a look at the hottest team in Triple-A.
Triple-A Iowa: PCL’s best can pitch, too
Shame on the Cubs farm report for not giving enough credit to the I-Cubs’ pitching staff in recent weeks, though it has been tough to avoid the exploits of bash brothers 1B Micah Hoffpauir (23 HRs, 86 RBIs) and OF Jason Dubois (.312, 23 HRs).
We have no choice but to highlight the hurlers following this recent string of opponents’ scores: 1, 3, 0, 2, 2, 1. Of course, the Cubs are on a seven-game winning streak and have the top record in the Pacific Coast League at 77-52. LHP J.R. Mathes held New Orleans to one unearned run and four hits in seven innings to improve to 8-5 on Monday. RHP Angel Guzman (pictured), on rehab and hoping to be in Chicago in September, threw three shutout innings on Sunday and struck out three. RHP Mike Burns, who is a substitute teacher in the offseason, tossed eight shutout innings on Friday, taking New Orleans to school (OK, that line might have worked ten years ago).
Double-A Tennessee: Colvin (’06 No. 1 pick) continues his surge
OF Tyler Colvin has nine multi-hit games out of his last 11, hitting .408 and raising his average to .256 with the Smokies. The rest of the team joined in on the hit parade in Monday’s 11-2 win against the vaunted Montgomery Biscuits, whose logo mascot has a pad of butter for a tongue. C Welington Castillo and OF Sam Fuld each went 5-for-6. Simply put, the Biscuits were toast.
Class A Daytona: Papelbon takes Pitcher of the Week award
RHP Jeremy Papelbon is trying his hand as a starter, and it’s working out pretty well. Papelbon didn’t give up a run in two starts last week, earning Florida State League Player of the Week honors. In 11 innings, he allowed three hits and one walk while striking out five, running his scoreless innings streak to 32 2/3. If you recall, brother Jonathan came up through the Minors as a starter before becoming a dominant closer in Boston, just a thought for the future…
Class A Peoria: Runnin’ Rebel
1B Rebel Ridling homered again on Monday, going deep for the fourth straight day. Ridling was drafted in the 25th round two months ago, hit .366 in 19 games for Boise, then moved up to Peoria and has hit .198 in 35 games in the Midwest League.
Class A Boise: Cashner (’08 No. 1 pick), Vitters (’07 No. 1 pick) updates
RHP Andrew Cashner no-hit Spokane in four innings in arguably his first encouraging outing for the Hawks on Wednesday. In his fourth start, he pitched more than three innings for the first time, though the Cubs may just be stretching out his arm since he was a closer for Texas Christian last season.
3B Josh Vitters has a 16-game hitting streak since returning from an ankle injury and is hitting .386 in his last 10 games. Is a return trip to Peoria in his near future?
Cashner (0-1, 7.45 ERA), Vitters (.345, 4 HRs, 28 RBIs) and C Michael Brenly (.320, 13 RBIs), the three most recognizable players on the roster, will be sent to the Cubs’ Arizona Instructional League after the season.
Notes: The Cubs signed 27 of their top 29 picks from the First-Year Player Draft by Friday’s deadline before losing negotiating rights. Only RHP William Wilson (10th round) and RHP Sonny Gray (27th round) did not come to terms as of late Friday. Gray, touted by some as the next David Price, is beginning his freshman year at Vanderbilt and was so set on going to college that he told teams not to draft him, despite his top-100 talent. … Two Cubs Dominican League players, RHP Jesse Lebron and OF Alexander Mejia, have been suspended 50 games each for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
— Nick Zaccardi
CHICAGO — While the Cubs are in the South, here’s a quick take on what’s been going on with the club’s top Minor League affiliates:
Triple-A Iowa: As if there was any doubt …
… 1B Micah Hoffpauir (pictured) was named the Pacific Coast League Hitter of the Week for the games of Aug. 4-10, which should not come as much of a surprise. Hoffpauir hit four home runs on Saturday, becoming the first PCL player to accomplish the feat in 10 years. For the week, he batted .422 (12-for-27) with five homers, 11 RBIs and 11 runs scored.
Hoffpauir decompressed on Monday (0-for-3). Then, seemingly reinvigorated, he went 3-for-3 on Tuesday (Iowa slapped a 12-spot in the eighth) and smacked his 20th home run in the first inning Wednesday. September probably can’t come quick enough for Cubs GM Jim Hendry.
Double-A Tennessee: More power
Think Iowa’s 12-run inning was impressive? Take a look at the Smokies’ Wednesday box score. Tennessee plated 19 runs. C Mark Reed, a Class A All-Star activated from the disabled list on Tuesday, went 5-for-6 with 5 RBIs. 1B Jake Fox, a former Cub, hit the team’s ONLY home run, his 21st of the season. 2B Nate Spears had a 4-for-6 line with four runs.
To appease the pitchers out there, here’s an update on RHP Angel Guzman. In his first rehab start for Double-A Tennessee, he threw three scoreless innings, giving up three hits and striking out a pair on Tuesday. Coming off elbow surgery, Guzman is a candidate to rejoin the Major League team in September.
— Nick Zaccardi
CHICAGO — It’s week two of the Cubs farm report, let’s take a look around the Minors:
Triple-A Iowa: Hoffpauir makes like Mark Whiten
1B Micah Hoffpauir jacked four home runs in the I-Cubs’ 15-3 win against Round Rock on Saturday, tying the modern Pacific Coast League record. He accomplished the feat in his first four at-bats.
Felix Pie, Jason Dubois, Matt Craig and starting pitcher Mitch Atkins added homers of their own. Atkins won his 11th straight start, a run that includes five wins at Double-A Tennessee before being promoted.
Hoffpauir is making his case to be a pre-September call-up with a 13-game hitting streak entering Sunday in which he is hitting .474. For the season, he has 19 home runs and a .374 average in Triple-A and a .378 mark in 37 Major League at-bats. If he had more experience in right field, there might be clamors for him to replace the struggling Kosuke Fukudome in the big-league lineup. Either way, Hoffpauir will be in Chicago in less than a month.
Double-A Tennessee: Guzman moving up; No Olympics, no problem for Colvin
RHP Angel Guzman continues his rehab tour with the Smokies. The Venezuelan returning from elbow surgery is expected to make his third start of the season on Tuesday after two outings for Class A Daytona. Guzman gave up two earned runs and four hits in five combined innings in his first two games, striking out six and walking one. He began the 2007 season in Chicago and compiled a 3.56 ERA in 12 appearances, including three starts.
OF Tyler Colvin was not chosen for the USA Olympic baseball roster due to his slow start to the season. Maybe that was just the motivation he needed. Colvin is hitting .357 (15-for-42) with three homers and 13 RBIs in 10 games this month, raising his average to .247. He had a grand slam and two doubles on Sunday. It poured in Beijing on Sunday, by the way.
Class A Daytona: Papelbon (not the Red Sox guy) makes a start
LHP Jeremy Papelbon, the brother of Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon, made his first start of the season on Tuesday, throwing three scoreless frames for the D-Cubs. His first 34 outings came out of the bullpen, where he registered two saves and a 3.34 ERA. The Chicago Tribune reported that Papelbon was being converted from a reliever to a starter last week, but Papelbon did not take the mound on Sunday, which would have been his regular turn in the rotation.
Starting or relieving, Papelbon has been lights out of late, throwing 21 2/3 straight scoreless innings since June 17. Papelbon, 25, started eight games in 2007, but also worked 50 relief appearances in his two previous professional seasons.
Class A Peoria: Lieber stops by
RHP Jon Lieber, on the disabled list with a strained right foot, gave up three runs in three innings for the Chiefs in a rehab start on Tuesday. Don’t get too alarmed, two of the runs came on one swing by Royals super-prospect Mike Moustakas, who by no means is a run-of-the-mill Class A-baller. It is unknown when or where Lieber will pitch again, as the Cubs are stocked with bullpen arms at the moment.
Class A Boise: Brenly stops by
Cubs broadcaster Bob Brenly had reason to fly to Boise, Idaho, during the middle of the Cubs’ homestand last week. His son, C Michael Brenly, plays for the Hawks. Michael had two hits on Friday but did not play on Saturday. That’s OK because the father and son were previously together in potato land during the All-Star break. For inquiring minds, former Cubs pitcher Dan Plesac replaced Brenly in the booth.
We saved the best for last, a Plesac reference, stay tuned for more Cubs Minor League updates …
CHICAGO — Welcome to the Cubs farm report, where we will be providing weekly roundups on the club’s Minor League system with special in-week updates of interesting items of note.
Triple-A Iowa: Stacking the stats
RHP Mitch Atkins, a seventh-round pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, has been mowing down the Pacific Coast League since getting called up from Double-A a month ago. Atkins is 5-0 in five starts, capped by a six-inning, one-run, three-hit and 11-strikeout performance in Sunday’s win against Salt Lake. He has a 3.90 ERA with 29 strikeouts and 10 walks in 30 innings for the I-Cubs
OF Jason Dubois, a former Cub, knocked his 20th home run on Sunday, giving him a home run every 8.35 at-bats since being released by the Nationals and signed by the Cubs in May. Dubois played in 72 games for the Cubs in 2004 and 2005.
And when you see similar production out of 1B Micah Hoffpauir (.356, 14 homers, 67 RBIs), OF Felix Pie (.438 average since July 20), and OF Andres Torres (.302, 11 homers, 16 steals), it’s no wonder Iowa has the best record in the PCL.
Double-A Tennessee: Colvin’s big day
OF Tyler Colvin, the Cubs’ first-round pick in 2006, had not shown very much first-round production in the Southern League — until Sunday. Colvin homered twice, tripled, drove in six runs and scored three times in a wild 15-11 loss to Carolina. Colvin is still hitting .239, so maybe this was the type of game to jump-start the prospect’s season. He hit .291 in Double-A after getting called up midway through last season.
Class A Daytona: Rehabbing arms
LHP Rich Hill had an awful start on Wednesday, giving up five runs in three innings. He walked three, continuing his control problems, and struck out one. Hill is 1-2 with an 8.03 ERA since being promoted to Daytona in mid-July, with 11 walks and 14 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings. Hill’s road back to the Cubs rotation, where he started the season, is surely going to wind until 2009.
RHP Angel Guzman, out for the last year after undergoing elbow surgery, returned for his 2008 debut on Saturday. He fared better than Hill, giving up one earned run and three hits in two innings and striking out a pair. Guzman, who broke camp with the big-league club in 2007, should be back on the Major League radar next spring.
Class A Peoria: Brawl fallout
The suspensions for the Peoria-Dayton fight were handed down this past week, and they were harsh, as expected. They totaled 98 games and $4,600 in fines, and that’s not including Dayton’s penalties. Here’s the details:
RHP Julio Castillo (the guy who threw a ball that hit a fan): 60 games, $1,000
Latin American field coordinator Carmelo Martinez (managing in place of Ryne Sandberg): 20 games, $1,500
OF Brandon Guyer, OF Cliff Andersen, IF Jovan Rosa, C Mario Mercedes, RHP Steve Vento, RHP Audy Santana: three games each, $150 each.
The remaining Peoria players involved: $1,200 lump sum.
Class A Boise: Vitters back in action
3B Josh Vitters, the club’s first-round pick in 2007, is showing no ill-effects from an ankle injury that sidelined him for nearly two weeks at the end of July. Vitters hit his third home run in 33 games for Boise on Saturday, his third game back. He is hitting .336.
Upcoming: RHP Jon Lieber is scheduled to make a rehab outing for Peoria on Tuesday as he returns from a foot injury. … RHP Chad Fox, also on rehab, is expected to join the Cubs’ rookie-league team in Mesa, Ariz., at the conclusion of the Cubs’ current homestand.
— Nick Zaccardi