Chicago Cubs 2011 draft review: under the radar players

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We finish our retrospective on the Chicago Cubs’ 2011 draft by profiling the final seven members of the classs whose performance, we believe, merits Cubs’ fans making room for them on their radar heading into the 2014 season.
John Andreoli:  Right-handed hitting outfielder Andreoli, 23, was a seventeenth round selection in 2011.  Scouts have luaded Andreoli’s defense, strong throwing arm, hitting approach and speed and maintain that he could become a solid reserve outfielder in the major leagues.  After just 38 plate appearances in 2011, Andreoli has enjoyed two solid full seasons in the minors, establishing himself as arguably the best base stealer in the Cubs’ system.  Last year, in 496 plate appearances for Daytona of the Class A Florida State League, Andreoli hit .289 with a .402 on-base-percentage (OBP).  He added seventeen doubles, eight triples, one home run and 25 RBI to go with 75 walks and 89 strikeouts.  Impressively, he swiped 55 bases in 75 attempts.
This season, Andreoli started the year for Daytona before being promoted to AA Tennessee of the Southern League on June 28.  The promotion was merited by Andreoli’s .318 average, eleven doubles, six triples, 34 walks and 23 stolen bases in 26 attempts. He left the Sunshine State with a .394 OBP.  In 168 plate appearances for Tennessee, Andreoli is averaging .293 with an OPB of .357, complemented by eleven doubles, one triple, two home runs, eighteen RBI, fourteen walks and twelve stolen bases in thirteen attempts.  His combined 35 steals would rank third in the Southern League and second in the Florida State League; his combined seven triples would tie for fifth in the Southern League and rank fourth in the Florida State League; and his OPB of .394 would rank third in the Southern League and fourth in the Florida State League.  Finally, Andreoli has played all three outfield positions extensively during his minor league career.
Update:  In Tennessee’s 4-3 victory over Chattanooga last night, Andreoli went 1-3 and was caught stealing for the second time since his promotion.
James Pugliese:  Right-handed pitcher Pugliese, 21, was an eighteenth round selection in 2011.  After two mixed-results seasons, Pugliese is enjoying a breakout year for Boise of the short-season Northwest League.  In 2011 pitching for the Arizona Rookie Cubs, Pugliese appeared in fifteen games covering 39 innings.  He allowed 47 hits, walked twelve and fanned 32, leading to a WHIP of 1.513.  Substandard were his ERA of 4.82 and his hits-per-nine-innings of 10.8.  More respectable were his walks-per-nine innings of 3.3 and strikeouts-to-walk-ratio of 2.67.  Last season for Boise, Pugliese’s production took a hit.  In fifteen games covering 60.1 innings, he allowed 78 hits, leading to a hits-per-nine-innings of 11.6.   He walked 22 and fanned 51.  His WHIP climbed to 1.657 and his walks-per-nine-innings to 3.3, and his strikeouts-to-walk ratio dipped to 2.32.
Returning to Boise, Pugliese, who recently added a curveball to a repertoire that includes a fastball that reaches 96 MPH, a slider, a straight change-up and even a knuckleball, has been exceptional this season.  In eleven games covering 56 innings, Pugliese has allowed 53 hits and eleven walks and fanned 42, leading to a career best hits-per-nine-innings of 8.5, walks-per-nine innings of 1.8 and strikeouts-to-walk ratio of 3.82.  Pugliese has likely earned a promotion to Kane County to start the 2014 season.
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Andrew McKirahan:  Left-handed pitcher McKirahan, 23, was a 21st round selection in 2011.  McKirahan,  whose velocity is consistently in the mid-90’s and can reach 97, has turned in three successful although injury-plagued seasons since being drafted by the Cubs.  In 2011, splitting time between the Arizona Rookie Cubs and Boise, he pitched 16.2 innings in fifteen games, allowing twelve hits and eights walks and striking out 23.  His ERA was 1.62 and WHIP 1.200.  Most impressive was his strikeouts-per-nine-innings of 12.4.  Last season, pitching for Peoria, McKirahan was limited to ten innings before landing on the disabled list with a season-ending hamstring injury in June.  He allowed six hits and four walks, leading to a WHIP of 1.000, and he fanned eleven and registered an ERA of 1.80.  He started the 2013 campaign on the disabled list before being activated in June.  After a brief rehabilitation stint in Arizona, McKirahan has split the season between Boise and Kane County of the Midwest League.  In 7.1 innings in five games for Boise pitching exclusively out of the bullpen, he yielded only three hits and two walks while striking out eleven.  His ERA was 2.45 and WHIP a microscopic 0.682.  McKirahan has suffered no letdown since being promoted to Kane County, where in twelve innings of relief over eight games, he has allowed only six hits and three walks while fanning twelve.  His ERA is 2.25 and WHIP a still-impressive 0.750.  For his career, McKirahan has exceptional numbers, including a WHIP of 1.000; an ERA of 2.06; hits-per-nine-innings of 5.8; walks-per-nine-innings of 3.2; strikeouts-per-nine-innings of 11.4; and a strikeouts-to-walk-ratio of 3.59.  In 48 career innings, he has allowed only one home run.
Besides Zach Rosscup, who has been impressive since being promoted to AAA Iowa last week, there is a dearth of quality left-handed relief pitching in the upper levels of the Cubs’ system.  Look for McKirahan to reach Daytona or even Tennessee by next season if he can remain healthy.
Rock Shoulders:  The left-handed hitting and right-handed throwing first baseman and outfielder was drafted in the 25th round of the 2011 draft.  Like Zeke DeVoss, whom we profiled yesterday, Shoulders, 21, was drafted by Epstein’s Boston Red Sox in the 20th round of the 2010 draft but did not sign.  He was in the Cubs’ system, having been drafted by Epstein’s predecessor, when Epstein assumed control of the Cubs in the Fall of 2011.
Shoulders is a large man, listed at 225 pounds, and he and Dan Vogelbach, whom we profiled on Wednesday, had rotated between designated hitter and first base at Kane County before Vogelbach’s recent promotion to Daytona.  Shoulders’ first full season in the minors was last year for Boise when, in 237 plate appearances, he batted .250 with ten home runs, eleven doubles and 37 RBI.  He added 28 walks and fanned 69 times.  He tied for fourth in the league in home runs and was twelfth in RBI.  In 425 plate appearances for Kane County this season, the big man is batting .255 with seventeen home runs, 23 doubles, 62 RBI, 56 walks but a problematic 125 strikeouts.  He has increased his OBP from .342 to .351 and his slugging percentage from .447 to .458.  He is tied for third in the league in home runs and tenth in walks.  Shoulders has added to his versatility by playing a handful of games in both corner outfield positions, and he was a catcher in high school.  Yet most scouts believe his future defensively is limited to first base, where he has committed only five errors in 77 career games, leading to a fielding percentage of .983.
As we noted about Vogelbach and the plethora of other talented first baseman in the Cubs’ system, including Dustin Geiger and Justin Bour, the road to Wrigley Field for a player limited to first base requires the difficult challenge of unseating incumbent Anthony Rizzo.  While Shoulders has shown some promise, he has not produced anywhere near enough to force that discussion yet.
Update:  Playing first base in Kane County’s 1-0 victory over Burlington last night, Shoulders was 1-4.
P.J. Francescon:  Right-handed pitcher Francescon was a 40th round selection in 2011.  After two productive seasons, 2013 has been a disappointment for Francescon, 24.  His arsenal includes a low 90’s fastball that can reach 93 MPH, an excellent curveball and a recently-developed changeup.  In 38.2 innings in 2011 pitching for Arizona, Peoria and Daytona, he appeared in nineteen games, including three starts, and allowed 39 hits and only three walks while striking out 44.  His ERA was 3.49 and WHIP 1.216.  Last season, he made 26 combined starts covering 137.1 innings for Peoria and Daytona.  He allowed 111 hits, reducing his hits-per-nine-innings from 9.1 to 7.3, and walked 38.  His 62 strikeouts led to a reduction in his strikeouts-per-nine-innings from 10.2 to 6.2, but his ERA dropped to 3.01 and WHIP to 1.085.
This season, Francescon has struggled for both Daytona and Tennessee.  In fourteen games, including thirteen starts, for Daytona, he had a 4.76 ERA and 1.371 WHIP.  In 70 innings, he allowed 75 hits, nine home runs and 21 walks and struck out 62.  In eleven relief appearances for Tennessee covering 23 innings, Francescon has yielded 24 hits and ten walks and fanned fifteen.  His ERA has spiked to 5.09 and WHIP to 1.478.  While Francescon’s control has been solid at every level where he has pitched, the home run ball appears to be his Achilles Heel, as he has allowed 27 in 269 career innings.  Nevertheless, Francescon, who will be 25 in January, has exhibited more positive than negative results since joining the Cubs and may have been rushed through the system too quickly.
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Tony Zych:  Right-handed pitcher Zych, 23, was selected in the fourth round of the 2011 draft.  Zych, whose fastball has been clocked at 99 MPH and who throws a mid 80’s slider, is weeks away from completing his second successful full season since being drafted.  Last year, he split time between Daytona and Tennessee.  In 27 relief appearances for Daytona covering 36.2 innings, he allowed 32 hits and only seven walks and struck out 36.  His ERA was 3.19 and WHIP 1.064.  He was then promoted to Tennessee, where he struggled in a shorter stint.  In 20 relief outings covering 24.2 innings, he allowed 26 hits and twelve walks and fanned 28.  His ERA jumped to 4.38 and WHIP to 1.541.  Following the season, Zych pitched for the Cubs-affiliated Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League.  In thirteen relief appearances covering fourteen innings, he allowed eighteen hits and no home runs.  He walked only two, but perhaps as a result of having pitched continuously since March, Zych fanned only four.  His ERA was 3.86 and WHIP 1.430.
This season, the pitcher whom the Cubs’ brass praises for his nasty mound demeanor and fastball that rides in on right-handed batters has spent the entire year at Tennessee.  In 40 relief appearances covering 48.1 innings, Zych has yielded 39 hits and 20 walks and fanned 34.  His ERA at Tennessee is down to 2.61 from last year’s 4.38 and WHIP to 1.221 from 1.541.  In 113.1 career innings, Zych has allowed just three home runs.  Zych’s strikeouts-per-nine-innings was down this season, perhaps as a result of having a truncated off-season due to his participation in the Arizona Fall League.  Hopefully Zych will get the requisite rest this off-season to come to Spring Training ready to be promoted to Iowa and perhaps debut for the Cubs at some point next season.
Michael Jensen:  Even though right-handed pitcher Jensen, drafted in the 26th round in 2011, has been on the disabled list all season, he is a seventh member of the 2011 draft class who deserves mention based on his solid first full season in the minor leagues last year.  In 26 starts for Peoria covering 140 innings, Jensen gave up 117 hits and 40 walks, leading to a respectable WHIP of 1.121.  His ERA of 3.47 and strikeouts-to-walk ratio of 2.88 were also impressive.  Hopefully Jensen, just 22, can overcome whatever injury sidelined him this season and revert to last year’s form in 2014.

 

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