Chicago Cubs’ prospect profiles: Amaya, Balaguert and more

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armando

Yesterday, we featured two players from each of the Chicago Cubs’ three upper-tier minor league teams, Iowa, Tennessee and Daytona.  Today, we feature two players apiece on the rosters of their lower-level teams, Kane County, Boise and the Arizona Rookie League Cubs.

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KANE COUNTY COUGARS
Armando Rivero:  RH relief pitcher Rivero pitched a couple of seasons in Cuba’s premier amateur league, most recently in 2011.  He defected that same year and then experienced a circuitous route to the United States via The Dominican Republic and Haiti while his immigration status was resolved.  Then the Cubs signed the 25-year-old relief pitcher, and former teammate of fellow Cubs’ farmhand Gerardo Concepcion, in March of 2013.  There are conflicting reports about his velocity, some saying that his fastball reaches the mid 90’s but that he generally pitches in the low 90’s.  More optimistic reports indicate that his fastball touches the high 90’s and consistently reaches the mid 90’s.
Rivero, who received a $3.1 million signing bonus from the Cubs, debuted in the organization at Kane County of the Midwest League on June 22, where he has been pitching out of the Cougars’ bullpen.  Having not pitched in two years, the lanky Rivero was understandably a bit rusty in his initial appearance, in which he allowed five hits and four runs in just .2 of an inning.  Rivero continued to struggle, as he allowed three runs apiece in appearances on July 7 and 13 that each covered 1.2 innings.  However, Rivero appears to have found his rhythm of late, as he has not allowed a run in his last four appearances, covering 7.2 innings.  During this stretch, he has yielded four hits and three walks and fanned fourteen.  In yesterday’s 6-3 Cougars’ victory over the Peoria Chiefs, Rivero earned the save with two innings of no-hit, shutout relief in which he walked one and struck out five.
Overall, Rivero has produced an ERA of 6.08 and WHIP of 1.60 in 16.1 innings.  He has allowed 18 hits and 8 walks and struck out 24.  But if Rivero continues to pitch like he has since July 13, a late season promotion from Kane County could be in the cards, as the Cubs are trying to move him through the system with alacrity.
Gioskar Amaya:  2B Amaya, 20, has achieved success at each of the three lower levels of the Cubs’ system since being signed as a free agent out of his native Venezuela on July 9, 2009.  In his debut season of 2011 with the Arizona Rookie League Cubs, Amaya hit a robust .377 in 227 plate appearances.  Though he did not hit a home run, he clubbed eleven doubles and eight triples.  Last season for the Boise Hawks of the short-season A-Ball Northwest League, Amaya averaged .298 with six doubles, a lead-leading twelve triples, eight home runs and a league-best 61 runs scored.  This season for Kane County, Amaya’s average has dipped a bit to .273 with five home runs, 21 doubles and six triples.  He is third among Midwest League second-basemen in triples and fourth in doubles.
Over the course of his three seasons in the minors, Amaya has stolen 57 bases in 82 attempts, including eleven of fifteen this season.  He also has a career on-base-percentage of .376.  His minor league RBI total of 122 is relatively impressive considering he has batted leadoff during a good portion of his career. One part of his game Amaya needs to improve is his defense.  While he has exhibited versatility, having played SS and 3B in addition to 2B, his career fielding percentage is a substandard .948.  This season, playing 2B exclusively, it is .957.  However, Amaya has accomplished a lot for a player just 20 years of age, and he was listed, prior to this season, as the eighteenth best prospect in the Cubs’ system by MLB.com.
BOISE HAWKS
Yasiel Balaguert:  OF Balaguert, 20, signed a $400,000 bonus with the Cubs on December 7, 2011, making him one of the first players acquired by the Theo Epstein regime.  Balaguert was a member of the Cuban junior national league team in 2010 before defecting later that year.  He debuted in the Cubs’ system last season at age 19 for Peoria, the Cubs’ former Midwest League affiliate.  There, the stocky 6’2 right-handed hitting outfielder struggled, batting .208 with a single home run and eighteen RBI in 149 plate appearances.  The Cubs demoted Balaguert to the Arizona Rookie League to conclude last season, but his struggles followed him.  He hit .235 with two home runs and fifteen RBI in 128 plate appearances in Arizona.  Balaguert’s combined on-base-percentage last season was a paltry .258.
This season, with the exception of a four-game instructional detour back to Arizona, Balaguert has spent the entire year with Boise, where he has improved immensely.  Through yesterday’s action, he is hitting .280 with four home runs and 28 RBI.  His home run production ties him for eighth in in the league; his nineteen walks for seventh, and his .457 slugging percentage and 22 runs for sixth.  He ranks second alone in doubles with ten and in RBI with 28.  Balaguert has spent the majority of his time in RF with the Hawks but has played some LF and CF during his brief career.  He has nine outfield assists and only one error in 116 career chances and has yet to commit an error this season.
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Carlos Martinez-Pumarino:  RH pitcher Martinez-Pumarino, 22, is also a native of Cuba who was signed on December 7, 2011, for $250,000.  Unlike Balaguert, he had played a year of professional baseball in Cuba prior to defecting and signing with the Cubs.
Martinez-Pumarino, it has been reported, has a fastball that sits between 91-93 MPH.  His debut season of 2012, with the Arizona Rookie League Cubs, was a success.  He appeared in fourteen games covering 43.1 innings and produced a 5-0 record, 3.53 ERA and 1.154 WHIP.  He yielded 36 hits and fourteen walks while fanning 44, leading to a better than three to one strikeout to walk ratio.  This season pitching for Boise, he has achieved similar success.  In ten games covering 16.1 innings, the 6’4 Martinez-Pumarino has put together a reduced ERA and WHIP of 3.31 and 1.102, respectively.  He has allowed fourteen hits and four walks while striking out fifteen, for an improved strikeout to walk ratio of almost 4 to 1.  In 59.2 minor league innings, Martinez-Pumarino has allowed only three home runs.
ARIZONA ROOKIE LEAGUE CUBS
Trevor Graham:  The term most often used to describe RH pitcher Graham, 21 and a thirteenth round selection in the 2013 draft, is “hard-nosed.”  Graham stands 6’3 and is listed at 220 lbs.   After signing, Graham debuted with the Arizona League Cubs on July 10.  He has appeared in five games covering eight innings and has allowed six hits, no home runs and two walks.  His ERA and WHIP are an impressive 1.12 and 1.000, respectively, and his strikeout to walk ratio is a gaudy three to one.    Admittedly Graham’s numbers represent a very small sample size, but it is encouraging that Graham, in addition to several other pitchers from the 2013 draft class, is performing well out of the gates.
Jeffrey Baez:  While the Arizona League Cubs’ pitching staff ranks in the top half of the twelve-team league in ERA, fewest walks allowed and most strikeouts, the team hitting is mired near the bottom in virtually every statistical category, including a league worst .219 batting average through Saturday’s games.  OF Baez, 19, represents one of the few bright spots on a moribund offense.
After a six-game stint in the Arizona League last year, Baez returned this season and has produced respectable numbers.  Through last night’s game, Baez is averaging .274 with one home run, four doubles, one triple and seven RBI in 109 plate appearances.  He has added eleven walks and has an above-average on-base-percentage of .365.  Baez has played all three outfield positions for the Rookie Cubs this season without committing an error in 48 chances while adding four outfield assists.  But most impressively, Baez is second in the league in stolen bases with fourteen, and he has only been caught once.
We look forward to regularly profiling Cubs’ minor leaguers.  Please give us your feedback on players you think deserve to be featured or on the players we have profiled already.
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