Chicago Cubs’ prospect profiles: Ha, Grimm, Pineyro and more

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Today, we continue profiling minor league prospects on the rosters of the Chicago Cubs’ three upper level teams: Iowa, Tennessee and Daytona. In a few days, we will examine prospects on the Cubs’ lower-tier teams of Kane County, Boise and Arizona.


Jae-Hoon Ha: The right handed hitting and throwing Ha was signed by the Cubs out of his native South Korea in September of 2008. Just 22, Ha has been in the Cubs’ system since 2009 and played in last year’s Futures Game, going 2-2 with a home run. Ha’s breakout season was 2010 for Peoria, the Cubs’ former Midwest League affiliate. He hit .317 with seven homers and 46 RBI. He flexed his best power numbers in an encore season in 2011, splitting time between Daytona and Tennessee. Combined, he hit .279 with eleven home runs, 72 RBI and 31 doubles. He spent all of last season and the beginning of this one at Tennessee before being promoted to Iowa. At Tennessee, in a campaign interrupted several weeks by a concussion, Ha hit .284 in 114 plate appearances. Ha was then promoted to Iowa, where he got off to a dreadful start. Recently, Ha has shown steady improvement, hitting .257 in his last ten games entering play Thursday evening. Overall for Iowa, he is batting .236 with three home runs, seven doubles and eleven RBI in 132 plate appearances. For his minor league career, Ha is hitting .276 with a .323 on base percentage (OBP) and .397 slugging percentage in 1898 plate appearances.

Scouting reports indicate that Ha has tremendous speed and exceptional base running and defensive instincts.  His speed has not yet translated to high stolen base totals, as he has stolen just 49 in 82 career attempts.  But his base stealing percentage has improved as he has moved up the minor league ladder.  He also has a strong and accurate throwing arm, as evidenced by his 39 career outfield assists, and Ha has spent significant time in all three outfield positions.

As currently constituted, the Cubs’ outfield is left-handed hitting heavy.  If Ha continues to develop, he could help provide some right-handed hitting balance to the Cubs’ outfield contingent.
Justin Grimm:  RH starting pitcher Grimm, 25 later this month and acquired from the Texas Rangers in the Matt Garza trade on July 22, appears to have been the victim of being rushed past AAA and to the major leagues.  In just his third season since being drafted in 2011, Grimm, whose fastball sits comfortably in the low 90’s and can reach 96 MPH and who throws a plus curveball, achieved tremendous success at AA in the Rangers’ system in 2012.  In sixteen games (fourteen starts), he compiled a 9-3 record, 1.72 ERA and an exceptional 1.004 WHIP.  in 83.2 innings, he allowed only 70 hits and fourteen walks and struck out 73, leading to a superb 5.21 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio.
Texas then promoted Grimm to AAA Round Rock, where his overall production slid considerably.  In just 51 innings, he yielded 53 hits and sixteen walks and struck out only 30.  His ERA and WHIP spiked to 4.59 and 1.353, respectively.  Texas even promoted him to the majors for a couple of brief stints last year, and Grimm struggled there too.  For the Rangers, Grimm pitched five games (including two starts), covering fourteen innings and allowed 22 hits and three walks.  His ERA was 9.00 and WHIP 1.764.
Grimm’s 2013 Spring Training ERA was 9.64, but despite his AAA and major league struggles in 2012 and probably because of a slew of injuries to their pitching staff, the Rangers broke camp with Grimm on the staff.  As could be expected, he continued to scuffle.  In 22 games (nineteen starts), Grimm was 8-8 for Texas with a 6.73 ERA and a 1.678 WHIP.  In 103 innings pitched, he allowed 138 hits, including sixteen home runs and 34 walks, while fanning 81.  Some of those struggles might have have been the result of a sore forearm about which Grimm complained shortly before being acquired by the Cubs. But what is clear in retrospect is, whether by necessity or misjudgment, the Rangers rushed Grimm past AAA before he was ready for the majors.
In two starts at Iowa since the trade, Grimm has been hammered.  He is 0-2 with an 11.57 ERA and 2.429 WHIP.  In just seven innings, he has allowed twelve hits and five walks.  He has fanned seven.  Hopefully Grimm can use the next month at Iowa and perhaps part of next season to hone his skills at a more natural pace before being promoted to the Cubs.
Zach Rosscup:  LH relief pitcher Rosscup, 25, is the often forgotten prospect whom the Cubs acquired in the 2011 trade with the Tampa Bay Rays for right-handed pitcher Matt Garza.  While Garza is a mere memory now, Rosscup is anything but.  Rosscup’s repertoire includes a low 90’s fastball with a knee-buckling curveball and changeup, all three of which he can consistently throw for strikes.
In his first season in the Cubs’ system in 2011 for Daytona, Rosscup made eleven appearances (nine starts) covering 49.2 innings and produced an ERA of 2.59.  He yielded 43 hits and nineteen walks for a WHIP of 1.248.  He fanned 50.  Last season, a shoulder injury limited him to 34.1 innings, and he regressed to an ERA of 4.84 and WHIP of 1.478 for AA Tennessee.  His strikeout to walk ratio was a pedestrian 1.53 to 1.
However, if 2012 was a setback, then 2013 represents a resurgence for Rosscup.  In 35 relief appearances covering 42 innings, the left-hander has produced a 2-1 record with a 2.36 ERA.  He has yielded just 28 hits, two home runs and eighteen walks, while striking out 62.  His WHIP is 1.095 and his strikeout to walk ratio 3.44 to 1.
But for a very short early April stint by the since-traded Hisanori Takahashi and a single mop-up appearance by Iowa’s Brooks Raley on July 10, James Russell has been the only LH relief pitcher in the Cubs’ bullpen, and he was recently rumored to be on the trading block.  No left-handed relief pitchers at AAA Iowa have acquitted themselves well this season, and Rosscup has been by far the most successful at Tennessee if not in the entire Cubs’ minor league system.  Hopefully for Rosscup, the next step in his progression will be a promotion to Iowa or perhaps a chance to break with the Cubs next year.
Rafael Lopez:  Catcher Lopez, 25, a converted infielder, is in his third season in the Cubs’ system.  His name became recent fodder with the trade talks surrounding backup Cubs’ catcher Dioner Navarro, who was not traded before the July 31 deadline.  With 33-year-old journeyman J.C. Boscan, a .career 224 hitter in 17 minor league seasons, and Luis Flores, a career .202 hitter in six season in the Cubs’ system, playing for Iowa, Lopez was considered a candidate to fill the backup catcher vacancy had Navarro been dealt.
Lopez is described as an excellent defensive catcher with a career .982 fielding percentage (.983 this season) and having thrown out 29% of attempted base stealers.  His offense has also been relatively impressive.  In his debut season of 2011, Lopez hit .319 in 235 plate appearances with six home runs and 39 RBI with a .383 OBP.  Last year, Lopez batted .279 in 288 plate appearances with two home runs and 28 RBI with a .355 OPB.  This season, his first at AA, Lopez is averaging .252 in 278 plate appearances with eight home runs and 33 RBI with a .349 OBP.  Lopez has already eclipsed his career high in homers, doubles and walks (35) and could, with one month left in the season, set a new personal high for RBI.   Impressively, he is tied for first among catchers in the ten-team Southern League in homers and walks, leads in doubles and is fourth in RBI.
With the RH-hitting Welington Castillo entrenched as the Cubs’ starting catcher and Navarro a free agent at season’s end, the LH-hitting Lopez, if he continues to develop, could be the perfect complement to Castillo in the near future.
Ivan Pineyro:  RH starting pitcher Pineyro, 22 in September, was acquired from the Washington Nationals on July 8, 2013, for Scott Hairston.  Pinyero, in his third year of minor league baseball, has generated excellent numbers.  In 46 games, all starts, covering 227.1 innings, he has produced a 14-11 record, allowed 211 hits and 58 walks and fanned 216.  His ERA and WHIP are an impressive 3.05 and 1.183, respectively, and his strikeout to walk ratio is an exceptional 3.72 to 1.  However, it is the numbers Pineyro has produced for Daytona since the trade that has Cubs’ fans even more bullish on his stock.  In 4 starts covering 23 innings, Pineyro has fashioned a 1-0 record with a 1.96 ERA .  He has allowed only eighteen hits, one home run and a single walk.  He has fanned 21.  He is averaging 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings and has a spectacular WHIP of 0.826.
Pineyro’s fastball, according to scouting reports, is not dominant, sitting between 87 and 92 MPH, but he has an above-average changeup and the potential for a dominant curveball.  At just 21, there is still time for his fastball to gain greater and more consistent velocity.
C.J. Edwards:  RH starter Edwards, 22 in August, was the centerpiece of the Matt Garza deal.  A number of reputable baseball writers and scouts have salivated over Edwards’ potential to be a future Cy Young award candidate at the major league level.
The slender right-hander throws a 96 MPH fastball with a dominant curveball.  In two years in the minor leagues, Edwards has pitched in 33 games (32 starts) and compiled a record of 13-5 with an ERA of 1.63 and a WHIP of 0.938.  He is averaging 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings and has a strikeout to walk ratio of 3.58 to 1.  In 165.1 innings, he has yielded a mere 95 hits and has yet to allow a home run.  While he has walked 60, he has fanned 215.  In his debut for Daytona on July 28, he did not allow a single ball out of the infield.  Over five innings, Edwards yielded one hit and walk apiece and fanned eight.
In a few days, we will feature additional prospects from the Cubs’ lower level minor league teams of Kane County, Boise and Arizona.  A few weeks ago, we featured all of the trades the Epstein regime made from the time it took over the Cubs’ baseball operations in the Fall of 2011 until the start of the 2013 season.  At season’s end, we will take a nuanced glance at those trades.  We will also take our initial look at the trades made by the Cubs since the start of the 2013 season.  We also recently looked at the players whose stock is up and down from the 2012 draft class.  We will revisit the 2012 class and be doing the same with the 2013 draft class at the conclusion of the minor league season in about one month.
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