Cubs’ prospects: three hitting roadblocks en route to Wrigley Field

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There are many blue chip prospects in the Chicago Cubs’ minor league system. However, navigating the minor leagues for some players is akin to being a pin ball, bouncing up and down between levels where they succeed and levels where they struggle.

In this post, we feature three prospects who have hit a proverbial brick wall repeatedly at a particular level since joining the Cubs’ organization.  In a separate post, we feature three prospects whose ascension through the Cubs’ systems appears to be unstoppable.

Alberto Cabrera:  Right-handed pitcher Cabrera, whose fastball has been clocked as high as 97 MPH and who was once considered a top prospect in the Cubs’ system, has been humbled at AAA Iowa for three consecutive seasons.  In midseason 2011, Cabrera, who has been pitching stateside in the Cubs’ organization since 2007, was promoted to Iowa, where he appeared in nineteen games covering 88.2 innings.  He allowed 118 hits and 53 walks, leading to an atrocious WHIP of 1.929.  His ERA of 6.60, and hits and walks allowed per nine innings of 12.0 and 5.4, respectively, were equally woeful.  After a successful 36-game stint at AA Tennessee in 2012, he was given a second opportunity at Iowa.  In thirteen relief appearances covering 19.1 innings, he yielded 29 hits, leading to a reduced-but-still-substandard WHIP of 1.707.  His hits allowed per nine innings spiked to 13.5, though his walks permitted per nine innings dropped to 1.9 and ERA to 4.19.  He returned to AA Tennessee this season and turned in a successful eighteen game stretch before being promoted for a third time to Iowa.  Through Sunday, Cabrera had made 21 relief appearances and produced his worst AAA results to date.  In 19.1 innings, he had yielded 26 hits and twelve walks, leading to a 1.966 WHIP.  He was allowing 12.1 hits and 5.6 walks per nine innings, respectively.  His ERA of 7.45 was also a AAA personal worst.
Nick Struck:  Right-handed pitcher Struck, 24 in October, has also struggled at Iowa.  His Cubs’ career began in 2010 after he was drafted the previous Summer.  Struck split 2011 between Tennessee and Iowa.  At Tennessee, the man with the perfect pitcher’s last name, made six starts covering 35 innings.  While he yielded 42 hits, he allowed only six walks, leading to a WHIP of 1.371.  He fanned 26, resulting in a rate of 6.7 strikeouts per nine innings  He walked only 1.5 per nine innings, had a strikeouts to walk ratio of 4.33 and an ERA of 2.31.  At Iowa, he appeared in twelve games covering 62.1 innings and allowed 76 hits and 22 walks, resulting in a spiked WHIP of 1.572.  His ERA  and walks allowed per nine innings jumped to 5.20 and 3.20, respectively, and his strikeouts to walk ratio plummeted to 1.73.  After pitching all of 2012 for Tennessee, Struck again has split 2013 between Tennessee and Iowa and has repeated his struggles at Iowa.  In 22 games  for Iowa, Struck has pitched 109.1 innings and allowed a whopping 139 hits and 54 walks, leading to an exorbitant WHIP of 1.765 and 11.4 hits permitted per nine innings  His ERA is 6.17, and his 56 strikeouts have led to a meager strikeouts to walk ratio of 1.04.
Struck, who won 14 games for Tennessee in 2012, might get fresh look at AAA next year.
Matt Loosen:  Right-handed pitcher Loosen, 25 next April, was drafted in 2010.  Tennessee, not Iowa, has twice been Loosen’s house of horrors.  Loosen split 2011 between the Cubs’ former Midwest League affiliate of Peoria, Daytona and Tennessee.  In six games covering 31 innings for Peoria, Loosen pitched exceptionally well, allowing 21 hits and six walks while fanning 28, leading to a WHIP of 0.871 and ERA of 1.74.  In nine games covering 36.2 innings for Daytona, Loosen struggled, allowing 40 hits and thirteen walks and striking out 39.  His WHIP spiked to 1.445 and ERA to 4.42.  Then, in eleven innings for Tennessee, Loosen allowed six hits and eight walks, leading to a reduced WHIP of 1.273 but an increased ERA of 5.73.  After spending all of 2012 with Daytona, Loosen has split 2013 between Daytona and Tennessee.  In nine games covering 54 innings for Daytona, Loosen has allowed only 34 hits and seventeen walks and fanned 56, leading to a WHIP of .0944 and a sparkling ERA of 1.83.  He has allowed only 5.7 hits and 2.8 walks per nine innings while fanning 9.3.  His strikeouts per walk ratio is a gaudy 3.29.
Yet for the second time in three seasons, he has struggled immensely at Tennessee.  In fourteen games covering 55 innings, Loosen has yielded 58 hits and an astounding 43 walks, leading to a WHIP of 1.836.  His ERA is 7.36, and his hits and walks allowed per nine innings are 9.5 and 7.0, respectively.
Update:  In the Tennessee Smokies’ victory last evening against Mobile, Loosen earned the victory with seven shutout innings, allowing three hits and three walks and striking out six.  He lowered his ERA to 6.53.    
Only time will tell if Cabrera, Struck and Loosen have hit permanent roadblocks that will prevent these prospects from joining and succeeding with the parent club; or if they can eventually enjoy breakthroughs like they did at lower levels of the Cubs’ system.
 
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