Cubs’ prospects: Leal, Rogers, others thriving at lower levels

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With the minor league regular season ending on Labor Day, over the next few days, we will complete our season-long profiles of Chicago Cubs’ prospects from each of their six minor league affiliates, starting with two apiece from the Arizona Rookie League and the Boise Hawks of the short-season Northwest League.  Next week, we will release our first annual Sportsbank Cubs’ minor league All-Star team.
Let’s get started with our player profiles.
Arizona League Cubs:
Luis Villalba:  It was a real challenge finding players to profile from an impotent offense.  Thus, we stuck with pitchers. One of the best for the Arizona Rookie Cubs, who finished with a 27-28 record, was lefthander Villalba, 21 in October.  Signed in 2009 from Venezuela, the pitcher who complements a low 90’s fastball with a change-up and curveball debuted stateside with the Arizona Rookie Cubs this season.
In sixteen games covering 25 innings, the lanky southpaw allowed 26 hits, one home run and seven walks and fanned 32, leading to a respectable WHIP of 1.320.  While his H/9 (hits allowed per nine innings) of 9.4 was too high, his BB/9 and SS/9 of 2.5 and 11.5, respectively, demonstrated both excellent command and a swing-and-miss pitching repertoire.  His SO/BB ratio of 4.5 and ERA of 2.52 were both impressive.
Erick Leal:  The left-handed pitcher was acquired in February of 2013 in the trade that sent outfielder Tony Campana to the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Leal, just 19 years of age next March, turned in one of the best seasons in the Arizona League this year, finishing eighth among qualifiers with a 2.77 ERA.  Leal’s velocity has progressed since he was signed by the Diamondbacks, largely attributable to adjusting his release point.  His fastball, which previously was clocked between 85 and 88 MPH, has climbed to the upper 80’s, and he has developed a change-up.  These pitches complement his best weapon, a high 70’s curveball.  Cubs’ scouts are optimistic that as he continues to improve his conditioning and matures physically, Leal will further increase his velocity and refine all of his pitches.  What already distinguishes Leal among Cubs’ prospects is his ability to throw strikes and command his pitches within the strike zone with remarkable consistency.
In 13 games covering 48.2 innings, he allowed 50 hits but only eight walks and struck out 52.  He produced an impressive WHIP of 1.192, BB/9 of 1.5, and SS/9 of 9.6.  While his H/9 was too high at 9.2, Leal had a splashy SO/BB ratio of 6.5.
We expect to see both Villalba and Leal pitching for Boise or Kane County next season.
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Boise:
Kevin Encarnacion:  Entering play last night, the Boise Hawks were 41-32 overall and on the precipice of the Northwest League playoffs.  Boise has indeed received some excellent pitching performances.  However, without the contributions of the prodigious switch-hitting outfielder Encarnacion, in his first season in the Cubs’ organization stateside since signing with the club in May of 2010, it is doubtful the Hawks would be contenders.  In 181 plate appearances, he is batting .363 with a .463 OPB and slugging  percentage of .563.  He has belted nine doubles, one triple and seven homers and driven in 28 runs.  He has also added ten stolen bases in fifteen attempts and twenty walks.  Encarnacion would qualify among the Northwest League leaders in many statistical categories but for a several-week promotion to Kane County, where he struggled.  In sixteen games and 70 plate appearances for the Cougars, he batted just .217 and slugged .333, and his OPB dropped to .314.  He added two doubles, one triple, one home run, three RBI and eight walks.
One area Encarnacion, 22 in November, will have to address is the dramatic discrepancy between his right- and left-handed hitting production.  At Boise, he is hitting .402 left-handed and just .237 right-handed, and almost all of his power production has been generated from the left side of the plate.
Jacob Rogers:  The 6’5 left-handed hitting and right-handed throwing first-baseman has been a standout from Theo Epstein’s first draft after he assumed control of the Cubs’ baseball operations before the 2012 season.  Coincidentally, Epstein drafted Rogers in 2008 when he was in charge of the Boston Red Sox’s baseball operations, but Rogers did not sign.  He was granted a second opportunity to draft Rogers last season in the 40th round, and this time the marriage was consummated.
Rogers split 2012 between the Arizona Cubs and the Cubs’ former Midwest League affiliate of Peoria, and he achieved success at both levels.  In 104 plate appearances for Arizona, Rogers batted an impressive .341 with two home runs, eleven doubles, one triple and seventeen RBI.  He slugged .557 and produced an OBP of .422.  In 69 plate appearances for Peoria, he averaged .300 with two homers and ten RBI.  His slugging percentage dipped to .420, but his OBP spiked to .493 as a result of exceptional plate discipline.
The presence of first-basemen Rock Shoulders and Dan Vogelbach at Kane County of the Midwest League and Dustin Geiger at Daytona of the Florida State League probably necessitated demoting Rogers to Boise for the 2013 season, where he has been nothing short of exceptional.  In 254 plate appearances, he is batting .283 with eight home runs, 11 doubles, 47 RBI and 44 walks.  His OBP is .399 and slugging percentage .421.  In a pitcher’s league, Rogers ranks ninth in batting average, second in RBI, fourth in OBP, fifth in slugging percentage and first in walks.  He is also tied for second in home runs.  Though he has been used primarily at first base in his first two years in the minors, Rogers has played some outfield and third base to buttress his versatility.  Given Rogers’ relatively advanced age for playing in the lower levels of the minors, we look for the Cubs to try to expedite his movement through the system starting next season.
Check back tomorrow as we feature two Cubs’ prospects apiece from the Kane County Cougars and Daytona Cubs.                    
     
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