Over the last couple of weeks, a number of Cubs’ prospects have been promoted to higher levels in the system, including OF Jorge Soler to AAA Iowa, OF Albert Almora to AA Tennessee and 2014 first round pick Kyle Schwarber to Advanced A Daytona.
Today, we will feature a couple of other prospects who have recently been promoted and one whom Cubs’ fans are clamoring to be promoted to the major league squad before season’s end. We will also discuss the tension that exists for Cubs’ management between promoting prospects for a late season cup of coffee and keeping as many spots available on the 40-man roster to guard against losing players in the Major League Rule 5 draft held every offseason.
Let’s get to work.
RHP Zach Cates: Cates, a third round pick of the San Diego Padres in 2010, was acquired by the Cubs in January of 2012 in the trade that also netted 1B Anthony Rizzo. After one season in the Padres’ system and two in the Cubs’ scuffling as a starting pitcher between 2011 and 2013, Cates, 24, seems to have found his calling this season pitching in the bullpen.
Cates started this season with Daytona, where in 13 games covering 26 innings, he allowed 22 hits and only three walks while fanning 18. His ERA and WHIP were an exceptional 2.08 and 0.962, respectively. Cates was then promoted to AA Tennessee, where he has continued to produce at a high level. In 20 innings through Saturday, Cates had allowed just 13 hits and fanned 20. His ERA was 3.15 and WHIP an above-average 1.350. Cates’ hits/9 innings has fallen from 7.6 to 5.8 and SO/9 improved from 6.2 to 8.1 despite pitching at a higher level.
However, his BB/9 innings has spiked from 1.0 to 6.3 and his SO/BB ratio plummeted from 6.00 to 1.29. Significantly, Cates has not allowed a homerun in 46 innings of work this season.
The pitcher with a mid to high 90’s fastball and advanced changeup will be eligible for the Rule 5 major league draft this offseason unless the Cubs promote him to their 40-man roster in advance of the draft. It would be a shame to lose Cates just as he is beginning to thrive as a relief pitcher.
LHP Hunter Cervenka: Cervenka, a 27th round selection by the Boston Red Sox in 2008 when Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein was in charge, was acquired in a trade by Epstein’s Cubs in May of 2012. Similar to Cates, Cervenka, 24, spent his first three seasons in the Red Sox system shuttling between relieving and starting, and the results were dreadful. Pitching exclusively as a relief pitcher since 2012, Cervenka has begun to excel, enjoying a breakout season last year on which he has only built this season.
Promoted to Tennessee midway through last season, Cervenka made 30 appearances covering 38.1 innings and yielded 29 hits and 20 walks while fanning 33. He produced an ERA of 3.05 and a WHIP of 1.278. This season, Cervenka has spent the entire year with Tennessee and has improved in just about every statistical category. In 34 games covering 44.1 innings, the burly and intense southpaw has allowed only 32 hits and 19 walks while fanning 50. His ERA has increased a tick to 3.25, but he has reduced his WHIP to 1.150.
His hits/9 has dropped from 6.8 t0 6.5 and his BB/9 from 4.7 to 3.9. Meanwhile, his SO/9 has spiked from 7.7. to 10.2 and his SO/BB ratio from 1.65 to 2.63. He has yielded only two homers in 82.2 innings pitching at the AA level.
Like Cates, Cervenka, who sports a mid 90’s fastball and hard slider and whose ¾ style delivery can be highly effective against left-handed batters, will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft unless the Cubs promote him to the 40-man roster.
SS Javier Baez: Following a dreadful start this season, Baez, the Cubs’ first round pick in the 2011 draft and ranked the seventh best prospect by MLB.com prior to the season, has been on a prolific surge that has him within eyeshot of Wrigley Field.
The 21-year-old SS, who has seen significant time at 2B the last couple weeks, has spent the entire season at AAA Iowa after splitting last campaign between Daytona and Tennessee. Through Saturday, Baez was batting .259 in 397 plate appearances with 19 homers, 24 doubles and 73 RBI. He is seventh in the Pacific Coast League in homers, tied for sixth in doubles and is second in RBI. While his HR and RBI percentages are down from last year’s epic season in which he slugged 37 bombs and drove in 111 runs, his walks and doubles percentages have improved. Baez is also one of the youngest players in the league.
While a strong case can be made for promoting Baez to Chicago, the main factor that militates against doing so is that he would have to be added to the 40-man roster in advance of this season’s Rule 5 draft and thus limit the number of players, like Cates and Cervenka, whom the Cubs could protect. The Cubs certainly could not be faulted for wanting to see Baez face major league pitching in this lost season, but our position is to take the conservative approach with Baez and promote him next season if he wins a starting job during Spring Training.
CF Jacob Hannemann: Hannemann, a third round pick in the 2013 draft, was recently promoted to Daytona after bouncing back from a rough start at Low A Kane County of the Midwest League. Hannemann, one of the fastest players in the Cubs’ system, spent two years out of organized baseball following high school while serving a Mormon mission. He enrolled at Brigham Young University in 2012 and, despite the layoff, excelled on the school’s baseball and football teams as a true Freshman.
After signing with the Cubs, he spent the bulk of a truncated season with half-season Boise of the Northwest League. In 64 plate appearances, Hannemann announced his arrival with a .290 batting average. This season, in 386 plate appearances for Kane County, the left-handed hitting and throwing Hannemann hit .254 with 14 doubles, five triples, six homers and 39 RBI while spending the vast majority of the season in the leadoff spot in the Cougars’ batting order. Despite having not played in the Midwest League for almost a week, Hannemann is still sixth in the league with 32 stolen bases in 36 attempts.
Hannemann was recently promoted to Daytona, where he is off to a blistering start. In two games covering eight plate appearances, the speedster has six hits and two more stolen bases without being caught. While Almora is considered the Cubs’ centerfielder of the future, Hannemann might make the competition interesting or at least create a strong trade market that the Cubs could exploit if he continues to excel.
Check back next week for more Cubs’ prospects analysis.
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