Cubs’ prospect watch: A Josh Vitters’ resurgence in 2014?



Today, we finish our 2013 features of Chicago Cubs’ prospects with two apiece from the AA Tennessee Smokies and the AAA Iowa Cubs.  Tennessee finished its regular season with a 76-62 record and claimed the second half North Division title of the Southern League.  Iowa missed the postseason after finishing with a mark of 66-78.
Let’s get to our player profiles.
Tennessee Smokies:
Yeiper Castillo:  Right-handed pitcher Castillo, 25, was signed as a minor league free agent after spending seven seasons in the Boston Red Sox organization, where he had been signed out of his native Venezuela by then Red Sox General Manager and current Cubs’ boss Theo Epstein.  Castillo’s pitching arsenal includes a 90-92 MPH fastball that peaks at 94, a low 70’s curveball and an 82-84 MPH changeup with excellent deception.
Castillo never reached higher than Advanced Class A in the Red Sox’s system.  The Cubs decided to try Castillo primarily in the bullpen this season, starting at Advanced A Daytona, and he was soon promoted to Tennessee.  In eight games for Daytona, Castillo logged 27 innings and yielded just nineteen hits and four walks while fanning 27, leading to an exceptional WHIP of .0852.  His ERA was a sparkling 2.33.  In his first career AA experience, Castillo tossed 61.2 innings for Tennessee.  He allowed 50 hits and 30 walks, resulting in an increased but still respectable WHIP of 1.314.  His of ERA 3.79, H/9 of 7.7, BB/9 of 4.5, SO/9 of 7.7 and SO/BB ratio of 1.71 all lagged behind his equivalents at Daytona but were still impressive considering he missed 2011 with a shoulder injury and had never pitched above Advanced Class A previously.  Unfortunately, Castillo will be a minor league free agent again this offseason, so either the Cubs must add him to their 40-man roster or agree to terms on another minor league contract to keep him in the organization.
Eric Jokisch:  Left-handed starting pitcher Jokisch, 25 next July, was selected in the 11th round of the 2010 draft by the Cubs and has been productive in each of his first three full seasons in the Cubs’ system.  He sports a fastball between 89-92 MPH, circle changeup and curveball.
Jokisch split 2011 between the Cubs’ former Midwest League affiliate of Peoria and Tennessee, skipping Daytona.  In a combined 134 innings, the southpaw yielded 122 hits and 41 walks and fanned 118.  His ERA was 3.09 and WHIP 1.163, but the discrepancy in his production between Peoria and Tennessee, where he scuffled, was obvious.  Thus, he saw action at Daytona and Tennessee in 2012, combining to throw 159.1 innings.  Jokisch allowed 141 hits and 49 walks and struck out 115, leading to a WHIP of 1.192.  His combined ERA was 3.11, though his production was actually better for Tennessee than Daytona.  He returned to Tennessee this season, and in 155 innings through Sunday, he had allowed 136 hits and 54 walks, resulting in a WHIP of 1.226.  His ERA was 3.37.  His ancillary numbers of  7.9 H/9, 3.1 BB/9, 7.5 SO/9 and 2.41 SO/BB were all above average.  After two successful stints for Tennessee, we look forward to seeing Jokisch pitch for Iowa next season.
Iowa Cubs:
Jeffry Antigua:  Left-handed pitcher Antigua has been in the Cubs’ organization stateside since 2008 after being signed out of the Dominican Republic in October of 2006, but he will not turn 24 until next June.  Several scouting reports indicate that the southpaw can throw a mid 90’s two-seam fastball, curveball, straight change and late biting slider.  He also is adept at holding runners on base.  In 2010, he suffered a torn flexor tendon to his pitching elbow, an injury from which he appears to have recovered.
Antigua made his AAA debut with Iowa this season after succeeding at all the lower levels of the Cubs’ system.  In one season of rookie ball, Antigua produced an ERA of 3.05 and a WHIP of 1.403.  In one year of short-season A Ball, his ERA was 2.30 and WHIP .0926.  In five seasons of Class A, he produced a WHIP of 1.229 and ERA of 3.84.  In two seasons of Advanced A, Antigua had a WHIP of 1.100 and ERA 2.81.  Finally, in two seasons of AA, he fashioned a WHIP of 1.275 and ERA of 3.38.
In multiple stints with Iowa this season, Antigua struggled.  In 36.2 innings, he yielded 39 hits and thirteen walks, leading to a career-worst WHIP of 1.418.  His ERA of 5.65 was his highest since a short stint with Peoria in 2011 while rehabbing the elbow injury.  While his H/9 of 9.6 was excessive, his BB/9 of 3.2 was decent.  It appears the Epstein regime has decided to develop the erstwhile starter into a relief pitcher.  Antigua will be a six-year minor league free agent this offseason.  So either the Cubs must add him to the 40-man roster or agree to terms with him on a minor league contract to keep him in their system.
Josh Vitters:  The right-handed hitting third baseman has had a forgettable thirteen months.  After producing his best minor league season for Iowa, Vitters, 24, was promoted to the Cubs on August 5, 2012.  In 109 plate appearances, the 2007 first round draft pick was grossly overmatched, batting .121 with 33 strikeouts.  His OBP was .193 and his slugging percentage a woeful .202.  This season was interrupted by four trips to Iowa’s disabled list with various ailments, limiting him to 28 games and 100 plate appearances. Yet, Vitters made the most of his opportunities, hitting .295 with five homers, four doubles, twelve RBI and eleven walks.  He slugged .511 and produced an OBP of .380.  One of the biggest criticisms of Vitters throughout his seven seasons in the Cubs’ system has been his lack of plate discipline.  In his 2135 plate appearances prior to this season, Vitters had walked only 105 times or once every 20.3 plate appearances.  This season, he walked once every 9.1 plate appearances.  We recognize the vast disparity in the two sample sizes, but it appears that Vitters was making a conscious effort, with no drop-off in power and batting average, to be more disciplined.
Third base has been overhauled in the Cubs’ system since Vitters’ call-up last August.  Kris Bryant was drafted in the first round and appears to be on a meteoric ascension to Wrigley Field.  The Cubs also traded for former Rangers’ first round pick, Mike Olt.  Whether or not Vitters still figures into the Cubs’ plans is unknown.  But if his limited performance over an injury-plagued season can be replicated over a full-season, he will have value to the Cubs or another organization via trade.
Thank you for following our season-long profiles of Cubs’ prospects.  We look forward to continuing this series next season and revealing our Cubs’ minor league All-Star team later this week.                    
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