Throw It Like a Ballplayer

providing baseball commentary and ponderings since April 2010

Posts Tagged ‘Tennessee Smokies’

Who’s Who Behind the Plate, pt. 2

Posted by dannmckeegan on August 7, 2010

…wherein the author examines the high minors of the Chicago Cubs, in particular those players whose primary position is catcher.

Welington Castillo (http://blogs.desmoinesregister.com/dmr/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/icubs.jpg)Chris RobinsonRobinson ChirinosSteve Clevenger

Beyond Geovany Soto, Koyie Hill and Welington Castillo, there are several catchers in the Cubs’ farm system that are legitimate major league prospects.  There also are those who appear to be farm fodder at this point, as opposed to real prospects at the position.  There is little to no information available on DSL players beyond basic stat lines.  I’ll provide as much depth, in brief, as possible, as well as give a quick onceover to those who no longer are Cubs system catchers.

Triple A – Iowa Cubs

Welington Castillo; Chris Robinson; Mark Johnson

I dealt with Welington Castillo a few days ago.  Read about him here.  In brief, he possesses decent power at the plate and a strong arm behind it.  His broader defensive skills are in question, while his free-swinging ways have downgraded his ceiling to a Miguel Olivo-type career, as opposed to the Ivan Rodriguez-type player the Cubs hopes they were signing back in the middle of the last decade.  Expect to see him on the MLB roster in a matter of weeks, if not days, given the minor ligament soreness Geovany Soto is experiencing and the fact that Koyie Hill is about as good a hitter as Jon Garland.

Chris Robinson, left, shakes hands with P/WR Jeff Samardzija

At twenty-six years of age, Chris Robinson is having a rough go in his second trip through the Pacific Coast League.  Debuting for the Tigers’ short-season low-A affiliate in 2005 as a third round draft pick, Robinson made his way to the Cubs’ system in the middle of the following year, the return in the trade that sent Neifi Perez to Detroit.  A right-handed hitter, Robinson doesn’t have much pop (career .359 SLG) or patience (101 BB in 1620 PA, 6.2%).  After a surprising .326 average in 331 plate appearances at Iowa in 2009, Robinson’s stock has plummeted just as far as his 2010 offensive production has.  He’s hitting only .228 with a .584 OPS in 204 PA.  Even in 2009, his best overall season as a pro, he drew just 13 bases on balls.  He also has caught only 24% of attempted base thieves since the start of the 2008 season.  However, at the start of this season, Lou Piniella and Jim Hendry kept him in camp through the final cut to reward a strong spring.  Piniella emphasized to Paul Sullivan that, at the time, Robinson looked to be the emergency call-up if either Soto or Hill were to go on the DL.  This was surprising, as both Castillo and fellow-farmhand Steve Clevenger, Robinson’s 2009 platoon partner at Iowa, had been considered more highly rated prospects.  With just three weeks remaining in the minor league regular season, Robinson would need to play just about every day to match his games played and plate appearance totals from 2009.  With the progress of those next to and behind him, that’s not likely to happen.  Robinson might remain in the system as Just Another Guy, but his chance to get a cup of coffee with the Cubs likely passed when neither Geo nor Koyie came limping out of the gate.

Out of respect for a longtime member of the Brotherhood of Backup Backstops, I’ll give a brief write-up to Mark Johnson (not pictured), a 34-year-old left-handed hitter who began his professional career in 1994 as the White Sox’ first round pick.  He’s played parts or all of 8 major league seasons and 14 minor league seasons for six different organizations (White Sox, Athletics, Brewers twice, Cubs twice, Diamondbacks and Cardinals), amassing 332 games and 1102 plate appearances in MLB and 3568 plate appearances over 933 minor league games.  For about six weeks at the start of 2010, Johnson rode Iowa’s bench, picking up one pinch hitting opportunity and playing the field in another game.  He singled, scored, struck out, had no one attempt to run on him, and found himself out of a job on May 27th.  It’s likely the end of the road for Johnson, but at least he gets to say he led his team’s position players in hitting and on base percentage in his final season.

Double A – Tennessee Smokies

Robinson Chirinos; Steve Clevenger

Robinson Chirinos

Robinson Chirinos has been in the Cubs’ farm system since he was 17 years old.  That was way back in 2001, when he was a defensively deficient and offensively raw utility infielder in the Arizona rookie league.  He played over 500 games before ever making it higher than high A Daytona.  In 2007, he split the year between the Florida State League and the Smokies, committing 9 errors in 39 games while putting up a weak .629 OPS for Tennessee.  At the urging of Cubs player personnel V.P. Oneri Fleita, Chirinos began to transition behind the plate in the 2008 season, catching 2 games in rookie ball and 18 at Daytona in addition to 55 on the infield between those teams and the Smokies.  In 2009, Chirinos caught 65 of the 81 games in which he played, primarily at Daytona, committing 6 errors, allowing 7 passed balls and throwing out 24 of 86 (28%) thieves on the bases.  He also had by far his best offensive season as a pro, throwing up a slash line of .294/.396/.519 with a career high 11 HR and, for the second straight year, having a 1:1 K/BB ratio.  Earning a spot on the Tennessee team coming into 2010, Chirinos also turned heads at Baseball America, who graded him as the Cubs’ best defensive catcher.  So far in 2010, all he’s done is start the Southern League ASG, earn multiple offensive player of the week awards, and carry a .316/.407/.578 line through the first week of August.  He’s walked 40 times to just 33 strikeouts in 307 plate appearances, as well as hit 15 home runs and 22 doubles.  He’s second on the team in total bases despite being sixth in plate appearances.  Defensively, he has 7 errors in 536 chances (.987), 5 passed balls and a 30% CS rate.  Having turned 26 two months ago, Chirinos is no spring chicken by baseball standards.  He is, however, getting close to MLB-ready.  While likely never a star and probably not a starter, he projects as a potentially strong all-around backup for a few years that might serve as solid trade-bait this coming off-season.

Steve Clevenger

Steve Clevenger’s name has fallen on this list just as far as he has on the organizational depth chart.  Late in 2009, this 24-year-old with a lefty stick was figuring out AAA pitching for the first time during 66 games played with Iowa after a torrid start early on in Tennessee.  A career .300/.360/.390 hitter in the minors, he was a seventh rounder by the Cubs back in 2006, the same draft in which the team took Jeff Samardzija and Tyler Colvin.  A singles hitter with walk and strikeout rates hovering around 10% apiece, he’s only been able to squeeze 200 plate appearances and 43 games behind the plate back at AA Tennessee.  Through no fault of his own, he was the odd man out when someone had to give way to Castillo’s promotion.  Expected to be the long side of the platoon with Chirinos, Clevenger started as slowly as Chirinos was hot and has been playing catch-up ever since.  He’s at .277/.319/.351, numbers more similar to his first trip through the Southern League in 2008 than the .364 average and .976 OPS he put up in the first month down there in 2009.  Clevenger’s first season with the Cubs saw him at the keystone is short season low-A at Boise, but he hasn’t played an inning there since.  In addition to those 63 games at second, he played first in 82 games between 2007 and 2009 while catching just under 200 to date, catching 29% of runners while allowing just 14 passed balls and 15 errors as a catcher.  Given what we know about the careers of Paul Bako, Brian Schneider, and Gregg Zaun, a catcher with even the potential to hit over .200 from the left side will be given every chance and then some to make it.  Expect Clevenger to stick around the system, a la Koyie Hill, for at least a year or two more.

Prognosis

Chris Robinson, most likely, is near the end of his tenure in the upper minors.  The Cubs are hardly a top-5 system, but they do have solid players who have excelled at lower levels.  Room has to be cleared, and that generally means that age gets the boot.  While he is the same age as Chirinos and has been a pro for a shorter period of time, Chirinos’ recent positional transition and rapid development – along with his improving offense and respectable slugging – should make Chirinos Iowa’s starter or someone else’s farmhand come next Februrary.  It’s hard to imagine that Welington Castillo will be anywhere other than Alfonso Soriano‘s sofa in the coming weeks (sorry, Starlin – time to get your own place).  Clevenger likely will be shuffled back up to Triple A Iowa.  There are some intriguing options at catcher in the low minors.  Michael Brenly, Jovan Rosa, Luis Flores, Jonathan Mota and others might be ready to move up one or more steps, with their Augusts, winter ball stints, and spring training performance (if applicable) will determine what the upper minors look like.  Count on Castillo to back up Soto unless he looks absolutely feeble and over-matched as 2010 comes to a close.

Advertisements

Posted in Analysis | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Who’s Who Behind the Plate, pt. 1

Posted by dannmckeegan on August 6, 2010

Geovany Soto (http://a.espncdn.com/photo/2010/0301/fantasy_g_soto_576.jpg)Koyie Hill (http://thebloggerinthegloamin.mlblogs.com/koyiehill.jpg)Welington Castillo (http://blogs.desmoinesregister.com/dmr/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/icubs.jpg)

Geovany Soto won the 2008 National League Rookie of the Year Award, joining Kerry Wood in 1998 and Jerome Walton in 1989 as Cubs to earn the honor in my lifetime.  After a disappointing 2009 campaign, Soto has bounced back in 2010 and begun to earn consideration as one of the top catchers in the majors.  He is currently joined on the Cubs’ 40-man roster by two fellow catchers, backup Koyie Hill and Iowa catcher Welington Castillo.  The 2010 season has also revealed some organizational depth at the position that is intriguing both for the future and as potential trade bait.  The goal here is to give something of a onceover to the catchers in the Chicago Cubs system, from the major league roster all the way down to the Dominican Summer League.  The three most important names – Soto, Hill and Castillo – will be profiled in this installment. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Analysis | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »