One week until the Cubs' 2009 Cactus League opener against the Dodgers... All of the players have reported with the exception of Kosuke Fukudome and Camp Lou is in full swing. There are only a few positions up for grabs this spring, namely the backup job to Geovany Soto.
Here is a look at the other arms and the catchers, along with their PECOTA projections, on the Cubs' 40-man roster.
Jose Ascanio received a cup of coffee with the Cubs last year after being acquired from the Braves for Omar Infante and Will Ohman during the Winter Meetings. Ascanio pitched in six games, was in line for his first victory as a Cub in Pittsburgh and showed a lot of promise....despite posting a 7.94 ERA (five runs on eight hits in 5 2/3 innings with four walks and three strikeouts) and a 2.12 WHIP.
Ascanio finished the year in Iowa (2-1 with a 5.10 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP in 40 games with 11 saves) and was not one of the club's September call-ups.
During the Cubs Convention it was revealed Jose Ascanio would be used as a starter in Iowa in the upcoming season.
Jose Ascanio was impressive at times but mostly inconsistent in his brief stint with the Cubs. He has the stuff but needs to work on his confidence and consistency at the Triple-A level. Ascanio is on the provisional roster for the Dominican Republic in the upcoming WBC.
The Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year for 2008 was added to the Cubs 40-man roster over the winter. Mitch Atkins was an impressive 8-1 in 10 starts with the I-Cubs last season. Atkins posted a 4.47 ERA with a 1.31 WHIP in Triple-A (48 hits, 44 strikeouts, and 23 walks in 54 1/3 innings) after a solid start to the year with the Tennessee Smokies.
Atkins was 9-6 with a 3.76 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP (107 hits, 88 strikeouts and 27 walks in 110 innings) in Double-A.
From The Vine Line: "Atkins throws four pitches. A low 90s fastball, curveball, and change-up for strikes. Athletic, poised and polished mechanically." Atkins' fourth pitch is a cutter.
Most feel Atkins will start the year in Iowa but he was mentioned as a possibility for the fifth spot in the Cubs' rotation in a report from Cubs.com on Monday.
Acquired from the Yankees for Matt Lawton in 2005, Justin Berg was added to the Cubs' 40-man roster over the winter after splitting time in Double-A and Triple-A last season. He was 0-3 with a 3.49 ERA with a 1.41 WHIP in five starts with the Smokies before his promotion.
At Iowa he pitched 11 of his 27 games out of the pen and finished with a 4-6 record with a 5.68 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP. Berg's strikeout to walk ratio are very concerning (1:1, in 118 2/3 innings last year, 59 strikeouts and 59 walks, second year in a row he walked as many batters as he struck out) and will land him in Iowa to start the year.
From The Vine Line: "A shift to the Iowa bullpen in the second half last season freed up Berg to rely on his bread-and-butter pitches, a power sinker and slider. He touched 95 in his shorter stints but still managed to be the same groundball machine."
Which Kevin Hart will take the mound this season? The one that turned heads in 2007 and made the Cubs' post-season roster or the one that struggled with command and confidence last season and split time between Chicago and the minors?
Kevin Hart has the stuff to be very successful at the big league level. He was 2-2 with a 6.51 ERA and a 2.06 WHIP in 21 games for the Cubs in 2008 (39 hits, 23 strikeouts and 18 walks in 27 2/3 innings). At Iowa, Hart posted a 4-2 record with a 2.81 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP in 26 games, 10 starts, with 63 strikeouts, and 20 walks in 57 2/3 innings. The scouts are very high on Kevin Hart and Baseball America ranked him the Cubs' sixth best prospect going into the season.
Baseball America described Hart as "being just plain nasty as a reliever." Out of the bullpen "he can blow hitters away with 94-96 MPH fastballs and chew up their bats with cutters." Hart needs to work on his confidence and aggressiveness. When he goes after hitters he can be very good but when he nibbles, or does not go after hitters, is when he gets in trouble.
Hart has options left, which barring injuries, should land him in Iowa to begin the season.
Like Mitch Atkins and Justin Berg, Marcos Mateo was added to the Cubs 40-man roster over the winter. Marcos Mateo is the cousin of former Cub, Juan Mateo, and was the PTBNL from the Reds in the Buck Coats trade in August of 2007.
Mateo was a starter last season for the Peoria Chiefs and Daytona Cubs. At Daytona he was 4-3 with a 3.57 ERA and a 1.31 WHP (87 hits, 65 strikeouts, and 29 walks in 88 1/3 innings). The Cubs worked with Mateo last season trying to correct what was described as a "herky-jerky delivery." Baseball America projects him to be a reliever down the road with a 92-97 MPH fastball and a 91 MPH slider that is described as his best pitch.
Mateo will likely start the year with Ryne Sandberg in Tennessee.
The Cubs lost Randy Wells in the Rule Five Draft to the Blue Jays a year ago and after he was returned to the Cubs, he spent a majority of the year in Triple-A. The Illinois native was 10-4 with a 4.02 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP in 27 games, 19 starts, for the I-Cubs with 102 strikeouts and 34 walks in 118 2/3 innings.
Wells was called up in September and did not allow an earned run or a hit in 4 1/3 innings (two walks and a strikeout) before a stress fracture in his right arm ended his season.
The converted catcher showed a lot of poise in his brief stint with the Cubs and could be a factor during the season out of the pen. Barring injuries, Randy Wells will likely be in the I-Cubs rotation to start the year.
The reigning National League Rookie of the Year will spend time away from his club due to the WBC and when Geovany Soto returns he will have a lot to prove. Soto made his mark in September of 2007 after struggling offensively for several years in the minors.
After proving that his breakout minor league season of 2007 was no fluke following his September call-up, Soto began last spring as the Cubs starting catcher. It was his job to lose and Soto did not disappoint his manager.
Geovany Soto's line from 2008 was more than impressive (.285/.364/.504/.868/23/86) but it was his ability behind the plate that led to his rookie honor. Soto handled the Cubs' pitching staff like a veteran, became the first rookie to start behind the plate for the National League in the All-Star game and led his team to the best record in the league.
The Cubs need Soto to take the next step in his development...and not suffer from the old sophomore slump.
PECOTA's projection for Soto in 2009: .288/.370/.519/24/80
The former Cub will reportedly battle it out this spring with Koyie Hill for the Cubs backup catchers job. Paul Bako played in 99 games for the Reds last season (.217/.299/.328/.626/6/35) after spending time in Baltimore, Kansas City and with the Dodgers since he last wore a Cubs' uniform in 2004.
Bako would give the Cubs a veteran backup to Soto and another left-handed bat for $750,000 plus incentives for 2009 if he can outperform Koyie Hill in Arizona.
PECOTA's projection for Bako in 2009: .234/.310/.332/0/3
Koyie Hill turned a lot of heads in the Cubs' organization in 2007 after they traded Michael Barrett to the Padres. Hill was more than solid behind the plate and helped turn Carlos Zambrano's season around...but his offense was less than desirable.
The switch-hitter hit .161 with a .231 OBP in 36 games for the Cubs with four doubles and two home runs before the Cubs traded for Jason Kendall. Hill soon found his way down the depth chart and was released following the 2007 season.
Koyie Hill's baseball career nearly came to an end in October of 2007. Hill had his right thumb and three fingers on his right hand sewn back on after nearly losing them in a saw accident.
After rehabbing his hand and extensive work with Von Joshua, Hill hit .275 with 17 home runs and 24 doubles with Iowa last season. Hill received a September call-up last year after he was added to the Cubs 40-man roster...but he continued to struggle at the plate.
The pitchers reportedly like throwing to Koyie Hill, which should give him a leg up on Paul Bako, but if Hill does not hit the ball this spring it will not matter.
PECOTA's projection for Hill in 2009: .220/.280/.357/2/11
- Coming Soon: Storylines of the Spring....The Infielders and Outfielders
- Coming Soon: Storylines of the Spring....The NRI's