Moon Over Mesa

The Mesa Solar Sox played their AFL home opener tonight at HoHoKam Park in Mesa. No wind, and cool temps. A couple of hundred fans and a couple of hundred scouts. A very pleasant evening. After getting shoutout 3-0 in their AFL opener yesterday afternoon at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, the Mesa Solar Sox turned the tables on the Dogs with a 3-0 whitewash of their own tonight. For those of you not familiar with the AFL, it is a post-season developmental league (roughly AA+) sponsored by MLB that is designed to provide added experience for AA and AAA players who are considered potential MLB players. There are six teams in the AFL, and each team receives seven players from five MLB clubs. The teams providing players to each team varies from year-to-year. This season, the Mesa Solar Sox received players from the Cubs, the Houston Astros, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Minnesota Twins, and the New York Mets. The Cubs also are providing the Solar Sox manager this time around, and that would be 2006 AA West Tenn skipper Pat Listach. Players wear the home (or road) uniforms from their parent MLB club and a Solar Sox cap. The Cubs players assigned to the Solar Sox this year are RHPs Adam Harben (acquired from MIN in the Phil Nevin deal) and Lincoln Holdzkom, LHPs Carmen Pignatiello and Clay Rapada, 2B Eric Patterson, INF Scott Moore, and C-OF Jake Fox. (Harben started yesterday's game and was the loser, giving up just a solo home run in two innings of work). Six of the seven players assigned to the Solar Sox from each of its MLB clubs are on the regular 30-man roster, and one position player from each of the five MLB clubs is assigned to the five-man "Taxi Squad." Players assigned to the Taxi Squad are only eligible to play on Opening Day, all Wednesdays, and all Saturdays, but they also provide a cadre of players available to replace an injured position player from 30-man roster. Although the Taxi Squad has not yet been announced, it is likely that Scott Moore is the Cubs Taxi Squad representative. And there is already an injured player on the Solar Sox who will probably need to be replaced, that being #1 SS Chin-Lung Hu (LAD), who suffered what appeared to be a broken finger or hand after being hit by a pitch in the 5th inning. As for tonight's game, I won't go into great detail about what happened, but I will mention how each of the Cubs players performed. Eric Patterson was the only Cub player in the starting lineup, hitting 2nd and playing 2B. He grounded out to the right side of the infield in his first two ABs (he is mostly a pull hitter), then reached on a nifty bunt single down the third-base line in his 3rd AB, eventually coming around to score on FC, barely beating the throw home from the Phoenix third-baseman with a daring head-first slide. In his 4th AB, Patterson popped another bunt to the pitcher. For those of you not familiar with the younger Patterson, he is bit taller than his older brother, but doesn't have Corey's power. E-Pat is more of a "small ball"-type, a slap hitter who doesn't elevate the ball that much, and a guy who likes to bunt a lot. Basically, he is the type of hitter the Cubs and a lot of Cubs fans always wanted Corey to be. Lincoln Holdzkom came into the game in relief in the 6th, and made quick work of the Dogs 1-2-3. Radar guns behind home plate showed him consistently throwing 94, and he had the best slider of any of the pitchers (on either team) I saw pitch tonight. Holdzkom was one of the pitchers acquired from the Marlins in the Todd Wellemeyer deal at the end of Spring Training, and the only time previous I had seen him pitch was when he was on a DL rehab at AZL Mesa in July. He was throwing pretty hard then, but his breaking ball tonight was miles ahead of what he was throwing three months ago. A wicked, wicked slider. With his leg-kick and similar physique, he reminds me of Rob Dibble. Holdzkom had been the Marlins top closer prospect in 2003, and had even been added to their 40-man roster. Then he suffered a torn ligament in his elbow in '04, underwent Tommy John ligament transplant surgery, and was shuffled to the back of the deck. He looks VERY healthy now, though, and I would say he is a strong candidate to be added to the Cubs 40-man roster by the November 20th deadline. He looks like he could be a first-class MLB relief-pitcher (middle relief, set-up, or closer). I think the Cubs might have made out OK, exchanging Wellemeyer (who was out of minor league options) for Holdzkom. Clay Rapada came into the game with one out in the 8th to face a couple of left-handed hitters. He walked the first one, but then picked him off. Then he struck out the second hitter to end the inning. For those of you who have never seen Rapada, he is a Mike Myers clone, a side-slingin' southpaw who is murder on left-handed hitters. He is another strong candidate to be added to the 40-man roster by November 20. Jake Fox (at catcher) and Scott Moore (at 1B) came into the game in the middle innings, and each got one AB. Fox struck out on a slider, and Moore smoked an RBI double into the left-center alley. Most of you have seen Moore, because he was recalled by the Cubs and got to play a bit (mainly 1B and PH) over the last few weeks of the 2006 season. I would project Moore as a future Geoff-Blum-type 3B-1B-LF-RF lefty bat off the bench, although I guess he could be an everyday MLB 3B on the right team. Fox was Rich Hill's battery-mate at the University of Michigan. He has struggled with his catching mechanics (receiving skills) and still has a long way to go in that area, but he has an OK arm and at bat he has plus-power. I don't know if he ever will improve enough to be an everyday catcher. Right now, he looks like the kind of guy who will maybe eventually morph into a LF-RF bench guy with power who can also catch.


Thanks AZ PHIL!

It is a drag that it appears as if catcher is a glaring minor league black hole for the Cubbies.

I was NOT impressed with Soto when I saw him at Wrigley. In my opinion, Blanco is STILL a much stronger option behind the plate.

However, I have read that the farm hand catcher picked up as a ptbnl this summer is a good defensive player. I'm sure you'll get to see him out there.

Thanks for the update Phil

#1 of 2: By The E-Man (October 12, 2006 11:08 AM)
It is a drag that it appears as if catcher is a glaring minor league black hole for the Cubbies.

I was NOT impressed with Soto when I saw him at Wrigley. In my opinion, Blanco is STILL a much stronger option behind the plate.

However, I have read that the farm hand catcher picked up as a ptbnl this summer is a good defensive player. I'm sure you'll get to see him out there.

E-MAN: That would probably be Chris Robinson, acquired from DET for Neifi Perez.

I have seen Robinson play quite a bit in the Instructional League (he is one of five catchers on the team), and I'm not all that impressed yet. However, he should be the #1 catcher at AA Tennessee (the Cubs new AA affiliate in the SL) in 2007, probably with Tony Richie and Alan Rick (who can also play 1B) as the back-ups.

As far as the young catchers on the 40-man roster are concerned, Jose Reyes is actually a much better defensive catcher than Soto (they are both about the same age). Reyes is a cat behind the plate and throws out base-stealers at about a 40% rate, while Soto (a converted 3B) is more of an old school "receiver" (as solid as the Rock of Gibralter, and the type of catcher to whom pitchers like to throw) who throws out base-stealers only at about a 25% rate. But Reyes can't hit, while Soto is an OK hitter.

I figure Jake Fox will probably be promoted to Iowa next season, and will catch part-time and also play some corner OF. Whether Soto and/or Reyes return to Iowa depends on whether the Cubs re-sign Blanco.

Further down the pipeline, Mark Reed (the organization's best all-around catcher), Jake Muyco (the organization's best throwing catcher), and either Olin Wick or Peter Farina (Sean Marshall's catcher at Virginia Commonwealth) will probably be the receiving corps at Daytona, with Matt Canepa, Mario Mercedes, and Cory Vanderhook likely to be the catchers at Peoria.

Thanks, AZ Phil. Chris Robinson, yep, that's they guy.

So, you haven't seen the next Yadier Molina, or Paul Lo Duca out there yet, huh?

Please keep us posted!

Nice report, thanks.

Were you in Phoenix - if so, how did Harben look? Do you think he returns to AA or starts the year in Iowa?

NICK: Yes, I also got to see Harben pitch at Phoenix Muni. He looked good. He mixes his pitches very well, and has an average (OK) fastball.

I would see him more as a starter at this point (unlike Mesa Solar Sox teammate Lincoln Holdzkom, for instance, who looks like the protypical set-up guy), and if Harben is in fact used as a rotation starter, whether he pitches at Iowa (AAA) or Tennessee (AA) in 2007 depends on whether the Cubs acquire one or two major league rotation starters during the off-season, and whether or not Hendry does another "three young pitchers package" deal like he did for Juan Pierre last off-season.

As things stand right now (subject to change), barring injuries or trades, and for better or for worse, I would project the following Opening Day pitching staffs in the Cubs organization in '07:


Dempster (closer)


Marmol (closer)


Campusano (closer)


Avery (closer)


Cooper (closer)

BTW, I was talking to a scout out here the other day in Mesa, and he was saying that when an organization converts a position player to a pitcher, his arm is usually best-suited to be a relief pitcher, because he has been trained to throw every day, but probably not to throw the number of pitches a starting pitcher has to throw (maybe 100 pitches with full exertion) in a starting assignment.

So if that's true, the position players the Cubs have converted to pitcher (Marmol, Wells, Baez, Mendez, Francisco, Bernard, et al) should probably be projected and developed as relievers rather than as starters. Whether any one of them would be used as a closer, set-up guy, or middle reliever depends on how good they are.

If Samardzija isn't able to report to the Cubs in April because of the NFL Draft, who would you expect to slide into the rotation? Grant Johnson?

Also, I was a bit surprised that you think Ceda won't start the year in Peoria.

NICK: If Samardzija is busy with NFL issues or if Billy Petrick is still not 100%, then Grant Johnson (if healthy and if his command improves) could certainly be moved into the rotation at Daytona, or Todd Blackford could move up from Peoria.

BTW, if you have never seen Grant Johnson pitch, he is a Mark Prior clone. Not in terms of performance (yet), but he has the same physique (6'6 with thick thighs and calves), and the same "drop & drive" style. The problem with drop & drive pitchers is that any little mechanical flaw screws everything up, and at present, Johnson is really messed up. If he could get his mechanics straightened out, he also probably would have less chance incurring future elbow & shoulder injuries.

As for Jose Ceda, he throws gas, but the problem is that his breaking ball is not very good and he has lapses in control. (Donald Veal has the same problem). Ceda really needs to work on his breaking ball and on his command, and that can best be accomplished at Extended Spring Training (April-May). If all goes well, I would expect him to be back at Boise next season (he's only 19 and has only one full year of pro experience, so it's not like he would be too old or too experienced for SS-A). Once he finds at least a passable breaking ball and gets more consistent with the command of his heater, he will be on a fast track as a set-up man or closer and could move quickly through the system (although the Cubs might use him as a starter for a while to get him more innings). You don't see fastballs like Ceda throws too often. If he stays healthy, he is a definite prospect.

When listing the likely (at this point-subject to change) 2007 Opening Day pitching staffs, I also should have mentioned pitchers who have been rehabbling at Fitch all year, and it's possible that one or more could magically re-emerge at Daytona next season:

Chadd Blasko
Lee Gwaltney
Luke Hagerty
Robert Ransom

There is also a group of pitchers who are at present in limbo as far as 2007 is concerned:

Mike Billek
Jerry Blevins
Stephen Bronder
Bobby Brownlie
Roger Evenson
Jon Mueller

None are candidates for Boise, and (barring openings created by injuries) I don't see where any of them would fit at Peoria, Daytona, or Tennessee at this point, either.

For any of the above-listed pitchers who might get released, there is always the independent minor leagues (Can-Am, Northern, etc). Independent league clubs are always more-than-willing to give a second chance to a guy who has been released (heck, Matt Harrington pitched for independent league teams for the last six seasons!), and the Cubs actually have acquired a few pitchers and position players (pitchers Joe Borowski, Jermaine Van Buren, Isaac Pavlik, Ryan Bicondoa, and Matt Harrington, infielders Aaron Sisk, Albenis Machado and Jake Whitesides, and 1B Jesse Hoorelbeke) from indy clubs over the last few years.

LHP Jon Connolly, who had been a rotation starter for the Cubs at AA before hurting his shoulder in 2005, was signed by an indy team after getting released by the Cubs last April, pitched well, and was reacquired by the Tigers (his original organization).

So if a Chadd Blasko or a Luke Hagerty or a Bobby Brownlie get released by the Cubs sometime during the off-season or during Spring Training, it could be a blessing in disguise. All is not lost. There is always Independent League baseball, where a career can be resurrected.

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    Baseball Reference

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