The Cubs have signed their first batch of minor league free-agents.
Minor League FAs signed prior to 11/20 are normally the ones most in demand, and so they often get the best deals, including more money and usually an NRI to Spring Training.
The six minor league free-agents signed recently by the Cubs are:
, RHP - Selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 15th round of the 1991 June Draft out of Southeastern Illinois College and rated at one time by Baseball America
as one of the Red Sox Top Ten prospects, Cory Bailey has had a long, LONG pro career. The now 36-year old Bailey logged 172 games (9-10, 3.96 ERA, 207.0 IP, 208 H, 116/150 BB/K, with a 1.57 WHIP) in the big leagues over the years 1995-2002 with BOS, STL, SF, and KC, before signing a two-year deal with the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants (NPB Central) in 2003. After spending two seasons in Japan, Bailey pitched in the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPL) in Taiwan in 2005, and then returned to the U. S. and pitched for Long Island in the independent Atlantic League in 2006. The Cubs scout independent leagues more extensively than most MLB clubs, and they signed Bailey to a minor league contact for '07 (albeit without an NRI to ST). The veteran rubber-armed right-hander had a nice 2007 season at Iowa as a reliever and spot starter (5-3, 2.86 ERA, with a 1.27 WHIP), but did not re-sign with the Cubs prior to the end of the minor league FA filing period. However, he ultimately decided to come back to the Cubs organization, probably after getting a raise plus an NRI to ST. Bailey is pitching very well right now as a rotation starter in the Venezuelan Winter League, which probably gave his stock a bit of a boost. They will have to cut his uniform off with a blow-torch when his career is over.
, SS - The now 23-year old Blanco was signed by KC as a highly-regarded 16-year old out of Venezuela in 2000, and was rated by Baseball America
as one of the Royals Top 10 Prospects both in 2003 and 2004. A switch-hitting shortstop with a slap-stroke, Blanco was compared (defensively) to Omar Vizquel back when he was a teenager. He eventually logged 78 MLB games with KC over the 2004-06 seasons, going 252/296/314. Blanco's last minor league option was spent in 2007 and he was outrighted to AAA Omaha by the Royals after the season, becoming a six-year minor league FA last month. With his MLB experience, Blanco will certainly get an NRI to ST with the Cubs in '08, but with Ronny Cedeno
out of minor league options, and with both Joe Simokaitis
and Carlos Rojas
yet to prove themselves over a full-season at AAA, Blanco would appear to be the leading candidate to be the #1 SS at AAA Iowa in 2008.
J. D. Closser
, C - Signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks after being selected in the 5th round of the 1998 Rule 4 Draft out of Monroe HS in Alexandria, IN, the now 27-year old Closser was traded by AZ to COL in January 2002 along with OF Jack Cust
for veteran LOOGY Mike Myers
. Closser has considerable MLB experience (160 games with COL over three seasons 2002-04), and in those 160 games (about equivalent to a full MLB season) the switch-hitting Closser hit 239/320/387 with 10 HR and 48 RBI. Of course, that was in the pre-humidor days at Coors. He was claimed off waivers by the Brewers in 2006 and spent the 2007 season in AAA, first with MIL, then with OAK, and had a poor season at the plate. Closser will likely battle Koyie Hill
and Tony Richie
for one of the two backstop jobs at Iowa, and if he can hit like he did in Colorado in 2004, he could get the "first call" to Chicago if Henry Blanco
, C - Kerry Wood
's catcher at Grand Prairie HS back in 1995, Fatheree spent his entire minor league career in the Astros organization. Now 29, he missed the last three seasons with shoulder surgery and a life-threatening blod-clot disease that killed two of his uncles. A light-hitting right-handed hitter with no power, Fatheree has only 42 games of AAA experience, and has yet to spend one day in the big leagues. Of the six minor league FAs signed by the Cubs, Fatheree is the one who probably won't get an NRI to ST, and he will have an uphill battle with Closser, K. Hill, and Richie for a job at Iowa. His best-case scenario might be back-up catcher at AA Tennessee in '08. Methinks perhaps signing Fatheree was done as a personal favor per the special request of one Mr. K. Wood?
, RHP - Selected by Cubs Scouting Director Tim Wilken back when Wilken was the Toronto Blue Jays scouting director, Smith was a 5th round pick of TOR in the 2000 Rule 4 Draft out of the University of Richmond (where he was a teammate of ex-Cubs OF prospect Nic Jackson
). The now 30-year old Smith was once considered one of the Jays better pitching prospects (he was rated the Blue Jays #13 prospect by BA in 2002), but he ran out of minor league options as he bounced around AAA for the past five seasons while serving as a reliable every-5th-day AAA rotation starter with TOR, PHI, MIN, and STL. Rotation starter at Iowa is his probable destiny in 2008.
, OF - A native of Puerto Rico, Torres played JC ball at Miami-Dade CC before signing with DET after getting selected in the 4th round of the 1998 Rule 4 draft. He was rated by Baseball America
as one of the Tigers Top 10 Prospects in both 2001 and 2002. A "toolsy" switch-hitting CF, the now 29-year old Torres is a veteran of 89 MLB games over the years 2002-05. (He played for Cubs bench coach Alan Trammell when Trammell was the Tigers manager). However, he hit just 210/258/276 in his MLB opportunities, leading the once-promising Torres to eventually run out of minor league options and bounce around AAA from DET to TEX to CHW to MIN over the past few years as an annual minor league FA, before returning back to DET (AA and AAA) in 2007. He smacked 20 triples in the minors in 2007, so apparently he still has some electricity left (albeit probably just the "4-A" kind). The most-similar player to Andres Torres on the Cubs roster would be Angel Pagan
, but Pagan is faster and a better hitter. Torres will almost certainly get an NRI to ST as part of his '08 FA deal with the Cubs, but his ultimate destination will probably be minor league camp at Fitch Park, where he will likely compete for the 4th OF gig at Iowa with Chris Walker
Besides Bailey, A. Blanco, Closser, Smith, and Torres, others likely to get an NRI to ST with the Cubs in '08 include RHP Randy Wells
, LHPs Les Walrond
and Geoffrey Jones
, catchers Koyie Hill
and Tony Richie
, 3B-C Casey McGehee
(reporting to ST with the pitchers & catchers), 1B Micah Hoffpauir
, and outfielders Josh Kroeger
and Tyler Colvin