Cubs Sign Chad Fox

The Cubs have signed 37-year old RHP Chad Fox to a minor league contract and have invited him to Spring Training.

Fox last pitched in the big leagues in 2005 with the Cubs, when he suffered what was thought to be a career-ending injury to his right elbow in a game at Houston in April of that season.

But back when he was healthy, Fox had some decent years as an MLB reliever, and had some excellent IP/K ratios and OppBA numbers. In 214 MLB games, Fox went 10-11 with 45 saves, a 3.57 ERA, and a 1.43 WHIP, but in 224.1 IP, Fox allowed only 193 hits, with 128/261 BB/K.

Somebody must have some reason to believe Fox is healthy enough to compete for a big league job. I mean, I enjoy blood and gore as much as the next guy, but I really don't necessarily want to see his arm fall off in front of the old folks and kiddies at HoHoKam.

Although their complete list of Non-Roster Invitees (NRI) to Spring Training has not yet been released, and while additional players may be subsequently signed to minor league deals and get an NRI to ST, I believe the Cubs NRI list will ultimately probably look something like this:

(And again, this is just speculation on my part)

* bats or throws left
# bats both

PITCHERS:
Cory Bailey
Rafael Cova
Chad Fox
* Geoffrey Jones
Mike Smith
* Les Walrond

CATCHERS:
# J. D. Closser
# Koyie Hill
Tony Richie

INFIELDERS:
# Andres Blanco, SS
* Micah Hoffpauir, 1B-LF
Casey McGehee, 3B-1B-C
# Bobby Scales, IF-OF

OUTFIELDERS:
* Tyler Colvin
* Josh Kroeger
# Andres Torres

PITCHERS:

Cory Bailey is a rubber-armed 37-year old veteran of 172 MLB games with BOS, STL, SF, and KC in the years 1993-2002 (he had his best years as a middle-reliever with the Royals in 2001-02), before signing a lucrative two-year deal with the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants in 2003. After pitching two years in Japan, he spent a year in Taiwan pitching for the La New Bears in the Chinese Professional Baseball League, and then returned to the U. S. and pitched for the Long Island Ducks in the Atlantic League (independent) in 2006, before signing with the Cubs a year ago. Bailey had a decent year at Iowa as a spot starter/middle reliever in 2007 (5-3, 2.86 ERA, 1.27 WHIP) before becoming a minor league FA after the season, but apparently got a reasonably attractive offer to re-sign with the Cubs in November (probably a raise plus an NRI to ST) after throwing well as a rotation starter with Aragua in the Venezuelan Winter League (where he was a teammate of Cubs SS Ronny Cedeno).

25-year old RHP Rafael Cova is a former hard-throwing relief prospect in the Mets organization (he was good enough that he got an NRI to ST with the Mets in 2006), before getting suspended and released when he refused to accept a minor league demotion during the 2006 season. He spent the 2007 season pitching in Mexico (Tijuana), and was signed by the Cubs as a FA in August. (The Cubs signed three Tijuana pitchers in August, and all three were assigned to the Cubs AZ Instructional League team at Fitch Park). I saw Cova pitch for the Instructional League team in September-October, and he looked very good. He then returned home to Venezuela in October and pitched very well out of the bullpen for Magallanes in the VWL (0.88 WHIP).

Geoffrey Jones is a side-slingin' lefty (a la Clay Rapada) who might have a future as an MLB LOOGY. His main problem is that while he threw "lights out" at AA Tennessee in 2007, he is 28 years old and has never had any success above AA in his nine minor league seasons (spent mostly in the Padres organization). Jones will likely be in the Iowa bullpen in 2008.

30-year old RHP Mike Smith was drafted by Cubs Scouting Director Tim Wilken out of the University of Richmond (where he was a teammate of ex-Cubs outfield prospect Nic Jackson) back when Wilken was the Blue Jays Scouting Director, and he has settled into life as an itinerant "4-A" rotation starter (pitching in AAA with TOR, MIN, and STL over the past three seasons). The Cubs probably signed Smith to provide starting pitching depth at Iowa in 2008, but he was one of the top two rotation starters in the VWL (Caribes) over the past couple of months.

31-year old "4-A" LHP Les Walrond will be spending his 3rd year consecutive at Iowa in 2008. He must really like it there, because he has had a chance to be a minor league FA after each of the last three seasons. He served as a rotation starter with the I-Cubs in 2007. Walrond had a brief "cup of coffee" with the Cubs in September 2006, and will likely once again compete for a job in the starting rotation at Iowa in 2008, although he could also be used out of the bullpen.

CATCHERS:

28-year old switch-hitting J. D. Closser is a former back-up catcher with the Colorado Rockies, where he hit 239/320/367 (including 10 HR) in 160 MLB games over the years 2004-06. He was claimed off waivers by the Milwaukee Brewers after the 2006 season, and had a very poor 2007 season at the plate in AAA with MIL and (later) OAK.

Also a 28-year old switch-hitting catcher, Koyie Hill spent part of the 2007 season as the Cubs back-up catcher (he was Carlos Zambrano's "catcher of preference" for a while), before being returned to AAA in August after hitting just .161 in 36 MLB games. A one-time member of Team USA, K-Hill is a versatile player (he played 2B for Team USA and 3B at Wichita State, and he has also played some 1B at AAA), and is a former Baseball America Ten Dodgers prospect. While he struggled in his MLB ABs, Hill did hit an impressive 322/364/470 at Iowa in '07. Although he could have been a minor league FA after the season, he opted to sign a minor league contract with the Cubs for 2008.

Florida State catcher Tony Richie was the Cubs 3rd round draft pick in 2003 (Jake Fox was picked in the 4th round that year), but he has moved slowly through the Cubs minor league system. Projected as a power-hitting catcher with average defensive skills when he was drafted, Richie finally showed some of the anticipated power after a promotion to Iowa last season (nine HR in 62 games). He will likely battle Closser and K-Hill for one of the two catching slots at Iowa in 2008, although Closser and K-Hill probably have an edge over Richie because they have MLB experience, and Richie does not.

INFIELDERS:

Still only 23-years old, Andres Blanco is a switch-hitting shortstop and a former Baseball America Royals Top Ten Prospect who was signed as a hot-shot 16-year old by KC out of Venezuela. Initially compared (defensively) to a young Omar Vizquel, Blanco is a slick fielder, but he has also struggled mightily at the plate throughout his career. After the Royals outrighted him off their 40-man roster after the 2007 season, Blanco declared himself a FA and went back to Venezuela. He has been playing for Zulia in the VWL for the past three months. The Cubs maintain a strong scouting presence in the VWL, and they signed Blanco as a FA in November, presumably with idea that he can be the starting SS at Iowa in 2008.

Micah Hoffpauir received a last-minute NRI to Spring Training last year and had a fine ST, hitting two game-winning HR. However, for the second year in a row he suffered a season-ending injury in August (oblique strain in 2006 and knee surgery in 2007) that precluded him from getting a September call-up to the big leagues or a slot in the AFL. While he may never be an every-day MLB player, the 27-year old Hoff-POWER! could eventually get a shot as a "Ross Gload-type" 1B-LF-LHPH, possibly with the Cubs after Daryle Ward becomes a FA following the 2008 season. If he doesn't get a shot with the Cubs, Hoffpauir can be a minor league FA after the 2008 season. He definitely has a power stroke (38 HR in 199 AA and AAA games and 780 PA over the past two seasons).

25-year old Casey McGehee is a versatile player who can play both corner infield positions, as well as catcher. He received an NRI to ST with the Cubs in both 2006 and 2007, but after struggling at AAA Iowa at the start of the 2007 season, McGehee was demoted to AA Tennessee, partly to see if he could improve his stroke (which he did), and partly to give him more opportunities to catch. He has spent the last three months playing winter ball with Culiacan in the Mexican Pacific League, and hit 280/362/430 and was 6th in the league in home runs with nine during the MPL regular season.

An "athletic" 30-year old switch-hitter, Bobby Scales has developed into an accomplished "4-A" IF-OF utility player. Like Rich Hill and Jake Fox, Scales played college ball at the University of Michigan, before getting drafted and signing with the San Diego Padres in 1999. He has occasional power and above-average speed, and can play every position except pitcher and catcher.

OUTFIELDERS:

22-year old Tyler Colvin was the Cubs #1 draft pick (13th overall) out of Clemson (where he was a 1st Team All-American) in June 2006, and is considered one of the Cubs top prospects. He was named the Northwest League's #1 prospect post-2006 by Baseball America, and was assigned to Daytona (skipping Peoria) on Opening Day 2007. After playing in the FSL All-Star game, Colvin was promoted to AA Tennessee in July, and was a member of Team USA at the World Cup in Taiwan in November. He suffered from a sore arm for much of the 2007 season (he was moved from LF to RF in 2007 after going on an arm-strengthening program during Spring Training), and although his speed and athleticism is best utilized in the outfield, Colvin's "natural" position is first-base (he was moved to the outfield at Clemson). He has hit 288/320/486 over his first 189 minor league games, with only 32 walks to go with 156 K in 800+ PA. Showing plus-power and plus-speed, Colvin is also an extreme "first-ball fastball" hitter who is super-aggressive at the plate. His best position is LF, but his future will likely be in CF, although if there is no room for him in the outfield, he could eventually be moved back to 1B at some point.

25-year old Josh Kroeger is a left-handed hitting corner outfielder who was signed by the Cubs as a minor league FA after the 2006 season. He was presumed to be a AAA player going into last season (he played in AAA 2004-06), but he was initially assigned to AA Tennessee because there was no room for him at Iowa at the start of the season. He did get eventually get promoted to Iowa, and while he put up great numbers at AA in 2007 (382/449/609) and made the Southern League All-Star team, he produced significantly lesser numbers at AAA Iowa after his promotion (263/338/474). Kroeger was eligible to be a minor league FA after the 2007 season, but opted to re-sign with the Cubs while they still had exclusive negotiating rights with him.

Andres Torres is a 30-year switch-hitting OF who was a one-time Baseball America Tigers Top Ten prospect. He played for Cubs bench coach Alan Trammell when Trammell was the Tigers manager a few years ago, but has since drifted from organization-to-organization (DET-TEX-CHW-MIN-DET) as a "4-A" outfielder. While he is basically an older version of Angel Pagan (Puerto Rico native, played JC ball in Florida, has plus-speed and occasional power, doesn't walk much, and strikes out a lot), Torres does have superior defensive skills to Pagan. Torres also had a very successful year in the Venezuelan Winter League (with Caribes) post-2007, where he led the VWL in doubles and triples, and was second in stolen bases. However, he was (not unexpectedly) also tied for second in the league in strikeouts.

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