AZL Cubs Rally for Opening Day Victory
Dwayne Kemp ripped an RBI single to drive-in Robert Bautista with the game-wining run, as the AZL Cubs rallied with three runs in the bottom of the 9th to defeat the AZL Angels 6-5 in Arizona League (AZL) Opening Day action at Fitch Park on Sunday. Kemp also clubbed an RBI triple earlier in the game, and Bautista drove in three runs with a squeeze bunt, a FC grounder, and a single, while also stealing three bases.
20-year old 2B D. J. Fitzgerald had a memoraable pro debut, going 4-4 with two doubles, two runs scored, and a stolen base. The Cubs 22nd round pick in the 2009 Rule 4 Draft (First-Year Player Draft) out of Dyersburg State CC, "DJ Fitz" was a star baseball player at Ocean Lakes HS in Virginia Beach, VA. He signed an NLI with Georgia Southern, but ended up at a Tennessee JC instead.
20-year old RHP Toby Matchulat got the start for the AZL Cubs, and was stellar, throwing four shutout innings (7/1 GO/FO), while allowing just two harmless singles and no walks, with four strikeouts. Matchulat just missed making the Boise Opening Day roster, after having an impressive Extended Spring Training at Fitch Park. An 11th round pick out of Wabash Valley JC in 2008, the lanky 6'5 right-hander struggled big-time with his command in his pro debut last year (29 BB in 18.2 IP), but he has really turned it around this year. Kudos to AZL Cubs Pitching Coach Rick Tronerud and Minor Leagure Pitching Coordinator Mark Riggins for helping Matchulat find a better arm slot and a more consistent release point.
19-year old Australian LHP Cody Hams followed Matchulat to the mound, and had a tough couple of innings. He threw the ball OK, but was adversely affected by his own goof-ups, including two hit batsmen, two balks, two errant pick-off throws, and a walk. Of course, Hams has been pitching for only two years (he was a star cricket player in high school, and he had never even seen a baseball game until he attended the MLB Australian Academy in 2007), so he probably is bound to have a longer learning curve than most of the other youngsters at Fitch Park. The 6'5 Hams has a pitching form very similar to that of a Rich Hill or a Sean Marshall.
While Fitzgerald lit it up in his debut, fellow 2009 draft pick 1B Justin Bour (Cubs 25th round pick out of George Mason) had a game to forget, going 0-4 with three K's. A mountain of a man (6'4 250+), the powerfully-built left-handed hitting Bour would appear to be this year's Rebel Ridling.
In addition to Fitzgerald and Bour, 11 others who signed contracts with the Cubs over the past few days are on the AZL Cubs 34-man Opening Day roster, including RHPs B. J. Dail (Mt. Olive College), Steve Grife (Mercyhurst College), Corey Martin (Western Carolina), Tim Clubb (Missouri State), Jake Schmidt (Concordia U. - St. Paul), and Jesse Ginley (St. Petersburg CC), LHPs John Mincone (Suffolk CC) and Daley Cox (Santa Fe CC), catcher Matt Williams (Duke), 3B Charles Thomas (Edward Waters College), and OF Cody Shields (Auburn U. - Montgomery). Cox and Ginley are the only two who weren't selected in the 2009 draft, as both were signed as Non-Drafted Free-Agents (NDFA) out of Florida junior colleges last week. (Ginley was selected by the Cubs in the 43rd round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, but did not sign).
Also, RHP Robert Whitenack (8th round pick out of SUNY - Old Westbury) and INF Jordan Petraitis (28th round pick out of Miami of Ohio) were moved up to Boise, after initially being assigned to the AZL Cubs when they reported to Fitch Park. (Petraitis switched places with Cody Shields). Whitenack and Petraitis join fellow 2009 draft picks RHP Danny Keefe (U. of Tampa) and 1B Greg Rohan (Kent State) at Boise. Whitenack's stock kept rising prior to the draft, as he displayed a 93 MPH fastball (up 4-5 MPH over what he was throwing last year) to go along with his killer knuckle-curve.
The Cubs have now signed 16 of their 50 selections in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, plus the two NDFA. Note that 5th round pick SS Wes Darvill of Langley, BC, has signed, but he will be touring with the Canadian Junior National Team in the U. S. and Cuba until sometime next month. Then after the tour has been completed, the 17-year old will report to Fitch Park.
The Cubs are scouting a number of their still-unsigned players while they play in summer "wood bat" collegiate leagues (Cape Cod League, Northwoods League, et al) or with touring all-star teams, so it's quite possible that the Cubs will increase their initial offers to some of their draft picks after the scouts have had a chance to evaluate the players more thoroughly.
In addition, RHP Diego Encarnacion has been promoted from DSL Cubs #1 to the AZL Cubs, after he was apparently able to secure an H2B visa. Encarnacion attended the Cubs AZ Instructional League camp at Fitch Park last fall, and made a favorable impression.
And DSL Cubs #1 Hitting Coach Hector Ortega is the new AZL Cubs Hitting Coach. Ortega replaces Ricardo Medina, who is now the Hitting Coach at Boise.