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The All-Star break will give Jim Hendry and the Cubs a great chance to minimize the effect on the 25-man roster of Derrek Lee's impending suspension. Here's how:
The Cubs continue to go with an 11-man pitching staff (six-man bullpen), but with a stretch of ten consecutive games looming starting tomorrow, and with hot and humid weather now a factor affecting the stamina of Cubs starting pitchers (Zambrano said he was sapped by the second inning yesterday), it seems very unlikely that Lou Piniella will want to go with a "short" (six-man) bullpen through the weekend. Trading Jacque Jones was supposed to be the method used to open up a spot on the 25-man roster for the 12th pitcher, but now it appears JJ might not be going anywhere anytime soon. So if Uncle Lou does indeed believe he needs a seven-man bullpen (and 12-man pitching staff), what move will the Cubs make to clear a spot for the 12th pitcher?
The Cubs have recalled LHP Clay Rapada from Iowa, and have optioned OF Matt Murton to the same club. The side-slingin' Rapada has been the Iowa Cubs primary closer this season, but as shown by his '07 AAA splits, he is really more of a classic LOOGY. That is, he is death on left-handed hitters, but with his frisbee-style offerings that seem to come out of right field, you really don't want him to throw to MLB-quality right-handed swingers if it can be avoided. As for Murton, this move will give Orange Guy a chance to play everyday (probably playing RF and hitting 3rd in the I-Cubs lineup), and (hopefully) get his groove back, either forcing himself back into the Cubs starting lineup as the everyday RF at some point in the not-too-distant future--or at least making him more attractive as trade bait later this season or next off-season. Adding Rapada gives the Cubs a 13-man pitching staff, so expect a pitcher to get trimmed from the roster whenever the first position player (Blanco, Ward or Ramirez) returns from the DL (probably no later than a week from Friday when A-Ram is due back, if not sooner). However, the Cubs do have the luxury of having two pitchers (Carlos Zambrano and Jason Marquis) on their roster who can be used as a PH on days when they're not pitching. The Cubs bullpen has been used quite a bit over the past four games, so adding the 13th pitcher is probably just a short-term thing. This roster move (at least the Murton part) is probably part of Uncle Lou's long-stated desire for a "set" lineup and for a lefty run producer in the middle of the order... 1. Matt Murton gets optioned to Iowa where he will get regular playing time; 2. Jacque Jones goes into the Friendly Confines Witness Protection Program until Hendry can trade him; 3. Cliff Floyd (if he can stay healthy) plays RF and hits 4th or 5th most every day--LHP or RHP, doesn't matter--until further notice. 4. Angel Pagan serves as the defensive replacement in RF whenever the Cubs are trying to protect a lead late in a game.
For the first time since the last week of Spring Training, there is a roster crunch a-comin', as Henry Blanco (Saturday), Daryle Ward (Monday), and Aramis Ramirez (a week from Friday) are all eligible to be reactivated from the DL next week.
The MLB Rule 4 Draft (AKA "First-Year Player Draft") continues today at Disney World in Florida. Yesterday, the first five rounds of the draft were completed, and the Cubs selected five players: 1. Josh Vitters, 3B (Cypress HS - Cypress, CA) 2. Josh Donaldson, C (Auburn) 3. Tony Thomas, 2B (Florida State) 4. Darwin Barney, SS (Oregon State) 5. Brandon Guyer, OF (Virginia) Interestingly, four of the five picks were college players, and no pitchers were chosen. AZ PHIL UPDATE: 6. Casey Lambert, LHP (Virginia) COMMENT: UVA's closer and a teammate of Cubs 2007 5th round pick Brandon Guyer, Lambert is a 5'10 160 lefty who had 11 saves, 0.81 WHIP, and 12/54 BB/K, 34 H, and two HR in 43.2 IP in '07. If the Cubs sign him, Lambert will likely be assigned to Boise. 7. Ty Wright, OF (Oklahoma State) COMMENT: The Cubs draft another college outfielder. A 6'1 195 right-handed hitter, Wright led the Cowboys in hitting (411/465/599), with 6 HR and 40 RBI, 14 doubles, with a 18/23 BB/K. If the Cubs sign him, look for Wright to be assigned to Boise, although (like Brandon Guyer) he might have a shot at getting a slot at Peoria. 8. Marquez Smith, 3B (Clemson) COMMENT: A power-hitting third-baseman and middle-of-the-order run producer, the powerfully built Smith was a teammate of Cubs 2006 #1 pick (Tyler Colvin) at Clemson, and (like Colvin) was selected by the Cubs in last year's draft (35th round), but unlike Colvin, Smith did not sign and went back to school, probably hoping to improve his draft status (and he sure did!). He was selected first-team all-ACC this past season, hitting 329/410/560, with 13 HR and 56 RBI. If the Cubs sign him, Smith is another player who will likely be asigned to Boise, although he could end up at Peoria if Josh Lansford (as anticipated) receives a mid-season promotion to Daytona. 9. Clark Hardman, OF (Cal State - Fullerton) COMMENT: Still another college outfielder, Hardman is a 6'2 195 left-handed hitting CF who was selected as a Freshman All-American before being slowed by shoulder surgery a year ago. If he signs, Hardman will probably get assigned to Boise, although Peoria needs a CF. 10. Leon Johnson, OF (BYU) COMMENT: Another college outfielder, this one had his college years interrupted when he served a Mormon mission in Siberia for a couple of years, so going to Peoria in April would probably seem like a vacation in Acapulco. Like Hardman, Johnson is a left-handed hitting CF with plus-speed, but he lacks power and has struggled at the plate (248/335/339 in 2007). If Johnson signs, he will likely get assigned to Boise, keeping Cliff Andersen and Drew Rundle at AZL Mesa for another season. 11. Chris Siegfried, LHP (Portland) COMMENT: Like Lambert, Siegfried is a lefty reliever, but unlike Lambert, Siegfried is a lanky 6'5 195. Siegfried went 1-2 with a 5.20 ERA, with 19/22 BB/K in 36.1 IP throwing out of the Pilots bullpen in '07. Out of the 30+ pitchers who were at EXST at Fitch Park, only TWO (Mark Pawelek and Taylor Parker) were LHPs (and T. Parker has a sore elbow), so expect the Cubs to draft a few college lefty relievers with the intention of assigning the ones they can sign to Boise. 12. Ryan Acosta, RHP (Clearwater Central Catholic HS - Clearwater, FL) COMMENT: The son of former Cubs pitching coach Oscar Acosta (who was killed in a car crash in the Dominican Republic last year), Acosta ia a 6'2 170 RHP/SS. Acosta signed an LOI with the University of Georgia last November, so he could be a "tough sign" for the Cubs, although the fact that they took him in the 12th round might mean they have reason to believe he wants to turn pro immediately. 13. Jonathan Wyatt, OF (Georgia) COMMENT: So five of the Cubs first 13 picks in the '07 Rule 4 Draft are college outfielders? Interesting. Wyatt is a 5'10 185 left-handed hitting CF (he hit .323 with a .415 OBP for the Dawgs in '07), and his selection speaks to the Cubs not believing they have enough quality outfielders at their lower minor league levels (Daytona, Peoria, and Boise). If they sign all five of the outfielders they have selected so far (Guyer, Wright, Hardman, Johnson, and Wyatt), one might be assigned to Peoria immediately, with Guyer or Wright the most likely candidates. The others would go to Boise, and (as I said) that means both Andersen and Rundle will likely remain at Mesa for another season (or at least the first part of the '07 season). 14. James Russell, LHP (Texas) COMMENT: OK. Here's another college LHP, but this one is a rotation starter. The son of former MLB RHP Jeff Russell (14 year career 1983-96, mainly as the closer for the Texas Rangers), James is 6'4 and 205. He went 8-4 with a 3.86 ERA, allowing 108 hits (14 HR) in 109 IP, with a 28/91 BB/K for the Longhorns in '07. If he signs, he almost certainly goes to Boise, where (depending on the needs of the Hawks) he could be used either as a starter or reliever. 15. Marc Sawyer, 1B (Yale) COMMENT: A 6'3 210 L/L first-sacker, Sawyer was Ivy League player of the year in 2006 and All-Ivy in 2006 and 2007. Like SS and LHP, the Cubs also have a dearth of 1B prospects at the lower levels of the system (especially at Boise/Mesa), so if he signs, Sawyer would very likely immediately become the #1 1B at Boise. 16. Zach Ashwood, LHP (Kansas) COMMENT: Still another college LHP. A 6'5 205 intra-Big 12 transfer from TCU, Ashwood went 4-4 with a 5.77 ERA in 12 starts for the Jayhawks in 2007. He was previously drafted out of HS (26th round) by the Seattle Mariners in 2004. If he signs with the Cubs, Ashwood will likely be assigned to Boise. 17. Arik Hempy, LHP (South Carolina) COMMENT: And here's another one. At 6-'4 240, Hempy is a load. He had TJ elbow ligament transplant surgery last year, but bounced back and was a rotation starter for the Gamecocks in 2007, going 6-3 with a 3.38 ERA, allowing 30/57 BB/K in 58 IP, with a .242 OPP BA, as he helped pitch South Carolina into a NCAA Super Regional this weekend vs UNC. 18. Jeffrey Rea, 2B (Mississippi State) COMMENT: A 5'8 157 left-handed hitting lead-off man and 2B, Rea hit .340 for the Bulldogs and was first-team All-SEC. He also has played some outfield at MSU. 19. Kyle Day, C (Michigan State) COMMENT: A left-handed hitting catcher, Day hit 295/438/434 with 3 HR and 26 RBI, 12 doubles, and 33/38 BB/K for the Spartans in 2007. Those are NOT good college offensive numbers. He displays no significant power, and he apparently is not a good hitter. 20. Jose Made, SS (Dominican College) COMMENT: A 5'8 switch-hitting SS, Made hit 338/439/531, with 4 HR and 38 RBI, 11 SB (0 CS), and a 19/21 BB/K for the Chargers in 2007. If he signs with the Cubs, I would expect Made to begin his pro career at Boise. 21. Dustin Sasser, LHP (East Carolina) COMMENT: Whew! Another college lefty. I told you they need lefties at Boise! A 6'0 195 rotation starter, Sasser was the ace of the Pirates staff in '07, going 5-4 with a 3.52 ERA, allowing 106 hits and five HR in 94.2 IP, with a 48/68 BB/K. 22. Craig Muschko, RHP (LaSalle) COMMENT: After missing 2006 with an injury, Muschko (6'2 200) was in the Explorers starting rotation in '07, going 1-1 with a 2.95 ERA in 10 starts, allowing 54 hits in 58 IP, with a 18/40 BB/K and 1 HR. I would think if he signs, Muschko goes to Boise. 23. Stephen Vento, RHP (Palm Beach CC) COMMENT: Selected in last year's Rule 4 Draft (19th round) by the Minnesota Twins, Vento decided to return to PBCC and hope for a DNF signing with MIN or a better draft slot this time around. It didn't work out that way. 24. Scott Meyer, RHP (Lamar) The Cubs have drafted several guys out of Lamar in the past few years, including Iowa 1B Micah Hoffpauir, Daytona RHP Chuckie Platt, and ex-West Tenn RHP Thomas Atlee (who was released in ST). Meyer was used as both a starter and as a reliever this year at Lamar. 25. Victor Sanchez, 3B (Gahr HS - Norwalk, CA) COMMENT: Rated by BA as one of the top 50 HS players in the nation and a member of the Team USA Junior National Team, Sanchez has signed a LOI to attend the University of San Diego. In order for the Cubs to sign him, they will probably have to offer "1st round money," and with ownerhip of the club in flux, I doubt that they are in a position to do that this time around. Through the first 25 picks, the Cubs have selected six LHP, five OF, four RHP, three 3B, two C, two 2B, two SS, and one 1B. Of the first 25 picks, 22 were college players (including 21 from four-year colleges), and only three were HS players. Starting with this draft, the old "Draft + Follow" (DNF) will no longer be allowed (all drafted players must be signed by August 15th or they go back into next year's draft), so there is less motivation to select JC players (they were the ones usually signed as DNFs). The draft continues, with 25 more rounds to go... 26. Michael Bunton, LHP (College of Charleston) 27. Clayton Suss, RHP (Cooper City HS - Cooper City, FL) 28. Bill Moss, 2B (Memphis) 29. Andrew Cashner, RHP (Angelina JC) 30. Luke Sommer, OF (San Francisco) 31. Brian Leclerc, OF (Florida) 32. Luis Bautista, C (Florida International) 33. Preston Clark, C (Texas) 34. Enrique Garcia, RHP (Miami) 35. J. C. Casey, RHP (Kickapoo HS - Kickapoo, MO) 36. Billy Mottram, 3B (Dowling College) 37. Mike McGee, 3B (Port St. Lucie HS - Port St. Lucie, FL) 38. Yuri Higgins, RHP (South Florida) 39. Roberto Sabates, C (Cuban defector - Miami, FL) 40. Corey Bachman, RHP (Virginia Military Institute) 41. Jordan Herr, OF (Pitt) 42. Colt Sedbrook, INF (Arizona) 43. Garrett Clyde, RHP (San Jacinto JC - North) 44. Bryan Jost, 1B (Minnesota) 45. Ryan Lewis, OF (Yakima Valley CC) 46. Tyler Clark, RHP (Springfield Catholic HS - Springfield, MO) 47. Josh Walter, RHP (Texas State) 48. Carlos Rivera, OF (East Aurora HS - East Aurora, IL) 49. Jordan Rogers, RHP (San Jacinto JC - North) 50. Blake Murphy, C (Western Carolina) Remember, the Cubs historically have signed about 70% of their Rule 4 Draft picks, but that included players signed as a "Draft + Follow" (DNF) the following season (and DNF has been eliminated starting with this draft--any player selected in the 2007 Rule 4 Draft not signed by August 15th goes back into the draft again next year). So even with a best-case scenario, don't expect the Cubs to sign more than about 35 of the 50 players they drafted. Also, for those who want a sneak preview, the following Cubs draft picks are on teams that will be playing in NCAA Super Regionals this weekend: Darwin Barney, SS (Oregon State) Clark Hardman, OF (Cal State - Fullerton) Arik Hempy, LHP (South Carolina) Jeffrey Rea, 2B (Mississippi State) Marquez Smith, 3B (Clemson) Ty Wright, OF (Oklahoma State)
The MLB Rule 4 Draft (AKA "First-Year Player Draft") starts in about a half hour (2 PM ET, with the 1st round to be televised on ESPN2), and the latest prediction from Jim Callis at Baseball America is Vanderbilt LHP David Price to TB at #1, Chatsworth (CA) HS 3B Mike Moustakas to KC at #2, and Cypress (CA) HS 3B Josh Vitters to the Cubs at #3. As late as last night, Callis had Price going to TB at #1, Vitters going to KC at #2, and Norwell (IN) RHP Jarrod Parker going to the Cubs at #3. But the Cubs apparently prefer Vitters over Parker, and are poised to select the California third-sacker if the Royals do indeed take Moustakas with their #2 overall selection. AZ PHIL UPDATE #1: And as predicted by Jim Callis at BA, Josh Vitters indeed is the Cubs #1 pick. Vitters bats and throws right-handed, is 17 years old (he'll turn 18 in August), and checks in at 6'3 195. In BA's scouting report on Vitters, they describe him as having outstanding bat-speed and hand-eye coordination, allowing him to make consistent contact. He hits the ball hard to all fields and adjusts well to off-speed pitches. His main shortcoming at this point (so far) is an apparent lack of aptitude at 3B, but he does have a "third-baseman's arm," so it has been suggested that he could be moved to RF at some point if he is unable to improve his play at the hot corner. He also has average speed for a corner IF-OF and middle-of-the-order run producer. Presuming they are able to sign Vitters, he will probably be assigned to AZL Mesa. The Cubs would not have to add Vitters to their 40-man roster until after the 2011 season, and if that were to happen, he would not be out of minor league options until Spring Training 2015, after Ramirez, D-Lee, and Soriano's contracts have expired. So Vitters is probably a "next generation" Cubs prospect. The next Cubs selection will be pick #48, a so-called "sandwich pick" (so-named because these picks are "sandwiched" between the 1st and 2nd rounds), which the Cubs received as compensation for losing Type "B" FA OF Juan Pierre to the Dodgers after last season. After making a selection at the #48 slot, the Cubs will not have another selection until the 3rd pick in the third round (#97). That's because their second round pick (#67) goes to the Washington Nationals as compensation for the Cubs signing FA OF Alfonso Soriano last November. AZ PHIL UPDATE #2: With the #48 pick (compensation for losing FA OF Juan Pierre to the Dodgers), the Cubs selected right-handed hitting (6'1 202) catcher Josh Donaldson out of Auburn University. A multi-sport (baseball/football/basketball) star in HS in Mobile, AL, Donaldson played 3B as a freshman at Auburn, and was moved to catcher in his sophomore season. So he has been catching for only two seasons, and is considered a "work in progress" defensively. He hit .302 with 15 XBH in the wood-bat Cape Cod League last Summer (where he was selected to the Cape Cod League All-Star team), and was a power-hitting run producer for Auburn this past season, hitting 349/444/591, with 11 HR and 54 RBI, and 19 doubles. He also had 17 SB (3 CS) and 38/27 BB/K. He was in the Tigers lineup primarily for his powerful bat, not for his defense. According to BA, Donaldson is an "aggressive hitter" who murders fast balls, but has some trouble with breaking balls (which sounds suspiciously like Jake Fox to me, and the Cubs already have one of those). He has an average arm, but was hampered this past season with a thumb injury. If the Cubs are able to sign him, look for Donaldson to be assigned to Boise. The Cubs don't have a second round pick (that one goes to the Washington Nationals as compensation for the Cubs signing FA OF Alfonso Soriano last off-season), so their next pick will be the #3 pick in the third round (#97 overall). AZ PHIL UPDATE #3: And with their third selection in today's Rule 4 Draft (3rd pick in the 3rd round - #97 overall), the Cubs selected right-handed hitting Florida State second-baseman and 2007 ACC Player of the Year Tony Thomas. Thomas (5'10 180) led all of NCAA Div 1 in hits and doubles, was second in OBP, and 3rd in Avg in 2007, and had as many walks as strikeouts. According to BA, Thomas is a below-average defender with a below-average arm at 2nd base, with just average speed. A right-handed version of Mike Fontenot, perhaps? Thomas also was a member of the National Honor Socieity while in high school. If the Cubs are able to sign Thomas, he will (like Donaldson) probably be assigned to Boise, although as an advanced and highly successful college hitter (obviously one of the best in Division 1 in '07), and with no real 2B prospect presently at Peoria, Daytona, or Tennessee, Thomas could conceivably be assigned to a higher level at the outset, quite possibly Peoria. AZ PHIL UPDATE #4: With their 4th round selection (#127 overall), the Cubs selected Oregon State shortstop Darwin Barney. A 5'10 175 right-handed hitter, Barney was a member of the 2006 CWS champion Beavers, as well as Team USA. He hit 296/370/432 in 2007, with 4 HR and 48 RBI, a team-leading 18 doubles, 30/29 BB/K, and 12 SB (3 CS) in '07. As with Thomas, Barney could start his pro career at Peoria, since Dylan Johnston has struggled there and could be a candidate for demotion to Boise. AZ PHIL UPDATE #5: With their 5th round selection (#157 overall pick), the Cubs selected University of Virginia OF Brandon Guyer. A right-handed hitting and throwing 6'1 210 junior, Guyer hit 370/440/559 this season, and led the Cavaliers in HR (8) and doubles (19). He also had 18 SB (with only 1 CS) with 19/27 BB/K. If the Cubs do in fact sign him, I would think Guyer will likely start his pro career at Boise. To summarize... The Cubs selected five players over the first five rounds of the 2007 Rule 4 Draft: 1. Josh Vitters, 3B - Cypress (CA) HS 2. Josh Donaldson, C (Auburn) 3. Tony Thomas, 2B (Florida State) 4. Darwin Barney, SS (Oregon State) 5. Brandon Guyer, OF (Virginia) The draft will continue tomorrow. And for lots more interesting Cubs draft talk and info, check out our buddies at Road to Wrigley.
Extended Spring Training (EXST) came to an end today, as the EXST Cubs (Boise/Mesa) played an intrasquad game at Mesa's Fitch Park Field #3 this morning.
Luis Aparicio. Dave Concepcion. Manny Trillo. Ozzie Guillen. Magglio Ordonez. Bobby Abreu. Omar Vizquel. Carlos Zambrano. Miguel Cabrera. Ramon Hernandez. Johan Santana. Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez. Victor Martinez. Melvin Mora. Felix Hernandez. Jose Lopez.   Just a few of the many past and present MLB stars from Venezuela. On Opening Day 2007, there were 51 players from Venezuela on MLB 25-man rosters, with many more Venezuelans playing in the minor leagues.  Since 1999, the number of Venezuelans playing in MLB has doubled.  Last July, the Cubs gave 16-year old Venezuelan RHP Larry Suarez (currently at EXST at Fitch Park) a reported $850K signing bonus (an amount equivalent to "2nd round money").
The EXST Cubs (Boise/Mesa) rallied with four runs in the bottom of the 8th to defeat the EXST Angels 6-4 at Mesa's Fitch Park Field #3 this morning, in a game that featured the second rehab start for RHP Juan Mateo. Mateo, who has been on the Cubs 15-day DL with a sore shoulder since ST, increased his innings to three and his pitch count to 40+, as he threw 41 pitches (29 strikes, 4/2 GB/FB), with his fastball topping out at 92 MPH. He allowed three hits (one HR) and one run, but no walks, with three strikeouts, in his three innings of work. As long as he does not having any significant negative physical symptoms in the aftermath of today's game, Mateo looks fit and ready to leave Mesa and continue his rehab (gradually increasing his pitch count) at Daytona or Tennessee, with a return to the Iowa starting rotation probably by no later than mid-June, possibly even earlier.
The EXST Giants defeated the EXST Cubs (Boise/Mesa) 6-1 this morning at Fitch Park Field #2 in Mesa, a game that featured the first game appearance for RHP Juan Mateo.

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