All's well in the world again. The first Sunday of April has come and gone, and baseball is back. Every day is a good day. And when the Cubs win, it's just that little bit better. A sweep of the Cardinals is six months of winter well rewarded.
Matt Murton, Ronny Cedeno and Sean Marshall have graduated to the game's biggest stage this year, and all played their part over the weekend. Hoping to follow in their footsteps is young talent at Iowa, West Tennessee, Daytona and Peoria, where seasons got under way last Thursday.
The Iowa Cubs (Pacific Coast League, Triple-A) and West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx (Southern League, Double-A) have both gotten off to promising 4-1 starts, topping their divisions early doors, while the Peoria Chiefs (Midwest League, Low-A) are at 3-2. Things haven't gone so well for the Daytona Cubs (Florida State League, High-A), who at 0-4 haven't yet won a game. Their game yesterday game was suspended due to a power outage with the Cubs batting in the top of the ninth, trailing 5-3 with a runner on first and one out, Jake Fox, Matt Craig and Alan Rick due up. It will be completed this evening before the regularly scheduled game.
Felix Pie is the organisation's top prospect, but if his ridiculous start to the season is anything to go by, he doesn't plan on hanging around the minor leagues for too much longer. He's 10-for-21 (.476), with a double, two triples and a grand-slam home run, six runs scored and eleven RBI, he's walked twice, struck out just twice, and has stolen three bases in three attempts. Naturally, he's also errorless in centre field. To put it another way, everything Iowa's leadoff-hitter has touched so far has turned to gold. Such performance is all the more impressive when you consider he's a 21-year old getting his first taste of Triple-A, hitter friendly league or not, all after losing half of last year to injury.
Angel Guzman, Rich Hill and Jae-Kuk Ryu were all in competition for spots at the back end of the Cubs' rotation this Spring, but missed the cut. Angel Guzman, while throwing extremely hard, displayed a worrying lack of control during some of his Arizona outings, and looked, dare I say it, a little like Roberto Novoa out there at times. His debut at Iowa though went smoothly, as he allowed just one walk and two singles in five scoreless innings on Sunday, punching out six. Rich Hill meanwhile went six innings yesterday, a first inning two-out solo home run the only real blemish. A second run, unearned, scored on a double steal of second and home. Hill struck out six, walked none, allowed three hits in all, two of them singles. And Ryu, pitching on Opening Day against Renyel Pinto, threw five innings of one-run ball, allowing two singles, three doubles, five hits in all and a walk while striking out four. Pinto, for the record, walked seven in 3.2 innings. Mitre and Nolasco both cracked the Marlins' Opening Day roster.
First base prospect Brian Dopirak, 22, struggled mightily at Daytona last year, yet received a promotion to Double-A anyway after a decent Spring Training. But after grounding out to third base, being called out on strikes and singling up the middle, Dopirak broke his foot on the bases on Opening Day and is expected to be out for at least six weeks. Right fielder Ryan Harvey was another that didn't have the best 2005, but he too's been pushed up a level to Daytona. After missing the first two games with a sprained knee, he's racked up four strikeouts and no walks in his first ten plate appearances. Huge power or not, if he's to make it to the big leagues, he needs to exhibit much better plate discipline. He is though still just 21.
Best of the rest
Eric Patterson spent all of last year terrorising the Midwest League, before receiving a late season double promotion to West Tennessee so that he could partake in their playoff push. He's beginning this season there again, and is off to a decent start. He's only 5-for-18 (.278), with five strikeouts, but he's walked three times, stolen three bags in as many attempts, and has two triples and a home run to his name already. Patterson's partner in domination at Peoria last year was Sean Gallagher, who's also started this year well. His first start saw him strikeout eight in six shutout innings, allowing just five hits and a walk.
Meanwhile, Carlos Marmol, Randy Wells and returned Rule 5 draftee Juan Mateo had good opening starts for the Diamond Jaxx. The three combined to pitch 16 innings with a 1.69 ERA, allowing 7 hits, 1 home run, 3 walks and striking out 15. In the West Tenn bullpen, Lincoln Holdzkom, one of the prospects acquired for Todd Wellemeyer, struck out three in an inning and a third in his only outing, while at Iowa, David Aardsma has continued where he left off in Spring Training: four innings, six strikeouts and just one measly single allowed.
Last year's draft class
First rounder Mark Pawelek has stayed behind in extended Spring Training and will likely be assigned to Peoria within the next month or so. The Cubs aren't going to rush him, and realise that he needs to work on some mechanical issues. That leaves Mark Holliman (Daytona) and Donald Veal and Mike Billek (Peoria) as the top picks in action right now. Veal, a hard-throwing lefty that needs to work on his off-speed stuff, was wild in his Opening Day start, allowing six walks in 3.1 innings. He'll go again tonight. Billek meanwhile struckout six, walked one and allowed seven singles in a losing four-inning effort. Holliman though allowed just just two runners to reach (single, double) in five innings of one-run ball, striking out seven.
-- It was a good week for the Cubs' minor league arms, with just one glaring exception: Luke Hagerty, who last year put up the ugliest pitching line I've ever seen (6.2 IP, 14 H, 0 HR, 30 BB, 4 K, 31.05 ERA with 9 wild pitches) with short-season A-ball's Boise Hawks, has ended up in the Daytona rotation this year. His first start saw him issue 5 free passes and 1 wild pitch in 1.2 innings. Stick a fork in him.
-- You can now watch Iowa Cubs home games on your computer. Through the month of April, the feed is absolutely free, and it costs a mere $10
to watch the rest of the year. Alternatively, for $20
you can get access to every Triple-A team. However, you'll have to put up with a one camera situated high behind home plate, and broadcasters that like discussing Kevin Costner movies. In other words, the service isn't great, but it's better than nothing.
-- Also new for this season for the Iowa Cubs is the Gameday game tracker. You can follow them pitch-for-pitch then, via green, red and blue circles, and jump up and down when those "in play - run scoring play" words pop up on the screen with Felix Pie at bat.
-- Free radio feeds for all minor league games are available as follows: Iowa Cubs
(click on the feed of your choice), West Tenn Diamond Jaxx
(click "Listen to NewsTalk 101.5 FM Online"), Daytona Cubs
(click "Listen Live") and Peoria Chiefs
(click "Listen Live"). From June onwards, when then Boise Hawks get their season underway, you'll be able to watch their home games and listen to all their games from this page
-- The Cubs recently released, amongst others, Russ Rohlicek, Jon Connelly, Olivo Astacio, Jason Wylie, Bo Flowers and Jason Szuminski.