Cubs Sign Three Minor League Free-Agents
Besides re-signing free-agent RHP Chad Fox to a minor league contract, the Cubs have signed three minor league free-agents in recent days, including one player who (as things stand now) actually has a legitimate chance to make the Cubs 2009 Opening Day Roster.
The 33-year old left-handed hitting Johnson was a #1 draft pick of the White Sox way back in 1994, and was one of the players the Sox sent to OAK in the Keith Foulke for Billy Koch and Neal Cotts trade in December 2002. Since then, Johnson has bounced around like a billiard ball, moving from OAK to MIL to the Cubs (he played at AAA Iowa in 2005) back to MIL, then to ATL, and onward to STL.
Johnson is the epitome of a "4-A" player, a guy who gets a Non-Roster Invitation (NRI) to Spring Training with an MLB club every year and can always find a job at AAA, but has difficulty taking advantage of opportunities at the big league level (254/383/356 lifetime minor league hitter, with 218/314/318 lifetime MLB numbers). .
Over his 15-year pro career, Johnson has spent all or parts of eight different seasons in the major leagues, including three full seasons with the White Sox (1999, 2000 and 2002) where he was used as a platoon catcher, alternating with the likes of Brook Fordyce, Josh Paul, and Sandy Alomar, Jr. Johnson's most recent MLB action came last September with the Cardinals, where hit .294 in ten games. and while he isn't much of a hitter and while he is virtually devoid of power (he's a poor man's Paul Bako), Johnson does take a lot of walks.
Why this matters is because 2008 Cubs back-up catcher Henry Blanco is a free-agent, and he may not return to Chicago in 2009. With reigning N. L. Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto the #1 guy, the Cubs are unlikely to spend much on a back-up catcher, and since top catching prospect Welington Castillo probably still at least a year away, the Spring Training battle for the Cubs #2 catcher job in 2009 would appear (at this point anyway) to be between hold-over Koyie Hill and Mark Johnson, with the loser likely to be the #1 catcher at AAA Iowa.
27-year old LHP Jason Waddell was the Giants' 8th round pick out of Riverside CC in June 2001, and he has spent his entire career in the SF organization, never pitching above AA. He spent the last five seasons bouncing back-and-forth between San Jose and Connecticut, and will likely battle for a lefty reliever job at AAA Iowa in 2009. Whether he will get an NRI to Spring Training with the Cubs has not been announced, but I would bet he will.
26-year old RHP Angel Castro is from the Dominican Republic, but he played college ball in the U. S. at Western Oklahoma State JC. He was drafted by the Tigers in the 13th round of the 2006 Rule 4 Draft, and spent the last three seasons pitching in the Tigers minor league system before getting released last month. He was not a six-year minor league FA, so it is not clear why the Tigers chose to release him at this time. It looks like he had a really nice season in 2008, though. He is presently pitching for Azucareros in the DWL.
A scouting report from 2006 projected Castro as a reliever, with a 90-93 fastball that ccasionally touched 95 and a "darting" knuckle-curve, but if he had that kind of stuff in 2008 at AA one would think the Tigers probably wouldn't have released him.
While it's unknown if Castro will get an NRI to Spring Training with the Cubs in 2009, he will probably be given an opportunity to compete for a bullpen job at AAA Iowa.
I don't think his issue(s) will have anything to do with it. He hasn't hit since he's been back. Coghlan has the hot hand.
I'm not a denier but definitely a skeptic on Strop and Grimm, who struggle with fastball control. Strop doesn't go near the ninth inning, and note how Grimm couldn't close the deal even with a 5-run lead. So Felix Pena comes in and gets the 3-pitch game-ending strikeout like it was nothing.
And how about Almora missing that very catchable ball? That was unexpected after all the hype about his glove.
When Trea Turner misses balls like that--which he does--I draw conclusions from it. It seems to be the one chink in his armor. But I'll give Almora another chance.
Assuming Soler is good to go, I think it comes down to 3 of the following 4: Coghlan, TLS, Sczcur, Almora. Of the 4, TLS seems to be the hardest to justify, particularly given his behavioral issues.
I'm wondering if both Coghlan and LaStella make it. With Javy being able to play all the infield spots and Joe maybe wanting late-inning D when Soler plays (assuming he plays), hence either Szczur or Almora, I think LaStella might be the odd guy out.
Hendricks needs the win, anyway, plus a couple more.
My hunch is that Hendricks wins the Cy Young . . . for Lester. That is, without Hendricks tipping the scale toward the Cubs, Scherzer tops Lester.
Old Cub fans remember when Ken Hubbs died at 22 in the crash of a small plane he was piloting in a storm in Utah in 1964. But Hubbs was not an elite power pitcher like Score and Fernandez. Score lived a long time after the accident but it was (effectively) career-ending.
HAGSAG: Since I've only seen them throw in one game and in one "live" BP session, all I can do is provide initial first impressions.
Brailyn Marquez is listed at 6'4 but is probably more like 6'5 or 6'6. I would describe him as a younger version of Bryan Hudson, throwing a ton of ground balls but not getting a lot of swings & misses (yet). Because of his size he could eventually grow into more velocity, but right now he's mostly a pitch-to-contact guy. He generally throws strikes.
Phil, do Marquez and Ocampo look like prospects?
It helps when your defense has declared war against the H in WHIP.
Lackey finishes with a 3.35 ERA. Currently good for 13th in the NL. Not bad for a guy signed to be a #3 starter in a 15-team league.
He is also 6th in WHIP. Pretty amazing: Cubs have the #2, #3, #5 and #6 starters in WHIP.
Completely meaningless game, but Pena striking out Sean the Turd to with the bases loaded was very fun.
Other than one bad game in SD, Pena has been very good. Even with that game, 9.0 IP, 13 K, 0.89 WHIP.
101 wins...most since 1910 (104).
neat. ...or sad. pick one. pick both. 'murica.
Just looked up Grimm's stats -- after a great run, he gave up 2 runs vs. MIL then didn't pitch for 10 days. Don't remember why?
Sean Rodriguez's helmet looks like it's taking a dump
Grimm not doing himself any favors lately re: making the playoff squad. Seems to have lost the feel for his curveball.
j.grimm is literally worse than hitler.
felix pena, your turn.