With 19 players on the roster that played on a Boise team that came within one game of winning the Northwest League title, the Kane County Cougars are going to be must see minor league baseball.
Here's the roster starting with the pitchers:
Pierce Johnson -The first pitcher selected by the Cubs in the 2012 draft, the 21-year-old from Southwest Missouri State pitched 11 innings during the regular season (3.27 ERA, 14 Ks) and threw six more for Boise Hawks during the playoffs, not allowing an earned run while fanning eight. Cougars pitching coach Ron Villone said he's been impressed with Johnson's ability to absorb information and then put it to use. "He's a smart young man and a great talent," Villone said.
Taylor Scott -A native of South Africa, the Cubs selected the right-hander in the fifth round in 2011. Last season, Scott was 5-1 with a 2.52 ERA (led Cubs minor league pitchers) in 15 starts for Boise. Opponents hit .245 against the the 20-year-old in the Northwest League and he didn't allow a homer in a team-high 71 innings.
Lendy Castillo -Claimed in the 2011 Rule 5 draft from Philadelphia, the 23-year-old made 13 relief appearances (0-1 7.88 ERA, 16 IP, 12 BB, 13 K) for Chicago last season before a left groin strain but him on the DL. He made four starts in Mesa after the injury and pitched one game in Daytona and two at AA Tennessee. The right-hander was signed by the Phillies in 2006 and spent the first three seasons as an infielder. "The best is yet to come," Villone said. "He's already come a long way and he has a great arm."
Jose Arias -After two seasons with the Dominican Cubs, the 22-year-old pitched in 14 games in the Northwest League going 4-2 with a 3.25 ERA in 63.2 innings. The 6-foot-5 right-hander had 46 strikeouts for Boise, making 13 starts with a BAA of .258. Arias was signed as a free agent in 2010.
Ian Dickson -A 35th round pick out of Layfayette College in 2011, Dickson missed the entire 2011 season and made his pro debut for Boise last year. The right-hander made 15 starts going 3-3 with a 5.60 ERA and was fourth on the team with 62.2 innings. He had 48 strikeouts and 1.50 WHIP.
Michael Heesch -One of three lefties taken in last year's draft, the 8th round pick appeared in 14 games at Mesa and Boise. Heesch has command of the strike zone allowing only one walk in 25 IP. He ended the year with a WHIP of 1.05 and a 2.45 ERA. He returns home having led Prairie Ridge High School to the state title in 2008.
Justin Amlung -After being selected in the 12th round last year out of Louisville, the Big East Pitcher of the Year tossed 18 innings in his first pro season with stops in Mesa and Boise. The righty threw a scoreless inning with three strikeouts in the NWL playoffs but ended the regular season with a BAA of .313 and 1.49 WHIP.
Jeffrey Antigua -One of two pitchers with MWL experience, Antigua pitched in 14 games at Peoria with a 2.63 ERA. He was promoted to AA Tennessee making 20 appearances with 40 Ks in 40 IP. Villone, who worked with the lefty last year, said he was one of most versatile pitchers on the staff who can take ball anytime. Villone added he can dominate hitters and has good command of his pitches.
Felix Pena -The right-hander made six starts for Boise last year and pitched in relief throwing 63 innings, third most for the Hawks. He went 4-2 with a 3.43 ERA, 42 Ks, and a. 243 BAA. Starting his fifth year of pro ball, the 23-year-old made six relief appearances in the MWL last year for Peoria fanning 10 in 10 innings.
Eduardo Orozco -A 22nd round pick last year out of UC-Riverside, the right-hander ended the season as the closer for Boise leading the team with six saves in 19 games. The 23-year-old led all 2012 draft picks with 20 games, 28.2 IP, 33 Ks, and 1.08 WHIP.
Nathan Dorris -The left-hander from Southern Illinois University was promoted to Boise after appearing in seven games at Mesa. He pitched 14 innings in the NWL, recording four saves with a 1.93 ERA. The Cubs drafted Dorris in the 17th round in 2012.
Stephen Perakslis -After being drafted in the 21st round out of Maine University last year, the right-hander made 15 relief appearances for Mesa logging 26.1 innings with 26 Ks and six walks. Perkslis is expected to workout out of the bull pen for the Cougars.
Brian Smith -The left-hander starts his third pro season after being selected in the 40th round out of high school in Canada. Smith spent his first year at Mesa and then pitched in seven games last year before being promoted to Boise. The 20-year-old has thrown 69.2 innings in two years, with 63 Ks and a 2.58 ERA.
Wilson Contreras -Still just 20 years old as the 2013 season begins, Contreras is in his fifth season with the Cubs, spending the last two in Boise. He caught 64 games last year hitting .273 with 39 RBI, second on the team. In a system short on catchers, the Venezuelan may be on the fast track to Wrigley.
Yaniel Cabezas -Signed out of Cuba in 2010, the 23-year-old spent last season in Peoria with 208 at-bats in 58 games (.197, 1 HR, 15 RBI). He spent his first year of pro ball between Mesa and Boise. Cabezas will start the year on the DL.
Chadd Krist -A two-time all PAC-12 catcher for University of California, the 23-year-old adapted quickly to the pro game after being selected in the 9th round. After hitting .328 in 16 games in Boise, the defensive standout was promoted to Peoria, catching 40 games (.253, 4 HR, 23 RBI).
Daniel Vogelbach -Considered one of the Cubs' top prospects, the left-handed hitting first baseman only played in six games in Mesa after being taken in the 2nd round in 2011 but made the most of 2012. The 20-year-old started the year with 24 games at Mesa (.324 7 HR, 31 RBI) and was promoted to Boise for 37 more (.322, 10 HR, 31 RBI). He was named a post season all-star in both leagues.
Gioskar Amaya -The slick fielding second baseman from Venezuela also swings a pretty mean bat leading the Northwest League last year in runs (61) and triples (12). Add in 8 HR, 15 SB, and a team-leading 135 total bases in 69 games in the NWL. He was named to the NWL post-season all-star team.
Marco Hernandez -Signed in 2009, the shortstop starts in the MWL for the second straight year. Last season, Hernandez hit only .210 in 43 games and was sent back to extended spring training. He played 67 games at SS for Boise hitting .286 and was third on the team in total bases with 112.
Jeimer Candelario -While he needs work on defense at the hot corner (20 errors in 71 games at Boise), the 19-year-old doesn't have many other flaws in his game. After hitting .337 in 72 games for the Dominican Cubs in 2011, he continued to hit at Boise (.281, 6 HR, 47 RBI) and a OBP of .345.
Rock Shoulders -A 25th round pick in 2010, the 21-year-old hit 10 homers with 37 RBI at Boise last year in 208 at-bats. The first baseman also played some outfield for the Hawks saying he didn't mind as long as he was in the lineup. "I'm ready for the season to start," Shoulders said. He spent the off-season working on getting stronger and started throwing earlier this year. The Florida native said he's not worried about the cool midwest weather this spring, "its just one of those things you have to zone out."
Wes Darvill -Joined the club on opening day, April 4, after being named to the AAA Iowa roster. The 2009 5th round pick played in 116 games in the MWL last year hitting .224 with three homers and 11 SB. David Bote was sent back to extended spring training.
Pin-Chieh Chen-The native of Tawain hit .259 at Peoria in his first full season of pro ball after signing in 2009. A good defensive outfielder who spent most of the year in center, Chen also showed patience at the plate drawing 62 walks. He swiped a team-high 36 bases and scored 75 runs, second on the team.
Trey Martin -A 13th round pick in 2011, the Georgia native is one of the top defensive outfielders in the Cubs system. He hit .257 at Boise in 57 games last year with 3 HR and 23 RBI. The 20-year-old knows he needs to improve his hitting and he's still adjusting to the wooden bat. He said he worked out four times a week during the off-season looking to improve his power and speed for this season.
Bijan Rademacher -A 2012 13th round pick last out of Orange Coast College, the 21-year-old played three games in Mesa before being moved to Boise, where he hit .396 in 14 games. He spent the final 35 games of the season in the Midwest League for Peoria hitting .221. Rademacher pitched in college and can throw with either arm.
Oliver Zapata -The 20-year-old returns to the Midwest League as he spent 2012 at Peoria hitting .225 in 109 games. He swiped 19 bases but was caught 13 times. The switch hitter showed good patience at the plate last year drawing 40 walks.
Mark Johnson, who managed many of these players last year at Boise, starts his first year in the Midwest League after two seasons in the Northwest League. The former MLB catcher played in 332 games hitting .218 with the White Sox, A's, Brewers and Cardinals. A 15-year veteran of the big leagues, Ron Villone is in his second year as the pitching coach for the Cubs' MWL team, spending last year with Peoria. Villone won 61 games with 12 teams including the Yankees, and is a former first round pick of Seattle. Tom Byers, the Cougars hitting coach, starts his 14th season with the Cubs organization. He spent last year at Boise as the hitting coordinator and was originally drafted by the Dodgers in 1979.
The Cougars opened the season at home on April 4 as Pierce Johnson got the start against the Quad City River Bandits (Astros). Follow Northsiders Report all season long for daily game recaps as well as all your Cubs minor league baseball news.