In 2013, the Cubs stocked the AAA Iowa farm team with a plethora of free agents, many one-year minor league deals. With many of those players declaring free agency, the Cubs are once again adding talent to AAA and possible MLB backups in case of injuries.
J.C Boscan has been replaced with catcher Eli Whiteside. Out are infielders Edwin Maysonet, Tim Torres, and Nate Samson—Chris Valaika, Jeudy Valdez and Walter Ibarra are in. Aaron Cunningham and Casper Wells have replaced Darnell McDonald and the recently released Dave Sappelt in the outfield. The Cubs also added right-handers Paolo Espino and Carlos Pimentel.
I expect the signings to continue as the Cubs fill their AAA roster but with promotions coming from AA Tennessee for the 2014 season, the number won't be near the 40-plus players they added last year before the start of spring training.
Here's a look at the Cubs recent additions:
Chris Valaika, 28, a former third round pick of the Reds in 2006, could provide Chicago with some depth in the middle infield and battle Donnie Murphy for a 25-man roster spot. Valaika made a quick rise through the Reds organization, making his pro debut in August of 2010. He only lasted two seasons with Cincinnati before spending the entire 2012 season in the minors and becoming a free agent. Valaika signed with the Marlins in 2013, only appearing in 22 games (.219/.261/.344) before he fractured his left wrist and went on the DL on May 7. He spent the final two months of the season in the minors.
Eli Whiteside, 34, is a great addition to the Cubs, a team sorely in need of catching depth. With 208 MLB games already under his belt, Whiteside is no stranger to a big league roster, having caught 82 games for San Francisco in 2011 after Buster Poesy was injured. It also provided great experience on handling a top of the line rotation. Whiteside has thrown out 31 percent of base runners during his MLB career. Defense is his speciality as he has a career slash line of .215/.273/.335 in 537 plate appearances. Whiteside spent 2013 with the Rangers in AAA hitting .187/.242/.280 in 67 games. He currently sits as the backup to Wellington Castillo but the Cubs are expected to sign another catcher before spring training.
Aaron Cunningham, 27, has spent nine years in professional baseball, five at the major league level for three different clubs—A's, Padres, Indians—playing in 222 games with a slash line of .219/.280/.347. The Cubs used 13 different players in the outfield in 2013 so there's a good chance Cunningham will see action at some point in 2014 for Chicago. He's likely to spend his second straight year in the PCL, after hitting .247/.337/.401 in 115 games for AAA Round Rock (Texas).
Casper Wells was traded twice and claimed off waivers twice in 2013 as he changed his address four times, staring in Seattle and ending the year in Philadelphia with stops with the White Sox and Oakland. Wells was a 14th round pick of Tigers in 2005 and spent five years in the system before making his debut in 2010. He played 64 games for the Tigers in 2011 (.257/.323/.451) before being traded to Seattle in Doug Fister deal. He hit .225 with 17 homers for the Mariners in 124 games over two seasons before being waived at the start of 2013. His career OBP is .299 in 276 big league games. Wells provides more depth in the outfield and is still only 29. Wells (.178/.339/.267 in 19 games) is currently in the VWL playing for Caracas, where Cubs staff assistant Franklin Font is a coach.
Signed in 2005, Walter Ibarra, 26, has spent his entire eight-year pro stint with the Yankees. With a career minor league batting average of .271, Ibarra worked his way up the Yankees system, spending 2013 between AA and AAA. The left-handed bat hit .276 between the two levels in 212 at-bats. Ibarra will likely be Javier Baez's backup in Iowa.
Jeudy Valdez, 24, has spent his eight-year minor league career in the Padres organization, the past two season in AA. He's been in double figures in homers the last four seasons including hitting 15 with 92 RBI in 2011 in the California League. The right-handed bat also posses some speed, stealing 34 bases in 2010 and 2011. Valdez hit .251/.300/.406 in 125 games in AA in 2013 with 10 HR, 49 RBI and 16 SB. The Dominican native is playing for Estrellas in the DWL but hasn't seen action since Nov. 3 after playing in eight games. Valdez could open the season as the starting shortstop for AA Tennessee.
Paola Espino has spent his entire minor league career with the Indians after being drafted in the 10th round in 2006 out of Pendleton HIgh School in Florida. The 26-year-old (he turns 27 on Jan. 10) has spent the past four season splitting time between AA and AAA. He was 6-11 with a 4.72 in 32 games between the two levels in 2013, making 21 starts while logging 141 innings. The right-hander is currently pitching for Caribes in the Venezuelan Winter League, making nine starts (4-2, 6.35 ERA, 34 IP, 38 H, 8 HR, 9 BB, 38 K). Depending on how many Iowa Cubs pitchers can make the opening day roster, Espino could start 2014 in Iowa.
Signed by the Rangers as a 16-year-old, right-handed pitcher Carlos Pimentel has spent the last seven seasons in the Texas system tossing 716 innings in 118 starts, including 64 games out of the bullpen. The 6-foot-3 Dominican is currently pitching in the DWL for Escogido and is 2-0 with a 2.87 ERA in 15.2 IP with 10 BB and 14 K. Pimentel features a fastball in the low 90s that can hit 94 and also throws a slider and a solid change. At 23, Pimentel adds more depth and versatility to the Cubs upper level pitching staff as he can be used out of the bullpen or as a starter.
Cubs minor league free agents include position players C J.C Boscan (Dodgers), OF Darnell McDonald, OF Cole Gillespie, SS Edwin Maysonet, OF Thomas Neal, 1B Brad Nelson, IF Nate Samson, IF Tim Torres, and OF Ty Wright. Free-agent pitchers include Kyler Burke, Michael Bowden, Alex Burnett, Yeiper Castillo, Jaye Chapman, Johermyn Chavez, Rafael Dolis, Henry Rodriguez, Eduardo Sanchez and Casey Weathers.