Matt Szczur, OF
Age: 24 (7/20/1989)
2013 Team: Tennessee Smokies, Southern League, (AA)
Northsiders Report 2014 Ranking—# 24
How acquired—Drafted in the 5th round in 2011, # 160 overall
Prior to Cubs
Szczur was the captain of the baseball and football teams at Lower Cape May Regional High School in New Jersey but excelled on the diamond, earning all-state honors and setting a South Jersey record hitting .681. He was drafted in the 38th round by the Dodgers in 2007 but headed to Villanova. His two-sport success was reversed at college where he earned MVP honors in the National Championship game, leading the Wildcats to the title in 2009. The versatile back was the only player in college football to register a touchdown as a receiver, rusher, passer and kick returner in 2009 and he earned first-team All-America honors. Szczur played two seasons of baseball, ending his career with a .392 average and was the first Wildcat to earn first-team All-Big East honors since 2001 after leading the league in hitting at .443.
Szczur played in 25 games (.347/.414/.465) in his first pro season after the draft with stops in Mesa, Boise, and Peoria. In his first full season, he earned Midwest League All-Star honors as well as a trip to the Futures Game as he hit .314/.366/.431 in 66 games for Peoria. He earned a promotion to Daytona for the final two months and showed some power in the FSL with five homers and 19 RBI in 43 games. He ended the year with a career-high 10 long balls and a slash line of .293/.335/.423. Szczur played at an all-star level in the FSL in 2012 as he improved his on-base percentage and swiped 38 bases. He hit .295/.394/.407 in 78 games and was promoted to AA Tennessee. He played in 35 games with the Smokies and struggled, hitting .210/.285/.357.
Szczur had a solid season at AA as he primarily played centerfield and hit leadoff, earning Southern League mid-season and post-season all-star honors. In 128 games, the right-hander hit .281/350/.367 with 27 doubles and 78 runs, third in the SL. Szczur was only 22-34 in stolen base attempts but played solid defense in center, ending the year with five assists and a .992 fielding percentage. Szczur also showed the ability to play the corner outfield positions.
A member of the 40-man roster, Szczur is in big league camp this spring in a crowded outfield as the Cubs added five free agents with MLB experience. The New Jersey native should start the year in AAA and as far as potential leadoff hitters go, has established himself as one of the top guys in the Cubs system. He has a good approach at the plate, shows the ability to hit the ball the other way, and is always making contact. Szczur's future with the Cubs may be as a 4th or 5th outfielder, but he's shown the ability to hit and get on-base at every level, and provides the Cubs with outfield depth at the upper level. He's been overshadowed by the recent wave of top prospects but shouldn't be forgotten as he posses the skills and tools of a MLB outfielder.
Nicholas Struck, P
Age: 24 (10/7/1989)
2013 Teams: Iowa Cubs, Pacific Coast League, (AAA); Tennessee Smokies, Southern League (AA)
Northsiders Report 2014 Ranking —Not rated
How acquired —Drafted in the 39th round in 2009, #1,190 overall
Prior to Cubs
A prep star at Clackamas High School in Oregon, Struck earned Player of the Year honors and helped lead his squad to the 6A baseball title in 2008. After turing down offers to play at the University of Portland and University of Oregon, Struck attended Mount Hood Community College. In 11 starts, he went 10-0 with a 1.18 ERA and 62 strikeouts. That June the Cubs called his named in the 39th round.
Struck was on the fast track through the Cubs system, making his debut at Peoria in 2010 (8-8 3.22 ERA, 25 G, 114.2 IP, 40 BB 80 K) and ended the year with three games in the Florida State League. The Oregon native took the hill for 10 starts in Daytona to open 2011 (6-2 3.42 ERA, 50 IP, 47 K), earning a AA promotion. He then made six starts for Tennessee and then found himself in AAA but the right-hander surrendered 40 runs in 62.1 innings with 22 BB and 38 K in 11 games. Struck had his best season as a pro in 2012, spending the entire season in AA as he made 28 starts for the Smokies, posting a 14-10 record with a 3.18 ERA. He threw a career-high 155.2 innings with 123 K and 44 K but allowed 14 homers. He was named Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year for his performance.
Struck was invited to big league camp in spring training and appeared in two games, allowing a run in five innings. He broke camp with the Iowa Cubs for his second shot at AAA—it was not good. In his first 12 starts, he surrendered 10 homers along with 86 hits and 33 walks in 63.1 innings. Struck tossed 6.2 shutout innings on June 18 vs. Memphis for his only start without allowing a run. After 20 starts in the PCL (6-8, 6.17 ERA), Struck was sent back to Tennessee, where he made five more starts (1-2 3.95 ERA)
Struck should get another shot at AAA to start the year and needs to keep the ball down and be able to command both sides of the plate. He said during an interview after being sent back to AA that he was having problems with his mechanics and not staying on top of the ball.
Rest of the S's
Brian Smith, LHP—A 40th round pick in 2010 out of St. Mary's Catholic Secondary School in Ontario, Smith went 2-4 with a 4.60 ERA in 23 appearances at Kane County in his third pro season. The 21-year-old tossed 60.2 innings with 46 strikeouts but walked 22 and surrendered six homers.
Tim Saunders, IF—The Marietta College product had his 2013 season cut short after Tommy John surgery in July. A 32nd round pick in 2012, the 23-year-old hit .226/.316/.321 in 62 games in Daytona, spending most of his time at second but also played some centerfield. Saunders, 23, should return to the diamond this summer and posses good speed as he swiped 21 bases in 24 attempts before heading to the DL.
Alex Santana, RHP—After two seasons in the DSL, the 20-year-old spent 2013 in Mesa and logged 17.2 innings in five appearances. He fanned 16, allowed six walks, and didn't pitch after July 18.
Francisco Sanchez, SS—If the 20-year-old Dominican's bat ever catches up to his defensive skills, the Cubs will be looking at another quality middle infielder. Sanchez played in 41 games in his first season in the U.S., hitting .208/.242/.369 in the AZL but showed some pop with 11 doubles, five triples and a homer. He also showed a bunch of swing-and-miss with 53 K and only six walks.
Trevor Stevens, IF—Signed as a non-drafted free agent out of Northwestern in July of 2013, Stevens made his pro debut in the Arizona Rookie League on July 6 and appeared in 26 games for Mesa, hitting .257/.388/.329 as he split time on defense between second and short.
Pedro Silverio, RHP—The 19-year-old made his pro debut in 2013, appearing in three games in the DSL in August. He threw 4.2 innings and only allowed two hits, but walked seven with four strikeouts. The Dominican native stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 210 pounds, showing the Cubs are stockpiling possible power arms at every level of the organization.
Victor Salazar, RHP—Signed as a free agent in 2009, the 21-year-old recorded two saves for the VSL Cubs in 2013, appearing in 18 games. He logged 38.2 innings (32K, 9 BB) and finished 3-2 with a 3.26 ERA.