Its going to be hard to top the 2013 season. Two no-hitters, a Javier Baez four-homer game and a Florida State League title is what the Daytona Cubs treated hometown fans to last season.
The D-Cubs open the regular season at 6:30 p.m. EST on Thursday April 3 against Brevard County, the Brewers affiliate. The home opener at will be at 7:05 p.m. EST against Brevard County on Friday, April 4. Daytona is scheduled to hold an exhibition game against Embry-Riddle Wednesday night, April 2 at Jackie Robinson Ballpark in Daytona.
Here's a look at this year's roster to start the season.
Arodys Vizcaino—A surprise on the roster as the right-hander battled for a bullpen spot for the Cubs in Mesa but Daytona may be the best place for the 24-year-old. No need to have him pitch in the cold conditions of the midwest and he will be able to get innings when needed. Spring training was the first competitive ball Vizcaino has played in two years and he needs to accumulate innings to strengthen his arm. His fastball was clocked at 97-98 in Mesa so good luck FSL hitters.
Rob Zastryzny—The Cubs second-round pick last year has made a fast rise through the system, pitching at Boise (8 G, 14.1 IP, 4 BB, 16 K) and Kane County (3 G, 9.2 IP, 4BB 6 K) after the draft. The left-hander has four pitches including a fastball that tops out in mid-90s and an above average change-up. The FSL should provide a good challenge for Zastryzny as he embarks on his first full season.
Tayler Scott—The South African went about his business at Kane County last year, leading the team with 130 innings (6-8, 4.22 ERA, 54 BB, 67 K) in 24 starts. He worked into the fifth inning 20 times and was named to the MWL all-star game. Scott will need to improve his command of his four-pitch repertoire—fastball, sinker, slider and change.
Felix Pena—His sixth season in the Cubs system, Pena has never pitched above A-ball but did show some promise at Kane County, logging 103 innings, despite missing a month with an injury. The right-hander finished 4-7 with a 3.92 ERA with 32 walks and 77 strikeouts, making 17 starts in 21 games.
Starling Peralta—For the second straight year, the right-hander starts the year with Daytona but he only made five appearances before going on the DL in May. The 23-year-old rehabbed in Mesa and then tossed nearly 33 innings at Kane County. Peralta struggled with his command with 23 walks but displays a live arm.
Zach Cates—Acquired from the Padres in the Anthony Rizzo trade, Cates returns to the FSL after 109 innings in '13, being used as starter (20 games) and finished the year out of the bullpen, recording three saves down the stretch. The Arkansas native could evolve as another power arm out of the pen as he throws a fastball consistently in the mid-90s.
Jose Rosario—After a solid season in the MWL in 2012, the 23-year-old struggled in 2013, going 0-7 with a 7.38 ERA in 11 starts at Kane County before being sent back to Boise. Throwing strikes was Rosario's problem as the six-year minor league veteran walked 51 in 87.2 innings between the two levels. He has a live arm with great movement but needs to harness his command.
Michael Jensen—The 23-year-old right-hander missed the entire 2013 season with an injury after excelling in the Midwest League in '12. Jensen went 11-5 as a starter for Peoria, tossing 140 innings and was second in league with .217 BAA and fourth with a 1.12 WHIP. Jensen was the Cubs 26th round pick in 2011.
Austin Kirk—The left-hander heads to Daytona for the third year after splitting last season between Daytona (6-2 4.50 ERA, 11 G, 54 IP, 28 BB 42K) and Tennessee (2-3, 7.02 ERA, 9 G, 42.1 IP, 23 BB, 30 K) before going on the DL in July and being shut down. A third-round pick in 2009, Kirk was an all-star in the MWL (2011) and FSL (2012).
Andrew McKirahan—The left-hander from the University of Texas was impressive in his return from Tommy John surgery as he sported a 2.79 ERA between three levels and fanned 37 in 29 innings. A 21st round pick in 2011, McKirahan looks to finish his first full season after being injured in 2012.
Stephen Perakslis— The 22-year-old led Kane County with seven saves and appeared in 37 games in his first full season. The 21st round pick in 2012 out of the University of Maine had two impressive streaks—going 16.2 innings (8 games) without allowing a run and then tossed 12.1 scoreless frames in a 10-game streak. He threw 58.1 innings with a 1.22 WHIP and a BAA .237.
Austin Reed—The 12th round pick in 2010, Reed returns to the FSL after leading Daytona relief pitchers with 66.1 innings in his fourth season as a pro. The 22-year-old got off to a tough start allowing 14 earned runs in his first eight innings. Reed was tough down the stretch with a 2.00 ERA over his last 27 innings, going 3-2 with three saves. He features a fastball in the mid-90s.
Yao-Lin Wang—Back in Daytona for a second straight year, the South Korean did a little bit of everything for the D-Cubs last year during their title run, pitching as a starter, out of the pen, and taking over after rain delays. The right-hander was third on team with 71 innings and finished with a line of 3-5, 3.42 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 8.1 K/9.
Willson Contreras—A project in the works behind the plate, the 21-year-old gained valuable experience at Kane County as he caught 72 games for the Cougars. If he can develop his defensive skills, Contreras has a chance to be a big leaguer as the Venezuelan native has a solid approach at the plate and shows plus power. He hit .248/.320/.423 with 11 HR and 46 RBI in the MWL last year.
Chadd Krist—The D-Cubs backstop during the '13 title run, Krist returns to the FSL to continue his development. The 24-year-old hit .253/.351/.382 in 54 games for Daytona after starting the year in Kane County. Krist was the Cubs 9th round pick in 2012 out of the University of California.
Lance Rymel—After being named an all-star at Boise least year, Rymel makes the jump to the FSL. The 23-year-old caught 44 games in the Northwest League, hitting .253/.337/.315 with 18 RBI. The Cubs drafted Rymel in 28th round in 2012, only the second player ever drafted from Rogers State University.
Daniel Vogelbach—Considered one of the top first baseman in the minors, Vogelbach hit .284/.364/.450 with 17 HR and 71 RBI at Kane County, earning MWL all-star honors. The 21-year-old was promoted to Daytona, homered in his debut, and helped lead the D-Cubs to the FSL title, serving as the DH during the playoffs. Daytona fans may not recognize the first baseman as he arrived at spring training 30 pounds lighter to improve his mobility around first base.
Gioskar Amaya—The Venezuelan held his own for a 20-year-old in the Midwest League, hitting .252/.329/.369 while handling full-time duties at second base. He finished the season strong, batting .326/.401/.496 over the final 33 games. Amaya should improve his power numbers in '14 as well as continue his development on defense. A breakout season wouldn't surprise me as he's one of the Cubs top young prospects.
Jeimer Candelario—Lots of talk about the Cubs third baseman of the future, but rarely does the 20-year-old's name come up, but it should. The switch-hitting Dominican hit .256/.346/.396 with 11 homers and was third in the MWL with 35 doubles. He shows the ability to grind out at-bats and while the jury's still out on his defensive abilities, I liked what I saw from a 19-year-old at Kane County.
Marco Hernandez—The 21-year-old Dominican didn't set the world on fire in his first full season at Kane County but the switch-hitting shortstop batted .254/.287/.338 in 417 at-bats. He has a strong arm and the skill set to become a big league player. This marks the fifth straight season Hernandez and Amaya have formed a double play combo in the Cubs organization.
Rock Shoulders—The Florida native was the only Kane County Cougar to earn mid-season and post-season All-Star honors as the 2011 20th round pick backed up Vogelbach at first and was the team's DH. Shoulders best tool is his bat, hitting .258/.352/.445 with 18 homers and 74 RBI from the left-hand side. He may also see some time in the outfield in Daytona.
Tim Saunders—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, posses good speed as he swiped 21 bases in 24 attempts.
Albert Almora—One of baseball's top prospects, Almora returns to his home state after an injury plagued 2013 season that included two stints on the DL. The Cubs first-round pick in 2012, Almora hit .329/.376/.466 in 61 games at Kane County and got some of those at-bats back in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .307/.342/.480 in 21 games. Almora should put up good numbers in the FSL if he can stay healthy and Daytona fans will enjoy his defensive prowess in CF.
Pin-Chieh Chen—A big part of the D-Cubs playoff run, Chen hit leadoff for Daytona down the stretch and showed the ability to get on, steal bases, and score runs. He played 51 games, hitting .281/.369/.351. He's also a plus defender in the outfield, taking good routes and using his speed to run down balls.
Bijan Rademacher—A Midwest League All-Star before a mid-season promotion to Daytona, Rademacher returns to the FSL. A 13th round pick in 2012 out of Orange Coast Junior College, the left-handed hitting outfielder batted .276/.338/.407 in 42 games last year for Daytona.
Oliver Zapata—The 21-year-old made the most of 2013 in Kane County as injuries provided him the opportunity to play everyday in center. The 21-year-old hit 240/.317/.372 for the Cougars, his second straight in the MWL.
Manager Dave Keller returns for his second season as Daytona's manager after guiding the Cubs to a 75-51-1 record and the Florida State League Championship last season, the club's sixth title since 1995 and second in the last three years. Entering his 11th season with the organization, Keller served as Iowa's hitting coach in 2012 and was an assistant on the major league coaching staff in 2011.
Hitting Coach Mariano Duncan returns for his second season as Daytona's hitting coach after serving the previous two campaigns as Tennessee's hitting coach (2011-12). The 12-year major league veteran (1985-87, 1989-97) joined the Cubs in 2011 after spending the previous five seasons (2006-10) as the Los Angeles Dodgers major league first base coach.
Pitching Coach Ron Villone begins his third season with the organization after serving in the same role with Kane County last season. Villone pitched 15 seasons in the big leagues (1995-2009) with 12 different teams.