If you want an indication of how the Cubs rebuild is coming, compare the opening day rosters at Iowa the last two years—its quite a stark contrast. In 2013, the roster was filled with former MLB journeymen looking to get back into the bigs. The Cubs front office ran 62 different players (half spent time in MLB) through the AAA affiliate, involving 172 transactions.
This year's roster is littered with the Cubs top prospects including SS Javier Baez, 2B Arismendy Alcantara, 3B Christian Villanueva, and a bevy of arms fighting to get to the big leagues. Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs 2013 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, headlines the pitching staff, which includes several arms on the verge of Chicago's bullpen.
During an interview this spring, Cubs President Theo Epstein was asked why he didn't give the Cubs fans a cookie and bring up Javier Baez. Epstein essentially said they weren't interested in giving cookies, rather preparing the entire meal that will be enjoyed every October. Well, if that's true, Iowa will serve as a delicious test kitchen this summer. Enjoy the feast.
Here's a look at the roster. If you click on the players name it will link you his player page with links to pictures as well as video and other stories, including profiles on close to 100 prospects.
Kyle Hendricks—The right-hander made a case for the starting rotation in Mesa but returns to AAA after making six starts last year. Iowa will serve him well as he needs to log innings against top level hitting. Named the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year in '13, Hendricks was one of the top arms in the Southern League, sporting a 1.85 ERA in 126 innings. He spent the off-season earning his diploma from Dartmouth.
Chris Rusin—One of the last cuts from the Cubs roster this spring, Rusin made 13 starts for Chicago in 2013 with a respectable 3.93 ERA in 66.1 innings. He started the season in Iowa, making 18 starts and logging 121 innings before the promotion. He tossed 12 straight shutout innings this spring but got shelled for four homers and nine runs in his final outing. He could be the first arm called up if one of the Cubs starters gets hurt.
Dallas Beeler—A finger injury shelved Beeler's 2013 campaign at Tennessee after nine starts (4-2, 3.13 ERA, 54.2 IP) but after a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League (4-1, 2.49 ERA, 21.2 IP), was added to the 40-man roster. The 24-year-old appeared in four spring training games, allowing 14 hits in 10.2 innings. The right-hander throws a fastball in the low 90s and is also developing a split-finger. Beeler will start the year on DL.
Eric Jokisch—The left-hander was impressive this spring in Mesa as he didn't allow a six innings of work, yielding three hits and two walks with five punchouts. He tossed a no-hitter last year for Tennessee against Jacksonville and made 26 starts, logging 160.2 innings with a 3.242 ERA. Command is Jokisch's best weapon but needs to keep the ball down.
Carlos Pimentel—Added as a minor league free agent in the off-season, Pimentel was named the Dominican Winter League Pitcher of the Year after going 5-0 with a 1.67 ERA in seven starts. Pimentel spent the last seven seasons in the Rangers organization and was named a Texas League All-Star last season. With the Cubs success with Rangers prospects, wouldn't surprise me if Pimentel had a big year in Iowa.
Zac Rosscup—The forgotten man in the Matt Garza trade when he came from Tampa Bay, Rosscup made the leap from AA to the big leagues in 2013 as the left-handed reliever had a breakout season. Appearing in 10 games for Chicago, Rosscup only allowed one run in 6.2 innings and fanned seven. He recorded 66 K in in 43.1 innings at AA and only appeared in nine games for Iowa before heading to Wrigley Field.
Marcus Hatley—The 6-foot-5 righty split last season between Tennessee and Iowa, and then finished up in the Mexican Winter League. Hatley is another power bullpen arm the Cubs have collected as the roster spots at Iowa have become competitive.
Neil Ramirez—Acquired as part of the Mat Garza trade with Texas, Ramirez provides the Cubs with another power arm option and has experience out of the bullpen and as a starter. Once considered one of eh top arms in the rangers system, Ramirez has battled threw arm injuries the past two seasons but looked good this spring in big league games, throwing seven shutout innings in 7.2 frames with 11 K.
Yoanner Negrin—The 30-year-old Cuban gives Iowa some versatility as he has the ability to work out of the pen or as a starter. Negrin is an interesting pitcher as he used several different arm angles and can hit 95 on his fastball. Negrin threw 108 innings for the I-Cubs last year with 118 punchouts.
Blake Parker—The right-hander had a great season for the Cubs after being called up from Iowa, recording 55 K in 46.1 innings with a 2.72 ERA in 49 games. He earned his first MLB save agains the Mariners on June 29 and got his first win at St. Louis on Aug. 10. Parker should be one of the first arms called up this year and it was a surprise to many he didn't make the opening day roster.
Marcos Mateo—The Dominican native was a Rule 5 selection by the Diamondbacks in December and returned to the Cubs at the end of spring training. Mateo found his groove in the Dominican Winter League after recovering from arm issues in '13, splitting time between Tennessee and Iowa.
Alberto Cabrera—One of the last pitchers cut from the Cubs 25-man roster, Cabrera was out of options, cleared waivers, and has been assigned to the I-Cubs for the second year. Cabrera started last year in Tennessee's rotation but a mid-season promotion put him in Iowa's bullpen. Cabrera earned a September big league call-up, appearing in seven games.
Tsuyoshi Wada —The former Japanese all-star ended up in Iowa after being released by the Cubs and re-signed in spring training. The left-hander pitched in AAA in the Orioles organization in '13 (5-6 102 IP, 4.03 ERA) and signed with the Cubs after Baltimore opted out of the second year of his deal. He pitched nine seasons in Japan, logging nearly 1,500 innings.
Jonathan Sanchez—The left-hander with a MLB no-hitter on his resume is trying to make a comeback with the Cubs after signing a minor league deal. The former Giant star didn't miss many bats in nine spring training games, allowing 10 runs and 11 hits in 8.1 innings.
Eli Whiteside—A great addition to the organization as the former Giant has plenty of big league experience handling top level pitching. He caught 67 games for the Rangers organization at AAA last season and played in 82 games in San Francisco after Buster Poesy got hurt in 2011.
Luis Flores—His seventh season in the Cubs system, Flores returns for his second year at Iowa as he appeared in 61 games for the I-Cubs (.204/.295/.325). The 27-year-old launched five homers last year and was a Cubs 7th round pick in 2008.
Javier Baez—First time Baez leaves a game early or gets a hug from a teammate in the dugout, social media will be on fire with rumors. Be patient Cubs fans, the 20-year-old has some work to do. First off, he needs to become educated on the finer points at shortstop and slow the game down on defense. Pitch recognition and working counts are also on Baez's to do list when he heads to the plate. He has the tools to be an everyday shortstop but with his ability to hit 40 homers at the next level, the sky is the limit. Enjoy I-Cub fans, he should stick around until July or maybe even early August.
Arismendy Alcantara—A career year coupled with a long homer in the Futures All-Star game propelled the 22-year-old middle infielder to a Top 100 MiLB prospect in 2013. The Dominican native must now show he can duplicate his ‘13 performance at a higher level. He also needs to put together better at-bats from the right-side of the plate as well as improve his defense and focus at second base. Alcantara's endurance will be another thing to keep an eye on as he slowed down at the end of 2013 in what amounted to his first true full season in the minors.
Christian Villanueva—Considered the top AA third baseman after his All-Star season at Tennessee, the 22-year-old led the league in doubles, extra base hits, and total bases while playing "gold glove" defense. He's beginning to silence the critics that questioned his bat and has the defensive skills to play the hot corner at the big league level. Needs to have a solid year in the PCL to put his name in the hat for third at Wrigley.
Lars Anderson—A former top prospect in the Red Sox organization, Anderson, 26, will see plenty of time at first base for the I-Cubs as the left-handed power hitter spent '13 with the White Sox's AAA affiliate before being released in July. He hit .317 with 18 HR in 2008 and reached AA by age 20 but has struggled since.
Chris Valaika—Another off-season free agent pick-up, Valaika made the Marlins opening day roster a season ago but broke his wrist, headed to the DL, and finished in AAA. A former third-round pick of the Reds in 2006, Valaika provides infield depth at Iowa and Chicago. He played in 19 games this spring, hitting .225 with 4 RBI.
Logan Watkins—The Cubs Minor League Player of the Year in 2012, Watkins returns to Iowa for his second season after an August call-up to Wrigley. The Kansas native didn't get much play time for the North Siders, something that didn't go unnoticed by the front office who criticized Dale Sveum for not getting the second baseman more looks. With Alcantara on the roster, Watkins will need to make the most of his playing time.
Matt Szczur—The two-sport star from Villanova flashed his leather in spring training, making several highlight catches in big league games. Ranked #24 by Northsiders Report, Szczur hit leadoff for the Smokies in ‘13 with a slash line of (.281/.350/.367) and was third in the Southern League with 78 runs. He was named a mid-season and post-season SL all-star.
Chris Coghlan—The 2009 NL Rookie of the Year played in 70 games for the Marlins last year and was one of several outfielders the Cubs signed to a minor league deal during the off-season. Coghlan was in the mix for a job in spring training but Ryan Kalish earned the spot. He provides veteran insurance if an outfielder on the big league roster is injured.
Brett Jackson—Jackson's time with the Cubs may be running out as he tries to get his game back and keep his spot on the 40-man roster. The former first-round pick made his MLB debut in 2012 but really struggled last year, hitting .210 with 121 strikeouts in 324 at-bats. He needs to find a way to get back on track as his numbers have been in decline since 2011.
Josh Vitters—No longer considered a third baseman, Vitters will be learning a new position in Iowa, maybe two, as he is expected to transfer to left field and could see some time at first base. His bat is still his best tool and if he can stay healthy (four stints on DL in '13) could revive his career as he was once considered the Cubs' top prospect after being the fifth overall selection in 2009.