I'm going to write this one a little different as I was able to attend Kane County media day and interview players and coaches. There are links with profile stories on most of the players and the ones that aren't I'll try to highlight. Still breaking down by positions but won't have bios on every player on roster. There's a Kane County thread in the insiders forum if you have any questions about players.
Its going to be tough for any other MWL team to match the arms Kane County will trot out to the mound this season. Paul Blackburn, Tyler Skulina, Daury Torrez, Juan Paniagua, and Jen-Ho Tseng comprise the rotation to begin the season. Duane Underwood will join the starting staff as the Cougars will use a six-man rotation the second time through. Three draft picks in the past two years and three more international arms is the blueprint the front office has used to build the minors.
Kane County Manager Mark Johnson said he looks for the pitching to be consistent and its a "solid staff that loves to compete." Pitching coach David Rosario said Kane County is armed with a bunch of guys that throw strikes. Rosario said its hard for young pitchers to make a fast run through the minors but they are giving Tseng a shot due to his maturity as well as his ability to command four pitches.
As impressive as the rotation, Kane County will also have an arsenal of bullpen arms, including Nathan Dorris, a left-hander from Southern Illinois who spent '13 with the Cougars. Dorris not thrilled to be back in the MWL but he understands the business and all he can do is go out and get hitters out. I don't think he'll be around long as you can tell in his voice his determination for a promotion. Dorris wasn't the only reliever to return to Kane County as Justin Amlung (39th round in '11) and Jose Arias are back. Amlung threw 72 innings out of the pen last year and Arias struggled through an arm injury as the 23-year-old was part of the rotation to start the season and has headed to the bullpen.
Another pitcher making the transition to the bullpen is right-hander James Pugliese, who made 11 starts for Boise last year. He said moving to the pen isn't much of a problem as he pitched in relief in high school as well as college. Last year Zach Godley led the SEC in innings at Tennessee but the right-hander with the 95 mph fastball has settled into the bullpen as a pro. He said the transition hasn't been that difficult as he threw out of the bullpen at Tennessee his first year and also in Boise last year. Was able to watch Godley's bullpen session as his fastball, curve and cutter were on display. Lots of great late break and look forward to seeing him in game action.
Kane County fans won't miss Scott Frazier, all 6-foot-7 of him. And they will also be impressed with his fastball in the mid to upper 90s. Frazier was impressed with the Cubs new spring truing facility and said it shows the organizations commitment to the players. The '13 sixth-round pick said he spent a good deal of the off-season in Mesa working at the new facility and preparing for his first full season as a pro.
RH Tyler Bremer, who recorded seven saves for Boise last year, and LH Gerardo Concepcion round on the pitching staff, Concepcion was signed out of Cuba two years ago but medical issues and injuries have slowed his career.
Rosario also talked about the arms they left behind in Mesa. Dillon Maples has a broken rib and will miss at least the first two months of the season but should make an appearance at Kane County this summer. Rosario said he was able to make adjustments with Maples delivery last year as he struggled with his command at Kane County but improved when demoted to Boise. Trey Masek should be in Kane County soon as he is experiencing some shoulder soreness and the Cougars pitching coach said Ryan McNeil and Josh Conway are both recovering from arm injuries and likely to be in Kane County by the end of the summer. Rosario gave McNeil high praise and likes his ability to attack hitters.
Johnson, a former MLB backstop, said the Cougars will have the services of four catchers this season—Will Remillard, Cael Brockmeyer, Benjamin Carhart and Jordan Hankins. Brockmeyer stars the season on the DL and Hankins will play third base but will also see some time behind the plate. Hankins said he caught in high school but didn't get behind the plate at Austin Peay. He was drafted as a catcher and said the plan moving forward was to move behind the plate, utilizing his left-handed bat.
Carhart spent the '13 season at third base for Daytona but during the off-season made the transformation to behind the plate, a position he hadn't played since high school. Carhart went from Mesa (2012 season after draft) to the FSL in '13, hitting .247/.297/.336 for the D-Cubs in 112 games.
Remillard was playing in the Cape Cod League last summer preparing for his senior year at Costal Carolina when he signed his pro contract (19th round). Looking forward to see how he handles the Cougars pitching staff and himself at the plate in the MWL. He went 1-3 with a single in his pro debut April 3 against Quad Cities.
According to Johnson, another strength of the '14 Cougars will be their defense and their ability to catch the ball. That all begins with SS Carlos Penalver. He's not very big but he's got quick hands and may be the best defensive infielder in the organization. The Venezuelan showed some promise at the plate the final month at Boise and opened the season with a three-hit game.
Daniel Lockhart will anchor second base for most of the season, according to Johnson, as the 2011 draft pick had a breakout season at Boise last year after struggling in Mesa for two years. Lockhart spent the off-season working out with teammate Trey Martin in Georgia and said he's ready for the season.
With Hankins at third, David Bote will serve as the utility infielder as he's played all three positions during his two seasons in the minors. A high school teammate of Pierce Johnson, Bote was at Kane County and Daytona, last year before being sent back to Mesa and then played 69 games for Boise and was named a NWL all-star.
Another MWL all-star on the roster is first baseman Jacob Rogers, a 40th round pick in 2012 who said he spent the off-season getting ready for the grind of a full season. Rogers said he liked the new facility in Mesa, especially being able to workout with big leaguers and learning how they go about their business. The left-hander will be one of the power bats for KC this season.
Two seasons ago Danny Canela was catching top pitching prospect Carlos Rondon at North Carolina State but after leaving college and earning Rookie of the Year honors in the Frontier League, signed a pro contract with the Cubs. He will be making his pro debut in '14 for the Cougars and his left-handed power was on display during batting practice on media day.
There's plenty of speed and before the season is over MWL pitchers are going to learn this group can hit with some power. Left-handed bats Jacob Hannemann and Shawon Dunston Jr along with right-handers Trey Martin and Yasiel Balaguert give Johnson plenty of versatility and athleticism.
Ball jumps off Hannemann's bat and showed strength at the plate during his BP session. Talk is Hannemann is the fastest player in the organization and while it was just base running drills, he looked the part. Dunston showed some maturity as a 21-year-old and said he's learned from his failures early in his career.
The guy I'm looking forward to is Martin, who's never been healthy while with the Cubs organization, having labrum surgery last year. He's the best defender of the bunch and drove the ball with a solid swing. He's not on many prospect lists but Balaguert just turned 21, excelled last year in the NWL, and is the team's best right-handed power bat. Could be a big year for the Cuban as he returns to MWL after failing two seasons ago.
Northsiders Report has done profile stories on most of these players, including the starting rotation and the outfielders. Click on the player's name to link the player's page and then click on the link to the profile stories.