Kyle Schwarber will draw most of the attention for this year's Boise's squad but I'm more interested in what happens on the mound in the Northwest League. The Cubs have six top-10 draft picks on the roster as well as three of the top young Venezuelan arms in the system. Throw in three pitchers that have already logged innings in Daytona and the Cubs top high school arm selected last year, and good luck Boise opponents.
Also need to be realistic as short-season is a place to gain experience and for most of these arms, the first real taste of pro baseball, complete with long bus rides and fast food restaurants.
Let's start with the Top 10 Draft picks. Josh Conway was the Cubs 4th round pick in 2011 and at one time considered one of the top college arms in the draft out of Costal Carolina. After Tommy John surgery in 2011, Conway missed all of 2012 and was near a promotion to Kane County last spring, when he suffered a stress fracture of his right elbow. The right-hander is finally healthy and ready to make his pro debut. According to a story in the Idaho Press-Tribune, Conway will start the season working out of the bullpen. Health and innings will be the key for 23-year-old.
Former Boise pitching coach David Rosario, now with Kane County, describes Ryan McNeil as a "bulldog". The Cubs third-round pick in 2012 logged 20 solid innings in the Arizona Rookie League after signing but miss all of 2013 with Tommy John surgery. McNeil, a California native, finally gets back on track with his pro career, and like Conway, will start out of the bullpen.
Scott Frazier began the season at Kane County but struggled with his command in two outings, and was sent back to extended spring training. The Cubs 6th round pick last year has a big arm with a fastball in the upper 90s but needs to harness that power arm and throw strikes. David Garner was the Cubs 7th round pick last year out Michigan State. The 6-foot-1 right-hander appeared in nine games for Mesa after signing and didn't put up impressive numbers. He did show the ability to put away hitters with 16 punchouts in 14.2 innings but also gave up 19 hits and walked nine.
Trey Lang was the Cubs sixth round pick in 2012 and was drafted because of the power in his right arm and a 95+ fastball. The 6-foot-3 Arizona native is still learning to pitch as he tries to find consistency with his delivery and command of his pitches. Lang pitched in six games for Boise last year but walked 13 in 14.2 innings to go along with 18 K. Trey Masek may have started the season at Kane County but an injury set back his throwing program this spring, and he finds himself back in Boise for the second year. With a fastball in the mid-90s and a good breaking ball, the Texas native made10 relief appearances last year with 19 K in 16.2 IP and a 2.16 ERA.
While he wasn't a top 10 pick, Tennessee high school hurler Trevor Clifton did receive an over slot bonus last June to sign with the Cubs as the 11th round pick. He is the second youngest arm on the staff and gets his first taste of pro ball away from Arizona. After signing late last season, Clifton appeared in eight games in Mesa with 15 K in 10.1 innings.
Trevor Graham was the Cubs 13th round pick last year out of Franklin Pierce University and the right-hander has already impressed in his 8.2 innings of shutout relief in three games at Daytona. The 6-foot-3, 22-year-old won two games in the FSL and fanned four with a BAA of .185. Graham threw 22.1 innings with a 2.01 ERA in Mesa last year.
Tyler Ihrig also went to Daytona as the D-Cubs had a shortage of arms in May. The left-hander made one start in three games, allowing 10 hits and seven runs in nine innings. Ihrig was one of the Cubs most productive arms last year in Mesa, with 30 K and only 4 BB in 25 IP for a 0.72 ERA. Ihrig was selected in the 22nd round out of Marin Community College.
Ben Wells, who led the Daytona Cubs in innings pitched last year, is in Boise to try to get his game on track. Wells started the season on the DL and then appeared in eight games for Daytona, including six shutout innings with eight strikeouts May 13 against Charlotte. He struggled his last two outings, giving up nine runs on five hits and eight walks in 2.2 innings, getting only two outs his final start. You can't expect Wells to be on the roster long.
The roster also includes three young arms from Venezuela—Francisco Carrillo, Greyfer Eregua and Erick Leal. Carrillo,24, pitched last year in relief in the VSL, with 53 K and only 5 BB in 51.2 innings. The 6-foot right-hander went 8-3 with a 2.09 ERA. Eregua, 20, only stands 5-foot-11 and is making jump from the VSL to short-season. He threw 43 innings last year with 42 K and only three walks.
Cub fans will remember Erick Leal as one of the players the North Siders received from Arizona in the Tony Campana trade two years ago. After the deal, the Cubs brought the teenager stateside for extended spring training and a season in the Arizona Rookie League. The 6-foot-3 right-hander appeared in 13 game in Mesa, throwing 48.2 innings, with a team-high 52 K and 8 BB.
Cubs first-round pick Kyle Schwarber will make his pro debut Friday night and let's hope its not as bad as Kris Bryant's NWL debut—0-5 with five strikeouts. While the fans all await the first #SchwarberBomb tweets, I'm more interested in seeing his development behind the plate this summer. Already speculation as to when he will be moved up to Kane County but it may be best in the long run to stay at Boise and spend the off-season in Mesa continuing his development behind the plate. Jason McLeod has said he will also see time in the outfield.
Mark Malave, the Cubs top July 2 signee in 2011, is a catcher turned infielder turned back to catcher, and heads to short-season. After a year in the DSL where he hit .229, Malave, 19, played all over the diamond last year for Mesa, batting .270/.381/.339 as the switch-hitting Venezuelan moves behind the plate. He hasn't show much power for a 6-foot-3, 185-pounder but is an athletic player that becomes an interesting prospect if can develop defensive skills to go along with an improving bat. Justin Marra is back in Boise for his third straight year after being selected in the 15th round in 2011 out of Toronto Canada. The 21-year-old left-handed hitting catcher batted .224/.313/.482 in 25 games.
Zak Blair, the Cubs 20th round pick in 2013 from Mercyhurst College, will play second for the Hawks after getting over 100 at-bats in the Arizona Rookie League after signing. The 24-year-old hit .226/.297/.283 in 30 games for Mesa and provides a left-handed middle infield bat. Versatile infielder David Bote returns to Boise after starting the season at Kane County (.217/.324/.317) in 38 games.The 18th round pick in 2012 hit .250/.337/.366 in 69 games lat year for Boise.
Daniel Canela and Giuseppe Papaccio are two more Boise infielders that have already gotten their feet wet in the minors this year. Canela was signed as a free agent out of the Frontier League last year after earning Rookie of the Year honors. The former NC State backstop made his pro debut for Kane County and, hit .278/.304/.352 with a homer and six RBI in 14 games. He will play first for the Hawks. Boise will be Papaccio's third stop this season as he's already spent time in in Tennessee (0-2, 2 games) and Daytona (2-25, 8 games). An 18th-round pick last year, Papaccio hit .279/.331/.364 in 37 games at Kane County after the draft.
Jesse Hodges, a Canadian native who signed as a free agent in 2012, played 47 games in Mesa last year, hitting .210/.272/.293 at third base. The 20-year-old also played three games for Boise and shown some power. The final infielder is shortstop Varonex Cuevas, who's making the jump from the Dominican Summer League to the Northwest League. Cuevas started 53 games at short last year and hit .260/.374/.358 with 13 stolen bases and as many walks as strikeouts (37) in close to 250 plate appearances.
Jeffrey Baez made a brief appearance for the Hawks last year (2-13 in four games) but spent of of his year playing in extended spring train games and the Arizona Rookie League. He hit .287/.357/.384 in 45 games with 25 stolen bases. The 20-year-old outfielder spent two years in the DSL and was promoted stateside at the end of 2012 season to Mesa. It will be interesting to see how Baez performs in front of crowds as well as adapts to life on the road in America.
Rashad Crawford gets away from Arizona for the first time since the Cubs used their 11th round pick in 2012 on the speedy outfielder from Georgia. The 20-year-old played in 42 games in 2013 for Mesa, hitting .210/.299/.275 with 10 stolen bases. Kevin Brown is another player who made it to Boise last year, albeit for two games (2-7) as the Bryant College product was selected in the 22nd round. The left-handed hitting, outfielder appeared in 34 games with Mesa after signing, batting .230/,370/.336. Not sure why Oliver Zapata is in Boise as the switch-hitting outfielder started the year in Daytona after two years in the Midwest League. The 21-year-old played in 11 games with D-Cubs and was just 4-31 before getting assigned back to Mesa and eventually Boise.
The Hawks are managed by Gary Van Tol, returns for his second season at the helm after spending five years as the Hawks bench coach and assisting with the scouting department. The Hawks went 41-35 last year and reached the playoffs, falling in the championship series to Vancouver.
The Hawks coaching staff includes three newcomers to the organization. Pitching coach Brian Lawrence joins the Cubs after serving the Padres in same capacity at Lake Elsinore last year. The former 17th round pick pitched for the Padres and Mets from (2001-07) and the former big leaguer was 50-63 with a 4.19 ERA. Guillermo Martinez is the Hawks assistant coach as he made his coaching debut lats year for the Blue Jays. The Nicaraguan native was drafted by the Marlins in 2006 out of South Alabama, and played three season in Marlins organization (.214 career average in 143 games) and three years in independent leagues. Jesus Feliciano will serve as hitting coach after a 16-year minor league career with four organizations and year in independent ball. The former outfielder was a 36th round pick of the Dodgers in 1991 out of Puerto Rico.