Head to the new Cubs facility in Mesa to catch an Arizona Rookie League game, and you'll see the next wave of talent ready to hit the Cubs minor league system. While Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber are drawing all the attention, another group of prospects are looking to take place as many start their pro careers.
For the first time since the new front office was hired, the Cubs promoted more than a hand full of prospects from the DSL or VSL as the Mesa roster is essentially an all-star team of last year's Dominican and Venezuelan squads. Over 20 Latin American players on the roster are making their stateside debuts.
Might as well start this preview with Manny Ramirez, who was hired as a player/coach and will be heading to Iowa soon to work with Bryant, Baez and the rest of the I-Cubs. The former all-star has been working with Jorge Soler, who's in Mesa rehabbing a hamstring injury. Having Ramirez stick around in Mesa is a wise decision by the Cubs management as he can influence a large number of the Cubs' young Latin American prospects. Its also been reported the 42-year-old is serious about being in game shape when he reports to AAA.
Another player on the roster providing veteran leadership to the youngsters is former big league catcher Yorvit Torrealba, a 35-year-old that's played in 907 big league games with six different teams. The 13-year veteran will be promoted at some point.
The top two prospects on the roster are Eloy Jimenez, a power hitting outfield, and Gleyber Torres, a middle infielder with a quick bat, who will both make their professional debuts after being the centerpieces of the Cubs 2013 International haul. Jimenez, 17, was at the top of almost everyone's 2013 July 2 prospect lists and Torres wasn't far behind. Prospects at this age usually start their pro careers in the Dominican or Venezuelan Summer Leagues, so you can expect some struggles as they adjust to pro baseball and face advanced pitching.
Also part of the Cubs July 2 class is right-hander Jefferson Mejia, who made his pro debut last year in the DSL. The 6-foot-7 right-hander from the Dominican can throw in the low 90s and if the 19-year-old learns to command his pitches, could be an imposing force in the Cubs future.
Eight 2014 draft picks are on the roster including second-round pick Jake Stinnett, a right-hander out of the University of Maryland. High school arms Carson Sands (4th round) and Justin Steele (5th round) will begin their pro careers in Mesa as will pitchers James Norwood (7th round—St. Louis), Brad Markey (19th-round—Virginia Tech), Zach Hedges (26th round—Azusa Pacific). Catcher Tyler Pearson (25th round-Texas State) and outfielder Calvin Graves (27th round—Franklin Pierce) will get started in Arizona.
If you are looking for your under the radar prospect for 2014, look no further than Ho-young Son, a shortstop from South Korea who was signed after dropping out of college his freshman year. According to the Cubs Pacific Rim Scout Min Kyu Sung, he is a good defensive player with a good arm, and has above average speed and can steal bases. Cubs are hoping a new environment will give him the opportunity to make adjustments.
Here's a look at the rest of the roster by position starting with the pitchers.
Adbert Alzolay—The 19-year-old right-hander already pitched three innings in Boise on June 16 after being one of the top starters in the VSL last year (5-3 1.07 ERA, 67 IP, 10 BB, 61 K, .201 BAA).
Jesus Castillo—Acquired from the Diamondbacks in the Tony Campana trade, Castillo only pitched in five games last year in the VSL (0-2 4.26 ERA) in 19 innings. The 18-year-old spent the 2012 season in the DSL throwing 46.2 innings.
Luis Hernandez—The 6-foot-5 right-hander made nine starts in the DSL last year and makes his stateside debut at age 19. He was 2-2 with a 2.50 ERA in 39.2 innings.
Carlos Llano—The right-hander has already pitched in two games in Boise (3 IP, 3.0 ERA) and worked out of the bullpen last year in the DSL (39.2 IP, 48 K).
Yomar Morel—Like Llano, Morel has already made his stateside debut in the Northwest League, appearing in two games. (3.2 IP, 7.36 ERA). The 20-year-old right-hander threw 27.2 innings last year in DSL with 26 K and 4 BB.
Jose Paulino—One of the top arms in the DSL last year, Paulino was 5-3 with a 2.33 ERA with 71 punchouts in 58 innings. The 6-foot-2 lefty only walked 12 and had a BAA of .221.
Hector Perez—The 21-year-old right-hander was impressive in DSL last year throwing 57.1 innings in 13 games. He sported a 1.88 ERA with 62 K, 13 BB, and a BAA of .233.
Victor Salazar—Worked out of the bullpen lats year in the VSL, throwing 38.2 innings with two saves. The 21-year-old right-hander fanned 32 with 9 BB and was 3-2 with a 3.26 ERA.
Alex Santana—Appeared in five games last season for Mesa (0-1 4.58 ERA, 17.2 IP, 16K). The 20-year-old right-hander was signed as a free agent in 2010.
Pedro Araujo, a 6-foot-3 right-hander, was recently promoted from the DSL (2-1 1.35 ERA) and the 20-year-old will be an arm to keep an eye on but starts on the reserve list. Scott Frazier, a sixth-round pick last year, is battling command issues, and Andin Diaz, another DSL promotion after going 3-1 with a1.21 ERA in 22.1 innings, will also start on the reserve list.
Here's the position players:
Tyler Alamo, C—The Cubs 24th round pick last year, Alamo turned pro instead of heading to Cal-State Fullerton. The 19-year-old played in 11 games after signing, hitting .111/.167/.111 with 4 RBI.
Alberto Mineo, C—Signed in 2010 out of Italy for a reported $225,000, the 20-year-old starts his third season in the Arizona Rookie League, playing only 33 games the first two. The left-handed bat hit .222/.300/.278 in 16 games.
Eufran Vargas, C—The 19-year-old only appeared in 13 games last year in the VSL but hit .366/.460/.537 with a homer and 13 RBI in his second year.
Roney Alcala, 1B—One of the top hitters in the VSL last year, hitting .353/.386/.544 in 64 games with 9 HR and 43 RBI. The 20-year-old switch-hitter finished the '13 season in the DSL and played during playoffs.
Bryant Flete, SS—Another VSL player who made the jump to the DSL after the season was over, Flete only weighs 146 pound but the 5-foot-11 shortstop has speed to burn and a good eye at the plate. He hit .271/.383/.356 with 17 SB in 67 games.
Dalfis Ortiz, 2B—The switch-hitting DSL all-star hit .343/.416/.506 in 47 games but didn't play the final month of the season. Ortiz had more walks than strikeouts, (25:23) led the team with nine triples, and also swiped 14 bases.
Adonis Paula, 3B—The 20-year-old hit .281/.387/.415 in 69 games in the DSL, his second year of pro ball. He knocked in 55 runs and scored 44 times.
Charcer Burks, OF—The Cubs ninth-round pick last year school, the former Houston area prep played in 31 games in Mesa after signing and hit .269/.344/.296 with six stolen bases.
Arnaldo Calero, OF—The 20-year-old hit .297/.347/.454 last year in the VSL after spending his first two seasons in the DSL. He also showed some pop with five homers and swiped 12 bases.
Ricardo Marcano, OF—Marcano received a $400,000 bonus in 2011 and hit .279/.339/.450 last season in the VSL with four homers and 13 stolen bases. The 19-year-old provides some power from the left side of the plate with his 6-foot-2 frame.
Shamil Ubiera, OF—After two solid seasons in the DSL, the 21-year-old earned a trip stateside. He hit .301/.375/.441 last year and led the league with 56 RBI.