Might as well begin with Kris Bryant. Yes, he’s starting the year in Iowa for a short time so the Cubs can gain an extra year of control. Its the business of baseball, its been done with numerous of players before Bryant, and unless changes are made to the collective bargaining agreement, it will continue to happen.
The 2014 Minor League Player of the Year should see time at both third and left field at Iowa, and his future role at Wrigley is yet to be decided. Bryant led the minors in homers last year with 43 and then slugged nine more to led the majors this spring. The Las Vegas native is NorthSiders Report top prospect and you can find his profile story here.
I-Cubs fans are in for a treat with Addison Russell coming to Des Moines. The five-tool shortstop can do it all with the bat and glove, and hiss stay in Iowa may come to an end this summer if the Cubs decide to promote the 21-year-old. Acquired in the Jeff Samardzija trade with Oakland, the Florida native was the A’s top prospect before the deal and is considered one of the best players in all the minors. Here’s the profile story on Russell, ranked #2 by NorthSiders Report.
After struggling with his approach and too much swing-and-miss, Javier Baez returns to Iowa but his stay may not last long. Already shown he can play solid defense at second and short in the bigs, Baez needs to continue to fine tune the adjustments he made during spring training on his approach. He’s strikeout rate has been well documented to the point its overshadowed the rest of his game, which is top notch. If he continues to figure it out, it won’t be long before Baez is bouncing balls off the new jumbotron at Wrigley.
Here’s a look at the rest of the Iowa line-up, starting with the pitchers.
With Pierce Johnson starting the year on the DL with a lat strain and C.J. Edwards down in AA, the top arm in Iowa is Eric Jokisch, who led all Cubs minor leaguers with 143 punchouts in 26 AAA starts last year. The left-hander got a September call-up to Wrigley for his MLB debut and provides starting depth in case of an injury in Chicago.
Donn Roach, who gets the opening night start at Memphis, was claimed off waivers from the Padres back in November, cleared waivers, and was assigned to Iowa. Roach made his big league debut for the Padres last year after being selected by the Angels in the second round in 2010. He’s spent most of his minor league career as a starter but made 15 MLB relief appearances in ’14.
To start the season, the rotation also includes Carlos Pimentel, Yoanner Negrin and Barret Loux. Pimentel, who re-signed as a free agent, appeared in 29 games, for Iowa last year, 15 as a starter, going 4-9 with a 5.35 ERA. Negrin worked primarily out of the bullpen for Iowa in 2014 but made 14 starts for the I-Cubs in 2013. The Cuban native also pitched as a starter in the Venezuelan Winter League. Loux, the former first-round pick of the Diamondbacks, returns to the mound after missing 2014 with Tommy John surgery.
The Iowa bullpen has a bunch of arms that could the mound at Wrigley at some point this summer including Cuban fireballer, Armando Rivero, who fanned 100 hitters in 65 innings last year out of the bullpen between Iowa and Tennessee. The rest of the relief corps includes left-handers Drake Britton, Joseph Ortiz and Zac Rosscup as well as right-handers Blake Cooper, Gonzalez Germen, Blake Parker, and Brian Schlitter. Everyone except Cooper has big league experience and Rosscup, Parker and Schlitter all saw action last year in Chicago.
If the Cubs do make a trade at catcher and there’s an injury, the Cubs will call-up Rafael Lopez, who made his big league debut last year. A former second baseman at Florida State, Lopez is back in Iowa to start the year after hitting .285/.378/.329 in 61 AAA games last year. The left-handed hitting Lopez has really developed over the past two seasons and provides the Cubs MLB ready catching depth. Taylor Davis, who played in 53 games in Tennessee last year (.319/.375/.500), starts the year in Iowa.
Jonathan Mota and Chris Valaika both return to the Iowa infield. Mota has spent 10 years in the minors, all with Chicago, and played 47 games last year with the I-Cubs (.261/.278/.373). Valaika appeared in 44 games with Chicago last year and re-signed as a free agent in the off-season. The 29-year-old provides emergency depth at Wrigley and should get plenty of playing time at Iowa as the summer progresses and infielders are promoted.
Junior Lake, one of the final cuts at big league camp this spring, returns to Iowa after splitting last year between AAA and Chicago. Lake has a new approach at the plate that he showcased during winter ball and spring training. John Andreoli has recovered from a wrist injury that cut his 2014 season short and could draw some attention with his play. Andreoli can play all three outfield positions, and while he doesn’t provide much power, has a good knack for making contact and getting on base. Newcomers Adorn Chamber and Mike Baxter, both signed as free agents, will be in the Iowa outfielder along with Cuban Rubi Silva, who has spent last two years in Tennessee.
Marty Peavy returns to Iowa for his / season and his / in baseball. Brian Harper is back as the hitting coach and Mike Cather make his Cubs debut as the Iowa pitching coach. Leonel Perez is the assistant hitting coach.
The I-Cubs open the season tonight at Memphis, again the Cardinal AAA affiliate. Game time is 7:05 p.m. CST with Donn Roach getting the start for Iowa against Memphis left-hander Marco Gonzales, the Cardinals first-round pick in 2013. Here’s the roster with links to the player pages.