No team in the Cubs minors has more talent than what’s been assembled at Iowa for this summer. Not only has Ian Happ been promoted to AAA, a handful of the Cubs other top position players will start the year on the roster. Throw in pitching staff that includes seven arms on the 40-man roster and its the deepest AAA team the Cubs have fielded since Theo Epstein took over. And while in recent years, the roster has been peppered with free agents with big league experience, this squad is filled with talent developed by the Cubs. Enjoy Des Moines.
Ian Happ—With Eloy Jimenez back in Mesa nursing a sore shoulder, you could argue that the Cubs first-round pick in 2015 is the top prospect, especially after his spring. Leading the team with 21 RBI and slashing .383/.441/.750 with five homers, Happ introduced himself to the baseball world this spring in Cubs camp. Last year, the 22-year-old started the year at Myrtle Beach and after hitting .296/.365/.445 with seven homers and 42 RBI in 69 games, was sent to AA. Happ got off to a hot start in Tennessee but wore down as the season progressed and ended his AA season hitting .262/.318/.415. The Cubs still have Happ playing a majority of his time at second but have said he could play third and more outfield this year in Iowa.
Jeimer Candelario—Signed by the Cubs back in 2010, the switch-hitting third baseman has developed into one of the Cubs top prospects. After being demoted to Low A back in 2015, the 23-year-old has excelled the past two years and made his MLB debut last season, playing in five games. After being promoted to Iowa in June, Candelario has his best stop during his carer, batting .333/.417/.542 with nine homers, and 22 doubles in 76 games. Look for Candelario to see some playing time at first as he’s expands his versatility
Eddie Butler—Acquired during the off-season in a trade with Colorado for minor league reliever James Farris, Butler impressed Cubs coaches during spring training, leading the team with five wins while tossing 14.2 innings. A former top pitching prospect in the Rockies organization, Butler struggled in his limited time in the bigs with Colorado, surrendering 28 homers in 159.1 innings. With a good start at Iowa, Butler could find himself in Chicago’s rotation by the end of the season, especially if there are any injuries.
Alec Mills—The Cubs traded outfield prospect Donnie Dewees to Kansas City to acquire the right-handed pitching prospect. A 22nd round pick of Kansas City back in 2012 out of Tennessee-Martin, Mills has spent most of his five-year career as a starter in the Royals system, earning all star honors in the South Atlantic League (2013), Carolina League (2015) and Texas League (2016). Last season he split the year between AA and AAA, and made his pro debut, despite not having pitched above High A heading into the year.
Jake Buchanan—The right-hander made 22 starts for Iowa last year after signing a free agent deal before the 2016 season. The 27-year-old logged 141 innings, held PCL hitters to a .278 mark, and earned a spot on the Cubs 40-man roster with a September call-up. Buchanan made one start for Chicago and appeared in two games, tossing six innings.
Rob Zastryzny—The lefty is expected to start the year in the rotation but could end up in Chicago’s bullpen again if they need a left-handed arm. Zastryzny started the year in Tennessee and ended up at a party with the Cubs in Cleveland. After being promoted to Iowa in late May, Zastryzny went 7-3 in 14 starts, logging 81 innings and sporting a 1.24 WHIP. Zastryzny was added to the Cubs 40-man roster in August and the 25-year-old appeared in eight games, including one start, fanning 17 in 16 innings to go along with a 1.13 ERA and a1.06 WHIP for Chicago.
Ryan Williams—The Cubs 10th round pick in 2014 out of East Carolina is back with Iowa after missing most of the 2016 season with an arm injury. After breezing through the system in just two seasons, Williams made nine starts at Iowa last year, going 4-1 with a 3.27 ERA
The I-Cubs bullpen is led by 40-man roster members Felix Pena, Jose Rosario and Pierce Johnson. Pena spent most of last year in Iowa and earned a late season promotion to Chicago, appearing in 11 games for the World Champs. This spring, Pena pitched in seven games with 9 K and a 2.70 ERA. Recovered from Tommy John surgery that wiped out his 2015 season, Rosario bounced back last year as he started the season in Myrtle Beach and made his way to Iowa, converting all 14 saves opportunities between the three levels. In 22 games at Iowa, he was 1-1 with a 2.92 ERA and five saves. A former first-round supplemental pick in 2012, Johnson gets a fresh start in the bullpen after spending his first six season with the Cubs as a starter. In eight games this spring for Chicago, Johnson threw 6.2 innings, allowing six runs on nine hits and four walks with 10 K.
Jack Leathersich, Zac Rosscup, Aaron Brooks and Miguel Mejia are all back in Iowa. Leathersich worked his way to Iowa last year after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Signed as a free agent, Leathersich was added to the Cubs 40-man roster after throwing 23.1 relief innings between Mesa, Tennessee and Iowa. The former Mets lefty could help in Chicago if he can regain the form he had before the injury. Rosscup missed the entire 2016 season after shoulder surgery and has appeared in 61 big league games for the Cubs. In 2015, Rosscup tossed 26.2 innings for the North Siders, making 33 appearances. Signed as a free agent before the 2015 season and re-signed during the off-season, Mejia’s stock really rose this winter after staring for Caguas and their run to win the Caribbean World Series. He led the Puerto Rican Winter League with 12 holds in 22 games and sported a 0.86 WHIP. His performance earned him a spot of Puerto Rico’s WBC roster. Aaron Brooks, a member of the 40-man roster, only appeared in five games last year for Iowa before going on the DL with a hip contusion. Acquired from the A’s in a trade for Chris Coghlan before last season, Brooks made his debut for Kansas City in 2014 and has started 10 big league games.
Three new faces to the organization are also on the Iowa roster to start the season in the bullpen—Dylan Floro, Seth Frankoff and David Rollins. Floro was claimed off waivers from the Rays, later cleared waivers for Chicago and was assigned to Iowa. Floro appeared in seven games this spring and allowed six runs in six innings. Floro, 26, made his MLB debut last year for Tampa Bay, pitching in 12 games and sporting a 4.20 ERA. Frankoff spent most of his minor league career as a starter with the A’s and after last year in the Dodgers organization, signed a free agent deal with the Cubs. Frankoff appeared in four spring games, tossing nine innings with a 5.00 ERA. David Rollins spent the off-season going from Seattle to Chicago to Texas to Philadelphia back to Texas and finally back to the Cubs on waiver wire claims. The Cubs finally passed him through waivers and assigned the left-hander to Iowa. Rollins fanned 12 in 8.1 innings in eight spring games.
The I-Cubs will start the year with four catchers on the roster, including top catching prospect Victor Caratini. A Southern League mid-season and post-season all-star in 2016, Caratini hit .291/.375/.405 with a career-high six homers and 25 doubles. A switch-hitter and former third baseman, Caratini needs to gain more experience in his third full season behind the dish. Will also see plenty of time at first when he’s not catching. Taylor Davis is back in Iowa and will be splitting time between catcher, first and DH. Davis hit .251/.341/.345 in 67 games last year in Des Moines. A pair of free agent signings round out the catcher corps—Carlos Corporan and Ali Solis. Corporan was one of the final cuts in Cubs big league camp and has played in 232 big league games, most recently for Texas in 2015. Solis, native of Mexico, spent last year in the Red Sox organization and made his MLB debut in 2012 for the Padres.
Chesny Young and Stephen Bruno round out the infield for Iowa. Young won the Carolina League batting title in 2015, was second in the Southern League in hitting in 2016, batted over .300 in the Dominican Winter League and went 18-53 (.340) in 27 spring training games for Chicago. He can hit. Young can also play all four infield positions as well as the corner outfield spots. Bruno has battled injuries the past two years but when healthy makes consistent contact with some gap power. The Cubs 7th round pick in 2012, the 26-year-old won the Northwest League batting title in his debut season but missed most of the 2013 and 2016 seasons with injuries. He’s spent the majority of his minor league career at second.
The Iowa outfield consists of three homegrown prospects— John Andreoli, Mark Zagunis and Bijan Rademacher. The Cubs added free agent Todd Glaesmann during the off-season. Andreoli is back for his third year at Iowa, leading the PCL last year in stolen bases and strikeouts, was second in walks and third in runs scored. He also starred for Team Italy in the WBC, hitting .316 with three homers and seven RBI in four games. Zagunis, the Cubs third-round pick in 2014, ended last year on the DL but has made a quick rise through the system and is considered the best at plate discipline in the organization. The 24-year-old slugged a career-high 10 homers between two levels last year and has a career .401 on-base percentage in over 270 minor league games. Rademacher starts his sixth season in the organization and is coming off his best year, hitting .307/.385/.466 between Iowa and Tennessee. The 25-year-old has a strong arm and continues to improve his plate discipline. Originally signed by the Rays and traded to the D-Back in 2013, Glaesmann hit .272/.312/.462 with 13 homers between AA and AAA last year in the D-Backs system.
Manager Marty Peeve is back for his fifth season at the helm in Des Moines and his ninth with the Cubs, managing Peoria in 2009 and serving as the minor league catching coordinator from 2010-12. Pitching coach Rod Nichols is back for his second season at Iowa and second with the Cubs, joining the organization after coaching in the Phillies system from 2005-15. Former big leaguers Desi Wilson and Mariano Duncan will serve as co-hitting coaches this season. Duncan spent the last four years as the Cubs High A hitting coach and Wilson is in his second year at Iowa.
Pacific Coast League Primer
The I-Cubs play their 140-game scheduled in the Pacific Coast League’s American Northern Division with Colorado Springs (Brewers), Oklahoma City (Dodgers) and Omaha (Royals). The also play 16 games against the Southern Division that includes Memphis (Cardinals), Nashville (A’s), New Orleans (Marlins) and Round Rock (Rangers). Iowa hosts Tacoma (Mariners), Reno (D-Backs), Fresno (Astros), Sacramento (Giants) for four games and travel to Salt Lake (Angels), Las Vegas (Mets), El Paso (Padres), Albuquerque (Rockies) for four games against the Pacific Division squads.