Who Impresses Pratt?

Daytona pitching coach Tom Pratt says there are two relief pitchers on his staff that instantly bring a smile to his face. One of them is right-hander Adalberto Mendez, and the other is left-hander Carlos Vasquez.

Now 24, Mendez has bounced around the Class-A circuit the past three years after spending his rookie season in 2002 as a first baseman. He began last year at Daytona, where a 6.67 ERA and .311 average against in 23 games eventually earned him a trip back to the Midwest League with Peoria.

Once there, he met Pratt, who had been Daytona's pitching coach from 2000-04, but was serving 2005 on Julio Garcia's staff in Peoria. Pratt was quick to note his first impressions of Mendez a season ago in contrast to the progress he's made this year.

"Prior to this year, he was just a hard thrower," said Pratt, who has been with the Cubs as a minor league pitching coach since his days with the Eugene Emeralds in 1999. "He's finally resided himself to the fact that he can't afford to throw so many pitches in one inning when hitters are constantly fighting off 94-95 mph fastballs."

Pratt said that through his work with mechanics, Mendez is finally developing a good feel for pitching instead of just throwing.

"He's executing his slider and changeup really well," Pratt observed. "He's also done a nicer job this season of locating his fastball. He's throwing in the mid 90s and that's a natural progression for somebody who's working on mechanics. He has to continue to do that. He has to stay on top of himself."

So far, Mendez's results speak for themselves. Through 11 appearances, he has four saves and the best ERA on the staff at 1.17. He's struck out 17, walked four, and allowed a .148 average against. Against left-handers, Mendez has allowed just one hit to 15 batters faced.

"With regards to improving his mechanics," Pratt said, "he's finally turned the corner."

As for Vasquez, Pratt noted the left-hander is most promising after undergoing Tommy John surgery and missing all of 2005. The 23-year-old has also matured quite a bit, Pratt says.

"What a guy," boasts Pratt. "Coming off the surgery he had, he has really grown a bunch. His work habits and discipline have just gone off the charts. Before, he was a wild thrower with a plus-fastball and curveball. He's really settled down and developed some solid poise and focus."

Vasquez had been on the Cubs' 40-man roster at one point prior to the surgery. He made 16 starts at Daytona in 2004, going 6-5 with a 3.87 ERA. Since his return this year, Vasquez has made a go of things strictly out of the bullpen. In 11 appearances, he is 2-0 with a 2.21 ERA.

Pratt described Vasquez as a "groundball machine," and added, "He's a really good story. I'm really happy for him."

Daytona topped Vero Beach on Wednesday night, 5-2. The Class Advanced-A affiliate of the Cubs improved to 11-14, but are in fourth place in the Florida State League East.

Justin Berg is still winless after six starts, but he's put together three straight respectable outings after allowing 14 runs in his first three games. Over his last two outings, Berg has allowed just one run per outing and racked up 11 strikeouts to two walks. His 31 strikeouts lead the team.

Offensively, Ryan Harvey had been in a 1-for-23 slump entering the night, but picked up two hits and drove in his team-best 18th run. He totaled his second double of the year and "raised" his average to .198.

ELSEWHERE ON THE FARM … In Nashville, Tenn., Buck Coats had yet another two-hit showing at the plate and has hit safely in all but one of his last 12 games. Iowa lost in their last at-bat, 4-3. For those of you keeping score, Coats has reached base in all of his 21 games this season. He leads the team in hitting with a .346 average.

Geovany Soto had four different opposing runners steal a combined total of five bases off him behind the plate. Opposing runners have stolen 30 bases in 38 attempts against Soto this season, meaning he has thrown out just 21 percent of runners. The league average is 33 percent.

Jerome Williams turned in another respectable start since being sent down from Chicago. He surrendered two runs on four hits in five innings, but issued four walks. David Aardsma made his first relief appearance since he was sent down on Monday and allowed his first Triple-A run of the season in six tries for a 1.04 ERA at Iowa. He has 11 strikeouts to zero walks.

In Jackson, Tenn., Nic Jackson is now 12-for-24 in his first seven games at Double-A and batting .333 on the year. He was 3-for-5 on Wednesday and extended his hitting streak to 20 games after totaling his fourth double since joining the team. West Tenn beat Huntsville, 8-4. As previously noted, this is the longest hitting streak of Jackson's career. His second longest came in 2001 at Daytona, when he hit safely in 12 straight games.

Eric Patterson has hit safely in seven of his last eight starts, but continues to tail off average-wise. He's now batting .257, his lowest clip all year. Patterson leads the farm system with 11 stolen bases in 15 attempts, one better than teammate Chris Walker.

Carlos Marmol allowed three runs (one earned) in four short innings. He is the only Jaxx starter yet to allow a home run this season, which in part explains his 2.59 ERA in six starts. Paul Schappert continues to eat up innings. In nine bullpen appearances, he has gone two innings or over in six of his last seven outings and has a respectable 2.45 ERA as a reliever.

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