Examining the Rookies: Part I

It's not every day that a professional baseball team is no-hit and still wins. Yet that's exactly what happened earlier this month to the Mesa Cubs, the Arizona Rookie League affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. While the event may have gone unnoticed on a national level, it certainly caught the eye of one of the men primarily responsible for overseeing the rookies' development.

The Cubs won the game, 1-0, against the Royals on July 19. In the fourth inning, second baseman Valerio Heredia reached on a throwing error with one out and then stole second and third base. A sacrifice fly to center from catcher Carlos Perez was deep enough to score the speedy Heredia, who has 15 stolen bases in 22 attempts with the club.

The Mesa team struck five batters in the game and allowed four hits and three walks. Robert Hernandez picked up the win with recent Cubs draft pick Kitt Kopach, a right-hander from Illinois State, notching the save.

"You've got to be a hell of a club to get no-hit and win," Cubs Director of Player Development Oneri Fleita said with a laugh. "That's the mark of a champion, don't you think?"

Of the more recognizable names on the Cubs' rookie league roster in Mesa is OF Cliff Anderson, taken with the organization's ninth-round pick. The 19-year-old from Cottonwood Senior (Utah) High School was originally thought to be a hard sign, but officially joined the organization in late June and has struggled through 21 games in Arizona League play.

The left-handed hitting center fielder by default is batting only .153 with one extra-base hit and 33 strikeouts in 72 at-bats.

"We're happy to have him. He's a good, left-handed batter with a good swing," Fleita said of Anderson. "He's got a lot of upside."

"He's a strongly built young man," Cubs Director of Amateur and Professional Scouting Tim Wilken told Inside The Ivy recently. "He has good strength to his swing, but there's enough looseness to it that it's not a stiff swing. He's got a good approach at the plate and is going to have what I call 'big field' power from left-center to right-center. ...

"We brought him in for a workout in Mesa at the end of May when we were getting ready for our pre-draft meetings," recalled Wilken. "He swung the bat well there and ran well. He's a very strong kid and defensively, he looks like he breaks on the ball well in the outfield. We're not sure yet whether he's going to play center or left, but I like his chances with the bat and I love his competitiveness."

As with Anderson, another consensus hard sign was OF Drew Rundle from Bend (Ore.) High School that was drafted in the 14th round. In 2005, the Cubs selected another Oregon outfielder with their 14th round pick in Oregon State's Tyler Graham. Graham was one of just three Cub draft picks in the first 30 rounds that did not sign, and the Cubs were determined not to let another from the Northwest region slip away this year.

Like Anderson, though, Rundle has struggled early on since coming to terms with the organization. He is batting .162 in 12 games.

"He's another kid with a good body and a great swing that can run and throw," Fleita said of Rundle, who was named the 2005-06 Oregon Gatorade High School Player of the Year and doubled as a football wide receiver. "He's a high school kid that right now is just feeling his way through. He's another guy with a lot of upside and a really good swing."

Of the pitchers currently on the Mesa team, right-hander Chuckie Platt was drafted on the second day of the draft from Lamar University in Texas. Platt has not allowed an earned run in four appearances with the team and hails from the same college campus as Micah Hoffpauir and Thomas Atlee.

"He's a gamer," Fleita said of Platt. "He throws strikes and he competes. He's got three pitches he throws for strikes, and he's a polished guy. He's a college guy that's pretty advanced. He throws a fastball, curveball and change."

As is always the case with the Cubs' Mesa team, there are plenty of fresh Latin arrivals from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela in stock. The youngest is 17-year-old Marwin Gonzalez, born in March of 1989. He is also hitting below the Mendoza Line at .159 through 18 games.

"He's a left-handed hitting third baseman that can play shortstop, too," Fleita said of Gonzalez. "It will be an in-betweener to see where he plays between short and third, but he has a real good swing."

Two more names that jump out at Fleita are the 17-year-old Hernandez, a right-hander who is 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA in 21 innings with the upstart team. The other is right-hander Rafael Dolis, a former infielder.

"Hernandez is a young Venezuelan pitcher that's got a real good feel and we think is a guy that will eventually throw real hard," Fleita said.

"[Dolis] was a shortstop that we converted to pitcher in January of this year. He throws up to 94, 95 miles per hour. He's got a great arm with a good feel and is a guy that can throw real hard."

The Mesa Cubs are currently 10-17 in Arizona League play. The team has struggled collectively at the plate with a .225 average in their 27 contests.

"When you're young like that, you know how it goes," Fleita said. "Even if you're batting .260 or .280, hitting less than .350 for the first time in your life may be hard to deal with. But they're all going through growing pains that all kids go through their first year."

Part II of our look at the Cubs' rookie prospects will focus exclusively on short-season, Class Low A Boise in the coming days.

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