Few Surprises on Minor League Rosters

The Chicago Cubs' 2008 opening day minor league rosters reveal 100 players who were shipped out from Mesa, Ariz., to one of four destinations: Des Moines, Iowa, eastern Tennessee, Daytona Beach, Fla., and Peoria, Ill. The breakdown of those players includes 50 pitchers, 10 catchers, 22 infielders and 18 outfielders.

Chicago assigned 12 pitchers, two catchers, five infielders and six outfielders to Triple-A Iowa. Double-A Tennessee features the biggest carry-over from last season, as 17 players who were with the club in 2007 have returned for 2008. Of the 24 players on Tennessee's roster, 12 are pitchers, two are catchers, six are infielders and four are outfielders. At Class High-A Daytona, the breakdown features 13 pitchers, three catchers, six infielders and four outfielders. At Class-A Peoria, the breakdown includes 13 pitchers, three catchers, five infielders and four outfielders.

Hardly any of the players assigned to those clubs come as a surprise.

Iowa's roster was perhaps the easiest to piece together as everyone knew INF/OF Eric Patterson, pitchers Sean Gallagher, Sean Marshall, Neal Cotts and Juan Mateo, and outfielders Matt Murton, Sam Fuld and Jake Fox would be in Triple-A to start the season. Those players were optioned there during spring training.

Most also would have figured that players such as first baseman Micah Hoffpauir and third baseman Casey McGehee would be assigned to Iowa because of their age and past experience at Triple-A, and their impressive showings in big league camp in which they both batted over .400 in 20-plus games apiece.

It may have come as a surprise to some to learn that Mark Holliman would begin the year in Triple-A following an up-and-down second half last year in Double-A, but the right-hander had an impressive showing for much of 2007, winning 10 games and posting a 3.57 ERA while finishing third in the system with 108 strikeouts.

Holliman also logged the most innings of any Cubs minor league pitcher with 161 1/3. Moreover, his ERA was the second best among full-season Cubs minor league starting pitchers, so it can hardly be considered a shock to see him advance a level.

At Double-A are many players that were on the Tennessee roster at the end of last season who are now set to return to the Smokies for the start of 2008. Among them are those who began the year in Class A ball and were promoted at some point during the season, such as outfielder Tyler Colvin, third baseman Kyle Reynolds, and pitchers Mitch Atkins, Rocky Roquet and the Cubs' most popular prospect, Jeff Samardzija. Being that none of those players have yet to experience a full season above A-ball, it shouldn't come as a surprise to see them back in Double-A.

Additionally, two starting pitchers that were with Tennessee for all of last season are set to repeat Double-A: Donald Veal and Justin Berg. Few would have predicted that Veal or Berg would start the year in Triple-A following up-and-down seasons last year, and especially with Iowa having many pitchers capable of forming a rotation: Gallagher, Holliman, Marshall, Mateo, J.R. Mathes and Les Walrond, to name a few.

Meanwhile, outfielder Ryan Harvey received the bump up to Tennessee after spending the past two years in High-A ball. Harvey's arrival in Double-A is hardly a surprise because the Cubs' top pick in the 2003 draft was slated to go there at the beginning of last season before he was slowed by a hamstring injury.

Nor is it a surprise to see infielders Nate Spears, Matt Craig, Robinson Chirinos and Joe Simokaitis on the Tennessee roster. Those players have plenty of experience in Class A ball and are each past the average age of the Florida State League.

Outfielder Corey Coles, acquired from the Mets in the off-season for Angel Pagan, is no surprise name on the Tennessee roster, either. Coles appeared in 66 games with Binghamton of the Eastern League a season ago in his first stint at Double-A and would have been a long shot to join an Iowa outfield that features serviceable starters such as Fox, Fuld, Murton, Josh Kroeger and possibly Patterson.

At Daytona, the Cubs' Class High-A roster includes a mix of players that closed last season in the Florida State League following promotions from lower levels, plus others that have progressed a level after spending all of last season in the Midwest League, and some that have been skipped a level from short-season ball.

Of those making the trek to Advanced-A ball for the first time are RHP Alex Maestri and third baseman Josh Lansford. Both of those players were expected to begin the year in Daytona following overly impressive showings in Peoria a season ago. Likewise, catcher Welington Castillo will make his High-A debut after spending last season with Peoria, and he should split the bulk of playing time behind the plate with Steve Clevenger, one of the players promoted to Daytona last year.

Given their age and college experience, few should be surprised to see such 2007 draft picks as second baseman Tony Thomas and left-handers James Russell and Casey Lambert be given the chance to bypass a full season in Peoria. Each of those players had strong professional debuts a season ago in short-season ball and spent most of minor league spring training with the Daytona squad.

At Peoria are many players making the expected jump to full-season ball from Class Low-A Boise. Among them is catcher Josh Donaldson, who was the Cubs' first-round supplemental draft pick a season ago, and other 2007 draftees such as pitchers Ryan Acosta and Chris Siegfried, and infielder Marquez Smith.

Additionally, some players are rejoining Peoria after disappointing tenures in the Midwest League a season ago. Those players would include Dylan Johnston, the Cubs' fourth-round pick in 2005 that has since been converted from shortstop to the outfield, and outfielder Kyler Burke, whom the Cubs sent to short-season ball after they acquired him from San Diego for catcher Michael Barrett last season.

Each of the Cubs' four full-season minor league affiliates open play Thursday. Iowa opens the year with a four-game series at home against Round Rock while Tennessee begins play with a five-game series at Birmingham. Daytona kicks off the season with a two-game series at home against Brevard County, and Peoria opens with a four-game series at Burlington.

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