Handicapping the Cubs' Instructional League

Arizona is always a busy place for the Chicago Cubs in the fall months. It is where they hold annual organizational meetings, update scouting reports on some of their top prospects in the Arizona Fall League, and take better stock of their players in the Instructional League.

The Instructional League, which ended last month, provides Cubs coaches and instructors with an opportunity to get together with players on a one-on-one basis, an affordability that the regular minor league season does not always allow.

A pitcher might work on such individual drills as holding base-runners, fielding their position, bunting, or trying out a new pitch. Conversely, a position player might work on getting better jumps on the bases, a new hitting technique or a slightly different batting stance, and so on.

Always one of the most interesting aspects of the Instructional League is when a player makes a position switch, and the Cubs have at least one marquee player in the process of doing just that. That player is Josh Lansford, a sixth-round selection from Cal-Poly in 2006 that was drafted as a third baseman.

The Cubs are going to try Lansford at pitcher, Cubs Vice President of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita said.

"He's got a great arm and we're anxious to see how that translates down the road," he said.

Lansford batted .249 in 61 games at Class Advanced A Daytona this past season and .236 in 48 games at Class AA Tennessee. Fleita noted that Lansford, whose brother, Jared, is a minor league pitcher in the Oakland Athletics' farm system, had never really hit for power or average.

"Like anything, this isn't something that you make somebody do," Fleita said. "It's a conversation you have with (the player) and his agent, and he probably discussed it with his parents."

Lansford's father, Carney, was a major league third baseman with the A's.

"Our job is to get him to the big leagues, and sometimes it's the position you didn't think," Fleita said. "Nobody thought that about (Carlos) Marmol or Randy Wells. He's got a great arm, he's a great fielder, he's a baseball guy and just kind of on a conversation, I thought that was going to be his quickest path and his best path to get (to the big leagues).

"After he consulted with his family, he made the decision to go for it 100 percent, and that's exactly what we expected because he's the kind of guy that when he says he's going to do something, he's going to go at it. I look for it to be a real interesting project," added Fleita.

On the whole, Fleita said that the Cubs had a number of players that stood out in the Instructional League. (The Cubs do not keep track of statistics in Instructs because they believe it is more than just about numbers.)

"Brandon Guyer had a great Instructional League," Fleita said of the outfielder and Cubs fifth-round selection from Virginia in 2007 who played in 88 games with Class A Peoria this past season and batted .269. "He missed some at-bats early. He's currently ... he, (Josh) Vitters, (Matt) Cerda and Nate Samson are all in the Dominican Republic at our academy there."

Fleita noted that young Latin American prospects like Starlin Castro and Junior Lake had "wonderful" performances in Instructs. Castro, 18, batted .311 with 19 extra-base hits in 51 games in the Arizona Rookie League this past season. Lake, 18, batted .286 with 12 extra-base hits in 47 games in the Arizona Rookie League.

Both Castro and Lake are middle infielders who Cubs Minor League Field Coordinator Dave Bialas described as two of the top Latin American prospects in the organization.

"They made great improvements and strides in Instructs. I think on the infield front, that's probably the two guys that pop up off the top of my head."

Fleita said that from a pitching standpoint, the Cubs were impressed by young Korean right-hander Soo-Min Jung, a recent signee on the international market.

"He got in to throw a little bit, but the fact he got there and got a chance to experience what we're going to expect from him next year was good," said Fleita.

Fleita added: "Jake Muyco was a converted guy [from catcher to pitcher] and was there also. He's really made great strides. Those are kind of the guys that stood out in that camp. We took some lefties. We had guys like (Jeff) Beliveau and (Dustin) Sasser to see if we could come up with a left-hander out of that bunch to move through the system and might help us out down the road."

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