Some Cubs Prospects Make Big Jumps

Of the 100 total players on the Chicago Cubs full-season minor league rosters to begin 2009, there is litany of players who made the jump to a higher level of competition from last season, including some who skipped a level.

Of them, outfielder Brandon Guyer spent all of 2009 at Class-A Peoria but will be in Jacksonville Thursday on opening day for Double-A Tennessee.

Dan McDaniel, a 14th-round selection in the 2008 draft, didn't pitch above short-season Class A ball a season ago, but will open 2009 at High-A Daytona.

The same holds true for LHP James Leverton, Chicago's eighth-round pick from Texas Tech; RHP David Cales, a 24th round pick from Missouri; RHP Ryan Searle, an international signee from Australia in 2007; and LHP Luke Sommer, a converted outfielder that made his pitching debut last season.

RHPs Casey Coleman and Jay Jackson both spent time at Peoria last season and received late-season promotions to Daytona. They have made nice strides to begin 2009 at Double-A after pitching as amateurs this time a year ago.

Making perhaps the biggest jump was INF Starlin Castro, a 19-year-old shortstop-second base prospect from the Dominican Republic. Castro spent all of last season in the Arizona Rookie League. He'll open 2009 at Daytona.

Chicago Farm Director Oneri Fleita said many players were worthy of promotions and/or skipping a level to begin the season.

"I've had a lot of questions about promotions. It's the minor leagues. What we're trying to do is make an effort to get everybody out of Arizona and on a club to play," Fleita said.

He said there were a number of factors that play into what players were assigned to which rosters.

"It could be an age thing, it could be where they played at, their maturity," Fleita said. "We have to kind of make an educated guess on that because the idea is to try to move guys out of (Arizona) and get guys an opportunity to get at-bats. The only way to do that is to continue to put guys forward. We want to see forward movement. We don't want to see anyone being stagnant and we certainly don't want to see guys moving back."

Guyer didn't have to worry about moving back. The right-handed batting outfielder played in 88 games a season ago and hit .269 with 14 home runs and 27 doubles at Peoria. He stole 22 bases in 29 attempts.

A former linebacker and running back for his high school football team in Herndon, Va., Guyer is one of the most athletic players in the Cubs' system -- "the kind of guy I'd pay money to watch play," Fleita said.

"We took the most mature guys and Guyer is 23 years old. At 23, it's time to get on with it," he said. "He would have gone at a higher level last year, but he had an (elbow) injury. He plays the game with a football mentality. He can play all outfield positions, has a little power and knows how to run the bases."

McDaniel, who turns 21 April 18, put together one of the strongest seasons of any 2008 Cubs draft pick in his pro debut season a year ago. He pitched in 22 games with a 1.56 ERA in 34 2/3 innings, striking out 48 batters and walking 18 -- primarily at Boise, where he held opponents to a .128 average against.

McDaniel pitched exclusively in relief a season ago, but the Cubs plan to use him in the rotation at Daytona.

"Dan McDaniel's got good stuff and we really wanted to see him in the starting rotation," Fleita said. "The whole goal is to try to develop starting pitchers. It's easy to develop relievers, and some times that's the easy way out on our part. To take an arm like his and try to develop him into a guy that can throw 200-plus innings, he has the stuff, the body, the frame and the durability to do that.

"This is going to be a good challenge for him to go to the Florida State League."

There had been some talk that consensus Cubs top prospect Josh Vitters would open the season in the Florida State League, but the Cubs felt that Peoria was a better fit for the third baseman for the time being.

Vitters debuted with the Chiefs last season but played in only a handful of games before a wrist injury relegated him to extended spring training. Later, he played in 61 games for Boise and batted .328 with five home runs and 25 doubles. He hit safely in 25 straight games.

"I wanted him to get a chance to play his first couple of months in Peoria to know what the weather is like so he'll know what to expect when he gets to Chicago," Fleita said. "That doesn't mean he'll be there forever. He can move up, and as you saw in Guyer's case, you can skip levels. So it's all about going somewhere, having a good year and letting the pieces fall where they may."

Higher up the chain, Coleman, 21, will be in the rotation for Tennessee. He made 10 starts a season ago and combined to log 55 innings. He posted a 3.11 ERA and struck out 44 batters, primarily between Boise and Peoria. The right-hander dabbled at shortstop and second base while in college at Florida Gulf Coast University, but the Cubs drafted him as a pitcher in the 15th round last summer.

A third-generation pitcher, Coleman's father and grandfather both pitched professionally, and Fleita said that the Cubs' pitching prospect may have a leg up having grown up around baseball clubhouses.

"Any time you can sign guys with those bloodlines, it's certainly a plus," Fleita said. "He throws three pitches for strikes and he's really well advanced. He's a converted guy, but he's shown us the ability to throw those pitches, field his position, and hold runners."

Sommer and Cales may be lesser known Cubs prospects, but both had strong showings in 2008 to earn a spot on the Daytona pitching staff, Fleita said.

Sommer, 23, was a 30th round Cubs pick from the University of San Francisco in 2007. He played in 49 games in the outfield and at first base in the Arizona Rookie League that summer, batting .237 with 19 extra-base hits before making the switch to pitcher last season.

He made 14 appearances at Boise and was 3-2 with a 2.61 ERA in 14 games spanning 31 innings. The left-hander walked only two batters and struck out 22.

"Sommer has really taken to (pitching)," Fleita said. "He pitched a little in college so it wasn't a totally new (experience). It looks like he's got a pretty good future ahead of him. He really had a nice Spring Training, as he did last year when he started pitching."

Cales, 21, also had success last season in the Northwest League in limited playing time. He pitched in eight games and was 3-0 with a 1.84 ERA in 14 2/3 innings.

"Cales is a strike-thrower," Fleita said. "He's a good, confident guy. He throws strikes with his eyes closed. He's very cocky on the mound and we decided to put him somewhere and see how fast he moves through the system."

EXTENDED SPRING TRAINING

Some players who didn't earn a spot on a full-season minor league roster may not be too far away.

Catcher Matt Cerda, 18, played in 42 games a season ago in the Arizona Rookie League and batted .253 with seven extra-base hits. The Cubs drafted Cerda as a shortstop but had already been auditioning him at catcher in pre-draft workouts. They had him suit up behind the plate after he signed for $500,000.

"Cerda had a tremendous Spring Training. He had 11 walks and one strikeout and hit .450," said Fleita. "Because he's learning a new position, we thought it was best if he stayed (in Arizona) a bit longer. But from an offensive standpoint, he was certainly ready to go play on a team."

OF Jericho Jones, 21, was a teammate of Cerda's last season in Arizona and batted .340 with five home runs in 43 games. The Cubs drafted Jones from Louisiana Tech in the 20th round.

"There are a lot of guys that are just waiting for opportunities," said Fleita.

An official extended spring training roster has not been announced.

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