As Brett reported earlier, a large portion the 2012 Boise Hawks roster has been announced and we can start to get a feel for what to be watching this season.
I think the highlight of the Boise roster is the infield that includes Rock Shoulders at first, Jeimer Candelario at third, and the trio of Marco Hernandez, Gioskar Amaya, and Brian Inoa up the middle. All five of those guys are prospects well worth watching.
When Rock Shoulders was drafted by the Cubs in 2011, there was some thought that he was simply an insurance policy in case the Cubs could not sign Dan Vogelbach. It was somewhat surprising, then, that the Cubs signed both of those big bats. While Shoulders is often overshadowed by Vogelbach, he is not a bad prospect in his own right. If he has a solid season in Boise, I would not be surprised to see Shoulders slip into some Cubs’ Top 25 Prospects lists this winter.
Jeimer Candelario is the most intriguing name on the infield. He made a very impressive professional debut in the Dominican Summer League last season, highlighted by his 50 walks vs 42 strikeouts in 305 trips to the plate. It is rare to find that degree of plate discipline in a seventeen year old hitter. Now eighteen, the Cubs have decided his game is advanced enough to let the switch hitting third baseman skip the Rookie League and proceed directly to short-season (Low A) Boise. Candelario has a high ceiling. While he is young and has a lot yet to prove, his name should not be left out of any discussion of the Cubs’ third base prospects.
Marco Hernandez, who started the year with Peoria, and Gioskar Amaya are both very good infield prospects. Hernandez is probably the best true shortstop prospect in the Cubs’ system (in part because most of the other shortstops are not expected to stay at that position). Amaya might be the better hitter, but his stock is a little lower since he projects as a second baseman. Brian Inoa, a switch hitting infielder, is the wild card here. Inoa put up some decent numbers in Arizona but did not look like the same tier of player as Hernandez and Amaya. That said, I expect that he will split time at second with Amaya, who in turn will split time with Hernandez and Candelario at short and third. Altogether, they make as talented a middle infield as we are likely to see in the Northwest League this season.
Shawon Duston Jr. headlines the outfield, but as of now there are only four outfielders on the roster. I think there is a very distinct possibility that Albert Almora will head to Boise soon after he signs. We’ll talk more about Almora when (and if) he makes to Boise; for now we can focus on Dunston. We know he is raw and we know he is fast, but there is plenty here we do not know. In particular, watch his plate discipline, his strike out and walk rates, how often he works deep into counts, and his ability to drive the ball for extra bases. I don’t expect him to become a major power threat, but he should develop enough power to hit plenty of doubles and triples along with a few home runs.
There is plenty of talent on the mound as well, but for now I am only going to call attention to Tayler Scott, the South African pitcher drafted by the Cubs in 2011. This will be the first time we get to see Scott pitch in meaningful games. Competing against a mix of former high school and college players in the Northwest League should give us a pretty good idea of what sort of stuff he has and what his ceiling could be. Scott is often a forgotten man in the Cubs’ farm system, but he could easily find himself in the tier of pitching prospects just below Trey McNutt and Dillon Maples.
Now that the Boise roster has (mostly) been announced, we can also figure out who to be watching in the Arizona Rookie League.
Dan Vogelbach, the big slugging first baseman, is the biggest name on the team, but he is far from the only prospect to monitor. Also on the infield will be shortstop Carlos Penalver, one of the Cubs’ prize international free agent signings from a few years back. This is will be our first opportunity to see Penalver in action.
The highlight of this roster, however, is the outfield. I expect to see Trey Martin, Trevor Gretzky, and Garrett Schlect all roaming the grass in Arizona, and all three of them are legitimate prospects. Gretzky probably has the highest ceiling of the three. The Cubs drafted him as a first baseman out of high school, moved him to third for a time, and then to the outfield. He has the potential to develop quite a bit of power and become one of those slugging corner outfield prospects the Cubs’ system has been lacking lately (until yesterday, that is). Martin is a speedy center fielder from a similar mold as Dunston, although I do not think his ceiling is quite as high, and Schlecht was rated by Baseball America before the start of the 2012 campaign as the best left field prospect in the Cubs’ system.
We can safely expect there to be a number of 2012 draft picks who find their way onto the Arizona roster, especially since the signing deadline has been moved to mid-July. We will talk more about those players and what to expect from them as they sign and are placed on a roster.
If you would like to watch the Boise Hawks in action for yourself, many of their games are included in the MiLB TV package. All Boise games, like all other minor league games, can be listened to over the internet for free through the team’s website. I do not think that applies to the Arizona Rookie League, though. If you want to see the youngest of the future Cubs’ in action, you may just have to take a vacation to Arizona.
Keep in mind that these rosters are very fluid and are subject to frequent changes both before and after the short-season leagues open on Friday. Both Boise and Arizona will be covered in my Daily Minor League Reports every morning as well.