Yesterday the Chicago Cubs announced that AA second baseman Logan Watkins and AA pitcher Nick Struck are their 2012 Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year, respectively. The awards are given for overall performance throughout the year, which is not always reflective of prospect status. Watkins, 23, and Struck, 22, are legitimate prospects, to be sure, but they aren’t going to be showing up on any of the Cubs’ top ten prospect lists.
Still, each had an excellent year, and was worthy of the honor.
Watkins, 23, hit .281 (137-for-488) with 93 runs scored, 20 doubles, 11 triples, nine home runs and 52 RBI in 133 games for the Double-A Tennessee Smokies this season. He led the Southern League in runs scored, was second in triples and walks (76) and was fourth in on-base percentage (.383). The left-handed hitter had a .301 batting average (110-for-366) against right-handed pitchers and posted a .308 average (33-for-107) with runners in scoring position.
In his first season at the Double-A level, Watkins batted .302 (74-for-245) in the second-half of the campaign, 43 points higher than his .259 average (63-for-243) prior to the All-Star break. He hit .352 (31-for-88) in June, a month in which he recorded a team-high 13-game hitting streak en route to earning Cubs Minor League Player of the Month honors.
Watkins played 95 games at second base, recording a .987 fielding percentage (6 E/465 TC), 29 games at shortstop and 17 games in center field.
Originally selected by Chicago in the 21st round of the 2008 Draft, Watkins owns a .285 batting average (493-for-1,728) with 67 doubles, 33 triples, 15 home runs, 170 RBI and a .372 on-base percentage in 475 career minor league games. He has drawn 225 walks compared to 341 strikeouts in 2,035 plate appearances.
Struck, 22, went 14-10 with a 3.18 ERA (55 ER/155.2 IP) in 28 games (26 starts) for Tennessee this season. He led the Southern League in victories, ranked third with 155.2 innings pitched and fourth in ERA. He led the club with 123 strikeouts, walked just 44, and limited opposing hitters to a .238 batting average (140-for-588).
From May 29 through the end of the season, Struck went 10-5 with a 2.29 ERA (26 ER/102.0 IP) in 18 games (16 starts). All told, Struck allowed three or fewer earned runs in 20 of his 26 starts while he issued two or fewer walks in 21 starts.
Struck was named the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Month for June, going 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA (8 ER/29.1 IP) in five starts, and finished the campaign by going 3-0 with a 1.47 ERA (6 ER/36.2 IP) in six August contests (four starts). The 1.47 August ERA led all Southern League pitchers while his .202 batting average against ranked seventh.
Chicago’s 39th round selection in the 2009 Draft, Struck is 32-27 with a 3.50 ERA (168 ER/431.2 IP) and two complete-game shutouts in 84 career minor league games, including 73 starts. He has struck out 330 batters while walking 134, and has surrendered just 28 home runs in 431.2 innings pitched.
Of notable import here is the fact that both Watkins and Struck are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this Winter if they aren’t added to the 40-man roster. Although the 40-man is currently full, a great many names are going to fall off of it in the coming weeks, and there will undoubtedly be a great deal of turnover that we can’t anticipate.
That is to say, there will be spots for Watkins and Struck if the Cubs (1) like them well enough to believe they can contribute at the big league level within a year, and (2) sufficiently fear that they’d be grabbed in the Rule 5 if they weren’t rostered. Keep in mind that every team in baseball has a number of borderline cases like Watkins and Struck when it comes to Rule 5 protection. You hope that, if there just isn’t room, they are passed over, unlike Ryan Flaherty and Marwin Gonzalez last year.
Even if they are rostered, it’s unlikely either breaks camp in 2013 with the big club. Instead, they’re likely bound for a promotion to AAA, and most of a season there, assuming health issues don’t demand a call-up.