In lieu of traditional Bullets this morning, let’s discuss the latest Chicago Cubs minor league signings …
- Chris Valaika is coming back. The utility man who pitched in last year intermittently at the big league level returns to the organization on a minor league deal. Valaika, 29, hit .231/.282/.339 over 131 big league plate appearances last year, while playing each of the four infield positions. At Iowa, he hit .278/.344/.423 playing those same four positions, and also a little left field. The Cubs now have a variety of utility types at AAA, including Valaika, Logan Watkins, and Jonathan Herrera. Those are among the best types to accumulate on minor league deals at AAA because (1) it’s not like you’re getting superstars on minor league deals, so you might as well get versatile players; (2) you always seem to need a guy like this at the Major League level at some point during the year, so having multiple options is a good thing; and (3) being able to move these guys around can help to properly accommodate prospects as they move up to AAA (i.e., the prospect can play where the organization wants him to, and the AAA manager can comfortably move guys around to remain competitive – while that may not be the priority, all things equal, you do like to see your minor leagues playing for winning teams).
- Although it hasn’t yet been confirmed by the team, BA reports that the Cubs have also signed catcher Taylor Teagarden to a minor league deal. Teagarden, 31, was a long-time Rangers prospect and back-up before he started bouncing around teams in recent years. I’ve been waiting for the Cubs to sign the obligatory veteran-catcher-minor-league-deal-depth-at-AAA guy, and Teagarden looks to be a pretty darn good one. As you’d expect from this kind of signing, Teagarden, a righty, is not going to give you anything with the bat. In small samples (but 495 PAs total), his wRC+ in his big league stops dating back to 2009: 60, 57, 51, 44, 22, 30. But what he does give you is excellent defense (he rates solidly above average defensively in his career at the big league level, and he was consistently rated the top defensive catcher in the Rangers’ system back in his prospect days). He also appears to be an average to above average pitch-framer. He’s probably something shy of excellent in that category, but, given recent trends, were he excellent, he’s probably not available on a minor league deal.
- Having someone like Teagarden is probably especially important to the Cubs, given that the two primary catchers at the big league level are a guy who has had some injury issues in recent years (Montero) and a guy who’s in his late-30s (Ross), and given that the only other available catcher is largely untested in the big leagues (Lopez). It’s also good to have a vet like him at AAA working not only with Lopez, but also with the pitching staff there.
- BA also reports the signing of 27-year-old righty Jorge De Leon, who emerged as a very effective AAA reliever for the Astros in recent years (though his cups in the big leagues haven’t gone as well). He’s a fastball-slider guy with mid-90s heat, so, hey, why not grab him for the AAA pen if you can? De Leon is currently pitching in the DWL with a great ERA, but so-so peripherals (only 8.1 innings). He may or may not get a non-roster invite to big league Spring Training. Like Teagarden, De Leon’s deal has not been confirmed by the Cubs just yet.
- And the Cubs grabbed another minor league arm in righty Andres Santiago, who was in the Dodgers’ organization. The 25-year-old Puerto Rican is currently pitching in the Puerto Rican Winter League, where he’s put up a decent showing. He topped out at AA in the Dodgers’ organization, and started all along the way. In his second full year at AA, Santiago posted a 4.47 ERA over 129 innings, striking out 98 and walking 53. He rocketed onto the prospect radar back in 2012, with a breakout year and an appearance in the Arizona Fall League (on the Solar Sox, where he would have played with some Cubs prospects). Since then, he stagnated a bit, which is how you wind up getting him on a minor league deal. He figures to get a shot at AA to show he’s ready to move up to AAA (if there’s a spot). On the plus side, despite the meh 2014 overall, it sounds like he was pitching his best ball of the season late in the year when he no-hit the Tennessee Smokies.
- Non-minor-league-deal plug: all BN shirts are on sale right now (15% off if you use the HEART15 code when checking out), and there are a bunch of new ones. The shop has a new look, too. Check it out, look fancy.