A couple quick hits this morning – eight days from the opening of the Northwest League season. The Cubs have completed all 50 rounds of the First-Year Players’ Draft, stocking up on 15 pitchers during the final 20 rounds of the event – including a trio of hurlers with Northwest ties (players from Sherwood High in Oregon, from Bellevue CC in Washington, and from the University of British Columbia). The Cubs selected multiple college seniors – which my guess would think that a lot of those players will probably end up at Memorial Stadium at some point this season.
Also, some shuffling of the deck as we get closer to the release of the initial Hawks roster. Two players who might have been returning to Boise have been promoted up the ladder – as Matt Loosen, who had a tremendous Extended campaign, has been sent to Daytona, while Brandon May has been sent to Peoria. The first piece of the Hawks’ puzzle might be D.J. Fitzgerald, who was an outfielder for the club in 2009, recently sent back to Mesa after struggling with the bat over the first two months of the season in Peoria.
As the sports information director at The College of Idaho and the Radio Broadcast Manager for the Boise Hawks – it is very difficult to find time to take a vacation, in fact, typically one week a year is all that I am able to squeeze in for some R&R (something that my wife would love to see changed – but it currently is the nature of the beast).
So, when we were able to get cheap airfare and a $12 a day rental car out of Milwaukee – it was off to the Midwest to see family and friends, and the Cubs. A night in the Hyatt Regency in Downtown Chicago, an evening at Navy Pier (with dinner at Harry Carey’s Grill) was the precursor to a Wednesday day game in the Friendly Confines.
Myself and photographer Bill “Sport” Smith (of http://sportsmithfishing.com) had media passes for the game – in which we were able to get sound and photos from batting practice. Including watching Carlos Zambrano demonstrate how to break a bat over his knee, Marlon Byrd chatting for the first time about his facial fractures, and Mike Quade discussing how to turn the ship around.
I was able to chat with WGN color-commentator, Bob Brenly – who joined me in the booth in 2008 while his son, Michael was with the Hawks, and spent time with Cubs’ beat writer Carrie Muskat from MLB.com and Bruce Levine from ESPNChicago. I was also able to get 1-on-1 interviews with both Sean Marshall and Tony Campana.
What was amazing was spending time in the press box – meeting Pat Hughes and Keith Moreland from WGN Radio and TV play-by-play man Len Kasper. It was great to put a face to the voices that I hear throughout the spring. I can now see how Harry Carey had issues calling games – you were so far from the action (they must use the TV monitors to see the play better).
Even better were the seats that the Cubs gave the six of us – second row from the field, next to the camera well…literally on top of the action (which was a bit dicey when a left-handed batter was up, considering we had three kids under 4 in the party). Though the Cubs lost 3-1 to the Astros, it was as intense as I have ever been involved as a fan at a game – since we were nearly in the action.
It was outstanding to see familiar faces – former roving pitching instructors Lester Strode (bullpen coach) and Mark Riggins (pitching coach), along with base-running rover Bob Dernier (first-base coach), while seeing the Geovany Soto’s, Lou Montanez’s, Tyler Colvin’s, Randy Wells’, Tony Campana’s, and Sean Marshall’s up close and personals.
It was a great way to get the body, mind, and soul energized for the rigors of the 76 game, 79 day Northwest League season.
Over the years, the Chicago Cubs have made it clear that during the Rule 4 First Year Players’ Draft, they will pick the best available player on the board. In 2011, that was definitely the case – even if the parent club of the Boise Hawks strayed away from their recent trend, selecting high school players with 12 of their first 15 picks.
Ninth-overall pick, Javier Baez, a high school shortstop from Florida, hit a gaudy .773 during his senior year of high school and many think he has the best bat of all the prep stars on the board. It is interesting that the Cubs would take a shortstop – considering Starlin Castro could play the position in the friendly confines for the next 10-15 years – with the pick, and the fact that Josh Vitters, the third-overall pick in 2007, looks to be the heir apparent to Aramis Ramirez at third. Throw in either 2008 picks Ryan Flaherty or D.J. Lemahieu at second and the question as to where Baez will play in 2015 has to be up in the air.
Now, for second-round pick Dan Vogelbach – also a high school product of Florida, he was a necessity. A big slugger at first-base, hammering 17 homers in high school this year – many comparing him to Prince Fielder. With just Rebel Ridling and Justin Bour ahead of him in the organization, he has the chance to rise quickly through the organization.
Two other prep standouts have familiar names – Trevor Gretzky and Shawon Dunston Jr., as the California athletes’ dad’s are well known (NHL Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky and former Cubs’ first-round pick, Shawon Dunston). If and when the players make the trek to the City of Trees, many will wonder if “Pops” will follow. Another interesting pick was fifth-round selection Tayler Scott – hoping to be the first big league player from South Africa.
Of the college players – Tony Zych of Louisville looks to be a clone of former Hawk Andrew Cashner, boasting a 94-97 MPH fastball and a power slider. Also Paul Hoilman, a first-baseman from East Tennessee State, ranks second at the Division I level in homers this spring with 22.
A pair of local players from the Boise metro were selected as well, as former Bishop Kelly star Josh Osich was picked in the sixth round by the Giants and former Capital star Tyler Barrett was picked in the 20th round by the Tigers.
I was able to take my lone one-week vacation of the year last week – so appologies for the lack of posts, as the Safford’s went to the Upper Midwest – Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois (more on the trip on the next blog – including pictures from our trek to Wrigley Field).
Bunch of news while I was gone, including the 85th former Boise Hawk to play in the Major Leagues, as Josh Harrison was called up by the Pittsburgh Pirates last Monday. The 2008 Northwest League All-Star was hitting .321 with two homers, eight stolen bases, and 11 RBI in AAA Indianapolis before getting the promotion. He joins former Boise and college teammate, Tony Campana, in the Show.
Harrison and Campana, along with Al Alburquerque and Brandon Guyer, mark four former Hawks that have made their debut in the Major Leagues in 2011.
More on the MLB front – Rich Hill (’02/’03) injured his throwing elbow a week ago and has been placed on the 15-Day DL by the Red Sox, with all reports out of Boston not good, as it could be a season-ending injury. Tough news for the tall lefty, as Hill had found a niche as the lefty specialist out of the Boston pen. John Lackey (’99) replaced Hill on the active roster, removed Sunday from the DL.
The carousel for the Cubs has continued – as Lou Montanez (’04) and Tyler Colvin (’06) were both promoted from AAA Iowa after injures to Reed Johnson and Alfonso Soriano depleted the Cubs depth. Two other former Hawks flip-flopped – as Welington Castillo (’06) returned to Iowa after Geovany Soto (’02) was removed from the 15-Day DL.
On the minor-league front, Alberto Cabrera (’06) has been called up to AAA Iowa – but replaced former Hawk, J.R. Mathes (’04), who was released after seven seasons in the Cubs organization. Mathes, who helped the Hawks to the 2004 NWL pennant, was the all-time leader in Iowa Cubs wins – spending four seasons in Des Moines, but had a ballooned 8.93 ERA. Larry Suarez (’09/’10) has been promoted from Extended Spring Training to Low-A Peoria, with Jeff Antigua (’09) promoted from Extended to High-A Daytona. Aaron Shafer (’08), who was released by the Cubs at the conclusion of Spring Training, was signed by the Atlanta Braves.
Extended Spring Training came to a close over the weekend – with those players who did not earn a spot on the long-season squads playing 56 games at Fitch Park and surrounding Spring Training facilities. Thanks to updates from The Cub Reporter’s Arizona Phil, the Mesa/Boise squad went 16-27-7 in games that he was able to attend – with some impressive numbers put up by 2010 Hawk Matt Loosen (2.25 ERA in 28 IP, 40 K’s), along with 2010 Hawk Pin-Chieh Chen (.295, 5 2B, 8 3B, 11 RBI). For a look at the complete “unofficial” Extended stats click here (Final Extended Spring Stats), along with the final Extended Spring roster – which will help make up the initial Hawks roster next week (Final Extended Roster)
Look for complete coverage of the Cubs selections in the First Year Players Draft in the coming days – as the Hawks are just ten days away from the season opener in Eugene.