Fitch Park Opens for Minor Leaguers

Last week marked the opening of Spring Training for the over 150 minor leaguers in the Cubs farm system – as players begin to battle for spots up and down the ladder.

With 11 former Hawks (now down to nine as two players have been sent back to minor league camp) on the Non-Roster Invitee list, the battles over the next four weeks will determine the rosters for Iowa, Tennessee, Daytona, and Peoria; which players will remain in Arizona for Extended Spring Training, and which players will be released.

Some interesting positional spots are up for grabs – including who will be the #1 catcher at Iowa, considering both Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger are on the 40-man, both are up at MLB camp, and both doing well in their chase to be Geovany Soto’s back-up.  Michael Brenly should be the everyday backstop in Tennessee, with Micah Gibbs getting promoted to Daytona.

The first-base spot will be interesting, as both Rebel Ridling (who played some outfield as well at Tennessee) and Justin Bour had outstanding years at the AA and Advanced-A level.  Much of it may be predicated on Josh Vitters, who has been playing some first base and may land there at Iowa this season.  The battle for Daytona-Peoria will be between Ryan Cuneo, Richard Jones, and Paul Hoilman – all coming off solid 2011 seasons (with the wild card being #2 draft pick, Dan Vogelbach).

Up the middle, one would think that Junior Lake (skipped over Boise) would jump to AAA and play short, depending on what happens with Bobby Scales, Edgar Gonzalez, or many of the NRI’s the Cubs signed.  Elliot Soto would also factor in the mix, as many believe he is the best fielding shortstop in the chain.  I would expect Logan Watkins to get the promotion to Tennessee, as he has improved his game each year, having a monster second half last season at Daytona.

Third base seems to be the weakest position in the organization (unless Vitters remains at the hot corner).  Marquez Smith will most likely be the everyday 3B at Iowa (thinking that Vitters is moving to 1B), while no true 3B remains in the organization – Greg Rohan, Matt Cerda, Dustin Harrington, Arismendy Alcantara have all played there in the past.

Brett Jackson and Matt Szczur look to form a pretty formidable tandem in the outfield – most likely in Iowa this year (that is if they don’t make the big league roster).  Jae-Hoon Ha, still a youngster, will probably return to Tennessee, where he had a good season.  I like the former Hawks further down the ladder – Pin-Chieh Chen and Reggie Golden will make a great tandem in Peoria, while Oliver Zapata will probably return to Boise – a guy will a ton of upside.

WAIVER WIRE: Some comings and goings over the off-season – as the Cubs cut ties with six former Hawks (so far, the number will definitely grow) – pitchers Manolin DeLeon, Marcos Perez, and Jean Sandoval, catcher Carlos Romero, infielder Brandon May, and outfielder Jesus Morelli.

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Muskat Ramblings's Carrie Muskat has been covering Major League Baseball since 1981 and is the author of "Banks to Sandberg to Grace: Five Decades of Love and Frustration with the Cubs." You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. Here, she blogs about the Cubs.

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