Minor League Free Agents Signed, Released

Walt Nolen released

The official signing date for minor league free agents began this past Saturday, October 22, and the Cubs, like most franchises, have already gone to work to sign many of those free agents through the 2006 season.

Among those to sign are 1B/OF Brandon Sing, RHP Lee Gwaltney, LHPs Phil Norton and Yorkin Ferreras, INF Aaron Sisk, and C Casey Kopitzke.

Sing, a standout prep star out of high school in the 1999 draft, batted .276 in 127 regular season games at AA-West Tenn this season, clubbing 26 home runs and driving in 71 RBI. He is also one of the Cubs' infield prospects in the Arizona Fall League, where he has batted .310 in 12 games.

An All-Star selection at first base in 2004 with Class-A Daytona, Sing has spent a good deal of his time in the outfield recently and could have an outside shot at the Cubs' roster some time later this year or next.

"If I do well down here (the AFL), I think they'll have to look at putting me on the 40-man roster," Sing said. "That's the idea anyway."

Sing started over 80 games at first base for the AA club in 2005, but the outfield is no strange territory for the 24 year old Illinois native. He spent most all of 2002 in Daytona as the Advanced-A team's starting left fielder and played 32 games there with Daytona the following year before a rare bout with mononucleosis cut short his season in July.

"I like the challenge," Sing said of the outfield. "It's been different. I love playing first base, but I'm working hard out there, and there's just more opportunity in the outfield in Chicago."

Sing added, "I've always wanted to be a Cub, so it was a pretty easy decision for me to re-sign."

Gwaltney, 25, joined the Cubs this past February after an untimely release by the Philadelphia Phillies. He responded to changing organizations by going 6-4 with a 2.58 ERA in 32 appearances at Daytona, Peoria (Low A) and West Tenn.

Toward the end of the year, too much wear and tear on Gwaltney's arm caught up with the right-hander, who was revealed to have suffered a torn labrum while at Daytona. Gwaltney will spend the majority of his off-season in Mesa, Ariz. in rehab. He hopes to be ready to pitch by Spring Training.

Norton and Ferreras have both been in the Cubs' farm system longer than the organization's Player Development Director, Oneri Fleita, who assumed the role in 2000. Both Norton and Ferreras are left-handers with average to below-average career minor league numbers.

Ferreras, 24, was 5-9 with a 5.31 ERA in 44 appearances between Daytona and West Tenn this season. He was signed as a non-drafted free agent in 1998, two years after Norton was drafted. Norton, 29, joined the Cubs' organization as a 20 year old 10th round draft pick in '96 and got a full year of major league experience with the Cincinnati Reds in 2004. He spent the last year pitching for Cubs and Astros' AAA affiliates and was 3-4 with a 5.49 ERA in 25 appearances for the Iowa Cubs.

Sisk, 27, batted .316 in 39 games between third base and shortstop for Peoria before earning a promotion to West Tenn, where he batted .241 in 48 games. He was a seventh round draft pick by Toronto in 2000 that joined the Cubs as a free agent in May after two straight years in an independent league.

Kopitzke, also 27, spent 2004 at Iowa but reported to West Tenn two weeks into the season after undergoing an emergency appendectomy operation in Spring Training. Known more for defense than hitting, he batted .220 in 55 games with the Diamond Jaxx and only .215 in 81 games at Iowa a year ago. Behind the plate, he committed only one error and one passed ball for a .998 fielding percentage.

The Cubs also released several names, including RHP Walt Nolen. Nolen, 24, was a non-drafted free agent from McNeese State University who was only in his second season with the organization in 2005. He was 7-4 with a 2.61 ERA in relief at Peoria and was promoted late in the year to AAA for a three-game stint. Another right-hander released was Alfredo Polanco, 23, who struggled in relief between Daytona and Peoria this year.

INFs Aaron Smith and Uriak Marquez were also released. Smith, 23, from UNC-Wilmington, went undrafted last year and hit .247 in 78 games at Peoria in '05, mostly at third base. Marquez, 22, was plagued by VISA problems in the spring and did not report to Spring Training as planned.

Pitchers Mick Lefort (Rhode Island), Erik Foor (Cal State-San Bernardino), Jason Terry (Winthrop) and Morrow Thomley (Alabama) were also released. All four were signed as non-drafted free agents and pitched for the Cubs' rookie ball team, the Mesa Cubs, in 2005. Lefort, 22, allowed nine earned runs in 5 1/3 innings this season; Foor, 23, was 0-4 with a 4.95 ERA in 16 relief appearances; Terry was 0-1 with a 6.41 ERA in 14 games; and Thomley allowed nine runs in 6 2/3 innings.

Send feedback: walker@insidetheivy.com.

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