Prospects Find Way to Big League Camp

Steve Clevenger (STAFF PHOTO/PAM DAVIS)

A total of 21 non-roster players will be at Cubs Major League Spring Training beginning next month, including several who were scouted as amateurs and acquired by the organization via the draft, it was announced this week.

Each January, non-roster invites to major league spring training are handed down to players not on a team's 40-man roster. Those who garner invitations range from players with a few years experience (often in the major leagues) on their resumes to up-and-coming prospects at the organization's minor league level.

The prospects chosen are based on a couple of criteria, said Oneri Fleita, the Cubs' Vice President of Player Personnel.

"Basically it's based on the needs of the major league club, as in back-up or reserve players," said Fleita. "Or to introduce some young players so the major league staff has an idea of the inventory that will be available should a need arise."

Darwin Barney, SS

Barney, 23, will be making his first appearance in big league camp. The Oregon State alumnus, a fourth-round Cubs draft pick in 2007, played in 123 games a season ago at Advanced Class-A Daytona and batted .262 with 22 doubles and 51 RBIs. He received an opportunity to hone his skills in the Arizona Fall League, where he batted .302 with six doubles and saw playing time in 23 games.

REACTION: Barney isn't an elite prospect because he doesn't excel in any particular area. But he does a lot of little things well, which makes him an interesting player. He gets on base and is a good contact hitter that doesn't strike out excessively. In the field, he's been used almost exclusively at shortstop, but could probably handle second base if the need arose. As Cubs Minor League Catching Coordinator and 2008 Daytona manager Jody Davis notes, Barney "just makes the plays."

EARLY 2009 FORECAST: Class AA Tennessee.

Esmailin Caridad, RHP

Signed by the Cubs following a workout in the Dominican Republic in late 2007, Caridad, 25, combined for 13 wins and a 3.73 ERA over 152 innings in his first year in the U.S. He received a late invitation to the Arizona Fall League and allowed seven runs over 16 innings in 10 appearances there.

REACTION: Caridad got hot at Daytona last year and the Cubs promoted him to Tennessee, where he performed even better once he made adjustments and, much in the same fancy as Jeff Samardzija, learned he couldn't get by on mere stuff alone. He was the Smokies' best pitcher down the stretch, ending the year with three straight wins and a 2.25 ERA over his final six starts. Usually 88-92 mph with his fastball, he rounds out his repertoire with a plus slider and changeup.

EARLY 2009 FORECAST: Class AAA Iowa.

Andrew Cashner, RHP

Cashner, 22, was the Cubs' first draft pick (19th overall) a season ago and received a $1.54 million signing bonus with an invite to big league camp. He made six appearances at short-season Class Low-A Boise, allowing nine earned runs in 16-plus innings before being promoted to Daytona in time for the Florida State League postseason. At Boise, he walked 19 batters and struck out 16.

REACTION: Cashner ended 2008 on a positive note, tossing six scoreless innings in the Florida State League playoffs to help Daytona capture the league's championship. His fastball can go as high as 98 mph, if not a touch higher, and his power curveball was 85 mph and up toward the end of last year. The Cubs weren't concerned about his walk totals (27 in 26 innings), attributing his occasional wildness to the layoff between his college and pro seasons.

EARLY 2009 FORECAST: Advanced Class-A Daytona.

Welington Castillo, C

Castillo, 21, had his strongest year with the bat in 2008 and went from Daytona to Class AAA Iowa in the span of a season. He spent a good part of the year at Tennessee, batting .298 with 15 extra-base hits (four home runs, 11 doubles) in 57 games before moving to Iowa. Defensively, he threw out 30 percent of opposing runners at Daytona and then 43 percent of runners at Tennessee.

REACTION: Castillo leaves little doubt as to the top catching prospect in the system. His defense is second to none at his position, and his bat is average at worst. The Cubs would probably like to give him a full year at Triple-A before easing him alongside Geovany Soto, though his long-term future may not be limited to a back-up role. Already he should be able to carry his weight against veteran Paul Bako, whom the club reportedly signed to a backup role following the departure of Henry Blanco.

EARLY 2009 FORECAST: Class AAA Iowa.

Steve Clevenger, C/INF

After going from Daytona to Tennessee back to Daytona again, Clevenger, 22, ended the season in the Florida State League with a .313 average and 20 doubles in 84 games. A seventh-round Cubs draft pick in 2006, he went on to have a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League, batting .302 (19-for-63) in 17 games.

REACTION: Clevenger was drafted as a shortstop, but saw the bulk of playing time in his rookie season at shortstop. He has since added catcher and first base to his resume. Finding him a position may be the biggest challenge as his bat is above-average, though Davis and others felt Clevenger's offense suffered a bit last year as the result of catching most days in a humid environment.

EARLY 2009 FORECAST: Class AA Tennessee.

Doug Deeds, OF

Deeds, 27, had a strong showing with the bat in his first season with the Cubs. He batted a career-high .325 with 12 home runs and 37 doubles in 122 games. The lefty hitting outfielder was acquired from the Minnesota Twins as the player to be named for OF Craig Monroe. He played in 19 games in the Dominican Winter League, batting .224 (13-for-58).

REACTION: Somewhat like a left-handed version of Matt Craig, Deeds has some pop and can take a walk. He's more of a doubles and average hitter than a home run hitter. Many thought he was close to breaking into the major leagues with Minnesota following two strong seasons at Double-A in 2005 and '06 but he saw limited playing time with the Twins' Triple-A club in 2007 and was traded to the Cubs last spring.

EARLY 2009 FORECAST: Class AAA Iowa.

J.R. Mathes, LHP

Mathes, 27, had a bounce-back season at Iowa after struggling there in 2007. He just missed having 10 wins for a fourth straight season, finishing with a 4.27 ERA in 140 2/3 innings. The southpaw made nine appearances in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he had a 3.86 ERA in 32 2/3 innings.

REACTION: Not overpowering by any stretch, Mathes is a control artist that must throw strikes to be effective. Last year, he was a more aggressive pitcher who hit his spots. That, combined with the development of a cut-fastball and an improved curve, made him a more operative pitcher.

EARLY 2009 PROJECTION: Class AAA Iowa.

Rocky Roquet, RHP

Roquet, 26, overcame a sore elbow early in the season. He finished with a 3.70 ERA in 48 2/3 innings at Tennessee, then went on make a pair of appearances at Iowa in the Pacific Coast League playoffs. After the regular season ended, the Cubs selected Roquet for a second straight stint in the Arizona Fall League. He made 10 appearances in Arizona and had a 5.93 ERA in 13 2/3 innings.

REACTION: Roquet was one of the most dominant relievers in the Cubs' system in 2007, easily breezing through Class-A Peoria en route to Double-A. The elbow issue in 2008 was (relatively) minor, but it put him in a bind early, causing a dip in his velocity and making his slider flat. When healthy he possesses a strong fastball-slider combo, and his velocity goes as high as 94-96 mph.

EARLY 2009 PROJECTION: Class AAA Iowa.

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