Cubs farm report: Watkins impressing, Rizzo HR form back

Slick-fielding Logan Watkins' bat is starting to come alive in Daytona Beach. (Nigel Cook/Daytona Beach News-Journal)

Here is a re-cap of what is going on down on the farm for the Chicago Cubs.

Triple-A Iowa

Chris Rusin continued his up-and-down season with an up on May 8 in a 13-2 win over Fresno. The 6’-2”, left-hander tossed six innings, allowing one run on three hits. He also struck out a season-high five batters to two walks in picking up his third win of the season. The 25-year-old now has a 3.40 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 21 K/12 BB over 39.2 innings. The former fourth-round pick of the Cubs in 2009 has a deadly change-up and his fastball sits in the 88-90 mph range. With the way the Cubs bullpen has been giving away wins this season, mostly because of an inability to throw strikes, Rusin would bring excellent control as he has averaged just 1.9 walks-per-nine innings over 324.1 career innings.

Anthony Rizzo went 2-for-5 with two home runs and six RBI in the 13-2 win over Fresno. He had gone 10 games without a dinger and it marked the fourth time this season he has hit two in a game. The team’s top prospect is now hitting .357 with six doubles, nine hone runs, 31 RBI and a 1.056 OPS through 30 games. There are rumors coming out of Chicago the team may move Brian LaHair to the outfield to make room for Rizzo at first base. The 29-year-old LaHair is among the league leaders in several categories so far, including second in OPS (1.241), fourth in batting average (.373) and fifth in home runs (8).

Brett Jackson is hitting .323 over his last nine games with five extra-base hits and seven walks. He has, however, also struck out 13 times over that span, the one area the team wants him to work on before a call-up. On the season, the 23-year-old is hitting .256 with nine doubles, three triples, three home runs, 12 RBI, five stolen bases and an .824 OPS through 30 games. He has drawn 18 walks for a .362 OBP but has struck out 40 times. He remains the most exciting prospect the team has, but with Tony Campana playing well, and if the LaHair rumor turns out true, there just isn’t room for him right now.

Double-A Tennessee

Logan Watkins has been impressing fans with his play on both sides of the field all season. The 22-year-old, left-hander has only committed two errors all season, playing mostly at shortstop and second base. His speed, mixed with his soft hands and instincts, allow him to cover his position with ease. He has been heating up at the plate recently, as well. Over his last five games, he is 8-for-20 (.400) with a triple, home run and three RBI. Through 30 games, he is now hitting .270 with three triples, two home runs, nine RBI and five stolen bases. A slap hitter who makes consistent contact due to his level swing, Watkins’ speed allows him to wreak havoc on the base paths, as he swiped 21 bases and legged out 12 triples last season. An exciting young player who could put pressure on Darwin Barney in the near future.

Kevin Rhoderick has been, arguably, the best pitcher in the system this season. Owner of Frisbee-style slider that is a true wipe-out pitch, and a low-90s fastball, the 6’-1”, right-hander has showed the improvements in the only area of concern the team had for him – his command. After dominating at class-A Daytona last season, posting a 1.26 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 19 K/6 BB over 14.1 innings, he struggled with his command at Tennessee. Over 57 innings, he had a 3.47 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 58 K/37 BB.

Through 13 innings this season as the team’s closer, he has a 1.38 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 15 K/4 BB. He has four saves, and most importantly, has cut his BB/9 down from 5.8 to 2.8. With the closer situation up in the air on the north side of Chicago, the 23-year-old Rhoderick has put his name in the mix with his play this season.

Class-A advanced Daytona

Nelson Perez, a 6’-3”, 215-pound left-hander, whom the team signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2006 out of San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, has been crushing the ball this season. Through 28 games, the 24-year-old is hitting .327 with four doubles, four triples, five home runs, 21 RBI with a slash line of .433/.602/1.035. He has drawn 19 walks, showing a good approach at the plate, as well. He hit .272 with 12 home runs, 49 RBI and 26 BB/121 K over 114 games last season split between class-A/double-A. He is kind of a man amongst boys at his level, but he is a big, strong outfielder who has clearly worked on his game, and it will be interesting to see his development as he rises through the system.

Austin Kirk, a 21-year-old left-hander, has been dealing for Daytona this season. Through seven games, he has a 1.83 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 22 K/9 BB over 44.1 innings. A third-round pick by the team in 2009, he tossed a no-hitter on July 4 last season for class-A Peoria. Kirk isn’t going to rack up a lot of strikeouts, instead he relies on his control and ability to throw any pitch in any count to keep hitters off balance. His fastball sits in the 88-90 mph range, and he has a very good curveball.

Eric Jokisch, a 6’-2” left-hander, fanned 11 batters over seven scoreless innings against Jupiter on May 7. The 23-year-old was an 11th-round pick by the team in 2010 out of Northwestern. Through seven starts, he has a 3.30 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 43 K/14 BB over 43.2 innings. He ranks among the leaders in strikeouts in his league and features a slider, change-up and low-90s fastball. Not blessed with over powering stuff, he is adept at changing speeds and hitting his spots.

Matthew Szczur, the team’s fifth-round pick out of Villanova in 2010, is hitting .318 over his last 10 games with six doubles, a triple and five stolen bases. An incredible athlete, the 6’-1”, 190-pound right-hander is one of the team’s top prospects and has a lot of potential as a player who is still relatively new to full-time baseball duties. He hit .293 last season, with 22 doubles, 10 home runs, 46 RBI and 24 stolen bases split between two leagues. He also only struck out 48 times, showing an advanced approach at the plate. Through 31 games this season, he is hitting .254 with nine doubles, two triples, seven RBI, and is among the league leaders in both runs (30) and stolen bases (16).

Class-A Peoria

Zeke DeVoss, the team’s third-round pick out of Miami in 2011, has been looking solid at the plate thus far against better competition. Through 28 games, the 5’-10”, 170-pound infielder is hitting .252 with six doubles, a triple, two home runs, 11RBI and six stolen bases. The 21-year-old is known for having a very good approach at the plate, as well as the ability to steal a bunch of bases. Over 42 games last season, he hit .309 with 16 stolen bases and 33 walks, good for a .449 OBP.

The same can’t be said for Gerardo Concepcion, the prized 20-year-old left-hander from Cuba, whom the team acquired in the off-season by agreeing to a five-year/$6MM deal. Through three starts, he is 0-3, and over 6.2 innings, has allowed 14 runs on 19 hits. He has struck out four and walked three. The 6’-2” southpaw has a low-90s fastball to go along with a change-up and curveball and his across-the-body delivery is deceptive, but it appears to be giving him control problems, as well.

With most of last year’s impressive draft class still working on their games and awaiting assignments, fans will have to wait to see players like first-round pick Javier Baez, Daniel Vogelbach, Dillon Maples, Shawon Dunston Jr., Garrett Schlecht, Roderick Shoulders and Trevor Gretzky. As soon as they do, however, I will be the first to report their progress.

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