MESA, Ariz. -- When Theo Epstein was named president of baseball operations for the Cubs, he stressed the desire to build a foundation for sustained success. That means the Cubs want to develop their own players, not rely on expensive free-agent acquisitions, and that process begins in earnest in the Minor Leagues. Fans will recognize some of the surnames in the Cubs system, like Shawon Dunston Jr., Daniel Lockhart and Trevor Gretzky, who were picked in June's First-Year Player Draft. There are plenty of others to keep an eye on, especially outfielder Brett Jackson, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and southpaw Jeff Beliveau, who are close to being big league ready. And if there's one common thread, it's that all will be taught the Cubs Way.
where to watch
|3||Javier Baez||Extended ST|
|5||Dillon Maples||Extended ST|
|8||Robert Whitenack||Disabled List|
Fans might want to go to Triple-A Iowa games early and often because highly touted prospects Jackson and Rizzo may not be in the Minors for long. Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Jackson is close. "I'm in my ninth year coaching in the big leagues, and he's the best young player I've seen in Major League camp," Sveum said. "I've seen some good young ones. He's the full package. Obviously, the swing and miss is something he needs to work on, and cutting down strikeouts, but he brings a lot to the table for a Major League team." Jackson played in 48 games last season at Iowa, and Epstein has said he likes to see players have a full season at that level. Rizzo also needs more time to develop, even though he batted an impressive .364 in Spring Training. He could challenge the I-Cubs club record of 38 home runs that Bryan LaHair set last season. Iowa's rotation is loaded, with Randy Wells, Travis Wood, Casey Coleman and Jay Jackson. Welington Castillo, who nearly won the backup catcher job on the big league team, will be the everyday backstop. Keep an eye on infielder Junior Lake, 22, who is the same age as Starlin Castro, and some say, has more upside. He opens at Double-A Tennessee but isn't far from the big leagues. "I know it's cliche, but we're going to need a lot of guys here over the course of the summer," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "A team that looks good on paper with no depth is not a very good team. Depth is something we're actively trying to build up in the organization. We need to get to a point where if a guy gets hurt, and you bring up a guy who's almost as good, that means you're a pretty good organization." Which means, if the Cubs need someone, they don't want it to be much of a dropoff from the guy they're replacing on the final 25-man big league roster. "It's always nice to have depth," Sveum said. "That's one of the big things we wanted going into this winter was to have depth, starting-pitching depth, position depth. It's been nice to where you look at your Triple-A team, and OK, I've got this, I've got that, and it backs this up, backs this up." Last season, Double-A Tennessee reached the Southern League Championship Series but lost to Mobile. Beliveau helped the Smokies, posting a 6-1 record and 1.89 ERA in 41 relief appearances. He was named the Cubs' Minor League Pitcher of the Year and is expected to open at Iowa. Class A Advanced Daytona won the Florida State League championship for the fifth time since it began its affiliation with the Cubs in 1993. Players from that team to watch include Frank Batista, who made 51 appearances and totaled 26 saves. Class A Peoria struggled, losing 79 games last year but boasted some up-and-coming talent in outfielder Matt Szczur, who was in big league camp this spring. Debuts and Draftees
Javier Baez, the Cubs' No. 1 pick in 2011, signed late and saw minimal playing time last year at Class A Boise. He did get extra work in Arizona during the instructional league, and the Cubs had not decided where he'll open. Baez, drafted out of high school, stayed in Arizona for extended spring training and will most likely play in Boise. First baseman Dan Vogelbach may not have an athletic looking body, but he'll surprise people with his speed and agility. The left-handed hitter, who was the Cubs' second-round pick in 2011, has legitimate power but also a good eye. He's also expected to be launching balls at Boise. Right-hander Dillon Maples had considered playing baseball and football at North Carolina but decided to pursue baseball when the Cubs selected him in the 14th round. He's staying in extended spring training, and the team has yet to decide where he'll pitch. Dunston, an outfielder, is the son of the former Cubs shortstop of the same name, and decided to postpone college after he was taken in the 11th round. A pleasant young man with the same bright smile as his dad, Dunston is super fast and expected to play at Boise. Lockhart, a shortstop, is the son of former Major League infielder Keith Lockhart, who is now an area scout for the Cubs. Daniel was selected in the 10th round out of Hebron Christian Academy in Dacula, Ga. Watch him for a few games and you'll see he comes from a great gene pool. He'll also be at Boise. Gretzky, a first baseman and son of NHL legend Wayne Gretzky, is rehabbing from a shoulder injury, and will be in extended spring training with an assignment to be determined at a later date. Look for outfielder Zeke DeVoss at Class A Peoria and pitcher Tony Zych at Class A Daytona. Both have gotten a brief look at big league life as they were added to the Cubs roster in Spring Training games. New Kids on the Block
Jackson was the Cubs' No. 1 prospect until they acquired Rizzo from the Padres. It's the second time Hoyer has dealt for Rizzo, whom the Padres acquired from the Red Sox in the Adrian Gonzalez deal. Rizzo, 22, had a brief taste of the show when he was called up last season for 49 games. He hit .141, but Hoyer, who was San Diego's GM last year, blamed himself, saying he was looking for a quick fix for the Padres' offense. Besides Rizzo, the Cubs also acquired right-handed pitcher Zach Cates from the Padres for Andrew Cashner. A converted catcher, Cates is still learning how to pitch. His fastball has been clocked at 94 mph. One player on the brink of the top 20 list is Cuban pitcher Gerardo Concepcion, who agreed to a five-year, $6 million contract in February. The left-handed pitcher was the Cuban National Series Rookie of the Year last year. "One of our focuses is to bring in more pitching depth," Hoyer said. "He's a 20-year-old left-hander, has a really good feel for pitching, a three-pitch mix. He's had success at a young age in Cuba, and he's a guy we're excited to bring over here and work with." Concepcion, who turned 20 in February, was 10-3 with a 3.36 ERA in 21 games. At the age of 19, he placed among league leaders in wins (tied for sixth), winning percentage (second at .769) and ERA (ninth). The Cubs scouted the pitcher extensively, and Hoyer said they felt comfortable with the financial commitment. "He's the kind of guy we want to keep adding to our system," Hoyer said. The Cubs also added to their farm system with some of their offseason transactions. Second baseman Ronald Torreyes was one of three players acquired from the Reds for Sean Marshall. The infielder hit .356 last season at Daytona and is a potential utility player. Another pickup in the Marshall deal was outfielder Dave Sappelt, 25, who battled for a spot on the big league roster. A career .309 hitter and speedster with 82 stolen bases, he's opening the season at Iowa. Casey Weathers was acquired from the Rockies in the Ian Stewart trade and the right-handed pitcher spent some time in the big league camp. A first-round pick in 2007, he was 2-2 with a 5.32 ERA at Double-A Tulsa last season. Teams on TV
The Iowa Cubs, Tennessee Smokies and Boise Hawks are among a growing number of teams whose games are available on MiLB.TV. The 2012 MiLB.TV package will include more than 2,500 Minor League games streamed live, as well as games archived for on-demand streaming soon after completion.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.