A Minor (League) Review of 2014: Reds and Cubs by Marc Hulet October 16, 2014 Welcome to the annual series: ‘A Minor (League) Review of 20__.” This series is a great way to receive a quick recap of the 2014 minor league season for your favorite club(s), while also receiving a brief look toward the 2015 season and beyond. It can also be a handy feature for fantasy baseball players in keeper and Dynasty leagues. Previous Pieces: A Minor (League) Review of 2014: Yankees and Orioles A Minor (League) Review of 2014: Red Sox, Blue Jays, Rays A Minor (League) Review of 2014: Indians and Tigers A Minor (League) Review of 2014: White Sox, Royals, Twins A Minor (League) Review of 2014: Angels and A’s A Minor (League) Review of 2014: Astros, Angels, Mariners A Minor (League) Review of 2014: Braves and Phillies A Minor (League) Review of 2014: Marlins, Mets, Nationals A Minor Review of 2014: Reds The Graduate: Billy Hamilton, OF: There is no denying that Hamilton is an exciting player thanks to his top-of-the-scale speed. However, from an offensive standpoint, the shortstop-turned-center-fielder had a modest year in the Majors. A .292 on-base percentage only takes away from Hamilton’s greatest asset (his base running) and he doesn’t make enough consistent contact (117 strikeouts in 152 games). He’s intriguing, but he still has a long way to go to become a key player for the Reds. The Riser: Ben Lively, RHP: The enigmatic and deceptive Lively had a grand year in the minors, going from 2013 fourth-round prospect to a Double-A hurler in 2014. Despite his average stuff, the right-hander allowed just 117 hits and struck out 171 batters in 151.0 innings. If he keeps this up, he could reach The Show in the second half of 2015. The Tumbler: Phil Ervin, OF: The Reds’ 2013 first rounder, Ervin had an eye-opening debut last year but failed to build upon that success. The 22-year-old outfielder spent the entire season in Low-A ball and produced a .680 OPS with 110 strikeouts in 132 games. He should have spent much of the year in High-A or Double-A ball, not struggling in the lowest level of full-season ball. He’ll look to rebound in 2015. The ’14 Draft Pick: Nick Howard, RHP: A first rounder out of the University of Virginia, Howard spent time in both the rotation and the ‘pen in college. He’ll make a go of starting as a pro but his heater and slider play up in the bullpen so he may eventually find his way there. Look for him to open 2015 in High-A ball. The Lottery Ticket: Amir Garrett, LHP: Drafted back in 2011, Garrett is not your typical “lottery ticket” given his pro experience. However, the talented southpaw has only recently devoted himself to baseball after splitting his efforts between pro ball and college hoops. He throws in the mid-90s from the left side so the promise is significant if he can polish his secondary offerings. A Minor Review of 2014: Cubs The Graduate: Javier Baez, IF: The 21-year-old Baez was aggressively pushed through the upper minors and into the Majors in 2014 despite the Cubs’ losing season. The Puerto Rico native had a chance to make fans salivate for his 80-raw power but the 95-15 K-BB rate in 52 games helped to underscore just how raw this talented hitter really is. The Riser: Jorge Soler, OF: Signed the same year as Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers, injuries and suspensions kept Soler in the low minors until 2014. He still had issues staying on the field but he flew through both Double-A and Triple-A on the way to a .903 OPS in 24 big league games for the Cubs. Expect big things from him in 2015. The Tumbler: Christian Villanueva, 3B: Pity the third base prospects in the Cubs system. Not only do they have to contend with the best prospect in the minors in Kris Bryant, but there is the threat of Javier Baez being relocated to the hot corner. Villanueva’s offense went south at the absolute wrong time. Never a strong hitter — he makes his living off his plus glove — Villanueva failed to produce an OPS over .700 and his on-base percentage was below .300. The ’14 Draft Pick: Kyle Schwarber, OF/C: Some teams may have devalued Schwarber because of his questionable defense behind the plate but his offensive onslaught after turning pro in 2014 suggests his bat could play just about anywhere on the field. The left-handed hitter played at three levels and produced a 1.061 OPS in 72 combined games. He produced 90 hits in 72 games; 18 of those base-knocks went over the outfield fence. The Lottery Ticket: Eloy Jimenez, OF: Just 17, Jimenez struggled at times in the Arizona League but showed an advanced approach for his age (32 Ks in 42 games is a good sign) and he’s slowly growing into his man-child body. Look for him to be a force at the plate in terms of extra base power within a few years. He may spend another year in extended spring training and short-season ball but he could move quickly once he hits full-season ball.