Chicago Cubs fans have a lot to be thankful for this off-season and I'm sure the historic World Series run will be a hot topic of conversation around Thanksgiving dinner tables this week.
Hot Stove news is already making headlines with Houston Astros signing free agent starter Charlie Morton and acquiring C Brian McCann in a trade from the Yankees. The Braves have been active signing veteran pitchers R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon. I'm sure news and rumors will get thicker with the Baseball Winter Meetings just two weeks away.
Each week at iowacubs.com, we'll take a look around baseball at transactions impacting the Chicago Cubs, their minor league system, and former Iowa Cubs players looking for opportunities in other organizations. Here is this week's installment:
CHICAGO CUBS NEWS
All Major League clubs, including the Cubs, made adjustments to their 40-man rosters to protect players ahead of the Rule 5 Draft to be held during the Meetings in Washington D.C. on December 8th. The Cubs added the following players to their 40-man roster: LH Jack Leathersich, C Victor Caratini, OF Jacon Hanneman, and RH Duane Underwood, Jr.
The Cubs acquired Leathersich on waivers from the Mets on November 19th. He was declared a free agent on December 2nd, but re-signed with the Cubs on a minor league deal on December 12. All of this was happening while he was recovering from Tommy John surgery he underwent in July of 2015. The injury ended his first stint in the Major Leagues after 17 games with New York. Leathersich returned to the mound on June 22 in the Arizona Rookie League and was promoted to double-A Tennessee after 10 appearances. After 11 games with the Smokies, Leathersich joined Iowa on August 23. He made five appearances with the I-Cubs and didn't allow a hit in five innings. He walked six, struck out six, and allowed one unearned run. In 26 games overall, he was 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA (5ER/23.1IP), 13 walks, and 34 strikeouts.
The Cubs acquired Caratini from the Braves on July 31, 2014 in exchange for INF Emilio Bonifacio and LHP James Russell. Entering the 2016 season, Baseball America had him rated 24th on the Cubs' top prospect list. In 115 games at double-A Tennessee, he hit .291 (120-for-412) with 25 doubles, six home runs, and 47 RBI. He was named to the mid-season and post-season All-Star Teams in the Southern League. MLB.com current ranks him 15th on the organization's top prospect lists. A former second round pick out of Miami-Dade Junior College in 2013, the 23-year-old Caratini seems poised to make his Triple-A debut with the Iowa Cubs next season
The Cubs drafted Hanneman in the third round of the 2013 draft out of Brigham Young University where he was a defensive back on the Cougars' football team. The 25-year-old returned to baseball in '13 after he took two years off to complete a Mormon mission. Like Matt Szczur and John Andreoli, great speed and that aggressive football mindset have led to many highlight reel catches during the course of his minor league career. At the plate, he made great strides in 2016 cutting down his strikeouts and increasing his power. In 74 games at Tennessee, Hanneman hit .247 (72-for-291) with 14 doubles, a career-high 10 home runs, 30 RBI, and stole 26 bases (fourth-best in the Cubs' minor league system). MLB.com boosted him from 28th to 19th on the their list of Cubs' prospects mid-season. He is also likely to make his Triple-A debut with the I-Cubs in 2017.
Baseball America had Underwood as the Cubs' top-rated pitching prospect (fourth overall in the organization) heading into the season, but a second consecutive injury plagued season slowed his development. In 2015, he was slowed by a sore elbow, but an MRI showed no structural damage and he rehabbed without surgery. He began 2016 in extended spring training before joining Tennessee on April 29. He went 0-5 with a 4.91 ERA (32ER/58.2IP) in 13 starts before being sidelined again. He would make five more starts to finish the season between the Arizona Rookie League, single-A South Bend, and high-A Myrtle Beach, allowing three earned runs in 14.1 innings to finish the regular season. He also made two starts for Mesa in the Arizona Fall League in October. He is only 22 years old and showed an overpowering fastball prior to his injuries. A healthy start to 2017 will be the most important next step for Underwood.
The Cubs also claimed LHP David Rollins off waivers from Seattle. He made 11 appearances for the Mariners this year and allowed eight runs on 12 hits in 9.1 innings while walking seven and striking out six. He was much tougher at triple-A Tacoma. In 37 appearances, he was 5-0 with a 3.77 ERA (19ER/45.1IP) and two saves. With the Rainiers, he allowed just six walks (two intentional) while recording 32 strikeouts. He pitched twice against the I-Cubs in a four-game series in May and earned a win while keeping the Cubs without a hit in 2.1 innings of work. Rollins will turn 27 in December. He was originally drafted by the Blue Jays in the 24th round of the 2011 draft out of junior college. He was traded to the Astros as part of a nine-player deal (headlined by J.A. Happ and Francisco Cordero) on July 20, 2012. The Mariners would choose him in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 draft in 2014.
In other news, both Fox and CBS are listing among their transactions that the Cubs released RH Spencer Patton on November 17. He is listed listed on the Cubs' 40-man roster on MLB.com. Patton was one of Iowa's top relievers in 2016. In 35 games, he was 1-0 with a 0.75 ERA (3ER/36.0IP) and was 11-for-12 in save opportunities. He allowed just 21 hits and struck out 59 batters. In 16 games with Chicago, he was 1-1 with a 5.48 ERA (13ER/21.1IP) and earned some notoriety by alternating in left field with Travis Wood, and then earning the win, in an extra-inning victory at Cincinnati on June 28.
On the minor league side, the Cubs signed RH Mario Meza to a minor league deal on November 15th. He pitched for Yucatan in the Mexican League last year and was 4-2 with a 1.59 ERA (9ER/51.0IP) in 53 games. He struck out 51 batters and led the Mexican League with 24 holds. The 25-year-old Meza is a native of Mexico and has spent four of the last five seasons pitching in the Mexican League, but this is his first opportunity in a Major League organization.
The Cubs also added RH Seth Frankoff on a minor league deal. Frankoff pitched at three levels of the Dodgers' system last year (including four games at Oklahoma City) and combined to go 4-4 with a 3.89 ERA (32ER/74.0IP) in 28 games, including 10 starts. He has also pitched in the PCL with Nashville (2015) and Sacramento (2014) in his career.
The Cubs re-signed RH Cole Brocker to a minor league deal. The Cubs originally signed Brocker in January. He was released by the Braves in June of 2015 and finished up that season with the independent Normal (IL) Cornbelters of the Frontier League. He spent the entire 2016 season on the disabled list. He pitched two seasons at Oregon State from 2012-13 and made 10 total appearances in the Braves' organization, reaching double-A Mississippi in 2015 before his release.
Last week, I mentioned that LH Joe Thatcher was telling teammates that he planned to retire this off-season after finishing up the 2016 season with Iowa. CBS Sports does have Thatcher's retirement listed among their transactions this week. I haven't seen it listed officially anywhere else at this point.
MAJOR LEAGUE NEWS
Only one former I-Cub was listed among the moves for other organizations in settling 40-man rosters before the Winter Meetings. The Angels designated RHP Blake Parker for assignment on November 19th and sent him outright to the minor leagues on Nov. 20th. We'll continue to follow Iowa's all-time saves leader to see where he ends up before spring training next year.
According to Fox and CBS, INF Kristopher Negron signed as a minor league free agent with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Negron was a key member of the I-Cubs in 2016 both on and off the field. In 117 games, he hit .256 (96-for-375) with 20 doubles, nine home runs, 46 RBI, and 23 stolen bases. He is a valuable utility player that can play shortstop that will help him compete for a job with the Diamondbacks in spring training. If he ends up at Triple-A Reno, he will be close to home with a short drive into northern California.
According to Baseball America C David Freitas signed with the Braves on a minor league deal. The Cubs picked up Freitas in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft a year ago. He spent most of the season at Tennessee, but played well in his 25 games with Iowa - batting .321 (27-for-84) with seven doubles, two home runs, and 15 RBI.
The A' re-signed LH Felix Doubront on a minor league deal. Doubront was briefly with Iowa on a Major League rehab assignment in 2014.
Several sources are reporting that the Texas Rangers have signed RH Andrew Cashner to a one-year deal for $10 million. The Cubs drafted Cashner in the first round (19th overall) out of TCU in 2008. He had brief stints with Iowa in 2010 and 11 before being dealt to the Padres leading into the 2012 season in exchange for Anthony Rizzo.
Be sure to check back frequently to iowacubs.com for more updates on player movement this off-season as well as updates on former I-Cubs and current Cubs prospects in action around Winter Ball throughout the off-season.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.