Jackson, LaHair power Cubs system

Top prospect has 20-20 season, veteran sets homer record

Brett Jackson smacked 48 extra-base hits in 115 Minor League games. (Chris Donahue/Iowa Cubs)

By Robert Emrich / Special to MLB.com | October 12, 2011 6:17 AM

This offseason, MiLB.com will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.

For the second straight year, the Cubs found success at the Minor League level, posting a composite .507 winning percentage. Though the Double-A Tennessee Smokies fell short of a title, taking the Southern League Finals to a decisive Game 5, the Class A Advanced Daytona Cubs swept St. Lucie to capture the Florida State League crown.

The Cubs also fared well on the lower rungs as the Dominican Summer League team posted an organizational-high .653 winning percentage, while the Arizona League squad finished with a .500 record, falling three wins short of a playoff spot.

Cubs Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Steve Clevenger, Tennessee (95 games), Iowa (25 games), Chicago (2 games): The 25-year-old backstop continued to show the bat that has made him a two-time Southern League All-Star. In 120 games split between Double-A and Triple-A, Clevenger batted .319, fifth in the Cubs organization. It was the first time since 2008 that the former seventh-rounder played in more than 100 games, a fact not lost on Smokies manager Brian Harper, who praised Clevenger's skills at the plate and behind it.

"If you can hit, it's a bonus -- Steve can do both," the former Major League catcher said. "This was the first year where he was really a No. 1 catcher. I feel like he's one of the better young receivers. He's got strong soft hands and he catches the ball as well as anyone I've seen. He does a great job behind the plate, everyone knows he can hit. He has a very good arm too."

First base -- Bryan LaHair, Iowa (129 games), Chicago (20 games): The veteran Minor Leaguer set a new Iowa Cubs record with 38 homers, capturing the Pacific Coast League MVP award. LaHair led all Cubs Minor Leaguers with 109 RBIs and established new career highs in average (.331) and OPS (1.070) and home runs. He added two more longballs in his September promotion to the Majors.

Second base -- D.J. LeMahieu, Tennessee (50 games), Iowa (58 games), Chicago (37 games): Making his Double-A debut, LeMahieu hit well enough there that the Cubs promoted him to the big league team when Jeff Baker went on the disabled list on May 30. The 22-year-old infielder played sparingly with the Cubs, batting .250 in 60 at-bats. He was sent to Triple-A Iowa and finished the season with a composite .319 average, sixth in the organization.

"He was the most consistent of our hitters day in and day out," said Harper, a career .295 batter in 1,001 Major League games. "D.J.'s got a big upside. I think he's going to develop some power as he gets older. He's a real solid hitter, a .300 hitter."

Shortstop -- Junior Lake, Daytona (49 games), Tennessee (67 games): The 21-year-old shortstop brought a nice blend of speed and power to the Daytona and Tennessee lineups, slugging 12 homers while leading Cubs Minor Leaguers with 38 stolen bases. Lake finished the season with a .279 average, scoring 80 runs in 116 games.

"Junior has all the talent in the world. He's got power, he's got speed, he's got a great arm and great range," Harper said. "You look at him some games and you'll be amazed at the things he can do. He adds some excitement to the team, that's for sure."

Third base -- Gioskar Amaya, AZL Cubs (52 games): Amaya made a name for himself in his stateside debut, leading the Cubs organization with a .377 batting average. The 19-year-old saw time at second base and shortstop as well as third base and was an Arizona League All-Star, tying for third in the circuit with eight triples.


Rebel Ridling, Tennessee (125 games): Ridling, who also spent time at first base, slugged a career-high 20 homers and earned Southern League All-Star honors. The former 25th-round pick tied for eighth in the organization with a .309 average and was second on the Smokies with 80 RBIs.

"Rebel did a lot for us, he really carried us in August," Harper said. "His No. 1 position is first base, but he can fill in the outfield. He made some really good adjustments toward the end of the year and was hitting as good as anyone at the time."

Brett Jackson, Tennessee (67 games), Iowa (48 games): Jackson, the Cubs' top prospect, enjoyed a 20-20 season while splitting time between the Southern League and the Pacific Coast League. The former first-rounder finished the season with 84 runs, 73 stolen bases and 211 total bases, but really opened Harper's eyes with his intangibles.

"The thing that I was most impressed with was his intensity and the way he played," he said. "He ran out ground balls back to the mound. It was nice to see a young talented kid play so hard. That was my biggest thing, I was pleased the most with how hard he played every day. His talent is real obvious, he has all the talent in the world."

Michael Burgess, Daytona (122 games): Burgess, acquired from the Nationals last winter for Tom Gorzelanny, showed the power that made him a Carolina League All-Star in 2010. After a sluggish first half, the 22-year-old Florida native batted .263 and posted an OPS .150 points higher than before the All-Star break, finishing with 20 homers.

Utility -- Richard Jones, Peoria (123 games): Jones more than tripled his previous career high with 24 homers and batted .309 for the Chiefs. The 2009 ninth-rounder was second only to LaHair in homers and RBIs (98) among Cubs Minor Leaguers. The first baseman's season really took off after the All-Star break as he batted .331 with 13 homers in 67 games.

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Nicholas Struck, Dayton (10 games), Tennessee (six games), Iowa (12 games): The Cubs' 39th-round pick in 2009 went through three levels in 2011, ending the season in Triple-A. He finished tied for second in the organization with nine wins, was fourth with 111 strikeouts and sixth with a 3.91 ERA.

"Nick impressed me with his aggressiveness," Harper said. "He's an athletic kid who loves to play the game, he just wants to have fun. There was no fear when he came up to Double-A, and I saw the same thing when he went to Triple-A. He's got a good sinking fastball -- his change-up and slider are developing. Once he tightens those up a little more, he's going to be ready for the big leagues."

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Eric Jokisch, Peoria (25 games), Tennessee (three games): Despite starting the year in the Chiefs' bullpen, Jokisch led Cubs Minor League hurlers with 10 wins and was second with a 3.09 ERA. The former 11th-rounder was also second with 118 strikeouts in 134 innings and earned a late-season promotion to the Southern League.

"He just came from Low A and wasn't scared at all," Harper said. "He pitched inside well, he had a good change-up, he did everything a young pitcher needs to do to succeed. I believe he shut down Chattanooga towards the end of the year, and I was very impressed with his ability. He came to Double-A, and it was like it was no big deal."

Relief pitcher -- Frank Batista, Daytona (51 games): Batista led the organization with 26 saves and held Florida State League batters to a .226 average, earning All-Star honors in the process. The 22-year-old right-hander finished 5-3 with a 2.36 ERA and struck out 46 batters in 61 innings for the Cubs.

Robert Emrich is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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