Cubs Firm Up Minor-League Staffs

Cubs Firm Up Minor-League Staffs

Thursday Dec. 16, 2010
Posted: 1 p.m.

Tennessee AA
The Smokies announced that former major leaguer Brian Harper will be the teams manager for the 2011 season. Joining Harper on next years staff will be pitching coach Marty Mason, hitting coach Mariano Duncan and athletic trainer Nick Frangella.

Harper arrives to the Smokies after leading the San Francisco Giants Class A San Jose Giants to the 2010 California League Championship. He also spent two years in the Giants organization as its roving minor league catching instructor (2008-09). Prior to this time with the Giants, he was in the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheims minor league system, managing its rookie league team in the Arizona League (2001-05) and the Class AAA Salt Lake Bees (2006-07).

Harpers major league career spanned from 1979-95 and included a World Series appearance with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1985 and World Series championship with Minnesota Twins in 1991. He hit .295 in 1,001 big league games and caught behind the plate for a total of seven teams.

Mason comes over from the Cardinals, where hes spent the last 25 years coaching. Prior to his most recent stint as the teams major league bullpen coach (2000-10), Mason coached in the Cardinals minor league system at Advanced-A St. Petersburg (1986-87, 1989), A-Savannah (1988), AA-Arkansas (1990-96), AAA-Louisville (1997) and AAA-Memphis (1998-99). He played in both the New York Yankees and Cardinals minor league systems from 1980-86.

Duncan has been in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization the past eight years, most recently as the teams first base coach since 2006. He also coached at AAA-Las Vegas (2005), AA-Jacksonville (2004) and for the teams rookie league team in the Gulf Coast League in 2003. Duncan is a 12-year major league veteran infielder (1985-97) and was a member of two World Series championship teams, the 1990 Cincinnati Reds and 1996 New York Yankees.

Athletic trainer Nick Frangella will return for a fourth season with the Smokies in 2011, his sixth overall in the Cubs' minor league system.

All three members of the Smokies 2010 staff will remain within the Cubs organization. Manager Bill Dancy will manage the Triple-A Iowa Cubs, while coaches Dennis Lewallyn and Tom Beyers have been promoted to minor league pitching coordinator and hitting coordinator, respectively.

Peoria A
The Peoria Chiefs announced the 2011 Chiefs field staff, which includes a pair of familiar faces. Manager Casey Kopitzke returns for a second season after leading the Chiefs to a 71-66 record in 2010. He will be joined by pitching coach Jeff Fassero, a Springfield, IL native and a former Cubs reliever, hitting coach Ricardo Medina who was with the Chiefs in 2005 and athletic trainer A.J. Larson.

We are excited to have Casey return to the Chiefs staff for 2011, said Chiefs President Rocky Vonachen. He did an outstanding job with a very young Chiefs team in 2010 and we are happy to welcome him and his family back to Central Illinois for another season. Its also exciting to have a Central Illinois native and former Cub hurler on our staff in Jeff Fassero and Ricardo Medina was a great Chiefs player in the early 1990s and was on our first staff back with the Cubs in 2005. Overall this is a great staff and we are looking forward to the start of the 2011 season.

Kopitzke, 32, has spent 12 seasons in the Cubs organization as a player, coach and manager. He led the Chiefs to a 71-66 overall record in 2010 with a third place finish in the first half. Under Kopitzkes leadership the Chiefs had the third best batting average in the Midwest League last season with a .266 mark.

This off-season he managed the Mesa Solar Sox in the prestigious Arizona Fall League. Before joining the Chiefs, Kopitzke made his managerial debut in 2009 going 34-42 with the Boise Hawks of the Short Season-A Northwest League. Before managing the Hawks in 2009, Kopitzke served as the Cubs roving catching coordinator from 2007-2008 and made numerous stops in Peoria and other venues around the Midwest League to work with Chiefs catchers and hitters.

Born in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Kopitzke was drafted by the Cubs in the 27th round in 1999 out of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. A graduate of East DePere High School in Wisconsin, Kopitzke earned a bachelors degree in criminal justice from UW-Oshkosh in 2001. He and his wife Erin currently live in DePere, Wisconsin with a newborn son. He began his pro career as a catcher with Eugene in the Northwest League in 1999.

Kopitzke spent the 2000 season in the Midwest League with the Lansing Lugnuts hitting .224 with 22 RBI in 68 games. The following year he moved up to the Florida State League and hit .240 for Daytona. Kopitzke spent the 2002 and 2003 seasons with Double-A West Tennessee in the Southern League. In 2002 he hit .221 and in 2003 batted a career-best .261. He caught for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs in 2004 hitting .215 with a homer and 17 RBI before going back to West Tennessee for the 2005 season. Kopitzke retired after the 2006 campaign in which he hit .239 in 30 games for Iowa.

Overall Kopitzke played in 495 Minor League games hitting .230 with two homers, 44 doubles, 122 RBI. He was known as a defensive catcher committing just 11 errors in 2,057 chances between 2002 and 2006.

Pitching coach Jeff Fassero is very familiar with Central Illinois having grown up in Springfield where he played high school and college baseball before embarking on a 16-year Major League career as a left-handed pitcher. The 37-year old is a 1981 graduate of Griffin High School in Springfield and he pitched two seasons at Lincoln Land Community College before transferring to the University of Mississippi. A 22nd round draft pick in the 1984 draft by the St. Louis Cardinals, Fassero pitched in the Midwest League with his hometown Springfield Cardinals in 1985 with a 4-8 record in 29 games. After reaching Triple-A with the Cardinals, Fassero was signed by the Montreal Expos as a free agent and he made his MLB debut in 1991. Fassero pitched six seasons with Montreal, mostly as a starter going 58-48. He was traded to Seattle after the 1996 season and went 33-35 in three years as a starter for the Mariners.

After making 23 starts for Boston in 2000, Fassero signed with the Cubs for the 2001 season and made 82 bullpen appearances, a franchise record for a left-handed pitcher. He was 4-4 with a 3.42 ERA, 12 saves and 25 holds. The following season Fassero was 5-6 with a 6.18 ERA in 57 outings before he was traded in August to the St. Louis Cardinals for two players to be named later. Both players ended up being former Chiefs in Jason Karnuth and Jared Blasdell. Fassero went 1-7 in 62 outings for the Cardinals in 2003 before making 12 starts in 40 games for the Colorado Rockies in 2004. Fassero finished his 16-year career with the San Francisco Giants making 48 appearances in 2005 and 10 more in 2006.

Overall he was 121-124 with a 4.11 ERA in 720 career outings for nine different teams. Fassero made 242 starts with 17 complete games and 25 saves. In 1996 he finished ninth in the National League Cy Young Award voting after going 15-11 with a 3.30 ERA in 34 starts for the Montreal Expos. He pitched in the playoffs with Seattle in 1997, Texas in 1999 and St. Louis in 2002 with a career 1.46 ERA in the post-season. Of his six post-season appearances, one was a start, a dominating win over Baltimore in the 1997 ALDS in which he allowed just one run on three hits over eight innings. He picked up two relief wins in the 2002 NLDS against Arizona without allowing an earned run. The 2011 season makes the second as a coach for Fassero in the Cubs organization as he worked on the Boise Hawks staff last season with a team ERA of 4.43.

Ricardo Medina returns to the Chiefs for the second time as a hitting coach, having served in the same position on Julio Garcias staff in 2005. In that return to the Cubs organization in 2005, Medina worked with future Major Leaguers Sam Fuld, Eric Patterson and Lou Montanez while also helping Ryan Harvey to a 24 home-run season. A 39-year-old native of Panama, Medina signed with the Cubs in 1989 and played in Peoria as a first and third baseman from 1991 to 1993. He finished his playing career with Advanced-A Daytona in 1994 and worked as a scout for the Boston Red Sox. As a player with the Chiefs, Medina hit .302 in 1991, .263 in 1992 and .254 in 1993. He had a career .991 fielding percentage at first base and collected 27 doubles in the 1992 season with 120 hits and 67 RBI in 125 games.

Medina is in the top 20 on the Chiefs career lists in RBI, at-bats, games played, plate appearances, hits, doubles, extra-base hits, total bases and walks. For the Cubs he has worked as a hitting coach with Mesa from 1999-2003, in Boise in 2004, 2006 and 2009 and he managed the Mesa team to a 27-29 record in 2007. Medina has also worked as a coach with the Panama National Team in numerous international tournaments including Olympic qualifiers, the World Cup and the World Baseball Classic.

Iowa AAA
The Cubs announced Bill Dancy has been named manager of the Iowa Cubs for the 2011 season. Dancy ranks fourth among active Minor League Managers in wins with 1,604 total victories.

Dancy, 59, spent last season managing the Double-A Tennessee Smokies. He led Tennessee to Division titles in both the first and second half. The Smokies posted an 86-53 (.619) record, the best in the Southern League. The Florida native was also named the Double-A Southern League Manager of the Year.

Dancys managerial career began in 1979 with the Philadelphia Phillies organization at Class-A Spartanburg. He then managed at Peninsula (A, 1980-82), Reading (AA, 1983-84, 1988, 1994-95), Portland (AAA, 1985-86), Maine (AAA, 1987), ScrantonWilkes-Barre (AAA, 1989-91) and Clearwater (A, 1992-93, 1998-99). Dancy left the Phillies organization for two years to manage the Class AAA Richmond Braves (1996-97). He led Peninsula, Clearwater and Reading to league championships in 1980, 1983 and 1995 respectively, and has a 22-year minor league managerial career record of 1,604-1,467 (.522).

Dancy will be Iowas 17th manager since their affiliation with the Cubs began in 1981. He replaces Ryne Sandberg, now with the Philadelphia Phillies organization.

In 2000 Dancy left managing to become an infield coordinator for the Phillies, and then served as the teams field coordinator from 2001-2004. After two years as the Phillies third base coach (2005-06), he was the teams field coordinator in 2007 and 2008. He spent 2009 in the Kansas City Royals organization.

Joining Dancy with Iowa are returning members Pitching Coach Mike Mason, Hitting Coach Von Joshua and Athletic Trainer Matt Johnson.

Mason begins his fourth season as pitching coach of the Iowa Cubs. It is his fourth year in the Cubs organization as he served as the Kansas City Royals minor league pitching coordinator in 2007 and as their Minor League Pitching Instructor for three seasons before that.

Joshua will return to the Iowa Cubs for his sixth year as hitting coach and his ninth year with the organization. Joshua is in his 28th season as a hitting coach in professional baseball. Joshua was named the Chicago Cubs hitting coach on June 14, 2009, replacing Gerald Perry.

Week 8 Big Ten previews: After last week's clash, Badgers, Buckeyes hit the road


Week 8 Big Ten previews: After last week's clash, Badgers, Buckeyes hit the road

Last week's battle between Ohio State and Wisconsin was one for the ages.

But a week after the thriller proved both teams are championship-caliber, both hit the road for in-division tests that will certainly keep them on their toes.

If we're going to get a Buckeyes-Badgers rematch for the Big Ten title in Indy, Ohio State will first need to fend off Penn State in Happy Valley and Wisconsin will have to avoid a third loss at Iowa.

Check out previews of those games and the full Week 8 Big Ten slate below. All games are played on Saturday, Oct. 22, and all times are Central.

Rutgers at Minnesota, 11 a.m., ESPN U

Whether Mitch Leidner will be back under center or not for the Gophers remains a mystery, but it surely will be a fresh face at quarterback for the Scarlet Knights after Chris Ash made a switch at the position this week, elevating Giovanni Rescigno to replace Chris Laviano. Rutgers could use any and every method to try and get its stumbling offense off the ground. The Knights were shut out, of course, by a combined 136-0 score in two games against top-three teams Ohio State and Michigan. But in two other Big Ten games — these against the much less impressive competition of Iowa and Illinois — Rutgers still mustered only a combined 14 points. Losing Janarion Grant was obviously the big blow. Maybe Rescigno can do something against Minnesota.

The Gophers, meanwhile, will look to replicate the rushing success they had a week ago against Maryland, when Rodney Smith ran for 144 yards and a pair of touchdowns and Shannon Brooks chipped in with 82 yards. That should be possible given that the Rutgers defense has been gashed on the ground by each of its last three opponents. Ohio State rushed for 410 yards, and Michigan went for 481 yards on the ground, eye-popping numbers from two of the best teams in America. But even Illinois rushed for a less-superhuman but still good 228 yards last weekend, a mighty good sign for the Gophers. Oh, and the Minnesota defense has surrendered just two touchdowns in the past two games.

No. 10 Wisconsin at Iowa, 11 a.m., ESPN

This game’s an interesting one when you look at the big picture of this season. Wisconsin, despite its two losses to two of the top three teams in the country, has looked tremendous this season and boasts a top-10 ranking. Iowa has no ranking to speak of thanks to two relatively embarrassing home defeats to North Dakota State and Northwestern. But it’s the Hawkeyes — because just one of those losses has come in conference play — who are ahead of the Badgers in the Big Ten West Division standings. So while a Wisconsin win might be far more anticipated this weekend, an Iowa win would make Wisconsin’s path to a division title extremely difficult. Of course, it’s undefeated Nebraska atop those standings, so right now the road to Indy goes through Lincoln.

When it comes to this week’s game, as mentioned, Wisconsin seems the overwhelming favorite. The Badgers’ defense has looked stellar even through two losses in the previous two games against Michigan and Ohio State. Wisconsin ranks eighth nationally in scoring defense (15.2 points per game) and 12th in total defense (311.3 yards per game) and gets a big boost this weekend with the return of linebacker Vince Biegel. The Badgers made the Wolverines and Buckeyes fight every last minute for the wins those teams pulled off. A Jekyll-and-Hyde Hawkeyes offense might have far more trouble, though it put up a whole mess of points and 520 yards last weekend against Purdue.

Two weeks ago, you would’ve been inclined to peg this as yet another defensive battle, what with Alex Hornibrook coming off that bad game against Michigan and the Iowa defense coming off a shut-down performance against Minnesota. But then the Hawkeyes went into West Lafayette and surrendered a monstrous second half to the Boilermakers, finishing the game with 35 points and 505 yards allowed. And Hornibrook and the Badgers’ offense looked terrific through a half against the Buckeyes’ defense last weekend and even pulled off a huge touchdown drive in the fourth quarter during an otherwise-silent second half.

Indiana at Northwestern, 11 a.m., Big Ten Network

Forget about the Northwestern team that started the season 1-3. As Pat Fitzgerald said earlier this week: “That team’s dead.” It certainly seems that way, as the Cats — who as you might rememberer scored just seven points in a loss to Illinois State — combined for 92 points and 852 total yards in a pair of eye-popping road victories over Iowa and Michigan State. Believe it or not, Northwestern boasts the Big Ten’s leading running back (Justin Jackson is averaging 116.3 yards a game after a career-high 188 yards last weekend) and the Big Ten’s leading receiver (Austin Carr is averaging 99.2 yards a game on 7.2 catches a game after a career-high 11 catches last weekend). An offense that couldn’t do a thing last season is now lighting up scoreboards across the conference.

The good news for this week’s Northwestern opponent, Indiana, is that this team actually plays defense now. As jarring as an explosive Wildcat offense is for those who watched last season, a capable Hoosier defense is just as noticeable. New defensive coordinator Tom Allen has worked some real magic, and now Indiana has good play on both sides of the ball, fifth in the conference in total offense and eighth in total defense. Those rankings might not seem like much to crow about, but remember the Hoosiers have been the Big Ten’s worst defensive team for seemingly the entirety of Kevin Wilson’s time there. Revitalized offense vs. revitalized defense? This could be a fun one in Evanston.

Illinois at No. 3 Michigan, 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

This one’s shaping up to be another Michigan blowout, something the Wolverines have done in all of its wins but one to this point. Jim Harbaugh’s team is probably the nation’s finest when it comes to statistics, leading the country by limiting opponents to 10.3 points a game and ranking second (only behind Louisville) by scoring 50 points a game. Michigan had a bye last weekend, which has given it two weeks to prepare for a clearly overmatched Illinois team that last week got its first win over an FBS opponent under Lovie Smith. Throw out the 14-7 win over Wisconsin, and Michigan’s average margin of victory in those other five games is 46.2.

The Illini did have reason to be happy last weekend, getting Smith his first Big Ten win and his first win over a team not named Murray State. The quarterback situation is once again up in the air this weekend: Will Wes Lunt play, or will it be another game of Chayce Crouch? The only way Illinois keeps from disappearing out of Michigan’s rear-view mirror in the first quarter is by continuing to have success on the ground. The duo of Kendrick Foster and Reggie Corbin has served the Illini well, the team gaining a total of 543 rushing yards in the past two games. But those games were against Purdue and Rutgers. Michigan allows an average of 99.2 rush yards a game, the eighth-best rush defense in the nation.

Purdue at No. 8 Nebraska, 2:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN 2

Has there been a quieter top-10 team this season than the Huskers? Mike Riley’s team has a perfect record through six games, but the schedule hasn’t featured any marquee wins to date. Even the big win over Oregon looks nowhere near as big these days, with the Ducks nose-diving (bill-diving?) to a 2-4 record. But Nebraska has been real good, obviously led by Tommy Armstrong, who’s been perhaps the Big Ten’s next-best quarterback after Heisman candidate J.T. Barrett. And on defense, the Huskers’ secondary has been silently stellar, too. Only four teams in the country have intercepted more passes than Nebraska (which has 11), and only two teams in the country — Baylor and LSU —have allowed more touchdown passes than Nebraska (which has allowed only four). Remember that whole “the road to Indy goes through Lincoln” stuff from earlier? It’s true, but the Huskers will need to win this game to keep their record unblemished before back-to-back titanic tilts with Wisconsin and Ohio State.

Meanwhile, the Darrell Hazell Era came to an end last weekend at Purdue, and this will be the first game without the recently axed head coach. Despite how ugly the win-loss record always seems to look for the Boilermakers, things haven’t been all bad this season, even in light of what just happened to Hazell. Purdue is actually the No. 1 passing team in the Big Ten, averaging 305.5 yards through the air each week, and the total offense rank is fourth, with only the league's three undefeated teams ranking higher. When it comes to numbers, David Blough puts them up, there’s no doubt about that. Purdue’s lone Big Ten win last season came against Nebraska. Can that weird history repeat itself?

Michigan State at Maryland, 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

Both of these teams need a win, but Michigan State really needs to get off the schneid. It’s been four straight losses for a Spartans team that was again expected to compete for a Big Ten title. Well, that certainly won’t be happening this season, and the most recent loss was perhaps the most concerning. Michigan State allowed the most points it has in a home game in program history last weekend in the 54-40 loss to Northwestern. The defense has been miserable in the last four games, allowing an average of 34.8 points. On the season, the Spartans are now allowing more than 10 points per game more than they’re scoring. That’s trouble while the run game still struggles to produce and after Mark Dantonio’s quarterback experiment failed quickly last weekend.

Maryland also finds itself on a losing streak, two straight defeats after starting the season 4-0. During that undefeated beginning, the Terps were quietly a top-10 rushing team in the country, but that success has halted in recent weeks, with DJ Durkin’s team gaining 170 rush yards against Penn State and 130 yards against Minnesota. As mentioned, the Michigan State defense has been pretty gruesome, so perhaps this is the week Maryland can get its ground attack back on track.

No. 2 Ohio State at Penn State, 7 p.m., ABC

Will this be a repeat of the double-overtime thriller from 2014? Ohio State went into Happy Valley two years ago and was stymied by the Penn State defense, but the Buckeyes pulled out a huge character-building win en route to a national title. Some are saying this year’s version of that game came last weekend at Wisconsin, when Ohio State won an epic overtime affair. The Buckeyes are still undefeated after that test in Madison, with J.T. Barrett putting the team on his back in the second half and the defense rising to the occasion after a tough first half. Barrett scored three total touchdowns in that 2014 game against Penn State, including a pair of touchdown runs after regulation. Barrett’s Buckeyes once more have their sights on a national title and are looking the part. In addition to that 6-0 record, Ohio State ranks third in the country in scoring defense, fourth in the country in scoring offense, sixth in the country in total defense and 12th in the country in total offense.

While Barrett still runs the offense for Ohio State, one thing that almost surely won’t repeat itself from 2014 is Penn State’s rushing total. The Nittany Lions gained just 16 rushing yards in that game. You can almost guarantee that won’t be the case two years later, with Saquon Barkley looking like an absolute stud at every turn. At 97 yards a game, the sophomore ranks fourth in the Big Ten in rushing, but he has to be the conference leader in highlight-reel plays, making moves you’d have to mash your palm on a video-game controller to replicate. Ohio State’s defense is menacing, as those national rankings more than indicate. The Buckeyes rank third in the Big Ten with 121 rush yards allowed per game. But if Penn State can get Barkley going under Joe Moorhead’s new-and-improved offense, then maybe the Lions have a chance.

Notre Dame grades: Highs and lows on special teams

Notre Dame grades: Highs and lows on special teams

With Notre Dame in its bye week, we’re grading each unit on the 2-5 Irish. We’ve covered the coaching staff, offense and defense, so today we’re closing out the midterm report card with special teams. 

Placekicking: C

Justin Yoon already has more misses (three) on nine kicks than he had last year (two) on 17 attempts. A blocked attempt at Texas and a miss against Duke hurt in three-point losses, though his grade gets boosted a bit given he managed to connect on a field goal at N.C. State, which looked akin to kicking a bag of wet rags from a puddle (full credit to long snapper Scott Daly and holder Montgomery VanGorder, too, for successfully getting the ball down for Yoon in those awful conditions). 

Punting: C

It’s been a boom-or-bust season for Tyler Newsome, who’s blasted some bombs, like a 69-yarder at N.C. State, but also has had a few shanks, like his 24-yarder that gave Texas the ball at its own 32-yard line before the Longhorns drove to briefly take the lead in the fourth quarter of Notre Dame’s season-opening loss in Austin. Newsome ranks 29th in FBS with an average of 43.69 yards per punt, though this unit’s grade is dinged thanks to allowing that blocked punt/touchdown at N.C. State that wound up being the difference in Hurricane Matthew. 

Kick/punt returns: B+

C.J. Sanders remains an explosive returning weapon, taking a kick back 93 yards for a touchdown against Syracuse and nothing 40- and 24-yard punt returns in Notre Dame’s first two games of the season. A few points are taken off the grade here for a Michigan State punt bouncing off Miles Boykin’s calf and being recovered by the Spartans, which sparked their 36-point surge in mid-September. 

Kick/punt coverage: D+

Yoon has done a good job kicking directionally on kickoffs — he deftly placed a pair of kicks into the back corner of the end zone against Stanford, which would’ve been huge had Christian McCaffrey played — which is probably the biggest positive here. Shaun Wilson's 96-yard kickoff return took the shine off Notre Dame’s 14-0 early lead against Duke and helped propel the Blue Devils to a 38-35 win; on punt returns, the Irish rank 122nd in FBS, allowing 15.77 yards per return. 

Jarron Jones: A+

Jones gets his own grade here for his unique and, quite frankly, incredible knack for blocking kicks. The graduate student blocked a pair of PAT attempts against Texas and Syracuse that were each returned for two-point scores, with the one against Texas tying the game at 37. Jones has six blocked field goals/PATs in his career, earning himself a special distinction here in the special teams category.