Cubs minor league roundup: Johnson, Soler, Vitters

Cubs minor league roundup: Johnson, Soler, Vitters
June 21, 2013, 1:15 pm
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Tony Andracki

As the Cubs and Astros face off for the first time since Houston moved to the American League, the buzz is nearly non-existent at Wrigley Field. 

Instead, the focus on the Cubs is on the lower levels of the organization, where a lot has been happening of late.

Top prospect Jorge Soler is still sidelined with a shin injury and is considered day-to-day. The Cuban import hasn't played with High-A Daytona since June 13 and is hitting .281 on the season with eight homers and 35 RBIs.

Pierce Johnson is considered by some to be the Cubs' top pitching prospect and received a promotion Thursday to join Soler and Javier Baez with Daytona.

[RELATED: Cubs watching the evolution of Javier Baez]

Johnson, 22, was taken 43rd overall in the 2012 MLB Draft and was off to a hot start with Low-A Kane County this season. In 13 starts, the 6-foot-3 right-hander had a 5-5 record, 3.10 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 9.6 K/9 spanning 69 2/3 innings.

"He certainly earned it," Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod said Friday at Wrigley Field. "Just looking what we had planned for him for the year, we thought it'd be a good challenge for him to go there and he certainly was ready for it.

"[Cougars pitching coach Ron Villone] did a great job with him down there."

[RELATED -- The Foundation: Cubs' hopes hinge on developing pitching]

In hopes of keeping his innings down, McLeod said the Cubs are going to slot Johnson at the back end of the Daytona rotation, while also utilizing the minor-league All-Star break. Johnson doesn't figure to notch his first High-A start until the middle of next week.

With a promotion comes added pressure, but Johnson isn't worried.

"I actually like the pressure," he said last week after a Cougars loss. "I'm used to it. I played hockey and loved being goalie because of the pressure. 

"When you're pitching, the ball is in your hands. The pressure is something everybody can benefit from and work harder."

Another high draft pick, Josh Vitters, is still sidelined with a variety of maladies, including a back injury. The No. 3 overall pick in 2007 has not played since May 24 and has appeared in just 19 games for Triple-A Iowa this season.

"It's been a tough year for him," McLeod said. He's a kid that I think because of where he was picked in the draft, you tend to think of him as 25 years old or something. But he's still fairly young.

"Hopefully he can salvage the second half and we can just get him out on the field."

Vitters, 23, got a cup of coffee with the big-league Cubs last season, hitting .121 with a .395 OPS in 36 games while striking out 1/3 of the time (33 times in 99 at-bats). He also committed four errors while working on his defense at third base.

Third base has actually been an area of strength for the Cubs this season, as Luis Valbuena and Cody Ransom have combined for 14 homers and 34 RBIs in a platoon at the hot corner. Valbuena leads the Cubs in on-base percentage (.363) and is tied with Anthony Rizzo for the team lead in walks (30).

As the expectations surrounding Vitters have evaporated, the Cubs hope they have their third baseman of the future in San Diego slugger Kris Bryant, the No. 2 pick in this month's draft.

[RELATED: Cubs believe Bryant will be ready for impact]

Bryant is still unsigned, but the Cubs have agreed to terms with the rest of their Top 10 picks, including Mizzou lefty Rob Zastryzny, the team's second-round pick.

[MORE: With Hannemann, Cubs see draft class coming into focus]

McLeod said some of the recent signees are in Arizona to get their physicals out of the way. From there, the college players will join the Boise Hawks, the Cubs' short-season affiliate. The younger players will stay in Arizona to get their first taste of professional baseball.