Cubs demote top prospects Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson to Triple-A

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Neither player was expected to crack the Opening Day roster and today the Cubs made it official, optioning top prospects Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson to Triple-A.

Rizzo was acquired from the Padres for Andrew Cashner in January and is the Cubs’ long-term answer at first base, but the team made it pretty clear that they wanted him to get a little more seasoning in the minors while giving Bryan LaHair a chance to play regularly in Chicago.

Jackson simply didn’t have an obvious role in the Cubs’ outfield with Marlon Byrd, David DeJesus, and Alfonso Soriano set as the starters and Reed Johnson as the primary backup. He’s also just 23 years old and has struggled to make consistent contact in the minors, although 64 strikeouts in 48 games at Triple-A last season didn’t stop Jackson from hitting .297 with a .939 OPS.

Jackson and Rizzo are both top-100 prospects and both figure to be in Chicago at some point this year.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.