Prospect Watch: Closest to the Majors Edition
Two weeks ago, we explored the top of the Cubs’ system, who conveniently have continued to perform the similarly over the past two weeks, giving that piece at least a big of longevity. But the Cubs’ system wasn’t viewed as special heading into the season just because it had four of the top 50 position player prospects in baseball. It is also a deep system.
While Javier Baez’s and the Chicago Cubs’ poor starts make it much less likely we’ll see any of the Cubs’ top five prospects in Wrigley this season, several other legitimate prospects could make their Major League debuts with the Cubs this season. As a note, all statistics are through Sunday, June 8.
Arismendy Alcantara (2B/SS) – Triple A Iowa Cubs – Age 22
.269/.307/.519, .351 wOBA, 107 wRC+, 8 HRs, 5.6% BB rate, 25.2% K rate, .331 BABIP, 10 SBs, 2 CSs
Outside of the Core Four position players and C.J. Edwards, Arismendy Alcantara is generally viewed as the Cubs’ best prospect, as well as a top 100 prospect in his own right, and Baseball Prospectus’s Jason Parks described Alcantara’s ceiling as Jose Reyes-lite. He showed an ability to get on base in Double A Tennessee last season, has above average power for a middle infielder, can steal bases, and should be at least a plus defensive second baseman, with gold glove ceiling as far as talent is concerned. Alcantara played shortstop through the Cubs’ system until Baez joined the Smokies in the middle of 2013.
Alcantara has shown good power in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League, but has not forced the issue of his promotion due to a .306 OBP. He has been a level a year type of player throughout the minors, and I would not be surprised to see the Cubs prefer Alcantara play almost all of, if not the entire, Triple A season in Iowa. However, since he is already on the 40 man roster, I also would not at all be surprised to see Alcantara make his debut when rosters expand in September, with his Major League debut being no later than late April 2015.
Kyle Hendricks (RHP) – Iowa Cubs – Age 24
11 GS, 67 IP, 3.90 ERA, 3.04 FIP, 8.60 K/9, 2.55 BB/9, .347 BABIP against
At the start of training camp, Hendricks was the Cubs plus control/command, average at best stuff pitcher of the year. Nearly every team in baseball has one of these guys every season. Unfortunately, few become more than back end of the rotation starters.
Hendricks has shown some good signs this season, though, particularly an increased strikeout rate. He is essentially a finished product, and with his fairly limited ceiling service time concerns are unlikely to come into play. Hendricks will likely be one of the first three Iowa pitchers called up, along with Tsuyoshi Wada and Chris Rusin, upon either injury or trade of a pitcher currently in the Cubs’ starting rotation. As such, he could make his MLB debut tomorrow, or he could end up waiting until early 2015.
Christian Villanueva (3B) – Iowa Cubs – Age 22
.222/.279/.384, .289 wOBA, 67 wRC+, 5 HRs, 7% BB rate, 26% K rate, .283 BABIP, 2 SBs, 1 CS
While Kris Bryant and Mike Olt got the lion’s share of the media attention (let’s be honest, they got ALL the media attention) at third base during spring training, Villanueva is a solid prospect in his own right, rated higher than Olt coming into this season by all publications and more likely to stay at the hot corner than Bryant.
Villanueva’s bat has been disappointing for the Iowa Cubs this season, but his defense at third, which rates as plus-plus and been called the best in all of the minor leagues, means that if he can be a league average bat he’ll provide great value while he is cheap and under team control.
Villanueva, however, could end up the odd man out of the Cubs’ game of third base prospect musical chairs. If the Cubs decide Mike Olt is not the answer (and it sure doesn’t look like he is) AND the Cubs trade Luis Valbuena this season, Villanueva could get the call up in July, particularly if he starts hitting more consistently. But I don’t think the Cubs trade Valbuena, arguably their second best offensive player who is only in his first year of arbitration.
By next year, Kris Bryant could bang down the door to Wrigley and claim third base for at least the next 6 plus seasons… or the Cubs could move Bryant to a corner outfield spot. I would not be shocked to see Villanueva get a cup of coffee in the show with Alcantara in September, but, unlike Alcantara, I am not convinced Villanueva will be on the Major League active roster early in 2015. He could end up as trade bait as much as anything, where he would be a solid second or third piece in a trade for a bigger name on the trading block.
Arodys Vizcaino (RHP) – High A Daytona Cubs, Double A Tennessee Smokies – Age 23
At Daytona: 9 G, 9 IP, 1.00 ERA, 2.33 FIP, 10 K/9, 4 BB/9, .286 BABIP against
At Tennessee: 11 G, 11 IP, 2.38 ERA, 1.93 FIP, 10.32 K/9, 2.38 BB/9, .231 BABIP against
Vizcaino is the only prospect not currently on the Iowa Cubs in this list, although he has been pitching in the High A Florida State and Double A Southern Leagues to start the season due to their friendlier weather than Iowa in April and May, not because he could not handle Triple A hittersg. Aside from one bad outing with the Smokies a couple of weeks ago where he allowed 3 earned runs in one inning, Vizcaino has been lights out this season, not allowing a run in his other 10 appearances in the Southern League. You know how good Hector Rondon and Neil Ramirez have been for the Cubs this season? Vizcaino’s ceiling as a late innings reliever is higher.
The questions regarding Vizcaino’s arrival in Wrigley are: (1) when are the Cubs comfortable that he’s ready for the rigors of MLB bullpen usage? (2) Are the Cubs planning on trying to convert Vizcaino back to a starter? And (3) how are the Cubs viewing his service time issues? This is a bit more complicated for Vizcaino than most, since time on the disabled list (where Vizcaino spent 2012 and 2013) counts as service time towards arbitration, not minor league option years. As such, Vizcaino already has more than 2 years of MLB service time.
So we could see Vizcaino very soon. But, if the Cubs decide to convert Vizcaino back to a starter, which is viewed as unlikely but possible, he might not hit Wrigley until 2016. My guess is we see Vizcaino very late this season, once the Cubs will be sure he will not be a Super 2 player entering arbitration in 2015.
My guess on the order of call ups for these four: Hendricks, Vizcaino, Alcantara, Villanueva, with Villanueva having the highest odds of never suiting up as a Chicago Cub.