The widespread opinion on the Cubs farm system is that it lacks top end talent but has a deep well of players that can be contributors on a big league team. It’s good to have depth, with guys like Darwin Barney able to play multiple positions and James Russell becoming a good LOOGY, but the Cubs need a couple more studs to build around Starlin Castro. By spending nearly $12 million on the 2011 draft, the Cubs demonstrated a financial commitment to add talent. Here is an early look at the 2012 Cubs top prospects from Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, and Baseball America:

Baseball Prospectus Fangraphs Baseball America
1. Brett Jackson, OF Javier Baez, SS Brett Jackson, OF
2. Javier Baez, SS Brett Jackson, OF Javier Baez, SS
3. Wellington Castillo, C Matt Szczur, OF Matt Szczur, OF
4. Dillon Maples, RHP Dillon Maples, RHP Trey McNutt, RHP
5. Matt Szczur, OF Trey McNutt, RHP Dillon Maples, RHP
6. Josh Vitters, 3B/1B Dan Vogelbach, 1B Wellington Castillo, C
7. Jeimer Candelario, 3B Ben Wells, RHP Rafael Dolis, RHP
8. Trey McNutt, RHP Jae-Hoon Ha, OF Junior Lake, SS
9. Marco Hernandez, SS Austin Kirk, LHP Josh Vitters, 3B/1B
10. Junior Lake, SS Dae-Eun Rhee, RHP Dan Vogelbach, 1B
11. Rafael Dolis, RHP Chris Carpenter, RHP
12. Dan Vogelbach, 1B Josh Vitters, 3B/1B
13. Jae-Hoon Ha, OF Tony Zych, RHP
14. Chris Carpenter, RHP Wellington Castillo, C
15. Tony Zych, RHP Rafael Dolis, RHP
16. Ryan Flaherty, UT*
17. DJ Lemahieu, INF*
18. Zeke DeVoss, OF
19. Reggie Golden, OF
20. Marwin Gonzalez, INF*
*No longer in organization

 

I’d group Brett Jackson and Javier Baez as a step above all the rest. Jackson is just about Major League ready and he epitomizes the Cubs farm system; solid, but not a star. His year in AA and AAA produced a 274/379/490 line with 20 HR, 21 stolen bases, 73 walks, and 138 strikeouts. His issue is making contact; too many swings and misses which may keep his batting average in the Adam Dunn (Pre-White Sox) 240-250 range. But his other skills are strong across the board and he plays an important position in centerfield, so he’ll still be a valuable player with that low average.

Javier Baez was this year’s first round pick, ninth overall. He is currently a SS but most scouts believe he will have to move to 3B as he fills out with age. He arguably had the best bat speed in the entire 2011 draft pool and projects as a middle of the order hitter in his prime. I’m curious to see how his first year goes, as he has a reputation of being somewhat of an aloof teammate.

The most polarizing player of the lists, the Tim Tebow of Cubs prospects in my mind, would have to be outfielder Matt Szczur. Many have heard that Szczur donated bone marrow to a 19-month old girl with leukemia back in 2009. He’s a good guy (as is Tebow), Szczur’s abilities as a player are questioned (like Tebow’s) and you’ll find fans and analysts split on what to think of Szczur as a long term player (like Tebow). I’m a bit on the pessimistic side in thinking he won’t be good enough to be an everyday, long term player (like Tebow).

The Cubs top two pitching prospects are 19 year old Dillon Maples and 22 year old Trey McNutt. McNutt was a 32nd round pick in 2009 and jumped onto the scene in 2010. He had a down 2011 but remains one of the Cubs top prospects thanks to a mid-90’s fastball and plus slider combo. Worst case for him is he becomes a hard throwing relief pitcher with control issues.

Maples was taken in 2011 and was the overslot sign of the draft. Considered by most to be going to college, the Cubs took a shot in the 14th round and were able to sign him to first round money. He has the most upside of any pitcher in the system but there’s a chance he won’t be ready until Starlin Castro is eligible for free agency.

These five were the only players to make all three Top 10 lists. Catcher Wellington Castillo placed as high as three, with Baseball Prospectus saying his Perfect World Projection is “He could be a 20-homer catcher who slows down the running game”. Josh Vitters has been on these lists since he was drafted in 2007 as a sweet swinging 3B. He still has that sweet swing, but hacking away at everything isn’t working for him. He’s also not very good defensively and will really need to hit to make it as an everyday player. I have a feeling he’ll put up numbers like A.J. Pierzynski. Not so hot.

Finally, a couple of guys I’m excited to follow, but far away from Chicago. 1B Dan Vogelbach is a behemoth at 19 years old, topping the charts at upwards of 250 pounds, weight he uses to destroy baseballs. I’m anxious to see if he has a good approach to go with that 500 foot power.

Jeimer Candelario only showed up on Baseball Prospectus’ list but I like what I see in his Rookie League season, walking more than he struck out. The scouts rave about his approach, he’s a switch hitter with power everywhere and he’ll only be 18 years old for all of next season, so we’ll have to wait awhile.

Get used to Brett Jackson’s name as he might be the only player I’ve mentioned that ends up in Chicago this season. He and Castro provide a nice starting point for the rebuild but the new front office has a long ways to go to improve the talent in the system.

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