by Michael Jimenez
The arrival of Anthony Rizzo marked the first step in the evolution of the roster. While the Cubs farm is lacking at the higher levels, we do have three position prospects at AAA that could make the major league team sometime this year.
Welington Castillo, C: Castillo is hitting .343/.489/.582 so far this year in the minors after hitting .287/.359/.516 last year at AAA. He has very little left to prove at AAA. We have already seen Castillo this season when a barrage of injuries decimated our catchers last month but Castillo also ended up on the DL with a sprained MCL in his right knee. He is no stranger to the disabled list, as he has found his way on it six times in the past 5 seasons in the minors. My largest reservation for Castillo is inability to stay healthy. Ironically, he shares that trait with the guy blocking him, Geovany Soto. It’s one of the reasons I do not think Soto has much trade value considering his rising salary and disappearing bat act. I am expecting the Cubs to move Soto for the best offer available by the deadline and Castillo to assume the everyday catching duties.
Josh Vitters , 3B: Vitters, if you remember, was the 3rd overall pick in the 2007 amateur draft directly out of Cypress High School in California. He was ranked in Baseball America’s top 100 in 2008 (43), 2009 (51), & 2010 (70) based on one of the sweetest swings in all of baseball, plus bat speed, and a ton of raw power. This season Vitters was dropped from the top 100 list and was only considered the organization’s 9th best prospect according to BA. He has come under scrutiny for poor defense that may force him to move to first-base and a lack of plate discipline, although his swing is still there, the lack of development defensively and at the plate caused his stock to drop considerably.
This year he has reestablished some of that value with solid numbers and an increase in power. He is currently hitting .291/.341/.493 with a significant increase in his isolated power. His ISO is currently at .202 a nearly 40 point jump over his ISO last year at AA. Part of that increase is his move from the Southern League to the ultra-offensive Pacific Coast League, but another reason for his developing power is due to an improved approach at the plate. His BB% is only 5.7% but that is the highest he’s ever held a walk rate for this many plate appearances at any level in the minors. He’s walked 16 times so far this season in comparison to only 22 walks all of last year. He’s still suspect defensively but many think he should at least be serviceable at 3B.
Valbuena got the call when Ian Stewart went down with a wrist injury but since then Vitters is on fire hitting .488/.757/1.245 with 3 double and 3 homers. He may soon force his way on the major league team and I think Vitters at least sees a cup of coffee in September.
Brett Jackson, CF: Many believed Jackson would make it onto the team out of spring training but that did not happen. Even after the Marlon Byrd trade, Jackson remained at AAA. He has the tools to be an above average center fielder at the major league level but his contact rate is hampering his development. At each minor league level, Jackson’s K% has increased. At A ball he struck out 20.2% of the time, at AA it increased to 24.2%, and now at AAA it’s up to 31.9%. He’s also seen his BB% drop at each level from 13.8% at A ball, to 13.2% at AA, and now at AAA it’s down to 11.4%. This year his K% is up to an alarming 33.3% and his BB% is down to 9.8%.
This trend is a cause for concern as major league pitching will exploit his inability to make contact and that’s why Jackson is still sitting in AAA despite an opening in CF. A second reason for Jackson being over looked is the Cubs knew they were going to call up Rizzo once his arbitration clock pushed back on June 23rd, forcing LaHair to the outfield which would have then created a logjam between Soriano, DeJesus, LaHair, Jackson, Johnson, and Campana.
Despite his shortcomings this year, Jackson is still hitting .259/.338/.493 after a .297/.388/.551 campaign last year. I expect the Cubs will find trade partners for Johnson and LaHair or DeJesus clearing the way for Jackson to play CF every day.