Prospects rankings are out in abundance for 2013. Some of you care, some of you do not. I often see the “I’ve lived through the Corey Patterson’s and Gary Scott’s and Ty Griffin’s of years passed so wake me up when they get to the majors.” To that, I say, you’re missing part of the meaning of these lists. The rankings are not just about what these players will do in the future. They are assets and asset management is important in building a competitive team. Having high ranking prospects gives the team trade currency.

Look what the Toronto Blue Jays did this offseason; they acquired the reigning NL Cy Young winner, a 4-time All Star shortstop who won batting average title just two seasons ago, a 200 inning #3 starting pitcher, and a second #3 that some may argue can be an Ace when healthy. The best major leaguer they gave up in the deal was a 29 year old shortstop coming off a season with a .300 OBP. That’s what prospects can do for a team and is why we should be excited about the Cubs farm system.

I thought I’d do something a little different than other rankings and take a look at the consensus of seven different outlets that I respect; Baseball America, ESPN.com (Keith Law), MLB.com (Jonathon Mayo), MinorLeagueBall.com (John Sickels), Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and PerfectGame.org. These guys are the experts, so let’s see what they think. I am no scout and I do not pretend to be one. I form my opinion based on their information combined with just a few stats including walk rates, strikeout rates, and age relative to their league. I find these three to be the most important when I make distinctions between the #8 prospect vs. the #9 prospect.

I also like “tiered” rankings, because the difference between #1 and #2 is much smaller than the difference between #3 and #4. Tiers give you a better idea of what level these players are on, so I’ll also group that way.

Off we go!


 

Only four players made all seven Top 10’s. Javier Baez was the #1 guy on five of the seven lists, with Albert Almora and Jorge Soler each being top dog one time.
Almora was 2nd on five lists, Soler 3rd on six lists. These three were also on each Top 100 list that I’ve seen, usually in the Top 40, and they make up the Cubs top tier of minor league talent.

1)    Javier Baez – SS – Age 20 – Bats/Throws: R/R
2012 (leagues): Rk/A/HighA: 294/346/543, 16HR, 24SB in 321 plate appearances
BB/K: 14/69

2012: Baez’s bat delivered as advertised. His bat speed is compared to Gary Sheffield and he showed it off in 2012. The question on Baez entering last year was his defense. Many didn’t think he’d be able to handle shortstop long term, but the reports for the season were promising, and he may be able to stick at SS down the line. He has only average speed; so don’t be fooled by the 24 stolen bases (Adam Dunn stole 24 bases in A-ball).

2013: The question now is his aggressiveness at the plate. He only walked in 4.4% of his PA while striking out in about 21%. That’ll work in the low minors (he’ll start the year in Daytona) and may even work as he reaches AA, but the best pitchers will take advantage of that aggressiveness and the strikeouts will climb while his batting average falls.
But he still has the highest ceiling in the system as a middle of the order hitter that can play shortstop and the best case scenario has Baez debuting with the Cubs in 2014.

2)    Albert Almora – CF – Age 19 – Bats/Throws: R/R
Rk/LowA: 321/331/464, 2HR, 5SB in 145 plate appearances
BB/K: 2/13

2012: Almora’s reputation coming out of the draft was that his baseball smarts helped his above average tools play up. Sounds similar to Brett Jackson; no plus tools, but above average across the board. Unlike Brett Jackson, he was very aggressive at the plate, with just two walks in 145 PA, but he also made a lot of contact, with just 13 strikeouts. His defense is exceptional in CF, despite his only average speed, because of the reads and jumps he gets on the ball.

2013: He’ll be the top prospect on a prospect-loaded Kane County Cougars team. I’m anxious to see what he can do in a full season; the low walk total was a surprise to me and I hope we can chalk that up to a small sample size and it’s not a sign of things to come. If I had to put money on one Cub prospect in the low minors to be a major leaguer, Almora would be that guy. He is still likely at least three years away from Wrigley.

3)    Jorge Soler – RF – Age 21 – Bats/Throws: R/R
Rk/A: 299/369/463, 5HR, 12SB in 149 plate appearances
BB/K: 12/19

2012: It was a rather impressive debut for the $30 million dollar man. Soler shows all the tools to be a prototypical right fielder. What surprised me the most was his ability to make contact; fanning in only 13% of his PA despite not playing competitive baseball for close to two years. I was a bit surprised by his promotion to Peoria from the Rookie Arizona League, but he hit 338/398/513 with 6BB and 6K in 88 PA.

2013: Soler will reportedly begin the year in Daytona with Javier Baez and they should form a most formidable offensive duo. He could be on the fast track to Chicago. I would seriously consider having Soler as my #1 guy in the system, followed by Baez and Almora.
The only other player to show up on all seven Top 10’s is the sole proprietor of Tier 2 of Cubs prospects:

4)    Arodys Vizcaino – RHP – Age 22
DNP in 2012
2011: HighA/AA/AAA: 97 IP, 3.06 ERA, 1.13 WHIP
9.3 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9

2012: This is exhibit A of why it’s OK to take a chance on a not-so-wanted veteran free agent. The Cubs were able to flip Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson to the Braves to acquire the 2012 #12 overall prospect in baseball (Keith Law), adding yet another high ceiling prospect to the system. He instantly became the Cubs top pitching prospect despite undergoing Tommy John surgery prior to the season.

2013: Vizcaino touches the high 90’s with his fastball and has a plus curve. It’s the change-up and durability that will dictate Vizcaino’s future role in the big leagues. We’ll likely see Vizcaino later in the year in a relief role as he rebounds, but I fully expect to see him with a chance to win a rotation spot in 2014.
This is where things get a little difficult. Some lists go 30 players deep, some only 10…it’s a hodgepodge of players with either major question marks or limited playing experience. Tier 3 includes number’s 5-11:

5)    Brett Jackson – CF – Age 24 – Bats/Throws: L/R
AAA: 256/338/479, 49 XBH, 27SB in 467 plate appearances
BB/K: 47/158

2012: Let’s stick with the good in 2012. Jackson showed his power/speed combination at Iowa, with 15 HR, 12 3B, 27 SB and a .817 OPS in just 106 games. Which would be excellent for a major league centerfielder. He received some playing time in Wrigley, but we’ll ignore that for now.

2013: The concern with Jackson isn’t the K rate in the majors last year, it’s the 34.5% strikeout rate in AAA. Jackson now has 154 games and 682 PA in AAA over the last two seasons, with 222 strikeouts. 222!!! He’s made some changes to his swing this offseason, so we’re in wait-and-see mode. He won’t survive as a big leaguer unless the K’s come down.

6)    Dan Vogelbach – 1B – Age 20 – Bats/Throws: L/R
Rk/LowA: 322/410/641, 17HR, 51 XBH in 283 plate appearances
BB/K: 35/48

2012: Vogelbach demonstrated why the Cubs gave him over $1 million in bonus money as a 2nd round pick in 2011. He showed his power, he showed good contact skills, and he showed a patient approach. You won’t find anyone raving about his defense or his speed, but the bat can do some damage.

2013: Because many think Vogelbach is a DH, at best, he’s going to have to continue to hit to get much love by the prospect gurus. He’ll join Almora in Kane County. I think he’ll handle the league just fine, but they say the biggest jump in the minors is the leap to AA, so I’m just going to enjoy the show until that test arrives.

7)    Pierce Johnson – RHP – Age 22
2012: Rk/LowA: 11 IP, 3.27 ERA, 1.545 WHIP
11.5 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.0 HR/9

2012: Johnson was drafted 42nd overall in last June’s draft. He has a bit of an injury history, which supposedly led to him dropping out of the first round and into the supplemental round. Works with a 90-93 MPH fastball and shows a potential plus curve.

2013: He’s a bit behind other college pitcher due to injuries, and because of that, his future role is a big question mark. Has the potential to be a #3 pitcher that racks up strikeouts. I’m guessing he’ll be in Kane County.

8)    Christian Villanueva – 3B – Age 22 – Bats/Throws: R/R
2012: HighA: 279/353/427, 14HR, 14SB in 520 plate appearances
BB/K: 34/107

2012: Not a bad return for half a season of Ryan Dempster. He was buried in Texas’ deep farm system, so he may have been a bit underrated. His glove is his best tool but he may be an average hitter in the bigs one day. He didn’t perform all that well after the trade, but was solid cumulatively.

2013: He’ll likely begin in AA and will be a telling season on what the future may hold. If he does make it to the majors, his bat will be underwhelming, but his glove will be good, so he’ll be a guy whose value will likely be underappreciated, as most defense-first players are.

9)    Dillon Maples – RHP – Age 21

2012: Rk: 10.1 IP, 4.35 ERA, 1.55 WHIP

10.5 K/9, 8.7 BB/9, 0.0 HR/9

2012: Maples was drafted in 2011 and received a $2.5 million bonus, but didn’t pitch, and was only able to throw 10 innings in 2012.

2013: Also in the running for highest ceiling for pitchers, Maples has the potential for a plus fastball/curveball combo. He can get the fastball up to 96 and the curve is a hard one, at 82-84. I’ve seen some question his delivery, which leads them to believe the bullpen is his long term home. With the lack of activity since being drafted, I’d have a hard time taking him over some players further down the list.

10)  Jeimer Candelario – 3B – Age 19 – Bats/Throws: B/R

2012: LowA: 281/345/396, 6HR, 2SB in 310 plate appearances

BB/K: 26/55

2012: I was hoping for a little more out of Candelario after his 2011 season when he had more walks than strikeouts, but these are still solid numbers for an 18 year old in a short season league. He’s not much defensively, with reports I’ve read using adjectives like “lackadaisical”. It’s already been said he may not be long for 3B.

2013: He’ll probably head to full season ball in Kane County. If he were to spend one year at each level, that would put him on target for the majors at age 23. His bat may accelerate that timeline.

11)  Duane Underwood – RHP – Age 19

2012: Rk: 8.2 IP, 5.19 ERA, 1.50 WHIP

7.3 K/9, 6.2 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9

2012: Underwood was drafted in the 2nd round and give a bonus over $1 million. Only threw a few innings in Rookie ball in what was officially his age 17 season. Both Underwood and the aforementioned Jeimer Candelario were hard to rank. They made all 7 lists, but outside the Top 10 on most, while Maples only made it on five lists but had four Top 10’s placements.

2013: He doesn’t turn 19 until July, so he’ll be listed at 18 since ages are based on age at June 1st. He’ll probably pitch in Boise at some point this year and is many years away, with obvious high risk. ANY pitcher this age and raw has that risk. He throws easy velocity into the mid 90’s with a potential plus curveball.
Tier 4 finishes up the Top 20:

12)  Matt Szczur – CF – Age 23 – Bats/Throws: Right/Right

2012: HighA/AA: 267/360/390, 4HR, 42SB in 510 plate appearances

BB/K: 61/79

2012: One of the more polarizing Cubs prospects, Szczur’s plate discipline improved immensely in High A Daytona, earning a promotion to AA where he struggled to a 210/285/357 line. He’s got good speed, but it’s not ‘plus-plus’ like some Cub fans seem to believe. He was successful in 75% of his SB attempts, which is solid, not great.

2013: Probably begins back in AA, Szczur needs to maintain the plate discipline to keep his OBP high, because he likely won’t have much power in the majors and his overall offensive package has been underwhelming so far. I think he’ll be a major leaguer someday, but not the All Star I’ve seen Cub fans dreaming of.

13)  Juan Carlos Paniagua – RHP – Age 23

2012: Rk: 3.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.27 WHIP

9.8 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.0 HR/9

2012: Odd history for Paniagua…if that’s his real name. Signed with the Diamondbacks in 2009 as Juan Carlos Collado and pitched in ’09 and ’10, but his contract was terminated due to fraudulent paperwork. He then signed with the Yankees for $1.1 million, under his current name, but that contract was also terminated by MLB…this time for “falsified documents”. He signed once more, this time with our beloved Cubs for $1.1 million, and this contract seems to have stuck.

2013: His age, lack of experience, and limited game action keeps him this low, but he could jump to the top of the Cubs charts. Latest reports have him throwing 93-95, but he could touch 98. His change-up is pitch #2, followed by a low 80’s slider. Could be a fast mover despite the lack of experience.

14)  Junior Lake – Util – Age 23 – Bats/Throws: R/R
2012: AA: 279/341/432, 10 HR, 21 SB in 448 plate appearances
BB/K: 35/105

2012: Back to back with Szczur, Lake is also one of the more polarizing prospects in the system. He started off with a bang and even had a BB/K ratio of 8/4 in the first seven games. I remember people thinking he made the adjustments and was on his way to elite status. But, so goes the small sample sizes and he reverted back to a 1/4 ratio the rest of the way. He also regressed on the basepaths and started to play a little outfield over the winter, in an attempt to find out where he’ll play one day.

2013: It’s going to be a slow start for Lake this year, as he has a broken rib and won’t see action until May, at the earliest. He’s always had a cannon for an arm, so I think he’s going to end up a utility guy that sees action at 3B, SS, and OF while providing both speed and pop off the bench. I’m just not sure he’ll be good enough offensively for an everyday job on a good team.

15)  Arismendy Alcantara – SS – Age 21 – Bats/Throws: B/R

2012: HighA: 302/339/447, 7 HR, 25 SB in 359 plate appearances
BB/K: 19/61

2012: A relative unknown before the season, Alcantara had an excellent season at Daytona considering he was one of the youngest players in the league. Like many Cub prospects, he’s a free swinger. He flashed some power and showed good speed and is a legitimate shortstop on defense.

2013: AA will be a test and I’m excited to see what he can do. He is higher in my personal rankings as I am partial to prospects who perform well while they are younger than the competition.

16)  Paul Blackburn – RHP – Age 19

2012: Rk: 20.2 IP, 3.48 ERA, 1.45 WHIP

5.7 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9

2012: Blackburn was drafted #56 overall in last June’s draft. He showed a fastball that touched 94, a curve, and a change that, like most prep pitchers, needs some work.

2013: He doesn’t have the stuff of the pitchers ahead of him but he’s already sitting 90-93 and he’s got plenty of room to fill out in his 6’2” frame. Probably sees time in Boise this year, but he’s going to be a 2017 guy if he keeps progressing.

17)  Marco Hernandez – SS – Age 20 – Bats/Throws: R/R
2012: LowA/A: 258/287/373, 7 HR, 10 SB in 454 plate appearances
BB/K: 76/19

2012: The Cubs were aggressive with the then 19 year old, trying to skip him over Boise and go straight to full season ball. It didn’t work, as the more mature pitching exploited his hackiness and he struggle to make contact. They demoted him to Boise and he performed a little better, hitting 286/310/416. He’s in no danger of being force to move off shortstop, with good range and a reportedly above average arm.

2013: I’m guessing Hernandez heads to Kane County this year and he’s going to need to learn to be more patient. But he could be a solid shortstop with double digit homers and stolen bases.

18)  Josh Vitters – 3B/1B – Age 23 – Bats/Throws: R/R

2012: AAA: 304/356/513, 17HR, 51XBH in 452 plate appearances

BB/K: 30/77

2012: In terms of OPS, this was Vitters best year as a pro (I am ignoring his short stint in the majors), but the Pacific Coast League is a hitters league, so that helped him out. He doesn’t run or play defense well, so his position is a big question mark.

2013: It all comes down to aggression for Vitters. He swings at everything. Despite having good strikeout rates in the minors, big league pitchers showed what happens to aggressive hitters like Josh. I could see a Shea Hillenbrand career from Vitters, but that’s not what the Cubs bought into when they drafted him third overall in 2007.

19)  Gioskar Amaya – 2B – Age 20 – Bats/Trows: R/R

2012: LowA: 300/383/502, 8 HR, 15 SB in 318 plate appearances

BB/K: 33/65

2012: I’m a bit surprised Amaya doesn’t rank higher. He showed a bit of power (although 12 triples may turn into doubles at higher levels, lowering that ISO), stole some bases, turned a good double play, and had a pretty solid walk rate (10.4%). He did strike out a good amount for someone in Boise (20.5%), but that’s nitpicking.

2013: Another destined for Kane County, I’m anxious to see how he performs in full season ball and I see no reason why he can’t be a Top 10 Cub prospect next year.

20)  Darien (Trey) Martin – OF – Age 20 – Bats/Throws: R/R

2012: Rk/LowA: 292/344/416, 18 XBH, 8 SB in 262 plate appearances

BB/K: 15/51

2012: A 13th round pick in 2011, Martin is the last guy to make at least 3 appearances on Top Prospect lists (at #’s 15, 20 and 29). He played left field, but that was only because of Albert Almora as Martin is a legit centerfielder that could develop into a true 5-tool player.

2013: Kane County? Fangraphs and MLB.com were the only publications to talk in detail about him, and both have similar comments. He should develop into a 6’3”, 200 pounder, that can play good defense in centerfield. For his bat, we’ll see. When he fills out he’s expected to be at least average in power and a plus runner. It sounds like the tools are there.

Others: Alberto Cabrera (RHP), Barret Loux (RHP), Robert Whitenack (RHP), Jae-Hoon Ha (CF), Logan Watkins (2B), Tony Zych (RHRP), Trey McNutt (RHRP), Matt Loosen (RHP), Lendy Castillo (RHP), Marcus Hatley (RHP), Reggie Golden (RF)


No love from the gurus, but I like
: Ben Wells (RHP), Roni Torreyes (2B)

In conclusion: I need to get tickets for Kane County.

Tier 1

1

Javier Baez

2

Albert Almora

3

Jorge Soler

Tier 2

4

Arodys Vizcaino

Tier 3

5

Brett Jackson

6

Dan Vogelbach

7

Pierce Johnson

8

Christian Villanueva

9

Dillon Maples

10

Jeimer Candelario

11

Duane Underwood

Tier 4

12

Matt Szczur

13

Juan Carlos Paniagua

14

Junior Lake

15

Arismendy Alcantara

16

Paul Blackburn

17

Marco Hernandez

18

Josh Vitters

19

Gioskar Amaya

20

Trey Martin

 

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