It’s that time again, time to rank prospects after an influx of talent from the rule 4 draft, international draft, and trade deadline. These rankings are compared to my pre-season rankings.  The Cubs headed into the season with a top 10 farm system and I would be shocked if they’re not top 3 next year after adding some premium talent this summer and seeing some development from the top guys in the system.

Note: To make things easier, If a player is on the major league roster right now he will be excluded from this list. Also, per normal rules if a player has lost rookie status in a previous year (that mean’s he has (a) exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues; or (b) accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the period of 25-player limit) they are not being considered for this list either.

Off the list: Junior Lake (Previously 16th, on MLB club would have been #11), Dillon Maples (Previously #19), Duane Underwood (Previously #12), & Ronald Torreyes (Previously #14, traded).

20. Jae-Hoon Ha (Previously #20) – Has struggled since his promotion to AAA. Don’t think he’s going to be much more than a 5th outfielder type.

19. Gioskar Amaya (Previously #17) – Everything has taken a little dip after being promoted to A ball but he has the skills to be a consistent bat at 2B.

18. Brett Jackson (Previously #8) – Swing change didn’t change much and he’s been injured most of the year. Looks like his contact issues will always plague him, and if that’s the case, he’s a bench player.

17. Josh Vitters (Previously #13) – Has performed well at AAA when healthy, but that’s been a rarity this year. Hopefully he gets healthy soon and is called up, there’s not much left for him to prove at AAA.

16. Jeimer Candelario (Previously #7) – Did not take the step forward I expected and his numbers while still good are nothing special. I have some reservations about his defense and ability to make consistent contact against experienced pitching.

15. Christian Villanueva, 3B, Double-A Tennessee Smokies
Previously #10
Grade: B-

Why He’s Here:  One of the pieces we received at last year’s deadline, Villanueva is another one of our prospects that has seen his stock drop this year. A third baseman with power and great defense are still rare these days so he still has potential.

What’s Holding Him Back:
 Contact issues are the major problem but the power is still there and with good defense he’s still a valuable commodity. There’s also no room in Chicago for him as there’s a long list of left-side infielders ahead of him , so I’d expect his value to be used in a trade.

#14. Shawon Dunston Jr., CF, Low-A Boise Hawks
Previously: Not ranked
Grade: B-

Why He’s Here: A legit 4 tool outfielder with good plate discipline, a rarity in the Cubs system. He won’t hit for much power but all of his other tools should be above average, or plus.  He cut down his K% which has seen a huge jump in walks and is currently hitting .328/.411/.422 at Boise. He’s a ways off, only being in Low-A right now,  so he ranks a bit lower but this is one of those highly interesting names to keep an eye, and it’s not because of his pedigree.

What’s Holding Him Back: Time. Dunston Jr. just needs to continue to develop. He’ll start next year at Kane County but I am worried about two things, first he’s a little old for Low-A (turned 20 in February) and second his BB% might not be sustainable as he moves through the system – low power guys have a hard time walking at the major league level.  We won’t get a good feel for him until he hits High-A but he’s a guy that should be on everyone’s radar.

#13. Arodys Vizcaino , SP, 60-Day DL
Previously #4
Grade: B

Why He’s Here: Still the most electric and most advanced major league arm in our farm system.

What’s Holding Him Back: Injuries. After Tommy John Surgery last year, Vizcaino had arthroscopic debridement in his throwing elbow.  He might not pitch at all this year, which has dropped his stock significantly. He’s going to be a good major league pitcher, but with the injuries mounting, I’m less optimistic about him starting than I was last year when we acquired him.

#12. Dan Vogelbach  1B, A-ball Kane County Cougars
Previously #15
Grade: B

Why He’s Here: Can hit, and hit for power with good plate discipline. His numbers aren’t as eye-popping as last season’s limited appearances in rookie ball and low-A, but they’re still good across the board.

What’s Holding Him Back: Lack of athleticism. A lot of Cubs fans want to bring up Prince Fielder or Frank Thomas types when they talk about Vogelbach, but those guys were/are actually athletic for their size. Vogelbach on the other hand shows no agility whatsoever. He’s worked hard to shed weight every year but that hasn’t helped; in fact, it probably sapped some of his plus-plus power. He’s won’t be passable even at first base; his range, stretch, ability to field ground balls and cover the bag are all prohibited by his lack of athleticism. Unless the DH comes to the NL, he’ll be valuable trade bait in the future.

#11. Paul Blackburn, SP, Low-A Boise Hawks
Previously #11
Grade: B

Why He’s Here: Cubs drafted Blackburn last year in the first round at 56th overall. He’s a very athletic pitcher with good command of his 3 pitch repertoire. He throws a low 90s fastball, that usually sits at 92 but can touch 94 with good movement, a curve and a changeup which both project as above average. He’s only 19 and in low A but is more advanced than most pitchers his age.

What’s Holding Him Back: Blackburn just needs to gain experience.  Should be a solid mid-rotation starter once he reaches the bigs, and due to his skill set, I don’t think it will take all that long.

#10. Matt Szczur, CF, Double-A Tennessee
Previously #6
Grade: B

Why He’s Here: Continues to improve plate discipline while hitting for a high average, playing a solid CF and swiping a good number of bases. 

What’s Holding Him Back: Lack of power. Szczur, as noted by Keith Law many times, has a very slappy swing. It’s built to put the ball in play and use his legs to reach base. Against major league defenses, he’s going to see a drop in batting average on balls in play and as I mentioned with Dunston Jr., not having some threat of power, will hurt his OBP at the majors. Pitchers don’t fear singles hitters, and he won’t be able to carry as high of BB% rates as he’s shown these last 2 years. I think he’s at worst a 4th OFer, and if he can maintain a high BABIP, while utilizing his speed on the bases he could be a starting caliber CF.

#9. Juan Carlos Paniagua , SP, A-ball Kane County Cougars
Previously #5
Grade: B+

Why He’s Here: Has the most raw talent out of any pitcher in our system. Has 2 plus pitches already with a mid-90s fastball that can hit 96 and a hard slider with lots of movement. His change-up is solid and he occasionally mixes in a curveball.

What’s Holding Him Back: Uncertainty. Paniagua, finally got his visa to come to the US a few weeks ago, but he’s shown the rust of a guy who hasn’t pitched in a meaningful game in over 2 years. Needs time to shake off the rust and he still has many questions about his age after being turned down for a visa, twice; but he should move very fast through the system, now that he’s finally here.

#8. Mike Olt, 3B, AAA Iowa Cubs
Previously Not ranked
Grade: B+

Why He’s Here:  Olt was rumored to be untouchable last year at the deadline given his combination of plus defense, plus-plus power, and ability to draw a high number of walks.

What’s Holding Him Back: Vision and contact problems. Contact problems have been a problem, but there’s plenty of optimism that with more experience he could fix these issues. This year his numbers have been derailed by vision problems, that may have been concussion related after getting hit in the head during winter ball.

#7. C.J. Edwards, SP, High-A Daytona Cubs
Previously Not ranked
Grade: B+

Why He’s Here:  The real centerpiece of the Garza deal; Edwards has two plus pitches, with a chance for a third. He has plus velocity with late life on a mid-90s fastball. He also utilizes a plus 12-6 curveball, and is working on a changeup that could potentially be above average.  He has dominated the lower minors these past 2 seasons with Texas and the Cubs moved him to High-A Daytona immediately after acquiring him. That puts him on pace to be in Chicago’s opening day rotation for 2015.

What’s Holding Him Back:  Other than developing the changeup, his size is worrisome. Edwards is 6-foot-2 and weighs only 155 pounds so there’s quite a bit of concern he won’t be able to handle the stress of a starting pitcher but he has the potential to be a number 3 starter, and has shown excellent results in the lower minors.

#6. Pierce Johnson, SP,  High-A Daytona Cubs
Previously #9
Grade: B+

Why He’s Here: Johnson has the upside of a #2 starter and is very likely to make it there. Recently promoted to Daytona, Johnson has continued to pitch well showing his advanced command and ability to set up hitters. He’s not going to overwhelm anyone with velocity as his fastball only sits in the lower 90s, but he commands it well keeping it down in the zone where hitters can’t do much with it.  His fastball isn’t an out-pitch as much as a setup pitch for his off-speed especially his hard curve.

What’s Holding Him Back:  His third pitch. Since being drafted Johnson has worked on developing a changeup which he never really used in college. It’s still a work in progress but he’s shown the ability to locate it, and get batters to swing and miss.

#5. Arismendy Alcantara, SS/2B, Double-A Tennessee Smokies
Previously #18
Grade: B+

Why He’s Here:  Alcantara’s stock has skyrocketed this year while at AA and he’s one of my personal favorites in the system. He has a simple repeatable swing that results in a lot of hard contact. He sprays hits to all fields and has much more power than you think despite his smaller size. Also a plus runner, Alcantara is a threat on the bases and could steal 30 bases a year at the majors.

What’s Holding Him Back: Defense and consistency. Alcantara has been playing 2B since Baez moved to Double-A . He’s still a work in progress at short but out of the two, I think Alcantara has the better chance to stay there than Baez. This should figure itself out when Alcantara moves up to AAA (which could be soon) and takes over SS again.  He needs to work on his consistency in each at bat- sometimes he works the count into his favor, takes pitches he shouldn’t swing at, and forces the pitcher to give in to his strengths and others he’s up there to swing as hard as he can at whatever he sees.

#4. Javier Baez, SS, Double-A Tennessee Smokies
Previously #1
Grade: A-

Why He’s Here: Since I wrote an in-depth scouting report recently about Baez, I won’t go too far into specifics. He’s very athletic, has amazing bat speed, huge power potential and a very strong accurate arm.  

What’s Holding Him Back: Defensively, he’s going to have a hard time being an average SS, but it could be passable given his offense. If he moves to 3B, which is what I expect, he’d be a plus defender there, and could turn himself into a gold glover. Offensively, if he can just cut down on his aggressiveness, I’d bet on him being a superstar, but that’s a big if.

#3. Kris Bryant, 3B, Low-A Boise Hawks
Previously: Not ranked
Grade: A

Why He’s Here: The Cubs drafted Bryant #2 overall in this past draft, and paid him the highest bonus of any player.  He has a great approach, knows how to work counts, and this type of plus-plus power from the right side of the plate is a rarity.

What’s Holding Him Back: Questions about his effort defensively. There’s concerns Bryant will have to move to RF but he has the athleticism to stay at 3B, it’s a matter of putting in the work to do so. He should be on the fast track and could see a call up as soon as next year.

#2. Albert Almora, CF A-ball Kane County Cougars
Previously #2
Grade: A

Why He’s Here: If there was one prospect the Cubs would deem untouchable, rumor is, it’s Almora. Almora is quickly showing why the Cubs were so high on him in last year’s draft. He has a quick swing that produces excellent contact and surprising power given his thin frame. He’d be an above average defender in the majors right now, with plus speed and he’s making strides with his plate discipline.

What’s Holding Him Back:  The front office. It seems the Cubs are taking it slow with Almora, who I thought would have been moved up to High-A by now. He’s got all the tools to move quickly through the system, but the organization doesn’t seem to be in a rush with him.

#1. Jorge Soler, RF, High-A Daytona Cubs
Previously #3
Grade: A

Why He’s Here:  I’m a big fan of Soler. He’s got superstar potential and is the most likely to reach it out of all the Cubs prospects.  He’s the prototypical 5-tool outfielder, with quick hands, a smooth swing, plus running speed, should hit for a high average with above average power, and a strong throwing arm. He has an excellent approach at the plate.

What’s Holding Him Back: Injury. He’d be in AA right now if it wasn’t for his injury as he was right there with Baez in terms of production in Daytona. He should be back to get some at-bats in AA before the minor league season ends, and I’d still expect him to be up for good, by the end of next year.  But if the Cubs want to make up for lost time, they could call him up in September since he’s already on the 40-man due to his contract. With his skills at the plate and experience with the Cuban National team, I’m not worried about putting him against MLB pitchers as long as he gets back for a few weeks to face live pitching in the minors beforehand.

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