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Are the Cubs’ Pitching Prospects Underrated?

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

If you mentioned the phrase “Cubs prospects” to most who follow baseball prospects, the first players you’d hear in response would be the Cubs’ high tier offensive talents: Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara. Sure, you have C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson there, but you have to get past the Jeimer Candelarios, Dan Vogelbachs and Christian Villanuevas of the system before you see other starting pitching prospects in the rankings. But is the Cubs’ system really that devoid of pitching talent?

The Best Cubs’ Pitching Prospects

The Cubs lack one very big item among their pitching prospects: the clear top of the rotation arm. The guy who something doesn’t have to really break right for to be a number 1 or number 2 in a good rotation, but just needs to stay healthy. The Cubs’ most talented starting pitching prospect is C.J. Edwards, who has excelled in three Double A starts this season (2.45 ERA, striking out more than 1 per inning) after dominating both full season Single A levels in 2013.  But the caveat on Edwards is, and has always been, his size. He is a rail at 6’2″ and about 160 pounds, and there are legitimate questions regarding if someone like him can hold him to the rigors required of a MLB starting pitcher. With that said, to this point Edwards has a clean injury history.

Pierce Johnson is more a solid mid-rotation type with number 2 ceiling if everything breaks right. Johnson has yet to pitch this season due to a minor injury in spring training, but should make his first starts in Double A soon.

Arodys Vizcaino is in a similar boat as Edwards, but a couple years older and after having dealt with injuries, including Tommy John Surgery. Vizcaino’s stuff is electric, top of the rotation stuff, but his arm may only survive being a late innings reliever. The Cubs sent the right hander, who they received in a trade for Paul Maholm in July 2012, to Daytona to start the season in better weather, but he will be up in Triple A once the weather warms up in Iowa. Vizcaino will only be considered in a relievers role this year, and likely next as well. If his arm holds up, the Cubs may reevaluate whether to try to convert him back to a starter at that point.

Other Interesting Arms

I wrote about Kyle Hendricks during spring training, and he remains what we thought he was (that is a phrase I will never grow tired of hearing, by the way): a potentially solid back end of the rotation arm.

The Cubs’ Double A affiliate, the Tennessee Smokies, has three additional interesting pitching prospects. Corey Black and Ivan Pineyro, who the Cubs received in the Alfonso Soriano and Scott Hairston trades, have pretty good stuff, but their repertoire and health may hold up much better in the bullpen in the long run. Armanda Rivero, a Cuban right hander, is also an interesting bullpen option with late innings potential. For those of you waiting for a mention of Tony Zych, however, he has not continued to impress as he moved up the system, has somewhat stalled out at Double A, and is now viewed as nothing more than a potential middle reliever.

The Cubs drafted a host of arms from the second through tenth rounds in 2013, highlighted by second round pick Rob Zastryzny, a left handed pitcher out of the University of Missouri. His likely track and projection reminds me of Pierce Johnson.

The Cubs also drafted a few of high ceiling lottery tickets in 2011 and 2012, highlighted by Dillon Maples, Paul Blackburn, and Duane Underwood. Maples has struggled in his limited time on the mound, also dealing with injuries, while Blackburn and Underwood are in the midst of their first tastes of full season ball in Kane County.

The Top of the Rotation Prospect Is (Likely) Coming

The strength of this year’s coming draft? College starting pitching, and the Cubs are highly likely to add an elite college arm with the fourth pick in the draft. Next time, we’ll look at the most likely players the Cubs could take in the first round.

In short, while the strength of the Cubs’ system is definitely its bats, its pitching is not as devoid of talent as some believe.

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2014 Cubs’ “Award” Winner Predictions

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

The Cubs are unlikely to have any players compete for the big awards in baseball this season. It’s highly doubtful that there is a National League MVP or Cy Young Award contender among on the 2014 roster. But, on a team wide basis, these are the players who I believe deserve some good, and some not so good, designations.

Most Valuable Player

Starlin Castro – I struggled between the Cubs’ shortstop and first baseman Anthony Rizzo. I think Rizzo will outhit Castro, but if Castro puts up 2011 or 2012 numbers at shortstop while playing even average defense at the position, Rizzo is going to have to put up close to an .850 OPS to surpass Castro’s overall value. I’ll go conservative on this one, and bid on Castro doing something he has done before over Rizzo doing something he has not, despite my belief that Rizzo’s ceiling is higher than Castro’s long term.

Cy Young

Jeff Samardzija - I struggled again with this choice, here between Samardzija and Travis Wood largely because it is unclear if Samardzija will spend the full season with the Cubs or not. Wood had some luck statistics go his way in 2013 (.244 BABIP, 77.4% left on base rate), so I think a negative regression to the mean is likely. I still think Wood has good odds of being the Cubs’ second best pitcher.

But I’ve come to the opinion that Samardzija won’t be traded in 2013. If Samardzija looks like a top of the rotation starter consistently in the first half, the Cubs will extend him. If Samardzija continues to look like a mid-rotation starter who occasionally flashes elite performances, the Cubs will wait another half season to see if he can show top of the rotation consistency in the second half of the season.

Rookie of the Year

Mike Olt - Unlike my picks for Cubs’ MVP and Cy Young, Olt actually could win the NL Rookie of the Year Award if his eye issues truly lie behind him. Olt will likely never be a huge batting average type, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him put up a .260/.350/.450 line with 25 HRs while playing plus defense at third base. Just as a note, I’m not saying I expect Olt to do that, merely that I think it is a legitimate possibility.

I also would not be surprised if Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara put up a better batting line than Olt, but I think Olt will have a large enough lead in games played and plate appearances to make him the Cubs’ most valuable rookie.

First Player Traded

Nate Schierholtz - The Cubs want Ryan Kalish to get regular playing time. Schierholtz would be a significant upgrade for numerous contenders in a corner outfield role, headlined by the Detroit Tigers’ and Cincinnati Reds’ holes in left field, and the Pittsburgh Pirates’ hole in right. I expect one contender with a corner outfield hole to get off to a slow start, and overpay for Schierholtz in response.

Least Valuable Player

Junior Lake – It is not a mystery that I don’t think Lake’s strikeout/walk rate combination can succeed in the Majors, but I think his athletic gifts will enable him to go on enough brief hot streaks to get him 350 to 400 total plate appearances of replacement level baseball.

Player Who Will Look Most Improved Despite Changing Nothing

Edwin Jackson - Just as Travis Wood had some good luck on the BABIP and left on base fronts, Edwin Jackson posted well worse than average rates in both of those heavily luck dependent indicators. He’ll regress to the mean and look like a solid mid-rotation pitcher. Darwin Barney is the runner up in this award, but he’ll still be a wells below average hitter following a BABIP improvement.

Most Actually Improved Player

Welington Castillo - First, what does this mean? This means a player who doesn’t post a crazy high BABIP, but instead does something to actually change some aspect of his game to become a better player in a sustainable way. Castillo had a great year in 2013 as far as OBP and throwing out runners is concerned, but he did not hit for much power and his pitch framing left much to be desired. I think those two skill sets improve, moving Castillo solidly into one of the top ten catchers in baseball.

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Who Should Start in Left Field?

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

The Cubs outfield has strong odds of competing for the dubious distinction of being the worst offensive outfield in baseball. The three players guaranteed spots in the outfield, Ryan Sweeney, Nate Schierholtz and Justin Ruggiano, are platoon players at best. Presuming they are not traded or injured this season, Schierholtz and Sweeney will likely accumulate about 450 plate appearances each as the left handed parts of platoons in right and center fields, respectively. On a good team, the ideal role for each left handed outfielder would be as a bench piece.

There is one spot in the outfield that is at least not officially decided: left field. This late in spring training, though, only three real potential competitors for this role remain on the MLB spring training roster.

THE CONTENDERS:

The Incumbent:

Junior Lake:
2013 statistics: 254 PAs, .284/.332/.428, .335 wOBA, 109 wRC+, 6 HRs, 5.1% walk rate, 26.8 % strikeout rate, .377 BABIP, 1.2 fWAR
2014 ZiPS projection: 494 PAs, .252/.295/.380, .297 wOBA, 82 wRC+, 10 HRs, 4.9% walk rate, 28.1% strikeout rate, .338 BABIP, 0.2 fWAR

The Challengers:

Ryan Kalish:
DNP in 2013 due to injuries
2014 ZiPS projection: 227 PAs, .244/.305/.366, .298 wOBA, 83 wRC+, 5 HRs, 7.9% walk rate, 21.6% strikeout rate, .294 BABIP, 0.4 fWAR.

Emilio Bonifacio:
2013 statistics: 461 PAs, .243/.295/.331, .279 wOBA, 71 wRC+, 3 HRs, 6.5% walk rate, 22.3% strikeout rate, .312 BABIP, 0.6 fWAR
2014 ZiPS projection: 451 PAs, .258/.315/.339, .292 wOBA, 80 wRC+, 3 HRs, 7.5% walk rate, 19.3% strikeout rate, .319 BABIP, 0.7 fWAR

THE LIKELY OPENING DAY STARTER:

Junior Lake. I’m not a big fan of Lake, as I don’t think he can maintain that sort of BABIP with the extremely high strikeout rate and the extremely low walk rate. When you look at the sort of hitters who are able to maintain .350-plus BABIPs, they either walk a lot, strike out very little, or both, and combine that good eye with a ton of solid contact. I just don’t know why any pitcher would throw Lake anything straight or near the middle of the plate intentionally. And, as his ZiPS projection shows, even a relatively small drop to a BABIP in the .330s, which is still very high, turns Lake into a replacement level player.

But Lake’s strong post-Soriano trade call up, whether BABIP induced or not, and whether sustainable or not, was one of the Cubs’ few exciting events of the non-prospect variety in the second half of last season, and that is likely enough to get an extended look in the outfield to start the season.

I also think the Cubs like Ryan Kalish a lot, but with the outfield already featuring two left handed hitters needing platoon partners I think the Cubs prefer a right handed hitter in the final outfield spot. Kalish will likely be the first call up upon the almost undoubted eventual trade of Schierholtz or an injury to Schierholtz or Sweeney.

WHO I THINK SHOULD BE THE OPENING DAY STARTER

My choice for the Cubs’ opening day left fielder was actually optioned to Iowa some time ago: former first round draft pick Josh Vitters. I just have so many concerns about Lake’s approach at the plate, I’d rather give Vitters a second shot at the Majors to see if he can produce with the bat. The Cubs have moved Vitters off third base permanently, and should start in left fielder in Iowa to start the season. I expect that, barring injury, Vitters will get the next shot at the position if/when Lake’s poor approach catch up to him.

This is not to say that I think Vitters will succeed. I just think Vitters is less flawed and more interesting as a young player with promise than Lake.

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Who Should Start at Second Base?

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

With Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy kicked off third base in favor of Mike Olt, per our discussion last week, they instead are likely to receive at least some of their infield time at second base. The question at second base is well known: will the Cubs hand the job to their second baseman of the last three seasons, defensive stalwart but offensive lightweight Darwin Barney, or instead turn the position over to someone who is almost guaranteed to be a defensive downgrade, but with higher upside at the plate?

As a note, and this is something I should have included last week, I am only discussing players that the Cubs are actually considering for 25 man roster spots at this point in time. Since the Cubs optioned Arismendy Alcantara to Iowa last week, he isn’t on this list. The same goes for Logan Watkins. Javier Baez will not appear on this list either, as everyone knows he will be starting the season in Iowa.

THE CONTENDERS:

The Incumbent:

Darwin Barney:
2013 Statistics: 555 PAs,  .206/.266/.303, .252 wOBA, 51 wRC+, 7 HRs, 6.5% walk rate, 11.5% strikeout rate, .222 BABIP, 0.4fWAR
2014 ZiPS projection: 596 PAs, .253/.299/.349, .286 wOBA, 74 wRC+, 6 HRs, 5.4% walk rate, 11.6% strikeout rate, .278 BABIP, 1.4 fWAR

The Challengers:

Luis Valbuena:
2013 statistics: 391 PAs, .218/.331/.378, .315 wOBA, 95 wRC+, 12 HRs, 13.6% walk rate, 16.1% strikeout rate, .233 BABIP, 2.0 fWAR
2014 ZiPS projection: 481 PAs, .241/.325/.376, .311 wOBA, 92 wRC+, 11 HRs, 10.6% walk rate, 20% strikeout rate, .285 BABIP, 1.7 fWAR

Donnie Murphy:
2013 statistics: 163 PAs, .255/.319/.530, .366 wOBA, 130 wRC+, 11 HRs, 4.9% walk rate, 29.4% strikeout rate, .300 BABIP, 0.8 fWAR
2014 ZiPS projection: 350 PAs, .229/.291/.417, .310 wOBA, 91 wRC+, 13 HRs, 6% walk rate, 26.3% strikeout rate, .278 BABIP, 0.6 fWAR

Emilio Bonifacio:
2013 statistics: 461 PAs, .243/.295/.331, .279 wOBA, 71 wRC+, 3 HRs, 6.5% walk rate, 22.3% strikeout rate, .312 BABIP, 0.6 fWAR
2014 ZiPS projection: 451 PAs, .258/.315/.339, .292 wOBA, 80 wRC+, 3 HRs, 7.5% walk rate, 19.3% strikeout rate, .319 BABIP, 0.7 fWAR

THE LIKELY OPENING DAY STARTER:

Darwin Barney. But that’s because the Cubs are likely to face the left handed Francisco Liriano on opening day. I think that, over the first half of the season, Luis Valbuena will see the majority of the starts at least through the All Star Break, with Barney starting against left handed pitchers. Even if Barney’s BABIP regresses to the mean and he returns to something like his 2012 numbers, Valbuena’s combination of walks and power (well, power at least when compared to Barney) make him a greatly superior offensive player, especially at second base.

For example, while Valbuena’s 95 wRC+ in 2013 would have ranked 19th among third basemen with enough at bats to qualify for the batting title (Valbuena did not have enough because he missed some time due to injury), it would have been 14th among second basemen. If Valbuena can play even an average second base, he would have significantly more trade value as a versatile infielder who can be the left handed part of a platoon than Barney could accumulate when Baez or Alcantara are ready for the show.

WHO I THINK SHOULD BE THE OPENING DAY STARTER

I think the Cubs would be playing this one right with a Valbuena/Barney platoon. Valbuena won’t be Barney defensively, but he should at least be fringe average. Barney’s offensive deficiencies should be hid a bit by getting the majority of his plate appearances against left handed pitching, against whom he has hit .263/.313/.381 against, compared to just .241/.287/.321 against right handed pitching.

I find Bonifacio interesting, and I know a lot of fans want his speed in the lineup, but he’s a Mark DeRosa type, but with speed instead of power. There’s no position he is really good at, but he’s serviceable at a host of positions. As such, I prefer him in a utility player role, where he will get starts all over the field, including as a right handed hitting option in the outfield (Bonifacio is a switch hitter) against left handed starters. If Bonifacio puts up an OBP north of .330, though, he’ll force himself into the lineup nearly every day, one way or the other.

Regarding Murphy, he may be the odd man out in terms of playing time. I just do not see the Cubs sitting Barney’s glove against left handed pitchers to play Murphy, who would be a pretty awful defensive second baseman if he had to play there regularly.

The real excitement at second base, though, won’t come until midseason, when we will have good odds of seeing one of the Cubs’ top 5 or 6 prospects at the position.

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Who Should Start at Third Base?

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

With the Cubs coming off two seasons where they lost at least 96 games, and projected for another season well below .500 in 2014, it is no surprise that the Cubs have a few spots with undecided starters. It actually may be more of a surprise that only three starting spots are up for grabs: third base, second base and one outfield spot. Over the next few weeks, we will look at each of these positions, examining both what the contenders did in the past, and what ZiPS projects them for in 2014.

We start at third base for two reasons. First, some of the contenders at third base could also be contenders at second base… but only if they aren’t the starter at third base. Second, the highest ceiling prospect (Mike Olt, whose status I discussed here earlier this offseason) is in the competition at the hot corner.

The Contenders:

The Incumbents:

Luis Valbuena:
2013 statistics: 391 PAs, .218/.331/.378, .315 wOBA, 95 wRC+, 12 HRs, 13.6% walk rate, 16.1% strikeout rate, .233 BABIP, 2.0 fWAR
2014 ZiPS projection: 481 PAs, .241/.325/.376, .311 wOBA, 92 wRC+, 11 HRs, 10.6% walk rate, 20% strikeout rate, .285 BABIP, 1.7 fWAR

Donnie Murphy:
2013 statistics: 163 PAs, .255/.319/.530, .366 wOBA, 130 wRC+, 11 HRs, 4.9% walk rate, 29.4% strikeout rate, .300 BABIP, 0.8 fWAR
2014 ZiPS projection: 350 PAs, .229/.291/.417, .310 wOBA, 91 wRC+, 13 HRs, 6% walk rate, 26.3% strikeout rate, .278 BABIP, 0.6 fWAR

The Challenger

Mike Olt:
2013 statistics (between 104 games at Triple A and 3 games at Double A): 432 PAs, .201/.303/.381,  15 HRs, 12.7% walk rate, 30.6% strikeout rate
2014 ZiPS projection: 461 PAs, .220/.299/.383, .301 wOBA, 85 wRC+, 15 HRs, 10% walk rate, 30.8% strikeout rate, .293 BABIP, 1.0 fWAR

The Likely Opening Day Starter

Until last week, I thought we’d see another Valbuena/Murphy platoon to start the season. However, Ken Rosenthal, who is as well connected and accurate as any of the baseball reporters, reported that the Cubs’ brass definitively wants Olt to break camp as the starting third baseman.

As a note, I would ignore the ZiPS projection for Olt, or any projection for Olt, despite the fact that I generally like ZiPS as a projection system, at least more than FanGraphs’ other projection systems. To start, it’s likely heavily influenced by Olt’s cup of coffee with the Rangers at the end of 2012. Beyond that, Olt is such a hit or miss option, that a projection for him really cannot take the middle road. If his problem was not the eyes in 2013, or his problem was his eyes and his eyes are not fixed, Olt likely fail no matter whether he plays in the National League or the Pacific Coast League. If the eyes were the problem and are fixed, the projections really are unable to take that into account positively for Olt. As projection systems don’t generally take into account why a player was terrible, the safer bet for ZiPS and all projection system is just to presume that Olt is bad at baseball.

This is the position I am least sure of. I previously thought that the Cubs would send Olt to Iowa to start the season to show that he’s healthy. But with Rosentthal’s report, I think it’s 50/50, with the sole question being Olt’s health. If the Cubs’ brass and scouts think Olt’s eyes are right, he will be the starting third baseman on Opening Day. Olt also provides the best upside by a significant margin, as a solid OBP, above average power bat who could be one of the Cubs best hitters this season, as long as he, you know, can actually see the ball.

Who I Think Should Start

Olt, if his eyes are right. Murphy is who he is, a Jeff Baker type who strikes out more and walks less. Valbuena has value as a high walk, decent power left handed part of an infield platoon, but he can contribute elsewhere. Olt has the ceiling to positively change the Cubs’ competitiveness timeline, if he is healthy and plays well either by turning himself into a valuable trade chip or allowing the Cubs to convert other infield prospects such as Arismendy Alcantara and Jeimer Candelario into trade bait for pitching help.

As a bonus, Olt being with the Cubs alleviates a roster crunch in the upper minors, where there legitimate third base prospects who need regular playing time at the position at Triple A, Double A, and Single A (Christian Villanueva, Kris Bryant, and Jeimer Candelario respectively). This should not factor into the decision, but Villanueva, who some say is the best defensive third baseman in all of the minor leagues, getting regular time in the line up at Triple A is up there on the importance meter.

Next week, we move to an even more crowded field at second base.

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The Myth of Greg Maddux, the Soft Tosser

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Since Andrew Cashner, no high ceiling starting pitching prospects both succeeded in the upper minors and eventually debuted with the Cubs. They have, however, had a variety of pitching prospects with mediocre fastball velocity, but good control, or at least reported good control. From Nick Struck to Chris Rusin, this tradition is now being held up by Kyle Hendricks. With Jake Arrieta likely not ready for the start of the season, some call for Hendricks to get a shot at a spot in the rotation to start the season, despite Hendricks only starting six Triple A games.

The back end of this tradition, however, always involves the proponents of the soft tossing prospects arguing, “but Greg Maddux didn’t throw hard!”

In some ways that statement is correct. Maddux never threw 95, and spent the last 6 or 7 years of his career with his fastball velocity slowly creeping from the high 80s to the mid 80s. But prior to his decline, Maddux threw a 92 mile per hour fastball. A 92 mile per hour fastball with fantastic movement and pinpoint control and command.

The four elements of a fastball are velocity, movement, control and command. On the 20-80 scouting scale, Maddux’s velocity through his prime was a 55-60, solidly above average, and the movement, command and control were all 70s to 80s.

So, first of all, comparing guys who throw 89-90 to in prime Maddux is inaccurate. There’s a big difference between 89 and 92.

Second, comparing a guy who has above average to good control in the minors to the pitcher with the greatest combination of pitch movement and control in the history of baseball is a disservice to the young pitcher.

I’m rooting for Hendricks. He could be a solid, cost controlled back end of the rotation piece. But let’s allow him to be that before we start comparing him to one of the greatest pitchers, if not the greatest pitcher, of most of our lifetimes.

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The Fallen: Brett Jackson Edition

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

In some ways, Brett Jackson is the most disappointing prospect of the four in this series. He never had quite Josh Vitters’ pedigree, as Jackson was a very late first round pick (31st overall). It just seemed like he was so darn close to at least being an average MLB regular, providing speed, a solid on base percentage, 15 to 20 home run power, and above average defense in center field, and it came crashing down so quickly. Can Jackson approach his promise again?

The Heights: After speeding through the minors in his first 24 months as a professional baseball player, Jackson put up a fantastic, even for the Pacific Coast League .297/.388/.551 in his first 48 Triple A games, despite striking out in 29.8% of his plate appearances.

The Depths: Jackson’s return to Triple A for the 2012 season resulted in a solid, but unspectacular .256/.338/.479, although the strikeouts only got worse, increasing to 33.8%. The wheels really came off with a call up to the Cubs in early August 2012, when he struck out in more than 40% of his plate appearances and batted just .175. No amount of walking can make up for a batting average and strikeout rate like that. The Cubs tried reworking Jackson’s swing, and it did not take, at least for 2013. Jackson was terrible in both Double A and Triple A, when he was not struggling through injuries.

Best Case Scenario: Jackson somehow is able to get the strikeout rate below 25%, and is able to tap into the power enough to become a rich man’s David DeJesus. Odds are he is a player you’d rather not start regularly against left handed pitching, but he could be one of the better platoon players in baseball, and a starter on a second tier team.

Worst Case Scenario: Jackson keeps striking out in 30% percent of his plate appearances and never sniffs the Majors again. Or, ever worse, he never sniffs the Majors again for the Cubs, gets DFA’d, the Cardinals pick him up, and then they magically fix him with that human sacrifice altar they have under Busch Stadium. Oh yes Cardinals fans, we have discovered your secret.

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The Fallen: Josh Vitters Edition

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

In the long run, the failure of one Cubs prospect most hampered the Cubs ability to rebuild quickly, and may have doomed the Jim Hendry regime as much as any poor free agent signing: Josh Vitters. The third pick in the 2007 Rule 4 Draft, even as a prep star he gained renown for having one of the prettiest swings in baseball. Unfortunately, a combination of an injuries, poor approach at the plate, and a failure to improve defensively at third base leave him as all but a non-prospect at this point.

The Heights: After being drafted with the third pick in the 2007 draft, Vitters performed very well through his first significant stretch in full season ball: the first 70 games of 2009, where he put up a .316/.351/.535 line in the Low A Midwest League.

The Depths: Vitters’ fall was not as precipitous as some, but more a long, slow march towards irrelevance. A part of this was related to injuries. Vitters missed significant time in 2010 and 2013, which delays any prospect’s progress. Vitters also entered a pattern where he struggled in his first run at each new level, before having moderate success in the second run. This, however, is not that uncommon. More significantly, Vitters showed himself to not be equipped to handle third base defensively, limiting him to an outfield corner at this point. Worst, however, Vitters has not shown significant improvement in his approach at the plate. This is the downside to Vitters’ pretty swing. He can make contact with a pitches he should not swing at, at least in the minors.

The worst came with a promotion to the Majors in 2012, where he put up a miserable .395 OPS in just over 100 plate appearances, and then only played in 28 games in Triple A in 2013 due to myriad injuries. On the good news front, he was effective in his limited playing time, posting a strong .295/.380/.511 line, including an 11% walk rate, by far the best of his career.

Best Case Scenario: Still only 24 years old, Vitters still has a bit of time to prove that he can be a productive big leaguer, but he needs to stay healthy and hit now. I’m not a Junior Lake fan, and think that a BABIP regression on Lake’s front will lead to him losing the starting left fielder job early in the season. Best case scenario is that Vitters takes it, shows he can hit in the Majors, and at least becomes an average Major League starter. Not quite what you would be looking for in a third pick in the draft, but it would be considered a success at this point.

Worst Case Scenario: Excluding injuries, the worst case scenario for Vitters is that he fails when given his next shot at the Major League level, firmly establishing his status as one of the biggest draft busts in recent memory.

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The Fallen: Former Highly Ranked Prospects, Arodys Vizcaino Edition

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Over the past two seasons, the Cubs acquired two former top fifty prospects in a trade for a veteran starting pitcher. One is third baseman Mike Olt, who we discussed last week, and the Cubs received in the Matt Garza trade. The other is right handed pitcher Arodys Vizcaino, who the Cubs received in return for Paul Maholm in mid-2012.

The Heights: As a 20 year old in 2011, Vizcaino pitched across three levels of the minors, High A through Triple A, and had a cup of coffee in the Majors. At every level but High A, he was very young compared to his competition. He excelled in the minors, pitching for a 3.06 ERA over 97 minor league innings in 26 appearances, 17 of which were starts. He also made 17 relief appearances in the Majors, and at least did not embarrass himself with a 4.67 ERA. Prior to the 2012 season, he was Baseball America’s number 40 prospect in baseball. The highest ranking he achieved was the 14th best prospect in baseball, which came from Keith Law. With three solid or better offerings, headlined by a 92-96 mph fastball and including a solid curveball and change up, Vizcaino has the stuff to be a top of the rotation starter.

The Depths: Vizcaino’s depths are a bit different than the other Cubs’ fallen prospects because he has not played since 2011, and his issues solely relate to injuries. Many in baseball were always concerned about Vizcaino’s durability, even at the height of his minor league success, and Vizcaino injured his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery during spring training in 2012. Rehab setbacks kept him from pitching in 2013, although he participated in the instructional league over the fall, and reportedly is healthy and looks good. It is worth noting, though, that barring a significant injury that kept Vizcaino off the mound, it is unlikely that the team would say anything else.

Best Case Scenario: Vizcaino goes to Iowa to start the season and pitches well, likely out of the bullpen at the beginning of the season, but potentially getting some opportunities to start with some strict pitch counts later in the season. Either way, he pitches well, stays healthy, and moves up to the Majors at the end of the season, pitching well out of the bullpen. At that point, the Cubs must decide whether to try to stretch Vizcaino back out into a starter, or if they’ll try him in a late innings bullpen role.

Worst Case Scenario: Vizcaino hurts himself again and barely pitches, or doesn’t pitch at all. The next worst case scenario is that Vizcaino’s control suffers as he returns from elbow problems.

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