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Three Up, Three Down – 1st Half Movers

Friday, June 21st, 2013

THREE UP

All Stats Through Thursday, June 20

Arismendy Alcantara, SS/2B
Age 21, AA
70 G, 295 PAs, .283/.361/.469
16 2B, 2 3B, 9 HR, 18/20 SB
10.2% BB rate, 21.0% K rate, .341 BABIP
Preseason Top 20 Ranking: 15

Alcantara will likely be the Cubs #5 prospect going into next season and  has a chance to be in many of the guru’s Top 100 lists. Both Baseball American and Keith Law were the only national publications to put Alcantara in their Top 10′s and they appear to be right.
Double A is usually regarding as the biggest leap in competition from the previous level, and Arismendy has stepped up. He’s young for the league, he’s showing power (with a career high in HR’s already), showing speed (will likely shatter last years 25 SB’s), and he’s nearly doubled his walk rate (already equaling a career high) all while keeping his K rate under control. To top it off, he’s a switch hitter that’s better from the left side of the plate. He is the biggest success story outside the Top 3 of Baez, Almora, and Soler.

Kyle Hendricks, RH SP
Age 23, AA
78.1 IP, 2.07 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 64/16 K/BB
20.4K%, 5.1BB%
Preseason Top 20 Ranking: NR

The biggest leap among pitchers belongs to unranked Kyle Hendricks. He won’t knock you out with his stuff (87-90 mph fastball), but he gets the job done with command and a good feel for 5 pitches, his best arguably being a changeup and a new pitch this year, a cutter. Hendricks doesn’t have ace potential, but I could see him ending up as another Travis Wood type. I have to think he’ll be in next year’s Top 10.

Pierce Johnson, RH SP
Age 22, High A
69.2 IP, 3.10 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 74/22 K/BB
25.0K%, 7.4BB%
Preseason Top 20 Ranking: 7

I went with Johnson here because, honestly, there isn’t much else to get too excited about in the system this year outside of the Top 3 and the two mentioned above. He won’t be moving too far off the # 7 spot, but that’s more a testament to how great I think Alcantara has been and the addition to this year’s #1 draft pick, Kris Bryant. I can see Johnson as the 5th or 6th best in the Cubs system, and another with a chance at the Top 100.  This is becoming a Top 3 farm system in the game.
Johnson is showing a good strikeout rate, and limiting his walks…the two stats I look at most for minor league pitchers. He was promoted to Daytona this week, and he probably should have been there earlier being a guy with college experience, but so far so good. All he needs to do is stay healthy. Next year in AA will be the big test for him.

THREE DOWN

Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
Age 22, DL
No stats
Preseason Top 20 Ranking: 4

Vizcaino won’t be pitching for anyone until 2014 (we hope), and that’ll be the first time since 2011 that he’ll be throwing in meaningful action. He had Tommy John surgery in March of 2012 and the hope was that he’d begin his way back to a potential starting pitcher later this year. But he had to have arthroscopic surgery on that elbow to clear out a calcium buildup and those plans have been derailed. At this point we can only hope he can stay healthy in 2014, but I wouldn’t be able to take him over any of the other Cubs Top 10 or 15 prospects.

Brett Jackson, CF
Age 24, AAA
60 G, 239 PAs, .217/.295/.358
6 2B, 3 3B, 6 HR, 7/11 SB
8.8% BB rate, 31.8% K rate, .305 BABIP
Preseason Top 20 Ranking: 5

I remember some fans keeping the hope alive after a strong 17 at bat spring training and Jackson’s “new swing”. Well, the results in AAA have been miserable and perhaps its best to just go back to the old swing. He may still provide value off the bench as a cheap 5th OF…maybe a 4th. He just strikes out too much to be an offensive asset.

Dillon Maples, RHP
Age 21, Single A Kane County
24.1 IP, 8.51 ERA, 1.89 WHIP, 24/23 K/BB
19.4K%, 18.5BB%
Preseason Top 20 Ranking: 9

An overslot signing from the 14th round of the 2011 draft, Maples is finally pitching in an advanced league after years of injury issues. Maybe “throwing” would be a better word than “pitching”. He’s only 21, so there is plenty of time for him to find success, but he’s walking as many as he’s striking out and he either hits a batter or throws a wild pitch about every other inning. While velocity was a strong point, supposedly hitting 96, he’s also had some issues there with inconsistency. He’s not hopeless, but he’s not a Top 15 guy in this system either.

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3 Up, 3 Down – The Front Office’s First Draft Review

Friday, June 7th, 2013

While The Front Office continues to add talent to the minor league system today in their 2nd run through of the MLB Rule 4 Draft, I thought I’d take a look at the regime’s first draft in 2012. While we can’t make a final decision on the successes and failures quite yet, let’s look at some notable performances thus far. I’ll ignore the first two picks, Albert Almora and Pierce Johnson, as they should be the most successful. And we’ll skip the 3 Down portion since most draft picks don’t amount to much anyway. And me and the wife just had our 2nd baby girl and frankly, I’m just tired. The only real “down” player would be 3rd round pick Josh Conway, who blew out his arm again. So let’s look at some successes outside the Top 50 selections of the 2012 draft:

THREE UP

Stephen Bruno, 2B/IF
7th Round, #224 overall
22 years old, currently in High A Daytona
Career stats: .361/.441/.492 in 370 plate appearances
23BB/63K,  27 doubles, 3 triples, 3 home runs

Bruno has hit. Simple as that. He hasn’t shown much power or patience and his strikeout rate is mediocre so I’m not too high on him as a prospect. But hard to argue that a 7th round 2B hitting over .360 with a .440 OBP isn’t a success. The jump to AA is always a tough one, so we’ll get a better grip on his potential in 2014.

Bijan Rademacher, RF
13th Round, #404 overall
22 years old, Single A Kane County
Career stats: .295/.351/.389 in 356 plate appearances
28BB/53K, 19 doubles, 1 triple, 3 home runs

Also getting a few innings on the mound, Rademacher has the arm for right field, but not the power. He’s making a lot of contact this season (only a 11.7% K rate, down from 17.2% in 2012) and has nearly as many walks as K’s (16 to 18). His power is nearly absent with only 6 extra base hits this year, but he could become a 4th/5th outfielder. Doesn’t sound like much, but wouldn’t it be better to have one in the system rather than spending millions on the Scott Hairston’s of the world?

Michael Heesch, LH SP
8th Round, #254 overall
23 years old, currently in Single A Kane County
Career stats: 79.2 IP, 3.50 ERA, 1.218 WHIP
6.4 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 0.2 HR/9

Heesch is one of the few pitchers taken that is pitching in full season ball this year. He’s a bit old for Kane County, but shows good control and high groundball rates (52%) that may allow his lack of K’s to succeed as he climbs the ladder. He’s a big dude at 6’5″, 245 lbs and a left handed thrower. John Arguello over at Cubs Den has seen him in person around the 90-91 MPH range with good movement on all his pitches and thinks he has a shot at becoming a big leaguer. For an 8th rounder, that would be a success.

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Three Up, Three Down

Friday, May 24th, 2013

Well, I was hoping to be able to include Dillon Maples…the 2011 14th round pick that slipped because of his commit to play football/baseball at North Carolina, but he got roughed up last night for Kane County. The good news is that he’s already doubled his career innings pitched in just three starts.
And it’s a bit premature after only 11 plate appearances, but Albert Almora finally made his debut this week and is off to a 7-11 start with 3 doubles.

3 Up’s:

Jeimer Candelario, 3B, age 19, Single A Kane County
186 PAs, .267/.360/.385 with a .323 BABIP
16 2Bs, 1 HRs, 12.9% BB, 17.2% K

The number 10 prospect in the system entering the year, Candelario had questions about his work ethic as adjectives like “lackadaisical” were thrown around about him. But he came into camp in great shape and is putting a solid season as a 19 year old in A ball. He has a patient approach with good contact skills and should develop average power. The doubles are there now and the hope is some of those will turn into home runs. He may have to move to a corner outfield spot one day, but I’m pretty happy with his season thus far.

Willson Contreras, C, age 21, Single A Kane County
126 PAs, .264/.349/.473 with a .295 BABIP
4 2Bs, 2 3B, 5 HRs, 5 SB, 1 CS, 8.7% BB, 19.8% K

A converted 3B (although he played everywhere but SS and CF in 2012), Contreras is developing into the Cubs only true catching prospect. He’s hitting for power while learning on the job. Catchers take longer to develop than other positions, so he’s likely going to move one level at a time, but his year has been promising. I do hear some remarks on his attitude…he supposedly tripped a guy after he scored and he may have bumped the ump after last nights 14 inning loss…so you make the call; “Hot-headed” or “Ultra-competitive”?

Kyle Hendricks, RH SP, age 23, Double A
51.2 IP, 2.44 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 2 HR’s given up
7.3 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, 0.3 HR/9

Hendricks is making his second appearance on the 3 Up list after tossing another 7 innings last night with 3 hits, 1 walk, and 7 K’s. The Cubs acquired him and Christian Villanueva from the Rangers for a half season of Ryan Dempster. I’m already chalking this up as another good trade by The Front Office. He’s not a ‘high ceiling’ type of prospect, but he is a back of rotation type which is a valuable asset as long as they are paid pre-arbitration salaries.

3 Down’s:

Barret Loux, RH SP, age 24, Triple A
28.1 IP, 7.31 ERA, 2.01 WHIP, 2 HR’s given up
8.6 K/9, 6.0 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9

Loux is a former #6 overall draft pick in 2010 by the D’Backs that didn’t sign due to an arm injury. Texas picked him up for a fraction of the cost and looked like a steal after going 14-1 in AA in 2012. He came to the Cubs in the Geovanny Soto trade and he suddenly can’t find the strike zone. He allowed under 3 BB/9 over the last two years, but has doubled that rate so far this year. It looked as if he could have been one of the first call ups when injury occurs to the Cubs rotation, but now it’s looking like he lost his form. He’s still striking out a good amount, which is the only positive on Loux’s season.

Nick Struck, RH SP, age 23, Triple A
35.2 IP, 6.06 ERA, 1.766 WHIP, 5 HR’s given up
4.8 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9

Similar to Loux in that he was looking like a possible fill in to the big league roster this year, Struck has stunk with career worsts in K’s, BB’s and HR’s. I was never high on him to begin with, but he always had success in the minors and now the PCL is tearing him up.

Logan Watkins, UT, age 23, Triple A
177 PAs, .233/.367/.418 with a .288 BABIP
7 2Bs, 4 3B, 4 HRs, 16.4% BB, 21.5% K

The heir apparent to Darwin Barney as second baseman is looking more like the future utility man. Watkins has been getting some time at 2B, SS, and CF down at Iowa and could provide a solid bench bat instead of the solid hitting 2B some envisioned.

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Three Up, Three Down

Friday, April 26th, 2013

(Through games of 4/24, minimum 50 plate appearances)

Three Up

Rock Shoulders, 1B/DH
Age 21, Single A
.410/.486/.672, 1.158 OPS, 8 XBH
12.9% BB, 18.6% K, .477 BABIP

The best name in the minors is crushing it down in Kane County. He is a bit older than most legit prospects (he has at least one teammate over 2 years younger), but we can’t argue with the results so far. Good walk rate, respectable K rate, and good power, but as a 1B he will have to hit in AA to get any prospect love.

Jorge Soler, RF
Age 21, Advanced A
.304/.396/.500, .896 OPS, 5 XBH
13.2% BB, 17.0% K, .343 BABIP

The BABIP isn’t as outrageous as Rock’s currently is, so I’m much more confident that Soler can continue to put up these numbers moving forward. I am loving the BB/K ratio so far; enough that it would cement his status as my #1 Cub prospect.

Arismendy Alcantara, SS/2B
Age 21, Double A
.288/.370/.463, .832 OPS, 6 XBH, 12/12 SB
11.8% BB, 22.6% K, .339 BABIP

The 4th youngest player in the Southern League is showing all the tools. Despite the age, he is tied for the organization lead with Rock Shoulders with four home runs. Strikeout rate is a bit high, but that doesn’t worry me because of his age and his ability to draw a walk. I think he jumps into next year’s Top 100 with ease.

Three Down

Christian Villanueva, 3B
Age 22, Double A
.225/.295/.352, .647 OPS, 7 XBH
7.7% BB, 17.9% K, .268 BABIP

Not such a great start but I don’t think it’s as bad as it looks. The average line in AA is 235/318/346 (which makes Alcantara’s start even more impressive), so Villanueva is only a little below average so far. The BABIP is low, walk rate is average, and the K rate is respectable…with his good defense at 3B, he just needs to be an average hitter and I think he’ll be a little better than that when the season is over.

Gioskar Amaya, 2B
Age 20, Single A
.258/.288/.371, .659 OPS, 5 XBH
4.5% BB, 24.2% K, .340 BABIP

This is why I include BABIP. I don’t believe Amaya’s numbers are going to improve all that much unless something changes in his approach. Low walks, high K’s, and a high BABIP with such a low batting average is a baaaaaaad combination.

Javier Baez, SS
Age 20, Advanced A
.225/.253/.438, .690 OPS, 9 XBH
3.4% BB, 28.7% K, .273 BABIP

The biggest disappointment so far in the early going is the Cubs Top Prospect. He’s hitting for power, but he’s not walking and he’s striking out at a near Brett Jackson-like pace. He will not succeed with these BB and K rates. He’s the 5th youngest player in the Florida State League, so I’m not freaking out or anything, but this is about as poor a start as I could have imagined from Baez.

One note about the minors so far: There were 34 position player prospects with 30 or more plate appearances and half of those had walk rates of 10% or more. There were only four prospects with walk rates under 7%. Without looking into it, that seems like a 180 degree turn and, to me, is evidence of the change in philosophy for the organization. If only our top prospect could follow the lead.

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VFTB Top 20 Cubs Prospect List

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

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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Position Player Free Agents

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

There are at least two obvious positions of need on the Cub offense heading into 2013; third base and center field. Shortstop and first base are the only positions where the Cubs are conceivably set for the foreseeable future, with catcher not far behind, assuming Welington Castillo can turn into an average performer. So while we wait for Brett Jackson to fix his swing and Josh Vitters to stop swinging at everything, who will be talked about as Cub targets?

Not Josh Hamilton, that’s for sure. He’s asking for 7 years, $175M? Good luck Josh.
Not Michael Bourn either. He may even get a contract in excess of $80 million. He doesn’t seem like the type of player the Cubs would sign long term; now or in the future.
Here are a few names Cub fans will be debating on in the near future:

Third Base
Kevin Youkilis  -  Age: 34 (for the 2013 season)  -  Bats/Throws: R/R
(CLICK TO ENLARGE)

(wRC+ Find out about it here)

Youkilis is coming off the worst year of his career, but he still maintains good enough control of the strike zone and enough power that despite a .235 batting average, he was still able to be an average offensive player. He’s not as good defensively as he was a few years ago, but few 33 year olds are. The .268 BABIP might lead one to think his slash lines will improve, but it also came with a career high in groundballs, so it can’t all be attributed to balls not finding the holes in the defense.
He won’t be a .950 OPS guy again, but I can see Youk as a 260/360/450 hitter in the next couple years. As long as he doesn’t require a 3 year contract, Youkilis would be a great acquisition for the Cubs. If he keeps declining, it’s only a short term deal. If he maintains 2012, he’ll be a trade candidate for a long term asset. If he bounces back to 2010 and 2011 numbers, he can be worth quite a bit more.

I’d sign him for a year, two years max, with the idea of trading him to a contender. But with the lack of third base options on the free agent market, I could see him getting better money/years from a contender in need…like Philly.

Outfield
B.J. Upton  -  Age 28  -  Bats/Throws: R/R

I think BJ is going to get a pretty sweet deal, so will likely not be an option, but it won’t stop us vocal fans from debating the decision.
He’s never lived up to the hype, but has been a pretty good player and may even be underrated because we all expected much more.
As he’s aged, he has become more aggressive at the plate, which has increased his K’s and decreased his BB’s, while boosting his power. He could be a consistent 25 HR, 30-40  SB, good defensive centerfielder while hitting 250/325/450 but an outside shot to see him post .900 OPS’. He has that potential.
But we’re 4000 plate appearances into his career and over his last four seasons, he’s hit 242/316/420. Should we still be talking about potential?
Andre Eithier just received 5 years and $85 million…I’d rather have BJ Upton, but even so, I don’t think the bidding goes that high. Nevertheless, I can’t see the Cubs investing $15M per season on a player with a .316 OBP over the last four seasons.

Nick Swisher  -  Age 32  -  Bats/Throws: B/R

While I’m betting we hear fans clamoring for Upton, I don’t think there will be much interest in Nick Swisher. But Swisher’s last four seasons show what a productive player he’s been in New York: 268/367/483, averaging 26 HR’s a year. He can’t play center and he can’t run like Upton, but he’s more productive on offense and will likely come at a lower cost. Will that cost be low enough for the Cubs and would they move DeJesus to center for him? I don’t think so.
I’m guessing Swisher gets 4 years, $48/$56 million. Because of his age and his position, doesn’t sound like a Theo/Jed target, but I think the team signing Swisher will get more bang for their buck than the team signing Upton.

Shane Victorino  -  Age 32  -  Bats/Throws: B/R

Now we’re getting into the players that I can see the Cubs focusing on. Victorino is coming off his worst year, which means he’s the proverbial “buy low” candidate. Is he declining to 4th outfielder status? Can he bounce back to his .350 OBP days?
If he can be had for a two year contract, he’s the type of player the Cubs will sign to find out the answer. The thing about Victorino that worries me is his hitting against RH pitching, where he’d get 70% of his plate appearances. If he starts out slow, his number will look pretty bad overall and would be hard to trade. Start out hot, with that .350 OBP and good outfield defense, and he could easily turn into a hot trade commodity.
Three years would be one too many. If the Cubs could get Victorino on a 2 year deal, he would be a solid gamble.

Angel Pagan  -  31  -  Bats/Throws: B/R

Similar to Victorino, but lacks the home run power. And while I worry about Victorino’s splits against right handed pitchers, Pagan is the opposite, which actually might make him a better piece to improve the offense.
He’s a year younger and is coming off a better year with the bat than Victorino has, and teams put more weight on the recent performance, so it’s likely that Pagan will get that third year guaranteed. We’re not talking about a large chunk of money, but I don’t see the Cubs committing to three years with Pagan, due to the limited upside. You really can’t expect much more than what he did in 2012; 288/338/440.
If both players were to get 3 years, $30 million, I think Pagan is the better value. But I’d take Victorino if he can be had for a year less.

Melky Cabrera  -  Age 28  -  Bats/Throws: L/L

Time for more BABIP talk. Most people will attribute Cabrera’s 346/390/516 line this year to his PED use. I disagree. If you regress 2012’s unsustainable .379 BABIP down to his career norm, .309, you’re looking at a .070 point reduction across the board, bring his line to 276/320/446 which is more reflective of his true talent. His BB% was in line with his career rate, same for his K%, and he hit more groundballs than ever, so I have a feeling his 2012 line will be the most obvious fluke of any free agent’s line. (And people will use this as proof that his 2012 numbers were due to PED’s)
Despite the career best slash line, with the PED suspension Melky may be looking at a 1 year deal to reestablish his value. If that’s the case, he’s an ideal acquisition.
Yeah, he took some PED’s. He paid the penalty. It’s over. You have to look at him as a commodity, and this is a great low risk, high reward commodity….exactly what Theo/Jed will be looking for, and, I am thinking, #1 on their outfield target list, assuming the number of years is only 1 or 2.

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Minors Report – Stock Down

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

Overall it was a good year for the farm system. Anthony Rizzo led way and will be a fixture in the Cubs lineup over the next few years. Management added free agent Jorge Soler and Juan Carlos Paniagua and traded for their new #1 pitching prospect, Arodys Vizcaino, in addition to the players added in the June draft.

But not all was good:

Everyone knows the story on Brett Jackson by now. He simply will not succeed unless he makes more contact. The 42.9% K rate in the small sample is bad enough, but the 33.8% in AAA is worse than any player in the majors! I saw a comment on this site yesterday referencing “Korey” Patterson, but Patterson only had a 20% K rate in his career. If you thought “Korey” was bad…wait until you see a full season of Brett Jackson. At this point, I’d be surprised if he turns into a .220/.300/.400 hitter.

Back when the Cubs traded for Matt Garza before the 2011 season, I was happy that it was Chris Archer and not Trey McNutt that was the main pitcher in the deal because I liked the K/BB rate McNutt put up. Well, he’s regressed since then. Significantly. He was put in the bullpen this year where he’ll try to carve out a career as reliever. I’m not hopeful. It wouldn’t shock me if Chris Archer, with all of 27 innings thrown, might have already  had a better career than McNutt will ever have.


I had higher hopes for Rhee than most. 2011 saw his second season back from injury and a nice increase in strikeouts while maintaining a decent walk rate. But, like most Cub pitchers it seems, Rhee hit a wall in AA and saw a massive drop in strikeouts. If you can’t strike out batters in AA, you’re going to have a hard time making it to the majors. I think it’s safe to say that Rhee won’t be on 2013′s Top 20 prospect list.

Although Gerardo Concepcion isn’t a guy I was very high on coming into the season, his stock is still way down. Nearly into the non-prospect range. With the new CBA putting a cap on the amount of spending for international free agents, many were fooled by the high dollars the Cubs gave Concepcion. But he has a hard time hitting 90 mph on the gun and ended the season with more walks than strikeouts. The Cubs will tell ya he’s still learning how to pitch and he does have the potential for a good breaking ball, but his reputation for being advanced wasn’t validated by his numbers.

All in all, not many disappointments in the Cubs system this year, but I think that’s because there wasn’t much to be expected of the farm to begin with.

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Minors Report – Stock Up

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Most followers of the farm system would tell you that it has improved greatly and will be way up in organizational farm rankings. My guess is you’ll see four players from the 2012 draft, two international signings, and two prospects acquired in trade (eight total) in the Cubs Top 20 next year (40%). Every team in baseball can say they added talent from the draft, so we’ll cancel that out. That leaves four extra players; one that might have been a Top 10 draft pick (Jorge Soler), one that was a Top 50 prospect going into the season (Arodys Vizcaino) and the other two no worse than equal to 2nd round talent (Christian Villanueva and Juan Carlos Paniagua) acquired in the last year.

That is a great improvement. But it doesn’t end there. These players all saw their stock go up after the 2012 season:

Logan Watkins put up career bests in just about all the counting stats (H, 1B, 2B, HR, R, RBI, BB, SB) in his AA season, but the surprise to me was the power. He hit five home runs last season, one in 2010, but nine this season. 22 years old (not “old” for the league), he saw improvements in walk rate and strikeout rate, plays good defense at 2B and SS, and his numbers were much better than the league average. His BABIP wasn’t so high that I would consider these numbers a fluke. I would guess he’ll be in AAA next year while seeing some action in Chicago, and perhaps taking over the role of the slap hitting second baseman.

“Stock up” for a player with a .264/.326/.385 line? Yup. Ronald Torreyes is a favorite of mine because he’s tiny, he rarely strikes out, and he was one of the youngest players in the Florida State League while putting up a league average line. That line is also skewed by a low BABIP that led to him hitting .224 pre All-Star game. After that? .297/.361/.450. He’s just 3 months older than Javier Baez and I think we’d be pretty happy if Baez hit .297/.361/.450 at Daytona this year. Another 2B, he’ll likely take Watkins spot in AA next season.

Javier Baez (just Peoria Chiefs Single A numbers are shown here) had a fantastic first season showing his prodigious power with unexpectedly good reviews on his defense at short and an equally unexpectedly good number of stolen bases, the product of good base running rather than great speed. He’ll likely be in most everyone’s Top 25 overall prospects and could be as high as 15. I love the power and he’ll be the Cubs #1 prospect in this man’s opinion, but I just don’t like the low BB% combined with a 20% K rate…I have more doubts than the average fan.

All bat, no speed, and very likely, no glove, Dan Vogelbach is still one of my favorites because he’s so friggin big that he would simply be interesting to watch. Everyone knew he had power, but he showed good control of the zone with good walk and strikeout rates. He won’t be a Top 100 guy in 2013, but keeping up the power and BB% will give him a great shot the following year.

The Cubs organization has second basemen growing on trees. The next middle infielder prospect in the system, Gioskar Amaya now has a line of .316/.389/.455, with 9 home runs and 46 stolen bases in 830 career plate appearances. You’ll notice he hit 8 of his career 9 homers this year, while his BB% improved at the same time. His strikeout rate is a bit higher than I like to see at the Northwest League level, but he continues to hit and get on base. I’m not sure if I like Amaya as much as I like Jeimer Candelario, but Amaya’s results are an improvement while Candelario (although he did skip the Arizona Rookie League).

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Minors Reports – Top Pitching Prospects Recap

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Here is the post I’ve been dreading. The pitching prospects in the system just aren’t exciting. We all know there isn’t an elite arm down there, but there isn’t even a pitcher that started 10 games that maintained a strikeout rate of at least one per inning (unless you want to include 12 starts for SIXTEEN year old Carlos Rodriguez in the Dominican Summer League). No pitcher in the system where you just can’t wait to check the box score. So yeah, I’ve been dreading to write this because the organization’s pitching is just so darn boring.

Without further adieu, our Top Pitching Prospects:

We have yet to see why most prospect rankings had Dillon Maples as the top Cubs pitching prospect to begin the season. Injury has caused a very slow start to the 20 year old’s career. Have to hope 2013 is a year we can see what he’s all about.

A couple years back, Trey McNutt was neck and neck with Chris Archer as best pitching prospect in the Cubs system. I preferred McNutt because he had a lower walk rate. But he hasn’t been the same pitcher that last two seasons, with his K/9 dropping from 10.2 in 2010, to 6.2 and 6.3 in 2011 and 2012. He was moved to the bullpen after 17 starts this year, and while his K rate went back up to just under one per inning, his walks were high with 14 in 28 innings. He’s a reliever at best and may see Wrigley next year.

Dae-Eun Rhee was a personal favorite of mine heading into the year. But like most other Cub pitchers, his K rate saw a significant drop once he hit AA. He might be another one of the 6th starter types the Cubs are filled with these days.

The biggest bust of the year may belong to Gerardo Concepcion, depending on what you thought of him. Some saw the $6 million price tag and thought the high dollars meant a high quality pitcher. It doesn’t look that way. I’ve heard a few excuses, like the Cubs were holding back on his secondary stuff so he can work on his mediocre fastball, but that doesn’t seem very believable to me. I don’t expect him to ever see the majors, but, he’s only 2o years old, he’s left handed, and has the skills. He just needs to learn how to pitch.

Rafael Dolis has an average fastball of 95. I think that’s the only thing good I can say about what I’ve seen from him. He walks too many and doesn’t strike out enough. I thought he was closer material, but he just doesn’t appear to have the stuff.

I bought into some of what I read on Zach Cates. He came over with Anthony Rizzo from the Padres as a throw-in lottery ticket. It didn’t pay off in 2012, but there is plenty of time. He’s a converted position player, so he doesn’t have much time on the mound, but he regressed from a solid 2011.

So nothing to get excited about so far, but alas, I bring you some hope from Hendry holdover Ben Wells. He’s not an ace, but I think he’s got the best chance of any pre-Theo/Jed pitcher to make an impact. He was one of the youngest players in the Midwest League and demonstrated good control before being shut down with an injury for nearly three months. Delays his progress and I’m guessing would start 2013 in the Midwest League again.

In conclusion, not a single one had an impressive year. There were a few pitchers in the system that weren’t in our Top 20 that had good years; like Alberto Cabrera, who will probably be a fixture in the bullpen, and Nick Struck, who put together a second good year, and Michael Jensen and Erik Jokisch and Starlin Peralta, but they are the same as the group above. Boring.

The silver lining? It can only get better in 2013.

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