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Top 20 Prospects Update

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

It’s about time for another update on VFTB’s Top 20 Prospects. The position prospects are doing pretty well while the results have been ugly on the pitching side. The past draft hopes to rectify that as the Cubs signed a number of high upside arms led by Pierce Johnson, Paul Blackburn, and Duane Underwood.

First, the hitters:

Despite all of Brett Jackson‘s strikeouts, he’s been producing in the PCL. I just don’t think he’ll be able to produce like that in the majors with a K rate so high. Shades of Dallas McPherson, if you’re familiar with him.

The top two picks of the Cubs 2011 draft, Javier Baez and Dan Vogelbach, are both crushing the ball in the early stages of their careers. You’ll see Baez somewhere around the Top 25 Prospects in the game when next years Top 100’s come out. Kevin Goldstein recently said he’s become the top offensive prospect in the Midwest League with scouts putting a 70 on his hit and power tool.
Although Vogelbach is hitting, you won’t see him on any Top 100’s. As a 1B only player, likely a DH, you really need to hit and hit and hit some more. He’ll have to do this year in and year out for the pro’s to believe.

Ahhhhh….Matt Szczur. Cub fans love them some Szczur. I admit, he’s doing better than I thought he would thanks to a complete turnaround in his walk rate. Still doesn’t have much power and needs to be in AA, but his stock is slightly up in my book.

Josh Vitters is also doing much better than I had imagined he would…his approach has always been the issue with him, and his walk rate isn’t so terrible while keeping his K’s in check. His BABIP is on the high side for him, so there may be some good fortune involved, but we’ll see Vitters in Chicago by the end of the year.

Skipping down to Arismendy Alcantara…he’s a guy I brought up on the last update that’s really impressing. He’s one of the younger guys in the league and has a chance to stick at SS and is on his way to a .300 hitting, 10 homer, 30 stolen base season.

And the pitching….

I’ll start at the bottom with some pitchers who have jumped into the running for Top 20 for next year. Michael Jensen is one of the few Cub pitchers with a K rate over 7 per 9 innings. Not that impressive, but combined with a low home run rate and good walk rate, he’s showing that he’s someone to keep an eye on.

For everything I said about Jensen I can say about Nick Struck, but Struck is doing it in AA. The Cubs rushed him in 2011, giving him innings in High A, AA, and AAA where he struggled. Back to a more appropriate level in 2012, his numbers are promising.

Alberto Cabrera is a future bullpen guy; potentially in high leverage situations. Back in Spring Training he was throwing 95+ with good movement and he is just carving through hitters this season. Might see him this year and could be a fixture in the pen beginning in 2013.

In his 4th year in the organization, Jose Rosario is starting full time for the first time in his professional career and is not disappointing. We need to see what happens in higher levels, but he’s putting up numbers in line with both Jensen and Struck, except that he’s giving up a few more hits along the way.

Back to the top, Dillon Maples hasn’t pitched yet as he’s been nursing an injury. I believe he’ll be throwing at some point in the next couple weeks. Trey McNutt was recently moved to the bullpen which was the expected path for him. Dae-Eun Rhee was a favorite of mine that has struggled in AA. One thing I noticed with him, McNutt, and Eric Jokisch; once they hit AA their strikeout rates plummeted. Gerardo Concepcion looks to be a bust; but he’s young and I wouldn’t give up on anyone until they have to. Dolis looks like he’ll have a career as a RP so long as he can carry over those K’s to the big leagues. Ben Wells was in the running as my top Cubs pitching prospect, but Tommy John ended his season.

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Farm Report – Leading candidates for a call-up

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

Instead of looking at some minor league leaders today, let’s take a look at the players likely in the lead for a call up in 2012. First, we’ll start with players that are currently on the 40-man roster. These guys have an easier chance of a call up than players not on the 40-man:

Jeff Beliveau – LH RP – Age 25 – AAA
Beliveau has always been interesting to me. I prefer pitchers that can strike guys out so they don’t have to rely on the defense as much. Beliveau has not had a season where he’s struck out less than 10 batters per 9 innings pitched. He gets his K’s more with deception than with velocity, as his fastball will touch 90, but not much higher than that. He still walks more than you’d like, but he will probably be an asset in the bullpen for a couple seasons.

Alberto Cabrera – RH RP – Age 23 – AA
He’s only in AA, but he is on the 40 man, so there is a chance we see him. Back in Spring Training, Keith Law tweeted:
Cubs RHP Alberto Cabrera just threw two fastballs at 96 and 97 with plus sinking life
Moved to relief this year, Cabrera may have found his calling. As a starter, he was more a 6 – 8K’s/9 kind of pitcher, but this year that’s jumped to nearly 12 K/9 and a career best walk rate.

Welington Castillo – C – Age 25 – AAA
We’ve already seen Castillo and we’ll probably see him again when rosters expand, unless the Cubs find a trade partner for Geovanny Soto. Castillo now has 156 career games played at AAA with this line:
270/344/494, 30 doubles, 30 homers, 105 RBI.

Adrian Cardenas – IF – Age 24 – AAA
Another guy we’ve seen and one we’ll likely see again, Cardenas has never hit worse than .295 in any of his 7 minor league seasons. He doesn’t have any power and he’s not good defensively, which is probably a reason Sveum didn’t play him too much, but he can make contact. Future utility player.

Junior Lake – IF – Age 22 – AA
Lake is one of the more polarizing players in the Cubs system. The optimistic see a shortstop that can hit 15 homers, steal 40 bases, and remind people of Shawon Dunston’s arm. The pessimistic see a player with no clue on defense and a terrible approach at the plate which may lead to a move to the pitchers mound where they will try to utilize that arm.
I don’t think we’ll see him this year as he’s still got too many holes in his game; in particular defense and his baserunning has taken a step back from 2011.

Josh Vitters – 3B – Age 22 – AAA
Seems like Vitters has been around forever, but he is just 22 years old and is enjoying the best season of his minor league career. Recently named to the PCL All Star team, Vitters is hitting 301/353/512 and has a chance to crack the 20 homer mark for the first time. Word is that his defense has improved enough to be passable at third until something better comes along. Vitters developing into an everyday player will be a boon to the organization. We should see him when rosters expand and there is an outside chance he is the Cubs everyday 3B in 2013.

Dave Sappelt – OF – Age 25 – AAA
Sappelt came over in the Sean Marshall trade and looked to be a solid player after hitting 342/395/507 in 2010 and 313/377/458 in 2011. He’s struggling in 2012, and some people even want to write him off because of this bad half-season. But he’s still walking a good amount, not striking out a lot, and has a low BABIP that is keeping his numbers down. I still see a good  4th outfielder in the mold of Reed Johnson, and everyone seems to love them some Reed Johnson.


Those are the players that are on the 40-man roster. You’ll notice there is no Brett Jackson, so let’s take a look at three others that may make an appearance in Chicago, but there will have to be some roster shuffling to get them on the 40 man.

Chris Rusin – LH SP – Age 25 – AAA
Rusin was briefly rumored to get a spot start for Ryan Dempster before the Cubs decided on giving Randy Wells one last chance. He’s a control pitcher, but he’s walking a career high and striking out a career low so far in AAA. I really don’t see Rusin as all that good of an option. He seems to be in the Casey Coleman and Randy Wells league and I’d still prefer to give Chris Volstad the opportunities in the future.

Jay Jackson – RH RP – Age 24 – AAA
Jay Jackson is another guy that seems to have been around forever. Drafted in the 9th round in 2008, he looked like a steal by making it to AAA in his second season while posting ERA’s under 3.00. But it was a big step back in 2010, another step back in 2011, and yet again this year before moving to the bullpen and finding his strikeouts again. In 26 innings in relief, Jackson has struck out 32 and walked 9 while putting up a 1.73 ERA.

Brett Jackson – CF – Age 23 – AAA
I’m growing more pessimistic by the day with Brett Jackson. I just don’t see how a guy that strikes out in 1/3 of his plate appearances against AAA pitching is ever going to make enough contact against Major League pitching. Even the players everyone likes to make fun of for striking out so much, like Adam Dunn or Drew Stubbs or Mark Reynolds, have had MUCH better strikeout rates in AAA than Jackson does. A serious adjustment is needed and him being a bust would be as big a hit to the organization as Vitters succeeding would be a boon.

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Pitching on the Farm

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

Anthony Rizzo had a good Cub debut, knocking in the game winning run with a couple of hits. Randy Wells wasn’t so good and I wouldn’t be shocked if last night was the last time we’ll see Randy Wells make a start for the Cubs this season, if not forever. So who will take that spot until Ryan Dempster comes back (then take it again when Ryan Dempster is traded)? While the Cubs have a handful of good position prospects, the pitching side of the farm is severely lacking. Here are the pitchers in the upper levels with at least 40 innings thrown:

There are a few young guys that the Cubs won’t rush. Erick Jokisch is having a good year and was recently promoted to AA. He joins Nicholas Struck, Dallas Beeler, Dae-Eun Rhee, and the pre-season top pitching prospect Trey McNutt in the Tennessee rotation. McNutt has taken a step back since his breakout 2010 season with a career low in K/9 and a career high in BB/9. Beeler and Rhee don’t aren’t missing enough bats to warrant any excitement either. Stuck might be the best of the starters in AA going forward.

In Iowa, Chris Rusin was rumored to be in the running for a start this week and may be the next farmhand we see in the rotation. I think I’d prefer to see Brooks Raley as he appears to have a bit more swing and miss in his pitching. Jay Jackson seems to have been around forever. He is striking out the most batters but he’s also giving up a lot of hits and home runs, leading to an ERA of 6.50. De La Cruz is just organization filler, which leaves us with the familiar in Chris Volstad and 36 year old Rodrigo Lopez. Lopez may get some time in Chicago because the Cubs simply have no good options.

The pitching cupboard is bare my friends. Theo/Jed and company made an effort to remedy this by drafting pitcher after pitcher after Almora earlier this month and I think they’ll add more when a trade or three is made in the next month. We’ll likely see the Cubs 2013 top pitching prospect arrive in a deal for Matt Garza. Until then, we get to look forward to Chris Rusin and maybe Rodrigo Lopez.

Maybe Anthony Rizzo can pitch….

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Farm Report – Team OPS Leaders

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

If you follow the minor leagues, you may have heard how some leagues are “pitchers leagues” and some are “hitters leagues”. Included below in the team leaders are the league averages. The raw numbers tell you a little about a player, the numbers relative to the league they play in tell you a little bit more. Matt Szczur might have a higher OPS than Arismendy Alcantara, but the latter’s age, relative to the rest of the league, makes his offensive performance a bit more impressive than Szczur’s.

As you can see, Iowa plays in quite the hitters league, with an average OPS of 775. In fact, that is the highest of any of the minor leagues. So while it’s nice that Josh Vitters has nearly an 800 OPS, he’s basically a bad game or two away from average. On the plus side, he’s significantly younger than the average AAA player. These are a couple of factors that people seem to leave out of their analysis and is also a reason why I, for one, am not ready to give up on Josh Vitters being a big league regular.

The average age could be a bit misleading, however. For example, AAA has a number of 30+ year old men to skew it on the high side. Also, guys like Peoria’s Paul Hoilman is also skewing the average age for the Midwest League by playing there instead of Daytona. And that would be one reason why Hoilman isn’t really much of a prospect.

Three players on this list, not including Anthony Rizzo, intrigue me:

  1. Junior Lake is having an excellent season in AA, at the plate anyway (he’s struggling in the field and on the basepaths this year). What I like most is the career best walk and strikeout rates. If those continue to hold, he’s got a future in Chicago at some yet to be determined position, be it third base or perhaps right field, where he can showcase his arm.
  2. Kevin Goldstein recently commented on Arismendy Alcantara saying he has the tools to stick at shortstop, has plus speed, and described him as a line drive hitter with a quick bat. Scout see him as a utility player at the least, with the chance to be an everyday guy. I’m a big fan of his performance as he is the 8th youngest player in the Florida State League.
  3. 2011’s top draft pick, Javier Baez, is crushing the ball down in Peoria. It’s a small sample, but there has been a lot of hype about his power and quick bat. He’s also showing some speed with 7 stolen bases without being caught, in only 18 games. He’s still playing shortstop, but a move to the hot corner is likely in his future.

So, anyone in particular impressing you? Besides Anthony Rizzo, of course.

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Farm Leaders – Extra Bases

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

This week the Cubs finally added Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler to the organization and he brings with him a much needed infusion of power. Soler hasn’t seen a pitch, but once Anthony Rizzo graduates to the majors later this year, he’ll be in the discussion for the best power hitter in the system. The leaders in ISO (basically, how good is he at getting extra base hits? .250 is usually considered ‘excellent’, .180 is ‘above average’):

“Not much” is the theme with the farm system.

Anthony Rizzo is just a beast in AAA. In 650 AAA plate appearances, he has 46 homers and 49 doubles.

At his current pace, Brett Jackson, in 650 plate appearances, would strike out 198 times. Remember, that’s against AAA pitching. He might have a hard time just hitting the ball.

Nelson Perez and Luis Valbuena are non-prospects, so that leaves Josh Vitters and Paul Hoilman as the only others in the “above average” range. Vitters will be a big leaguer one day, but he might only be a Jeff Baker replacement.
Hoilman had a long hitting streak earlier in the season and tops the list in doubles. But he’s a bit old for the league he plays in and strikes out in over 30% of his plate appearances. Not going to go too far.

When Rizzo joins the Cubs, he leaves the farm system barren of a true power hitter. A year from now, I think we’ll see two new names at the top of this list, Jorge Soler and Javier Baez (who is at .191 right now after 54 PA).

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