Archive for the ‘Minor League’ Category

Prospect Watch: C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

While the top of the Cubs’ farm system is loaded primarily with position players, and the majority of the most exciting Cubs’ pitching prospects will be in High A or below next season, the system does have a couple of legitimate starting rotation prospects who should pitch in Triple A Iowa as the season starts, and could contribute to the MLB team later this season: C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson.

C.J. Edwards (RHP, 23 years old)

2014 Stats

Tennessee (Double A): 10 GS, 48 IP, 2.44 ERA, 2.92 FIP, 8.63 K/9, 3.94 BB/9, .234 BABIP


Among Cubs pitching prospects in the upper levels of the Cubs’ farm system, C.J. Edwards has the highest ceiling. Edwards’ fastball sits 91-95 with solid movement, and he also throws a curveball that could be plus consistently with continued work to go along with an average change up. Two plus pitches and an average third pitch is solid middle of the rotation stuff, and if Edwards can get the change up to even a fringe plus pitch you’re looking at number 2 in a rotation type of stuff.

The big question with Edwards is his durability. He’s listed at 155 pounds, which means he weighs the same amount as me despite being five inches taller. And I do not exactly have a build you’d look at and say “that’s a MLB pitching prospect”. With Edwards, this isn’t a young Tim Lincecum who is throwing 180-plus innings a year with analysts saying the wheels are going to fall off because he’s too small to maintain this type of performance for more than a handful of seasons. Edwards has never thrown more than 116.1 innings in a professional season, which he did in 2013, and was limited to 68.2 innings (20.2 of which were rehabbing a shoulder injury that kept him out much of the season) in 2014.

This has led to a big disparity in prospect gurus rankings of Edwards. While both and Baseball America continue to view Edwards as a potential starter and rank him as a top 50 starter, Baseball Prospectus and ESPN’s Keith Law see Edwards as a reliever only, and as such don’t have him in their top 100 lists.

Edwards was quite good when he pitched in 2014, but 2015 will likely be a year for him to prove he can hold up to a starter’s workload, or a year where he’ll show his long term future is in the bullpen. If Edwards cannot start, I’d be curious if he could fit into a role similar to the role Dellin Betances filled with the Yankees in 2014: a high leverage, multi-inning reliever. But there would even be questions if Edwards could hold up to that workload. At worst, though, Edwards should slot in as a solid late inning reliever along with Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, and Neil Ramirez by 2016.

Likely 2015 Starting Spot: Iowa (Triple A)

Likely MLB Debut: Mid-2015 to early 2016

Pierce Johnson (RHP, 23 years old)

2014 Stats

Kane County (Single A): 2 GS, 11 IP, 2.45 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 6.55 K/9, 2.45 BB/9, .115 BABIP
Tennessee: 18 G, 17 GS, 91.2 IP, 2.55 ERA, 4.27 FIP, 8.93 K/9, 5.30 BB/9, .242 BABIP


When the Cubs picked Pierce Johnson with their sandwich pick they received in free agent compensation for Aramis Ramirez in 2012, many thought the Cubs could have gotten a steal. Johnson’s draft stock dropped from a mid-first round grade primarily due to a forearm strain in his final college season, combined with arm action that led scouts to believe more arm injuries could be in his future. The stuff, though, was considered solidly mid-rotation, and many thought the Missouri State product could be a fast riser.

Johnson hasn’t exactly been a disappointment, but he hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations either. He’s generally pitched pretty well, but he hasn’t moved as quickly as hoped and the arm action remains troubling to some, both from health and control standpoints.

In regards to Johnson’s 2014 statistics in Double A, I do think he needs to be looked at pre-injury and post injury. Prior to hitting the DL with a hamstring injury in mid-May, Johnson put up a 4.39 ERA and posted a BB/9 rate of 8.10. When he returned, Johnson posted a 1.80 ERA and a 4.15 BB/9. That walk rate is still too high, but it’s at least not epically terrible and indicates to me that Johnson wasn’t right in his first stretch of 2014.

While Johnson doesn’t have quite the same durability questions as Edwards, this is a big year for him to prove that he deserves a spot in the Cubs’ long term rotation plans as well. To do so, he’ll have to stay healthy and limit walks in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League.

Likely 2015 Starting Spot: Iowa

Likely MLB Debut: Mid-2015 to mid-2016.

As a final note, the Cubs have another pitching prospect, Armando Rivero, in Iowa who could be a big time contributor to the bullpen. As a bullpen only guy, he’s not considered a big time prospect, but he could be the first guy up if one of Rondon/Strop/Ramirez/Grimm/Motte struggle or get hurt, and I’d suggest checking out his stat line on your website of choice.


Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Prospect Watch: Addison Russell and Billy McKinney

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

The Cubs’ farm system was already arguably the strongest in baseball as July 2014 started. When the Cubs traded starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel for the Oakland Athletics’ two best prospect, shortstop Addison Russell and outfielder Billy McKinney, that “arguably” part disappeared.

Addison Russell (SS, 21 years old):

2014 Stats:

Mesa (Rookie): 50 PAs, .196/.260/.348, 2 HRs, 6% BB rate, 26% K rate, .152 ISO, .226 BABIP, 66 wRC+, 1 SB, 0 CS
Stockton (High A): 18 PAs, .188/.278/.188,0 HRs, 11.1% BB rate, 33.3% K rate, .000 ISO, .300 BABIP, 31 wRC+, 1 SB, 0 CS
Midland (Double A): 57 PAs, .333/.439/.500,1 HR, 14% BB rate, 14 % K rate, .167 ISO, .385 BABIP, 173 wRC+, 3 SB, 2 CS
Tennessee (Double A): 205 PAs, .294/.332/.536, 4.4% BB rate, 17.1% K rate, .242 ISO, .305 BABIP, 141 wRC+, 2 SB, 2 CS


When the Cubs obtained Addison Russell, they gained one of the most difficult to acquire and valuable pieces in baseball: a top ten overall prospect. Russell fell to Oakland at the eleventh pick in the 2012 draft after he bulked up before his senior season of high school. Scouts who saw him that season saw 70 raw power, but also saw a guy who was unlikely to stick at shortstop. In response, Russell lost the weight  after the draft and quickly established himself as an at least average defensive shortstop, likely better, with plus arm strength.

Russell missed much of the first half of the 2014 season with a hamstring injury, which is why he had stops in High A with the A’s and rookie ball after his trade to the Cubs. He showed the solid power and ability to hit for average that was expected following his return to Double A after the trade, although a higher walk rate would be more in line with his career numbers.

The most interesting question with Russell is what the Cubs will do with him when he’s ready? He’s arguably the best defensive shortstop above A Ball for the Cubs, with most scouts seeing him as a better shortstop right now than Starlin Castro. But, if the Cubs succeed this season, I think it would be unlikely that the Cubs would try to cause any issues by moving Castro off the position as long as he continues to be serviceable there. Russell could also replace Javier Baez at second base if Baez continues to strike out too much to get to his power, or he could move to third base if Bryant struggles there defensively, where Russell could bulk up and potentially reach bigger power numbers.

This could also mean that Russell’s MLB debut waits until 2016. In any case, once Russell debuts he is expected to be a mainstay in the Cubs’ infield for years to come.

Likely 2015 Starting Spot:  Triple A Iowa

MLB Debut:  Mid-2015 to early 2016

Billy McKinney (OF, 20 years old)

2014 Stats:

Stockton: 333 PAs, .241/.330/.400, 10 HRs, 10.8% BB rate, 17.4$% K rate, .159 ISO, .267 BABIP, 92 wRC+, 5 SB, 3 CS
Daytona (High A): 210 PAs, .301/.390/.432, 1 HR, 11.9% BB rate, 20.0% K rate, .131 ISO, .377 BABIPO, 136 wRC+, 1 SB, 0 CS


In many, if not most, systems, McKinney would be a top five prospect. Indeed, he was widely considered the A’s second best prospect prior to the July 4 trade after only Russell. In the Cubs’ incredibly deep system, on the other hand, McKinney is more a back end of the top ten type of prospect.

McKinney’s biggest issue is that he only has one plus tool. The good thing for him is that it’s his hit tool. Aside from that, however, McKinney is corner outfield only with limited power, meaning he might project better as a second division starter or fourth outfielder.

This is not to say there isn’t a lot to like about McKinney. There’s a ton to like about him, especially his work ethic. Every single tool of his is thought of higher by scouts today than it was when he was drafted, and that’s solely due to hard work and coachability. But with the Cubs’ stacked hitting prospects, the Cubs might get the most value out of someone like McKinney by trading him as he approaches MLB readiness, which could be as soon as this summer depending on how he performs in his Double A debut.

Likely 2015 Starting Spot:  Tennessee

Likely MLB Debut: Late 2016 to mid-2017.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

3 Cubs Prospects to Keep Your Eye On in 2015

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

By now, every serious Cubs fan is fully aware of the grand praise that our farm system has been receiving, particularly as system rankings and individual prospect rankings have been released over the last several weeks. In each, the Cubs and their players have been seen all over the top of those rankings. While it is certainly easy to get the most excited about Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, and maybe even Javier Baez, we can’t miss some of the players who are a little farther away from making it to the majors. Here are three in particular that I think deserve our attention this season:

Albert Almora

Remember him? The 6th overall pick in the 2012 draft? You know, the guy who went from high school baseball to absolutely tearing up rookie ball before forcing a promotion to low A Boise all in the same season? Most guys are 20 or 21 in low A, but the brand new high school graduate was still able to hit .292 with 7 doubles and just 5 strikeouts in 65 plate appearances in his inaugural season in the minors. I had the opportunity to watch him in person several times the following season in Kane County, and he provides ample reason for excitement. There’s potential for a guy who can excel in hitting XBH (he had 17 doubles and 4 triples in 82 hits in 2013), and he has shown so far that he can keep his strikeouts down. As I outlined in a previous post here, the Cubs are a team that is probably going to strike out a lot in the coming years. So, while I would like it if he walked more, I’m happy with a guy who can keep his strikeouts down.

So why has he fallen off of the radar? I think it’s almost entirely because he had a less than impressive 2014, at least by his own standards. More specifically, he struggled when he made the move to AA Tennessee. His batting average and OBP were lower than where he usually performs, but he continued to produce XBH at his usual rate and he was able to hit for power. His struggles after making the jump to AA last year may have been because of lingering injury issues (he missed large portions of 2013 due to various injuries), but they may also have been because he was playing at a level probably significantly above where he would usually be. I tend to pay close attention to the age of a player versus the average age of those around him while a guy is in the minors, and during his short stint in Tennessee last year, Almora was 4.5 years younger than the average. That may not be a significant spread when you’re in the majors, but it is for a guy who had just turned 20 as the season was starting.

So when he 2015 season begins, I think he’s an important player to keep an eye on, because if you remove his 36 games in AA last year, his minor leagues are genuinely impressive. Even with them included, he’s still at .294/.322/.424 in just over 200 games. His injury history is concerning, but I’d like to see him start in AA this year, and strive for a full season at that level. I don’t think there’s any reason that the organization needs to rush Almora, even though CF is a bit of a hole that I’d love to see him fill one day.

Mark Zagunis

Of course Kyle Schwarber is the catching prospect that has everyone’s attention these days, but I suspect that Zagunis is the one who stands a more likely chance to stick at catcher defensively, even though his time in the Cubs’ farm system so far has shown a pretty even split between C and OF. All signs seem to point to Schwarber moving to the outfield before he reaches the majors, and catcher is a position organizationally that looks a bit thin otherwise. So, considering what he can offer defensively, I think Zagunis is worth paying closer attention to this year. His minor league experience is very limited so far, but his performance across three levels just last season is noteworthy. The Cubs picked him out of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in the third round last year, and after a very brief (2 games) stint in rookie ball, he spend the bulk of 2014 in Boise. What stands out to me the most is the way he gets on base. He hits well, and hits for extra bases consistently, but he draws a lot of walks. Again, this will be important on a team that is probably going to strike out at a high rate for years to come.

I think he’s been overshadowed so far because his trajectory last season followed Schwarber’s pretty closely, so they were often playing at the same level at the same time, and while Schwarber is a first rounder out of a D1 school, Zagunis is a third rounder from a school most of us have never heard of. Schwarber will probably move through the ranks more quickly than Zagunis, which is fine, because I think it will provide him with the opportunity to play catcher with greater frequency.

For that reason, I’d like to see him start 2015 in South Bend. Though he spent part of last season at that level in Kane County, I think 4-6 weeks (or even more) at the beginning of this season in A ball will be a good thing. I’m guessing Schwarber will start 2015 at high A in Myrtle Beach, if not all the way to AA. That gives Zagunis the opportunity to continue to play catcher more regularly at both A and high A when he eventually moves up. I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility to see Zagunis cross three levels of the minor league system in 2015, but even if he doesn’t, I think he’s definitely a player to keep your eye on this year.

C.J. Edwards

He’s increasingly popping up on the radar (Baseball America and both have him in the top 100 prospects for 2015, and Baseball Prospectus had him in their top 100 in 2014), and I suspect that 2015 will be the year that he really breaks out. He projects to be a very reliable middle of the rotation starter, but one of the things that I find most intriguing about him is the number of strikeouts he elicits from the hitters he faces. At every level he’s seen so far, he’s averaged at least a strikeout per inning pitched, if not more. Along with that, he does an excellent job of keeping men off of the basepaths, with a WHIP that sits right around 1.00 at every level. In fact, his average across 3 seasons (237 innings) is .0975. I’m a big fan of pitchers who can strike people out and keep them off of the basepaths. That, combined with the fact that he is quite stingy with the HRs he allows (a whopping 2 during his time in the minors so far), leads me to think he’s worth more careful consideration this season.

Because he missed such a large portion of last season with a shoulder injury, I think he absolutely needs to start 2015 in Tennessee. He logged just 48 innings in AA last year because of the injury, so I’d like to see him start there to begin the season, but provided he can stay healthy of course, I think he can make his way to Iowa by the end of the season, and then eventually onto the 40 man roster by the start of 2016. In a farm system that is bursting with offensive strength, Edwards is a guy who has consistently put up good numbers so far, and I suspect he can do the same when he eventually pitches at Wrigley. But that probably doesn’t happen until next year.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Prospect Watch: Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

As the unanimous, at least as far as I’ve seen, opinion that the Cubs have the best farm system in baseball indicates, the Cubs have a number of talents in their minor league system who project as quality Major Leaguers. Two of these players with elite prospect status are likely to get the opportunity to make big impacts in the Majors early in 2015: Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler.

Kris Bryant (3B, 23 years old)

2014 Stats:
Tennessee (Double A): 297 PAs, .355/.458/.702, 22 HRs, 26% K rate, 14% BB rate, .347 ISO, .440 BABIP, 220 wRC+, 8 SB, 2 CS
Iowa (Triple A): 297 PAs, .295/.418/.619, 21 HRs, 29% K rate, 14% BB rate, .324 ISO, .367 BABIP, 164 wRC+, 7 SBs, 2 CS


Along with Twins CF Byron Buxton, Bryant has been one of two players mentioned in the top prospect slot in top 100 lists this winter. Bryant has an elite power bat, with at least 70 power on the scouting scale, and a strong ability to get on base.

Bryant’s only offensive concern is a high strikeout rate, but Bryant does not show the concerns that Javier Baez does. Baez incurs a high strikeout rate because of a poor approach and an inability to read breaking balls early enough. Bryant has a typical high power/high walks/high strikeouts approach. He’s going to look for a pitch he can crush, will take pitches until he gets one, and won’t cheat to contact much with two strikes. It’s a Giancarlo Stanton like approach, and Bryant has similar offensive gifts as the Marlins’ slugger.

There are also defensive questions about Bryant, although most scouts I’ve seen have said he should be able to at least be acceptable, if not average, at the hot corner for now. The bigger concern is if, at his size (he’s listed at 6’5”, 215 pounds), his body can hold up to the demands of the position long term. While he’s likely to at least start his career at 3B, he could be moving to an outfield corner based on the success of players like Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, and Addison Russell, and in any case will likely be headed to the outfield meaningfully before his 30th birthday.

A comp I’ve heard frequently for Bryant is Troy Glaus. And before you say “ugh, Troy Glaus?!”, just go ahead and look at Glaus’s early career numbers before the injuries started piling up. If Bryant can avoid injuries and maintain that type of offensive production throughout the next seven season, Cubs fans will be very, very happy.

Bryant will almost certainly start the season in Iowa under some pretense to gain an extra year of service time before he hits free agency. He will be up once that extra year accrues, which should happen on April 15. So it might be a very happy tax day for Cubs fans.

Likely 2015 Starting Spot: Iowa.

MLB Debut: Mid-April to early May 2015.

Jorge Soler (RF, 23 years old)

2014 Stats:
Tennessee: 79 PAs, .415/.494/.862, 6 HRs, 19% K rate, 15% BB rate, .447 ISO, .457 BABIP, 265 wRC+, 0 SBs, 0 CS
Iowa: 127 PAs, .282/.378/.618, 8 HRs, 20% K rate, 13% BB rate, .336 ISO, .303 BABIP, 149 wRC+, 0 SBs, 1 CS
MLB: 97 PAs, .262/.318/.470, 5 HRs, 25% K rate, 6 % walk rate, .208 ISO, .295 BABIP, 146 wRC+, 1 SB, 0 CS

Soler entered 2014 as the prospect Cubs fans were most wary about due to a somewhat down 2013 season heavily affected by injuries. While he continued to struggle through a couple of hamstring injuries over the first half of the season, Soler’s production when healthy answered any questions of whether he could play at an elite level.

Soler tore up the Southern League so masterfully the Cubs sent him up to Triple A after just 79 plate apperancess, and then beat up the Pacific Coast League to nearly the same extent as Bryant did before Soler received his MLB call up. In both minor league stops, Soler showed an ability to hit for power, get on base, and limit strikeouts to a respectable level.

I think some Cub fans are overrating Soler’s MLB debut based upon their first looks at him because he had such an amazing first five games (.526/.550/1.211, 3 HRs, 391 wRC+ in 20 PAs).  Soler struggled for his remaining 19 games of the season (.229/.273/.400, 2 HRs, 82 wRC+ in 77 PAs). By no means, however, does this mean I’m down on Soler. He has elite tools, and is very refined for both his age and amount of professional experience. He should continue to hit for power, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see it take a couple of seasons for the walk and strikeout rates to return to his dominant minor league levels. If not for Bryant, he’d likely be the front runner for NL Rookie of the Year.

Likely 2015 Starting Spot: Chicago. The only way Soler won’t start the season as the right fielder in Wrigley is if he isn’t healthy on Opening Day.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Early Predictions on the Cubs 1st Round Draft Pick

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

Two weekends into the 2015 college baseball season, the stars of the collegiate realm are already separating themselves from the rest of the pack. Vanderbilt’s Dansby Swanson is living up to the billing as the projected top pick on June 8th, while Virginia’s Nathan Kirby and Michael Matuella have shown the polished arms that have scouts clamoring. Swanson, Matuella and Brady Aiken will likely be long gone by the time the Cubs’ pick, though the season is still in its infancy. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have been difficult to predict thus far, and any guess as to what the brain trust will do next is just that: a guess. It is never too early to explore the options that they may be considering, though. With the ninth pick in the 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft, the Chicago Cubs select…

The Draft Board Riser:
By this point in the Epstein-Hoyer tenure, fans should have figured out the organization’s affinity for shortstops. Shortstops by nature are the most athletic players on the field, and are capable of moving around if the need presents itself. Florida’s Richie Martin has undoubtedly caught the eye of Cubs’ scouts. Two weeks into the college baseball season, Martin has been dynamic. Smooth defense and quick reactions have been a stabilizing force for the Gators’ young infield, and he has displayed the ability to hit in the top third of the lineup against stiff competition. Martin is projected to be a mid-to-late first rounder, but as offense continues to improve with the new ball being used in the college ranks, pitching stock may fall slightly.

The Under Slot Option: Some love for Cincinnati’s Ian Happ seems long overdue. The junior outfielder has been the heart of the Bearcats’ lineup almost since day one. Cincinnati does not play in the toughest conference, so it could be argued that Happ has spent the last several seasons beating up weak competition. The issue there is that Happ flat out destroyed pitchers in the two seasons he spent on the Cape, being named to the All-Star game each season. Happ has the ability to hit from both sides of the plate, though he looks to have a future from the left side. Happ has shown the ability to swipe bases at a high level, and his bat has projectable pop. Kyle Schwarber’s stock in the 2014 Draft sat in the mid-to-late first round range, largely because of uncertainty as to where he fit in defensively. Happ recently transitioned to the outfield, and the verdict is still out on how that experiment will pan out. Happ could be the 2015 version of Schwarber if a team is willing to look past the defensive question marks.

The High Risk, High Reward: As is often the case, the player with arguably the most potential is the one with the lowest floor. 2015 UCLA commit Justin Hooper could end up nearly anywhere in the first few rounds, from the top 3 range to a competitive balance selection. He has the fastball of 2014 Marlins’ selection Tyler Kolek, with the control of the 2014 Diamondbacks’ pick, Touki Touissant. In other words, Hooper’s heater is a blur, but at times he can’t throw a rock into the ocean. At the Perfect Game Showcase at Wrigley this past summer, Hooper’s secondary pitches looked flat and hittable, while his fastball sat between 94-96. Scouts think his fastball can increase in velocity, as he grows into his huge 6’7” frame. His size allows him to throw with a considerable downward plane. If Hooper can improve his breaking stuff, and develop average secondary pitches, his fastball will carry him. The Cubs do not have a farm hand similar to Hooper, though a Nate Eovaldi comparison down the road might not be a stretch.

The Signability Risk: To preface, there is little, if any, talk among scouts that Kolby Allard will not sign with a club in the 2015 Draft. If he decides to attend UCLA, though, where he is currently committed, he has the potential to be the first name off the board following his junior season. His fastball has been clocked at 96, and unlike some of the other high school arms, his breaking pitches look deceptive and polished. Russell was named a 2014 Perfect Game Underclassmen Honorable Mention in 2014, following an Honorable Mention in 2013. If he can be lured away from the Bruins, he would be quite a coupe for the Cubs. The opportunity to play on a deep PAC 12 team with Omaha aspirations, followed by a possible top selection, could force a team in the Cubs’ position to go over slot. He is a much safer bet than any other high school pitcher in the class, it will be interesting to see how much his relatively small size (6’2”, 175 according Perfect Game) will play in going forward.

The Prediction: 2015 is shaping up to be a tremendous year for pitching, with a seemingly endless list of possible future mid-rotation starters. What the class does not have is superstar arms, outside of the top 5 picks. Kirby and Kyle Funkhouser are very safe bets to have long Major League careers, but with so many solid draftable pitchers, taking a risk might be the smarter route. James Kaprielian or Justin Garza carry second or third round price tags and could allow the Cubs to take a risk with the ninth overall pick. With the ninth overall pick, the Cubs take Daz Cameron, or Albert Almora 2.0. Cameron’s ceiling is not clear, but there is little question that he is a five-tool player. He flashed some of everything in his Perfect Game Showing at Wrigley, when he made a spectacular diving catch, had a hard single and a stolen base, and displayed a strong throwing arm. Cameron comes from athletic bloodlines, as his father Mike had a career spanning three decades. The Cubs have shown their love for athleticism, and if past drafts are any indication, they will stick with the methodology that has worked well to this point.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Prospect Watch: Albert Almora and Kyle Schwarber

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

I’ll admit it: this is the first offseason in half a decade that I am more excited about the Chicago Cubs’ Major League team than the prospects in their minor league affiliates. However, that does not mean that prospects should be ignored. To the contrary, the Cubs near unanimously considered top farm system in baseball is the primary reason so many analysts are so high on the team, and even after Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler are no longer considered prospects due to losing rookie eligibility, the Cubs will still have one of the best systems in baseball.

Our first look goes to two of the three first round selections by Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod, and company: 2012 first round pick Albert Almora and 2014 first round pick Kyle Schwarber.

Albert Almora (CF, 20 years old)

2014 Stats:
Dayt0na (High A): 385 PAs, .283/.306/.406, 11.9% K rate, 3.1% BB rate, .123 ISO, .305 BABIP, 100 wRC+, 6 SB, 3 CS
Tennessee (Double A): 144 PAs, .234/.250/.355, 16.0% K rate, 1.4% BB rate, .121 ISO, .267 BABIP, 64 wRC+, 0 SB, 1 CS

There are two camps on Almora, the optimists and the pessimists. The optimists see an elite defensive center fielder who strikes out very little and generally at least held his own in the minor leagues, with the sole exception of his Double A promotion last season, while being very young for each league he played in. The pessimists see Josh Vitters without the power at the plate, a guy who does not strike out but with no discernible approach, resulting in a lot of weak contact. They also see a guy who will have average power at best and doesn’t walk, leaving it hard to see how a guy with a low OBP and mediocre slugging rate can be a Major League regular, much less someone worthy of the sixth pick in a pretty strong draft.

I split the two, but fall more into the pessimist camp at the plate. I am very concerned about the complete lack of approach that Almora has shown to date. He is too much of a see ball/hit ball hitter without having the sort of power to make that approach work. It is pretty simple: he has to walk more to be successful. He does not need to be an above average walk guy; if he gets the walk rate into the 7-8% range that will also likely mean he is waiting for pitches he can drive more, and he can succeed with that sort of walk rate and a low K rate. But he cannot succeed walking in less than 3% of his plate appearances over a season.

Everyone appears to agree he is an elite defender in center field, a premium defensive position, which should at the least give Almora more opportunities to find success at the plate. You can live with Josh Vitters’s bat if the player is also providing elite defensive value. You cannot live with that bat when it’s also connected to Josh Vitters’s glove.

The few reasons I remain somewhat optimistic about Almora at the plate, though, are his young age and reported makeup, which is supposed to be among the best in baseball. However, if he is as eminently coachable as his makeup would infer, he needs to show it this season. Almora will likely slide into the back half of most Top 100 prospect lists, although I would expect to see him closer to 51 than 100. He has the ability to make a huge jump, but could also slide off the lists entirely and be precariously close to the dreaded “former prospect” status if he does not improve.

Likely 2015 Starting Spot: Double A Tennessee

MLB Debut: Mid-2016 to mid-2017.

Kyle Schwarber (C/LF/1B, 21 years old)

2014 Stats:
Boise (Short Season A): 24 PAs, .600/.625/1.350, 8.3% K rate, 8.3% BB rate, .750 ISO, .533 BABIP, 397 wRC+, 0 SB, 1 CS
Kane County (Low A): 96 PAs, .361/.447/.602, 17.7% K rate, 11.5% BB rate, .241 ISO, .419 BABIP, 197 wRC+, 1 SB, 1 CS
Daytona (High A): 191 PAs, .302/.393/.560, 19.9% K rate, 13.6% BB rate, .258 ISO, .328 BABIP, .166 wRC+, 4 SB, 0 CS

Many analysts were surprised when the Cubs took Schwarber with the 4th pick in the MLB draft because they felt Schwarber was, in the long run, a first baseman in the Major Leagues. This would mean he is blocked by the Cubs’ current best player, Anthony Rizzo, and it is a huge risk to draft a first baseman that high because the bat has to be so good for the player to provide elite value. The Cubs, however, felt that Schwarber was the best available college bat, had a shot to stick at catcher, and could at least play a survivable left field.

Schwarber’s bat provided all that could be hoped for and more, dominating three levels after participating in a full college season. He lapped the other 2014 draftee in the argument for best college bat, Michael Conforto (selected by the Mets with the number 10 pick), and the only question in regards to his bat is if he will be able to keep this up as he enters the upper minors next season. Most firmly believe he will continue to mash.

The real question with Schwarber is “what is his MLB position?” The Cubs sent him to instructs at their Mesa, Arizona, facility in October to determine whether they wanted to keep him catching or end that experiment now. Of course, if Schwarber could catch even half the season he would massively increase his value, as very few catchers can hit like Schwarber, particularly from the left side of the plate. But he is a work in progress there, so that will also slow down his ascent to the Majors.

After one week, the Cubs decided Schwarber can catch well enough that they will keep working him at the position next season. What exactly Schwarber’s breakdown between catching and left field will be in 2015, I am not exactly sure, but I would bet you’ll mostly see Schwarber catching and then getting truly rested by DHing on the majority of days he doesn’t catch.

If Schwarber continues to stick at catcher, you probably will not see him in the Majors until at least late 2016, with early 2017 being more likely. If he is moved to left field permanently, he could be up as early as late 2015 if the Cubs contend and think his bat could help the club.

Likely 2015 Starting Spot: Double A Tennessee

MLB Debut: Late 2015 (if not catching anymore ) to early 2017 (if sticks at catcher).

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Back to the Cubs Future: A Look Back at the Baseball America Top 10 List from 2011

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

I grew up watching the Cubs as I was in middle school and high school in the early and mid-90′s. While I don’t have as much pain and heartache on my fan log, I do vividly remember following the team quite close. Since it was before social media and even before the internet, I lived for the morning newspaper. Weekly they would post the complete, updated stats for all the Major League teams. Every now and then, I’d get my hands on a sporting news publication, but nothing related to prospects.

Times have changed and now, in the midst of a massive rebuild of the farm system, fans are more interested in the prospects than they ever were before. At one point, ESPN Chicago had their beat writer, Jesse Rogers covering the team in Iowa rather than the big league club. It shows you just how far things have come when it comes to prospects. It’s hard not to get excited about the future as we see guys like Javier Baez come up and flex his power early in his career, but I thought it might be fun to take a look back to see what we were getting excited about just three short years ago.

Each year, Baseball America releases it’s top 10 list for each organization and then projects the lineup for the Major League team three years out. With this being 2014, I thought it interesting to take a gander at what that 2011 list looked like to see how they did. Here is the list in 2011 as Baseball America saw it:

At first glance, this doesn’t look so promising, and it really isn’t. A look at that list reveals no player currently on the Major League roster, with a good amount of them either out of the organization completely or on their way out. Let’s take a look at where these guys are now.

Chris ArcherThis one wasn’t a miss by the Jim Hendry regime when they acquired him from Cleveland in a Mark DeRosa trade. There is a reason he was the number one guy in the system at that time and he’s showing it in the Tampa Bay Rays rotation. Before we get frustrated that he’s not a part of our system, let’s see what he turned into. Archer was sent to the Rays before the 2011 season along with Hak-Ju Lee, Sam Fuld, Robinson Chirinos, and Brandon Guyer. A quick look at the top ten list will reveal that three of those five names were in the at that time top 10 list. Keep in mind that the system was fairly barren at that time. In return, the Cubs received Matt Garza, Fernando Perez, and Zac Rosscup. The Cubs would get quality production from Garza for 2011, 2012, and half of 2013 before shipping him to Texas for Justin Grimm, Mike Olt, CJ Edwards, and Neal Ramirez. So, while Archer isn’t a part of the organization right now, I feel like the overall result is OK.

Brett Jackson – He’s still in the system, but you would never know it given the hype and talk about the rest of the bats in this system. Jackson had his window open albeit briefly in 2012. He got the call late in the season, struggled to the tune of .173 / .303 / .342 and hasn’t seen a call up since. He’s no longer listed in top 20 lists and quickly moving off any radar whatsoever. In 2014, his 4th season with at bats in AAA, he’s hitting .210 / .300 / .352. At this point, the only reason he’s still in this organization is where he was drafted. It’s hard to admit a hiccup in the draft at the top and you tend to give those guys as much opportunity as possible to rebound. He’s on the 40 man roster still, but I don’t see him in the organization at the start of 2015. With the kids getting ready to come up soon, spots are going to be needed on the 40 man and Jackson is expendable. Look for him to be included as a wild card flyer in an off-season deal to acquire a starting pitcher.

Trey McNutt – McNutt had a tremendous first full season in the minors, going 10-1 with a sparkling 2.48 ERA in 2010 between A, High A, and AA. He was rising quick and looked to be a top arm in the system. Since then he’s faltered and has not pitched in 2014. To be honest, I can’t even find news as to if he’s even still a part of the organization.

Hak-Ju Lee – He was always compared to Starlin Castro and fans wondered what the Cubs would do when both players reached the Majors. Would Castro shift to 2B? Logjam at SS…sound familiar? Lee still hasn’t made it to the Majors and has struggled in AAA this season. Things don’t look so good for him.

Josh Vitters – He’s still quietly on the radar, but no longer a potential vital cog in the wheel. At this point, Vitters will either hit enough to find his way onto the roster as a 4th or 5th OF or get traded and get a chance to start fresh. Either way, this one looks very much like a miss.

Chris Carpenter – Not that one. We got the bad Carpenter. His claim to fame was his name and the fact that his trade to the Red Sox was met with much contention between Theo and his former employer. He’s pitched out of the pen in Japan this season after recovering from Tommy John, but nothing really to write home about.

Matt Szczur – He’s been a disappointment since being drafted in the 5th round. He has finally made it to AAA this season and has a slugging percentage lower than his on base percentage, which is hard to do.

Hayden Simpson – Don’t even get me started on this one. This pick had bust from the moment his name was announced. He didn’t pitch at all in 2010 after being drafted in June due to a bout with mono. When he finally took the mound in 2011 he sucked. In 2012 he sucked some more and found himself sucking for an independent team before being released due to severe suckage. In my mind, he’s one of the biggest bust picks by the Cubs in a long time.

Rafael Dolis – No longer in the organization. The fact that a MR was in the top 10 shows just how weak this list was.

Brandon Guyer – He’s in the lineup for the Rays, but not anything more than a spare outfielder.

Overall, not a good state of the system at that time. What makes me laugh is where our projected lineup was supposed to be for 2014.

Thank goodness we have a new era when it comes to talent down on the farm because this lineup is just a tad bit discouraging.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

What the Samardzija and Hammel Trade Means for the Rebuild

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Following the Cubs’ sweep of the Red Sox last week, I planned on writing about how the Cubs could be legitimate competitors in 2015 without blowing up the farm system or spending insane amounts of money. So late on the Fourth of July, I hopped on MLB Trade Rumors on my phone, intending to check which catchers are scheduled to hit free agency after this season. There, right on the top of screen, I saw that the Cubs traded Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A’s for a package headlined by shortstop and top ten prospect in baseball Addison Russell. The Cubs also received the A’s second best prospect, outfielder Billy McKinney, and Dan Straily, a fairly successful starting pitcher with the A’s last season before struggling this year. The big prize, however, was undoubtedly Russell. Suddenly, I knew the post on the Cubs competing in 2015 would be delayed.

I know a fair number of Cubs’ fans were hoping, expecting, whatever verb is appropriate, to get high ceiling, near MLB ready pitching for Samardzija at the least. The rub, however, is that teams generally don’t trade high ceiling, close to the Majors pitching prospects mid-season for established MLB pitchers, even for very good pitchers like Samardzija. Instead, they promote those prospects to the Majors mid-season, if they’re contending.

Beyond that, even if they Cubs had been able to pick up two Aaraon Sanchez types (top 30 prospects in baseball), that’s not as good of a return as one top ten prospect like Addison Russell. Also, the abundance of fantastic Cubs’ hitting prospects, which includes three top ten prospects (Russell, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant), along with four other position player prospects who would fall into many top fifty lists (Arismendy Alcantara, Albert Almora, Kyle Schwarber, and Jorge Soler), gives the Cubs a host of options to complete the rebuild, and in relatively short order.

Trade Prospects for Elite Starting Pitching

Joe hit on this one in his write up of the trade on July 5. The Cubs could put a package of position player prospects together better than what any other team could offer on any starting pitcher who might become available via trade, including David Price.

Yet I don’t think the Cubs are going this route. There are too many pitchers like Price, top of the rotation arms right around age 30, hitting free agency for the Cubs to send a load of prospects for one of them. If someone like Chris Sale, who is signed long term to a fairly team friendly deal, became available, that would change my opinion. However, the odds of someone like Sale becoming available anytime soon are somewhere between the odds of me winning the lottery and my son becoming the King of England.

Keeping All The Prospects

Yes, this is a legitimate possibility, particularly if the Cubs think Kris Bryant is a better long term fit in an outfield corner than the hot corner. If this route was taken, there’s a high likelihood that the line up in mid-2015, and by early 2016 at the latest, would include some combination of Starlin Castro, Russell, and Baez at shortstop, second base, and third base, Anthony Rizzo at first base, Arismendy Alcantara in center field, and Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant in the outfield corners. That is a lineup with a ton of potential that would cost a grand total of approximately $17 million for seven starting position players, and allows Albert Almora and Kyle Schwarber to continue progressing in the minors.

With that much cost savings on position players, including top prospect insurance in the minor leagues, the Cubs could open the flood gates on pitching spending without mortgaging their ability to compete. They could easily sign a Max Scherzer or Jon Lester while having plenty of money available to pick up a second tier starter like Justin Masterson or Ervin Santana.

Trading for Giancarlo Stanton 

The Cubs have been very clear about the type of veterans they will target as they become competitive: in prime (e.g., still in their 20s, preferably as far away from 30 as possible) star caliber players. Unfortunately, these types of players rarely make it to free agency, and get $200 million-plus contracts when they do. This off season, though, the Miami Marlins are fairly likely to shop Giancarlo Stanton, one of the best hitters, and arguably the best pure power hitter, in baseball. Stanton does not turn 25 until November.

If the Marlins shop Stanton, the Cubs would be in a great position to make a deal for the power hitting outfielder. While the Marlins have a lot of young, elite pitching talent in their system, much of which is already in the Majors, their offensive prospects are more solid starter types or role players than potential stars. The Cubs could offer Javier Baez, who has a big boom or bust potential, Albert Almora, a Christian Villanueva or Dan Vogelbach type, and a Pierce Johnson type of pitching prospect while still maintaining a very solid farm system.

This move makes sense for the Cubs if they think that Bryant can handle third base long term. Looking at the same late 2015/early 2016 lineup time frame, the Cubs would have Rizzo at first base, Russell and Castro in the middle infield, Bryant at 3B, Stanton and Soler in the outfield corners, and Alcantara in center field. 

Stanton could particularly appeal to the Cubs because his offensive performance is already the best case scenario for any of the Cubs’ top prospects. Stanton is hitting .308/.406/.566 with 21 home runs through Sunday, July , which are MVP contender numbers. 

A couple of concerns would accompany any deal for Stanton. Stanton has dealt with knee issues in the past, but they’ve been more of the nagging variety than skill eroding injuries. An injury history like Stanton’s is a risk a team just has to take to sometimes to obtain a player like Stanton, and a discount shouldn’t be expected because of it if he remains healthy through the last half of 2014. The Cubs could also shift Stanton to left field, which is a bit less demanding than right field. 

Also, Stanton will enter his second of three years of arbitration in 2015. The Cubs would likely require an agreement on an extension with Stanton prior to any trade becoming official, and even with a pre-free agency extension discount any free agent eligible years covered by the extension would likely, and should, cost the Cubs at least $20 million per season, and probably $25 million or above. Would that be worth it for a middle of the order containing Stanton, Anthony Rizzo, and Kris Bryant? Only time would tell, but I think that would be one fun middle of the order to watch.

Odds are we won’t know what the Cubs plan to do with their brigade of position player prospects until the offseason. Whichever route the Cubs take, though, the Cubs are on the cusp of building what very well could be the best Cubs offense of my nearly 33 year lifetime without signing a single free agent starting position player.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Prospect Watch: Closest to the Majors Edition

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

 Two weeks ago, we explored the top of the Cubs’ system, who conveniently have continued to perform the similarly over the past two weeks, giving that piece at least a big of longevity. But the Cubs’ system wasn’t viewed as special heading into the season just because it had four of the top 50 position player prospects in baseball. It is also a deep system.

While Javier Baez’s and the Chicago Cubs’ poor starts make it much less likely we’ll see any of the Cubs’ top five prospects in Wrigley this season, several other legitimate prospects could make their Major League debuts with the Cubs this season. As a note, all statistics are through Sunday, June 8.

 Arismendy Alcantara (2B/SS) – Triple A Iowa Cubs – Age 22
.269/.307/.519, .351 wOBA, 107 wRC+, 8 HRs, 5.6% BB rate, 25.2% K rate, .331 BABIP, 10 SBs, 2 CSs

Outside of the Core Four position players and C.J. Edwards, Arismendy Alcantara is generally viewed as the Cubs’ best prospect, as well as a top 100 prospect in his own right, and Baseball Prospectus’s Jason Parks described Alcantara’s ceiling as Jose Reyes-lite. He showed an ability to get on base in Double A Tennessee last season, has above average power for a middle infielder, can steal bases, and should be at least a plus defensive second baseman, with gold glove ceiling as far as talent is concerned. Alcantara played shortstop through the Cubs’ system until Baez joined the Smokies in the middle of 2013.

Alcantara has shown good power in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League, but has not forced the issue of his promotion due to a .306 OBP. He has been a level a year type of player throughout the minors, and I would not be surprised to see the Cubs prefer Alcantara play almost all of, if not the entire, Triple A season in Iowa. However, since he is already on the 40 man roster, I also would not at all be surprised to see Alcantara make his debut when rosters expand in September, with his Major League debut being no later than late April 2015.

Kyle Hendricks (RHP) – Iowa Cubs – Age 24
11 GS, 67 IP, 3.90 ERA, 3.04 FIP, 8.60 K/9, 2.55 BB/9, .347 BABIP against

At the start of training camp, Hendricks was the Cubs plus control/command, average at best stuff pitcher of the year. Nearly every team in baseball has one of these guys every season. Unfortunately, few become more than back end of the rotation starters.

Hendricks has shown some good signs this season, though, particularly an increased strikeout rate. He is essentially a finished product, and with his fairly limited ceiling service time concerns are unlikely to come into play. Hendricks will likely be one of the first three Iowa pitchers called up, along with Tsuyoshi Wada and Chris Rusin, upon either injury or trade of a pitcher currently in the Cubs’ starting rotation. As such, he could make his MLB debut tomorrow, or he could end up waiting until early 2015.

Christian Villanueva (3B) – Iowa Cubs – Age 22
.222/.279/.384, .289 wOBA, 67 wRC+, 5 HRs, 7% BB rate, 26% K rate, .283 BABIP, 2 SBs, 1 CS

While Kris Bryant and Mike Olt got the lion’s share of the media attention (let’s be honest, they got ALL the media attention) at third base during spring training, Villanueva is a solid prospect in his own right, rated higher than Olt coming into this season by all publications and more likely to stay at the hot corner than Bryant.

 Villanueva’s bat has been disappointing for the Iowa Cubs this season, but his defense at third, which rates as plus-plus and been called the best in all of the minor leagues, means that if he can be a league average bat he’ll provide great value while he is cheap and under team control.

Villanueva, however, could end up the odd man out of the Cubs’ game of third base prospect musical chairs. If the Cubs decide Mike Olt is not the answer (and it sure doesn’t look like he is) AND the Cubs trade Luis Valbuena this season, Villanueva could get the call up in July, particularly if he starts hitting more consistently. But I don’t think the Cubs trade Valbuena, arguably their second best offensive player who is only in his first year of arbitration.

By next year, Kris Bryant could bang down the door to Wrigley and claim third base for at least the next 6 plus seasons… or the Cubs could move Bryant to a corner outfield spot. I would not be shocked to see Villanueva get a cup of coffee in the show with Alcantara in September, but, unlike Alcantara, I am not convinced Villanueva will be on the Major League active roster early in 2015. He could end up as trade bait as much as anything, where he would be a solid second or third piece in a trade for a bigger name on the trading block.

Arodys Vizcaino (RHP) – High A Daytona Cubs, Double A Tennessee Smokies – Age 23
At Daytona: 9 G, 9 IP, 1.00 ERA, 2.33 FIP, 10 K/9, 4 BB/9, .286 BABIP against
At Tennessee: 11 G, 11 IP, 2.38 ERA, 1.93 FIP, 10.32 K/9, 2.38 BB/9, .231 BABIP against

Vizcaino is the only prospect not currently on the Iowa Cubs in this list, although he has been pitching in the High A Florida State and Double A Southern Leagues to start the season due to their friendlier weather than Iowa in April and May, not because he could not handle Triple A hittersg. Aside from one bad outing with the Smokies a couple of weeks ago where he allowed 3 earned runs in one inning, Vizcaino has been lights out this season, not allowing a run in his other 10 appearances in the Southern League. You know how good Hector Rondon and Neil Ramirez have been for the Cubs this season? Vizcaino’s ceiling as a late innings reliever is higher.

 The questions regarding Vizcaino’s arrival in Wrigley are: (1) when are the Cubs comfortable that he’s ready for the rigors of MLB bullpen usage? (2) Are the Cubs planning on trying to convert Vizcaino back to a starter? And (3) how are the Cubs viewing his service time issues? This is a bit more complicated for Vizcaino than most, since time on the disabled list (where Vizcaino spent 2012 and 2013) counts as service time towards arbitration, not minor league option years. As such, Vizcaino already has more than 2 years of MLB service time.

So we could see Vizcaino very soon. But, if the Cubs decide to convert Vizcaino back to a starter, which is viewed as unlikely but possible, he might not hit Wrigley until 2016. My guess is we see Vizcaino very late this season, once the Cubs will be sure he will not be a Super 2 player entering arbitration in 2015.

My guess on the order of call ups for these four: Hendricks, Vizcaino, Alcantara, Villanueva, with Villanueva having the highest odds of never suiting up as a Chicago Cub.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us: