Archive for the ‘Minor League’ Category

Cuban Invasion Continues, Bryant Promoted, Tseng Signed

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

In news that I think is only tangential to the Cubs, yet another Cuban über-prospect, 26-year-old Jose Abreu, has apparently escaped Cuba has plans to defect, and will subsequently break the bank of some MLB team. Check out his stats from the last three years:

2010-2011: .453/.597/.986 (37 HRs in 77 games)

2011-2012: .394/.542/.837

2012-2013: .382/.535/.735

Kids playing Wiffle Ball in the back yard think those numbers are ridiculous. Here’s a link to a Grantland story in which Jonah Keri says he “might be the best hitter in the world.”

He even compares Abreu to, gulp, Miguel Cabrera. Abreu is huge (6’2” 260 lbs.), and is, by all accounts, a 1B/DH-only type (his glove is apparently well below average). That’s the main reason that I don’t see the Cubs going all out for him (and going all out is going to be what it will take to sign him).  We have a good, young, 1B signed long-term, and I don’t think a team can afford to have a defensive liability at first base, even if he is a great hitter. If the FO had some insight that the NL was on the verge of adopting the DH, I think we’d have a different story. It would be an exiting move, though, and I wouldn’t be disappointed in the least if the Cubs made a serious run at the guy. Either way, with his numbers, and the recent success of fellow Cubans Puig and Cespedes, Abreu is going to demand HUGE dollars.

We’re in the deep doldrums period with the major league club right now, but there’s actually a few interesting things going on with the organization.

I was about to write a blurb about the rumors of the looming promotion of Kris Bryant. Well, as you’ve probably heard, Bryant was just promoted from Boise to Class High-A Daytona. Several writers had speculated that he would skip Low-A Kane County, and that turned out to be what occurred. Bryant was absolutely destroying the Northwest League, so I really like the move. However, I am concerned about the amount of rain-outs in Daytona. I really hope Bryant can get enough consistent at-bats to keep his rapid development rolling.

In news that has been rumored for a few weeks, the Cubs officially announced the signing of Taiwanese pitcher Jen-Ho Tseng ($1.625 million signing bonus). Tseng, a veteran of the World Baseball Classic, is 6’1”, 200 lbs. and features a 4-pitch mix with a 95-mph fastball. He was ranked 23rd on BAs international prospects list, making Tseng the 4th Cubs signee this year ranked in the top 23.

There’s not much to say here. Mat Latos dominated the Cubs, who were shutout for third straight game at home – the first time that has happened since 1924. Travis Wood pitched well again…but he might as well have given up 100 runs, since he got exactly zero run support. Also, Aroldis Chapman throws baseballs really fast.

STATE OF THE SYSTEM
Center Field

by Rob Willer

Top Prospect: Albert Almora

Bio: The Cubs number one pick in 2012, outfielder Albert Almora projects to be a Cubs star one day soon. Signed when he was only 18, he’s a couple of years away from full development, but he’s already got most scouts checking up on his progression from high school. Its crazy to think that Almora is only 19 years old but you wouldn’t notice it on the field for how well he shows leadership and poise. Almora was the Cubs’ first round draft pick going sixth overall in the 2012 draft becoming Theo Epstein’s first draft pick.

2012 Season: He’s a good athlete with off the charts instincts and mental makeup. Almora started off his Cubs career at Rookie Ball in 2012 where you guessed hit over .300. Almora hit .321/.331/.464 to be exact over 145 at bats across Rookie Ball and Short Season A Boise while scoring 27 runs. It seems the only thing in his development that hasn’t come is the power in relation to home-runs where he only had two homers on the season. For now we’ll take his production and ability to get on base over the home-runs and tendency to strikeout.

Projection: Almora has good pitch recognition skills, so that should eventually translate into an ability to grind out ABs and take walks. Most scouts have him pegged as hitting .300 as an everyday center-fielder in the major leagues. The projections of home-runs varies but in my mind I would say 15 home-runs would be a solid estimate when he finally gets the call to the big league club sometime in 2016.

2013 Season: Almora has played at Kane County for all of this year after recovering from his injury early on in the season. Through 61 games Almora has 82 hits in 249 at bats which is good for a .329 batting average. Some other key numbers to remember are his 17 doubles, four triples and his .842 OPS. Overall Almora has done everything the Cubs’ have asked since returning from injury. Recently Almora went on the seven day disabled list with a groin injury which is probably the only reason he is still at Kane County. In my mind I believe he gets the call-up to Daytona by the end of the month baring any setbacks from the groin injury.

Sleeper Prospect: Trey Martin

Bio: Trey Martin, 19, signed an over-slot contract in 2011 as a 13th round draft pick out of a Georgia high school. Martin played the 2011 campaign at Rookie Ball where he turned in a decent season .243/.289/.357 with only four extra base hits in 76 at bats. After playing the 2011 campaign at Rookie Ball he reported back there to start the 2012 season. Looking at his vast improvement at Rookie Ball in the 2012 season it looks like the Cubs did the right thing by sending him back there to start the season. He finished his Rookie Ball campaign with a line of .448/.515/.690 through seven games going 13 for 29 with six extra base hits. Finally Martin made the move to Boise Idaho to join the Boise Hawks where he would play the rest of the season (57 games) with a line of .270/.318/.377 including 12 extra base hits and six steals in 11 attempts.

2013 Season:  Martin batted .200 in 11 games with Class A Kane County this year, but the 13th-round pick in 2011 injured his left shoulder, and needed surgery. He began the year 20th on the top 20 in the MLB.com ratings of the Cubs system. Since Almora is due for a call-up very soon Martin should get the regular at bats in center unless the Cubs move Oliver Zapata there. Martin most definitely will start the season again at Kane County after playing in only 11 games this year. Hopefully his shoulder will heal in time for spring training and he can return to his pre-injury status of projecting to be a very solid major league outfielder with above average defense. Stay Tuned as the Outfield Projections conclude with Left Field tomorrow morning.

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Book Review: The Art of Fielding

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Fun weekend all around for the Cubbies. As nice as a sweep would have been for the boys in blue, taking two out of three against the Cards while playing with a lineup full of dudes I know nothing about is impressive.

I haven’t watched a Cubs game since the final day before the All-Star break—not because I don’t want too, but because I’ve been in between moves once again—and my daily glances at the box scores have provided many a “who in the world is (insert player name)? I caught a few glimpses of the game yesterday peeping in the windows of local bars, while parading down a long stretch of road in my new place.

The series win was not only sweet because of the opponent, but also because it provided the somewhat lovable Pirates a chance to put a few more games between them and the redbirds. Unfortunately the Buccos decided it was a prime weekend for them to get swept by the Rockies in Denver.

Since topics of the offseason and next year’s prospective team/lineup have already been rehashed a bit, I thought it would be a good change of pace to talk a little “bookworm.” Some of my favorite pieces on the blog over the years have been reviews, critiques or observations from baseball/sports books and it may be fun to get back into that business.

Once every month or two, I’ll try and get something out about a baseball book that I’ve recently read. Reading is one of my favorite pastimes away from work and it doesn’t happen nearly enough considering my weekly workload. In the few weeks between finishing my last job, moving 1,300 miles and starting a new job, I was able to finish “The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach.

The novel is the first for Harbach and it was published in late 2011, so I’m a little late to the game—so to speak. The book was recommended to me by a friend who is a baseball lover and a high school English teacher—he told me that this is one of the best sports books he has ever read.

So I took his word for it and did a little research about the book beforehand. I’m a little weird when it comes to picking books in a bookstore, because there are so many good things to read. Most of my reads come from personal recommendations or being force fed by close friends—an idea which I will incorporate into the post later.

“The Art of Fielding” outlines the story of a small-school college baseball team, who stumble into an unknown, but incredible baseball prospect. The book’s hero is a shortstop who challenges for the NCAA record for most games in a row without committing an error—a record that is currently held by the boy’s childhood hero.

The story is told through the eyes of three important characters in an interesting weave of differing emotions and ideals. The topic of baseball is the front door of the book, but the story outlines the complexity of human relationships and how we deal with different personalities. Tragedy and joy are prevalent throughout, in a roller coaster that toys with your own emotion.

While the book is long-ish, it basically reads itself from cover to cover.

For the sake of being cheesy, I’d give the book 4 ½ gloves out of five. Definitely worth the read if you enjoy good baseball fiction, especially if you like a reasonably priced e-book.

I want to give YOU, VFTB fan club, the choice to pick my next read: Francona or The Summer of Beer and Whiskey. Vote in the comments.

  • Starlin had a day that was normal for him over the past two years—3 for 4 with an RBI. He’s managed to      creep that BA over .250 finally, but 2013 cannot end fast enough for the guy.
  • A month without the Mr. Hyde version of Edwin Jackson officially ended, as the Cards tagged Jackson early. Only three more years (maybe) of miserable starts.
  • What’s the point of coming back in a game if you are going to give the lead back?

STATE OF THE SYSTEM
Right Field

by Rob Willer

Top Prospect: Jorge Soler, 21, RF  Jorge Soler the prize of the international free agent pool for the Cubs signed right out of Cuba for 9 years and 30 million. Soler has a patient approach at the plate and a rare combination of big, raw power with a quick, short swing. He profiles as the prototypical corner outfielder who slots into the heart of a strong lineup.He stands 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Soler runs better than one would think for his size. Due to his athleticism most scouts believe he will last longer even with his great size compared to the likes of big power hitters that eventually run out of gas. Coming into this season Soler was ranked the 34th ranked prospect by Baseball American and the 42nd by MLB.com.

2013 Season: So far this season at High A Daytona Soler has contributed a line of .283/.383/.467 while hitting eight home-runs and driving in 35 runs. Soler’s walk to strikeout ratio is surprisingly very good as he was at 38 strikeouts to 21 walks through 55 games. The big issue is that Soler was injured on June 14th for what is being described as a fractured left tibia. Initial reports suggested that Soler would be out four to six weeks. This in turn would have placed his return to be late July/Early August but the fracture hasn’t competently healed yet. According to Carrie Muskat the MLB.com beat writer for the Cubs has reported that Soler will undergo tests Monday to decide whether or not if he can play in the Arizona Fall League. Albert Almora of the Kane County Cougars also is being reported as a candidate for the Arizona Fall League. We’ll keep you up to date later on in the month on who will be on the roster for Arizona in the fall.

Sleeper Prospect: Rubi Silva, 23, was the Cubs top position player prospect out of Cuba before Jorge Soler came aboard.  Silva is a great athlete who can play all 3 OF positions and 2B. Silva started off his Cubs career by skipping Rookie Ball and Short Season A jumping right into Low A Peoria in 2011. 2011 was a mixed bag for Silva as he absolutely tore up Low A Ball by producing a line .300/.319/.400 while contributing seven triples three homers and 16 doubles. After 95 games the Cubs thought Silva was ready for Advanced A Daytona where pitchers are more refined and the competition jumps considerably. Silva played the final 29 games at Advanced A Daytona where he chipped in a line of .229/.250/.362 not the numbers Silva was looking for on the season. There weren’t many positives at his stint at Daytona in 2012 as he only walked three times but struck out 22 times showing poor plate discipline.

2012 Season: After his struggles at Daytona Silva spent 111 games at Daytona and boy did it make a difference after his line turned in a .302/.322/.412. Silva really worked hard that off-season to get back to where he was pre-promotion to Daytona in 2011. Some other note worthy stats for Silva include 15 doubles, 11 triples and three home-runs while driving in 61 runs. From first glance it seems Silva has great speed due to the double digit triples and his power seems non existent as he only hit three home-runs. After he turned in a successful season at Daytona they promoted Silva to Double A just like they did in 2011 when promoting him to High A after a hot start. Silva did fairly well at Tennessee in the 20 games he played for the Smokies. He had a line of .263/.277/.413 while also hitting three triples in less than 80 at bats.

2013 Season: Silva continued to develop this year at Double A Tennessee picking up where he left off at the end of the 2012 season. Silva’s up to date stats include a line of .294/.313/.493. We see first off the dramatic change in slugging percentage as he jumped 80 points from last year. In his first two seasons Silva combined to hit 10 home-runs over 253 games across 995 at bats. In 106 games and 402 at bats Silva already has hit 13 home-runs to go along with 27 doubles and seven triples. He has turned in all-around great season and seems very deserving of his third call-up in three years. Stay Tuned as I move across the outfield to center for tomorrow’s piece.

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The Waiting (for the Top Prospects) is the Hardest Part

Friday, August 9th, 2013

The Cubs have done little to hide their focus on building up their farm system since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over the front office. For the most part, they have been successful, turning a system that was in the middle of the pack a year and a half ago into a unanimous top three system in baseball. But when can we expect these prospects to hit the Majors?

For the sake of simplicity, I am listing the top 8 prospects, who I view as the top two tiers of prospects. There is a fairly strong consensus on who the top 8 prospects in the system are, but beyond there it gets a bit fuzzy, and you have guys who are significantly less likely to contribute in a meaningful way to a MLB roster.

Also, it is likely that at least a couple of these players will bust at some point, whether that happens in the high minors or in the majors. Guessing who will bust and who won’t, though, would just be a guessing game, so the presumption behind this list is that this is what would happen if they at least reached the Majors intact.

Javier Baez (SS)
20 Years Old
Currently at Double A Tennessee

Expect to see him in the Majors: Between late 2014 and mid-2015.
Will be late 2014 if: (1) Baez continue to hits for a ton of power while getting his strikeouts under control; (2) the Cubs are competing for a playoff spot near the end of the season; and (3) Starlin Castro or Mike Olt struggle next season.
Will be mid-2015 if: Baez continues to struggle with strikeout issues and the Cubs need to find him a position because everyone else is playing well.
Predicted starting point in 2014: Double A.

Kris Bryant (3B)
21 Years Old
Currently at Short Season A Boise

Expect to see him in the Majors: Between early 2015 and mid-2016.
Will be early 2015 if: He isn’t seriously challenged in the minors until he hits Double A, and even then the hiccups are minimal. The concern with Bryant is strikeouts, so the question will be if he can limit them at the higher levels. The power should carry him through the low levels of the minors quickly.
Will be mid-2016 if: He gets stalled at High A or the strikeout problems become Brett Jackson like at the higher levels of the minors.
Predicted starting point in 2014: High A.

Albert Almora (OF)
19 Years Old
Currently at Low A Kane County

Expect to see him in the Majors: Between mid-2015 and mid-2016.
Will be mid-2015 if: He stays healthy, which has been a bit of an issue for him so far. Honestly, that is the only limitation I’m seeing on Almora, who I think will spend half of 2015 in Double A.
Will be mid-2016 if: Injuries derail his progress.
Predicted starting point in 2014: High A.

Jorge Soler (OF)
21 Years Old
Currently at High A Daytona

See everything I wrote for Almora? Push the dates up six months, and that’s Soler. The issue will just be if he can stay on the field. The shin issue he is dealing with right now is more of a freak thing than a chronic concern, though.
Predicted starting point in 2014: Double A.

Arismendy Alcantara (2B/SS)
21 Years Old
Currently at Double A Tennessee

Expect to see him in the Majors: Between mid-2014 and early 2015.
Will be mid-2014 if: Aside from Alcantara himself continuing to play well, (1) Castro or Barney need to miss significant time any time after about June 1; (2) Barney struggles offensively to the same extent as he has in 2013; or (3) Barney is traded.
Will be early 2015 if: (1) Castro and Barney both play well; and (2) Barney is not traded.
Predicted starting point in 2014: Triple A Iowa.

Pierce Johnson (RHP)
22 Years Old
Currently at High A Daytona
Expect to see him in the Majors: Between late 2014 and early 2016.
Will be late 2014 if: (1) Johnson is pitching well; (2) the Cubs are competing for a postseason spot; and (3) the Cubs think Johnson could help the bullpen.
Will be early 2016 if: This is really independent of what Johnson does. Of course if he hits a bump in the road, that will slow him down, but the Cubs may be solid enough in the mid to late part of the rotation to be in no rush to bring Johnson up, particularly if the bullpen improves as well.
Predicted starting point in 2014: Double A Tennessee.

CJ Edwards (RHP)
21 Years Old
Currently at High A Daytona

Edwards is on a very similar trajectory to Pierce Johnson, with one caveat, in that he’s much slighter than Johnson. That just means that scouts think there’s a bigger risk he won’t be able to hold up to a starter’s workload or could face an injury somewhere down the line. Edwards being pegged for the bullpen could actually speed up his ascent to the Majors, since he’ll become a two pitch guy at that point. However, he’d undoubtedly be more valuable as a starter.

Mike Olt (3B)
24 years old
Currently at Triple A Iowa

Expect to see him in the Majors: Between September 2013 and mid-2014.
Will be September 2013 if: He goes on a bit of a hot streak between now and the end of Iowa’s season.
Will be mid-2014 if: He doesn’t, and he doesn’t claim the starting spot in spring training. Or the Cubs just want to delay his arbitration clock.
Predicted starting point in 2014: This one is a coin toss between Iowa and Chicago, but I’ll guess Chicago.

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What do the Cubs Need to do to Compete in 2014

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

With the July 31st trading deadline come and gone, and the Cubs bereft of the type of players that would make it through waivers, we have a very good idea of what the Cubs will look like the rest of the way through 2013. This also means that we have a pretty good idea of what the Cubs will look like in 2014.

Despite the record, the Cubs are a significantly better team this year than last year. This is largely due to the Cubs not trotting out starting pitchers that just are not good enough to get by the in Majors, are not ready for the Majors, or both, 4 out of 5 games. While this is somewhat related to injuries and innings limits last season, the Cubs are also just deeper as far as starting pitchers are concerned this season. Whereas the Cubs were flawed in all phases of the game a year ago, they are now just largely a team that does not score enough runs. They have a good starting rotation, and an ok but inconsistent bullpen.

The Cubs have some big time prospects in the minors, and there is a legitimate argument that 8 Cubs farmhands will be in Top 100 lists next year. Yet only one of those prospects is in Triple A (Mike Olt). In other words, the big influx of high ceiling talent probably is not coming until 2015, although I will be discussing when you can expect to see those eight prospects in the Big Leagues on Friday afternoon.

Considering the Javier Baez and Kris Bryant types in the farm system are not coming to save the day, what can the Cubs do to compete in 2014? For the sake of this article, my definition of “competing” is being at least within 5 games of the division lead for most of the season. It would mean that at the All Star Break and trade deadline the Cubs would be in the division hunt. I am not going to reference things that need to continue, so the Cubs’ strong starting pitching won’t get a reference. These are the things that need to change.

The Cubs Need Better Luck Part 1

The Cubs -31 run differential is better than the Washington Nationals’ run differential (-35). The Nationals are 4 games under .500, pretty much right where their run differential says they should be, the Cubs are 13 games under .500. The Cubs have been terrible in 1 run games this season, but that is due to two things: (1) poor bullpen performances, particularly early in the season; and (2) a lack of clutch hitting. Here’s the thing: do you know what are two of the biggest things in baseball that are not predictive of future success or failure? One is bullpen performance, which can vary greatly from year to year. Relief pitchers have among the highest early flameout rates, and the way they are used leads to small sample sizes in any given year. And the second is clutch hitting, which is something that no one has been able to show is a skill as opposed to just plain old randomness.

But the Cubs Also Actually Need a Better Bullpen

This is especially true at the start of the season. Now, the Cubs will have an advantage at the start of 2014: they will not be trying to showcase Carlos Marmol. The Cubs have also put together a pretty solid collection of young hard throwers who are MLB ready, at least as relievers, but they are going to have be very good in 2014 for the Cubs to compete.

Rebounds and Improvements

The Cubs have gotten nothing offensively from the middle of the infield this season.  No, really, they’re below 0 WAR offensively in the middle infield. Starlin Castro has been among the most disappointing players in baseball this season, although he was much better in July (.292/.339/.442). Second base has been a complete offensive black hole for the Cubs, although that is largely due to Darwin Barney’s .228 BABIP. While Barney has never been a good hitter, his elite defense at the position at least made him survivable at the bottom of a lineup. At first base, Anthony Rizzo has been pretty good this year, but has not yet become the ideal middle of the order force many think he can.

Legitimately, for the Cubs to compete in 2014 Castro and Barney will have to at least revert back to their 2011-2012 form offensively. This means that Castro will have to become an above average offensive shortstop, and Barney just has to not be a complete black hole in the 8 hole.

However, I think Rizzo is going to have to become a stud in short order for the Cubs to compete in 2014. If anyone in that lineup is going to become a .900 plus OPS force, it’s going to Rizzo.

Someone Will Have to Surprise

I’m looking at you Brett Jackson and Mike Olt. One of you is going to have to get past your strikeout problems and become an average regular at least. I’m also kind of looking at you Junior Lake, but you just have to prove that you can continue to be a productive major leaguer. Other candidates: Logan Watkins, Alberto Cabrera, Chris Rusin, Brooks Raley.

The Cubs Will Have to Make a Move or Two

I think the most likely move the Cubs will make is for David Price, but Price will not improve the club enough on his own in 2014 alone to make the difference. Over this year’s rotation, adding Price would add 4 wins at most. Getting Price now would be to sign him long term, so he’ll be heading a rotation that the Cubs expect to make the playoffs several times between 2015 and 2020.

But I do not think the Cubs can trust the left field role to Junior Lake and expect it to work, so they will need to get someone. My top choice would be Carlos Beltran, if he is not tendered a contract by the Cardinals. On the down side, Beltran’s walk rate has gone downhill this year and he should only be playing in left field. On the up side, Beltran still hits for average and power and the Cubs should only need him to play left field.

The Cubs Will Need Some Better Luck, Part 2

This part of the better luck scenario is that the Cubs will need some help from their division mates. The NL Central is too strong for the Cubs to reasonably compete if the Cardinals, Pirates, and Reds play up to their potential. The Cubs will likely need one, if not two, of these teams to have rough 2014s to compete.

 

  • Edwin Jackson had what may have been his worst start since April, giving up 7 runs in 5 innings on 10 hits and 2 walks, only striking out 2. Jackson had clear issues with location throughout the night.
  • The Cubs attempted a comeback, scoring 3 runs in the ninth to make it close. They were aided by a Domonic Brown error that scored the 8th run, but the game ended when new Cub Thomas Neal flied out to Brown.
  • Anthony Rizzo and Donnie Murphy both homered. Wellington Castillo stayed hot, going 3 for 4 with a walk.

  • Julio Borbon cleared waivers and was assigned to the Triple A Iowa Cubs. It is unlikely we’ll see him back with the big league club this season.
  • Double A Tennessee Smokies’ pitcher Eric Jokisch came back from the DL last night, and promptly threw a no-hitter. While Jokisch’s ceiling tops out in the back of a MLB rotation or middle innings relief, he is a legit prospect (anyone who can contribute in the Majors is a legit prospect, and Jokisch can), who is also a Northwestern alumnus (go Big 10). A great night for the young lefty.
  • Top prospect Javier Baez added 4 hits in support of Baez. To get an idea of Baez’s potential, even before last night’s performance Baez had a .909 OPS as a 20 year in Double A, despite striking out in more than 30% of his plate appearances. Imagine how good he could be if he gets the Ks under control.

STATE OF THE SYSTEM
Second Base

by Rob Willer

Top Prospect: Arismendy Alcantara

Background Info: Signed by the Cubs in 2008, shortly after his 17th birthday, Alcantara has had an unremarkable, quiet start to his career. Alcantara’s double play partner also has a bright future ahead of him who would be Javy Baez. Over the past two years we have seen the Cubs stockpile this system with talent. Most of the talent is Low A to Double A so 2014 should be a fun year as many players will be promoted to Double A from High A or even Triple A from Double A.
Nineteen players from the 2012 Futures Game already are in the big leagues, including All-Stars Manny Machado, Jose Fernandez and Jean Segura. Alcantara, who played second base last month and at 21 has just as big a future as the players mentioned above.

Season Stats: Alcantara hit .266 with 15 home runs and 25 stolen bases for Double-A Tennessee. Alcantara has great skills with the bat and the glove something that definitely has improved is his walk rate which is around a very solid 10%. The strikeout rate still worries me at almost 22 percent but the walk rate is encouraging so will keep an eye on both for the rest of the season as well as the future. If he can get his strikeout rate closer to 15 percent I see no problem with his development and we’ll likely see him in Chicago by 2015 at the latest.

Prediction: Alcantara gets promoted to Iowa to start next season at second base for the Iowa Cubs. Has an opportunity by the end of the 2014 season to win the job if Javy Baez plays third base at the major league level. Darwin Barney will be an interesting name over the next few years as he might be a trade candidate if Alcantara plays at high level in the major leagues.

Sleeper Prospect: Gioskar Amaya

Amaya has been an intriguing prospect to watch, he played both 2010 and 2011 at rookie ball for the Cubs. In 2011 Amaya, turned in a ridiculous season batting .337/.417/.510 for an impressive OPS of .927 which resembles an MVP caliber player in the majors. Yes rookie ball is completely different on the talent level than the majors but it was great to see Amaya breakout in 2011. After his promotion the following year to the Boise Hawks (Short Season A Affiliate of the Chicago Cubs) he still kept on hitting as a young nineteen year old. Through 272 at-bats for Boise Amaya hit .298/.381/,496 while clubbing eight homers, six doubles, 12 triples and 15 stolen bases. From the above mentioned stats we can see that Amaya gives the Cubs something of everything at a young age he has shown increased power which translates into a better slugging percentage. One also has to look at the 12 triples and get excited to see that speed in action in addition to the 15 steals which gives him a well rounded makeup as a hitter.

Finally we got to see Amaya get the call to Kane County to start the season in 2013 where in 97 games he is batting .265/.335/.394 which is to be expected as he keeps moving through the system there will be adjustments to be made. Personally I have seen Amaya play this summer and he is just a fun player to watch whether it be with the glove or the bat he puts on a show. We have to keep in mind he is only 20 years old just like his fellow third baseman Jeimer Candelario who is only 19 these kids need time to develop. If all goes to plan I see Amaya progressing to Daytona next year to start the season with a shot at being called up to Double A by the end of the season in 2014. In the end, Amaya should be in consideration for a call-up to the Cubs in 2016 barring any injuries.

Interview Alert: Be on the lookout next week as I’m scheduling interviews with some of the Cubs prospects across the lower levels. So far I can confirm Jeimer Candelario I am interviewing Jeimer Candelario after the game on Sunday.

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Cubs Top 20 Prospects – Midseason Update

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Will the Cubs make any more trades this season?

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

Hello! It’s great to be back after a few weeks away.

Although the Cubs were inactive at the non-waiver trade deadline on Wednesday (making for an anti-climatic day), let’s not forget that they were quite active on the trade market last month. Reflecting on all the moves, it appears as though the front office was quite shrewd to jump on moves ahead of the deadline, since the market seemed to have cooled quite a bit at the end. Perhaps the new CBA (which removes some of the compensation for teams that lose big-time players (it’s too much to go into detail here)) has led to the trend of teams holding onto their young talent rather than making a risky trade for a veteran that could help them down the stretch (although, I still can’t believe the Pirates stood pat with a chance to end their 2347382468-year playoff drought staring them in the face).

Rumors always fly on non-waiver trade deadline day (Twitter is awesome/insane/infuriating), and a few Cubs players were mentioned by all the national media folks. Nate Schierholtz was most often mentioned as the most likely trade candidate, followed by David DeJesus, Kevin Gregg, and James Russell. Obviously, none of them were moved, but could the Cubs still make some trades this season?

Maybe. Although it’s typically referred to as the trade “deadline,” Wednesday was just the non-waiver trade deadline. Most of you, being baseball blog readers, probably know what this means, but in case you don’t, here’s a VERY brief overview:

Teams can still make trades this month, but in order to do so, they must place any players they wish to trade on waivers. Essentially, the waiver process works like this: every team (in reverse order of standings starting with the team with the worst record in the same league as the waived player – then moving to the other league) gets an opportunity to claim that player of waivers. If a team claims a player, one of three things can happen: 1) the two teams can work out a trade (obviously, with no other teams bidding, the return would be much weaker than in July), 2) the team that originally waived the player can just let the claiming team have them (and their contract), 3) the team that waived the player can simply pull that player off waivers and keep them. If a player “clears” waivers (e.g., no team claims him), the team that waived him is free to trade him to any team – just like before the non-waiver deadline. There are a few other details, but those are the basics. The Cubs will probably place almost all their players on waivers, but we won’t hear anything about it unless trade is worked out one way or another (if a player the Cubs don’t want to trade is claimed, they’ll just pull him off waivers and keep him).

So, the Cubs could still makes some trades this season, but will they?

Probably not.

In order to get any kind of value in return in a trade, the Cubs will want their potential trade candidates to clear waivers first (the return on a player traded as a result of a waiver claim will be super low, since no other teams could bid). Players that clear waivers typically have big contracts. Last year, Soriano and Marmol were guaranteed to clear waivers, because no other team would claim them with those contracts (remember, teams that claim a player must take on his contract and place him on the 25-man roster (if the waiving team takes that option)). Since the Cubs have shed all their big contracts (at least on players they don’t want to keep) – yay Jedstein – I don’t see any Cubs players that wouldn’t be claimed. The only player I can really see being traded at all is Kevin Gregg. Although he would probably be claimed, the Cubs might elect to try to work out a trade with the claiming team – even if it’s for a hot dog and a souvenir Coke Zero – just to try to squeeze some value out of him. Then again, they couldn’t get enough for him at the trade deadline, so maybe not. I suppose players like Julio Borbon could clear waivers and get traded, but who cares?

GAME NOTES

I was all ready to use the (what I thought was) clever line “Lake out-Puiged Puig,” but my dreams were crushed with Puig’s homerun in the ninth. In any case, Junior Lake and Anthony Rizzo each hit two homeruns, which was great (Rizzo is looking FANTASTIC lately, and seeing future pieces perform is one of the few reasons left to watch this team), but that was the only offense the Cubs could muster. Once again, Chris Rusin forgot that he was Chris Rusin, and hey, he actually pitched a nice game against a tough lineup.

The Dodgers are now the Yankees of the National League, and I’m going to have fun rooting against them for years to come.

Minor League Recap August 1st

by Rob Willer

Iowa Cubs

Loux struggles as Iowa gets bested by Salt Lake 9-3

Barret Loux struggled once again going 5 and 1/3 innings while allowing seven earned runs on eleven hits. Alberto Cabrera wasn’t much better giving up two earned runs in 1 and 2/3 innings. The final Iowa Cubs pitcher of the night Marcus Hatley rebounded from yesterday’s performance pitching a scoreless inning.

The Cubs’ offense had 10 hits but was only able to get three runs across. Donnie Murphy turned in a decent going 3 for 5 with a double. The Iowa Cubs left nine men on base and went 3 for 7 with runners in scoring position on the night. Another Iowa Cubs player who broke out was first baseman Edgar Gonzales. Gonazales went 2 for four with a two run homer driving in two of the Cubs three runs.

Tennessee Smokies

Tennessee clipped the Barons 2-1.

Kyle Hendricks pitched well once again going six strong innings only allowing one run. Hendricks struck out four and allowed seven hits also lowered his earned run average on the season to 1.85. His night got even better getting the callup to Iowa Cubs. He has really broken out this year and should be fun to watch at Iowa not sure what the corresponding move will be should be announced later on today. Hunter Cervenka took over for Hendricks pitching the final three innings only allowing a hit and a walk picking up the win which improved his record to 3-1.

The Smokies offense was kept in check for most of the night only mustering four hits over 29 at bats. Justin Bour homered again for his 15th of the season it was a solo shot in the seventh. John Andreoli knocked in the winning run in the ninth with a run scoring single to score Javy Baez from third.

Daytona Cubs

Corey Black was excited to get on the mound Thursday night but the Daytona Cubs were rained out so his debut will be pushed until Friday.

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Farm Report: CJ Edwards Dominates

Monday, July 29th, 2013

by Rob Willer

The Cubs had added Mike Olt, C.J. Edwards and Justin Grimm to its already talented pool of prospects earlier this week and added Corey Brock on Friday. In this edition of Down on the Farm were going to take a look at C.J. Edwards and Corey Brock.

CJ Edwards

Acquired from the Texas Rangers as part of the package for right-hander Matt Garza last week, the 6 foot 2 right hander made his Daytona Cubs debut Sunday night.Edwards was spectacular striking out the first seven hitters he faced with relative ease by retiring them with his mid 90′s fastball.

On the night Edwards finished with 8 strikeouts and only allowed one hit on just 63 pitches in five innings. He projects to be a number three starter to the back of the rotation all depending on development over the next few years. Either way today was a great start to the Edward’s era and gives Cubs fans hope with talented young pitching prospects. Overall this guy knows how to pitch and its going to be fun to watch him for the rest of the season.

Edwards Watch: His next start will be Friday in Daytona for his home debut..

Corey Black

We then transition to right-handed pitcher Corey Black who was acquired from the Yankees in the deal that sent outfield slugger Alfonso Soriano back to the Bronx. Black is a 21 year old right hander who is considered to be a power arm and pitched in High A with the Yankees this season.

Stats-  Last year Black posted a 3.08 ERA with 50 strikeouts and a .222 opponents batting average in 52 2/3 innings between the Gulf Coast League Yankees, Class A Short-Season Staten Island and Class A Charleston. These numbers are great to see across all three levels with a such a young pitcher. Early indications are that Black most likely will end up in the bullpen with that dominant sinking fastball.

Corey Black Alert- Via Black’s twitter account he announced that he will be starting Thursday for his Cubs debut. Black features a high 90′s fastball with movement.

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Prospect Report: The Promoted

Friday, July 12th, 2013

For the rest of the season, Norm and I are likely going to veer away from the hot/not format a good bit, in large part because we’ve already hit on everyone interesting and we’ve gotten well into repeat territory on that front. On that note, we’re in the middle of the period of the season where we see a lot of promotions within the system. Below I am going to look at several players who were promoted since the middle of June. While we will ignore their numbers since promotion (too small of a sample size to be meaningful), we will look at their numbers in their prior level and attempt to determine if the move was made too soon, should have been made sooner, or the time was just right.

Javier Baez (SS, Age 20)
Assigned from High A Daytona to Double A Tennessee on June 28
High A Stats: 337 PAs, .274/.338/.535, 17 HRs, .310 BABIP, 6.2% BB rate, 23.1% K rate
Timing: Too early

Baez likely reestablished himself as the Cubs’ top prospect in June, but without one huge game and Jorge Soler getting hurt, it’s unclear if that would be the case. Baez’s walk rate (8.9%) and strikeout rate (19.8%) were significantly improved in June. This is particularly true in comparison to Baez’s April, where he only put up a 3.6% walk rate to go along with a concerning 27.7% strikeout rate. The problem was this was just one month. And a lot of Baez’s massive slugging improvement in June was his huge 4 home run game. I would have liked to see Baez continue his progress for one more month before making the jump from High A to Double A, which is well known to be the most difficult aside from a promotion to the Majors.

John Andreoli (OF, Age 23)
Assigned from High A Daytona to Double A Tennessee on June 28
High A Stats: 303 PAs, .318/.394/.405, 0 HR, .400 BABIP, 11.2% BB rate, 18.8% K rate

Timing: Should have happened sooner

Andreoli has never been a big name prospect, but he spent all of 2012 and the first half of 2013 getting on base in 40% of his plate appearances in the Florida State League. He does not hit for any power, but clearly draws walks and steals bases (55 SBs in 75 attempts last season, 23 in 26 attempts this season). Andreoli’s lack of power limits his potential, and definitely could stall out at the higher levels of the minors where better defenses will limit his BABIP somewhat. But the walks, speed and ability to play all over the outfield mean he could be a solid bench option. However, one of his best skills, the speed, is often one of the first things to leave a player as he ages. Andreoli is not going to add power, so there was no reason not to see if his combination of speed and patience could have succeeded at Double A a little earlier.

Pierce Johnson (RHP, Age 22)
Assigned from Low A Kane County to High A Daytona on June 20
Low A Stats: 13 GS, 69.2 IPs, 3.10 ERA, 2.98 FIP, 9.56 K/9, 2.84 BB/9
Timing: Should have happened sooner

Had we been told when the season started that Arodys Vizcaino would not pitch in a real game all season, no one would have been surprised to see Pierce Johnson establish himself as the Cubs’ top pitching prospect, which he quickly did. The problem was that he just wasn’t challenged at Low A, and no one should have expected him to be challenged at Low A. At the very back end of being 21 and at age 22, Johnson should be dominating a league where the majority of good players are the age of college sophomores. No one learned anything about Johnson from him striking out a bunch of 20 year olds. He would have been better off starting the season at High A, or at most getting a half dozen starts to get his feet wet in full season professional baseball at Kane County before being bumped up the ladder.

 

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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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