Archive for the ‘Minor League’ Category

Who Is Number 5?

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

Last Thursday, the Cubs drafted University of San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant, the consensus best position player available, with the second pick of the Rule 4 draft. When they did so, the Cubs turned their Big 3 position player prospects (Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, and Albert Almora) into a Big 4. And every member of the Cubs’ Big 4 is very likely to be a Top 50 prospect in baseball heading into 2014, with some rumors that all four could end up in a significant number of Top 20s..

But what is in the system beyond Baez, Soler, Almora, and Bryant? Who are the candidates for the number five spot in the system? At this point, I think three prospects have established themselves in that “next tier” of Cubs prospects that are in the argument for that fifth spot in the system.

There were, however, some criteria I used to cut out certain players. First, the prospect must have played this season. That leaves the rehabbing Arodys Vizcaino out of the equation. Second, the prospect must have at least met reasonably optimistic expectations for 2013. Sorry Brett Jackson, that eliminates you. Last, the prospect cannot have come out of nowhere. That knocks Kyle Hendricks out of consideration.

THE FRONT RUNNER

Arismendy Alcantara, SS
Age 21, Double A
61 G, 257 PAs, .286/.364/.482
10.1% BB rate, 20.2% K rate
9 HRs, 14 2Bs, 1 3B, 15 SB, 1 CS

Alcantara firmly established himself in the second tier of Cubs’ prospects last season, putting up solid numbers in High A while showing that he can probably stay at shortstop long term. Alcantara has only improved on that performance after moving up to Double A Tennessee this season. Not only is Alcantara young for the level, but at this rate he is in the process of putting up career highs in on base percentage and slugging. Oh, and he has already set his one season high for home runs. Especially considering his ability to play in the middle infield, Alcantara has turned himself from a back end of an organizational Top 10 type to someone who has a legitimate shot at being in some Top 100 prospects in baseball lists.

THE POWER HITTER

Dan Vogelbach, 1B
Age 20, Low A
60 G, 265 PAs, .277/.347/.472
10.2% BB rate, 17.0% K rate
11 HRs, 13 2Bs, 3 SB, 1 CS

The Dan Vogelbach story is well known: he has an advanced approach at the plate and 70 raw power. His issue is that it’s unclear if he could even be adequate defensively at first base, possibly leaving him without a position in the National League. But the potential in that bat is huge. The advanced approach has been on display since day one of his full season debut with Kane County, and the power has picked up with six home runs since May 27. While the defensive issues cannot be ignored, players who can get on base while limiting strike outs with 70 power are very rare.

THE PITCHER

Pierce Johnson, RHP
Age 22, Low A
12 GS, 62.2 IPs, 3.45 ERA
2.98 FIP, 9.91 K/9, 2.73 BB/9

With Arodys Vizcaino currently disqualified from contention for the fifth best prospect in the Cubs’ system, Pierce Johnson is currently the best pitching prospect in the Cubs system. While he does not have quite the ceiling of Dillon Maples, Paul Blackburn, or Duane Underwood, Johnson has a legitimate chance to be a very good 3 in the Majors, and has a much higher likelihood of meaningfully contributing the Majors than any of the three youngsters listed above. The biggest argument against Johnson is that he is a bit old for the level, and as an advanced college draftee should at least be at High A to face some better competition.

Personally, I would list these three players in the order I have them in here. As of today, Alcantara has established himself as the fifth best prospect in the system, and a potential elite prospect in all of baseball based upon his improved patience and power to go along with his ability to play up the middle. Plus, Alcantara has now succeeded in the upper minors.

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

Friday, June 7th, 2013

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

THREE UP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Day 1 – Draft Recap

Friday, June 7th, 2013

Did you sit through the MLB coverage of the draft last night? Two thoughts: 1) compared to the NFL and NBA drafts, the production value of MLB is, well, er, not as good; 2) Harold Reynolds can go away now, thank you.

Speaking of comparing drafts – Twitter exploded after the Cubs’ first pick with complaints about the Cubs not filling a need. Well, this is where we have to remind ourselves that, unlike players drafted into the NFL and NBA, players drafted by major league teams almost never make immediate impacts on the big league club. It’s about acquiring assets – many of whom will be traded and eventually play for other teams (or never make it to the big leagues at all). Smart teams don’t worry about who is already playing a certain position in their minor league system; they take the best player available – especially if it’s an early pick in the first round. As Jason McLeod said, the Cubs were never going to select a player based on need, and that is the right strategy in MLB.

#2 Kris Bryant

For several weeks now, many Cub fans in the blogosphere have debated whether the Cubs should select Mark Appel, Jonathan Gray, or Kris Bryant with the second overall pick, with many (most) assuming that it would be one of the two pitchers. Before the draft, I felt that I would be happy with any of those three, although I guess I was rooting for Appel just a bit (I suppose the Stanford thing swayed me somewhat). With Appel going off the board to the Astros at #1 overall, the Cubs had their choice between Bryant and Gray. The Cubs elected to go with Bryant, the powerful third baseman out of the University of San Diego. Subsequently, ESPN’s Bruce Levine reported that Appel was #1 on the Cubs’ board, with Bryant at #2 (Jason McLeod said that Gray’s positive Adderall test didn’t cause them to pass on him, although we’ll never really know). Even though the Cubs may have preferred Appel if they had their choice, you can’t be disappointed that the Cubs selected the biggest power bat in the draft – at least the Cubs didn’t make the choice based on signability or other external factors.

In 62 games this season with San Diego, Bryant hit .329/.493/.820 (that’s an OPS of 1.313, folks) with 31 HR, 62 RBI, 66 BB, 44 K, 80 R, 7 SB. I’m going to pause here for a moment so you can read that line again. This is my favorite ridiculous Bryant stat: he personally out-homered 228 of the 296 teams in Division I baseball. The BB/K ratio is excellent. Although we can’t read too much into college stats (especially since he wasn’t playing in an elite conference), all the scouts seem to agree that his power is legit. Read this report from Mike Rosenbaum and allow yourself to drool a little:

“Epitome of a power hitter; presents plus-plus raw power to all fields; chance to boast elite power at maturity with improvements; loose hands and wrists; quick trigger and reaction time; outstanding bat speed; power should always be there even if average isn’t; showcases impressive barrel control through the strike zone; excellent hip rotation creates extension through the baseball; favorable point of contact off a firm front side; generates backspin carry to all fields; power will translate with wood.”

Some scouts have commented that he may hit around .260-.270 or lower in the majors, but, as we all know, if he can walk and hit for that kind of power, he’ll be a great player to have.

Jason McLeod said that Bryant has the attributes of a middle-of-the-order hitter in the major leagues that can play at a high level for many years. Although Bryant’s power would play at any corner spot, he’ll be even more valuable if he can stick at third base. He’s 6’5″ 215 lbs. with room to grow, so I’m skeptical that he’ll stick at third once he matures fully. However, the Cubs will play him at third to start, and he’ll be given an opportunity to stick there – let’s hope he does!

After the Cubs selected Bryant, I got the feeling that they would repeat last year’s strategy of drafting a high-profile position player with the first pick (Albert Almora last year) followed by a tidal wave of pitching selections. It looks like the wave got rolling with their second round pick.

#41 Rob Zastrynzny

With the 41st pick (the second in the second round), the Cubs selected Rob Zastrynzny from the University of Missouri. I really thought that the Cubs would go with Hunter Green out of Warren East H.S. in Kentucky with this pick (Holden did a great overview of him), so I was surprised to see Zastrynzny go here (by the way, Zastrynzny is going to make all of us use copy-and-paste a lot). At first, I was a little bummed – Baseball America had him ranked 76th, he was ranked 81st by Perfect Game (at Baseball Prospectus), and he wasn’t ranked in the top 100 by MLB.com. (Were the Cubs hoping to sign him way under slot in order to pay Bryant over slot, or were they trying to save money for later picks?) However, after reading the Baseball Prospectus (Perfect Game) write-up, I feel much better. Here’s a portion:

“…Zastryzny has seen his draft stock steadily rise through the course of the spring and could hear his name heard as early as the second round. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound southpaw was undrafted out of Corpus Christi, Texas high school despite going 17-1, 0.20 with 198 strikeouts his senior year. He stepped into the Missouri rotation early in his freshman year and has built his upper-80s fastball into a pitch that now tops out at 94 mph with excellent sinking and running life at times. Zastryzny’s best secondary pitch is a low-80s changeup that has very good arm speed and matches his fastball in life and in his ability to spot the ball low in the zone. His third pitch is a curveball that is a workable offering in setting up hitters, but it is not currently a swing-and-miss pitch.”

The key there is that he has increased his fastball velocity to 94 – Zastrynzny definitely seems like a prospect on the rise. A tall lefty who has a moving fastball at that velocity sounds intriguing. I’m legitimately excited about this pick now (as excited as an Illinois grad can be about a player from Mizzou), and I’m looking forward to following his progress. After all, none of the players chosen in the second round are sure things, so this is where the front office guys earn those big salaries.

It will be interesting to follow the rest of the Cubs’ draft starting today. I expect a torrent of pitching selections, with a few position players thrown in here and there (I wouldn’t be surprised to see a catcher selected sometime early on). Although we’ll never hear about most of these players again, it’s a fun time of year for those of use that follow prospects. Enjoy!

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3 Up, 3 Down, Hot and Cold in May Edition

Friday, May 31st, 2013

It’s rare that any player will dominate an entire season of professional baseball with no hiccups. This can be especially true for prospects at the beginning of the season, when very young players are often first facing a more advanced level of baseball. On that note, this week we will look at three prospects who had a strong May, and three prospects who struggled this month.

THREE UP

Jorge Soler, OF
21 years old, High A Daytona
May stats (all stats through May 28): 94 ABs, .309/.374/.564, 5 HRs, 11 BBs, 18 Ks

Soler started the season hot, but the back end of his April was not as strong. After being suspended for extracurricular activity involving using a baseball bat in a threatening manner during a bench clearing brawl, Soler was benched after failing to run out a pop fly and had a low BABIP over the back half of the month. May has been much kinder to the young Cuban, hitting for average and power while drawing walks and limiting strikeouts. If Soler had not officially surpassed Javier Baez as the number one prospect in the Cubs system, he certainly did so in May.

Christian Villanueva, 3B
21 years old, Double A Tennessee
May stats: 94 ABs, .298/.356/.500, 2 HRs, 6 BBs, 22 Ks

Of the numerous legitimate third base prospects in the Cubs system, Villanueva probably has the lowest ceiling, but also has the highest likelihood of contributing as a regular in the show. He will never be more than average hitter at the hot corner, but he is excellent defensively there. After a rough April where he just could not get a batted ball to avoid finding a waiting glove, his May was much stronger. While the walk rate is nothing special and strikeout rate is a little higher than you would like, he showed more than enough offense to still be able to slot in as a slick fielding, average hitting third baseman in 2014 or 2015.

Gioskar Amaya, 2B
20 years old, Low A Kane County
May stats: 96 ABs, .292/.382/.448, 1 HR, 12 BBs, 26 Ks

Amaya’s story in April was different than Villanueva’s. His issue was not BABIP, but was instead overmatched by his first taste of full season pitching. That changed in May, when he quadrupled his walk total. While the strikeout numbers were still high, the combination of drawing walks and decent power, especially at a middle infield position, reestablishes Amaya’s fairly lofty preseason prospect status.

THREE DOWN

Ronald Torreyes, 2B
20 years old, Double A Tennessee
May stats: 93 ABs, .172/.248/.258, 1 HR, 8 BBs, 8 Ks

If we were being honest, Torreyes is more of a curiosity than a real prospect. He’s absolutely tiny, will almost certainly never hit for power, cannot play shortstop, and is not a stolen base threat. His one big skill is that he is a contact making machine. But without power or burner speed, the question is how that was going to play out at higher levels. May 2013 might be an indication that the answer to that question is “not well.”

Zeke DeVoss, 2B
22 years old, High A Daytona
May stats: 76 ABs, .211/.319/.211, 0 HR, 8 BB, 17 Ks

Zeke DeVoss is a prime example of why a player cannot just walk their way to the majors. While the ability to get on base is vitally important, at some point  you have to regularly hit the ball with some authority to be  a legitimate prospect. Not only did DeVoss only hit .211 over the month, but he did not have a single extra base hit.

Rock Shoulders, 1B
21 years old, Low A Kane County
May stats: 95 ABs, .200/.315/.453, 7 HRs, 16 BBs, 36 Ks

The greatest name in baseball actually did not have an awful month. Sure, the batting average was bad, but he continued to walk a bunch and hit for power. The big concern is the huge strikeout rate. A 21 year old who is striking out in 30% of his plate appearances in Low A just does not have a great likelihood of ever making it past Double A.

Here is the good news about this list. The three guys I have listed in the Three Up section are all without question Top 15 prospects in the system, and include its best prospect. Meanwhile, the three guys who were in the Three Down were fringe prospects who did not make most Top 20 organizational prospect lists.

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Three Up, Three Down

Friday, May 24th, 2013

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

3 Up’s:

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Down’s:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Three Up, Three Down

Friday, May 17th, 2013

I’ve really wanted to have an opportunity to write about Dan Vogelbach since we started these pieces a few weeks ago. I was hoping he’d explode with just a massive week or two and he’d fit neatly into the Three Up segment. But, despite having a solid year, he hasn’t done anything to improve his prospect status. So in this edition of Three Up, Three Down, we’ll be looking at three players instead of six. Specifically, these are players who, on first glance, might look to be up. However, a deeper examination at least shows that they have done little to nothing to improve their prospect status since the start of the season. As a note, all statistics are through Thursday, May 15.

Daniel Vogelbach, 1B, age 20, Low A
158 PAs, .292/.363/.438
5 2Bs, 5 HRs, 17 BBs, 21 Ks
.366 wOBA, 126 wRC+

There is a lot of good with Dan Vogelbach’s full season debut to this point. Specifically, he is hitting for a high average, walking, and not striking out. Despite showing excellent plate discipline, there’s still a problem: due to Vogelbach’s limited defensive abilities, he needs to dominate on the offensive end. And that includes hitting for power. As Vogelbach is averaging an extra base hit about every 3 and a half games, he just isn’t doing that yet.

Now, it’s early, the Midwest League is a pitcher’s league, and the Midwest League in the nasty weather of a spring across the north central portion of the United States is particularly nasty on hitters, but Vogelbach was a guy some were pegging as a prospect who could jump into Top 100 lists and fly through the system. At this point, I’d be surprised to see him in Daytona before August, and he probably won’t do enough to be considered a truly big time prospect prior to next season.

Matt Szczur, OF, age 23, Double A
162 PAs, .301/.370/.385
4 2Bs, 1 3B, 2 HRs, 13 SB, 3 CS, 15 BBs, 21 Ks
.354 wOBA, 120 wRC+

Before Vogelbach was the darling of the non-elite Cubs prospects, Matt Szczur filled that role. As a person, Szczur has 80 character, and is a fantastic athlete who probably would have been a mid-round NFL pick out of Villanova as a slot receiver and punt returner.  In his second shot at Double A, Szczur has hit for average, walked a good amount and not struck out this season. The problem is that his notoriously slappy swing is hitting for no power, and as Szczur is approaching his 24th birthday in July (he’s actually older than Anthony Rizzo by a few weeks), his time to start adding power is limited.

Quite simply, it’s hard to be a slap hitting, singles only, right handed regular in the big leagues. Szczur’s inability to add any power means he’s almost certainly a fourth outfielder down the road, and not a big time prospect today.

Dustin Geiger, 3B/1B, age 21, High A
143 PAs, .286/.357/.397
5 2Bs, 3 HRs, 25 BBs, 13 Ks
.348 wOBA, 115 wRC+

I’ll admit, Geiger’s cheating a bit on this, as he’s never been considered a significant prospect. However, as a 21 year old in High A Ball, he’s not a nobody either. The unfortunate thing for Geiger is that, despite the healthy OBP, to play in the majors he’d need to hit for power. And he hasn’t done that yet.

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Three Up, Three Down

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

(Through games of 5/1, minimum of 50 PAs for hitters, 20 innings pitched for pitchers)

Three Up

Pierce Johnson, RHP
Age 21, Single A
5 GS, 24.2 IP, 2.92 ERA, 25 Ks, 7 BBs, 0 HRs, 2.39 FIP
9.12 K/9, 2.55 BB/9, 0 HR/9

Of the pitchers in the Cubs system, if anyone was going to speed through the organization it was going to be Pierce Johnson. A 2012 draftee with good stuff who fell from a mid-first round grade in the 2012 draft to the sandwich round due to a forearm strain, Johnson has recovered from a rough first start (2.1 IP, 5 ER) to be excellent in his four starts since (22.1 IP, 2 ER). He’s as likely as anyone to get a quick promotion, especially as a college starter who just has not been challenged by Midwest League hitters in 4 of his 5 starts.

Logan Watkins, 2B/Utility
Age 23, Triple A
.279/.436/.465, .901 OPS, 9 XBH
21.8% BB, 24.5% K, .386 BABIP

We’ve discussed Watkins a fair bit heading into the season, but he has more than lived up to his reputation for getting on base in his first crack at the Pacific Coast League. He’s still fitting that role as someone who could either be a replacement for Darwin Barney should the Cubs decide to trade the second baseman, or be a left handed utility hitting utility player. Think a left handed Mark DeRosa, but with better defense and less power.

Kyle Hendricks, RHP
Age 23, Double A
5 GS, 26 IP, 3.12 ERA, 23 Ks, 8 BBs, 1 HR, 2.85 FIP
7.96 K/9, 2.77 BB/9, 0.35 HR/9

Hendricks was the lesser of the prospects who was traded from Texas for Ryan Dempster. While the larger piece in the Cubs received in that trade, Christian Villanueva, has struggled so far, Hendricks has been very good. Hendricks is a control and command pitcher, with five pitches he can throw for strikes. His fastball tops out around 90, so he’s not the sort of power pitcher with top of the rotation stuff, but he might have enough stuff to go along with the good control to be a solid back end of the rotation option in a year or two.

Three Down

Brett Jackson, OF
Age 24, Triple A
.219/.315/.406, .721 OPS, 6 XBH
9.5% BB, 32.4% K, .316 BABIP

Jackson’s been struggling through some foot injuries, so I’m not yet completely writing him off. But the strikeout rate hasn’t come down at all from last season, and he’s running out of time for that to happen.

Marco Hernandez, SS
Age 20, Single A
.240/.266/.320, .586 OPS, 5 XBH
2.5% BB, 17.7% K, .290 BABIP

Hernandez had a brief stint in Peoria last season before Javier Baez came up, and hit miserably. He’s hitting nearly as poorly this year. The two pluses Hernandez has are that he is still young and can handle shortstop defensively, but he’s going to have to start hitting soon or he won’t be a prospect anymore.

Taiwan Easterling, OF
Age 24, Advanced A
.213/.294/.311, .605 OPS, 4 XBH
10.3% BB, 29.4% K, .300 BABIP

Easterling is an outfielder with a bunch of physical gifts, but as a 24 year old in Advanced A he needs to start turning those gifts into on the field production very soon. Odds are this is the beginning of the end of Easterling’s marginal prospecthood.

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Three Up, Three Down

Friday, April 26th, 2013

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

Three Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Prospects Who Could Affect 2014

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

When the farm system rankings came out this winter, the Cubs were rightly dinged by every reputable prospect guru for having a bottom heavy system. In other words, the vast majority of the Cubs’ high ceiling talent started this season in High A Ball or below, largely because the Cubs have only significantly increased spending on the draft and international amateur market since current ownership took over the team prior to the 2011 season. So much of the best talent was brought into the system in 2011 (Javier Baez, Dan Vogelbach, Dillon Maples, etc.) or 2012 (Jorge Soler, Albert Almora, Pierce Johnson, Paul Blackburn, Duane Underwood, etc.)

But the Cubs are not completely bereft of prospects who could contribute in the near future. Below are the five prospects who are either playing in Iowa right now, or are only not playing for the I-Cubs because they are on the DL, and are the most likely to play significant roles on the 2014 Chicago Cubs.

Arodys Vizcaino (RHP)- When the Braves’ farm system was touted as having probably the best high minors pitching in baseball in 2011, many thought that Vizcaino was the best of the bunch in a group including Julio Teheran, Mike Minor and Randall Delgado. With a mid-90s fastball, a strong breaking ball and a solid curve, he has the three pitches necessary to be a very good starting pitcher. As far as stuff is concerned, Vizcaino’s ceiling is an ace. Aside from the fact that most players don’t reach their ceilings, Vizcaino has another problem: at just 6′ and 190 lbs, many are concerned that his body will not be able to hold up to a starter’s workload. An elbow injury requiring Tommy John Surgery in April 2012 may have proven the doubters right.

Even if Vizcaino is destined for the lighter workload of a reliever, he should be a very good late innings pitcher, which the Cubs have not been able to count on for the past couple of seasons. But if he can start, it would be an even greater boon for the Cubs. Vizcaino, though, has the least “ifs” for being a solid contributor the the Cubs. If he’s healthy, he’ll contribute. The only other question is in what role?

Brett Jackson (OF)- I’ve discussed Jackson extensively this offseason, so I’ll keep it simple: if Jackson can cut the strikeouts down, he’ll be at least an above average regular. If he can’t he’ll be a platoon player or a bench player. Jackson has struggled over the first week and a half of play in Iowa. If the strikeouts don’t decrease by the end of May, it’s unlikely that the changes he made to his swing will have any real effect on his strikeout issues.

Logan Watkins (2B)- Watkins is a prospect in the mold of Darwin Barney. By that I mean a prospect who has moved along the minor league system, performing well but never putting up the sort of gaudy numbers that make someone an elite prospect. Watkins hits left handed, takes walks, steals bases and could handle any defensive position aside from catcher and either be above average, or at least not awful. Watkins could either replace Darwin Barney at second base if the Cubs can find a team to pay above market value in a trade for the slick fielding second baseman, a stopgap at third base who won’t hit for power but will get on base and add value on the base paths, or a utility player in the mold of a Mark DeRosa type who can play better defense.

Junior Lake (3B/OF)- The question with Lake, who has yet to play this season due to injury but should be in Iowa soon, is what it has been for years: will he turn his generous physical gifts into on the field baseball skills. He might have the strongest arm of any non-pitcher in baseball. He could hit 20 plus home runs and steal 30 plus bases a year, but despite his considerable speed succeeded in only 2/3 of his stolen base attempts last season. And despite his considerable power potential, he’s never hit more than 16 home runs in a minor league season. He also reportedly has an approach at the plate that leaves a lot to be desired. But, if he can make good on those physical tools, he could be a very good third baseman, center fielder or right fielder. In any of those positions, his fantastic arm strength would be a great help.

Josh Vitters (3B)- I debated whether to put Vitters on this list or not. Some point to his strong showing in Iowa last season for reasons to still consider him a prospect. Others point to the fact that he’s never shown an ability to wait for his pitch and just looking awful at the Major League level last season for reasons to not consider Vitters a prospect anymore. My biggest problem with Vitters is that the reports of him defensively at the hot corner are still bad. So while I listed him as a third baseman, even if the bat does play at the Major League level he will probably need to move to another position. And since he won’t supplant Anthony Rizzo at first base, that pretty much leaves left field, which will only be open if Soriano is traded. This is not to say that Vitters won’t be the starting third baseman for the Cubs in 2014. But that might be from a lack of better options instead of Vitters clearly deserving the role.

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