Archive for the ‘Minor League’ Category

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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VFTB Top 20 Cubs Prospect List

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Prospects rankings are out in abundance for 2013. Some of you care, some of you do not. I often see the “I’ve lived through the Corey Patterson’s and Gary Scott’s and Ty Griffin’s of years passed so wake me up when they get to the majors.” To that, I say, you’re missing part of the meaning of these lists. The rankings are not just about what these players will do in the future. They are assets and asset management is important in building a competitive team. Having high ranking prospects gives the team trade currency.

Look what the Toronto Blue Jays did this offseason; they acquired the reigning NL Cy Young winner, a 4-time All Star shortstop who won batting average title just two seasons ago, a 200 inning #3 starting pitcher, and a second #3 that some may argue can be an Ace when healthy. The best major leaguer they gave up in the deal was a 29 year old shortstop coming off a season with a .300 OBP. That’s what prospects can do for a team and is why we should be excited about the Cubs farm system.

I thought I’d do something a little different than other rankings and take a look at the consensus of seven different outlets that I respect; Baseball America, ESPN.com (Keith Law), MLB.com (Jonathon Mayo), MinorLeagueBall.com (John Sickels), Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and PerfectGame.org. These guys are the experts, so let’s see what they think. I am no scout and I do not pretend to be one. I form my opinion based on their information combined with just a few stats including walk rates, strikeout rates, and age relative to their league. I find these three to be the most important when I make distinctions between the #8 prospect vs. the #9 prospect.

I also like “tiered” rankings, because the difference between #1 and #2 is much smaller than the difference between #3 and #4. Tiers give you a better idea of what level these players are on, so I’ll also group that way.

Off we go!


 

Only four players made all seven Top 10’s. Javier Baez was the #1 guy on five of the seven lists, with Albert Almora and Jorge Soler each being top dog one time.
Almora was 2nd on five lists, Soler 3rd on six lists. These three were also on each Top 100 list that I’ve seen, usually in the Top 40, and they make up the Cubs top tier of minor league talent.

1)    Javier Baez – SS – Age 20 – Bats/Throws: R/R
2012 (leagues): Rk/A/HighA: 294/346/543, 16HR, 24SB in 321 plate appearances
BB/K: 14/69

2012: Baez’s bat delivered as advertised. His bat speed is compared to Gary Sheffield and he showed it off in 2012. The question on Baez entering last year was his defense. Many didn’t think he’d be able to handle shortstop long term, but the reports for the season were promising, and he may be able to stick at SS down the line. He has only average speed; so don’t be fooled by the 24 stolen bases (Adam Dunn stole 24 bases in A-ball).

2013: The question now is his aggressiveness at the plate. He only walked in 4.4% of his PA while striking out in about 21%. That’ll work in the low minors (he’ll start the year in Daytona) and may even work as he reaches AA, but the best pitchers will take advantage of that aggressiveness and the strikeouts will climb while his batting average falls.
But he still has the highest ceiling in the system as a middle of the order hitter that can play shortstop and the best case scenario has Baez debuting with the Cubs in 2014.

2)    Albert Almora – CF – Age 19 – Bats/Throws: R/R
Rk/LowA: 321/331/464, 2HR, 5SB in 145 plate appearances
BB/K: 2/13

2012: Almora’s reputation coming out of the draft was that his baseball smarts helped his above average tools play up. Sounds similar to Brett Jackson; no plus tools, but above average across the board. Unlike Brett Jackson, he was very aggressive at the plate, with just two walks in 145 PA, but he also made a lot of contact, with just 13 strikeouts. His defense is exceptional in CF, despite his only average speed, because of the reads and jumps he gets on the ball.

2013: He’ll be the top prospect on a prospect-loaded Kane County Cougars team. I’m anxious to see what he can do in a full season; the low walk total was a surprise to me and I hope we can chalk that up to a small sample size and it’s not a sign of things to come. If I had to put money on one Cub prospect in the low minors to be a major leaguer, Almora would be that guy. He is still likely at least three years away from Wrigley.

3)    Jorge Soler – RF – Age 21 – Bats/Throws: R/R
Rk/A: 299/369/463, 5HR, 12SB in 149 plate appearances
BB/K: 12/19

2012: It was a rather impressive debut for the $30 million dollar man. Soler shows all the tools to be a prototypical right fielder. What surprised me the most was his ability to make contact; fanning in only 13% of his PA despite not playing competitive baseball for close to two years. I was a bit surprised by his promotion to Peoria from the Rookie Arizona League, but he hit 338/398/513 with 6BB and 6K in 88 PA.

2013: Soler will reportedly begin the year in Daytona with Javier Baez and they should form a most formidable offensive duo. He could be on the fast track to Chicago. I would seriously consider having Soler as my #1 guy in the system, followed by Baez and Almora.
The only other player to show up on all seven Top 10’s is the sole proprietor of Tier 2 of Cubs prospects:

4)    Arodys Vizcaino – RHP – Age 22
DNP in 2012
2011: HighA/AA/AAA: 97 IP, 3.06 ERA, 1.13 WHIP
9.3 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9

2012: This is exhibit A of why it’s OK to take a chance on a not-so-wanted veteran free agent. The Cubs were able to flip Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson to the Braves to acquire the 2012 #12 overall prospect in baseball (Keith Law), adding yet another high ceiling prospect to the system. He instantly became the Cubs top pitching prospect despite undergoing Tommy John surgery prior to the season.

2013: Vizcaino touches the high 90’s with his fastball and has a plus curve. It’s the change-up and durability that will dictate Vizcaino’s future role in the big leagues. We’ll likely see Vizcaino later in the year in a relief role as he rebounds, but I fully expect to see him with a chance to win a rotation spot in 2014.
This is where things get a little difficult. Some lists go 30 players deep, some only 10…it’s a hodgepodge of players with either major question marks or limited playing experience. Tier 3 includes number’s 5-11:

5)    Brett Jackson – CF – Age 24 – Bats/Throws: L/R
AAA: 256/338/479, 49 XBH, 27SB in 467 plate appearances
BB/K: 47/158

2012: Let’s stick with the good in 2012. Jackson showed his power/speed combination at Iowa, with 15 HR, 12 3B, 27 SB and a .817 OPS in just 106 games. Which would be excellent for a major league centerfielder. He received some playing time in Wrigley, but we’ll ignore that for now.

2013: The concern with Jackson isn’t the K rate in the majors last year, it’s the 34.5% strikeout rate in AAA. Jackson now has 154 games and 682 PA in AAA over the last two seasons, with 222 strikeouts. 222!!! He’s made some changes to his swing this offseason, so we’re in wait-and-see mode. He won’t survive as a big leaguer unless the K’s come down.

6)    Dan Vogelbach – 1B – Age 20 – Bats/Throws: L/R
Rk/LowA: 322/410/641, 17HR, 51 XBH in 283 plate appearances
BB/K: 35/48

2012: Vogelbach demonstrated why the Cubs gave him over $1 million in bonus money as a 2nd round pick in 2011. He showed his power, he showed good contact skills, and he showed a patient approach. You won’t find anyone raving about his defense or his speed, but the bat can do some damage.

2013: Because many think Vogelbach is a DH, at best, he’s going to have to continue to hit to get much love by the prospect gurus. He’ll join Almora in Kane County. I think he’ll handle the league just fine, but they say the biggest jump in the minors is the leap to AA, so I’m just going to enjoy the show until that test arrives.

7)    Pierce Johnson – RHP – Age 22
2012: Rk/LowA: 11 IP, 3.27 ERA, 1.545 WHIP
11.5 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.0 HR/9

2012: Johnson was drafted 42nd overall in last June’s draft. He has a bit of an injury history, which supposedly led to him dropping out of the first round and into the supplemental round. Works with a 90-93 MPH fastball and shows a potential plus curve.

2013: He’s a bit behind other college pitcher due to injuries, and because of that, his future role is a big question mark. Has the potential to be a #3 pitcher that racks up strikeouts. I’m guessing he’ll be in Kane County.

8)    Christian Villanueva – 3B – Age 22 – Bats/Throws: R/R
2012: HighA: 279/353/427, 14HR, 14SB in 520 plate appearances
BB/K: 34/107

2012: Not a bad return for half a season of Ryan Dempster. He was buried in Texas’ deep farm system, so he may have been a bit underrated. His glove is his best tool but he may be an average hitter in the bigs one day. He didn’t perform all that well after the trade, but was solid cumulatively.

2013: He’ll likely begin in AA and will be a telling season on what the future may hold. If he does make it to the majors, his bat will be underwhelming, but his glove will be good, so he’ll be a guy whose value will likely be underappreciated, as most defense-first players are.

9)    Dillon Maples – RHP – Age 21

2012: Rk: 10.1 IP, 4.35 ERA, 1.55 WHIP

10.5 K/9, 8.7 BB/9, 0.0 HR/9

2012: Maples was drafted in 2011 and received a $2.5 million bonus, but didn’t pitch, and was only able to throw 10 innings in 2012.

2013: Also in the running for highest ceiling for pitchers, Maples has the potential for a plus fastball/curveball combo. He can get the fastball up to 96 and the curve is a hard one, at 82-84. I’ve seen some question his delivery, which leads them to believe the bullpen is his long term home. With the lack of activity since being drafted, I’d have a hard time taking him over some players further down the list.

10)  Jeimer Candelario – 3B – Age 19 – Bats/Throws: B/R

2012: LowA: 281/345/396, 6HR, 2SB in 310 plate appearances

BB/K: 26/55

2012: I was hoping for a little more out of Candelario after his 2011 season when he had more walks than strikeouts, but these are still solid numbers for an 18 year old in a short season league. He’s not much defensively, with reports I’ve read using adjectives like “lackadaisical”. It’s already been said he may not be long for 3B.

2013: He’ll probably head to full season ball in Kane County. If he were to spend one year at each level, that would put him on target for the majors at age 23. His bat may accelerate that timeline.

11)  Duane Underwood – RHP – Age 19

2012: Rk: 8.2 IP, 5.19 ERA, 1.50 WHIP

7.3 K/9, 6.2 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9

2012: Underwood was drafted in the 2nd round and give a bonus over $1 million. Only threw a few innings in Rookie ball in what was officially his age 17 season. Both Underwood and the aforementioned Jeimer Candelario were hard to rank. They made all 7 lists, but outside the Top 10 on most, while Maples only made it on five lists but had four Top 10’s placements.

2013: He doesn’t turn 19 until July, so he’ll be listed at 18 since ages are based on age at June 1st. He’ll probably pitch in Boise at some point this year and is many years away, with obvious high risk. ANY pitcher this age and raw has that risk. He throws easy velocity into the mid 90’s with a potential plus curveball.
Tier 4 finishes up the Top 20:

12)  Matt Szczur – CF – Age 23 – Bats/Throws: Right/Right

2012: HighA/AA: 267/360/390, 4HR, 42SB in 510 plate appearances

BB/K: 61/79

2012: One of the more polarizing Cubs prospects, Szczur’s plate discipline improved immensely in High A Daytona, earning a promotion to AA where he struggled to a 210/285/357 line. He’s got good speed, but it’s not ‘plus-plus’ like some Cub fans seem to believe. He was successful in 75% of his SB attempts, which is solid, not great.

2013: Probably begins back in AA, Szczur needs to maintain the plate discipline to keep his OBP high, because he likely won’t have much power in the majors and his overall offensive package has been underwhelming so far. I think he’ll be a major leaguer someday, but not the All Star I’ve seen Cub fans dreaming of.

13)  Juan Carlos Paniagua – RHP – Age 23

2012: Rk: 3.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.27 WHIP

9.8 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.0 HR/9

2012: Odd history for Paniagua…if that’s his real name. Signed with the Diamondbacks in 2009 as Juan Carlos Collado and pitched in ’09 and ’10, but his contract was terminated due to fraudulent paperwork. He then signed with the Yankees for $1.1 million, under his current name, but that contract was also terminated by MLB…this time for “falsified documents”. He signed once more, this time with our beloved Cubs for $1.1 million, and this contract seems to have stuck.

2013: His age, lack of experience, and limited game action keeps him this low, but he could jump to the top of the Cubs charts. Latest reports have him throwing 93-95, but he could touch 98. His change-up is pitch #2, followed by a low 80’s slider. Could be a fast mover despite the lack of experience.

14)  Junior Lake – Util – Age 23 – Bats/Throws: R/R
2012: AA: 279/341/432, 10 HR, 21 SB in 448 plate appearances
BB/K: 35/105

2012: Back to back with Szczur, Lake is also one of the more polarizing prospects in the system. He started off with a bang and even had a BB/K ratio of 8/4 in the first seven games. I remember people thinking he made the adjustments and was on his way to elite status. But, so goes the small sample sizes and he reverted back to a 1/4 ratio the rest of the way. He also regressed on the basepaths and started to play a little outfield over the winter, in an attempt to find out where he’ll play one day.

2013: It’s going to be a slow start for Lake this year, as he has a broken rib and won’t see action until May, at the earliest. He’s always had a cannon for an arm, so I think he’s going to end up a utility guy that sees action at 3B, SS, and OF while providing both speed and pop off the bench. I’m just not sure he’ll be good enough offensively for an everyday job on a good team.

15)  Arismendy Alcantara – SS – Age 21 – Bats/Throws: B/R

2012: HighA: 302/339/447, 7 HR, 25 SB in 359 plate appearances
BB/K: 19/61

2012: A relative unknown before the season, Alcantara had an excellent season at Daytona considering he was one of the youngest players in the league. Like many Cub prospects, he’s a free swinger. He flashed some power and showed good speed and is a legitimate shortstop on defense.

2013: AA will be a test and I’m excited to see what he can do. He is higher in my personal rankings as I am partial to prospects who perform well while they are younger than the competition.

16)  Paul Blackburn – RHP – Age 19

2012: Rk: 20.2 IP, 3.48 ERA, 1.45 WHIP

5.7 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9

2012: Blackburn was drafted #56 overall in last June’s draft. He showed a fastball that touched 94, a curve, and a change that, like most prep pitchers, needs some work.

2013: He doesn’t have the stuff of the pitchers ahead of him but he’s already sitting 90-93 and he’s got plenty of room to fill out in his 6’2” frame. Probably sees time in Boise this year, but he’s going to be a 2017 guy if he keeps progressing.

17)  Marco Hernandez – SS – Age 20 – Bats/Throws: R/R
2012: LowA/A: 258/287/373, 7 HR, 10 SB in 454 plate appearances
BB/K: 76/19

2012: The Cubs were aggressive with the then 19 year old, trying to skip him over Boise and go straight to full season ball. It didn’t work, as the more mature pitching exploited his hackiness and he struggle to make contact. They demoted him to Boise and he performed a little better, hitting 286/310/416. He’s in no danger of being force to move off shortstop, with good range and a reportedly above average arm.

2013: I’m guessing Hernandez heads to Kane County this year and he’s going to need to learn to be more patient. But he could be a solid shortstop with double digit homers and stolen bases.

18)  Josh Vitters – 3B/1B – Age 23 – Bats/Throws: R/R

2012: AAA: 304/356/513, 17HR, 51XBH in 452 plate appearances

BB/K: 30/77

2012: In terms of OPS, this was Vitters best year as a pro (I am ignoring his short stint in the majors), but the Pacific Coast League is a hitters league, so that helped him out. He doesn’t run or play defense well, so his position is a big question mark.

2013: It all comes down to aggression for Vitters. He swings at everything. Despite having good strikeout rates in the minors, big league pitchers showed what happens to aggressive hitters like Josh. I could see a Shea Hillenbrand career from Vitters, but that’s not what the Cubs bought into when they drafted him third overall in 2007.

19)  Gioskar Amaya – 2B – Age 20 – Bats/Trows: R/R

2012: LowA: 300/383/502, 8 HR, 15 SB in 318 plate appearances

BB/K: 33/65

2012: I’m a bit surprised Amaya doesn’t rank higher. He showed a bit of power (although 12 triples may turn into doubles at higher levels, lowering that ISO), stole some bases, turned a good double play, and had a pretty solid walk rate (10.4%). He did strike out a good amount for someone in Boise (20.5%), but that’s nitpicking.

2013: Another destined for Kane County, I’m anxious to see how he performs in full season ball and I see no reason why he can’t be a Top 10 Cub prospect next year.

20)  Darien (Trey) Martin – OF – Age 20 – Bats/Throws: R/R

2012: Rk/LowA: 292/344/416, 18 XBH, 8 SB in 262 plate appearances

BB/K: 15/51

2012: A 13th round pick in 2011, Martin is the last guy to make at least 3 appearances on Top Prospect lists (at #’s 15, 20 and 29). He played left field, but that was only because of Albert Almora as Martin is a legit centerfielder that could develop into a true 5-tool player.

2013: Kane County? Fangraphs and MLB.com were the only publications to talk in detail about him, and both have similar comments. He should develop into a 6’3”, 200 pounder, that can play good defense in centerfield. For his bat, we’ll see. When he fills out he’s expected to be at least average in power and a plus runner. It sounds like the tools are there.

Others: Alberto Cabrera (RHP), Barret Loux (RHP), Robert Whitenack (RHP), Jae-Hoon Ha (CF), Logan Watkins (2B), Tony Zych (RHRP), Trey McNutt (RHRP), Matt Loosen (RHP), Lendy Castillo (RHP), Marcus Hatley (RHP), Reggie Golden (RF)


No love from the gurus, but I like
: Ben Wells (RHP), Roni Torreyes (2B)

In conclusion: I need to get tickets for Kane County.

Tier 1

1

Javier Baez

2

Albert Almora

3

Jorge Soler

Tier 2

4

Arodys Vizcaino

Tier 3

5

Brett Jackson

6

Dan Vogelbach

7

Pierce Johnson

8

Christian Villanueva

9

Dillon Maples

10

Jeimer Candelario

11

Duane Underwood

Tier 4

12

Matt Szczur

13

Juan Carlos Paniagua

14

Junior Lake

15

Arismendy Alcantara

16

Paul Blackburn

17

Marco Hernandez

18

Josh Vitters

19

Gioskar Amaya

20

Trey Martin

 

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The Prospect Report

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

In a comment last week, a VFTB reader inquired about the prospects at different positions in the Cubs’ system. He noted that while the Cubs seem to have a good amount of depth in the outfield, starting pitching at the upper levels of the minors appears to be a weakness. As such, we thought a positional breakdown of the Cubs’ prospects that have a decent chance to contribute would be useful, and could shed some light on the system’s strengths and weaknesses.

POSITION PLAYERS

Generally, the Cubs’ farm system is stronger on position player side of things than it is on the pitching front. The Cubs’ top three prospects are position players (Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora), and of the Cubs’ highest ceiling pitching prospects, only Arodys Vizcaino has pitched above short season ball. So we’ll start with the position players.

Outfielders

The outfield is the Cubs’ strongest prospect area, largely because Almora and Soler, two of the top three prospect in the system, are outfielders. There has been a lot of discussion on each of these near consensus Top 50 prospects, so I’ll only summarize them briefly here. Almora, the Cubs’ top draft pick in 2012, is a center fielder who is quite advanced for his age due in large part to a ton of experience on national teams. He’s the sort of high ceiling, great make up guy pretty much everyone loves. He’ll miss the first month or two of this season after having the hamate bone in his wrist removed, but it shouldn’t significantly impact his development.

Soler, the Cubs’ big Cuban signing prior to the new international spending limits, is a right fielder with a ton of potential at the plate. He’s become the trendy choice to be this year’s guy who shoots up from the 30-50 range on top prospect lists into the top ten, a la Mike Trout in 2010 or Oscar Taveras in 2012

The other big outfield prospect, and one of the Cubs’ few high ceiling prospects in the upper minors, is Brett Jackson. Jackson’s issues with strikeouts have been well documented all over the internet, including by me. If Jackson is able to cut down the strikeouts, it would be huge for the Cubs’ rebuilding plans.

There are several other Cubs’ outfield prospects who are worth noting. Matt Szczur has been a darling of Baseball America for some time, but others have concerns that his swing is too slappy to be more than a reserve outfielder. Even Baseball America has cooled on Szczur, and he struggled significantly after getting called up to Double A Tennessee in the middle of last season.

Reggie Golden is an extremely athletic but raw outfielder the Cubs drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft. Unfortunately, his full season debut last season got cut very short due to an ACL tear just 7 games into the 2012 season. He’ll return to Kane County, and still has the high ceiling.

Others to keep an eye on are Jae-Hoon Ha, Taiwan Easterling, Trey Martin, Xavier Batista, Shawon Dunston, Jr., and Jeffrey Baez.

Middle Infielders

The Cubs’ top infield prospect is also their top prospect: Javier Baez. Baez’s ceiling is through the roof, especially if he can stick at shortstop. He very well could still switch over to 3B due to outgrowing the middle infield or because Starlin Castro has shortstop held down, but scouting types consider him a shortstop at this juncture.

There is one middle infield prospect who could make an impact on the Major League team in the next year or year and a half: Logan Watkins. Watkins can play all over the field, but if he sticks at one position it would be second base. While he won’t be Darwin Barney there defensively, he should still be above average. On the other hand, Watkins, who bats left handed, should be an improvement at the plate over Barney. Watkins has drawn a solid walk percentage throughout his minor league career, and, while he won’t ever be mistaken for a power hitter, he should hit for more power than Barney. Watkins will start the season in Iowa, but could move up to the Cubs mid-season to either play a super utility role or if a spot opens up due to injury or trade.

The Cubs have a couple of younger, high ceiling middle infield prospects in Gioskar Amaya and Arismendy Alcantara. Both have significantly higher ceilings than Watkins, but also have significantly lower floors. Alcantara will likely be Tennessee’s shortstop to start the season, while Amaya will make his full season debut as Kane County’s second baseman. Another couple of players to keep an eye on are Ronald Torreyes and Zeke DeVoss, who will be the second basemen for Tennessee and Daytona respectively. Both have issues, but also have at least one elite tool. Torreyes makes a ton of contact, but is too small to be likely to ever add any sort of power. DeVoss has good speed, but has contact issues. Marco Hernandez is also a young talented shortstop who will get a second shot at full season ball this year.

First Base

The Cubs only have one first base prospect really worth watching: Dan Vogelbach. Vogelbach has extremely high offensive upside, but can only play first base. And some question whether Vogelbach will even be able to handle first base defensively at the Major League level. He absolutely destroyed short season ball last year, posting a .322/.423/.608. While the defensive concerns have kept him off top prospect lists, if he hits like this at Kane County and Daytona, he’ll get his spot on the top prospect lists.

Third Base

The Cubs have a lot of prospects (or at least guys who can’t be called non-prospects) at the hot corner, even without considering Javier Baez as a part of this group. Josh Vitters and Junior Lake will probably split time at third base in Iowa, while also getting chances at other positions. However, if either see time in the Majors in 2013, it will probably be at third base. Vitters and Lake are pretty well known, as are their problems. Vitters both has issues with his plate approach and defensively. Even if the offense comes around, Vitters might be better suited to an outfield corner long term. Lake has all the physical talent in the world, but hasn’t turned that into consistent baseball skills. He also has one of the strongest arms in baseball, but makes a lot of mistakes in the field.

The safest of the Cubs’ third base prospects is Christian Villanueva, who they acquired in the Ryan Dempster trade.  Villanueva will start the season at Double A Tennessee, and should be an above average defender at third base. He has the lowest offensive ceiling of the Cubs’ third base prospects, as he lacks the power potential you’d want out of a third baseman, but he’s gotten on base enough to at least be average offensively. If neither Vitters nor Lake can get a hold on the position by the middle of 2014, Villanueva could end up being the bridge to whatever the Cubs decide to do at third base when Baez is ready.

Jeimer Candelario might be the most interesting of the Cubs’ third base prospects. As an 18 year old in short season ball, the switch hitter posted a solid .281/.345/.396 line. He has an advanced approach at the plate for his age, and most think he’ll grow into a good amount of power. The real question is if, as he fills out, he can still handle third base, as some think he’ll be ticketed for either first base or left field long term.

PITCHING

There are two differences between the Cubs’ pitching prospects and hitting prospects. Well, two differences aside from the fact that pitchers pitch and hitters hit. The first is at the upper levels of the minors. On the position player front, the Cubs have several offensive prospects in the upper levels of the minors who either have high ceilings if they put it together (Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Junior Lake, Matt Szczur) and players who may not have top ceilings but have good shots of being average regulars (Logan Watkins, Christian Villanueva). The Cubs have all of one pitcher above A ball who has a legitimate ceiling above fifth starter, and that is Arodys Vizcaino, the big return in the Paul Maholm trade. Vizcaino is nearing his return from Tommy John Surgery, and has the stuff to be a top of the rotation starter. The problem is that most scouts don’t think he’ll be able to handle a starter’s workload due to his size. Most see at least an elite late innings bullpen dominator, but Vizcaino solidifying himself in the rotation would be vastly preferable.

Everyone else in the high minors either has fifth starter or bullpen ceiling. Chris Rusin, Brooks Raley and Nick Struck don’t have the stuff to be more than fifth starters. Trey McNutt seems destined for the bullpen due to control issues. And I sincerely doubt the Alberto Cabrera conversion back to a starting pitcher will work.

The second difference is the ceiling between the Cubs’ top offensive prospects and top pitching prospects. The Cubs really do not have pitchers with ceilings similar to Baez, Almora and Soler, and those that come close on potential are much further away from realizing it.

This doesn’t mean that the Cubs are devoid of talent on the pitching side outside of Vizcaino, though. Pierce Johnson was a first round talent who fell to the Cubs in the supplemental round a year ago because of a forearm injury. His ceiling is as a number 2 in the rotation pitcher, and he has as good of odds of speeding through the system as anyone, including the big three position prospects. He will probably start in Kane County this season, but could end as high as Tennessee.

The Cubs also have three high ceiling young arms who have yet to pitch much. Dillon Maples was a 2011 bonus baby who barely pitched due to injury last season, but reportedly has matured greatly over the past season. We’ll see if that converts to solid performance on the mound this season. Paul Blackburn and Duane Underwood were two high round high school draftees by the Cubs last year with a ton of ceiling, but they are VERY far away from it at this point. Blackburn and Underwood won’t pitch in a game that counts until June at the earliest, and the highest either will pitch this year is Boise.

One Cubs’ pitching prospect that does not get enough attention is Ben Wells. Wells is a sinker ball pitcher who induces a lot of ground balls. Despite that, he posted a healthy strikeout rate in his full season debut as a 19 year old for Peoria last year, striking out 7.36 per 9 innings. More importantly, he has great control at a young age, walking less than 2.5 per 9 innings.

The big question with Wells will be health. An elbow issue that nearly necessitated Tommy John Surgery limited Wells to just 45 innings in 2012. If he can stay healthy, he could move up the system quickly. He doesn’t have top of the rotation ceiling, but I could easily see him as a three or four if he can handle the workload.

Additionally, if we have this conversation again in 5 months I would bet that the pitching in the Cubs’ farm system will be very improved. To start, odds are that the Cubs will pick either Stanford star right hander Mark Appel or 2012 Cape Cod League darling and Indiana State Ace Sean Manaea, a left hander, with the number two pick in the draft in June. I also expect that the Cubs will focus on adding pitching depth to the farm in any trades they make this season.

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Prospect Spotlight: Arizona Fall League

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

For our final prospect spotlight of the season, we’re looking at the Cubs’ farmhands who have been sent to join the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League for the next couple of months. Before I list the players, I just wanted to note that I think the AFL gets a lot more recognition than it probably deserves, especially for offensive players.

To start, Arizona is an offensive environment. These are the same locations that Cactus League games are played in. Beyond that, most top pitching prospects don’t end up in Arizona, as the top starting pitching talents in the minors have generally hit their organizationally imposed innings limits by the end of their respective minor league seasons. The best pitchers in the AFL tend to either be guys who are coming back from injuries or recent high level college draftees who didn’t have their arms destroyed in the College World Series.

Hitting prospects don’t have inning limits. So you generally have better hitting prospects against lesser pitching prospects in an extremely offensive environment. So take all hitting numbers with a grain of salt.

The following are the Cubs who are going to the AFL for the start of the season, with links if I’ve written about them recently.

Pitchers: Dae-Eun Rhee, Kevin Rhoderick, Nick Struck, Tony Zych

Hitters: Javier Baez, Matt Szczur, Rubi Silva

I’ve written about Baez and Szczur recently, so you know that Baez is one of the top three prospects in the Cubs’ system, and that I think Szczur is most likely a fourth outfielder. Rubi Silva isn’t anyone to get excited about, as he spent his age 22/23 season putting up fine but not special numbers in High A and Double A. He also walked in less than three percent of his plate appearances. Combine all the facts above, and he’s essentially a non-prospect.

The pitchers aren’t much to write home about either. Dae-Eun Rhee looked like he might have been taking a step forward in 2011, but stalled this season in Double A. Kevin Rhoderick and Tony Zych are relievers, although Zych does have the potential to be a late inning guy. Struck was probably the best pitcher in the Cubs’ upper minor leagues this year, putting up a 3.18 ERA and 3.75 FIP for Double A Tennessee while striking up more than 7 per 9 innings and walking just over 2.5 per 9 innings. But, at 5’11″ and 185 lbs, Struck is not that projectable, and he’s the sort of guy who is going to have to get every ounce of his talent to be more than a back end of the rotation starter in the Majors. Those are fun guys to root for, but not good guys to bet on.

As I intimated at the beginning, this will be my final minor league post of the season. I’ll be continuing to write for the site, but over the offseason will be focusing on other items (although the prospects will be involved in some of those post, I’m sure.)  Thanks to all of you who read and posted over the course of the season.

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Minors Report – Stock Down

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

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

But not all was good:

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

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


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

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

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

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An Interview with ESPN’s Keith Law

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Keith Law writes for ESPN providing analysis on all baseball topics.  He also writes about food, literature, and other subjects on his personal blog, The Dish.  You can follow Keith on twitter, @keithlaw. I think he’s a must follow for any baseball fan.  I’d also like to thank Keith for taking the time to do the interview with such a busy schedule.

Q: Since the regime change last winter, many baseball experts have said the Cubs have really smart guys running things and fans just need to be patient.  On the other hand, looking at Boston this year, you can make a legitimate case Epstein’s moves put the Red Sox in the predicament they were in before the Dodgers bailed them out.  What is your overall impression of the Cubs new front office? What do they do right? And why should Cubs fans be patient instead of skeptical?

I think they’re absolutely headed in the right direction, including spending money on Soler ahead of the implementation of the new CBA, going after higher-probability players in the draft without significantly sacrificing ceiling, and giving opportunities to potentially undervalued players like Bryan LaHair (even if that didn’t work out).

I don’t see why Cubs fans would be skeptical, though. What has the regime done so far to merit that skepticism? I also think that if you’re going to debit Epstein for the free agent disasters in Boston, you also need to credit Hoyer and McLeod for building the majors’ best farm system in San Diego.

Q: The new CBA was a total game changer especially for the Cubs who were just starting to exploit the old system’s market inefficiencies.  Except spending more than other teams on their 25-man roster, how can the team still use their financial advantage?

I’d expect them to be more active with players coming from NPB or KBO [Japan and Korea], since those players aren’t subject to the CBA’s limits on international players. I also think their financial advantage allows them to make moves where they take on a bad contract to get a player or prospect they really want – in effect, buying talent through an indirect route.

Q: Speaking of market inefficiencies, I recently published a study on the success rates of first round draft picks from 1990-2006. Overall, teams averaged ~30% success rate on their first round picks. However, the teams employing Tim Wilken were at 57%.  I’m a little disappointed the Cubs moved Wilken out of the Scouting Director position as he’s been so successful for such a long period of time. How do you feel about Wilken’s first round picks since joining the Cubs? Do you know anything about his new role with the team? What can you tell us about his replacement Jaron Madison?

I’ve known Tim for ages and have a ton of respect for him as an evaluator and a director – but I think your method is a little simplistic, primarily since first-round picks are almost never a unilateral decision by a scouting director. Almora was a group decision that included everyone we’ve discussed so far here, as well as other evaluators with the Cubs. My understanding is that Tim will still see potential selections for the team’s top picks, but it sounds like he’ll also be used more on the pro side, seeing possible trade targets and evaluating the Cubs’ own prospects, which is a great use of his abilities.

Q: What are your thoughts on Starlin Castro’s development and his recent extension?

Love the extension – the downside is extremely limited, so even if he doesn’t become the kind of star I expect him to become, it’s still a reasonable deal for the team. I’d like to see more improvement in his approach at the plate – more walks would be great, but I’d settle for better at bats – but I also think it’s going to take time for the new regime to implement that philosophy in the Cubs’ system. Plate discipline wasn’t a priority under Jim Hendry, and it’s a hard enough thing to teach even when it is a priority, so I’d expect it to take a few years before we’ll see an effect up and down the system.

Q: When teams call up their top prospects, they normally want to give them a lot of playing time. Josh Vitters on the other hand is being platooned with Luis Valbuena.  Why is that the case in this situation?  What’s Vitters future moving forward?

I don’t see a future there. He’s long had one of my favorite swings in the minors, but his approach is all but nonexistent, and I don’t see how he’ll ever hit enough to make that swing (and the power it could provide) matter in the majors. If he had Matt Dominguez’ glove, it’d be a different story, but Vitters is at the opposite end of the spectrum. 

Q: Can you tell us about the Cubs prospects you do like & when can we expect to see these guys at Wrigley?  

I’m going to defer that till I do my prospect coverage this offseason. There will be plenty of Cubs content in there. I’ll also see Javier Baez a bit in the AFL, so I’ll be writing about him more in October. I’m a big fan.

Q: On the 20-80 scale, how do you rate Matt Szczur’s present and future tools? You’ve been pretty critical of Szczur and his “short, slappy swing” saying unless that changes he will not produce any power at the majors.  What kind of chance does he have at being an everyday lead-off hitter type that brings value by getting on base, using his speed on the bases and playing defense despite a lack of power?

I don’t see him as an everyday player. He doesn’t have the kind of patience to be the player you describe, nor is he a 70 or 80 runner. I think he’s been overrated because of the bone marrow transplant story (which is an amazing thing, just not relevant to his future as a player) and because Cubs fans didn’t have better prospects to whom they could pin their hopes. Now you have Baez, Almora, Soler, Paniagua … players worth getting excited over. The Vitters and the Szczurs will get less attention as a result.

Q:  Some fans bring up Prince Fielder when talking about Dan Vogelbach’s chance to play first base.  I’ve always thought of Fielder as pretty agile for a such big guy which makes him a unique case.  Other than being fat guys who hit for a ton of power, are there any other similarities between the two? Is there any chance Vogelbach plays first base at the major league level?

Fielder’s a much better athlete than Vogelbach, even light on his feet considering his size, and Fielder’s not even a good first baseman. I can’t see Vogelbach playing any position but DH in the majors. He’s a one tool guy.

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