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.
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.