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Chicago Cubs

Original Published Date: October 3, 2014

The calculus of the Chicago Cubs player development strategy has finally started to make sense. It took a while and had many of us scratching our head when Theo and Jed took Kris Bryant number two overall in the 2013 first year player and followed-up this year with Kyle Schwarber. However, the Cubs have stockpiled some of the best positional prospects in recent memory with multiple high-end players at each position. With a cost certain lineup, it appears that the Cubs will either trade from depth to acquire pitching, or more likely, enter the rich free agent pitching market of the next two years that should include names such as Scherzer, Lester, Shields, and Samardzjia. Will it work? It very well could.

1. Kris Bryant (3B/OF)

2015 Age: 23 Ceiling: All-star
Ht: 6-5 Weight: 215 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2014 AA,AAA 492 118 43 110 15 .325 .438 67.1 14.5 .405

Kris Bryant was the best talent in the 2013 first year player draft and in less than a year, cemented himself as the best prospect in the game. No matter how you look at the numbers, they are impressive. He slashed .325/.438/.661 with a minor league leading 43 home runs. Just for fun, he added 15 stolen bases.

The obvious carrying tool is his plus raw power that has easily translated into in-game power. Yes, the swing is long and he’ll likely strikeout too much as his 67% contact rate demonstrated.  He’s also going to walk at a 12% to 15% clip and have a .340 plus on-base percentage. Additionally, given how hard he hits the ball, his BABIP is likely to help his batting average, so a .250 to .260 average should seve as a good baseline once he arrives in Chicago in 2015.

The only open question remaining is where Bryant will play. He’s worked very hard to become an adequate defender at third, but at 6-foot-5 (Bryant claims he’s 6-foot-6), he’s likely to quickly outgrown the position and have to move to the outfield. Plus, the Cubs need to find a spot for Baez, Alcantara, Russell, Castro, etc.

Fantasy Impact: The fantasy upside of Bryant is immense with the ceiling being a Top 10 fantasy player. He could hit 30 plus home run in his first year in Chicago with an upside of 40 plus during the prime of his career. While he could chip in 5-10 stolen bases early in his career, Bryant will be a power and run producer hitting in the middle of a potentially dominating lineup.

2. Addison Russell (SS)

2015 Age: 21 Ceiling: All-star
Ht: 6-0 Weight: 195 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015-16
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2014 A+,AA 258 39 13 45 6 .295 .350 81.0 6.8 .321

We said it last year and we’ll say it again this year. Addison Russell is going to be a star.

Russell played two games in Midland Texas before spending the next two months on the disabled list with a hamstring pull. After a quick period of adjustment, including being traded (oh yeah…that), Russell picked up where he left off in 2012. For the year, he posted a slash line of .295/.350/.508 with 13 home runs and six stolen bases.

The tools start with premium bat speed that should allow him to produce 20 to 25 home runs once he acclimates himself to the big leagues. He also has an advanced approach at the plate and while there is some swing and miss in his game, he also has very good plate discipline and together, he should post a .280 plus batting average with a .360 plus on-base percentage. Throw in the ability to steal double-digit stolen bases and you quickly see what all the fuss is about with Russell.

As opposed to Baez, Russell has the chance to remain at shortstop but is currently blocked at the major league level by Starlin Castro. While those problems usually work themselves out, Russell will likely start 2015 in Omaha and should make his major league debut sometime later in the year at the ripe old age of 21-years-old.

Fantasy Impact: Addison Russell has the ceiling of 20+/20 contributor with a .280 plus batting average. Given his great bat-to-ball skills and how hard he hits the ball, he could have some .300 plus BABIP induced seasons. He’s your prototypical number three hitter that should also rack up excellent counting stats. He’s going to be a monster and it should start sometime in 2015.

3. Jorge Soler

2015 Age: 23 Ceiling: All-star
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 215 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2014
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2014 AA,AAA 200 42 15 57 0 .340 .432 76.0 14.0 .381

Lost in the hype of the big three, Jorge Soler is yet another 30 plus home run middle-of-the-lineup impact bat for the Cubs. However, injuries have held him back. In 2013, his season ended in mid-June with a stress fracture of his left leg and this year, hamstring problems caused him to miss most of the first half of the season.

With the injuries behind him, Soler produced in a big way in 2014. He slashed .282/.378/.618 while in the minors and continued the assault when he was promoted to the majors in late August. His three home runs in his first three games duplicated the start that Javier Baez had earlier in the summer. Bryant, Soler, Baez, Rizzo, Russell, et. al…it’s going to be ridiculous in a few years on the North side; maybe even in 2015

While the back of the baseball card says 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, he’s more physically imposing in person. When you combine his physicality with premium bat speed, Soler has a chance to be a special talent and could have every bit the same power profile as Bryant and Baez. His swing is also more controlled and that allows him to be make good contact that should translate into an above-average batting average at the highest level.

To round out the profile, he has a cannon for an arm that should translate well in right-field. He doesn’t have the foot speed or route running ability to move to center, but he’ll play very well in a corner. Speed will not be part of his profile particularly as he continues to fill out.

Soler also signed a major league contract when he was signed out of Cuba in 2012 and is already on the 40-man roster. There will be no timing issues with Soler so the likelihood of him starting the 2015 season in Chicago is very high

Fantasy Impact: With the potential to hit 30 plus home runs and bat in the middle of what should be a dynamic lineup in Chicago, Soler has top 20 fantasy potential. The injuries are a concern and could derail that production, but it’s hard for Dynasty League owners to put a regression value on that. It could be very special and could start in 2015.

4. Kyle Schwarber (C/OF)

2015 Age: 22 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-0 Weight: 235 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2016
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2014 AA,AAA 262 55 18 53 5 .344 .428 78.2 12.5 .373

I don’t think Vegas runs lines on the MLB first year player draft, but if they did, I doubt Kyle Schwarber would have been a favorite to go in the top five.   However, the Cubs made him the fourth overall pick and signed him quickly to a well below slot bonus of $3.1 million dollars.

He started his professional career six days after being drafted and went 3 for 4 with a home run. He continued to mash in Boise of the Northwest League and was quickly promoted to full season Low-A where he showed no signs of being challenged posting a 1.050 OPS in 83 at-bats. On July 16th he was promoted to High-A where he finally found his rising tide. For the season in High-A, he posted a .302/.393/.560 slash line in 159 at-bats while hitting 10 home runs.

Schwarber has plus power potential as his 40 home runs during his collegian career proved. He’s a stocky guy at 6-foot and 240 pounds that uses his lower half very well to drive balls. He has enough loft in his swing to produce in-game power of 30 home runs at the highest level.   While he has shown excellent contact in his first year of professional ball, the pull swing mechanics suggest that there will be swing and miss in his game.

The biggest open question is whether Schwarber will remain behind the plate or move to the outfield or first base. So far, reports indicate that he’s done well behind the dish. However, he lacks the athleticism, nimble foot work and arm strength to profile as a future elite defender. That might be ok, particularly if he develops good framing skills which is more of a learned art than one based on pure athleticism.

Fantasy Impact: If Schwarber can stay behind the plate, he has the upside of a top 10 fantasy catcher if not more. If he moves to the outfield, he has the upside of a top 20 outfielder with the potential for 30 home runs and a .260 batting average. He could be quick mover if the Cubs move him from behind the plate with a 2016 debut in Chicago possible.

5. Albert Almora (OF)

2015 Age: 21 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2014 A+,AA 508 75 9 60 6 .270 .291 86.4 2.6 .295

Albert Almora represents yet another first round draft pick that the Cubs seemingly have hit on. However, unlike the others in front of him on this list, Almora’s profile is not a power profile but is instead a profile of an elite defender with average power potential.

I had a chance to see Almora play both in the Arizona Fall League in 2013 as well as take in a series in Brevard County in the spring and he is an impressive center fielder. He gets great jumps on the ball and has the athleticism to make the circus catch. He reminds me of Boston Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. when he’s in the field. He doesn’t have blazing speed but just seems to catch everything.

Almora’s makes very good contact at 87% but also rarely walks. This will likely keep him out of the top of the lineup and move him down to a number seven or eight batter and ultimately diminish his overall value, particularly for fantasy players. He does have average power that could translate into 15 to 20 home runs as he continues to fill-out. He’s also only an average runner, so his stolen bases production will likely be in the 5 to 10 range early in his career.

Fantasy Impact: Albert Almora gets a lot of love as an elite prospect, but he’ll likely not be an elite fantasy contributor. His aggressiveness at the plate will limit his OBP and will likely move him to the back of the lineup. There is 15 to 20 home run upside but that will come with a .260-.270 batting average. As a comparison think Jackie Bradley Jr. with the hope of a little more power.

6. Billy McKinney (OF)

2015 Age: 20 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 195 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2016
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2014 A+ 466 72 11 69 6 .264 .354 78.5 11.2 .309

Billy McKinney was part of the block buster trade that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics. While most of the hype and rightly so was around Addison Russell, Billy McKinney has a solid regular if not more upside.

McKinney has above average bat speed with natural bat-to-ball skills that points to an above-average, if not more batting average and on-base skills. The A’s pushed him as a 19-year-old to High-A and while he only posted a .247 batting average, it came with a .267 BABIP. That all corrected at the Florida State League where he posted a slash line of .301/.390/.432 with a 77% contact rate and 12% walk rate.

His swing is contact oriented but as he fills out, there could be average power with a ceiling of 15 to 18 home runs. He’s also not a burner but could steal a hand full of bases as he gets good reads.

Fantasy Impact: In his current profile, McKinney lacks the power or speed to profile as a fantasy stud but based on his on-base skills, could hit atop of the lineup and provide plenty of runs, batting average and on-base help to a fantasy team. He’s likely to start the 2015 season in Double-A and should continue to move quickly through the system.

7. C.J Edwards (SP)

2015 Age: 22 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 155 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015-16
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 R,AA 53.2 32 14 1 2.16 9.06 2.35 1.06

After suffering a shoulder injury in late April, the Cubs top pitching prospect C.J. Edwards finally made his way to game action in late July. Edwards believes his problem stemmed from fatigue at the end of the 2013 season and doesn’t believe he has any fundamental delivery problems. In his first outing back, he was hitting 94 MPH in the AZL and finally saw action in Double-A in August.

Edwards arsenal is a nice three pitch mix of a 92-94 MPH fastball that will touch higher with a plus curve ball and a change-up that also shows promise. When I saw him, the secondary pitches were not as crisp as he demonstrated in 2013, but I will give him a pass as he was still working his way back into game shape.

In reviewing his delivery, it has improved. He’s pitching taller and getting more plane on his pitches which is allowing him to get better extension on his pitches. This was a problem I noted last year. The arm action is still a little whippy which could point to more health problems down the road, but for now, the delivery has improved.

The concern with Edwards continues to be his listed 155 pound frame. It’s hard to put it any other way…he’s skinny and doesn’t look like he should throw as hard as he does. Can he handle the rigors of pitching 200 innings as a major league pitcher? That’s the big question.

Fantasy Impact: If it all comes together for Edwards, he has the ceiling of a number three starting pitcher on your fantasy team with the potential for a strikeout per inning. However, the body still says he’s a reliever long-term but the stuff points to a late inning arm. In the end, it’s a win-win situation for fantasy owners.

8. Dan Vogelbach (1B/DH)

2015 Age: 23 Ceiling: Solid-Reg
Ht: 6-0 Weight: 250 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2014 A+ 482 71 16 76 4 .268 .357 81.1 11.8 .296

I’ve seen Dan Vogelbach in person and he’s a big, sturdy man.   He’s not tall at 6-foot, but he’s wide and strong. While the body is not great and he struggled mightily around first base when I saw him, he can flat out hit.   He’s very patient at the plate as is demonstrated by his 12% walk rate.  He also makes excellent contact as his 81% also shows.  Part of the reason he makes good contact is that his swing is compact and direct to the ball. However, because of the leverage he gets and just his immense strength, he has a chance to provide plus power potential.

Fantasy Impact: Vogelbach is destined to be traded to an American League team where he’ll slide in nicely at designated hitter. He could hit 20 to 25 home runs with a .270 batting average and a .360 on-base percentage. From a fantasy standpoint, that will play very nicely.

9. Pierce Johnson (RHP)

2015 Age: 24 Ceiling: #4 starter
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 170 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 A-,AA 102.2 64 29 9 5.00 8.68 2.54 1.18

Johnson got a late start to his 2014 season when he pulled his hamstring in Spring Training causing him to miss three weeks in April. After pitching in only six games, he missed another month when he pulled his calf muscle. Finally healthy, the Cubs put him in Double-A where he struggled to control his arsenal walking 54 in 91.1 innings. In was the first time the 6-foot-3, 23-year-old had ever struggled in his professional career. The good news is that the stuff is still there as he continued to miss plenty of bats with batters struggling to make hard contact (.323 slugging percentage against).

The Cubs will likely start Johnson back in Tennessee for the 2015 season with an early-season promotion to Iowa in the cards. With plenty of current openings on the big league starting rotation, Johnson could see Chicago by the end of the 2015 season. His ceiling is a number four starter.

Fantasy Impact: Johnson’s strikeout potential gives him future value on a fantasy team. However, he doesn’t stay on top of his pitches very well and could become a fly ball pitcher; which in Wrigley Field in the summer can become a problem.

10. Eloy Jimenez (OF)

2015 Age: 18 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht:6-4 Weight: 205 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2018-19
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2014 DSL 150 13 3 27 3 .227 .268 78.7 6.1 .261

Eloy Jimenez was our 2014 emerging player and while I think it’s a stretch to say he “emerged”, he did hold his own as a 17-year-old in the AZL.   In 150 at-bats, he slashed .227/.268/.367 with three home runs and three stolen bases. In addition, the scouting reports continue to be positive as he shows great bat speed and an approach that should allow him to eventually tap into his plus raw power. The Cubs could challenge him in 2015 with a promotion to full-season Low-A ball. While he has the talent to adjust to the competition, it will be interesting to see if he has the maturity to handle the cold confines of Geneva Illinois in April.

Fantasy Impact: Jimenez has the ceiling of a power bat hitting in the middle of the lineup with 30 plus home run potential. Sound familiar? The Cubs invested heavily in Jimenez, awarding him a $2.8 million dollar signing bonus. That’s Miguel Sano type of money. Hmmm….

2015 Emerging Prospects

Jen-Ho Tseng (RHP)

Signed for $1.6M dollars in July of 2014, Jen-Ho Tseng is already showing the polish and arsenal to be more than an emerging prospect. As a 19-year-old, he handled Kane County with ease, posting a 2.40 ERA with a 7.3 K/9 and a miniscule 1.3 BB/9. The Cubs will surely challenge him in 2015 with a High-A assignment and the promise that if he pitches well, he’ll move quickly. The stuff is not elite as his velocity sits 92-93 MPH, but he has excellent secondary pitches, pounds the strike zone and knows how to pitch.

Gleyber Torres (SS)

Because the Cubs have the best farm system in baseball, they get a second emerging prospect.

Gleyber Torres was signed along with Eloy Jimenez during the 2012 “J2 signing period”. Torres has an advanced approach with excellent bat-to-ball skills that resulted in a 40K/29BB strikeout-to-walk rate in his first 182 professional at-bats. While he only hit two home runs, he’s a solid kid at 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds that could eventually hit 15 to 20 home runs once he fills out. There’s also average speed to complete the package. Given what he showed in 2014, the Cubs could challenge him to a full season assignment in Kane County to start the 2015 season. With his advanced approach, he could move quickly.

4 comments on “Chicago Cubs

  1. Hey Rich,

    Awesome work as usual – thanks. Wanted to get your thoughts on Jacob Hannemann as a developing prospect.

    Cheers,
    Kent

  2. It’s amazing how much high-impact talent this system has even without Baez and Alcantara. 2015 is going to be an exciting season in Chicago!

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