Chicago Cubs

Original Published Date: Sept. 26 2013

Wow, what a difference a year makes!

The Cubs have gone from a modest yet promising minor league system to a Top five system in all of baseball.  They’ve done it by attacking all avenues at their disposal including: the first year player draft, the international free agent market, and trades.  The result has been at least four top 50 prospects in Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, and Albert Almora as well as other high-upside prospects such as C.J. Edwards who was acquired in the Matt Garza deal with Texas.

It’s an exciting system for sure but besides C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson, there is very little pitching depth in the system.  With this need and the “potential” deep pockets in Chicago, pitching could be acquired through free agency or trades.

Things could get very exciting in the North side of Chicago starting in 2015 when the talent starts to arrive.

1. Javier Baez (SS)

2014 Age: 21 Ceiling: Role 6-7
Ht:6-0 Weight: 195 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2014
2013 HiA-AA 517 98 37 101 20 .282 .341 71.6 7.7 .319

When you see Javier Baez swing a pole, it’s hard not to think of Rickie Weeks or dare I say…Gary Sheffield.  Yes, comping a player’s bat speed to Gary Sheffield is a little like comparing a player’s tools to Bo Jackson, but no matter how you slice it, Javier Baez has ridiculous plus-plus bat speed.  If you’re new to reading scouting reports, you might say…so what, after all you still have to hit the ball.  True, but with bat speed comes two very important attributes.  The first and obvious attribute is with great bat speed comes harder contact resulting in a more explosive ball impact.  Translations: the ball jumps off the bat with the ability to travel further distances.

The second attribute is great bat speed allows the batter to wait a split second longer before starting the swing.  Waiting longer provides more time to pick up the spin of the ball and the movement.  This provides a tremendous potential benefit to the player.  For Sheffield, that bat speed will lead to many Hall of Fame votes and for Rickie Weeks, well…it’s fun to watch!

Baez hit tool and power are both plus as he launched 37 home runs across two levels while making 72% contact and batting .282.  Because Baez can make such great contact, he is extremely aggressive at the plate, walking a paltry 40 times in 517 at-bats.  In the lower levels of the minor leagues, this is fine and to a certain extent this will work in the upper minors, but major league pitchers could take advantage of this and cause a lot of problems for Baez once he makes his eventual debut in the big leagues.  Finding the balance will be the key as you want to remain aggressive at the plate, particularly for a guy with the bat speed of Baez.

At 6-feet and 205 pounds, the question of position has surfaced.  While Baez can definitely play shortstop now, many believe that he will outgrow the position and wind up at third.  Further complicating matters is that the Cubs already have a shortstop in Starlin Castro and a slew of third base prospects; many of which could be knocking on the door of the majors in 2014 or 2015.  It’s a good problem to have for sure and it’ll be interesting to see how the Cubs eventually alleviate the bottleneck.

Fantasy Impact: Baez is an elite prospect with the potential for 30+ home runs from a middle of the diamond position.  I doubt he’ll ever be an on-base machine but a slash line of .280/.320/.550 might be in the offering.  Early in his career I would also anticipate low double-digit stolen bases.

2. Kris Bryant (3B/OF)

2014 Age: 22 Ceiling:Role 6
Ht:6-5 Weight: 215 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2014-15
2013 R-HiA 125 21 8 31 0 .338 .387 72.8 8.0 .391

Drafted as the second player in 2013 first year player draft, Bryant actually received the highest signing bonus of the class, eclipsing the first overall pick, Mark Appel by approximately $350K.  It was actually an interesting choice for the Cubs as their minor leagues are flush with bats and pitching is the real need. However, when you have the second pick in the draft, you HAVE to pick the best player off the board regardless of need and in my opinion; and the Cubs accomplished that.

Bryant’s collegiate career was impressive, particularly his junior year where he belted 31 home runs in 302 plate appearances, or a home run every 9.72 PA.  That was 10 more than the next Division One player, Elon catcher Ryan Kinsella.  His slash line was equally impressive at .329/.493/.820 – yes, that’s an .820 slugging percentage.  All of this led to Bryant winning the Golden Spikes award for top amateur player in the country.

At 6-foot-5, Bryant has massive raw power to all fields.  He has good bat speed, but the power is really generated from his frame and his leveraged swing.  However, the bat speed was good enough in college, and so far in 125 professional at-bats, he’s doing just fine.  Will it be good enough to handle elite velocity thrown with precision at the highest level?  Time will tell, but at this juncture, I’m confident that an average hit tool will result with the potential to hit 30 home runs annually.

While he was drafted as a third baseman, his size and the infield depth within the Cubs minor league system would suggest that he’ll eventually move to a corner outfielder.

Fantasy Impact: I believe that Bryant will move through the minor leagues very quickly and in fact, we could see him in the majors as soon as the second half of 2014.  His floor is extremely high and while high-end velocity might give him some problems, I think the floor is a Pedro Alveraz type player while his ceiling adds 50 more points to that average.  Invest!

3. Jorge Soler (OF)

2014 Age: 22 Ceiling:Role 6
Ht:6-4 Weight: 215 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015
2013 HiA 210 38 8 35 5 .281 .343 81.9 10.0 .304

The Cubs signed Jorge Soler on June 11, 2012 to a nine year $30 million contract as the first acquisition by the Theo Epstein regime.   While Soler has above average speed, a cannon for an arm, and the wheels to cover center field, the Cubs paid $30 million for the 70+ grade power.

The power started to show nicely in the pitcher-friendly confines of the Florida State League where Soler hit eight bombs in his first 210 at-bats.  Unfortunately, his season was cut short due to a stress fracture in his left leg that he suffered on June 13th. While it’s never good to lose development time, I fully expect Soler to start 2014 in Double-A provided his Arizona Fall League season goes well.

As with many Cubs prospects, Jorge Soler has excellent bat speed resulting in hard contact to all fields.  His setup is very quiet with only a simple lift of his lead foot as he starts to accelerate his swing.  The hands are strong and quick but the pure swing is not as smooth as you would like.  Could he be exposed as he progressed to the upper minors?  Perhaps, but I think the swing will work to at least allow him to tap into his plus-plus power potential.

While early in his career, Soler could steal low double-digit stolen bases, as he matures and fills out, the stolen bases will dwindle and he will settle into a classic power-hitting right-field profile with a plus arm.

Fantasy Impact: You are drafting Soler based on his power and he has legitimate 30+ home run future potential.  I also believe the hit-tool will play well enough for him to reach the power.  He’s a first division starter for me with a chance to make multiple all-star appearances.

4. Albert Almora (OF)

2014 Age: 20 Ceiling: Role 5-6
Ht:6-2 Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015
2013 Low-A 249 39 3 23 4 .329 .376 88.0 6.8 .362

I know that Cubs Nation is excited about Junior Lake being their center-field of the future, but Junior is simply holding down the fort until 20-year-old Albert Almora is ready.

Albert Almora has solid to plus skills across the board.  First, his glove and center field coverage is already major league ready and as with Javier Baez, Almora has plus bat speed that should generate above average power when he matures.  For now, his 180 pound frame should generate hard contact that should yield a lot of doubles and his speed should turn some of those doubles into triples.  His 2013 stat line reflected that, as Almora generated 17 doubles in 249 at-bats with three home runs.  However, it should be noted that Almora spent the first six weeks on the DL with a broken hamate bone which could have also reduced his power.

While Almora makes excellent contact at 88%, like many of the young Cubs positional players, taking a walk has been a challenge as Almora only walked 17 times, or 6.8% of the time.

His above-average speed has yet to translate into stolen bases as he only stole four stolen bases (he also got thrown out four times).  That said, a full-year stat line of 15-20 stolen bases seems to be a reasonable projection at this juncture.

Fantasy Impact: As a fantasy player, Almora will be a good contributor, but not elite.  His offensive upside is primarily in his ability to make contact and this should lead to above average runs scored and depending on where he hits in the order, nice RBI contribution.  However, his stolen base and home run contributions should settle around 10-12 for home runs, and 15-20 for stolen bases.  That’s a really nice player but not elite.

5. Arismendy Alcantara (SS/2B)

2014 Age: 20 Ceiling: Role 5-6
Ht:5-10 Weight: 160 Bats: Both Throws: Right ETA: 2014
2013 AA 494 69 15 69 31 .271 .352 74.7 12.6 .332

Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2009, Arismendy Alcantara is a very intriguing prospect with a nice combination of power and speed.

I got a chance to scout Alcantara this year at the Futures Game and he did not disappoint.  During batting practice, he showed surprising raw pull power from both sides of the plate with his left-hand swing showing a bit more loft.  During the game, he took a 92 MPH Anthony Ranaudo fastball into the upper deck of Citi-Field for a very impressive home run.  It was a pitch definitely over the plate, but he also showed nice bat speed and very quick hands.

He is an aggressive hitter and will be prone to strikeout as his 75% contact rate suggest, but he also has an approach and knows how to work the count as his 14% walk rate demonstrated in Double-A.  While I rate his pure speed at above average, he has excellent base running ability and his 31 stolen bases was no fluke.

Defensively, Alcantara needs to work on his game.  He has a decent arm but his footwork and overall accuracy of his arm led to 34 errors (21 at shortstop and 13 at second base).  It’s not out of the question that the Cubs could move him to the outfield but with the depth in the outfield, he could find himself without a position.  But then again, those things usually work themselves out.

Fantasy Impact:  I really like Alcantara and believe he will grow into a first division 20/20+ threat.  While shortstop is likely not in the cards for him long-term, his value would clearly increase if he were able to remain at second base.

6. C.J. Edwards (RHP)

2014 Age: 22 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 155 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2013 A-A+ 116.1 76 24 1 3.17 11.99 1.86 1.01

The other player in the Matt Garza deal was young Carl Edwards, the 1,464 player taken in the 2011 draft. Yep, that’s in the Mike Piazza territory and in fact, if the 2012 Collective Bargaining Agreement had been signed, Edwards would not have even been drafted as the draft now only has 45 rounds.

Edwards is the definition of why scouts look at projection. Drafted as a scrawny 6-2 and 140 pound kid, the Rangers worked on his mechanics and physical development and now his fastball is sitting in the low-90’s and touching higher with very good secondary pitches. His curve ball shows very well and he has a change-up that also should work at the highest level. The stuff is legit and so is the control as he managed a 11.99 K/9 and a 3.17 BB/9 in 116.1 innings across low-A and high-A.

His pitching mechanics still need work as he is pretty stiff with poor extension. However his balance and posture are pretty good and that is what is leading to his very good control. The arm action is just ok for me as it’s a little whippy and he really exposes the ball on this delivery. I don’t see anything that screams a major red flag, but there is clearly work to be done.

Fantasy Impact: Very few people had ever heard of C.J. Edwards before this year. Now, he is squarely on Dynasty Leagues owner’s radar and for good reason. That said, he’s not an elite prospect yet for me as the arm action is not great and there just isn’t a lot of physicality to him.

7. Mike Olt (3B/1B)

2014 Age: 25 Ceiling: Role 5
Ht:6-2 Weight: 210 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2012
2013 AA-AAA 373 49 15 42 0 .201 .303 64.6 14.7 .262

After ranking as the number 28th prospect in our 2013 pre-season list, Mike Olt proceeded to have a very challenging season before being dealt to the Cubs in the July 2013 Matt Garza deal.  Olt’s difficulties started in pre-season as he started striking out an alarming rate.  While last year, his contact rate stood at 71%, his contact rate plummeted to 60% in 2013 across two stops in Triple-A.  The low contact rate coupled with a low BABIP, resulted in a .197 batting.

While Olt’s swing is long and leveraged and therefore prone to swing and miss, he does have plus raw power.  However, if he continues to make contact at a 60% level, he’ll unlikely be able to tap into that power.  Clearly the Cubs believe there is something there and bought low on the 24-year-old slugger.

One possible explanation for Olt’s off year was an eye duct problem that was causing him discomfort and blurriness.  This was resolved mid-season but the contact problems continued.  So fans and evaluators are left to wonder if Olt is still a prospect or a player who will never get out of Triple-A.

I’m still cautiously bullish on Olt and believe that he can eventually get back to making better contact to move his batting average into the .240-.260 range and with his ability to take a walk, he could easily develop into a .240/.340/.500 player.  That’s not a star but a player who should be able to help the Cubs.

Fantasy Impact: I would be trying to buy-low on Mike Olt, but it would be very low.  I would look to move a secondary minor leaguer in hopes that Olt can recover and become a 25+ home run threat, batting in the six or seven hole in a major league lineup.

8. Dan Voglebach (1B)

2014 Age: 21 Ceiling: Role 5
Ht:6-0 Weight: 250 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2015-16
2013 LoA-HiA 483 68 19 76 5 .284 .375 81.6 15.1 .308

Drafted in the second round of the 2008 draft, Dan Vogelbach carrying tool is massive raw power that is generated from his 6-foot, 250 pound frame.  However, power is not the only tool that Vogelbach carries as he clearly can hit as his 83% contact rate and 13% walk rate clearly showed in 433 at-bats in the pitcher-friendly confines of the Midwest league.

Given the body size and raw power, you would expect Vogelbach to have a long and leveraged swing.  However, that’s just not true as the swing is compact with a direct path to the ball.  In fact, the more you watch him, the more you appreciate his bat-to-ball skills, his mature approach and his ability to wait on a pitch he can drive.

The negative with Vogelbach is the body – it’s a slow and un-athletic body that is first-base only.  Given the investment that the Cubs have made in Anthony Rizzo, it’s unclear what position he will play if he stays with the Cubs.  Then again, things have a tendency to work themselves out and again, Vogelbach can hit and with plus-power, he’ll find a home somewhere.

Fantasy Impact: It’s hard not to draw a Matt Adams comparison when thinking of Dan Vogelbach.  Similar body-types, a first base only profile with massive raw power and the ability to hit.  While Adams is a backup first base, he has the ability to be more than that.  I believe Vogelbach will have the ability to be more than a backup as well – where, I’m just not sure.

9. Jeimer Candelario (3B)

At 19-years-old, Jeimer Candlario was one of the youngest players in the Midwest league during 2013, but with an OBP of .346 with 11 home runs, he showed the Cubs that he was more than up for the challenge.  He showed nice bat-to-ball skills with an 83% contact rate and a mature approach.  The bat speed and hitting mechanics will definitely play and as he matures and fills out, there is 20 home run future power potential.  His defensive position could be a challenge as he really struggled at third base, committing 26 errors in 348 attempts.  While I don’t believe he has the athleticism to move to the outfield, he might be force to move to first base.

10. Pierce Johnson (RHP)

While C.J. Edwards has been getting all the publicity as the Cubs top pitching prospect, Pierce Johnson was quietly having an excellent season of his own.  He had a 3-to-1 strikeout the walk ratio while striking out a batter an inning.  The stuff is good with his fastball sitting 91-93 MPH with a plus curve ball that could get big league batters out now.  The change-up is behind the curve but is showing promise as he is able to command it for strikes.  While Edwards has the higher upside, Johnson might have the higher floor.

2014 Emerging Prospect:

Eloy Jimenez (OF)

Signed to a $2.8 million signing bonus out the Dominican Republic in 2013, Jimenez is 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds and is only 16-years-old.  He has plus bat speed and raw power and provided he doesn’t continue to add length, could profile as a middle of the order bat for the Cubs.  He’s clearly a long way off and will likely play in the DSL in 2014 but I hope to be able to get a chance to scout him during the Arizona Instructional League in October.

16 comments on “Chicago Cubs

  1. Obviously Russell will be on this list the next time you update it. Safe to assume that Schwarber and McKinney will move onto the list, possibly bumping guys like Olt and Candelario out?

    • Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Olt will not be eligible and Candelario just hasn’t developed. I did see him for two days and his swing looked ok. Still think there’s something there. It will likely go Bryant, Russell, Baez…it’ll be interesting to see if a pitcher makes it into the list.

  2. What are your thoughts on Kyle Hendricks, Rich? From what I’ve read he doesn’t have great stuff but some think he could potentially be a #4/5 innings-eater type. Do you agree with that? Is he potentially better than that? Potentially not even a Major Leaguer? Just curious. Not a lot of great arms in the Cubs system yet so if they can even get a Joe Blanton type of guy out of dealing Dempster in 2012 I’d consider it a win.

    • His stuff is average at best but he can throw strikes and has really good control. I think at ceiling of the back-of-the-rotation starter makes sense.

      • Thanks Rich. And what about Corey Black, the pitcher they got from the NYY when they dealt A. Soriano last year? Does he have a future in the rotation or the bullpen at the MLB level?

      • He’s interesting. 5-11 but gets ground ball and throws hard. That’s a profile of a bullpen arm but he’s done ok as a starter. I know that’s clear as mudd, but the book says pen but let’s watch what happens this year in Double-A. I’m assuming that’s where he’ll be.

  3. […] Javier Baez (SS/2B, CHC) – ETA: Mid-June to avoid Super-2 Status […]

  4. Trying to swing a deal for CJ Edwards. I see him as a top tier closer some day. What do you think? With his frame I don’t know if he could be a workhorse top 3 rotation type, but he also doesn’t throw some “heat” with mid/low 90s FB. Thoughts?

  5. Think Neil ramirez holds up as a starter?

    • I don’t know…I was a big fan a couple of years ago after he really put things together and then seemed to lose his command in 2012 before returning back somewhat to form last year.

      From what I’ve seen…the arsenal flashes plus with a number of pitches but his command comes and goes and in fact, he seems to get hurt with location quite often.

      That said, he’ll be 25-years-old and the Cubs should promote him to see what they have. Ultimately, I believe his command will limit him to the pen but with his arsenal, I would think the Cubs will try and keep him a starter for a little longer.

  6. If Baez is (potentially) a future .280/.320/.550 hitter in his prime, is it safe to say Sano is a future .250/.350/.600 hitter in his prime? If reasonable for both, which player would you rather have?

  7. Any words on juan carlos paniagua?

    • Big arm but no idea where it’s going. Because of all the problems he had getting to the US, he’s now 24-years-old with only a few innings above rookie ball. Maybe if you squint, he’s a reliever, but it could take a while.

  8. Wow, what a difference a year makes, huh? It’s almost a foreign feeling as a Cubs fan to look at such a stocked system. Some more arms would be nice (still keeping my fingers crossed, but not holding my breath, for Viszcaino to show that he has finally recovered and is back to his previous level of talent) but as you mentioned, the Cubs should be able to afford a few free agent arms to supplement. Exciting times are hopefully on the horizon for the Cubs starting in 2015.

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