The 2012 season has not started off well for the Chicago Cubs, who sit at the bottom of the NL Central division. Rebuilding mode has officially begun, and it will likely be a few years until the Cubs are in contention for any postseason position.
But while the major league club is struggling, the future is bright for the Cubs as a whole. The farm system is promising and full of young talent, many of whom could be household names in a couple of years.
Here are the 10 Cubs prospects with the most potential to make it big.
Dan Vogelbach was a second-round pick of the Cubs in 2011. Hailing from Fort Myers, Florida, Vogelbach led Bishop Verot High School to a state championship last year before heading to Arizona to play rookie ball for the Cubs. He had moderate success in a limited number of plate appearances, going 7-for-24 with a homer and three doubles.
Standing at 6'0", 250 pounds, the lefty has drawn comparisons to Prince Fielder in build and in power. He is currently playing in extended spring training games with the Cubs, and at only 19 years old, the future is bright for this young slugger.
At 24-years-of-age, Rafael Dolis could already be in line to overthrow Carlos Marmol and take the team's closer role long-term. Signed by the Cubs back in 2004, Dolis slowly made his way through the minors with less-than-stellar numbers until he was converted into a reliever in 2011.
The biggest knock on Dolis is his control issues. He averaged 4.5 BB/9 in his minor league career, and has already walked eight in his 14 innings of work with the Cubs so far this season. If he can minimize the free passes, Dolis has an inside shot at the Cubs' closer job this season and for many years to come.
Before the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft, Dillon Maples was ranked 46th in Baseball America's Top 200 list. He slipped all the way down to the 14th round where the Cubs took him with pick No. 429. The issue was his signability, as Maples was offered a football scholarship to be the kicker at UNC and seemed set on joining the Tar Heels.
The Cubs offered a hefty $2.5 million signing bonus to counter, and the 19-year-old right-hander couldn't refuse. He has a ton of potential and is projected to be a No. 2 starter in the majors.
Signed back in 2008 as an amateur free agent, Junior Lake has been quickly climbing up the Cubs' prospect list. He has good power for a middle-infielder and stealing bases is a very strong part of his game. He stole 38 bags in 44 attempts over two levels of minor league ball in 2011.
On the defensive side, Lake has a great arm, but struggles mightily with his fielding. He made 33 errors in 113 games last season. If he can learn to play more effectively on defense, his offensive tools should be enough to become a solid everyday player in the majors.
Welington Castillo is the Cubs heir to the catching throne. The 25-year-old has a great arm for throwing out baserunners and is very skilled offensively. In Triple-A last year, he hit .286 with 15 home runs in just 61 games.
He was recently called up to the majors due to an injury to backup catcher Steve Clevenger. Once Geovany Soto's time is up with the club, Castillo should assume the starting role and be a solid two-way catcher.
The Cubs selected Trey McNutt in the 32nd round of the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft with the 980th overall pick. He got off to a hot start in the minors, going 10-1 with a 2.48 ERA in his first full season in 2010. He entered 2011 No. 48 on Baseball America's Top 100, but struggled all season long, finishing with a 4.55 ERA.
McNutt hopes to bounce back this year and early results are promising. In four starts with the Tennessee Smokies, McNutt has allowed just one earned run in 14.2 innings of work.
Matt Szczur is a great all-around player the Cubs nabbed in the fifth round of the 2010 draft. He is a career .292 minor league hitter and has great speed, stealing 39 bases while being caught just eight times in 159 minor league games. With good defensive skills, Szczur has an opportunity to become a valuable corner outfielder for the club a few years down the road.
The ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft, Baez has the ability to hit for both average and power. Questions have been raised about his possible character issues, but the 19-year-old has stunning potential. The only problem is that he doesn't have a permanent position, but if his bat develops to be as dominant as projected, the Cubs will play him anywhere. He's still young, though, and has plenty of time to grow both on and off the field before he becomes an impact player.
The future center fielder of the Cubs, Brett Jackson, has great plate discipline and could develop into a 20-20 type player in the majors. Across two levels in 2011, he hit 20 home runs with 21 stolen bases, while hitting .274 with an on-base percentage of .379. All of this in only 115 games.
With Marlon Byrd gone, it is only a matter of time until Jackson takes over the job in center. The 23-year-old will be exciting to watch for the next decade in Chicago.
If there was any question before the season who the Cubs' top prospect was, Anthony Rizzo's start to 2012 quieted any doubters. He is hitting .372 with a .422 OBP to go along with seven home runs and 24 RBI in just 24 games for the AAA Iowa Cubs.
He is the first baseman of the future, and it's hard not to drool over the thought of him hitting in the middle of the Cubs lineup for the next 10 years.
The only question now is, when will the Cubs call him up? He could spend most of the year in the minors for arbitration reasons, but whenever he comes up, Cubs fans will have a wonderful glimpse of the future of Chicago baseball.