No. 1 Javier Baez, Shortstop
57 G, .333/.383/.596, 71 H, 10 2B, 5 3B, 12 HR, 33 RBI, 9 BB, 48 K, 20 SB (Low-A)
23 G, .188/.244/.400, 15 H, 3 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 13 RBI, 5 BB, 21 K, 4 SB (High-A)
Baez's full-season debut was delayed slightly as the team kept him behind to get some work in extended spring training. After moving to the Midwest League, he showed off the hitting tools that make him one of the best prospects in all of baseball.
The first thing that jumps out at you when evaluating Baez is bat speed.
He gets the bat through the zone so quick and is able to generate tremendous power because of it. He also showed strong baserunning skills (swiping 24 bags in 29 attempts) even though he is just an average runner.
His greatest asset is also his biggest weakness.
Because Baez knows he can catch up to anything, he doesn't want to take pitchers or work the count. Eventually that can (and will) catch up to him.
Even though there is a strong possibility that Baez will outgrow shortstop, he has the arm and instincts for the position—assuming his body lets him stay there. If not, he should slide over to third base without a problem.
No. 2 Albert Almora, Outfielder
Age: 18 (Turns 19 on April 16)
18 G, .347/.363/.480, 26 H, 5 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 13 RBI, 2 BB, 8 K, 5 SB (Rookie League)
15 G, .292/.292/.446, 19 H, 7 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, O BB, 5 K (Short Season)
The Cubs used their first pick in the 2012 draft on Almora, one of the most polished high school position players to come out in recent memory.
He has one of the prettiest swings you will see from a right-handed hitter and he gets through the zone in a hurry thanks to plus bat speed.
Because of his bat speed, Almora is able to generate more power than you would expect from someone with his frame. With more experience and muscle on his bones, he should turn into a 20-25 home run player.
Patience and pitch recognition are two areas Almora will need to work on, as he drew only two walks in 33 games last season. He was just 18 years old, so there is no cause for panic right now.
As a defender, he is terrific in center field. He reads the ball so well off the bat that he can cover a lot of ground even though he doesn't have blazing speed. His arm is above-average and will play fine in center.
No. 3 Jorge Soler, Outfielder
Age: 20 (Turns 21 on February 25)
14 G, .241/.328/.389, 13 H, 2 2B, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 6 BB, 13 K, 8 SB (Rookie)
20 G, .338/.398/.513, 27 H, 5 2B, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 6 BB, 6 K, 4 SB (Low-A)
Soler was one of the top international players available last season and signed a nine-year, $30 million contract with the Cubs in June.
Investing that much money in an unproven asset is always a huge risk, but Soler has the goods to outplay that contract. He should be an above-average regular in the big leagues.
Soler's swing is conducive to hitting for power. He does have a bit of a load to it, but he gets such great extension and loft that he projects to have plus power. He has good pitch recognition and makes adjustments in at bats.
He has a strong arm and accuracy to go along with it. He isn't fluid in the field yet, but that should come with more experience.
At just 21 years old, Soler should start the season back in Low-A with a chance to end up in Double-A before all is said and done.
No. 4 Arodys Vizcaino, Starting Pitcher
2012 Stats N/A due to Tommy John surgery
Vizcaino was one of the best pitching prospects in baseball entering the 2012 season, but he blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery to fix it.
He should be pitching in Chicago before the All-Star break—assuming he has no setbacks in recovery.
When Vizcaino was healthy, he threw a mid-90s fastball, plus curveball and changeup. The changeup needs refinement, as does his command, in order to reach his ceiling as a No. 2 starter.
Mechanically speaking, there is nothing wrong with Vizcaino's delivery.
He does use more of a three-quarters delivery but is able to keep the ball down in the zone. His arm action works well but he does lose his release point and that contributes to his command issues.
If Vizcaino can't hold up in the rotation, his stuff will easily play in the back of the bullpen. They are more apt to give him every chance to be a starter before making any permanent decisions.
No. 5 Duane Underwood
5 G (5 starts), 0-1, 5.19 ERA, 8.2 IP, 7 H, 6 R (5 ER), 1 HR, 6 BB, 7 K (Rookie)
Underwood, the Cubs' second-round pick in last year's draft, is an extremely risky bet right now.
He has just 8.2 innings of professional experience under his belt, but his ceiling, combined with the other potential options in this spot, makes him too appealing to keep out of the Top 5.
Boasting an electric arm that includes a low-90s fastball and two potential plus pitches in his curveball and changeup, Underwood could turn into a No. 2 starter down the road.
His control and delivery are inconsistent, as you would expect for such a young player, so he is all projection right now. He has the goods and can flash all that upside on occasion. It will be a slow process but with the right development he could be one of the better pitching prospects in baseball.