OF Jorge Soler
While the Chicago Cubs’ current on-field product may be uninspiring and may result in a few more seasons in the cellar of the NL Central, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Both Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have already made it clear that they plan to build around Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Jeff Samardzija and have quietly added numerous pieces over the last year through trades and the draft.
Overall, their farm system is stacked with high-ceiling bats at premium positions; however, almost all of them, except for Brett Jackson, are still several years away from contributing at the big league level. Additionally, because a majority of their top talent is housed in the low minors, the 2013 season will be a telling year for the overall development of their system. And while it may seem as though they lack impact pitching prospects, that could quickly change over the course of the next year with a few more trades and another strong draft.
Here’s a look at the Chicago Cubs’ top 10 prospects headed into the 2013 season.
DOB: 11/24/1993 (Age: 19)
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 180
Drafted/Signed: Sept. 2010 (Dominican Republic)
Scouting Notes: 19-year-old is physically mature at 6’1”, 180 pounds with room for additional strength; defense at the hot corner is solid-average with above-average arm strength serving as his strongest attribute; may be forced to shift across the infield to first base if he gets too bulky and loses a step.
Impressive switch hitter with the potential for an above-average hit tool; plus bat speed lends to his power potential and is a present extra-base machine; approach is noticeably advanced relative to his age and should allow both his hit and power tool to develop favorably; good pitch recognition that should continue to improve; full-season debut in 2013 will be a solid test for the teenager.
Spring Training Forecast: Candelario will head to minor league spring training as he prepares for a probably full-season debut later this summer.
2013 Outlook: Along with several of the Cubs’ other top position prospects, the 19-year-old will presumably open the 2013 season at Low-A.
DOB: 5/9/1992 (Age: 20)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 195
Drafted/Signed: 14th round, 2011 (Pinecrest HS, N.C.)
Scouting Notes: Love his frame and projectability at 6’2”, 195 pounds but can’t stand his mechanics; epitome of high-risk, high-reward; everything looks forced and strenuous, and he struggles to repeat it; will need considerable tweaking at lower levels before receiving a challenging assignment; has already fallen behind developmental curve at 20 years old; athletic right-hander should allow him to make adjustments.
Fastball is a present plus pitch that can scrape 96 mph, but velocity has been up and down in his limited time on the mound; throws a heavy ball on downward plane from a high arm angle; command of the pitch is too inconsistent and needs to improve sooner rather than later; curveball is a hammer with impressive shape and plus potential; has a changeup that’s presently fringe-average at best.
Spring Training Forecast: Maples will head to minor league camp this spring with the hope of one day making it to a full-season level.
2013 Outlook: The Cubs may decide to hold Maples in extended spring training before deploying him to Low-A around mid-season.
Height/Weight: 5’11”, 160
Drafted/Signed: Aug., 2008 by Rangers (Mexico)
Scouting Notes: Headlined the prospect package acquired from the Rangers for Ryan Dempster at the trade deadline; at 5’11”, 160 pounds, Villanueva lacks the prototypical physique for the position; offers plus defense at the hot corner thanks to an excellent glove, plus arm and above-average range; always seems to take instinctual first step and plays the position with loads of confidence.
Right-handed hitter with above-average-to-plus raw bat speed that generates a surprising amount of pop; barrels the ball with consistency, with most of his true power to the pull-side; present gap power could result in slightly above-average power as big leaguer; hit tool needs some work and may prevent him quick ascent to majors; employs a consistent approach at the plate that should aid him upon reaching Double-A next season; possesses sneaky speed that should continue to result in double-digit stolen base totals.
Spring Training Forecast: Entering his first major league camp with the Cubs, Villanueva should receive a long look at the hot corner as the organization evaluates his developmental timeline.
2013 Outlook: After spending the entire 2012 season in High-A, the 21-year-old will make the jump to Double-A for the upcoming season.
DOB: 8/2/1988 (Age: 24)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 210
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2009 (California)
Scouting Notes: Excellent athlete at 6’2”, 210 capable of playing all three outfield positions, though his peak value will be as a center fielder; borderline plus speed gives lends to his impressive range, which is also aided by his aggressive routes; arm is solid-average and a clean fit in center; gritty player who does everything with 100 percent effort.
In my opinion, his hit tool is worrisome and lacks projection; continues to be a big-time swing-and-miss guy who fails to make consistent contact; holes in long, lofty swing were exploited during big-league call-up last Sept. as he fanned in 41.5-percent of his at-bats; combination of above-average power and speed gives him 20-20 potential; adept to working deep counts and making pitchers show their entire arsenal early in games; the upside is certainly there, but he’ll never come close to reaching it with current hit tool.
Spring Training Forecast: After re-working his swing this offseason, Jackson will enter big league camp with the goal of winning a spot on the Opening Day roster.
2013 Outlook: Although he may make a case to break camp as the team’s center fielder, Jackson is likely headed back to Triple-A to open the 2013 season.
DOB: 5/10/1991 (Age: 21)
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 170
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2012 (Missouri State)
Scouting Notes: 21-year-old has highly projectable frame at 6’3”, 170 pounds; injury concerns will linger until he proves otherwise; borderline high-effort delivery may need to be adjusted, albeit slightly; has a feel for entire arsenal, though it will need refinement as he develops.
Fastball is only present plus pitch in the low-90s, though he can reach back for a few extra ticks as needed; throws the pitch on solid downward plane with some late life, sinking and to the arm-side; curveball is best secondary offering and he throws it hard in the low-80s without sacrificing shape or bite; will cut his fastball when needed, which, in turn, aids the effectiveness of fastball-curve combo; has a changeup but it’s a present raw offering; should be able to gain a feel for it with more experience; if he’s able to stay healthy, the right-hander’s pure stuff and pitchability may allow him to move quickly.
Spring Training Forecast: Johnson will head to minor league spring training to prepare for what may be an aggressive full-season assignment.
2013 Outlook: Given his deep arsenal and live arm, Johnson could jump multiple levels to High-A for the start of the 2013 season and is an excellent candidate to reach Double-A after the All-Star break.
DOB: 12/17/1992 (Age: 19)
Height/Weight: 6’0", 250
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2011 (Bishop Verot HS, Fla.)
Scouting Notes: Absolutely jaw-dropping, plus-plus raw power; compact swing allows him to track the ball deep and effortlessly drive the ball to all fields; potential for above-average-to-plus hit tool; advanced feel for the strike zone relative to his age and experience; direct bat path and a strong top hand; plus makeup and work ethic; fierce on-field competitor; will have to continue to rake, as his bat will dictate his development and ascent to big leagues.
Epitome of a bad-body-guy at 6’0", 250 pounds; will need to work hard to retain playable weight; little-to-no speed, as expected given size; inconsistent defender at first base with minimal range, but has already shown desire to put in the work to avoid permanent DH-only relegation.
Spring Training Forecast: Vogelbach will head to minor league camp this spring as he prepares for his full-season debut.
2013 Outlook: He may not be the sexiest prospect, but Vogelbach’s bat and power are special. Slated to open the season at Low-A, the 20-year-old could start moving quickly this season.
DOB: 11/13/1990 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 6’0", 190
Drafted/Signed: July, 2007 by Yankees (Dominican Republic)
Scouting Notes: Right-hander missed entire 2012 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in the spring; dealt to the Cubs at the 2012 trade deadline; despite undersized frame at 6’0", 190 pounds, possesses premium pure stuff ideal for big-league bullpen; injury history likely rules out future as starter.
Fastball has easy plus velocity that explodes out of his hand and will scrape the upper-90s; pitch features late arm-side life and jumps on hitters; curve is a second plus pitch with tight spin and late, downer bite; command is advanced given electric nature of arsenal; changeup is fringy offering but not vital to his success as a late-inning arm.
Spring Training Forecast: After missing the entire 2012 season, the Cubs will ease Vizcaino back into action this spring, though it’s difficult to predict the next time he’ll take the mound.
2013 Outlook: Depending on the Cubs’ plan for the right-hander, he may not appear in a game until the second half of the season—especially if he’s still viewed as a starter.
DOB: 2/25/1992 (Age: 21)
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 205
Drafted/Signed: June, 2012 (Cuba)
Scouting Notes: After signing a monster contract with the Cubs last June, Soler, 20, impressed in his professional debut. Albeit a small sample, the Cuban defector batted .299/.369/.463 with 12 extra-base hits, 12 stolen bases and 19/12 K/BB in 34 games between the rookie-level Arizona League and Low-A Peoria.
Strong, physical player at 6’3”, 205 pounds; mature frame requires little projection; ball absolutely jumps off his right-handed bat; dynamic bat speed and plus-plus raw power; extension and lift after contact; true power frequency yet to be determined; comfortable driving the ball with authority to all fields; approach was more developed than expected in pro debut; comfortable hitting when behind in the count; decent pitch recognition relative to stateside experience; swing can be rushed and choppy; timing mechanism and load will be simplified; premium velocity may exploit weaknesses at higher levels.
Above-average runner who moves well despite size; range will be at least average and more than enough for a corner outfield position; plus arm is second-strongest attribute; ideal for right field; routes and reads improved during stateside debut this past season; still very raw regardless of the impressive small sample size.
Spring Training Forecast: All eyes will be on Soler this spring, as it’s likely to be the first opportunity to see how the 21-year-old fares against quality pitching in big league camp.
2013 Outlook: Soler is likely ticketed for a spot in the Low-A outfield alongside Albert Almora, but if he proves to be more advanced than expected, it’s conceivable that he finishes the year in Double-A.
DOB: 4/16/1994 (Age: 18)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 180
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2012 (Mater Academy, Fla.)
Scouting Notes: Selected with the sixth overall pick last June, Almora was regarded as one of the more well-rounded and advanced high school players in the 2012 draft class. The outfielder surpassed expectations during his professional debut late last summer, as he batted .321/.331/.464 with 27 runs scored and 15 extra-base hits in 33 games and finished the season playing for Short-Season Boise in the Northwest League.
Premium athlete who showcases all five tools; mature work ethic and advanced baseball skills; 6’1”, 170-pound frame leaves room for projection; above-average bat speed results in consistent, hard contact to all fields; quiet and efficient swing with little wasted movement; power will develop as he matures; should be above average by the time he reaches the major leagues; all-around offensive skill set highly advanced for his age; 20-20 offensive upside with above-average hit tool.
Slightly above-average runner; demonstrates excellent instincts in center field through his reads, jumps and positioning; average arm strength that’s best suited for center field; above-average defensive outfielder with natural ability and an all-out style; high baseball IQ; mature on-field demeanor.
Spring Training Forecast: Like most 2012 draft picks, Almora will head to minor league camp in anticipation of his first full season as a professional.
2013 Outlook: Given his well-rounded game and outstanding makeup, Almora should make his full-season debut at Low-A to open the season with the chance of a second-half promotion to a more advanced level.
DOB: 12/01/1992 (Age: 20)
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 205
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2011 (Arlington Country Day HS, Fla.)
Scouting Notes: Baez put up big numbers last year to begin his full-season debut at Low-A Peoria, batting .333/383/.596 with 27 extra-base hits (12 home runs) and 20 stolen bases in 57 games. The then 19-year-old’s performance resulted in a late-season promotion to High-A Daytona, where he was overmatched and posted a .644 OPS in 23 games. Even though he makes lots of hard contact, Baez is a free-swinger who whiffs too often, as evidenced by his 69/14 K/BB last season between both Class-A levels.
Right-handed hitter with potential for above-average-to-plus hit tool; raw power is an easy plus attribute; elite, plus-plus bat speed yields loud contact to all fields; 20-20 potential; will jump on velocity; extremely strong wrists and top hand; max-effort swing every time; lacks a feel for the strike zone and will chase too many pitches; needs to show some restraint; will need to improve pitch recognition; chases too many breaking balls; can be beat by quality sequencing; needs to work more hitter counts; aggressive base-stealer; secondary skills leave something to be desired.
6’1”, 205-pounder is a shortstop at the moment; addition of too much strength may prompt a move to third base; above-average athlete with smooth, natural defensive actions; speed may lose a grade as he develops physically; should always be at least solid-average; plus arm ideal for left side of the infield; high-intensity player who needs to employ a more cognizant on-field mindset.
Spring Training Forecast: Baez should receive decent playing time this spring, as the organization has already made it clear that they plan on challenging him.
2013 Outlook: There’s a chance that Baez could persuade the organization into an aggressive promotion to Double-A, though the safer bet would be an assignment to High-A.