Ranking the Potential of Young Cubs Players
With a plethora of young stars, Cubs Nation is abuzz with dreams of progress, pennants and a bright future just a few years down the road. Front office honchos Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein have been hard at work to build a steady base of young prospects and stars, many of whom have All-Star potential in the future.
Here we rank the young Chicago Cubs players with the most potential.
Author's note: In this context, players are defined as "young" by being under the age of 25.
10. Brett Jackson, OF
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I haven't quite bought into Brett Jackson, and I'm sure many who watched him last year feel the same way.
Jackson hit only .175 in 44 games last year with the Cubs, striking out 59 times in 120 at-bats. That's right, nearly a 50 percent strikeout ratio. However, Jackson did have 22 walks, proving that he is seeing the ball well...just not hitting it.
Jackson has good speed and defense, and hopefully some time with AAA-Iowa will benefit him, as the Cubs will start with David DeJesus in center.
Jackson spent the offseason working extensively on his swing and has been off to a decent start in spring training. He is 3-for-8 with two triples, but has three strikeouts as well.
Because of his struggles at the plate, I'm hesitant to proclaim Jackson as having a very promising future. However, his work ethic, defense and dedication to become better put him at No. 10.
9. Duane Underwood, P
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Eighteen-year-old Duane Underwood has a tremendous amount of growth ahead of him, as well as a tremendous amount of risk.
Underwood, chosen 67th overall in the 2012 MLB draft, signed with the Cubs at 17 years of age out of high school. Underwood played for the Arizona League Cubs in 2012 and pitched only 8.2 innings, giving up five earned runs for a 5.19 ERA. He registered seven strikeouts and held the opposing hitters to a .206 ERA. Underwood's fastball was reported to have hit 97 while in high school.
Underwood's biggest obstacle is his mentality. An AL Scout was quoted as saying "He does well when there's no adversity... But if guys get on base, if there's an error or a bloop, before you know it the wheels fall off."
With the proper guidance, Underwood can become a very strong pitcher. Underwood is ranked as the No. 16 prospect in the Cubs organization according to MLB.com entering the 2013 season, but I see his potential being even higher because of his youth. I rank his potential at ninth overall.
8. Jeimer Candelario, 3B
Jeimer Candelario began his minor league career very well, hitting .337 in 2011, his first year. However, he cooled off dramatically in 2012, hitting only .281 in 71 games.
Candelario's biggest appeal for me is that he is a switch-hitter with power from both sides of the plate, as well as his plate patience. He drew an impressive 50 walks in 2011 while stepping to the plate 304 times. That's great plate patience for a kid in his first year.
Candelario's defense also needs work. He committed 20 errors in 59 games at third base in 2012, giving him an unimpressive fielding percentage of .891.
His declining stats need to take a quick about-face, both on offense and defense. I put Candelario at No. 8.
7. Arodys Vizcaino, P
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Arodys Vizcaino is another interesting case. Despite being ranked as the No. 5 prospect in the Cubs organization entering the 2013 season, I'm hesitant to put too much weight on Vizcaino. The 22-year-old right-handed pitcher is fresh off of Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2012 while recovering.
However, the term "Tommy John surgery" does not carry the same damning sound that accompanied it a mere few years ago.
Baseball Prospect Nation described Vizcaino as having an "aggressive mentality with a short memory and a strong work ethic that should allow him to fulfill much of his promise."
Sounds great to me. I see Vizcaino starting out in the bullpen in the beginning of his career and with enough success, he could even move into a starting role depending on his health and endurance. Because of his strong mentality and impressive arm, I see a lot of potential in Vizcaino. His recent surgery is my only concern, but because of his youth and advancements in the field of medicine, I see a strong comeback in Vizcaino's future.
I see his potential at No. 7 for the Cubs.
6. Christian Villanueva, 3B
Christian Villanueva is an intriguing player. Scouts have raved about his arm and glove, while his offense has much room for improvement.
The Cubs have had a merry-go-round of third basemen since the departure of Ron Santo and have been searching for a suitable replacement for Aramis Ramirez since his departure to the Brewers in 2012. The organization has high hopes for Villanueva, as fellow prospect Josh Vitters struggled mightily with the Cubs, hitting only .121 in his brief time in the majors.
Villanueva hit only .285 with 107 strikeouts in the minors last year, but managed to crank out 14 home runs. This is surprising given that Villanueva checks in at only 160 pounds. Scouts have criticized his size and power, but luckily his size is an easy fix.
Because of his glove, I see a tremendous amount of potential for Villanueva. His bat needs some work, but his glove is already Gold Glove-caliber. I predict a Gold Glove for Villanueva in his first five years in The Show, and a large amount of growth at the plate. I see Christian Villanueva's potential at sixth.
5. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
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Anthony Rizzo proved to be a huge hit (literally and figuratively) in his 85 games played with the Cubs in 2012. After much speculation about when he would be called up, Rizzo finally made his major league debut with the Cubs in June of 2012, and he made a big splash immediately. Rizzo hit .285 with 15 home runs in 87 games with the club, and his defense was decent as well, with a .995 fielding percentage.
Because of his size, his defense is limited, and I personally wouldn't mind seeing him drop a few pounds in order to improve his agility at first. Rizzo checks in at 240 pounds, but some of that is a result of his 6'3" figure.
According to FanGraphs, Rizzo made contact with 91 percent of pitches he swung at in the strike zone, a very impressive number especially for a player who had only played in 45 major league games prior to that season.
His plate discipline is very impressive, but because his defense is only average, I put Rizzo at No. 5 for future potential.
4. Albert Almora, CF
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I see a tremendous amount of potential in Albert Almora.
The 6'1", 170-pound center fielder hit an impressive .321 in the minors in 2012 while posting a fielding percentage of .987 in his first year. Almora, who was drafted sixth overall in 2012, is the No. 2 prospect in the Cubs organization entering 2013 according to MLB.com. He is described as having a strong arm and good range, and his bat speed is impressive as well.
Perhaps most importantly, Almora is described as having great instincts and a smart mind. His work ethic is wonderful as well. He is said to work out six days a week, while taking Sundays off to fish or spend time with his family.
Because of his mental strength as well as his strong abilities, I rank Almora at fourth overall for potential.
3. Jorge Soler, OF
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Despite only playing 34 games in the minors last season, Jorge Soler had already begun to make a name for himself in 2012. While with the Peoria Chiefs, a single-A affiliate of the Cubs (who are now the Kane County Cougars), Soler hit an impressive .338 with three home runs in just twenty games.
Soler has above-average speed, good plate discipline and a cannon of an arm. He has a tremendous amount of tools to bring to the plate, both literally and figuratively.
He also has a great amount of power, with much of that coming from his 6'4", 215-pound frame. He is ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the Cubs' organization entering the 2013 season.
I'm extremely excited about Soler, despite the fact that he probably won't reach the majors until 2014 at the earliest. Because of his all-around impressive game, I rank Soler as third overall in the Cubs organization.
2. Starlin Castro, SS
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Starlin Castro has already proven his worth at the plate, although I would like to see him become a bit more patient. Castro is hitting just under .300 through his first three years in the majors, but has only drawn 100 walks in 445 games played. He has above-average speed which the Cubs have finally begun to utilize, as he stole 47 bases in the past two seasons.
Castro's defense is a well-documented issue, and he is fully aware of it. He was quoted during February 2013 as saying that he wants to win a Gold Glove, but he has a long ways to go to be even considered for it.
Castro's mentality is also an issue for me. In a 2012 game in San Francisco, Castro failed to turn a double play. He apparently thought that the force at second was the third out, but it was actually only the second. A run then scored that inning and the Cubs went on to lose. He also has a little too much swagger for my likes, and I think that maybe his ego gets in the way at times.
Regardless, Castro is certainly a player that the Cubs can build a franchise around, and I see his potential at No. 2 in the Cubs organization.
1. Javier Baez, SS
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Not only does Javier Baez have a lot of physical tools, but he also has one of the strongest minds I've heard of in a long time. Baez has a tattoo of the MLB logo on th back of his neck...and he got it before he was even drafted.
"His instincts are incredible," his high school baseball coach raved. "He reads the ball off the bat so well. He made three errors this season, but that's only because he was able to get to some balls that most kids wouldn't get a glove on."
Wow. If that doesn't get a Cubs fan drooling, I don't know what will.
One National League scout described Baez's swing as comparable to that of Gary Sheffield, and his defense is great too. Scouts believe that he will be moved to third base in the future, which will work great with Starlin Castro. I already find myself picturing the two dominating the left side of the infield (did you hear that, Starlin?).
Because of Javy's instincts, bat and great mentality, I see him with the highest potential of any young Cub.