Chicago Cubs: Updating the Organization's Top 10 Prospects Post 2013 Draft
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have been meticulously rebuilding the organization’s farm system since they were hired on in October 2011.
The proceeding list is compiled of the sweetest fruits of their, and their predecessor’s, labor; some more ripe than others.
The following prospect rankings are based upon professional and amateur scouting reports filed on the players, scouting videos and personal opinions inferred after researching the players and what tools they offer the club.
Now, tonight’s feature presentation…
10. Junior Lake, IF\OF
Have you ever heard the phrase: Jack of all trades; master of none? Well, that’s sort of what Junior Lake is.
He can do a lot of things very well, and on pure talent alone he has been thought of as being one of the Cubs’ best prospects. From “Scouting Reports for the Cubs’ Top 10 Prospects at Spring Training”:
“Lake has a cannon for an arm, that one scout told FanGraphs.com it is ‘one of the best in professional baseball.’
Lake has a wide stance with a nervous, Gary Sheffield-esque bat waggle circa mid-1990s. That batter’s box energy does translate to a little extra pop in his bat, but it also let’s everyone know he has no intention of being patient at the plate.”
But even after spending six years in the minors, he has yet to put it all together and find a home position.
After breaking a rib high in his rib cage, then attending extended spring training, Junior Lake made his 2013 debut with the Iowa Cubs this past Thursday.
Although only 23 years old, Lake will need to show the Cubs something soon if he wants to make it to the MLB before the likes of the proceeding players surpass him.
9. Christian Villanueva, 3B
Prior to the Thursday’s MLB draft, Christian Villanueva was the organization’s top ranked third base prospect.
On defensive skills alone, he is the best the organization has to offer at third base—minor league or otherwise. In a January 2012 FanGraphs.com article—and reposted after Villanueva was traded to Chicago as part of the Ryan Dempster deal—Mike Newman had this to say about Villanueva’s defense:
“On defense, Villanueva is in the top three of third baseman I’ve had the opportunity to scout…He possesses lightning quick feet, soft hands and a strong throwing arm leaving little doubt as to whether Villanueva can stick at third base long term. In fact, Villanueva’s defensive skills and body control are so strong, second base seems like a viable option…”
He went on to slight Villanueva’s offensive prowess, which is not at as strong as his defense, but at the same time, for reference sake, is nowhere near as bad as Darwin Barney’s.
Villanueva makes good contact with the ball and should be able to hit for average. According to Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com, “He doesn't have a bad approach at the plate and makes fairly consistent contact, so he should hit for a decent average.”
He lacks the prototypical power of a third baseman, but Villanueva does project to hit for average power. “There's debate over how much power he'll have. If he can develop Major League average pop, then he has the chance to be a very good everyday third baseman in the big leagues,” Mayo says of Villanueva.
He could be the inevitable replacement for Darwin Barney at second base once the Cubs begin calling up prospects—Baez, Soler, Almora, etc.—to fill out the major league roster.
Regardless, in exchange for what was essentially a rental in Ryan Dempster, the Cubs received in return a solid future big-leaguer and, according to Jon Heyman, another top 100 prospect for the Cubs.
scout says christian villanueva, young 3b who went to #cubs in rangers deal is quite good. top 100 prospect in baseball.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) July 31, 2012
8. Pierce Johnson, SP
Not much in regards to the scouting report has changed for Pierce Johnson.
“It’s strange to say that a pitcher straining his forearm could have been good for the Cubs, but it was.
Prior to the 2012 supplemental draft, Johnson strained his forearm, causing clubs to pass on the righty.
Not the Cubs, however.
Johnson has three pitches in his arsenal, but his most impressive pitch is a hard curve which he utilizes as his out pitch. He also has a fastball in the mid-90s and a developing changeup.
He has good command and control of his pitches and is projected to be a middle-of-the-rotation starter—though he could become a No. 2 if he fully develops the changeup and adds the slider.”
He’s had a nice go of it in 2013 with Kane County—4-4, 2.95 ERA, 65 Ks, and 17 BB in 58 IP—that he should see a promotion to Daytona or possibly Tennessee before the season concludes.
7. Brett Jackson, OF
I have a difficult time reconciling the fact Brett Jackson is considered a prospect. I truly do not believe he should continue with the “prospect” label since he has already had too many MLB plate appearances and spent enough time on the big league roster to even be considered a rookie.
Nevertheless, even though it still does not make sense to me to call him a prospect because of the above reasons, on this list I have kowtowed to convention by slotting him at No. 7.
A pseudo-scouting report for the outfielder can be found here.
But in a nutshell, Brett Jackson is very fast and has great fielding instincts to go along with a strong, accurate arm which all complement each other very nicely in the field. He is not necessarily undisciplined at the plate—evidenced by his ability to draw walks—but does not make consistent contact with the ball which leads to copious amounts of strikeouts.
6. Dan Vogelbach, 1B
You most likely won’t find Dan Vogelbach on any top 100 prospect lists, but for what he can offer the Cubs organization is why I continue to rank him so high.
Vogelbach is a power-hitting lefty that can hit to all fields. He tore up rookie ball and Low-A, before being promoted to Single-A Kane County to begin 2013. And while his numbers are not what they were in 2012, he has continued to impress with nine home runs, 39 RBI, and a stat line of .282/.348/.459.
His plate discipline is more than ideal for a 20-year-old prospect. Sahadev Sharma, of ESPNChicago.com had this to say about Vogelbach’s approach to the plate:
“He has a very mature…approach at the plate…and sees a lot of pitches. It's everything an organization like the Cubs has recently started preaching to all their prospects: Wait for your pitch and be selectively aggressive. Vogelbach never needed to be taught these things -- it's an ability that came naturally.”
But Dan Vogelbach can be an asset to the Cubs in another way besides on the field.
As much as I like to see the Cubs keep Vogelbach, he does not have a position on their MLB roster. Anthony Rizzo is the Cubs long-term first baseman and a position switch for either player seems highly unlikely.
Vogelbach is perfectly suited for the role of DH. And if he continues to perform as he has, Dan could be the centerpiece in a future deal with an American League club for a top pitching prospect.
5. Kris Bryant, 3B
Initially I believed the Cubs should or would have drafted a pitcher with the number two pick in the draft and I was hopeful Mark Appel would have, again, been passed over by the Houston Astros such as he was in 2012. But to no avail.
Then, instead of drafting Jonathan Gray as believed they would, the Cubs chose Kris Bryant out of San Diego.
Seeing as how much the Cubs will need to offense, Kris Bryant is an excellent addition to the current crop of Cubs prospects that will surely be able to turn things around in Chicago.
And, for Bryant, the journey to the majors might not be as long as the others.
Bryant does not need time to mature or grow into his body. Mark Anderson of BaseballProspectNation.com says Bryant “looks the part of a slugger when he walks off the bus. Physically mature and not much left to do here.”
And his current toolset is prit’ near MLB ready; with an ever-so-sight hiccough.
Kris Bryant is “the best college bat in the class,” according to Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com, “[and] led Team USA this summer in slugging percentage.”
Mayo also goes on to say that “there is a good amount of swing and miss to his game,” which would be the biggest concern regarding this kid.
Mark Anderson says Bryant’s “swing can get a little long”; being the cause to the effect.
But it appears the Cubs have no issue with the slugger’s swing; and little doubt in his current baseball abilities.
Tony Andracki of CSNChicago.com paraphrased Cubs manager, Dale Sveum, as having “joked he checked with Cubs personnel, just to make sure he didn't have to slot Bryant in the lineup this weekend against the Pirates.”
Andracki believes “Bryant’s swing and approach to the plate is so polished, he could move quickly through the system.” Adding Dale Sveum having said “whenever you get the best hitter in the draft, they've hit in the big leagues…It's always hard to tell, but in history, guys like that usually don't take long.”
One area that Cubs outsiders have speculated on is Bryant’s ability to play third base at the Major League level.
In his earlier linked scouting report, Jonathan Mayo said that some believed a move to first for Bryant would be in order. However, with Rizzo manning that position for the foreseeable future a position switch—especially to first—will not happen.
Even so, Dale Sveum addressed that possibility in an interview with baseball writers yesterday afternoon. Via the Andracki article:
“All that stuff takes care of itself. The good thing about [Bryant] is his athleticism, his speed, and his arm allows him to do other things on the field. Right now, just watching him, I don't see any problem at third base, just watching how he takes groundballs and his feet and his arm. It all plays. For a big guy, he can do a lot of good things.”
There you have it. With the second pick in the 2013 draft, the Cubs have added to their embarrassment of infielder riches a high-average-hitting, power third baseman with the ability to rake the yard.
To quote Bart Scott: “Can’t wait”…to see him at Wrigley.
4. Arodys Vizcaino, P
Despite having Tommy John surgery last year, Arodys Vizcaino has been the organization’s highest ranked pitching prospect since his acquisition from Atlanta last season.
Prior to his elbow injury that is still causing him to be out of action, and before being traded to the Cubs, Keith Law ranked Vizcaino as Atlanta’s top prospect—above Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado.
In a reaction piece to the Cubs’ 2012 deadline day deals there was this to say about the promising righty:
“Despite his small sample size, Vizcaino was ranked the Atlanta Braves’ No. 2 prospect and the MLB’s No. 40 overall prospect by Baseball America after the 2011 season; and No. 62 by Baseball Prospectus—above Dellin Betances (63), Javier Baez (66), Nick Castellanos (71), and Anthony Rizzo (75).
According to Baseball Prospect Nation, ScoutingBook.com, and MLB Prospect Watch he has the heat and a curve, along with a developing slider to become a number two or three starter. But if the slider fails to materialize, he could become a dominant relief pitcher which would allow his fastball, already at 95-97 mph, to bump up a tad.”
The Wrigley faithful might not have to wait too long to get a glimpse of Vizcaino. In a March report Cubs beat-writer for MLB.com, Carrie Muskat, said the Cubs expect Vizcaino to be ready for MLB action by August or September.
3. Albert Almora, OF
As the Cubs’ 2012 first round pick, Albert Almora has proven to be a wise selection.
“According to Baseball Prospect Nation, he has the potential to be a high-average hitter with the ability to adjust to the ball in flight and use the entire field, and with more experience, he has the tools to become an elite defender with an above-average glove
He still needs time to mature physically. At 6’2" and 170 pounds, he has the frame to build a lot of muscle on, increasing his power capabilities. But all the tools necessary to be an impact player are there.”
Almora split time in 2012 between rookie ball and Low-A before earning a promotion to Single-A Kane County to begin the year.
But an unlucky break—pun intended—delayed the start to his season. Almora broke his left hamate bone during spring training causing him to be out of action until mid-May.
Since returning to action with the Kane County Cougars he has posted a line of .429/.481/.551 in 12 games.
2. Jorge Soler, OF
It should go without saying—being that he is ranked as the Cubs’ No. 2 prospect in this list—but Jorge Soler is one of the Cubs, and baseball’s, most talented and promising prospects.
In Keith Law’s updated Top 25 Prospects, he is ranked as MLB’s No. 21 prospect—above all other Cubs prospects. (If you would like to view the list visit you can visit this thread on Scout.com’s forum).
That list is the first to have Jorge Soler ranked above both Javier Baez and Albert Almora in any prospect compilation; MLB or Cubs.
Jorge Soler signed with the Cubs in 2012, and was the youngest of three Cuban ballplayers to sign with a big league club last year—Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig being the other two. Of those three, Soler is the only one yet to make his MLB debut—Cespedes in 2012, Puig this season.
Soler is still a bit raw and needs a little more time before making his Wrigley debut. (So I can buttress this statement and provide sourcing information, along with a scouting report, please click here).
But whenever that time comes Soler is sure to make an impact with the Cubbies.
1. Javier Baez, SS
By now I would imagine every Cubs fan has heard of this kid. He is, for all intents and purposes, the Cubs top prospect and one of the best prospects in all of baseball.
“By all accounts Javier Baez is deserving of the high praise and recognition he has garnered. He has excellent bat and base-running speed, which should allow him to sustain a high batting average and on-base percentage as he makes his way through the minors.
While his power is adequate for his size and position, most baseball scouts believe this aspect of his game could, and should, improve as he matures.”
Realistically, the only question with this kid is what position he will play when he makes it to the MLB. The Cubs could take the easy way out and put him at third and leave Castro at short and Barney at second—if they deem Barney’s glove as reason enough to keep him.
If his defense continues to improve, and the Cubs decide to deal Barney, then a move to second would be likely in order to leave third open for Christian Villanueva, Junior Lake, or, most likely, Kris Bryant.
Regardless, Baez’s play will be the only thing dictating his call up. Not where to play him.