Chicago Cubs' Top 10 Prospects for 2014
The Chicago Cubs' collection of top prospects is among the best in baseball, with four players who will rank in next week’s top 50 prospects update and a few more who would land in the top 100.
Leading the pack is shortstop Javier Baez, who is arguably the most exciting offensive prospect in the game. Last season, the now-21-year-old posted a .920 OPS with 37 home runs and 20 stolen bases in 537 plate appearances between High-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee.
Alongside Baez on the Cubs’ future infield is third baseman Kris Bryant, the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2013, who possesses the type of obscene raw power needed to hit 35-plus home runs at the highest level.
The organization also houses a pair of potential All-Star outfielders in Albert Almora and Jorge Soler. Though they collectively lack a game of experience at the Double-A level, both players have the tools to move quickly through the minor leagues and should do so in the upcoming season.
With the Cubs offense potentially stacked for the years to come, team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer now will likely focus on adding impactful arms to all levels of the system.
That being said, the organization has added several potential back-end starters since the beginning of the 2012 season, as they acquired right-handers Kyle Hendricks and Neil Ramirez via trades with the Texas Rangers, and also added Paul Blackburn and Pierce Johnson through the draft.
The only high-ceiling arm in the Cubs’ system is C.J. Edwards—acquired from Texas in the Matt Garza trade last summer—and he’s still considered a risky prospect and likely two years away from reaching the major leagues.
With a wave of prospects nearing the major leagues, the Cubs now desperately need their trio of core players to push forward in their respective developments.
First baseman Anthony Rizzo spent the entire season hitting in the heart of the order, but he produced a disappointing .233/.323/.419 batting line in 690 plate appearances. Similarly, shortstop Starlin Castro, an All-Star in 2012, also endured a significant offensive regression, as he batted only .245/.284/.347 in 705 plate appearances and finished the season with a minus-0.1 fWAR, via FanGraphs.
Though staff ace Jeff Samardzija posted a 4.34 ERA and allowed 25 home runs last season, the then-27-year-old’s 3.45 xFIP suggests he was better than that, and he also logged over 200 innings (213.2) for the first time in his career. However, as the source of so many trade rumors this offseason, there’s a chance Samardzija doesn’t open the 2014 season as a Cub.
Here’s a look at the Chicago Cubs’ top 10 prospects for the 2014 season.
10. Christian Villanueva, 3B
DOB: 06/19/1991 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 5’11”, 160 pounds
Signed: 2008 by Rangers (Mexico)
Headlined the prospect package acquired from the Rangers for Ryan Dempster at the trade deadline; at 5’11”, 160 pounds, Christian 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 average power as big leaguer; hit tool stands to improve with his plate discipline; possesses sneaky speed that should continue to result in double-digit stolen-base totals.
Ceiling: Second-division regular
9. Dan Vogelbach, 1B
DOB: 12/17/1992 (Age: 21)
Height/Weight: 6’0”, 250 pounds
Drafted: Second round, 2011 (Bishop Verot HS, Fla.)
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.
Already 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 designated hitter-only relegation.
Ceiling: Second-division player; platoon/reserve
8. Jeimer Candelario, 3B
DOB: 11/24/1993 (Age: 20)
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 180 pounds
Signed: September 2010 (Dominican Republic)
At 6’1”, 180 pounds, 20-year-old is physically mature with room for additional strength; defense at the hot corner is average; above-average arm strength represents his strongest attribute; may be forced to shift across the infield to first base due to size and a lack of both speed and range.
Impressive switch-hitter with the potential for an above-average hit tool; good bat speed lends to his power potential, and he’s already a present extra-base machine; approach is noticeably advanced relative to his age; should allow both his hit and power tool to develop favorably; good pitch recognition that should continue to improve.
Ceiling: Second-division regular
7. Pierce Johnson, RHP
DOB: 05/10/1991 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 175 pounds
Drafted: First round, 2012 (Missouri State)
At 6’3”, 175 pounds, 22-year-old has highly projectable frame; 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.
Ceiling: No. 3 or 4 starter
6. Arismendy Alcantara, SS/2B
DOB: 10/29/1991 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 5’10”, 170
Signed: November 2008 (Dominican Republic)
Undersized at 5’10” and 170 pounds but has a compact build loaded with strength; fluid and effortless athleticism; wrists and forearms have strong, quick-twitch muscles; aggressive hitter who attacks the ball.
Makes consistent hard contact from both sides of the plate; more leveraged swing from left side; above-average raw power that’s still emerging; less consistent from right side but solid approach; some swing-and-miss to his game; drawing more walks this season against advanced pitching.
Easy plus runner; speed plays on both sides of the ball; smart base stealer with an 80 percent (91-of-114) career success rate; quick, aggressive shortstop with plus range; has the tools and athleticism for either middle infield position; plus arm strength; has a tendency to wait back on balls and show off the arm a la Shawon Dunston; high number of errors is relatively normal for a young shortstop at an advanced level.
Ceiling: First-division regular
5. C.J. Edwards, RHP
DOB: 09/03/1991 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 155 pounds
Drafted: 48th round, 2011 by Rangers (Mid-Carolina HS, S.C.)
Acquired from Rangers in the Matt Garza trade; 6’2”, 155-pound right-hander has a wiry frame; above-average athleticism; should add some strength, but not much; vastly improved ability to repeat delivery over the past year; demonstrates control for quick arm.
Fastball features easy velocity in the low-to-mid-90s; velo has been up and more sustainable this season; has some natural cutting action and late life; difficult for opposing hitters to lift; keeps the ball in the park.
Curveball flashes plus potential with tight spin and depth in the mid-70s; changeup is fringy but overall feel for the pitch has improved; will turn it over well to create a nice fading action; potential average-or-better offering.
Ceiling: No. 2 or 3 starter
4. Jorge Soler, OF
DOB: 02/25/1992 (Age: 21)
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 225 pounds
Signed: June 2012 (Cuba)
Strong, physical player at 6’3”, 225 pounds; mature frame requires little projection; ball absolutely jumps off his bat; dynamic bat speed and plus raw power; extension and lift after contact; drives the ball with authority to all fields; approach will need considerable refinement at higher levels; some concern about makeup.
Comfortable hitting when behind in the count; decent pitch recognition; Soler’s swing has a slight hitch; often appears choppy or rushed; timing mechanism involves a hit 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 have improved since beginning professional career.
Ceiling: Potential All-Star
3. Albert Almora, OF
DOB: 04/16/1994 (Age: 19)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 180 pounds
Drafted: First round, 2012 (Mater Academy, Fla.)
Premium athlete who showcases all five tools, mature work ethic and advanced baseball skills; 6’2”, 180-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; Almora’s barrel control and ability to stay inside the ball are both impressive for his age; the right-handed hitter’s barrel control gives him a smooth, natural stroke to right-center field.
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; he also has high baseball IQ with outstanding makeup.
Ceiling: First-division regular; occasional All-Star
2. Kris Bryant, 3B
DOB: 01/04/1992 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 6’5”, 215 pounds
Drafted: First round, 2013 (San Diego)
Understands how to utilize massive 6’5”, 215-pound frame; wide stance and base; effortless, quiet swing for slugger; toe-tap load with balanced weight transfer through the baseball; will be forced to improve pitch selection and recognition in the majors; swing has some length and makes him vulnerable to plus velocity on the hands; present plus-plus raw power to all fields.
Chance to boast elite power at maturity with improvements; loose hands and wrists; outstanding bat speed; power should always be there, even if average isn’t; showcases impressive barrel control through the strike zone; excellent hip rotation creates extension through the baseball, but he can get too rotational at times; favorable point of contact off a firm front side; generates backspin carry to all fields.
Moves well for a player of his size; present athleticism; not a base-clogger; should be able to stay at hot corner as a professional, at least initially; able to get low enough to make the plays; actions can be too deliberate and stiff; glove and hands profile as a corner infielder; average range.
Could shift to the outfield in deference to Javier Baez and Starlin Castro; actions, athleticism and long strides could make him an average defender at the position; plus arm strength is strongest defensive asset; clean arm stroke and release; good carry on throws; above-average accuracy, more than enough for third base and/or right field.
Ceiling: Potential All-Star
1. Javier Baez, SS
DOB: 12/01/1992 (Age: 21)
Height/Weight: 6’0”, 190 pounds
Drafted: First round, 2011 (Arlington Country Day School, Fla.)
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 with 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 beaten by quality sequencing; needs to work more counts; aggressive base stealer; secondary skills steadily improving.
The 6’0”, 190-pounder is a shortstop at the moment; addition of too much strength may prompt a move to third base; impressive athlete with smooth, natural defensive actions; speed may lose a grade as he develops physically; should always be at least solid defensively; high error totals should come down with more experience; plus arm ideal for left side of the infield; high-intensity player who still needs to slow game down defensively.
Projection: Regular All-Star