The Cubs' strong minor league system has the future in Chicago looking bright in 2015 and beyond.
It's no secret that the Chicago Cubs have been in a rebuild for the past couple of seasons, and the effort has resulted in several top prospects working their way through the organization. Some top prospects are still at least a year away from playing at Wrigley Field, while others could be making their way to the Friendly Confines within the calendar year.
Unlike in years past, the Cubs have more than one "can't-miss" prospect, and in fact, they nearly have a "can't-miss" prospect at every position. While some prospects are bound to fail and some to succeed, here's the list of the Cubs' top prospects at every position heading into 2014.
Pitcher: C.J. Edwards
Fellow pitching prospect Pierce Johnson is more major league ready than C.J. Edwards is, but Edwards has a much higher ceiling in the long run. Edwards was the steal of the Matt Garza trade a season ago, which also landed the Cubs Mike Olt.
When he was shipped to Chicago, Edwards was 8-2 with a 1.83 ERA for Class A Hickory. After being sent to the Cubs, he continued to have a stellar 1.96 ERA in six games.
Edwards projects as a power arm that can miss bats with the best of them. Last season, he had a stellar 12 K/9. While High-A Daytona is the highest level that he's played at so far, Edwards' arm strength isn't going away barring injury.
When it's all said and done, Edwards projects as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter in a major league rotation as someone who can eat up innings and strike batters out.
One key concern for Edwards is that he is extremely lanky. Standing 6'2", he weighs just 155 pounds. Clearly, he will have to add to his size to stay durable at the major league level.
He's only spent two years in the minors, so Edwards has plenty of time to add size before he's pitching for the Cubs. At only 22 years old, he's primed to be a key contributor in the major league rotation in the next couple of years.
Catcher: Willson Contreras
If there's one position that the Cubs' farm system is lacking, it's catching. Since they have Welington Castillo set to be the everyday catcher for the foreseeable future, they can continue to sign cheap veteran backups.
Nonetheless, the best catching prospect in the Cubs' organization is Willson Contreras. He began playing in the Cubs organization when he was just 17 years old, and as of last season, he had worked his way up to Class A ball in Kane County.
While he provides some power upside, Contreras has difficulty getting on base. According to FanGraphs, his strikeout percentage of 19.1 is almost triple his walk percentage of 7.5 from a year ago, which is staggering. He will have to majorly improve his eye at the plate if he hopes to end up in the majors in the near future.
An encouraging sign is that in 310 at-bats, he slugged 11 home runs and drove in 46 runs while stealing eight bases last season. However, Contreras' .248 batting average and .310 on-base percentage will have to improve drastically for him to take the next step in his professional development.
First Baseman: Dan Vogelbach
Standing 6' and weighing 250 pounds, there's no question that first base prospect Dan Vogelbach is all about power. However, Vogelbach isn't a traditional power hitter.
Will Dan Vogelbach play for the Cubs or another team once he reaches the major leagues?
The 21-year-old hits for a decent average and gets on base regularly, something that has grown unusual in the Cubs farm system. Combined between Class A Kane County and High-A Daytona a season ago, Vogelbach hit 19 home runs to go along with 76 RBIs.
More impressive is that Vogelbach hit .284 and got on base at a .375 clip across both levels.
Clearly, the Cubs have Anthony Rizzo firmly entrenched as the first baseman of the future, so Vogelbach may have difficulty coming up through the Cubs’ minor league system. However, he has shown that he has the tools to eventually compete at the next level.
Based on his size and ability to only play first base, Vogelbach projects better as a player in the American League where he can play the majority of his games as a designated hitter.
Second Baseman: Arismendy Alcantara
Based on Darwin Barney's lackluster hitting performance last season, the Cubs would like to add some pop in the lineup from their second baseman. Whether or not they are able to trade Barney before the season starts, Arismendy Alcantara is likely to be with the Cubs at some point this year.
Who would you rather play second base for the Cubs in 2014?
Even though he hit just .271 in AA last season, Alcantara hit 15 home runs and drove in 69 runs while stealing 31 bases. The fleet-footed second baseman presents above-average power for his position, which would be a major upgrade from Barney.
Due to the need for improvement from the second base position and the fact that Alcantara is considered close to major league ready, he’s likely to be in Chicago sooner rather than later this season.
ETA: Summer 2014
Third Baseman: Kris Bryant
After dominating college ball at the University of San Diego, all Kris Bryant did was continue to dominate the minor leagues. Bryant hit 31 home runs in college, 10 more than the next closest player, which helped him become the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft.
Once he arrived in the minor leagues, Bryant moved his way from rookie ball to A to A+ ball in less than half of a season. A reason for his quick movement through the minor leagues is his approach at the plate that he refined in college.
Combined between the three levels, Bryant hit nine home runs and drove 32 runs in while logging just 128 at-bats. By far the most impressive part of Bryant’s game is that he hit .336 across the three levels.
Bryant continued his domination in the Arizona Fall League, where he became the MVP after hitting .346 with six home runs and 17 RBI in just 21 games.
In the near future, Bryant projects as a legit No. 3 hitter in the major leagues because of his approach and ability to "put balls where they ain't." Expect to see Bryant putting that approach to the test at Wrigley Field very soon.
ETA: Summer 2014
Shortstop: Javier Baez
The Cubs' top prospect, Javier Baez, tore apart the minor leagues last season and looks nearly ready to make the jump to the big leagues.
Putting up gaudy numbers as a 20-year-old, Baez smacked 37 home runs and drove in 111 runs across A+ and AA while hitting .282 and stealing 20 bases. Baez is the closest thing to a five-tool player that the Cubs have in their minor league system.
Which Cubs prospect are you most excited to see in the majors?
Baez’s unreal bat speed has enabled him to dominate competition in the minors and projects him as one of the next great offensive shortstops in baseball.
With Starlin Castro at shortstop currently, there are several possibilities once Baez gets the call to the major leagues. Baez could move to second or third base, depending on the development of other prospects. Also, Baez could occupy shortstop and move Castro to second or third base.
Whatever the case is, Baez has a good enough bat that the team will find him a position in the field to get him in the lineup.
ETA: Summer 2014
Left Fielder: Junior Lake
It's hard to call Junior Lake a top prospect given that he played in major leagues for a large chunk of 2013, but the fact that he’s young and figures to contribute in years to come makes him a top outfield prospect in Chicago.
In 64 games in Chicago last season, Lake hit six home runs and drove in 16 runs while batting .284. He's already faced major league pitching and has shown that he can make adjustments.
While it’s unlikely that he will ever develop into an all-star, Lake is easily capable of being a contributing member of the Cubs as they transition from rebuilders to contenders.
ETA: He's already arrived.
Center Fielder: Albert Almora
Last year as a 19-year-old, Albert Almora played his entire season at Class A Kane County and flourished. The centerfielder batted .329 in 249 at-bats.
One concern with Almora is that he has played in less than 100 games in the minor leagues over two seasons. His durability will have to improve for him to stay on track for future promotions through the farm system.
As long as he can stay healthy, Almora projects as an above-average leadoff man. In 61 games a season ago, the teenager struck out just 30 times.
The ability to get on base and score runs makes Almora the Cubs center fielder and leadoff man of the future.
Right Fielder: Jorge Soler
Cuban defector Jorge Soler could be a lot further along in his development if he could have avoided the injury bug in 2013. Due to injury, Soler only played in 55 games a season ago, but still showed promise.
The right fielder slapped eight home runs in his shortened season and batted a respectable .281. Even though his development has been pushed back, Soler's bat speed still has him on track for a promotion to the Cubs in the near future.
With a jumbled group of outfielders coming up through the minor leagues, Soler could get more time in the minors than he otherwise would, but if he continues to grow into his power the way he’s expected to, he could be playing for the Cubs after next season.
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