Chicago Cubs' 3 Sleeper Prospects to Watch in Spring Training
It's no secret that the only hope that exists for the Chicago Cubs is in their farm system. Top to bottom, they're one of the best in baseball; they were ranked No 4, according to Keith Law of ESPN Insider (subscription required).
Names like Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler have become commonplace in Chicago as optimistic fans look past this season and into 2015 and beyond. However, the entire farm system doesn't consist of elite prospects who are sure to make an impact at the major league level.
There are always players who burst onto the scene that nobody sees coming. Hopefully for the Cubs faithful, most of their top prospects will pan out. If they don't, here are three players who could take over or be vital role players in years to come.
No. 3: Logan Watkins, 2B
Kansas native Logan Watkins (23) isn't going to be a superstar in the major leagues, but his ability to play multiple positions and hit left-handed makes him attractive as a utility man in the future. He plays second base primarily but can move around the infield where needed.
While being a utility man may not seem like anything special, think back to the Cubs' 2007 and 2008 seasons. Mark DeRosa was a utility man extraordinaire for the Cubs in those two playoff seasons and was a key cog even though he wasn't the flashiest or most talented player on the team.
In just 38 at-bats at the major league level last season, Watkins recorded eight hits. With such a small sample size, the low average isn't a concern, but he will need to work on his lack of power to the gaps if he wants to stick at the major league level. Only once in his minor league career did he hit 20 doubles.
In 2015 and beyond, Cubs fans will be talking about Baez, Bryant, Almora and Soler for good reason. They're stars in the making, at least in the eyes of professional baseball scouts. However, every competing team needs that role player who can be depended on even when he's not a star. Watkins could be that piece for the Cubs and play an important role in the future.
No. 2: Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
Arodys Vizcaino is a young flamethrower from the Dominican Republic who could make the Cubs bullpen out of spring training. He has all of the tools to be a difference-maker at the big league level: a fastball that averages 96 mph, a slider and curveball that he features routinely, and a changeup that he uses selectively. So what's the catch?
He hasn't thrown a pitch in the majors or minors since 2011.
Acquired in the Paul Maholm trade with the Braves in 2012, the Cubs originally knew what they were getting into with Vizcaino; he had Tommy John surgery on March 20, 2012. He was a top prospect with injury issues—exactly the type of rebuilding project Cubs brass has enjoyed taking on.
However, what members of the front office didn't anticipate was an even further setback in his recovery. While recovering from Tommy John surgery, Vizcaino developed a calcium buildup in his elbow and had to get arthroscopic surgery to correct it. That setback shelved him for the remainder of 2013, when the Cubs had hoped to have him by the second half.
If he can stay healthy this season, which he is as of right now, he could be an overlooked difference-maker on the North Side this season. Before his injury, he was the No. 2-ranked prospect in the Braves organization. Additionally, in 2011 Vizcaino sped through the minor leagues, starting in high-A ball and finishing the season in the major leagues.
With a very fresh arm at just 23 years old, Vizcaino has the tools to be an effective pitcher at the major league level. Due to an extensive injury history, it's more likely that he will be featured in the bullpen than the starting rotation. Pending injury, look for him to be a setup man or closer in the not-so-distant future.
No. 1: Arismendy Alcantara, 2B
Probably the most well-known player on this list, Arismendy Alcantara is a player who is on the verge of making an impact with the Cubs right now. Due to the club's desperate need of offensive production at second base, if he can blow officials away in spring training, making the Opening Day roster isn't out of the realm of possibility.
Making the big league team out of camp will be tough, given that he has never played at the Triple-A level, but he has methodically worked his way through the minor leagues in the Epstein-Hoyer model of player development.
In 2010, Alcantara played his entire season at the low-A level. The next year he played his entire season at A-ball; in 2012 he played his entire season at high-A; and last season he played the entire year for the Double-A affiliate of the Cubs, the Tennessee Smokies.
After playing on all those different levels of minor league competition, Alcantara took a huge step forward last season in Tennessee. While he only batted .271, he hit 15 home runs and drove in 69 while stealing 31 bases. That's a pretty solid No. 2 hitter in the major leagues.
In reality, translating those numbers to the big leagues will be a challenge for him. For someone without huge power upside, he strikes out a lot. Last season in Double-A, he struck out 125 times in 494 at-bats. He will have to put the bat on the ball more consistently this spring and into 2014 to convince the Cubs front office that he can make a difference going forward.
While Alcantara is the No. 4 second base prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com, he still isn't talked about nearly as much as some of the other top prospects in the organization. For that reason, he is the top sleeper in a long line of Cubs prospects.