Chicago Cubs' Top 10 Prospects Heading into Spring Training
In the recently released list of top farm systems in baseball by Keith Law (subscription required) the Cubs check in at No. 4. This high ranking is indicative of the hard work President Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have put into the extensive rebuild.
While a top farm system certainly doesn't ensure a top major league team, the Cubs are certainly headed in the right direction. That direction won't necessarily be forward until at least 2015, but it doesn't hurt to look at the players likely to contribute to future success in Chicago.
Many top prospects are more popular in Chicago than bench players actually playing for the Cubs, but there are plenty of other players with a chance of playing a key role on a contending team in the future. Here are the top 10 prospects in the Cubs' organization going into spring training.
10. 3B Jeimer Candelario
Weight: 180 lbs.
2013 Splits: .256/.346/.396 with 11 home runs and 57 RBI (Class-A Kane County)
The Scouting Report: Candelario played last year in Class-A Kane County and played more than he ever has in his major league career. He had exactly 500 at-bats a season ago after only recording 527 at-bats in his previous two seasons in the minors combined.
Relative to his number of at-bats, his power numbers have stayed steady over his three years in the minor leagues as he hit 0.020 home runs per at-bat in 2011 and 0.022 home runs per at-bat in 2012 and 2013. The most impressive part of Candelario's game is he will only be 20 this upcoming season. Overall, his outlook is that of a very good role player.
He may develop into a starter one day, but the fact he can switch-hit and hit for average power projects him as a very good bench player in the future. With plenty left to develop, Candelario cold very easily be making an impact in Chicago by the time he's ready for the call to the big leagues in a couple of years.
9. 3B Mike Olt
Weight: 210 lbs.
2013 Splits: .201/.303/.381 with 15 homers and 42 RBI (between AA and AAA)
The Scouting Report: Olt’s numbers from a season ago are a little bit deceiving. He had vision issues and he probably shouldn’t have been playing baseball. There will never be a time Olt hits for a high average, but don’t expect him to hit .201 in the major leagues.
This spring training is a chance for Olt, who was acquired in the Matt Garza trade last season, to win the starting third-base job. He has plus-power and can definitely contribute at the major league level right now. At 25 years old and with plenty of infield talent in the minor leagues, Olt will have a limited window to show what he can do
8. SP Pierce Johnson
Weight: 170 lbs.
2013 Splits: 2.74 ERA with 124 strikeouts in 118.1 IP (between A and high-A)
Scouting Report: Across two levels of the minor leagues a season ago, Johnson continued to impress. His combined 2.74 ERA is encouraging and while his stuff isn’t overpowering, he strikes out an average of a little over a batter per inning.
At 6’3” Johnson has the frame to develop into a very solid pitcher at the major league level. If he can continue the progress he’s made in the past couple of seasons, Johnson could be in Chicago at some point in 2015 and at the very least by 2016.
7. 1B Dan Vogelbach
Height: 6’ 0”
Weight: 250 lbs.
2013 Splits: .284/.375/.449 with 19 home runs and 76 RBI (between A and high-A)
The Scouting Report: Yes, he’s large for his frame. Yes, he can only play first base in the National League. However, Vogelbach can flat-out hit and his stock is rising as quickly as any Cubs prospect. In addition to his 19 home runs, he whacked 23 doubles and got on base at an excellent clip.
He had nearly as many walks as strikeouts, which is an encouraging sign for a player of his type. It was encouraging enough to land him on mlb.com’s list of top first-base prospects at No. 4. The one perplexing thing about Vogelbach’s quick descent through the minor leagues is Anthony Rizzo is the Cubs’ fixture at first base. Obviously with his size and athleticism, it’s doubtful Vogelbach could play a different position in the major leagues.
Should there be a big-name player that becomes available from the American League in the next couple seasons, expect Vogelbach to be part of any offer the Cubs may make.
6. 2B Arismendy Alcantara
Weight: 160 lbs.
2013 Splits: .271/.352/.451 with 15 home runs, 69 RBI and 31 steals (in Double-A)
The Scouting Report: If he can impress during spring training this season, Alcantara has a very real chance of making the Cubs’ Opening Day 25-man roster. Since he seems to have more offensive upside than incumbent Darwin Barney, he could possibly even win the starting second-base job if he really impresses, but that would be a long shot.
Alcantara seems like a dual threat in the way he can hit for average power and steal bases with the best of them as well. As long as he continues to progress at the rate he has been, he will be in Chicago at some point this year.
He doesn’t project as a superstar in the pros, but based on his ability to hit both ways, hit for decent power and steal bases he can be a very solid, above-average player in the major leagues if he reaches his potential.
5. SP C.J. Edwards
Weight: 155 lbs.
2013 Splits: 1.86 ERA with 155 strikeouts in 116.1 IP (between A and high-A)
The Scouting Report: The first negative thing that jumps out about C.J. Edwards is he is far from filling out his frame. He’s clearly scrawny, but once he fills out he should be durable enough to last in the majors.
Obviously his minor league numbers were extremely impressive last season, but he only pitched between two levels of A-ball. Once he pitches in Double-A and Triple-A scouts and fans will have a better idea of what they have in Edwards. His fastball, curveball and changeup all project as at least average at the big league level and if he can develop at least two into above average pitches then he can be very effective.
Based on his frame and repertoire, Edwards doesn’t seem like a future ace in the big leagues, but if he can turn into a solid No. 2 or No. 3 starter then the Cubs will be very happy with their Matt Garza trade a season ago.
4. Outfielder Jorge Soler
Weight: 215 lbs.
2013 Splits: .281/.343/.467 with eight home runs and 35 RBI in 210 at-bats (at high-A)
The Scouting Report: After being signed to a nine-year contract out of Cuba, Soler was instantly placed on the map in the Cubs’ farm system. While his elite bat speed has lived up to expectations, injuries have kept him from progressing as quickly as the Cubs would have liked.
Last season in high Class-A ball he had only 210 at-bats. Soler’s bat speed and power are there, now he just needs to start hitting the gaps more to make him a better all-around hitter.
His size and the fact he will only be 22 later this month still leave him with plenty of time to develop into the superstar-caliber player the Cubs hope he can be by at least mid-2015.
3. Outfielder Albert Almora
Weight: 180 lbs.
2013 Splits: .329/.376/.466 with three home runs and 23 RBI in 249 at-bats (Class-A)
The Scouting Report: The Cubs are hoping Almora can be the team’s leadoff hitter of the future. How he’s played in the minor leagues so far in the minor leagues hasn’t done anything to change those plans.
How he plays as he progresses to the higher levels of the minor leagues will be more indicative of the major league player he will be, but hitting .329 at any level is very encouraging. Almora is also a stellar fielder in centerfield.
A leadoff hitter and everyday centerfielder are both roles the Cubs have been in desperate need of for a long time now. Since he missed some time because of injuries last season and is still really young, Almora is on track to be in Chicago at some point in 2015 or by 2016 Opening Day barring major struggles in Double-A and Triple-A in the next couple seasons.
2. 3B Kris Bryant
Weight: 215 lbs.
2013 Splits: .336/.390/.688 with nine home runs and 32 RBI in 128 at-bats (between rookie ball, low-A and high-A)
The Scouting Report: He’s been a member of the Cubs organization for less than a year, but he’s proving he was well worth the second overall pick in the 2013 MLB draft. After completing his college season at San Diego by leading the NCAA with 31 home runs, Bryant promptly dominated every level of competition he faced as a member of the Cubs organization last season.
He started in rookie ball and in a couple of months, he found himself playing in high A-ball. Projected over 500 at-bats, Bryant would have had around 36 home runs and 125 RBI. Obviously just because he played that well in 128 at-bats doesn’t mean he would have that sustained success throughout the season, but it puts his impressive numbers in perspective.
After finishing an impressive first season of professional baseball, Bryant then went on to win the Arizona Fall League MVP to add to his early list of accolades. Bryant will start 2014 in Double-A Tennessee and should he continue to impress, he should progress quickly through the remaining levels of the minor leagues. With an impressive body size and body of work, Bryant is on the fast track to Chicago.
1. SS Javier Baez
Weight: 195 lbs.
2013 Splits: .282/.341/.578 with 37 home runs and 111 RBI (between high-A and Double-A)
The Scouting Report: Baez showed off his elite power and bat speed a season ago by putting up gigantic power numbers across two levels of the minor leagues. The fact he got experience in Double-A a season ago is huge for his development.
As long as he continues to show growth this spring, Baez should start 2014 in Triple-A. If he can put up the same power numbers there as he did a season ago, the Cubs will find a place to put him in the field. It’s not everyday you find a middle infielder with 30-plus-home-run power.
Baez is just 21 years old and could be in the major leagues this season. As the No. 7 prospect in all of baseball, his call-up should bring considerable excitement to the Cubby faithful.