The Chicago Cubs are bad.
Starlin Castro, Geovany Soto, Darwin Barney and Brett Jackson form a formidable up-the-middle core around which to build, but oof, do Tom Ricketts and company have much building to do.
The team will win 75 or fewer games this season, as it did in 2010, and it might well do the same in 2012.
Help is not close at hand. The high minors have been a tale of disappointments this season, from Josh Vitters still not really figuring things out to Trey McNutt scuffling with injuries and command problems. The parent club's injury problems have intruded on the development of Casey Coleman, Tony Campana and D.J. LeMahieu with ugly results.
But in the low minors, on fields with no appreciable spectator space in remote locations like Boise and Mesa and the Dominican Republic, a blue storm is brewing.
The Cubs just completed a strong and aggressive draft that netted them at least four prospects of serious note. They did the same thing on a smaller scale with two 2010 draftees. Their reinvestment in Latin America is also beginning to bear fruit.
Suddenly, believe it or not, the Cubs have a top 10 farm system from short-season A-ball down. Here are the best 10 guys in that group.
Baez signed with the Cubs after they selected him ninth overall in the June First Year Player Draft. He's a shortstop right now, though his future probably lies elsewhere.
At 18, he already stands a tall six feet and weighs nearly 200 pounds, so the kid is going to outgrow the position at some point.
When he does, though, Baez will still have value, because his bat speed might have been the best in the draft. He may not be a 30-homer guy, but he could be the next Starlin Castro at the plate.
No, that's not Candelario. That's Candelario's dream-boat upside.
He might not have chipper Jones' power-ceiling, but as a righty-mashing switch-hitter at third base, Candelario is a potential future star. At 17, he's posted a ludicrous .337/.443/.478 line in the Dominican Summer League, with 50 walks and 23 extra-base hits in 300 plate appearances.
New York-born, he shows a certain American polish at the plate already.
He's not as fat as he looks; he's fatter than he looks. But he beats the living snot out of the baseball, and taking a few chances on players like Vogelbach is the best way to find a slugging stud first baseman.
Don't blink, because by next spring, Zych will be off and up the ladder. He's a college arm, a reliever in profile and personality, and he won't be long for the low minors.
His readiness (he could probably go trow for Class-A Advanced Daytona right now and do fine) gives him an edge over several players with more raw talent.
Golden's season in Boise has been an adventure, and a bumpy one. But he still displays the skills that make the Cubs very hopeful he can be an impact big-leaguer.
He has the speed and power to go 30/30 someday, though it would likely be a sort of Ron Gant/Sammy Sosa 30/30 with a .335 OBP. Still, the Cubs would take that kind of player in right field alongside on-base machine Brett Jackson. Talk about complementary skills.
Grabbing Maples in the 14th round was sound logic. Signing him, though, was a coup.
Maples was a Top 50 talent, even in this year's sturdy draft. A high-school arm, he throws in the mid-90s and has a very advanced breaking ball to boot. He had a commitment to play baseball and football at North Carolina, but forsook it in favor of $2.5 million of Tom Ricketts' money.
Well worth it. He may be the highest-ceiling arm in the system right now.
Again, Marco Hernandez pictures aren't just floating around, so here is Starlin Castro. Hernandez might not have that kind of offensive upside, but he has a better chance to stick at shortstop, and his .333/.375/.486 showing as an 18-year-old in the Arizona Summer League has caught a lot of eyes.
He's a smooth player with good bat speed and a better defensive profile than other shortstops in the organization. He also bats left-handed.
Amaya, an even younger 18 than Hernandez, is more in the mold of Darwin Barney than that of Castro. But an 18-year-old Darwin Barney is not a bad thing to have. A 25-year-old Barney is less exciting...
Strayed off topic a moment. Anyway, Amaya is a slappier hitter, but still has a healthy .367/.409/.500 line in the AZL this year. He shifts to second base when the time share with Hernandez at short dictates.
Dunston's $1.275 million bonus caught many in the game off-guard, but then, it was a mild surprise he even passed up Vanderbilt to sign with Chicago. Dunston is an athlete like his dad, only better.
He plays a true center field, runs as though chased and has a mess of a left-handed swing. But there are worse things than having only some swing adjustments between you and big-league success.
The Cubs' many forays into the amateur market for talent in the Pacific Rim have yet to yield major dividends, but they feel that will soon change. Jae-Hoon Ha has found some success playing the outfield at the upper levels of the minors, and Wang, a recent signee out of a Taiwanese high school, has fanned 77 batters in barely 67 innings for the Boise Hawks this season.
Overall, his 3.22 ERA and nearly 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio bode really well for Wang. The only bad omen is that he's 20, which is actually borderline old in the Northwest League.
For your daydreaming pleasure, now, five more names on which to keep an eye:
The outfielder/second baseman from Miami signed shortly after the draft and has already racked up a .482 OBP and 14 steals in Boise.
The Cubs grabbed local kid Schlecht in the ninth round, and signed him relatively soon but for more than the slot recommendations. He's 18, he bats left-handed and he has six hits and eight walks in his first 25 AZL plate appearances.
Last year's first-round pick, Simpson has been a nightmare so far, but there are mitigating factors in play and it's too early to give up on him altogether.
His .357 OBP and 19 steals in 25 tries are good numbers, even for a 20-year-old in Boise. But Chen, a left-handed hitter, must be able to play either second base or center field in order to have value for the Cubs.
He's big, but not as big as Vogelbach. He has raw power, but not as much as Vogelbach. He's from Florida, but not as much as Vogelbach. Mostly, I just want you all to know the Cubs have a minor-leaguer named Rock Shoulders.