Chicago Cubs' Top 10 Prospects for 2015

Mike Rosenbaum@GoldenSombreroMLB Prospects Lead WriterJanuary 14, 2015

Chicago Cubs' Top 10 Prospects for 2015

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Chicago Cubs graduated former top prospects Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara to the major leagues last season, but the organization still houses one of the best collections of young hitters in the game.

    Kris Bryant continued to blow past all reasonable expectations with his performance at the Double- and Triple-A levels, as the 23-year-old slugger paced the minor leagues with 43 home runs and ranked among the league leaders in every other important category.

    The Cubs added another impressive bat in Kyle Schwarber, whom they selected with the No. 4 overall pick in last year’s draft, and he rewarded the organization by reaching High-A Daytona in his professional debut. Furthermore, drafting Schwarber and signing him to an underslot bonus allowed the team to grab several promising arms in later rounds, including Jake Stinnett, Carson Sands, Justin Steele and Dylan Cease.

    The Cubs also received a droolworthy prospect package from the A’s in the Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel trades, getting a top-10 overall prospect in shortstop Addison Russell as well as 2013 first-rounder Billy McKinney. Apparently, the fresh start was what the doctor ordered for Russell, as the 20-year-old put up monster numbers at Double-A Tennessee over the second half of the season. And while none of the team’s pitching prospects truly dominated last year, right-handers C.J. Edwards, Pierce Johnson and Duane Underwood each made strides developmentally and seem poised for big things next season.

    Here are the Chicago Cubs' top 10 prospects for the 2015 season. 

How They're Ranked

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    PAUL BEATY/Associated Press

    Position Players

    • Body type/athleticism
    • Speed
    • Hitting mechanics, bat speed
    • Injury history
    • Statistical trends
    • Age vs. level: How well a player fared at a certain level relative to his age and that of the competition
    • Tools: Number of projectable tools a player possesses in relation to his position, age and competition; present vs. future tool grades
    • Hit tool: In the evolution of the prospect landscape, the hit tool is the most importantbut also the hardest to project.
    • League and park factors
    • On-base skills: Approach; strike-zone management; pitch recognition
    • Makeup/character
    • Defensive tools and skill sets; present vs. projected position
    • Place on organization's depth chart
    • Positional scarcity; up-the-middle potential 

    Pitchers

    • Body type/athleticism/strength
    • Mechanics: Delivery; arm speed; release point
    • Age vs. highest level of experience
    • Injury history (durability)
    • Statistical trends
    • Arsenal quality and depth
    • Pitch projections: Present vs. future grades
    • Hitability: How tough is he to barrel? Does he keep the ball on the ground/in the park?
    • Control/command: Is he usually around the zone? Does he effectively command his stuff? How much development/refinement is needed?
    • Pitchability: Feel (and confidence) for using and sequencing entire arsenal.
    • Approach: Does he fearlessly attack and challenge opposing hitters?  
    • Projection: Does he project as a starter? If so, what type? Or is he likely to be relegated to the bullpen? If so, why?

    Resources

Close Calls

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    Duane Underwood, RHP

    Carson Sands, LHP

    Eloy Jimenez, OF

10. Dan Vogelbach, 1B

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    Position: 1B

    DOB: 12/17/1992 (Age: 22)

    Height/Weight: 6’0”, 250 lbs.

    Bats/Throws: L/R

    Drafted: Second round, 2011 (Bishop Verot HS, Florida)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 9

    ETA: 2016

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5565254035

    Scouting Report

    Vogelbach had a strong showing at the plate last season in the notoriously pitcher-friendly Florida State League, as the 22-year-old masher collected 45 extra-base hits (16 home runs) while reaching base at a .357 clip.

    As a 6’0”, 250-pound prospect at first base, Vogelbach’s profile is and will always be about the bat. The left-handed hitter possesses plus-plus raw power and a feel for utilizing it in games, while his compact swing and advanced feel for the strike zone suggests the potential for a solid-average hit tool.

    However, Vogelbach’s enormous plate coverage and feel for using the whole field also can make him vulnerable to velocity on the inner half. So even though he has the bat speed and strength to turn on such pitches, his desire to always extend toward the ball prevents him from consistently barreling fastballs on his hands, instead producing pop-ups and fly balls to the left side.

    Ceiling (Overall Future Potential [OFP]): 60 (First-division regular) – High risk

9. Gleyber Torres, SS

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    Position: SS

    DOB: 12/13/1996 (Age: 18)

    Height/Weight: 6’1”, 175 lbs.

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Signed: 2013 (Venezuela)

    Last Year’s Ranking: NR

    ETA: 2019

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    6040506055

    Scouting Report

    Signed by the Cubs for $1.7 million during the summer of 2013, Torres opened eyes last season in his professional debut by batting .297/.386/.440 in 50 games between the Rookie-level Arizona League and short-season Boise.

    The 18-year-old Venezuela native has room to grow into his 6’1”, 180-pound frame, but he’s unlikely to develop anything greater than average power. Torres’ hit tool could be close to above average at maturity, thanks in part to his quick bat and strong contact skills.

    Torres’ average speed gives him similar range at shortstop, but his arm and glove are both above-average tools that, when combined with his overall feel for the game, could give him a chance to remain at the position.

    Ceiling (OFP): 60 (First-division player) – Extreme risk

8. Pierce Johnson, RHP

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 05/10/1991 (Age: 23)

    Height/Weight: 6’3”, 170 lbs.

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: First round, 2012 (Missouri State)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 7

    ETA: 2016

    2014 Stats

    Future Pitch Grades:

    FastballCutterCurveballChangeupControl
    6055655050

    Scouting Report

    Johnson struggled at Double-A Tennessee through the first two months of the season before landing on the disabled list. However, the 23-year-old came off the shelf and dominated over his final 12 starts, posting a 1.80 ERA with 42 hits allowed and 69 strikeouts in 65 innings.

    The right-hander’s low-90s fastball is difficult to square up—he can reach back for a few extra ticks as needed—as he throws the pitch on a solid downward plane with some late life and sinking action to the arm side, even adding some cutting action at times.

    Johnson’s curveball is his best secondary offering, flashing plus in the low 80s with a good shape and late bite. He also mixes in a changeup that plays well off of his fastball and cutter, though it’s still his least advanced offering and requires refinement.

    Ceiling (OFP): 55 (no. 3 or 4 starter) – Medium risk

7. Billy McKinney, OF

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    Position: OF

    DOB: 08/23/1994 (Age: 20)

    Height/Weight: 6’1”, 195 lbs.

    Bats/Throws: L/L

    Drafted: First round, 2013 by A’s (Plano West HS, Texas)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 3 (A's)

    ETA: 2017

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    6050504550

    Scouting Report

    McKinney struggled last season in his introduction to the California League, but the 2013 first-rounder’s bat came alive in early July after he was traded to the Cubs along with Addison Russell.

    A 6’1”, 195-pound left-handed batter, McKinney has a natural feel for hitting with good bat-to-ball skills and a very quiet, line-drive approach. The 20-year-old’s advanced pitch recognition allows him to work deep counts and utilize the entire field. But even though McKinney consistently pounds the gaps and collects his share of doubles and triples, he’s likely to offer only average over-the-fence pop at maturity.

    McKinney’s fringy arm strength and average speed might limit him to left field, but the bat should give him the chance to become a solid-average regular at the position.

    Ceiling (OFP): 55 (solid-average regular) – Medium risk

6. C.J. Edwards, RHP

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 09/03/1991 (Age: 23)

    Height/Weight: 6’2”, 155 lbs.

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: 48th round, 2011 by Rangers (Mid-Carolina HS, South Carolina)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 5

    ETA: 2016

    2014 Stats

    Future Pitch Grades:

    FastballCurveballChangeupControl
    60605050

    Scouting Report

    Edwards missed three months of the minor league season with a shoulder strain, but the 23-year-old looked sharp in his return to Double-A Tennessee in August and then built on it with an impressive Arizona Fall League campaign.

    A 6’2”, 155-pound right-hander with a lightning-quick arm, Edwards works in the 91-95 mph range with his fastball, imparting some natural cutting action that makes it difficult to barrel, let alone lift out of the park.

    Edwards’ go-to secondary offering is a curveball, which flashes plus potential with tight spin and depth in the mid-70s. And while his changeup is technically his weakest option, his overall feel for the pitch improved last season, as he’ll turn it over to create a late fading action.

    Ceiling (OFP): 55 (No. 3 or 4 stater) – Medium risk

5. Albert Almora, OF

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    Position: OF

    DOB: 04/16/1994 (Age: 20)

    Height/Weight: 6’2”, 180 lbs.

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: First round, 2011 (Mater Academy, Florida)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 3

    ETA: 2016

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    6050506065

    Scouting Report

    Almora overcame a sluggish first half at High-A Daytona to bat .283/.306/.406 in 89 games, but the 20-year-old then struggled in his first taste of Double-A following a mid-July promotion.

    The sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft, Almora is a premium athlete with a frame that leaves room for projection and the potential for five average-or-better tools at maturity. The right-handed hitter has a compact swing with preternatural barrel control and a knack for consistently staying inside the ball. His power should develop as he matures, with the potential to be average by the time he reaches the major leagues.

    Defensively, Almora has only average speed but demonstrates excellent instincts in center field through his reads, jumps and positioning. In general, Almora is an incredibly well-rounded player for his age with sneaky All-Star potential, although I’m curious to see how his aggressive approach translates next season back in Double-A.

    Ceiling (OFP): 60 (first-division player) – Medium risk

4. Kyle Schwarber, C/OF

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    Position: C/OF

    DOB: 03/05/1993 (Age: 21)

    Height/Weight: 6’0”, 235 lbs.

    Bats/Throws: L/R

    Drafted: First round, 2014 (Indiana)

    Last Year’s Ranking: NA

    ETA: 2016

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    6065404540

    Scouting Report

    Kyle Schwarber launched an assault on minor league pitching after signing with the Cubs (No. 4 overall pick), making stops at the short season and Low-A levels before reaching High-A Daytona, where he batted .302/.393/.560 with 20 extra-base hits (10 home runs) in 44 games.

    While Schwarber’s bat looks as though it might be ready sooner rather than later, as he projects as a 60 hitter with potential 65 power. However, it will be his development on the other side of the ball that determines when he arrives in the major leagues.

    Schwarber appeared in only 20 games behind the plate compared to 36 in left field during his professional debut, but he worked hard on refining his defensive chops during the fall instructional league and convinced the Cubs he’s ready to catch on a near-everyday basis next season, which he’ll likely begin in Double-A.

    Ceiling (OFP): 60 (first-division player) – Medium risk

3. Jorge Soler, OF

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    Position: OF

    DOB: 02/25/1992 (Age: 22)

    Height/Weight: 6’4”, 215 lbs.

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Signed: 2012 (Cuba)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 4

    ETA: Debuted in 2014

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5065456550

    Scouting Report

    Soler was sidelined with a hamstring injury for a majority of the first half, but the 22-year-old Cuban outfielder quickly made up for the lost time after returning and finished the season with an eye-opening performance in the major leagues.

    At 6’4”, 215 pounds, Soler is a physically strong right-handed hitter with a mature frame that requires little projection. With blinding bat speed and an explosive swing, the ball absolutely jumps off Soler’s bat, and his extension and lift after contact generates exceptional backspin carry and suggests the potential for 25-plus home runs in his prime.

    Despite his muscular build, Soler is an average runner who moves well on both sides of the ball. He won’t steal many bases, but he can really move at full stride. In addition to Soler’s aforementioned speed, he has the ideal profile of a big league right fielder with average range and plus arm strength. He’s going to lose a step or two with physical development, but it’s hard to see him ever moving off the position.

    Soler claimed the Cubs’ right field gig following his call-up last summer, as the 22-year-old showcased all five tools and an impressive overall feel for the game. If he comes close to reaching his offensive ceiling, Soler should offer All-Star-caliber production in his prime seasons, batting .270-plus with roughly 25 home runs and double-digit stolen bases from the heart of the Cubs’ lineup.

    Ceiling (OFP): 65 (All-Star) – Low risk

2. Addison Russell, SS

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    Position: SS

    DOB: 01/23/1994 (Age: 20)

    Height/Weight: 6’0”, 195 lbs.

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: First round, 2012 (Pace HS, Florida)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 1 (A's)

    ETA: 2015

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    6060556055

    Scouting Report

    Russell missed most of the first half with a hamstring injury, returning shortly before he was dealt to the Cubs in early July. The 20-year-old shortstop seemed to enjoy the change of scenery, as he batted .294/.332/.536 with 12 home runs, 11 doubles and 36 RBI in 50 games at Double-A Tennessee.

    Russell makes lots of hard contact thanks to his plus bat speed and innate bat-to-ball skills, and he’s really started driving the ball to all fields over the last year. His swing will get long at times, but Russell gets through the barrel through the zone so quickly that there shouldn’t be a lot of swing-and-miss, and his mature approach and pitch recognition will lead to plenty of walks and high on-base percentages during his career.

    The right-handed hitter’s combination of plus bat speed and a deep point of contact should generate upwards of 20 home runs at the highest level, possibly more depending on his physical development in the coming years. And given his ability to use the entire field, Russell should always tally a high number of doubles and triples.

    On the basepaths, Russell is an above-average runner with the athleticism and instincts to steal 15-20 bags annually but was significantly less aggressive this season after his injury.

    Defensively, Russell still has room to improve, though he already possesses incredible range to both sides and is especially slick when charging the ball. His plus arm strength allows him to make throws from virtually anywhere on the infield, but there also are times when he doesn't set himself properly and uncorks inaccurate throws.

    Russell has the makings of an All-Star-caliber shortstop capable of hitting in the middle of a lineup, and he should be ready at some point next season to make his debut in the major leagues. First, however, the Cubs first will have to determine where he’ll play given their impressive depth up the middle.

    Ceiling (OFP): 70 (All-Star) – Low risk

1. Kris Bryant, 3B

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    Position: 3B

    DOB: 01/04/1992 (Age: 23)

    Height/Weight: 6’5”, 215 lbs.

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: First round, 2013 (San Diego)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 2

    ETA: 2015

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5575456050

    Scouting Report

    Kris Bryant first full professional season was one for the ages, as the 23-year-old slugger posted up monster numbers between Double- and Triple-A but was denied a call-up in September.

    Specifically, Bryant led the minor leagues (qualified hitters only) in home runs (43), slugging percentage (.661), OPS (1.098) and wOBA (.472). He also ranked second in runs (118) and fourth in RBI (110), and he batted .325 with a .438 on-base percentage in 594 plate appearances.

    Though known for his robust, light-tower power to all fields, Bryant actually has a good feel for hitting, with a line-to-line approach, good pitch recognition and excellent plate coverage. His lack of stride and purely rotational swing will always result in some swing-and-miss, but he’s still a smart enough hitter and controls the zone well enough to be a .270-plus hitter in the major leagues.

    At 6’5”, 215 pounds, Bryant possesses effortless 80-grade raw power that has translated in a big way at each professional stop. The right-handed hitter does an excellent job of using his height and size to his advantage, achieving huge extension through the ball to generate towering drives with backspin carry to all fields. At maturity, it’s easy to see him leading the league with 35-plus home runs in a given season.

    Bryant is an impressive athlete who moves well on the base paths, with the speed to move up more than one base at a time and put some pressure on opposing defenses. He’s not a pure base stealer, but Bryant’s average speed and ability to pick his spots should lead to numerous seasons with 10-plus stolen bases.

    Defensively, Bryant moves well for his size, showing range and agility at the hot corner that’s a tick above average. His plus arm strength is a clean fit at the position and could allow him to move to a corner outfield position down the road if necessary.

    No hitter in the minor leagues can match Bryant’s power ceiling, as he projects as a perennial 35-plus home run threat capable of hitting for some average while holding down a corner position.

    Ceiling (OFP): 70 (All-Star) – Low risk

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