With the first game of the spring, a five-inning intra-squad match, on Thursday, it is time to release the second annual WSD Top 13 Prospects List, coupled with a review of the top of last year’s list and a look at a few of the league Top 100 lists that have been released.
Quick Look Back – 2012 Top Three Prospects
#1 – Center Fielder – Brett Jackson – Jackson came into the season as a young, athletic outfielder with renowned plate discipline, and happened to be among the top prospects in the game. Unfortunately, despite the ability to take a walk, Jackson fell off significantly this year and struggled mightily with strikeouts. Jackson has developed a new swing for this season, but only time will tell if this new development will work out for him better than the one that got him all the way to the majors.
#2 – First Baseman – Anthony Rizzo – Rizzo came into the season having lost just a little bit of stock following a dismal performance in the majors with San Diego. However, the young slugger dominated his way through the Pacific Coast League again and claimed a starting spot in the Cubs’ lineup by the end of June, a status he wouldn’t relinquish.
#3 – Shortstop – Javier Baez – Baez was surprisingly sent to extended spring training instead of full-season ball to start the season, causing concern among several fans, but when he did get to A-level Peoria, he absolutely dominated and was named the top prospect in the Midwest League by Baseball America. Now ranked as one of the best prospects in baseball, Baez looks to keep up the pace against Advanced-A pitching after an impressive, but brief, performance in the Arizona Fall League.
Cubs Ranked in 2013 Top 100 Lists
Baseball Prospectus – Yet to be released, though they surprisingly ranked Albert Almora #1 in the Cubs’ system, ahead of Javier Baez.
ESPN (Keith Law) – Javier Baez (#31), Albert Almora (#33), Jorge Soler (#42), Arodys Vizcaino (#64), Jeimer Candelario (#106), ranked Cubs as 5th best farm system in baseball.
Former Prospectus Writer, Bradley Ankrom – Javier Baez (#17), Albert Almora (#21), Jorge Soler (#29), Dan Vogelbach (#87), Arodys Vizcaino (#88), Jeimer Candelario (#99).
MinorLeagueBall (John Sickels) – Yet to be released, ranked Cubs as 11th best farm system in baseball.
And Now, The 2013 WSD Top 13 Prospects List
Right-handed Pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa was excluded due to age and experience in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. If he were to be included, he would be ranked at #12 ahead of Arismendy Alcantara and Josh Vitters.
#1 – Shortstop – Javier Baez. Highest 2012 Level: Advanced-A Daytona Cubs. Age: 20.
The first-round pick for the Cubs in 2011, Javier Baez was highly touted right from the get-go, being ranked as the 61st best prospect in baseball in 2012, after playing only six professional games. After a stint in extended spring training, Baez crushed A-level Midwest League pitching to the tune of a .333/.383/.596 line over fifty-seven games in which he hit twelve homers, earning himself the honor of being named the top prospect in the entire Midwest League. Baez would struggle in his brief promotion to the Advanced-A Daytona Cubs, due in part to weather-induced sporadic playing time. While he is in major league camp, Baez will almost certainly begin the season back in Daytona. Baez will primarily get time at shortstop this season, but has made it clear in recent comments that he’s willing to move to second base or third base if it means getting to the majors. The willingness to change positions could prove to be very important with two-time all-star Starlin Castro locked in at the position for the forseeable future. ETA: 2014
#2 – Outfielder – Jorge Soler. Highest 2012 Level: A-level Peoria Chiefs. Age: 20.
Perhaps the largest splash yet made by the Epstein-Hoyer regime was the signing of outfielder Jorge Soler after his defection from Cuba. Soler was reported to have been signed – illegally – as early as February, before really signing with the team officially in June to a nine-year major league contract, the longest in team history. Having not faced live pitching in almost two years, Soler began the season with the Cubs’ Arizona League team, posting a mediocre line of .241/.328/.389 as he adjusted to life in the United States. It is important to note the small sample size of that stat-line – just fourteen games – as he put up much more impressive numbers in twenty games (again a small sample size) with Peoria. After the call-up to the Chiefs, Soler went on to hit .338/.398/.513, good enough for a great OPS of .910, though still shy of Baez’s even more mark. Soler could find himself starting in Daytona in 2013, or could start the year with the Cubs new A-level affiliate, the Kane County Cougars. ETA: Late 2014.
#3 – Outfielder – Albert Almora. Highest 2012 Level: Short-season A Boise Hawks. Age: 18.
The Cubs took Almora in the first round of the 2012 draft, impressed by his polish, instincts, and athleticism. Almora had been known for his ability to draw a walk, yet he walked just twice in thirty-three games combined between Mesa and Boise. Almora’s make-up and high floor cause many to favor him over the aforementioned Jorge Soler (who has a much higher ceiling but comes with significantly more risk), yet he is not exceptional in any specific tool – which are becoming more and more redundant in the game of baseball. In his final season with Mater Academy in Hialeah Gardens, Florida, Almora batted .603 with six home runs, twenty-seven steals, and thirty-four RBIs. Almora is slated to begin 2013 for the A-level Kane County Cougars. ETA: 2015.