With another frustration season for the Chicago Cubs, a lot of focus has turned to the Cubs minor league system. With the All-Star break upon us already, here is my list of the Cubs top 10 prospects.
Note: 2013 draft picks and international signings are not included in this list.
1. IF Javier Baez; 2013 has been an important year for the 20 year old shortstop and his development process. Baez struggled when he was promoted to High-A Daytona last year and continued to struggle in this April. But his improvement on plate discipline began to show in the past few months. Baez raised his average up .274 with 17 home runs and even got his name on the national stage with a four home run performance back in June. Javier was named the Cubs minor league offensive player of the month in June and was promoted to Double A Tennessee last Friday.
Baez is still a ways off being major league ready as the Cubs stay committed to not rushing any players. His adjustments in Tennessee will be very telling to when Cub fans can expect to see him at Wrigley. Baez will still have to clean up the mental errors at short and cut down on strikeouts. Unless Baez dominates Double A and moves quickly, the earliest you can even begin to think about a call up is the second half of the 2014 season.
2. OF Albert Almora; The Cubs first round draft pick of 2012 experienced a setback at the beginning of his 2013 season with a wrist injury. Injuries like the one Almora suffered can always be troublesome due to possible lingering injury problems. But when he was placed in Low-A Kane County in May, Almora put all questions to rest as he exploded onto the scene. For the first couple weeks he was able to keep his average impressively over .400. His average has come down a tad but Almora continues to mash in Kane County.
Despite a great start to the season, it is unclear whether or not Almora will be promoted to Daytona this season. As I mentioned before, the Cubs are very committed to staying patient to each player’s own personal development plan but I remain torn about a promotion this year. My gut feeling is that Almora will be sent to Daytona in August. He is one of those players that just does everything well and has potential to be a super star. I believe his natural baseball instincts and smarts will allow him to move quicker through the minors. Don’t be shocked to see Almora start the 2015 season on the North Side, but I think call up midseason in 2015 is more realistic.
3. OF Jorge Soler; The Cubs big international signing of last season, Jorge Soler has been terrific on the field so far in 2013. His season has been put on pause though due to a calf injury. The injury was very unfortunate as a promotion was possible for Soler but now the Cubs will just be happy to see him return to action in August. At the plate, Soler hit for a good average of .281 but the more telling stat was his walk and strike out comparison. In 210 at-bats, Jorge only struck out 38 times while walking 21 times.
His great plate approach could help Soler move quickly through the minor leagues. It’s likely that he will begin 2014 in Tennessee and then the Cubs will have a better judge of where he stands in terms of a call up in 2015.
4. IF Arismendy Alcantara; The most underrated Cubs prospect by a long shot. On MLB.com, Alcantara is ranked 2o in the Cubs organization. But don’t listen to them about where he stands in the organization. He started the season at short but has now been moved to second with the promotion of Baez. Arismendy could be consider one of the best players in the Cubs minor league system this year, as he is finally putting all his tools together. A batting average of .270 is backed with an on-base percentage of .345. But the most exciting park of Alcantara’s game is his rare combination of power and speed. He has 12 home runs with 21 stolen bases.
A player with his combination of speed and power is always extremely valuable. Although he flies under the radar, Alcantara is certainly a can’t miss player for the Cubs organization. At 21 years old, he is having great success for his age in Double A and could easily find a spot at second base on the Cubs roster in a few years.
5. P Arodys Vizcaino; Since the Cubs acquired Vizcaino in 2012 from Atlanta, he has been sidelined by an elbow injury. The expectation was that he would be able to pitch in game, majors or minors, in the second half of this season. However,Vizcaino suffered a setback in his rehab process and won’t be making a comeback this year.
Despite that,the talent is undeniable here and he is certainly one of the top pitching prospects in the Cubs organization. When healthy, the Cubs will have to decide if they want Vizcaino in the starting rotation or the bullpen. With elbow injuries and the bullpen continuing to be a sore spot for the Cubs, that is where he may wind up next year. He features an electric fastball backed by a good curveball but the main focus for him will be his command and control coming back from injury.
6. P Pierce Jonhson; After being the Cubs second pick in the first round of the 2012 draft, Johnson has been solid in his first full season in the minor leagues. He spent most of the season in Low-A Kane County before being called up to High-A Daytona a few weeks ago. Before his promotion, he kept his ERA consistently around thee with a WHIP of 1.29.
Jonhson was drafted after completing his junior year at Missouri State so he is expected to be pushed through the system faster than a pitcher drafted out of high school. 2015 is a realistic expectation to see him on the North Side as a middle of the rotation starter.
7. IF Junior Lake; I’ve always loved the toolset that Lake brings to the table so I have him a little higher than other rankings might have. He is a very valuable prospect due to his versatility. He has the ability to play in the infield at shortstop or third base and the a corner outfield position. Throughout his time in the minors, he has been a consistent hitter between .280 and .300. Features good speed with a very strong arm in the field.
Lake suffered an unfortunate setback after having a good start to spring training. I thought he would for sure be a call up by July this season but the injury forced him to miss a lot of time. As it stands now, Lake has a .341 OBP through 156 at-bats. Very solid numbers to Junior in his first stint at Triple A Iowa. Depending on what the Cubs do at the trade deadline, Lake could platoon in right field as a September call-up.
8. OF Matt Szczur; Another guy who goes overlooked in the Cubs system but has had a very good year at Double A Tennessee. Half way through the 2012 season, Matt was called up to Tennessee and struggled mightily. So a good response in 2013 has been a very good sign. The next test will be how he responds to the next promotion, whether it be to Iowa or Chicago, as a September call-up.
As for his numbers this year, Szczur has been a terrific leadoff man. He has his OBP up .360 which is what you want out of your leadoff hitter. To go with that, Szczur has 20 stolen bases, 19 doubles, and four triples. Speed is probably the best tool Matt features and as we saw with Tony Campana, game changing speed can earn you a shot in the big leagues.
9. IF Dan Vogelbach; One of the more popular of the Cubs prospect with his big frame and powerful swing. Vogelbach is currently in Low-A Kane County and is having a solid season. For a power hitter, Vogelbach has a good average and good OBP with a low strikeout total to go with his 14 home runs.
With Anthony Rizzo the first baseman of the current and future for the Cubs, Vogelbach will most likely be a trade piece for the Cubs in a few years. When it comes to power hitting first basemen, it’s best to let the player develop before trading him. If Vogelbach gets to Double A and can get 25-30 home runs, the Cubs will have a great trade chip. As we saw with the Reds, they were able to trade Yander Alonso in a package for Matt Latos to help make them a contender.
10. IF Christian Villanueva; Acquired from the Texas Rangers last July in the Ryan Dempster trade, Villanueva has had a nice season for Tennessee. He started off with a tough first month and half of the season but has turned it around. His .257 average doesn’t jump out at you but considering he couldn’t get above .225 for a while, it is a solid average. He has also featured some power in the first half of the season with 12 home runs. A strong finish to the first half, earned him a spot of the All-Star team for Double A.
Five players that are close to this list; Paul Blackburn, Kyle Hendricks, Brett Jackson, Jae-Hoon Ha, and Jeimer Candelario
As I mentioned before, 2013 draft picks were not included on this list. Certainly Kris Bryant would be towards the top of the list but you’ll just have to wait until the next edition of my list at the end of the 2013 season.