Since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over in the winter of the 2011, the Cubs farm system has gone through a big transformation. Only three of the organizations’s top ten prospects(according to MLB.com), were here before Theo and Jed arrived.
Here is my list of the Cubs top ten prospect and an update on how they are progressing through the minor leagues.
1. RF Jorge Soler, 21 (High-A Daytona): Although most experts would put Javier Baez at the top of the Cubs prospects list, I have Soler at the top of the ranks based on what we have seen so far this season. In his first full season in Cubs organization, Soler has had a few characters issues. First he charged an opposing team’s dugout with a bat and was suspended for five games. Then he was benched during a game after a lack of hustle.
But it appears that those issues are behind Soler. He was currently named the FSL Player of the Week. His average currently sits at .296 with a .366 OBP. Soler has shown some good power with six home runs, nine doubles, and a triple. I think Soler will be the first of the Cubs big three prospects to reach the big leagues. He has a good approach at the plate as he has drawn 14 walks this season.
Expect to see Soler promoted to AA Tennessee in June. If he continues to progress quickly through the minors, I think Soler could maybe get called up in September of 2014. But 2015 is a more realistic season for him to be a full time player at the major league level.
2. SS Javier Baez, 20 (High-A Daytona): At the beginning of the season, I would have had Baez at the top but he is still struggling with his plate approach. He had a lost of success at Peoria last year but struggled after being called up to Daytona. He still hasn’t been able to hit for average as it currently sits at .256.
Being so young, it’s certainly no time to panic or question the ceiling of Baez. However, 46 strikeouts with just seven walks in 160 at-bats is not something to ignore. He certainly has the raw talent to be a 30 homer guy in the majors but it will all depend on his adjustments to his plate approach. Pitchers are learning that they don’t have to throw strikes to him. If Baez can develop some patience and learn to wait for his pitch, his strikeout total will go down and his average will go up.
Unless he makes some quick adjustments, I wouldn’t expect to see Baez until halfway through the 2015 season. But by 2016, I think Baez will be the Cubs opening day shortstop.
3. CF Albert Almora, 19 (Extended Spring Training): Of all the Cubs prospects, I think Almora has the highest ceiling. He could easily be in the top slot on this list but we have only seen a small sample of Almora in his two months in the minors last season. A wrist injury has delayed his debut this season but he is currently rehabbing in an extended spring training. Barring an setbacks, Almora will be assigned to Mid-A Kane County in a couple of weeks.
One of the best parts of his game is his baseball instincts. Almora’s speed isn’t as high as some would think( he’s a 60 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale). But his great instincts allow him to a quick jump and balls which extends his range in center field. Despite his young age, Almora is very mature and has great leadership skills.
His instincts translate to his plate approach where he is a patient hitter and can square up pitches. This ability gives him a little more power than most would expect with a guy with average power. Once he returns from his injury, I think Almora will move quickly through the minors. There is a chance he could progress really fast and make a debut in 2015. But like Baez, 2016 in the most realistic time frame to see Almora starting everyday.
When it comes to the Cubs future, I see Almora right behind Anthony Rizzo as huge pieces of a contending team.
Update: Almora was assigned to Single A Kane County on Monday.
4. P Arodys Vizcaino, 22 (Injured): The Cubs received Vizcaino in a trade with Atlanta last season. In an a farm system that lacks pitching, Vizcaino jumped right into the cream of the crop when it comes to pitching in the organization. He is still recovering from Tommy John surgery that he had in March of 2012.
His plus fastball sits in the mid-90s and can touch 97 mph. His power curve has the chance to be a plus pitch as well. His changeup is still a bit of a work in progress, at least relative to the other two pitches, but he was improving with it before he got hurt. Whether Vizcaino will be a starter or reliever
Hopefully Arodys will begin throwing towards to latter part of the 2013 season and can start pitching for the Cubs in 2014.
5. P Pierce Johnson, 22 (Mid-A Kane County): There were a couple of guys in my opinion that could be in at number five but Johnson was most deserving. He was drafted 43rd overall last year by the Cubs. He could have been taken higher but a fore arm injury scared a few teams away from taking him. Outside of Mark Appel, Johnson had the best curveball of any pitchers in the draft.
Johnson has had a solid start to the season in Kane County. His last outing was one of his best as his pitched six shut out innings with nine strike outs. Pierce features a fastball that consistently sits around 96mph. The main area of focus for him will be his command, which has been pretty good so far this year. He is a little old for being in Kane County right now so a promotion to Daytona will be coming within the next month or two.
I think Pierce Johnson has a ceiling of a mid rotation starter. In an organization that lacks pitching, Johnson is valuable to the progress of the Cubs and their future.
Notable Mention: Brett Jackson, Matt Szczur, Junior Lake, Dan Vogelbach, Dillion Maples, and Duane Underwood.