The system is strong although it’s somewhat top heavy. The Top 10 list starts to taper offer after No. 8 but I’d consider the overall depth to be above average. The Cubs feature one of the most enviable one-through-four group of prospects in the game.
The Year in Review: Baez displayed unreal power in 2013 with 37 combined home runs between High-A and Double-A. On top of that, he stole 20 bases in 24 attempts. On the down side, he walked just 40 times with 147 strikeouts in 130 games.
The Scouting Report: As you might guess, Baez’s calling card is his plus power generated by lightning quick bat speed. He doesn’t handle breaking balls overly well, though, and he’s too aggressive. He needs to learn to work the count better if he’s going to consistently hit for average as a big leaguer. Despite his 20 steals, Baez is just an average base runner. Defensively, the Puerto Rico native has a plus arm with solid range but he makes youthful mistakes and rushes too much.
The Year Ahead: Baez, 21, should open the 2014 season in Triple-A unless he falls flat on his face in spring training. He could really make things interesting in the second half of the year in Chicago, especially if fellow middle infield prospect Arismendy Alcantara is also ready for the The Show.
The Career Outlook: The young infielder has all the ingredients necessary to be an all-star for the Cubs, regardless of where he ends up — shortstop, third base or even the outfield.
The Year in Review: Bryant was selected second overall in the 2013 draft (and I personally considered him the top talent). He was a busy man after turning pro and played at three levels during the regular season, topping out in High-A ball. In total, he hit .339 with nine home runs and a 1.078 OPS in 36 games. He also appeared in the Arizona Fall League where he hit .364 with another six homers in 20 games.
The Scouting Report: The Las Vegas native has plus power potential and he showed it off during his brief pro debut in 2013. He’ll have to keep his strikeouts at bay if he’s going to continue to hit for a high average as a pro but he has good plate coverage and improving pitch recognition. Bryant’s defence at third base needs more work than his offence, although he should develop into an average third baseman, at worst. He has a strong arm, decent range and improving actions.
The Year Ahead: If Bryant has a strong spring, that along with his outstanding AFL performance, could convince the Cubs to let him open the 2014 season in Double-A. Even if he starts back in High-A ball, though, Bryant should be at Double-A by June. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that the third baseman could reach the Majors by year’s end.
The Career Outlook: Like Baez, Bryant projects to develop into a power-hitting, all-star-caliber infielder on the left side of the infield.
The Year in Review: Almora’s season was shortened by injury and he appeared in just 61 games during the regular season. He still managed to post an .842 OPS with a batting average of more than .300. He made up for lost development time with a trip to the Arizona Fall League where he once again hit more than .300 and showed a solid approach at the plate while playing stellar defence.
The Scouting Report: The sixth overall selection from the 2012 draft, Almora’s best tool is his center-field defence based on outstanding range, instincts and plus arm strength. At the plate, he has a chance to hit for a high average because he uses the whole field and makes outstanding contact. Almora’s power potential is average at best. He’s not a base stealing threat but is an average runner.
The Year Ahead: A healthy Almora should move up to High-A ball. The key is for him to stay healthy for a full season but, if he continues to hit well, he might taste some Double-A action before the end of the season.
The Career Outlook: Almora could probably get to the Majors on the quality of his outfield glove alone but he’s also turning into a solid hitter, which could make him a future all-star.
The Year in Review: Soler had an eventful year with two separate suspensions and a broken leg. He showed flashes of brilliance with the bat in 2013 but needs to be more consistent. After playing just 55 games during the regular season, the Cuba native appeared in another 20 games in the Arizona Fall League with pedestrian results.
The Scouting Report: Signed out of Cuba the same year as Yasiel Puig, Soler’s game needs further refinement but he could be well worth the wait. The real key for the young outfielder is to keep his head in the game and remain focused. He has plus power potential and makes good contact but he gets too aggressive at times and needs to further refine his pitch recognition. Defensively, he has a plus arm and average skills for right field.
The Year Ahead: Soler could return to High-A ball to get his feet wet in 2014 but expect him to spend the bulk of the year in Double-A, if healthy. The new-found millionaire is still young and learning a new culture so he’s expected to suffer through some rough patches.
The Career Outlook: It sounds like a broken record but, like the three players ahead of him, Soler has all-star potential if he can add the necessary polish and maturity.
The Year in Review: Alcantara’s value continued to climb in 2013 thanks to an excellent season in Double-A that saw him steal more than 30 bases with 55 extra base hits and an OPS above .800. He also flashed above-average defensive skills.
The Scouting Report: The Cubs have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to young infielders and Alcantara, 22, appears determined to make the front office face some tough decisions. He’s just 5-10 but he generates good pop thanks to solid bat speed and strong wrists/forearms. The switch-hitter strikes out a lot but offsets that with a solid walk rate. He has above-average speed and could steal 20-30 bases in a big league season. Defensively, he could handle shortstop in the Majors thanks to good range and a plus arm but he could perhaps be a plus-plus defender at second base.
The Year Ahead: Alcantara will likely open the 2014 season in Triple-A and is currently stuck behind Starlin Castro and Javier Baez at shortstop. Both third base and second base project to be manned by fringe-average regulars so one or both could provide an opportunity for the young Dominican during the upcoming year.
The Career Outlook: He has a chance to be a strong contributor on both offence and defence and Alcantara could eventually help send the under-performing Castro packing.
The Year in Review: The 43rd overall pick in the 2012 draft, Johnson enjoyed his first full season in pro ball by splitting the year between both A-ball levels. In total, he struck out 124 batters in 118.1 innings and allowed just five balls to leave the yard.
The Scouting Report: The 22-year-old hurler has a four-pitch repertoire that includes a low-90s fastball that can touch the mid-90s, solid curveball, slider and developing changeup. His control is solid but he still needs to polish his command — especially with the inside fastball to left-handed hitters. His delivery is solid and he has a good pitcher’s frame so he be able to provide a healthy number of innings.
The Year Ahead: After pitching just 48.2 innings in High-A ball in 2013, Johnson may head back to that level to open the ’14 season. He should, though, spend the majority of the season pitching in Double-A ball. Expect him to see big league action in 2015.
The Career Outlook: Johnson has the ceiling of a No. 3 starter.
The Year in Review: Edwards had an excellent season between two A-ball affiliates. His combined ERA sat at 1.86 and he allowed just 76 hits in 116.1 innings. As well, he overpowered A-ball hitters with 155 strikeouts and an above-average ground-ball rate. He allowed just one home run.
The Scouting Report: A former 48th-round draft pick of the Rangers, Edwards has made good on his opportunities in a relatively short period of time. His jaw-dropping numbers had a lot of people buzzing about him in 2013 but there are concerns around his durability thanks to a slender frame that doesn’t offer much room, if any, for projection. He has a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a promising curveball but his changeup needs further refinement. Deception in his delivery helps his stuff play up.
The Year Ahead: Edwards likely won’t need much time in High-A ball in 2014 and should spend much of the season getting challenged by more advanced Double-A hitters.
The Career Outlook: Edwards, 22, has the ceiling of a No. 3 starter if he can show enough durability to stick in the starting rotation. If not, he could become an intriguing high-leverage reliever for the Cubs.
The Year in Review: The Florida native spent his first full pro season in Low-A ball but also received a late-season promotion (17 games) to High-A ball. In total, Vogelbach slugged 17 home runs and walked 73 times compared to 89 strikeouts in 131 games.
The Scouting Report: Vogelbach, 21, has left-handed power to all fields and he could eventually hit 25+ home runs per season for the Cubs. He comes to the plate with an idea, which helps him produce strong on-base percentages and keeps the strikeouts to respectable levels. He works hard and takes pride in his defence at first base and should become an average fielder, although he’ll need to rely on positioning to compensate for a lack of range.
The Year Ahead: Vogelbach is relatively advanced for his age so he probably won’t need a full season at High-A ball in 2014. He’ll likely ascend to Double-A in the second half of the year and might be ready for a taste of big league action in 2015.
The Career Outlook: The young hitter should be ready to assume the Cubs’ starting first base gig in late 2015 or early 2016 — assuming he can wrestle the starting gig away from the enigmatic Anthony Rizzo. Vogelbach should develop into an above-average first baseman albeit it with a shortened prime due to his body type.
The Year in Review: Vizcaino missed a second straight full season while dealing with further elbow injuries. The health issues and missed development time certainly cast doubt over his future but the talent is undeniable.
The Scouting Report: Vizcaino, 23, has a mid-to-upper-90s fastball with a potentially-plus curveball. His changeup was below average prior to the injury and the missed time may have dealt a deathblow to the offering. A shift to the bullpen may be in the cards for this former starter, which would help accelerate his time table and also solve the durability issues.
The Year Ahead: All signs point to a healthy Vizcaino being ready to pitch competitively in April. How he looks in the spring, though, will likely determine if he opens the year in full-season ball or is held back for additional extended spring training. If he can avoid the DL, Vizcaino may finally suit up for the big league Cubs in 2014.
The Career Outlook: Again, it all comes down to health. If he can remain relatively healthy, Vizcaino could become a dominating, high-leverage reliever on the basis of his power fastball and curveball.
The Year in Review: Obtained in the 2012 Ryan Dempster deal with Texas, Hendricks’ numbers during his first full season with the Cubs were eye-popping at both the Double-A and Triple-A levels. In total, he produced a 2.00 ERA in 166.1 innings and opposing hitters struggled to hit the ball into the air against him.
The Scouting Report: Hendricks succeeds by creating a good downward plane on his offerings, which creates well-above-average ground-ball rates. That helps to compensate for the low strikeout rates that are due to the the lack of a consistent out-pitch. He possesses above-average control for his age and solid command.
The Year Ahead: The Dartmouth alum should open the 2013 season in Triple-A but could be one of the first young hurlers promoted from the minors.
The Career Outlook: Hendricks is a cerebral pitcher that projects to develop into an innings-eating No. 4 starter but he could pitch at the level of a No. 3 for a few seasons.
The Next Five:
11. Jeimer Candelario, 3B: I’m not as big on Candelario as some and see a potentially average, but raw, third baseman with a questionable body and questionable effort on the field. That causes me concern over just how likely he is to realize his full potential. On the plus side, he flashes above-average raw power from both sides of the plate and does a nice job of working the count and keeping his strikeouts contained.
12. Christian Villanueva, 3B: Villanueva’s value is significantly tied to his defensive skills, which are well-above-average for the hot corner. At the plate, though, his approach leaves something to be desired due to his aggressive nature — which led to low walk rates and high strikeout rates. Villanueva showed some pop in 2013 with 41 doubles and 19 home runs at the Double-A level.
13. Duane Underwood, RHP: A 2012 second round draft pick, Underwood spend a second season in short-season ball in 2013 while working on his secondary offerings. He throws in the low 90s and generates an above-average number of ground balls but he needs to polish his other offerings if he’s going to see his strikeout rate jump to more reasonable levels.
14. Eloy Jimenez, OF: The 17-year-old top 2013 international signee is already 6-4 and 200 lbs. He’s understandably raw and needs to shorten his stroke to produce a more consistent attack at the plate. He has raw power potential but his swing is currently gear more towards the line drive. Defensively, he should settle in to right field thanks to his strong arm.
15. Neil Ramirez, RHP: Dealt to the Cubs from the Rangers in 2013, Ramirez has spent his pro career in the starting rotation but should settle into the Majors as a reliever. He lacks a reliable third offering to go with his low-to-mid-90s fastball and above-average curveball. The right-hander has dealt with shoulder injuries and health concerns almost prevented him from being included in last year’s trade.
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