Top 10 Prospects: The Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs
2010 MLB Record: 75-87 (5th in the NL Central)
Minor League Power Ranking: 19th (out of 30)
Click for: Last Year’s Top 10 Prospect List

The Prospects

*This list originally included pitcher Chris Archer, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, and outfielder Brandon Guyer but all three players were sent to Tampa Bay in the Matt Garza deal.

1. Brett Jackson, OF
Acquired: 2009 1st round (U of California)
Pro Experience: 2 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: A+/AA
Opening Day Age: 22
Estimated Peak WAR: 4.5

Notes: Jackson, 22, has the potential to be an All-Star outfielder and a 20-20 threat. He split the year between high-A and double-A and hit .297/.395/.493 in 491 at-bats. His success in pro ball has been aided by high BABIPs, never posting a rate below .352. The former No. 1 draft pick used his plus bat speed to post ISO rates of .202 in high-A and .189 in double-A. Jackson strikes out a ton (27.6 K% at the senior level) but gets on base at a solid clip (11.2 BB%). He definitely had a pull-oriented approach when I saw him. Jackson showed a nice, quiet stance – there is not much going on, which means there is less of a chance for something to go wrong¬†and cause him to fall into a prolonged slump based on mechanical issues. Lowering his hands a bit might help eliminate some of the loop in his swing. Defensively, he can handle center field but may end up in left field. He’s still improving his reads and routes, and his arm strength is just average.

2. Trey McNutt, RHP
Acquired: 2009 32nd round (Shelton State CC)
Pro Experience: 2 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: A-/A+/AA
Opening Day Age: 21
Estimated Peak WAR: 4.5

Notes: A former 32nd round pick, McNutt has seen his value skyrocket in just two seasons. The right-hander played at three levels in 2010 and topped out at double-A. He spent the majority of the season in low-A ball and posted a 2.16 FIP in 59.2 innings. McNutt then had a 2.57 FIP in 41.0 innings. His strikeout rates were outstanding at both levels: 10.56 and 10.76 K/9. His control actually improved as he moved up the ladder; it was 3.62 in low-A but 1.98 BB/9 at high-A. His ground-ball rates have been average in pro ball but he’s been pretty successful at avoiding the long ball. He has an excellent pitcher’s frame and his repertoire includes a fastball that sits around 93-95 mph and a good curveball. He’s working to improve his changeup, which will help him stick in the starting rotation as he moves up the chain.

3. Chris Carpenter, RHP
Acquired: 2008 3rd round (Kent State U)
Pro Experience: 3 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: AA/AAA
Opening Day Age: 25
Estimated Peak WAR: 4.0

Notes: Already 25, Carpenter signed out of college as a senior and he missed time due to some serious injuries. He has moved fairly quickly throughout pro ball, though, and reached triple-A in 2010 despite spending most of the season in double-A. Carpenter posted a 3.45 FIP in 119.2 innings in Tennessee. His control has been inconsistent in pro ball but was solid at 3.61 BB/9. His strikeout rate was 7.52 K/9, so he does miss his fair share of bats, while also posting solid ground-ball rates (55% at double-A). He finished the season in the Arizona Fall League but struggled with his control and may have been a little tired. He has the potential to be a solid No. 3 starter but his health could push him to a bullpen role; his delivery continues to have effort to it.

4. Josh Vitters, 3B
Acquired: 2007 1st round (California HS)
Pro Experience: 4 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: A+/AA
Opening Day Age: 21
Estimated Peak WAR: 4.0

Notes: Like a number of the club’s top prospects, Vitters split the 2010 season between high-A and double-A. A .341 BABIP helped him hit .291/.350/.445 in 110 at-bats at the lower level before moving up to double-A where he hit just .223/.292/.383 in 206 at-bats. Vitters almost doubled his walk rate from ’09 to 5.7 BB% in 2010 but it’s still low. He has good power potential, thanks to solid bat speed; his ISO rate was .160 in double-A. Vitters has a pretty basic stance. He does a nice job of staying quiet and he looks well balanced. He definitely has good bat speed and can really turn on pitches but I’d raise his front (left) elbow up a bit to help level out his swing. Defensively, he has a strong arm but his range and foot work at the hot corner needs work. Vitters looks like he could/should be a really good hitter. If a coach can finally get through to him with preaching patience and pitch selection, this former No. 1 pick could really explode. As it stands, he’s one of the more frustrating prospects in baseball.

5. Jay Jackson, RHP
Acquired: 2008 9th round (Furman University)
Pro Experience: 3 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: AAA
Opening Day Age: 23
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.0

Notes: Jackson, 23, spent the entire 2010 season in triple-A with mixed results. He showed his durability by throwing 157.1 innings but he posted a 4.50 FIP and strikeout rate of just 6.81 K/9. His ground ball rate was also below average at 36%. Jackson did show significantly improved control with a walk rate of 2.75 BB/9. He has a four-pitch mix that includes an 89-93 mph fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup. Jackson has a chance to be a solid No. 3 or 4 starter but the Cubs organization gave him time in both the starting rotation and the bullpen. Despite my insistence that he has what it takes to be a MLB starter, Jackson’s delivery looks like that of a reliever. He was struggling with his release point when I saw him.

6. Rafael Dolis, RHP
Acquired: 2004 non-drafted free agent (Dominican Republic)
Pro Experience: 6 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: A+/AA
Opening Day Age: 23
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.0

Notes: A converted position player, Dolis has a big, strong pitcher’s body. He also has the repertoire to match; his fastball ranges from 91-96 mph and he also features a slider and changeup. He’s still learning to command his pitches on a consistent basis. When he’s on, though, he can dominate batters. Dolis split the 2010 season between high-A and double-A. He posted a 3.75 FIP in 71.0 innings in high-A and 3.80 in 55.1 innings at double-A. His strikeout rate improved with the promotion as it went from 6.08 to 7.32 K/9. His ground-ball rate remained dominate at both levels at 63% and 55%. If he cannot improve his command of his secondary pitches, Dolis could end up as high leverage reliever. He needs to trust his stuff more and he often slows his pace down significantly with runners on base.

7. Hayden Simpson, RHP
Acquired: 2010 1st round (Southern Arkansas U)
Pro Experience: None
2010 MiLB Level: NA
Opening Day Age: 21
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.5

Notes: Chicago likes to beat to the sound of their own drum when it comes to the amateur draft. Simpson was not a consensus first-round pick but the Cubs did not hesitate to nab him with the 16th overall selection. He signed too late to pitch during the regular season but should open the 2011 season in high-A ball. His four-pitch repertoire includes an 89-93 mph fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup. He does vary his release point with his various pitches but has a high-three-quarter arm slot. He has a very quick arm and a long stride. I have a little concern over his ability to go deep into games as he appears to put a lot into every pitch. At this point, Simpson looks like a potential No. 3 starter but the organization believes his ceiling is even higher than that. I’ll hold off getting that excited until I see him succeed in pro ball.

8. Robinson Lopez, RHP
Acquired: 2008 non-drafted free agent (Dominican Republic)
Pro Experience: 2 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: A-
Opening Day Age: 20
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.0

Notes: Lopez was acquired from the Atlanta Braves for veteran first baseman Derrek Lee. Lopez is still trying to find his niche in pro ball and has spent time moving between the bullpen and the starting rotation. With the Braves in 2010, he made 16 starts and eight relief appearances. He pitched in four more games (including two starts) with the Cubs organization. Lopez posted a 4.04 FIP with his original organization but struggled after the trade. Despite solid velocity on his heater, the right-hander doesn’t strike out as many batters as you might think (6.80 K/9) mainly because he struggles to command his pitches. Lopez sometimes looks like he’s slinging the ball and doesn’t have the smoothest delivery. I can understand why he has command and control issues. He has good stuff but he has the look of a pitcher that hasn’t been on the mound all that long; from a mechanical standpoint, he’s definitely raw. He also doesn’t always follow through on his delivery, which could lead to injury.

9. Reggie Golden, OF
Acquired: 2010 2nd round (Alabama HS)
Pro Experience: 1 season
2010 MiLB Level: Rookie
Opening Day Age: 19
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.0

Notes: After signing as a second round draft pick, Golden appeared in just four Rookie League games. He’s a raw player but was considered to be the top draft-eligible player in Alabama, according to Baseball America. At the plate, Golden’s set up looks like that of a power hitter. He has an upright stance but isn’t really all that well balanced. It looks like he has a pull oriented approach. For him to reach his potential, I’d have him spread out a bit more at the plate and get him to spray the ball more. He has a quick bat and good wrists so, with more experience, he should generate natural power without having to sell out for it. Golden also has good speed but it’s expected to diminish as he fills out. Defensively, he has a strong arm and is considered a good fit for right field.

10. Austin Reed, RHP
Acquired: 2010 12th round (California HS)
Pro Experience: 1 season
2010 MiLB Level: Rookie
Opening Day Age: 19
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.0

Notes: Reed is slowly gaining recognition as a steal in the 12th round. His brother (Addison Reed) pitches in the White Sox organization but the younger Reed has really impressed the Cubs organization with his work in pro ball. The right-hander has a basic repertoire: 87-91 mph fastball, a curveball and a changeup, but he’s shown improved command as the organization has helped him sharpen his mechanics. He throws with a low-three-quarter, almost side-arm, slot. Reed has struggles with his release point and, in his debut, was using a variety of release points. He’ll likely have to improve his changeup significantly to combat good left-handed hitters. With his delivery, Reed ends up in a good fielding position and gets off the mound well. In his rookie level debut, he posted a 2.52 FIP in 33.2 innings, while showing solid control (2.94 BB/9) and missing his fair share of bats (9.09 K/9).



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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects, depth charts and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.


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Jack LeLaine
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Jack LeLaine

That trade hurt us, but I would so much rather see LeMaheui on this list over Golden.

I don’t get the hype on Robinson Lopez.

Man I can’t wait until the draft plus some IFAs adds some talent to this system this year. That trade hurt the system, even though I’m still a fan of getting Garza.

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