Sunday, November 25, 2012

Chicago Cubs Top 15 Prospects

1. Javier Baez SS                                   A
As good of a player that Starlin Castro is, Javier Baez has the chance to be better. That is saying a lot considering that you would be hard pressed to find a better young shortstop than Castro currently in the majors. When drafted 9th overall in 2011, there were some questions both about Baez's ability to remain at short and his makeup. In his first professional season Baez has done a lot to shore up those concerns. Surprisingly, Baez showed great range and solid hands in the field. If he fills out a lot more he might have to move over to third, but the Cubs will likely give him every opportunity to remain there as long as possible. Despite concerns about his maturity in high school, Baez played with an aggressive but respectful approach in 2012. They were no major incidents with his behavior last season. Baez's real value lies at the plate, where he has garnered comparisons to a young Gary Sheffield. Baez generates tremendous bat speed, his hands might be quicker than any player in the minor leagues. Baez hits hard and often, and his future bat and hit tools have been graded as high as 65 and 70, respectively. The Puerto Rican native demolished Midwest League pitching, posting an impressive .383/ .596./.979 line for Peoira. Baez has above average speed paired with excellent instincts that should allow him to steal 15 or more bases annually. Baez scuffled a bit after a promotion to Daytona, however this season was a huge success on the whole, as he truly excelled in all aspects of the game. If Baez continues to develop at such a rapid pace, Castro could find himself as an expendable trade chip in the not so distant future. He would certainly be able to net Theo and the Cubs a bounty of young arms.
2. Albert Almora OF                         B+   
Almora has plus tools in all of the five major categories but it his off the charts intangibles give him a "sixth tool" and truly sets him apart. Almora is an absolute dream for coaches because of his work ethic and genuine love for the game. Almora is very polished for a player just out of high school, and while his upside may not be as high as some of the other first rounders, he has an extremely high floor. The Cubs became enamoured with Almora very early on, and reportedly he was at the very top of their draft board. Needless to say, Theo was delighted to have him when the sixth overall pick came around. Almora has solid speed, but his instincts allow it to play up both on the base pads and in the field. Presently, his fielding ability is his most impressive part of his game. Almora gets great reads of the bat, and defense is really something he takes pride in. Almora makes good contact and  his loose swing generates a lot of line drives. As he adds strength the Mater Academy alum should hit his share of home runs too.
3. Jorge Soler OF                           B+
Following in the footsteps of fellow Cuban star, Yoenis Cespedes, Soler defected from the island to play in the big leagues. Soler signed a deal lasting 9 seasons worth $30 million. Based on their investment, the Cubs hope that Soler will anchor the middle of their line up when paired with Javier Baez to form a formidable 3-4 punch for years to come. Soler certainly has the tools to do it. Soler played professionally in Cuba so he is also more seasoned than most international signees  Soler possesses light-tower power that would probably grade as 70 on the scouting scale.  His hitting ability has been debated fiercely among scouts. His approach at the plate is consistent, but he has a tendency to over swing at times. Soler has a rocket arm so he profiles well as a right fielder. However, he desperately needs to improve his routes in the outfield before he reaches the majors.
4. Ardoys Vizcaino RHP               B
Vizcaino came to Chicago as part of the deal that sent Reed Johnson and Paul Maholm to Atlanta. Vizcaino's long term role is still up in the air at this point. He certainly has the stuff to be a big league starter, but his durability, or lack thereof, combined with previous success out of the pen lead many to believe that he could develop into a high-leverage relief option. With a fastball that operates between 93-97 out of the bullpen and a plus curve, I could see Vizcaino in the future closer's role for the Cubs. Vizcaino is also developing a third plus pitch as his change has made huge strides recently. With Carlos Marmol appearing to be on the way out of the windy-city I could see this happening sooner than later. However, Vizcaino missed all of 2012 with an elbow injury, so he more than likely will open 2013 in AAA.
5. Dan Vogelbach 1B                   B
To say that Vogelbach has a "bad body" would be a dramatic understatement. He does not look like he would be able to play in an adult softball league, let alone professional baseball. He is under 6 feet, and generously listed at 260 lbs. His high school recruiting pictures are comical, but he has worked hard to shed  some of that weight since his amateur days. In the field he will likely always be a liability no matter where he plays. With all that said, there is actually a lot to like about Vogelbach. Vogelbach works extremely hard to make up for his weaknesses and is reportedly a very good teammate. At the dish he showed a very promising approach and the ability to hit for both power and average. He was red-hot for two different Cub's affiliations (AZL and Boise) where he posted a gaudy .410/.641/1.051 slashline.  At times it seems that he can literally hit the ball a mile and in 2012 he averaged about one  home run in about every 14 at at bats. Vogelbah's ability to draw a walk makes him about as complete of hitter as you can find. If he doesn't eat himself out of baseball, Vogelbach could wind up as a steal for the Cubs as a second round pick.
6. Dillon Maples P                       B-
Maples was regarded as a near impossible sign out of Pinecrest High in 2011. He was heavily recruited by North Carolina and appeared ready to head to campus (to play both football and baseball) at Chapel Hill. However, Chicago lured him to pro ball just before the deadline with a lofty $2.5 million bonus. Maples' leg was considered to be NFL quality and he is extremely athletic. He has some big time velocity, with a fastball that sits between 93-96, but he needs to work on his location. His curve is plain nasty, with 12-6 break that has the ability to be a plus-plus pitch. Maples really needs to develop a better change up if he wants to remain as a starter though. With his athleticism and stuff Maples has the ceiling of a top of the rotation starter.
7. Brett Jackson OF                     B-
The fact that Jackson comes in at #7 here is indicative of the depth of really good hitting prospect in the Cubs system. Jackson is a great athlete who has a rare speed-power combination, but he hardly makes contact enough for any of his tools to be viable. In fact the Cubs former top prospect fanned in 41% of his at bats split between AAA and the majors. Jackson has also struggled to catch up with the inside fastball so their are concerns if he will ever be able to make an impact at the big league level. On the plus side, when Jackson does hit, he hits hard. Jackson slugged at a .479 clip for Iowa in 2012. Jackson is also a threat to steal a bag as he had 27 steals last season. Unless Jackson is able to make significant adjustments, the comp I would throw on him would be a lesser-version of Drew Stubbs.
8. Pierce Johnson P                      B-
The Cubs used their first of two supplemental picks this year on Pierce Johnson, a college pitcher from Missouri State University. In recent years MSU has been a factory for producing big league arms including the likes of Brad Ziegler, Shaun Marcum and Ross Detwiler that have all passed through the program. Johnson's repertoire includes a low-to-mid 90's heater, a hard curve with 3/4-quarter break, an improving change up and an occasional cutter. Currently his curve is his best pitch, but his fastball could also become an out-pitch if he improves his location. In the past Johnson has had trouble staying on the field, but if he can remain healthy he should rise quickly through the Cubs system.
9. Christian Villanueva 3B             B-
While in the Rangers' organization Villanueva was blocked by top prospect Mike Olt and all-star Adrian Beltre and he appeared to be the odd man out. Luckily for Villanueva, was sent to Chicago in a package that brought Ryan Dempster to Texas. Villanueva did not show up in particularly great shape to camp and got off to a sluggish start in 2012. He rebounded though and posted solid numbers the rest of the way. At the hot corner, Villanueva is a plus defender with a plus arm and good range. He is athletic enough to make a transition to second base justifiable as well. Second might actually be a better home for Villanueva, as he has only average power that doesn't profile well at third. Up to this stage in his career, Villanueva is more of doubles hitter than a home run threat. Villanueva has a compact stroke that should allow him to make solid contact.
10. Jeimer Candelairo                  B-
While Candelairo leaves a lot to be desired in the field and on the bases, he has some huge offensive potential.  Candelairo was the youngest player in the North West League and he managed to hold his own by hitting .281 for Boise. The Dominican switch-hitter has serious raw power and if he taps into it he could hit well over 20 home runs in a season. In order to continue to make contact at the higher levels, Candelairo will need to make a lot of adjustments to his swing. Many evaluators claim that he needs to quiet his hand actions and shorten up his swing. There is a long time for Candelairo to figure things out though as he will only be 19 next season. Candelairo is already a big kid, but he could get even bigger in the next few seasons. I do not think he is quick enough to stay at third so in the long term his niche might end up being at first.
11. Josh Vitters 3B                     B-
Just when it appeared that Vitters was going to be an all-time draft bust, he finally started to make strides in 2011 and earned a August call up to Wrigley. However, it is even more amazing that he is still only 22 years old. The former 3rd overall pick was once regarded as a future superstar with the ability to hit .300 and hit north of 25 home runs in a season. But Vitters appeared to flame out in AA where he hit a dismal .223 in 2010. Just as we began to officially write Vitters off he posted respectable .356/.513/.869 line in AAA. Vitters will likely never develop into the all-star caliber player the Cubs hoped he would, but he could be an every-day player at the hot corner.
12. Matt Sczcar OF                  B-
While Sczcar patrolled center field in the spring for the Wildcats, he played wide receiver for Villanova in the fall. A standout-athlete in both sports, Sczcar was selected in the fifth round by the Cubs in 2010 but he probably could have gone higher in the NFL draft. He intended to return to the NFL draft combine but after a major league debut but after hitting .347 in his limited debut season, he elected to solely focus his efforts on the diamond. Speed is Sczcar's calling card as he swiped 42 bases between two levels in 2012. Sczcar profiles as a table-setter at the big-league level because to go along with his speed, Sczcar has a line-drove that should enable him to hit for a high average. Sczcar hit well in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, but he hit a wall after a promotion to AA. Sczcar has earned the reputation of a hard-worker and the Cubs are confident that he will be able to bounce back from his struggles and maybe reach the big leagues by next September.
13. Juan Carlos Paniagua RHP    C+
No one really knows how old Paniagua is, but he claims to be 22. Paniagua signed a contract for the third time in August with the Cubs for $1.5 million bonus. He had previously inked a $17, 000 deal in 2009 with the Diamondbacks and then again with the Yankees for $1.1 for the Yankees last year. Both deals were terminated by the MLB because of fraudulent paperwork. Despite all the turmoil, Paniagua is a very talented arm. Paniagua has a live fastball that operates in the 92-95 range and he can reach back for a little more if he needs it. He throws his change up with the same arm speed as his fastball so it is a very deceptive pitch for him. His slider also flashes plus potential but he needs to gain more consistency with it.
14. Duane Underwood                C+
Underwood entered the spring of his senior year with a lot of hype surrounding him and some expected him to go as high as the middle of the first round. However, after an erratic season where the Georgia native struggled to maintain velocity and command his pitches, Underwood slid to the second round. Underwood has an ideal pitchers frame to go along with great stuff. His fastball has touched 98 mph, but his velocity has a tendency to drop off quickly after the fist couple innings. Underwood also has decent feel for his change up. While Underwood may have more upside than any pitcher in the Cubs system, he needs to be more consistent in all parts of his game.
15. Marco Hernandez SS         C+
As a teenager in the Midwest League. Hernandez appeared to be completely over matched in 2012. He was sent back to short season ball where he salvaged his 2012 campaign. While Hernandez hit just .256 last year, he has very good bat control and should hit for a decent average if he improves his pitch recognition. While not particularly strong, Hernandez is athletic and has very good footwork at the short. He should be able to either player short or second in the big leagues. If he adds some size he could hit for 10-15 home runs annually.

Next Five: Logan Watkins 2B, Junior Lake OF, Arismendy Alcantara SS, Trey Martin OF, Tony Zynch RHP,

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