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November 24, 2011

Future Shock

Cubs Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

Previous Rankings: 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008

System in 20 Words or Less: It’s not a bad system by any measurement, but it has far more depth than star power.

Five-Star Prospects
1. Brett Jackson, OF
Four-Star Prospects
2. Javier Baez, SS
Three-Star Prospects
3. Welington Castillo, C
4. Dillon Maples, RHP
5. Matt Szczur, OF
6. Josh Vitters, 3B
7. Jeimer Candelario, 3B
8. Trey McNutt, RHP
9. Marco Hernandez, SS
Two-Star Prospects
10. Junior Lake, SS/3B
11. Rafael Dolis, RHP

Nine More:
12. Dan Vogelbach, 1B: This second-round pick is a big, unathletic, bat-only type, but his power is very real.
13. Jae-Hoon Ha, OF: He lacks the power for a corner, but he’s not quite a center fielder, so he’s a bit of a tweener.
14. Chris Carpenter, RHP: He still has outstanding velocity, but his command troubles and injury history are red flags.
15. Tony Zych, RHP: Zych, a fourth-round pick, has late-inning potential with mid- to upper-90s heat, but he needs to improve his breaking ball.
16. Ryan Flaherty, UT: He hit 19 home runs in 2011, but he doesn't have a defensive home and has to cheat for power.
17. DJ Lemahieu, INF: He’s similar to Flaherty, but without the power.
18. Zeke DeVoss, OF: He’s a speedster with a good approach, but since pitchers have no reason to fear him, his on-base skills could deteriorate.
19. Reggie Golden, OF: Golden has impressive tools, but he still has a very long way to go.
20. Marwin Gonzalez, INF: He’s certainly not an upside guy, but he could arrive as early as this year in a utility spot.

1. Brett Jackson, OF
: 8/2/88
Height/Weight: 6-2/210
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2009 (University of California)
2011 Stats: .256/.373/.443 at Double-A (67 G), .297/.388/.551 at Triple-A (48 G)
Tools Profile: He doesn’t have any monster tools, but he is average to plus across the board.

Year in Review: This athletic outfielder put himself on the verge of the big leagues in his second full season.
The Good: Jackson doesn't have a below-average tool. He's a big, powerful athlete with the power for 20-25 home runs annually, and has more secondary skills beyond that; he also has an excellent approach at the plate and above-average speed. He's a solid center fielder and even better in a corner thanks to his arm, which is also a tick above average.
The Bad: Jackson's hitting ability is an issue. There is a significant amount of swing-and-miss in his game; he struck out once per 3.1 at-bats in 2011, leaving many to wonder if he'll ever hit for much of an average. If he slows down even a tick, he could be pushed to right field, where the offensive expectations will increase.
Ephemera: Of Jackson's 10 Triple-A home runs in 2011, six came in his first at-bat of the game; he hit .357/.413/.881 in the first inning.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an above-average everyday center fielder.
Fantasy Impact: His 20/20 potential makes him valuable in any league.
Path to the Big Leagues: Jackson will likely begin the year in Triple-A Iowa, but he should spend a significant amount of time in the big leagues this year.
ETA: 2012

2. Javier Baez, SS
: 12/1/92
Height/Weight: 6-0/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2011 (Arlington Country Day School, FL)
2011 Stats: .333/.333/.500 at Rookie (3 G), .167/.167/.167 at Low A (2 G)
Tools Profile: He has outstanding offensive potential, but he’s not a pure athlete

Year in Review: Baez, who was considered to be the best pure high school hitter in the draft, went ninth overall and earned a $2.625 million bonus.
The Good: Baez can flat-out rake. He has blinding bat speed, excellent hand-eye coordination, and projects for average to plus power as he learns how to drive balls. He has solid defensive fundamentals for his age, and his arm is more than enough for the left side of the infield.
The Bad: Baez is not the kind of athlete one normally sees at shortstop. He's an average runner at best and not especially quick, leaving most to believe he'll move to third base early in his development. Some describe his play as “out of control,” and he'll need to develop a big-league approach at the plate. One scout noted that he rarely took pitches—even bad ones—in high school.
Ephemera: While the ninth overall pick in the draft has produced five players who have hit 100 or more big-league home runs, it has yet to produce a true star position player. Geoff Jenkins is arguably the best of the bunch.
Perfect World Projection: He’s an excellent hitter, but chances are good he'll end up at a less prominent position.
Fantasy Impact: He should hit for average and power.
Path to the Big Leagues: Baez will make his full-season debut at Low-A Peoria.
ETA: 2015

3. Welington Castillo, C
: 4/24/87
Height/Weight: 5-10/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2004
2011 Stats: .667/.778/1.167 at Rookie (2 G), .238/.327/.381 at High-A (12 G), .286/.351/.524 at Triple-A (61 G),  .154/.154/.154 at MLB (4 G)
Tools Profile: Castillo is a cather with power and a plus arm.

Year in Review: This Dominican catcher put up big numbers in Triple-A, and is seen as big league-ready.
The Good: Castillo’s combination of plus power and plus arm strength is rare in catchers. He can drive balls from gap to gap, and hits lefties and righties with equal effectiveness. His arm is easily his best defensive tool, but he's also an average receiver.
The Bad: Castillo has an aggressive approach, and can be susceptible to chasing pitches when behind in the count. He's not just slow; he's a base-clogger who grades out as a 20 runner.
Ephemera: Despite his big numbers for Iowa in 2011, Castillo went 0-for-7 with four strikeouts when batting with the bases loaded.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a 20-homer catcher who slows down the running game.
Fantasy Impact: He’s a source of power from a position where it is hard to find, but not much else.
Path to the Big Leagues: Castillo will compete for a backup catching job in spring training, but he might need to wait for a trade or for Geovany Soto to become a free agent (two years away) to get a real shot at playing every day.
ETA: 2012

4. Dillon Maples, RHP
: 5/9/92
Height/Weight: 6-2/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 14th round, 2011 (Pinecrest HS, NC)
2011 Stats: N/A
Tools Profile: This teenage righty has athleticism and upside.

Year in Review: Maples was seen by many as an impossible sign due to his college commitment, but the Cubs shocked the industry by giving $2.5 million to their 14th-round pick.
The Good: Maples' upside as a starter is unmatched in the system. He already pitches in the low- to mid-90s with natural movement, and scouts think there could be more in him with some professional instruction. His power breaking ball was one of the best among prep arms in the draft. If he attended college, this very athletic pitcher would have also played football.
The Bad: Maples barely has a changeup; he simply never needed the pitch as an amateur. His delivery isn't exactly pretty, but the arm works and he throws strikes. More than anything, he just needs innings and the experience to learn how to make adjustments.
Ephemera: Only four players have ever been drafted out of Pinecrest High School, and both are father-son pairs. Maples’ father, Tim, was a second-round pick by the Orioles in 1979; former White Sox pitcher James Baldwin (1990) and his namesake son (2010) are the other pair.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an above-average big-league starter.
Fantasy Impact: It’s hard to project exact results, other than good.
Path to the Big Leagues: This spring, Maples will try to convince management that he's ready for a full-season assignment.
ETA: 2015

5. Matt Szczur, OF
: 7/20/89
Height/Weight: 6-1/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Fifth round, 2010 (Villanova)
2011 Stats: .314/.366/.431 at Low-A (66 G), .260/.283/.410 at High-A (43 G)
Tools Profile: Szczur has a weird profile with tools that have little polish.

Year in Review: This former football star excelled in the Midwest League, but got a taste of reality in High-A.
The Good: Szczur is a compact athlete with the raw strength to hit 15 home runs per year. While he's not a burner, he's a plus runner who can steal a base and cover ground in the outfield. His arm is average. He earns off-the-charts grades for his makeup, and is a role model to other teammates for his effort and enthusiasm.
The Bad: Szczur is behind the curve because of his dedication to football in college. He's quite raw for a 22-year-old, has a very poor approach at the plate, and needs to improve his reads and routes. There's some funk in his swing that leaves scouts wondering about his offensive upside.
Ephemera: In 2009, Szczur took time off from his sporting career at Villanova to undergo surgery to donate bone marrow to a 19-month-old girl with leukemia. A national registry identified him as a match.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an everyday center fielder, but not a star.
Fantasy Impact: He has double-digit power and speed, but won’t put up big numbers in either category.
Path to the Big Leagues: While Szczur didn't completely solve the Florida State League, he'll begin 2012 in Double-A.
ETA: Late 2013

6. Josh Vitters, 3B
: 8/27/89
Height/Weight: 6-2/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2007 (Cypress HS, CA)
2011 Stats:.283/.322/.448 at Double-A (129 G)
Tools Profile: Vitters has one of the prettiest swings around, but his progress has been slow.

Year in Review: This former third overall pick in the draft held his own in Double-A, but he still hasn't broken out.
The Good: Vitters still passes the scouting sniff test at the plate thanks to one of the quickest, smoothest swings from the right side in the minors. He'll flash plus power at times and rarely strikes out, and he has the ability to crush mistakes. He has made significant improvements defensively, and more scouts than ever believe in his ability to stay at the hot corner as an average defender with a slightly above-average arm.
The Bad: Vitters still sabotages himself at the plate by swinging at far too many bad pitches, leading to weak ground outs and popups. He's a tick below-average runner who can't take a step backward defensively without being forced to a bat-heavy position.
Ephemera: Vitters was successful in three of four stolen-base attempts during the month of June, but went 1-for-10 in all other months.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an everyday third baseman, but his star potential is fading.
Fantasy Impact: He could bring good average and a bit of power, but he’s more of a third baseman you settle for, not covet.
Path to the Big Leagues: All the Cubs can do is continue to move Vitters up. He'll begin the year at Triple-A Iowa, and has the ability to earn a September look.
ETA: 2013

7. Jeimer Candelario, 3B
: 11/24/93
Height/Weight: 6-1/180
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2010
2011 Stats: .337/.443/.478 in Dominican Summer League (72 G)
Tools Profile: Candelario has a fantastic combination of pure hitting ability and offensive polish.

Year in Review: This Dominican signee was among the most impressive players in the Dominican Summer League in terms of both numbers and scouting reports.
The Good: Candelario has significant offensive potential. He earns raves for his highly-polished approach, and is a switch-hitter with power potential to all fields and a knack for consistent hard contact. He's a solid runner with the tools to become an average first baseman.
The Bad: Candelario's swing works much better from the left side; his power is reduced greatly with his contact-based swing against lefties. He's still messy defensively, and there are worries that he could be forced to first base or left field should he fill out and slow down.
Ephemera: Candelario was 16 days old when id Software released Doom, the groundbreaking first-person shooter.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a middle-of-the-order run producer.
Fantasy Impact: He hasn’t played a game in the United States, so let's calm down a bit here.
Path to the Big Leagues: Candelario will likely spend the spring adjusting to playing in the United States, then play in a short-season league. His upside is tremendous, but he's eons away.
ETA: 2016

8. Trey McNutt, RHP
: 8/2/89
Height/Weight: 6-4/220
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 32nd round, 2009 (Shelton State Community College)
2011 Stats: 4.55 ERA (95.0-120-39-65) at Double-A (23 G)
Tools Profile: He’s a big guy who throws hard.

Year in Review: McNutt, who was arguably the Cubs’ top pitching prospect entering the year, was constantly hampered by injuries and mechanical issues.
The Good: After sitting in the mid-90s and touching 97-98 consistently in 2010, McNutt was more low- to mid-90s in 2011 as his delivery became stiff and mechanical. He still has a plus slider with heavy two-plane break, and scouts love his aggressive demeanor.
The Bad: While McNutt combined velocity and command in 2010, his ability to locate disappeared last year, often leaving him behind in the count, and quite hittable. His changeup is a below-average pitch, and with his struggles and injuries, some scouts would like to see what he can do out of the bullpen.
Ephemera: While Shelton State has produced 22 draft picks, former Arizona and San Francisco reliever Brandon Medders is the only one to pitch in the big leagues.
Perfect World Projection: He could be somebody who strikes hitters out, but whether that's as a starter or reliever is still to be determined.
Fantasy Impact: We need to know his role first.
Path to the Big Leagues: McNutt never got on track in 2011, and he'll return to Double-A in 2012.
ETA: 2013

9. Marco Hernandez, SS
: 9/6/92
Height/Weight: 6-0/170
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2009
2011 Stats: .333/.375/.486 at Rookie (51 G)
Tools Profile: He’s a legitimate shortstop with some hitting ability.

Year in Review: This Dominican teenager put up big numbers in his stateside debut.
The Good: Hernandez is a true shortstop with above-average speed, quick reactions, range to both sides, and a strong arm. He's a switch-hitter with a line-drive swing from both sides, and has shown the occasional ability to drive one into the gap.
The Bad: Hernandez does not have a projectable frame, so he'll never develop much in the way of power. He needs to improve his on-base skills to avoid being relegated to the end of a lineup. Hernandez needs to slow the game down defensively, as he's prone to errors on routine ground balls when he rushes the play.
Ephemera: Hernandez was born in the Dominican city of Moca, which is also known as “La Villa Heroica,” due to the role citizens of the city had in overthrowing dictator Rafael Trujillo.
Perfect World Projection: He’s an everyday shortstop, and there aren't 30 of those in the big leagues.
Fantasy Impact: It’s limited due to a lack of secondary skills.
Path to the Big Leagues: Hernandez will compete for a full-season gig this spring, but he’ll likely play for short-season Boise in 2012.
ETA: 2015

10. Junior Lake, SS/3B
: 3/27/90
Height/Weight: 6-3/215
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2007
2011 Stats: .315/.336/.498 at High-A (49 G), .248/.300/.380 at Double-A (67 G)
Tools Profile: He’s big, athletic, and toolsy.

Year in Review: Lake was on the verge of a breakout year, but his first exposure to the upper levels exposed many holes in his game.
The Good: Lake has always had impressive tools. He's the best-looking player in a uniform, and has above-average power and speed to go with an easy 80 arm that one scout called the best in the Cubs’ system since Shawon Dunston.
The Bad: Lake's game is ugly. He's a complete mess at the plate with very little discipline, and he’s a sloppy defender who needs to improve his actions and footwork. He certainly has upside, but there is so much work to be done that several teams who want to turn him into a power reliever have approached the Cubs.
Ephemera: Lake began 2011 by going 27 straight games without a walk. That ended on May 7, when he drew a pair of free passes.
Perfect World Projection: He’ll be a player with some power, some speed, and at some position to be determined.
Fantasy Impact: He could contribute in several categories, but we don't know what his peer group is; Lake’s value deteriorates if he ends up in the outfield.
Path to the Big Leagues: Lake will return to Double-A, and he's one of those players who could reach the big leagues quickly , or get stuck at the upper levels.
ETA: Late 2013.

11. Rafael Dolis, RHP
: 1/10/88
Height/Weight: 6-4/215
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2004
2011 Stats: 3.22 ERA (72.2-61-35-48) at Double-A (51 G); 0.00 ERA (1.1-0-1-1) at MLB (1 G)
Tools Profile: Dolis is a traditional righty reliever with a plus sinker/slider combination.

Year in Review: Following a second-half surge, this reliever made his major-league debut.
The Good: Dolis has two easy plus pitches: His fastball sits at 94-97 mph with plenty of natural sink, and his slider has late, explosive movement through the zone. He took well to his first year as a reliever, as his stuff played up in small doses.
The Bad: Dolis can get a bit violent with his delivery and lose the strike zone. He adjusts by taking too much off his pitches. Scouts are perplexed that a pitcher with his stuff can sometimes have such an inability to put away hitters.
Ephemera: Dolis did not allow a run in 19 of his final 20 appearances in the Southern League.
Perfect World Projection: He’s a set-up man on a good team, but he could close here and there.
Fantasy Impact: He has some potential for saves, but he’s risky.
Path to the Big Leagues: Dolis made his big-league debut in 2012, and should get more innings with the Cubs this year, though he probably won’t break camp in the majors.
ETA: 2012

The Sleeper: Venezuelan teenager Gioskar Amaya is a plus runner with excellent contact ability who could grow into a utility role, and possibly a bit more.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/86 or later)
1. Starlin Castro, SS
2. Brett Jackson, OF
3. Javier Baez, SS
4. Andrew Cashner, RHP
5. Welington Castillo, C
6. Dillon Maples, RHP
7. Matt Szczur, OF
8. Josh Vitters, 3B
9. Jeimer Candelario, 3B
10. Trey McNutt, RHP

Starlin Castro is a no-brainer at the top. I'm always surprised about the focus on what he can't do, as opposed to what he can. Yes, he's a substandard shortstop who will likely have to move left or right in the next three to five years. No, he won’t draw many walks. But he's also a player who just had 291 total bases in the big leagues as a 21-year-old and has face-of-the-franchise offensive potential. Cashner has looked good stuff-wise in his return from injuries, but he's likely bullpen-only at this point, and his command is far from all the way back. Missing the list is Casey Coleman who pitched 84 1/3 innings for the Cubs in 2011, which is about 84 1/3 more than he should have.

 Summary: The new collective bargaining agreement adds some challenges to the existing Theo Epstein system of scouting and player development. While there are plenty of future big-leaguers in the organization, most of the players who are going to turn things around are not here yet.  

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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