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January 23, 2014

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

Chicago Cubs Top 10 Prospects

by Jason Parks

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Prospect rankings primer
Last year's Cubs list

The Top Ten

  1. SS Javier Baez
  2. 3B Kris Bryant
  3. CF Albert Almora
  4. RF Jorge Soler
  5. RHP C.J. Edwards
  6. SS Arismendy Alcantara
  7. RHP Pierce Johnson
  8. 1B Dan Vogelbach
  9. 3B Christian Villanueva
  10. 3B Jeimer Candelario

1. Javier Baez
Position: SS
DOB: 12/01/1992
Height/Weight: 6’0” 195 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2011 draft, Arlington Country Day School (Jacksonville FL)
Previous Ranking: #2 (Org), #20 (Top 101)
2013 Stats: .294/.346/.638 at Double-A Tennessee (54 games), .274/.338/.535 at High-A Daytona (76 games)
The Tools: 8 power potential; 6+ potential hit; 7 arm; 6 potential glove

What Happened in 2013: You can’t ask for more from a prospect than Baez offered at the plate in 2013, launching 75 extra-base hits in 130 games across two levels and pushing himself into the top tier of all prospects in baseball.

Strengths: Elite bat speed; elite hands; plus hand-eye coordination; can make hard contact to all fields; natural ability to barrel the ball; raw power is elite; game power could play to elite; arm is plus-plus; actions are easy plus in the field; baseball instincts; superstar profile.

Weaknesses: Can get impatient at the plate and attempt to hit bad balls out of the park; can get tied up by off-speed offerings; early weight shift/fastball cheat; will expand and chase; struggles against quality arm-side stuff; big swing-and-miss; loves to swing it; slick actions in the field but can get overly passive and let the ball play him; can make ill-advised throws; needs to learn when to eat it.

Overall Future Potential: High 7; perennial all-star player

Realistic Role: High 6; first-division/all-star

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; Double-A experience; sizeable gap between present/future.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The upside that Baez holds from a fantasy perspective is likely second to only Byron Buxton—and the likely gets added in there because Baez may actually have more, given his potential eligibility. The tools are crazy and even though he doesn’t have the strongest run tool, he’s still 46-for-55 in stolen bases during his 215 minor-league games. Even if you can’t put him at shortstop (which is far from a definitive outcome), you’d take 30 homers, 15-plus steals and a .280 average from just about anywhere on the diamond. He’s a no-doubt top-five fantasy prospect in baseball.

The Year Ahead: Baez might lack Buxton’s overall athleticism or Bogaerts’ polish, but the 21-year-old Puerto Rican might have the highest offensive ceiling of any player in the minors, a potential middle-of-the-order force capable of hitting for average and obnoxious game power. While he’s no longer a true boom-or-bust prospect, Baez carries more risk than the average high-end prospect with Double-A experience because of the extreme projections on his tools and the balls-to-the-wall approach he often brings to all sides of the game. As Baez matures and adds more patience at the plate and more confidence in the field, he should develop into one of the game’s elite players, a left-side infielder (short or third) with an offensive attack that some scouts project to achieve Miguel Cabrera-level heights, an extreme comparison but one that his elite bat speed and power potential could make a reality if everything clicks. He needs to shorten up against arm-side pitching and stay in his approach, and he needs to slow the game down in the field and let his hands and arm help the cause rather than hurt it, but he should continue to crush in the upper minors and force a major-league decision at some point in 2014. The Cubs could have a generational talent in Baez.

Major league ETA: 2014

2. Kris Bryant
Position: 3B
DOB: 01/04/1992
Height/Weight: 6’5” 215 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2013 draft, University of San Diego (San Diego, CA)
Previous Ranking: NR
2013 Stats: .333/.387/.719 at High-A Daytona (16 games), .354/.416/.692 at short-season Boise (18 games), .167/.143/.333 at complex level AZL (2 games)
The Tools: 7+ power potential; 5+ potential hit; 6+ arm; 5 glove

What Happened in 2013: The best bat in the 2013 draft, Bryant slipped to the Cubs with the second overall pick in the draft, and he wasted little time proving his offensive profile was well above average.

Strengths: Excellent size and present strength; good athlete; elite raw power; game power could play plus-plus or better; highly leveraged swing built for over-the-fence production; some bat-to-ball ability and hit tool utility; plus arm; glove should play to average; fringe run but good athlete and coordinated for size.

Weaknesses: Hit tool could limit full utility of power tool; can get tied up inside by quality stuff; bat path/plane limits time in the zone; sources suggest more swing-and-miss to come against better arms; lower half actions can get stiff at third; lacks first-step quickness /ideal range.

Overall Future Potential: 7; all-star player

Realistic Role: 6; first-division player

Risk Factor/Injury History: Low risk; limited professional experience; mature bat.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Power, power and more power. With home runs down across the league, prospects who can hit 30-plus at their peak become very valuable commodities. Bryant has that potential, a good chance at third base eligibility and could see the majors in relatively short order. There are fewer major-league third basemen I’d prefer to Bryant than I can count on two hands, and he’s my clear number one in dynasty drafts this year.

The Year Ahead: Bryant is ready to start his first full season at the Double-A level, and with any luck, he will be forcing the issue at the major-league level at some point in 2014. The power is enormous and is going to play at the highest level, although he might end up hitting for a lower average and swinging and missing more than some are projecting. While the 22-year-old can play passable defense at the hot corner, his athleticism and arm are a better fit for right field, a position most sources seem to agree is Bryant’s long term home. Regardless of where he plays, the bat could make him an all-star, a true 35-plus home run force in the middle of a lineup.

Major league ETA: Late 2014

3. Albert Almora
Position: CF
DOB: 04/16/1994
Height/Weight: 6’2” 180 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2012 draft, Mater Academy Charter School (Hialeah, FL)
Previous Ranking: #1 (Org), #18 (Top 101)
2013 Stats: .329/.376/.466 at Low-A (61 games)
The Tools: 6+ potential hit; 6 potential power; 5+ arm; 6+ potential glove

What Happened in 2013: Assorted injuries limited his full-season debut to 61 games, but the former sixth overall selection in the 2012 draft returned to play in the Arizona Fall League, where he managed to hit over .300 despite being the second youngest player in the league.

Strengths: High level baseball skills and instincts; natural bat-to-ball ability; can make hard contact to all fields; hit tool projects to be plus (or better) tracks well and shows advanced approach; has above-average raw power; swing more gap-to-gap at present but over-the-fence power could show up as he matures; glove in center is easy plus; quick reactions and proper reads help range; arm is solid-average to plus; cocky/confident player.

Weaknesses: Concerns about durability; game power is several grades away from projection; speed is fringe-average at present; range dependent on crisp reads/routes; body development could drag speed below average and limit major-league quality range.

Overall Future Potential: High 6; first-division/all-star

Realistic Role: High 5; above-average player

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; yet to achieve Double-A level

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The big separator as to whether Almora will be a very good fantasy outfielder or just a guy whose real life value doesn’t line up with his fantasy value will depend on his power. He could be a near .300 hitter, but with middling stolen base potential, he’ll have to hit 20 homers to reach the type of fantasy heights that being ranked third on a very strong Cubs list would indicate.

The Year Ahead: Almora is a highly skilled all-around player, with an impact hit tool and the ability to play above-average defense in center. While he lacks graphic tools or middle-of-the-lineup power, the 19-year-old has that rare ability to make the game look easy, both in the field and at the plate. The speed is the only tool that projects to play below average at the major-league level, and even with his advanced feel for the game and instincts, his range is center will be limited by the lack of wheels; despite his quick reactions and almost preternatural feel for tracking balls, his foot speed can’t recover from mistakes like most athletes at the position. Almora is going to hit at every stop, and if he can avoid the injury bug in 2014, he should be able to move quickly, reaching the Double-A level and positioning himself for a major-league opportunity in 2015.

Major league ETA: 2015

4. Jorge Soler
Position: RF
DOB: 02/25/1992
Height/Weight: 6’4” 215 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2012, Cuba
Previous Ranking: #3 (Org), #36 (Top 101)
2013 Stats: .281/.343/.467 at High-A Daytona (55 games)
The Tools: 7 power potential; 5+ potential hit; 7 arm; 5 glove

What Happened in 2013: After only 20 games at the full-season level in 2012, Soler was set to explode on the prospect world in 2013, but suspensions and a leg injury limited his playing time and offered more questions than answers.

Strengths: Elite raw power; extreme strength and leverage in swing; game power could play to plus-plus; shows some hit tool quality; could play above average; arm is well above average; glove plays; runs well; looks the part.

Weaknesses: Struggles with adjustments at the plate; questionable pitch recognition; hit tool is likely to limit full power potential; struggles against good arm-side stuff; arm is well above average but doesn’t always play as a weapon; focus has been questioned.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Realistic Role: 5; major-league regular

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; yet to achieve Double-A level; questions about hit tool.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: It only seems like the Cubs grow power prospects on trees. Soler carries more risk than any of the names ahead of him, but has the 30-homer ability to be a no. 2 outfielder. With strong contact abilities for a potential slugger, Soler should be able to hit in the .270-.280 range—which, along with around 10 steals, makes him very appealing in dynasty leagues.

The Year Ahead: Soler has a prototypical right field profile, with the high-powered arm and the enormous raw power, the kind you can’t truly appreciate unless you get to see him rip balls over mountains in batting practice. But the 21-year-old Cuban struggles making in-bat adjustments, and as a result, pitchers with a good plan of attack can eat his lunch. With his type of power, he can punish mistakes and make you pay for improper placement of a fastball, but his recognition skills and aggressive style open him up to sequence and spin, and the inability to make quick adjustments to his approach could spoil his ultimate potential at the plate. If he can stay on the field, Soler should rake in the minors and push himself to the majors by 2015. But the higher-level arms are going to present a problem for him, so he will need to improve his focus and plan of attack at the plate in order to maximize his talent.

Major league ETA: 2015

5. C.J. Edwards
Position: RHP
DOB: 09/03/1991
Height/Weight: 6’2” 155 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 48th round, 2011 draft, Mid-Carolina HS (Prosperity, SC)
Previous Ranking: NR
2013 Stats: 1.96 ERA (23 IP, 14 H, 33 K, 7 BB) at High-A Daytona, 1.83 ERA (93.1 IP, 62 H, 122 K, 34 BB) at Low-A Hickory
The Tools: 7 potential FB; 6 potential CH; 6 potential CB

What Happened in 2013: In his full-season debut, the former 48th round pick exploded on the prospect world, finishing the season by missing 33 bats in only 23 Florida State League innings.

Strengths: Loose, easy delivery; near elite release; ball just explodes out of his hand; fastball very comfortable in the 92-95 range; can work higher; very good angle and arm-side life; easy release helps secondary arsenal play up; changeup projects as plus offering; very good deception and fade; curveball is bat-missing weapon at present; above-average shape and depth; pitchability; good makeup.

Weaknesses: Long and slender frame; very narrow at the waist; body doesn’t project to hold much strength or additional mass; fastball command is fringe; curveball can get too big and easy to track.

Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter

Realistic Role: 5; late-innings reliever (setup)

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; yet to achieve Double-A level; questions about body/durability

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The stats are ridiculous, but unfortunately paint an unrealistic picture of Edwards in fantasy. He certainly has the potential raw stuff to strike out nearly a batter an inning at the major-league level, but it’s still more likely to be coming from the bullpen than the rotation. However, in the bullpen, he could be a dominant reliever with the potential for huge strikeout and save totals. That helps elevate his floor a bit.

The Year Ahead: Edwards is a very legit prospect whose statistical output creates a slightly more promising profile than the scouting reports. On paper, Edwards looks like a frontline arm, and at times, he can flash that sort of future on the mound. But when/if you watch Edwards in person, you can see that his advanced arsenal is simply too good for the level of competition he is facing, and the same curveball that is making A-Ball hitters look foolish is unlikely to encourage the same result from major-league quality bats. This isn’t to take anything away from Edwards, who has one of the easiest releases in the minors, which along with the crisp velocity makes his fastball a potential well above-average offering. The keys for Edwards will be the body and the fastball command, each of which could limit his overall effectiveness in a rotation. While he’s certainly bigger than the listed weight of 155 lbs., the frame itself is very narrow and it raises concerns about potential workload and durability; frontline arms project to log 200-plus innings season after season. The fastball command might end up being an even bigger hurdle, as the ability to spot the fastball will help the already solid secondary stuff play against more advanced bats, the kind that can track a big curveball out of the hand. The end result could be a mid-rotation arm, or perhaps a late-innings reliever if the durability concerns prove to be true. Regardless, Edwards is going to be a major-league quality arm with impact potential, which is a win for everybody involved in the procurement and developmental process.

Major league ETA: 2015

6. Arismendy Alcantara
Position: SS
DOB: 10/29/1991
Height/Weight: 5’10” 160 lbs
Bats/Throws: B/R
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2008, Dominican Republic
Previous Ranking: NR
2013 Stats: .271/.352/.451 at Double-A Tennessee (133 games)
The Tools: 6+ run; 6 arm; 5+ potential glove; 5+ potential hit; 5+ potential power

What Happened in 2013: Slow and steady up the ladder, Alcantara arrived at the Double-A level as a 21-year-old and set career highs in games played, home runs, and stolen bases.

Strengths: Plus athlete with good present strength; excellent hands; creates plus bat speed and above-average power; short, clean path to the ball; makes hard contact; easy plus run; multi-dimensional offensive threat; plus arm; above-average glove at second; five-tool talent.

Weaknesses: Swing from the right side lacks the same punch; contact is softer; some swing-and-miss in his game; right-side defensive profile (glove); hit tool might only play as average.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Realistic Role: 5; major-league regular

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; Double-A experience; needs refinement at the plate/in the field.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: A five-tool middle infielder with 30-steal potential? Sign me up please. The best part about Alcantara for fantasy, is that even if the power potential doesn’t come through and he’s more of a 10 homer guy, he’s still a potential top-10 shortstop or second baseman. That puts his realistic floor around Jose Altuve type value. It also puts his ceiling closer to Jason Kipnis. There’s risk, but lots of fantasy potential here.

The Year Ahead: Alcantara would receive more attention in a weaker system, as the 22-year-old infielder has impact tools and could develop into a first-division talent at the major-league level. From the left side, Alcantara is an offensive threat, with bat speed and game power, but he struggles from his weaker right side, as the plane is flatter and the contact not nearly as hard. The speed is a weapon on base and in the field, and with more refinement should give him another above-average tool. A heavy dose of Triple-A secondary stuff will help the five-tool talent refine at the plate, and with any luck, Alcantara could get a major-league taste in 2014. While I’m not a big fan of comps, especially if they are forced, the industry suggested Jose Reyes-lite fits Alcantara very well.

Major league ETA: 2014

7. Pierce Johnson
Position: RHP
DOB: 05/10/1991
Height/Weight: 6’3” 170 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2012 draft, Missouri State University (Springfield, MO)
Previous Ranking: #7 (Org)
2013 Stats: 2.22 ERA (48.2 IP, 41 H, 50 K, 21 BB) at High-A Daytona, 3.10 ERA (69.2 IP, 68 H, 74 K, 22 BB) at Low-A Kane County
The Tools: 6 FB; 6 potential CB; 5+ potential CH

What Happened in 2013: In his full-season debut, Johnson seemed to improve with each start, pitching his way to High-A and emerging as a top 101 talent in the minors.

Strengths: Prototypical starter’s body; long, lean, and athletic; very good arm strength; fastball is plus; low-90s velocity that routinely pops the mid-90s on the gun; breaking is easy plus and could end up even better if the command improves; low-80s hammer curve with serious snap; some feel for an average changeup that has some projection;

Weaknesses: Below-average command at present; can lose some zip on the fastball and work 90 mph range; changeup is clear third offering; can get deliberate in the arm; overthrows the pitch.

Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter

Realistic Role: 5; no. 4 starter

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; yet to achieve Double-A level

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Johnson doesn’t have the gaudy numbers that Edwards has, but he has a safer future as a starting pitcher. If he continues to make strides with the change, he can settle into a 3.50 ERA or better, with enough strikeouts for even the shallowest of fantasy leagues (think 165-175 at peak).

The Year Ahead: Several sources prefer Johnson to Edwards in the Cubs system because of his body and breaking ball, which is one of the better offerings in the entire organization. To really step forward, the 22-year-old righty will need to refine his command, spotting his fastball early and knocking the pins down with the aforementioned curve. The ceiling isn’t frontline, but much like Edwards, the developmental path and projection should provide impact, most likely in the middle of a major-league rotation. Johnson will move up to the Double-A level in 2013, and if the command and changeup continue to improve, he could position himself as a legit major-league rotation option in 2015. I really like this arm.

Major league ETA: 2015

8. Dan Vogelbach
Position: 1B
DOB: 12/17/1992
Height/Weight: 6’0” 250 lbs
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: 2nd round, 2011 draft, Bishop Verot HS (Fort Myers, FL)
Previous Ranking: #5 (Org)
2013 Stats: .280/.455/.440 at High-A Daytona (17 games), .284/.364/.450 at Low-A Kane County (114 games)
The Tools: 7 power potential; 6+ potential hit

What Happened in 2013: After spending the 2012 season at two short-season stops, Vogelbach moved to the full-season levels in 2013, hitting 17 bombs in the Midwest League before finishing the year in High-A.

Strengths: Big boy strength; big boy raw power; doesn’t sell out swing for game power; generates impressive bat speed with quick, strong stroke that is short to the ball/long through it; projects to hit for both average and power; makes pitchers work and doesn’t give away outs.

Weaknesses: Bat-only profile; body is fat; doesn’t project for much defensively, even at first base; can struggle against arm-side stuff; can be his own worst enemy and hold onto on-the-field setbacks.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Realistic Role: 5; major-league regular

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; yet to achieve Double-A level; bat only profile.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Some men were put on this planet to hit, and Vogelbach is one of those men. For fantasy purposes, we don’t care that he doesn’t field his position well (or potentially at all)—we only care that he hits and hits for power. Even if he is a full-time DH in short order, the upside is there for him to be a near-.300 hitter with 30-plus homers annually. He’s even a slightly stronger option in OBP and points leagues, where his career 139:110 strikeout-to-walk rate can shine.

The Year Ahead: Vogelbach is a natural hitter with near elite raw power, and because of his approach and swing, should bring a healthy chunk of the raw into game action. The downside is that Vogelbach is a big-bodied player who is already viewed as a future designated hitter, so his future home will most likely be with an American League team. I don’t care that Vogelbach is fat or that he is a natural DH; I care if he can crush a baseball, and Vogelbach can absolutely crush baseballs. Talent is talent, regardless of what it looks like in a uniform, and if he continues to rake—like almost every source thinks he will—the Cubs are going to have a valuable commodity to trade when things start to get serious at the major-league level in 2015. This kid can hit and teams will covet his bat.

Major league ETA: 2015

9. Christian Villanueva
Position: 3B
DOB: 06/19/1991
Height/Weight: 5’11’’ 160 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, Mexico, 2008 (Rangers)
Previous Ranking: #9 org (Cubs)
2013 Stats: .261/.317/.469 at Double-A Tennessee (133 games)
The Tools: 7 glove; 6 arm; 5+ potential hit; 5+ potential power

What Happened in 2013: I’m not sure people realize that Villanueva had 62 extra-base hits in 133 games, while showing well above-average defense at the hot corner.

Strengths: Broad-shouldered with good present strength; hands are exceptional in the field; fluid actions; excellent backhand pickup; easy plus arm; can make every play in, side, or back; fast hands at the plate; shows bat speed and some power potential; very heady player with plus makeup.

Weaknesses: Can get pull happy at the plate; can struggle against quality off-speed; bat profiles as average at highest level; below-average run; will have to watch the body as he ages.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; above-average player

Realistic Role: 5; major-league regular

Risk Factor/Injury History: Low risk; Double-A experience; mature skill set/plus makeup.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Villanueva isn’t the most attractive fantasy option, but it’s not really his fault. Right now the market is flooded with potential 20-homer bats at the hot corner with middling hit tools. Add in his competition for playing time as the minor-league bats rise to the surface and there’s just not much need to own Villanueva in anything but deep leagues.

The Year Ahead: Villanueva gets overlooked in a system with Baez, Bryant, and Olt, but the glove at third is the best in the entire org—and one of the best hot corner profiles in the minors—and the bat is capable of hard contact and some over-the-fence power. While he’s unlikely to hit for a high batting average, especially against quality arm-side stuff, Villanueva has fast hands and a quick bat, and he should be able to find average utility with the hit tool, which will allow his above-average raw power to play in game action. His bat isn’t going to set the world ablaze and single-handedly change the fortunes of the franchise, but he could emerge as the best overall candidate to be the Cubs third baseman of the future, with the type of makeup and work ethic to get the most of his physical gifts and the best glove in the organization. Don’t forget about Villanueva.

Major league ETA: 2014

10. Jeimer Candelario
Position: 3B
DOB: 11/24/1993
Height/Weight: 6’1” 180 lbs
Bats/Throws: B/R
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2010, Dominican Republic
Previous Ranking: On The Rise
2013 Stats: .256/.346/.396 at Low-A Kane County (130 games)
The Tools: 6 potential power; 5+ potential hit; 6 arm; 5 potential glove

What Happened in 2013: After a strong season in Boise in 2012, Candelario took on a full-season assignment with Kane County, playing in 130 games racking up 128 hits and 68 walks while showing improvements in the field.

Strengths: Good present strength; fluid swing from both sides of the plate; shows excellent bat speed and quick path to the ball; very mature approach; tracks the ball well; has a plan at the plate; power could play above average; arm is strong; work ethic to refine with the glove.

Weaknesses: Body could escape him; below-average run; range will be suspect at third; glove is below average at present; power stroke is more hard contact and gap-based at present; hit tool could work against power against better pitching.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Realistic Role: 5; major-league regular

Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; Low-A resume; bat-first profile.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: It may have been a relatively underwhelming full-season debut from Candelario, but the offensive potential remains. A .275 hitter with 20 homers at the hot corner might not sound like something worth breaking the bank for, but it’s essentially what Kyle Seager did this year and he just missed the top-10 third basemen. And there’s upside on top of that.

The Year Ahead: Candy Candelario gets a lot of love from scouts, as the 20-year-old has serious pop in the bat and could develop into another impact player in a system full of impact players. The defensive profile needs a lot of refinement, and the body could make the task more difficult if he loses sight of it as he continues to mature. But with good pitch recognition skills and a discernable plan of attack at the plate, Candelario can take advantage of opportunities and bring his physical tools into game action. Look for Candelario to continue his surge up prospect lists with a strong 2014 season, where his over-the-fence power will start to play a bigger role in his hype.

Major league ETA: 2016

Prospects on the Rise:
1. RHP Paul Blackburn:
A supplemental first round pick in 2012, the athletic righty moved up to short-season Boise in 2013, making 12 starts with uneven results; the fastball has the potential to develop into a true plus-plus offering, but the command was well below average at times and the secondary arsenal was inconsistent. But several sources really liked what they saw from the 20-year-old, and a step forward in fastball command could allow the plus potential curve to miss more bats. The ceiling could go as high as a no. 2/3 starter, and at this time next season, we should be talking about Blackburn as a no-brainer top 10 prospect in the system. Based on ceiling, he has a legit case for inclusion on this year’s list.

2. C Mark Malave: Since signing out of Venezuela in 2011, Malave has logged time at every infield position but had yet to find a home. As we approach the 2014 season, the athletic and physically projectable 19-year-old will transition to catcher, where his raw defensive tools have a chance to make him a very interesting prospect going forward. The bat has a chance to play, as he shows bat speed and some power projection to go along with a good approach. Its going to take time and extra patience will be required because of the dual-threat development, but Malave has a chance to be more than just a name on a short-season roster.

3. LHP Rob Zastryzny: A second round pick in the 2013 draft, Zastryzny has a chance to move quickly through the minors and quickly up the rankings queue in 2014. After a long amateur workload, the 21-year-old lefty’s stuff was a little soft in his professional debut, but a fresh arm should offer up a commandable fastball in the 90-91 range—spiking in the mid-90s on occasion—with a good changeup and slider combination. The profile is a more a no. 3/4 starter, but Zastryzny has the pitchability and arsenal depth to reach his potential.

Factors on the Farm (Prospects likely to contribute at the ML level in 2014)
1. 3B Mike Olt: There is no way to sugarcoat Mike Olt’s 2013 campaign. Regardless of the eye issue or the trade or anything else that might have played a role, the reality is that Olt’s performance at the plate was very poor and his stock plummeted as a result. But we are a fickle and judgmental bunch, and a strong bounce-back season and Olt will once again be a darling with a bright future, Captain America. The problems at the plate are multifaceted, with an unorthodox swing that was exposed by plus velocity or questionable balance in the setup and a trigger that was exploited by outside spin. But renewed comfort and confidence in the box could help his cause, as the 25-year-old didn’t suddenly lose all the physical attributes that once made him a top prospect. Upper level pitching won’t make this recovery easy, but Olt should rebound from the disappointment and emerge as a stronger player as a result. It’s a crowded field and opportunities will be limited, so this tale of redemption will need a positive development out of camp.

2. RHP Arodys Vizcaino: Vizcaino is a prospect that has been kissed a lot; first by the Yankees, then the Braves, then Cubs, and then by Tommy John in 2012, the effects of which continue to keep the 23-year-old on the shelf. When health finally allows him to pitch in game action for the Cubs, the likely destination will be in the bullpen, where the plus-plus fastball and hard curve should allow him to excel in a late-innings role.

3. RHP Neil Ramirez: Acquired from the Rangers in the [now] one-sided Matt Garza exchange, Ramirez is a power arm with some injury red flags that could either stay healthy and consistent in a major-league rotation, or up the intensity of his arsenal in short bursts out of the bullpen. The latter is the more likely scenario, as Ramirez has an inconsistent mechanical profile that limits his command and causes his secondary arsenal to play down. In bursts, Ramirez’s fastball has been clocked in the upper 90s, a pitch he can back up with multiple breaking ball looks and a surprisingly decent changeup with sharp action.

Top 10 Talents 25 and Under (born 4/1/88 or later)

  1. Javier Baez
  2. Starlin Castro
  3. Kris Bryant
  4. Anthony Rizzo
  5. Albert Amora
  6. Jorge Soler
  7. C.J Edwards
  8. Arismendy Alcantara
  9. Pierce Johnson
  10. Junior Lake

In the midst of rebuilding the big club and putting a more competitive product out on the field, tangible improvement with Chicago’s win-loss record has yet to be seen, but there’s been considerable traction gained within the system. The foundation is there for a deep core of young players to begin leading the Cubs towards the status of a perennial contender down the road. This list is dominated by bats, and ones that can impact a lineup with power.

Top prospect Javier Baez also headlines this list. The 21-year-old edged out fellow shortstop Starlin Castro mainly on the projected impact of his bat, which may be seen as aggressive given Castro’s early career accomplishments, but the thunder in Baez’s stick is legit. There are still rough edges to polish in the upper minors, but the potential is strong to anchor the middle of a lineup for seasons to come and do serious damage across the league when the career at the highest level gets going. That type of offensive impact gave him the nod for me. Castro’s down season in 2013 is somewhat concerning given his aggressive nature at the plate. The feel is the 23-year-old will make the necessary adjustments to return to form as a high contact top-of-the-order hitter and the shortstop was firmly placed at no. 2.

Kris Bryant checks in next on the list ahead of first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Though Bryant has limited professional experience and won’t get his first true test until Double-A, the third baseman can end up tracking pretty quickly to The Show. I see Rizzo beginning to come into his own as a hitter in the bigs and using his experience as a regular for a full season to spring board to further production. The makeup has always been a strength. Bryant’s offensive profile at the hot corner, though, points to him ending up the better overall player over the long haul.

Center fielder Albert Almora is an exceptional talent at a premium position, with a collection of tools that can play at above-average-to-better at full utility. His ceiling and talent create separation between fellow prospects Jorge Soler and C.J. Edwards ranked just below him, but the present gap to that ceiling and developmental markers to go were enough to be somewhat conservative for now than giving him the nod over Rizzo at no. 4.

The second half of the list is where things start to separate in terms of developmental needs and becomes more prospect centric. Soler can develop into a power-hitting right fielder, though the progression of the hit tool against higher quality competition will have to be monitored, and can impact whether the power plays at full potential. Edwards is the first arm on the list and made strong strides this year. The former Rangers’ prospect physical projection does lead to questions as to whether the ‘pen will be the better fit for the progressing arsenal down the road.

Shortstop Arismendy Alcantara and right-hander Pierce Johnson are in a similar boat in terms of needing to polish off their respective packages and prove the skills are going to continue to trend upwards against the ever-rising competition. Outfielder Junior Lake edged out first baseman Dan Vogelbach for the tenth slot on the list. Lake may very well end up a better big leaguer than prospect, though if he can’t tone down his approach at the plate just enough and prevent opposing arms from dictating the majority of his plate appearances he might end up an up-and-down guy rather than a consistent regular. —Chris Mellen

A Parting Thought: Through the amateur draft, trades, and the international market, the Cubs have built one of the strongest systems in baseball, with high-impact talent that everybody knows and better depth than people might realize. The farm will rank no. 2 in the minors, just behind the Twins and just ahead of the Pirates.


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Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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Related Content:  Chicago Cubs,  Prospects,  Scouting,  Top 10,  Minor Leaguers

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