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June 19, 2014

Fantasy Freestyle

Keeping Tabs on the Cubs' Top Prospects

by Mauricio Rubio

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Kris Bryant was promoted to Triple-A Iowa, where he will likely play third base and hit in close proximity to the Cubs’ other talented and highly touted prospect Javier Baez.

Before the season started, the spring had created clever illusions about Baez, as Cubs fans and fantasy owners alike salivated at the possibility that each preseason laser beam to the outfield seats would draw him closer to major-league playing time in 2014. A deep slump to start the year popped those illusions, as those same fans and fantasy owners were left holding their heads in their hands and looking for a consolation that could only come after the high-risk proposition in Baez started solving the puzzle that is pitch sequencing.

For Bryant, the adoration would come later; the burn is slow and the embers are still burning hot, as Bryant absolutely crushed Double-A pitching. There was hopeful speculation that Bryant could also earn a promotion to the big club with his stellar play at Tennessee but those dreams are coming to a halt, as the Cubs have made it clear that they would like to see their prospects dominate a level before earning a promotion.

Let’s take a look at a five prominent hitters in the Cubs system and see where their short- and long-term fantasy values are.

Kris Bryant .355/.458/.702 (Triple-A Iowa)
Bryant’s the most advanced hitter in the Cubs system, and he had few offensive issues at Double-A Tennessee during his first full pro season. In the short term, Bryant isn’t likely to help you. There’s an outside chance that Bryant will get the call up sometime in August if he mashes in Iowa like he mashed in Tennessee, but those are tall odds to play. The Cubs aren’t competing for anything and they won’t feel a rush to push Bryant before they make the determination that he’s ready.

Like most Cubs’ prospects Bryant’s real value lies in the long term. The strikeout rates are a concern but Bryant did improve in that regard down the stretch. Over the last 30 days Bryant dropped his strikeout percentage down to 22.6 percent in 115 plate appearances. Bryant has the power and he’s got an idea of what he wants to do at the plate. Bryant will likely be a four-category contributor when it clicks. There’s debate on the average and he won’t steal bases, but I think Bryant can hit for average well enough (in the .280-plus range at his peak) to be a positive in the category.

Javier Baez .219/.274/.434 (Triple-A Iowa)
This line was much, much worse about three weeks ago. Baez struggled mightily out of the gate, which put a damper on many reserve plays in NL-only leagues. His value for this year in fantasy leagues has tanked, as this is likely a development year with the Cubs waiting to see if the talented Baez can learn from his struggles and adapt to an environment that is set up to take advantage of his shortcomings.

Baez is still a risk long term. His strikeout rate has jumped to an uncomfortable 34 percent. The high whiff rate is indicative of an immature approach and a thought process that has yet to evolve past “see ball, hit ball.” Baez has a long way to go in terms of understanding sequencing and adjusting to what pitchers are trying to set him up for. I do not think he understands what “his pitch” is at present. The thing with Baez is that his bat speed and preternatural hand eye coordination still allows for some eye popping stretches; he’s slugging close to .600 over his last 110 plate appearances. For me, Baez is still a top prospect despite his ugly struggles early in the year, but his ETA is further back than previously anticipated. This is a fantasy-related article, but when reading about Baez, the key words you’ll want to look for are “approach,” “spin,” and “plan”—with the golden phrase being “Baez has refined his approach, is recognizing what he can and can’t do with spin, and has a plan at the plate.”

It’s hard to see that coming together right now, but I still think he can get there.

Arismendy Alcantara .276/.315/.508 (Triple-A Iowa)
Bet you didn’t know Alcantara was slugging .508 at Iowa. He’s the Cub that I think is closest to a major-league job. Alcantara has filled in some in center field in the minors, and his do-everything profile is an attractive one for fantasy owners. He can steal some bases, he can hit for some pop, and he won’t kill you in average. I think there’s a good possibility Alcantara gets the call this year due to his positional flexibility and relatively mature skills package.

Jorge Soler
Soler played seven games in Double-A before going down with a hamstring injury. Soler has yet to put together a full season early into his professional career. When he has been on the field, the 22-year-old has been pretty good. There’s no short-term value here, and even in deep keepers, I’m mixed about Soler. His name has value but the lack of playing time and mounting injuries have me worried that his long-term production will be blunted by his injuries. I’m waiting for him to play a full year at this point before I buy in.

Albert Almora .241/.262/.318 (High-A Daytona)
Almora’s an interesting fantasy prospect to peg. His real-life value is much higher than his fantasy value, as it’s unclear what his carrying tool will be offensively. Nick Faleris believes that Almora has 20-25 HR potential, which, coupled with his hitting ability, would make him a top outfield option down the line. He’s a long way away from that however, and while he’s a must-own in dynasty leagues, you can be more discerning in other keeper-type formats.

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

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