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November 11, 2008

Future Shock

Cubs Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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top 11 prospects

CHICAGO CUBS
Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart

Five-Star Prospects
1. Josh Vitters, 3B
Four-Star Prospects
2. Jeff Samardzija, RHP
3. Jose Ceda, RHP
Three-Star Prospects
4. Hak-Ju Lee, SS
5. Andrew Cashner, RHP
6. Tyler Colvin, OF
7. Dae-Eun Rhee, LHP
8. Ryan Flaherty, SS
Two-Star Prospects
9. Welington Castillo, C
10. Donald Veal, LHP
11. Micah Hoffpauir, 1B

Just Missed: Matt Cedra, INF; Jay Jackson, RHP; Logan Watkins, INF

Ranking Challenges: The Cubs are a very tough team to rank. That said, the top three prospects on my initial snapshot never moved, and you see them exactly where they started. Everything after that is a bit of a mess however, as one could jumble up the players ranked fourth through eleventh in any order and make some kind of reasonable argument for all.

1. Josh Vitters, 3B
DOB: 8/27/89
Height/Weight: 6-3/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, Cypress HS (CA)
2008 Stats: .214/.214/.429, .000 EqA at Low-A (4 G); .328/.365/.498 at Short-season (61 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 2

Year in Review: A slow-healing hand issue held Vitters back in the first half of the year and kept him out of a full-season league, but he was the best pure hitter in the Northwest League, and did nothing to lower expectations.
The Good: Vitters is a natural hitter with incredible bat speed and a picture-perfect swing that gets the barrel of the bat into the zone quickly. His plate coverage is nearly off the charts, and he's equally comfortable turning on inside fastballs as he is poking outside pitches the other way. He's worked hard on his defense, to the point where Cubs officials think that he can stay at third base and be at least an average fielder.
The Bad: Vitters' bat is his only impact tool. He doesn't run especially well and still needs to improve his reactions and footwork at the hot corner. He has the body and strength for power, but may be guilty of focusing a bit much on contact as opposed to driving the ball. His ability to hit so many pitches might work against him at times, as it has slowed the development of his plate discipline.
Fun Fact: While Cypress High has produced its share of ballplayers, including Scott Moore and Troy O'Leary, if you play video games you've probably heard more from fellow grad Christina Pucelli, who has provided voices for the latest installment of Metal Gear Solid, Psychonauts, Viewtiful Joe, and the Xenosaga series.
Perfect World Projection: An All-Star third baseman who competes for batting titles while also supplying solid/average power.
Glass Half Empty: If his power doesn't come and his defense doesn't progress, you have a mismatch in terms of skill-set and position.
Path To The Big Leagues: Aramis Ramirez is signed through 2011 with a club option for '12, so the timing might actually be perfect here.
Timetable: Vitters will finally get a full-season assignment by beginning the year at Low-A Peoria. The Cubs will let his performance dictate his timetable from there, and will move him up quickly if he dominates.

2. Jeff Samardzija, RHP
DOB: 1/23/85
Height/Weight: 6-5/220
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 5th round, 2006, Notre Dame
2008 Stats: 4.86 ERA at Double-A (76-71-42-44), 6.00 DERA; 3.13 ERA at Triple-A (37.1-32-16-40) 3.44 DERA; 2.28 ERA at MLB (27.2-24-15-25), 2.42 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 11

Year in Review: Samardzija is a high-profile pick who suddenly clicked in a bullpen role and pitched some important innings in the big leagues down the stretch.
The Good: When he's on, he can dominate on his fastball alone; he can get it into the upper 90s, and it features explosive late life. His slider gives him a second plus pitch that can generate swings and misses. He's a big, strong athlete who shows a lot of confidence and aggressiveness on the mound.
The Bad: Samardzija's performances are wildly erratic from day to day, as his mechanics can become inconsistent, leading to drops in velocity, a flattening of his breaking balls, and serious command issues. He struggled for nearly two years before finally finding success, leaving many to wonder if he's a bit of a fluke.
Fun Fact: While at Valparaiso High School in Indiana, Samardzija was the second-place finisher in Mr. Football as a senior, was named to the all-state baseball team as a center fielder, and also lettered in basketball while remarkably not missing a single game in any of the three sports over a three-year period.
Perfect World Projection: Samardzija flashes the stuff to become either a closer or a solid front-line starter, but not consistently enough.
Glass Half Empty: His track record is in large part awful, and in his last 10 regular-season games he allowed 10 runs and 20 baserunners in 8 1/3 innings. What you saw in August was a fluke.
Path To The Big Leagues: Barring some kind of disaster, Samardzija will open the year in the majors.
Timetable: He wants to start again, but the moves the Cubs make during the offseason will define his 2009 role.

3. Jose Ceda, RHP
DOB: 1/28/87
Height/Weight: 6-4/275
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2004 (Padres)
2008 Stats: 4.80 ERA at High-A (54.1-41-28-53), 7.17 DERA; 2.08 ERA at Double-A (30.1-26-14-42), 2.89 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 4

Year in Review: The top closer prospect in the system began the year as a starter in order to work on his overall game, and returned to his dominating ways when moved back into the closer's role at Double-A.
The Good: Ceda brings presence to the mound with the size, stuff, aggressiveness, and intimidation factor of a shut-down closer. He has the classic closer's combination of fastball/slider, both knockout pitches, with the fastball sitting at 94-97 mph and touching 100, while the power slider features plenty of depth and tilt.
The Bad: Ceda overthrows both pitches at times, which can lead to control issues, as can his arm-heavy mechanics, which involve a significant amount of grunting. He experimented with a changeup while starting, but it was never any more than a show-me pitch, and nobody argues with the fact that he's a reliever only. His size is a bit of a concern, and he started to put on some soft weight last year.
Fun Fact: When pitching in the ninth inning or later for Double-A Tennessee, Ceda allowed just two runs over 16 innings while striking out 28.
Perfect World Projection: He should become a dominating closer.
Glass Half Empty: Unless his control problems become a constant, or something else unpredictable happens, it's hard to not see Ceda pitching in the late innings.
Path To The Big Leagues: The Cubs are set in terms of who pitches late in games for now, so Ceda's rise to the closer role with his current club could take a while.
Timetable: Team officials think that Ceda is close to ready for the big leagues, and depending on the numbers game, he'll begin the season closing at either Double- or Triple-A. He could be up by the end of the year, giving the Cubs one of the most power-armed bullpens in all of baseball.

4. Hak-Ju Lee
DOB: 4/11/90
Height/Weight: 6-2/175
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: Korea, 2008
2008 Stats: None
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: Always busy in the Pacific Rim, the Cubs paid a seven-figure bonus to land Lee, who some feel is the best teenage position player to ever come out of Korea.
The Good: One international scout not with the Cubs insists that if Lee was American, he would have been a top 20 pick in the draft, and would rank only behind the first overall pick, Tim Beckham, among high school shortstops. He's a long, loose, and fluid athlete with a quick, direct swing and a body that projects for possibly average power down the road. He has plenty of defensive skills, beginning with good instincts and an above-average arm, and his plus-plus speed provides a great deal of range while also making him dangerous on the basepaths.
The Bad: Lee is still raw, especially on the offensive side, as he has very little exposure to pro-level pitching, especially breaking stuff. In many ways, we don't know what we don't know about him because of such limited evidence, and the holes in his game are yet to be discovered.
Fun Fact: While only 12 native South Koreans have reached the big leagues, Lee would need only 221 hits or 41 home runs to reach the all-time mark in those categories, both held by former Cub Hee-Seop Choi. However, there's a good chance that the Indians' Shin-Soo Choo, who enters the year with 148 and 17, will have raised the bar by then.
Perfect World Projection: He may become an All-Star shortstop-not a massive talent, but above-average both offensively and defensively.
Glass Half Empty: So much can go wrong between what he is now and what he can be that there are no guarantees.
Path To The Big Leagues: Lee is quite far away at this point, and there is no need to clear a path yet.
Timetable: He will spend the first half of the season adjusting to the culture and lifestyle of professional baseball. He won't appear in box scores until the short-season leagues arrive.

5. Andrew Cashner, RHP
DOB: 9/11/86
Height/Weight: 6-6/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, Texas Christian
2008 Stats: 0.00 ERA at Rookie-level (1-1-0-2); 4.96 ERA at Short-season (16.1-19-19-16); 13.50 ERA at High-A (2.2-4-4-1), 19.29 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: Not even on the radar as a top pick entering the season, Cashner had one of the best years of any college reliever, allowing just 21 hits in 54 1/3 innings while striking out 80 before being taken with the 19th-overall pick.
The Good: Cashner's fastball is notable for both its velocity and control of it; it not only sits in the mid-90s and touches 97-98 mph consistently, but it also features considerable late-breaking sink. His slider is another wipeout offering thrown as a pure power pitch in the mid-80s with so much tilt that it almost looks like a counter-clockwise spiral. He also throws an average curve and a surprisingly solid changeup. His delivery takes advantage of his body's length to add a bit of deception.
The Bad: Cashner ran into some severe control problems after signing, and he fell apart a bit mechanically and began overthrowing, a tendency that also plagued him at times during his college days. His amateur career before 2008 was as a starter, which is where the Cubs intend to keep him, so he'll need to find a more consistent third pitch.
Fun Fact: Cashner was drafted four times during his amateur career, including once before by the Cubs in 2007 (29th round), by the Rockies in 2006 (18th round), and by the Braves in 2005, who selected him in the 20th round out of Conroe High School in Texas, the same school that produced Jeromy Burnitz.
Perfect World Projection: He becomes a power starter who racks up big-time strikeout numbers.
Glass Half Empty: He never had any consistent success as a starter in college, so why try it in the pros? Late-inning relieving is his backup plan.
Path To The Big Leagues: The Cubs are going to start Cashner for now, so he's gone from a quick-moving relief prospect to more of one on the standard college-starter plan.
Timetable: Cashner will begin the year in the rotation, most likely at High-A Daytona, where he'll be slowly stretched out as a starter.

6. Tyler Colvin, CF
DOB: 9/5/85
Height/Weight: 6-3/190
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2006, Clemson
2008 Stats: .256/.314/.424, .221 EqA at Double-A (137 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 7

Year in Review: A toolsy outfielder, Colvin had a mixed big of a season, showing improved plate discipline but otherwise struggling offensively before he stopped walking in the second-half... and started hitting.
The Good: Despite his struggles, Colvin has tools and athleticism that are hard to give up on. He has a quick bat, average power, speed that's a tick above-average, and a plus arm. The Cubs rave about his work ethic and makeup, and they still see plenty of projection in him.
The Bad: Colvin is still working on his pitch recognition. He tried to become a more patient hitter early in the year, but he really didn't produce until after the All-Star break when he went back to his hacking approach, drawing just eight walks in 179 at-bats while slugging .514. His defense in center is a bit shaky due to poor jumps and routes, and he may fit better long-term in a corner, which will require even greater offensive growth.
Fun Fact: In the 43 games during which he was penciled in at fifth in the lineup, Colvin hit .300/.325/.528. In all other slots, he slugged just .372.
Perfect World Projection: Colvin becomes a .300-hitting outfielder with 20-25 home runs and 15 stolen bases annually.
Glass Half Empty: He never puts it all together and is tagged as more of a fourth outfielder.
Path To The Big Leagues: There might not be any openings scheduled in the Chicago outfield in time for Colvin's current pace to the majors, but he could be a solid trade chip.
Timetable: The Cubs feel comfortable with Colvin beginning the year at Triple-A Iowa after his late-season surge. He could get a brief look either as an injury fill-in or a September call-up.

7. Dae-Eun Rhee, RHP
DOB: 3/23/89
Height/Weight: 6-2/190
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: South Korea, 2008
2008 Stats: 1.80 ERA at Low-A (40-28-16-33), 5.80 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: This Korean lefty made a significant impression on scouts in his state-side debut before nagging elbow issues turned into season-ending Tommy John surgery.
The Good: Rhee's smooth and easily repeatable mechanics, which lack the hesitation or herky-jerky aspect normally associated with Asian pitchers, allow his average-velocity fastball to play up due to his outstanding command of the pitch. He already has a plus changeup with good arm action and a pronounced late drop. He gets strong grades for his makeup, showing a lot of poise on the mound, and he's always looking to coaches for instruction.
The Bad: Rhee throws a slider and a cutter, but neither breaking (or semi-breaking) pitch is especially effective. The Tommy John surgery is a concern, though not nearly as much as it once was, and the Cubs are now convinced that he'll have a full recovery.
Fun Fact: The all-time leader in major league wins by a Korean-born left-hander is Jung Bong, with seven.
Perfect World Projection: Rhee has a career as a solid mid-rotation big-league starter.
Glass Half Empty: Despite recent advances in the procedure, recovery from major elbow surgery is never guaranteed, and may be even more of a concern for a pitcher for whom a great deal of his success depends on command and control.
Path To The Big Leagues: For now, they just want to get him healthy.
Timetable: If all continues to go well in the recovery and rehab stage, Rhee will take the mound at some point in the second half with High-A Daytona.

8. Ryan Flaherty, SS
DOB: 7/27/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/200
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, Vanderbilt
2008 Stats: .297/.369/.511 at Short-season (56 G)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: Sharing the left side of the infield at Vanderbilt with Pedro Alvarez gave scouts plenty of chances to see Flaherty, who worked his way into the supplemental first round and kept hitting in the pros after signing.
The Good: Flaherty is a big athlete for a middle infielder, one who projects to hit for average and a bit of power. He has a sound swing with natural loft and a good feel for the strike zone. He's the son of a coach who grew up around the game, and he has the fundamentals and instincts of a big leaguer. In the field, he turns the double play well and has an average arm.
The Bad: Flaherty just doesn't have the speed or the range to remain at shortstop. He projects better as an offense-oriented second baseman as opposed to a third baseman with below-average power. He can fall in love with his merely average power at times, leading to an uppercut and an increase in strikeouts.
Fun Fact: Flaherty attended Deering High School in Portland, Maine, the same school that produced Linda Lavin of the 1970s sitcom Alice and SCTV alum Andrea Martin.
Perfect World Projection: He develops into an offense-oriented second baseman with 15-18 home runs annually, and one whose all-out style makes him a fan favorite.
Glass Half Empty: Defensive problems and not enough bat may lead him to settling in as a utility type.
Path To The Big Leagues: One of the few areas of non-stability with the Cubs is their middle infield, though right now it's more a case of too many players splitting at-bats than it is a glaring need.
Timetable: Flaherty is advanced enough to make his full-season debut at High-A Daytona.

9. Welington Castillo, C
DOB: 4/24/87
Height/Weight: 6-0/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2004
2008 Stats: .273/.299/.339, .177 EqA at High-A (33 G); .298/.362/.414, .229 EqA at Double-A (57 G); .200/.200/.200, .083 EqA at Triple-A (1 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 9

Year in Review: The Cubs' top catching prospect got off to a slow start in the Florida State League, but showed life with the bat and continued plus defense after a promotion to Double-A Tennessee.
The Good: Castillo has solid skills, hitting for a decent average with gap power, and projecting for double-digit home-run totals annually. He has excellent arm strength and a quick release, which led to his gunning down 43 percent of attempted basestealers at Double-A.
The Bad: Offensively, Castillo is a bit of a hacker who can be prone to chasing pitches in the dirt. He'll never be a big-time power threat, and he runs like a catcher. He can be a sloppy receiver and needs to improve his footwork behind the plate.
Fun Fact: Castillo was born in San Isidro, near the US Air Force base that was the center of the little-discussed invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965 by the US, during which 13 American soldiers were killed and more than 200 wounded.
Perfect World Projection: He ends up as a solid but unspectacular starting catcher.
Glass Half Empty: He is more of a defensive backup without enough bat to play every day.
Path To The Big Leagues: The Cubs just got a Rookie of the Year campaign out of Geovany Soto, so if Castillo is going to be a big-league starter, it likely won't be with the Cubs.
Timetable: Still young, Castillo will probably return to Double-A to work on his inconsistencies, while aiming for a big-league debut at some point in 2010.

10. Donald Veal, LHP
DOB: 9/18/84
Height/Weight: 6-4/215
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2005, Pima Community College (AZ)
2008 Stats: 4.52 ERA at Double-A (145.1-150-81-123), 6.39 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 3

Year in Review: The power lefty continued to stagnate with another disappointing year at Double-A.
The Good: Veal still excites scouts with his size and velocity from the left side, sitting in the low 90s and touching 94 with a fastball that he runs inside on left-handed hitters. He flashes a plus overhand curve at times, and remains rather impressive on the rare occasions when everything is working.
The Bad: Veal's mechanics are long, pronounced, and inconsistent, and along with his size are the primary reasons for his continued control problems. His curveball also flattens out at times when he gets around on it. A slew of personal issues seem to have taken their toll on Veal, who tends to lose focus at times; he has often had his effort questioned.
Fun Fact: Of the 19 home runs that Veal gave up in 2008, every one of them was to a right-handed batter; lefties went homerless in 116 at-bats against him.
Perfect World Projection: The skills are still there for Veal to turn into a solid big-league starter.
Glass Half Empty: There's not much to be optimistic about after back-to-back poor years at Double-A, but at least he still dominates lefties, so he may have a bullpen career.
Path To The Big Leagues: Right now, he just needs to prove himself as a major league-caliber arm again.
Timetable: Veal made little progress in the Arizona Fall League, but it would be hard to send him to Double-A for a third straight season. He'll likely end up in Iowa.

11. Micah Hoffpauir, 1B
DOB: 3/1/80
Height/Weight: 6-3/215
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 13th round, 2002, Lamar
2008 Stats: .362/.393/.752, .298 EqA at Triple-A (71 G); .342/.400/.534, .293 EqA at MLB (33 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: This organizational soldier put together a massive campaign at Triple-A, and filled in admirably as a bench bat in the majors.
The Good: Few have quibbles with Hoffpauir's bat; over the last two years at Triple-A, he's hit .340 with 41 home runs and 173 RBI in 163 games. He has good contact rates for a power hitter, and should hit for average and power in the big leagues.
The Bad: Hoffpauir's bat is his only tool that even rates as average. He's a below-average runner, and while he was put in the outfield at times last year, he's well below-average there, which leaves most projecting him as a first baseman in the majors.
Fun Fact: With runners in scoring position for Triple-A Iowa, Hoffpauir went 41-for-90 with 11 doubles, 13 home runs, and a 1.056 slugging percentage.
Perfect World Projection: He may pan out as a second-division starter at first base in the big leagues.
Glass Half Empty: He settles for being a lefty power option off of the bench.
Path To The Big Leagues: Derrek Lee has two more years on a contract that includes a no-trade clause, so Hoffpauir won't become a starter in the next two years unless there's either an injury or a trade.
Timetable: He is certainly big-league ready, but his lack of positional flexibility makes him a tough fit for a bench managed by Lou Piniella. He'll have to compete for a job during the spring.

The Sleeper: Dominican middle-infielder Junior Lake is a long-bodied, athletic, toolsy player with power, speed, and a whole lot of raw ability. He showed plenty of potential while hitting .286/.335/.417 as an 18-year-old playing in the Arizona Rookie League.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (as of Opening Day 2009)

1. Josh Vitters, 3B
2. Jeff Samardzija, RHP
3. Jose Ceda, RHP
4. Felix Pie, CF
5. Hak-Ju Lee, SS
6. Andrew Cashner, RHP
7. Tyler Colvin, OF
8. Dae-Eun Rhee, LHP
9. Ryan Flaherty, SS
10. Welington Castillo, C

Summary: Yup, that's about it. The Cubs are not a team based on youth; even Soto turns 26 in January. They are also not a team in need of a youth movement, and that's a good thing, because this is a weak system in which finding any future Cub stars requires quite a bit of dreaming.

Up Next: The Cincinnati Reds

---

Today on BP Radio, Brad checks in on the Cubs system with Oneri Fleita, the Cubs' vice president of player personnel. Fleita talks about some names you know and also some players you might know soon, so don't miss out as BPR digs into the Cubs' farm system.


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Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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