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December 3, 2010

Future Shock

Chicago Cubs Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Previous Rankings: 2010 | 2009 | 2008

System In 20 Words Or Less: Impact talent? Not really. Depth? You betcha.

Four-Star Prospects
1. Brett Jackson, OF
2. Trey McNutt, RHP

3. Chris Archer, RHP
Three-Star Prospects
4. Josh Vitters, 3B
5. Hak-Ju Lee, SS
6. Chris Carpenter, RHP
7. Hayden Simpson, RHP
8. Reggie Golden, OF
9. Jay Jackson, RHP
10. Robinson Lopez, RHP
11. Brandon Guyer, OF

Nine More:
12. Robinson Chirinos, C: This converted infielder is improving defensively, and he can really hit.
13. Marquez Smith, 3B: He's a bit of an older prospect, but Smith can provide power and defense at the hot corner.
14. Wellington Castillo, C: He has a plus arm and power; and could turn into nice backup or second-division starter.
15. Rafael Dolis, RHP: He's another power arm in a system full of them; scouts want to see him in relief.
16. Ben Wells, RHP: This seventh-round pick was late-riser in the spring; he has low-90s heat with projection.
17. Brett Wallach, RHP: The ex-Dodger arm could move up with more consistent control; his stuff is plus.
18. Darwin Barney, UT: He'll never be a star, will rarely start, but Barney could play a decade in the majors.
19. Austin Reed, RHP: One of the talks of Arizona, scouts love his size and arm action.
20. Alberto Cabrera, RHP: This long, skinny Dominican has plus-plus velo, but needs to refine his secondary stuff.

1. Brett Jackson, OF
DOB
: 8/2/88
Height/Weight: 6-2/210
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2009, University of California
2010 Stats: .316/420/.517 at High-A (67 G); .276/.366/.465 at Double-A (61 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Speed/none of note

Year in Review: This first-round pick reached Double-A in his full-season debut while scoring 103 runs in 128 games.
The Good: Jackson doesn't have a tool that rates below average. He works the count well, waits for pitches he can drive and shows gap-to-average power to all fields with no weaknesses against left-handed pitching. He's a plus runner who is dangerous on the basepaths, as well as a good outfielder with a strong and accurate arm.
The Bad: Jackson is more of a player without weaknesses than one with impact potential. He has power, but it's not plus, and he's fast but not a burner. There's a significant amount of swing-and-miss in his game, so he'll likely always have a high strikeout rate.
Ephemera: The 31st overall pick has been a cursed one in draft history when it comes to position players. Kirt Manwaring (1986) is the last position player taken with that slot to reach the big leagues, and one of only two (Tom Dodd hit one) to go deep in the big leagues.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an everyday outfielder with above-average (but not star-level) power and speed.
Fantasy Impact: He could hit 15-20 home runs and steal 20-plus bases per year. What's not to like?
Path to the Big Leagues: Jackson handled Double-A just fine last year, and will get an opportunity to move up to Triple-A Iowa with a strong spring. He should have a big-league job secured by the following season.
ETA: Late 2011.

2. Trey McNutt, RHP
DOB
: 8/2/89
Height/Weight: 6-4/205
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 32nd round, 2009, Shelton State CC (AL)
2010 Stats: 1.51 ERA (59.2-43-24-70) at Low-A (13 G); 2.63 ERA (41.0-29-9-49) at High-A (9 G); 5.74 ERA (15.2-21-4-13) at Double-A (3 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/changeup

Year in Review: A 32nd-round pick who signed for just $115,000, McNutt looked like the bargain of the year while reaching Double-A in his pro debut.
The Good: McNutt's big frame, power arsenal, and constant promotions had scouts scrambling to see him and scratching their heads as to how this missed on him as an amateur. He consistently sat at 94-95 mph with his fastball, and touched as high as 99 late in the season. His slider is a power two-plane breaker that gives him a second out pitch, his delivery is uncomplicated, and he throws more strikes than the majority of inexperienced power arms.
The Bad: McNutt's changeup is a work in progress, but it's shown some promise by flashing good velocity separation and tumble. While his control is excellent, his command can waver, and when he dials up his fastball it tends to elevate.
Ephemera: McNutt was born in Haleyville, Alabama, which in June of this year became the first town in its county to allow the sale of alcohol since prohibition.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an above-average rotation piece.
Fantasy Impact: McNutt should have little trouble missing bats at the big-league level, so on a good team he'll help in every category.
Path to the Big Leagues: After plowing through three levels in 2010, McNutt will slow down a bit by beginning 2011 with a return to Double-A Tennessee.
ETA: 2012.

3. Chris Archer, RHP
DOB
: 9/26/88
Height/Weight: 6-3/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Fifth round, 2006, Clayton HS (NC) (Indians)
2010 Stats: 2.86 ERA (72.1-54-26-82) at High-A (15 G); 1.80 ERA (70.0-48-39-67)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/control

Year in Review: This power arm acquired from the Indians in the Mark DeRosa trade had a breakout campaign, limited opposing hitters to a .200 batting average while dominating at both High- and Double-A.
The Good: Archer has two plus pitches that miss plenty of bats. His fastball sits at 92-94 mph, touches 96, and features natural cutting action, while his power slider can be unhittable when it's on. He's a good athlete with a loose arm, and he maintained his velocity deep into games.
The Bad: Archer's development at this point depends on his ability to throw strikes. While his arm action is clean, his delivery is on the complicated side, leading to fluctuating control. While he gets excellent action on his slider, it's more of a chase pitch at this point. His changeup is mediocre, and many scouts see a late-inning relief package emerging from his profile.
Ephemera: Archer started just three day games in 2010, but allowed 11 runs over 11 innings. At night, his ERA was 1.79.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a good third starter with better stuff than results, or a late-inning reliever.
Fantasy Impact: It's hard to say until we know if he'll be gunning for wins or saves in the big leagues.
Path to the Big Leagues: Archer is ready for Triple-A, and could be one of the Cubs' first pitching call-ups during the year.
ETA: Late 2011.

4. Josh Vitters, 3B
DOB
: 8/27/89
Height/Weight: 6-2/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2007, Cypress HS (CA)
2010 Stats: .291/.350/.445 at High-A (28 G); .223/.292/.383
Best/Worst Tool: Bat/glove

Year in Review: The former top prospect seemed to be making progress during the first half of the year before collapsing at Double-A.
The Good: Despite the numbers, Vitters has excellent hitting ability with a quick, quiet swing and tremendous hands that give him as much plate coverage as any prospect in the minors to go with above-average raw power. He's worked hard to improve his defense at third base, and many scouts think he'll be below average but good enough to stay there. His arm is a tick above average.
The Bad: Vitters' ability to make contact with nearly any pitch could ultimately be his downfall, as he'll swing at anything, often resulting in poor contact while rarely getting pitches to drive. “He's still very young,” said one scout, “but I'm not sure he's made a single adjustment since high school.” He remains a bit stiff at the hot corner, and a below-average runner who is getting slower as he fills out.
Ephemera: No position player drafted third overall has failed to reach the majors since Jay Schroeder, who ended up having a successful football career.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an everyday third baseman who still has an outside shot at stardom.
Fantasy Impact: If he can put it together, he'll hit for average and power, but that's a big if.
Path to the Big Leagues: Vitters has a track record of improving during his second crack at a level, and he'll likely begin 2011 back at Tennessee. There are scenarios where he tops this list next year, and those that have him falling completely off it.
ETA: 2012.

5. Hak-Ju Lee, SS
DOB
: 11/4/90
Height/Weight: 6-2/170
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 2009, South Korea
2010 Stats: .282/.354/.351 at Low-A (122 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Arm/Power

Year in Review: This Korean import made slow but steady progress throughout his full-season debut, including a .294/.371/.361 line after the All-Star break.
The Good: Lee has all the tools to be a major-league shortstop. Offensively, he works the count effectively while utilizing a line-drive swing that leads to consistent contact rates. He's a plus runner who is excellent on the basepaths, with the speed also providing plenty of range in the field to go with a well above-average arm.
The Bad: Lee has very little power, with little reason to think any will develop out of his thin, lanky frame. He needs to improve his positioning, glove-to-hand transfer, and concentration defensively, as he committed many errors on rudimentary plays.
Ephemera: While Lee hit first for Peoria in all of his starts, he batted just .232/.309/.293 when leading off an inning while hitting .317 otherwise.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an everyday shortstop with good defense and enough bat to hit toward the top of the order.
Fantasy Impact: He could bring good average for a shortstop and excellent stolen-base totals, but find your power elsewhere.
Path to the Big Leagues: Lee made excellent strides in 2010, but he's still a one-level-at-a-time talent. He'll spend most, if not all, of 2011 at High-A Daytona.
ETA: Late 2013.

6. Chris Carpenter, RHP
DOB
: 12/26/85
Height/Weight: 6-4/215
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Third round, 2008, Kent State University
2010 Stats: 3.16 ERA (119.2-118-48-100) at Double-A (23 G); 5.40 ERA (15.0-19-9-12) at Triple-A (3 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/control

Year in Review: This big, physical arm had a solid campaign at Double-A but really opened eyes while pitching out of the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League.
The Good: Carpenter has a classic power frame and the repertoire to match, beginning with a 92-94 mph fastball that touches 97, a velocity he was parked at when pitching in shorter stints. He's refined his power breaking ball into a true slider that flashes plus, and has some feel for a changeup.
The Bad: While Carpenter smoothed out his delivery after a Tommy John procedure in college, there's still considerable effort in it, leading to lapses in control. Between the history of arm troubles and the electricity in his stuff out of the bullpen, more scouts than ever want to see him as a reliever.
Ephemera: Carpenter was drafted three times as an amateur, including being a seventh-round pick by the Tigers in 2004 out of Bryan High School in Ohio, and an 18th-round selection by the Yankees in 2007.
Perfect World Projection: He's more effective as a reliever, but arguably more valuable as a mid-rotation starter.
Fantasy Impact: He's probably not at closer level in relief, and in the rotation, he's solid but unspectacular.
Path to the Big Leagues: Carpenter had some scouts in Arizona thinking he's close to being a big league-ready reliever. He'll start the year at Iowa in a role to be determined.
ETA: Late 2011.

7. Hayden Simpson, RHP
DOB: 5/20/89
Height/Weight: 6-0/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2010, Southern Arkansas University)
2010 Stats: Did Not Play (Mononucleosis)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/changeup

Year in Review: After being the surprise of the first round, Simpson was unable to prove his value due to illness, delaying his debut until 2011.
The Good: Simpson has shocking velocity for his size, sitting in the low-to-mid 90s with a fastball that has touched as high as 98 mph. He throws both a slider and a curve, and while both are effective, the curve has better promise and is already an average offering with projection. He has some feel for a change as well as a classically clean delivery and good control.
The Bad: Simpson's size could be an issue down the road, as he needs to prove he can handle a starter's workload after seeing his velocity yo-yo at times in college. He could dominate off his fastball at a small school, and will need to learn better pitch sequencing as a pro, as he has little exposure to pro-level talent.
Ephemera: Simpson was the runner-up for the Division II Player of the Year award in 2010, with the winner, Bryan Fogle, not getting selected until the 32nd round, when Tampa Bay picked him.
Perfect World Projection: He's a starter of quality to be determined.
Fantasy Impact: It's hard to find people other than the Cubs throwing around big ceilings on him, but others think he could thrive in relief.
Path to the Big Leagues: Simpson doesn't have a path as much as an ability to make his pro debut. He'll likely begin the year at Low-A Peoria, and his talent will define how quickly he moves.
ETA: 2013.

8. Reggie Golden, OF
DOB
: 10/10/91
Height/Weight: 5-10/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2010, Wetumpka HS (AL)
2010 Stats: Did Not Play (Signed late)
Best/Worst Tool: Arm/bat

Year in Review: Among the best athletes in the draft, Golden struggled through injuries during his final high school year but still earned an above-slot bonus of $720,000 as a second-round selection.
The Good: While a bit on the short side, Golden is a thick, muscular athlete with average to above-average tools across the board. He displays significant raw power in batting practice and has enough bat speed to catch up to good fastballs. He's a tick above-average runner and a good outfielder with a cannon arm in right field that sat in the low 90s as a pitcher.
The Bad: While Golden has tools, he's a very raw hitter with little exposure to professional-grade breaking balls. It's hard to see him remaining fast with his kind of frame, and there's some concern that his barrel-chested build could transform into a Kirby Puckett-esque bowling ball down the road.
Ephemera: Golden is the only player ever selected out of Wetumpka High School, and scouts going to see him play could also visit the famous Wetumpka crater, a five-mile wide hole created 83 million years ago.
Perfect World Projection: Golden's tools give him a ceiling as high as any position player in the system.
Fantasy Impact: This one is going to take a while.
Path to the Big Leagues: Barring unforeseen advancements this spring, Golden won't be ready for a full-season assignment in 2011, likely heading for extended spring training once camp breaks.
ETA: 2015.

9. Jay Jackson, RHP
DOB
: 10/27/87
Height/Weight: 6-1/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Ninth round, 2008, Furman University
2010 Stats: 4.63 ERA (157.1-153-48-119)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/command

Year in Review: Jackson, 2009's breakout performer, was solid at Triple-A, but he failed to build on his coming-out season.

The Good: Jackson has a deep arsenal, beginning with a 90-93 mph fastball that can scratch the mid-90s at times. He throws a curve and a slider, both of which are average big-league offerings. He also mixes in a decent, promising changeup. He's one of the more athletic pitchers in the system, fields his position well, and is a very good hitter.
The Bad: Jackson began the year in the bullpen because of a big-league need, and his stuff played up significantly in shorter stints. While his stuff is solid, no one pitch is a day-after-day dependable swing-and-miss offering. He's a fly-ball pitcher who lives in the upper half of the strike zone and gave up 20 home runs in 2010.
Ephemera: A two-way player at Furman who hit 23 home runs during his college career, Jackson hit a healthy .291/.313/.484 for Iowa in 2010, including four doubles and a triple.
Perfect World Projection: He's a power arm, but we're not sure if he's pitching 32 games a year or 70.
Fantasy Impact: As a starter, he's a third starter or a good fourth starter; as a reliever, he's not a closer, so there's little fantasy value there.
Path to the Big Leagues: As impressed as scouts were with Jackson's relief work early in the season, he's still seen as a starter and will likely return to Iowa to begin 2011. With the Cubs' needs for more help in the bullpen, that could change quickly.
ETA: 2011.

10. Robinson Lopez, RHP
DOB
: 3/2/91
Height/Weight: 6-2/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2008, Dominican Republic (Braves)
2010 Stats: 4.37 ERA (92.2-84-43-70) at Low-A with Atlanta (24 G); 2.61 ERA (10.1-10-9-6) at Low-A with Chicago (4 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/changeup

Year in Review: This Dominican righty was promising yet inconsistent in his pro debut, but showed enough to be the top prospect heading from Atlanta to Chicago in the Derrek Lee deal.
The Good: Lopez has plus velocity now and projection for more. He sits in the low 90s, can touch 94 mph, and does so with a long, loose arm that should add a tick or two as he fills out. He'll flash a good curve and has some feel for a changeup. He earns praise for a simple, smooth, and repeatable delivery.
The Bad: Lopez isn't much better than he was 12 months ago, when many scouts saw him as a potential breakout candidate. His secondary pitches remain highly inconsistent, and he had some occasional control issues—something that never occurred during his pro debut.
Ephemera: Lopez struck out 10.0 batters per nine innings as a reliever, with that rate falling all the way to 5.7 when starting.
Perfect World Projection: Lopez has the ability to turn into an above-average big-league starter, but he's very far from that ceiling.
Fantasy Impact: No need to invest yet.
Path to the Big Leagues: Lopez scuffled at times in his full-season debut, and keeping him in Low-A as a 20-year-old would not amount to holding him back.
ETA: 2014.

11. Brandon Guyer, OF
DOB
: 1/28/86
Height/Weight: 6-1/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Fifth round, 2007, University of Virginia
2010 Stats: .344/.398/.588 at Double-A (102 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Bat/power

Year in Review: This athletic outfielder went from organizational player to very real prospect with a massive year at Double-A.
The Good: Guyer has always brought good tools to the table. He has bat speed and gap power, with a smooth, easy stroke, good hand-eye coordination, and excellent contact rates. He's a slightly above-average runner who has stolen 60 bases over the last two years in just 70 attempts. Both his outfield play and arm strength are of big-league quality.
The Bad: Despite his numbers, scouting reports on Guyer are far from glowing. His athleticism leaves him a bit short in center, and his power doesn't qualify well for a corner. He's a very aggressive hitter who looks for fastballs early in the count, an approach that is often exploited by more advanced pitchers.
Ephemera: Beginning with a 4-for-5 night on June 30, Guyer hit a remarkable .426 (87-for-204) in his last 54 games of the season.
Perfect World Projection: He's a second-division starter or a good fourth outfielder.
Fantasy Impact: He's going to give you something in every category, just not in a difference-changing way.
Path to the Big Leagues: Guyer will begin 2011 at Iowa, and is likely the first outfielder to get a call when the need arrives.
ETA: 2011.

The Sleeper: Don't give up on second baseman Tony Thomas. The 2007 third-round pick hit .276/.338/.485 at Double-A last year and makes up for an impatient approach with plenty of gap power to go with average speed and defense.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/85 or later)
1. Starlin Castro, SS
2. Andrew Cashner, RHP
3. Brett Jackson, OF
4. Trey McNutt, RHP
5. Chris Archer, RHP
6. Tyler Colvin, OF
7. Josh Vitters, 3B
8. Hak-Ju Lee, SS
9. Blake DeWitt, 2B
10. Chris Carpenter, RHP

Castro is a fantastic young hitter who will compete for batting titles and add power to his game, but he'll likely need to slide over the second base by the second part of the decade, as he has a thick lower half and is just an average runner. Cashner could be a late-inning reliever, but the Cubs spent so much time and effort with developing him as a starter, and it would be a shame to see that work go to waste. Colvin hit 20 home runs and slugged .500 as a rookie to prove that 2009's breakout was for real, but he doesn't hit for average, swings at everything, and as a corner outfielder and/or first baseman, his offense is still below average. DeWitt was a constant source of frustration in the Dodgers system as a first-round pick who looks like he should really hit but never does. By being on this list, at least age is on his side.

Summary: While the Cubs' system is a deep one that will produce plenty of big-league talents, the team still needs to look outside the organization for the kind of impact talent to turn their fortunes around.

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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