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November 8, 2012
Who is the Cubs' Top Prospect?
As Jason Parks noted in his prospect rankings primer, this year’s rankings are the product of a collaborative process. Before each system’s prospect list is finalized, members of the BP prospect team trade emails about the players involved, enriching the rankings with their own opinions and perspectives. We’ll be publishing excerpts from the best of those discussions throughout the offseason, generally the day after the prospect lists in question appear. Some exchanges have been edited for language or trimmed to stay on topic.
Nick Faleris: I'd like to piss everyone off by going on the record with, "I would have [Albert] Almora over [Javier] Baez.”
Jason Parks: That’s bold. I have Almora as a high 5/low 6 type (future); Baez with 7 potential. But now talent/risk makes Almora a more attractive '13 prospect. It's very debatable. I could lean either way. It's risk vs. safety. I tend to prefer ceiling.
NF: I am a ceiling guy, too, but still have Baez as a 3B and Almora as a CF long term. Safety up the middle that also comes with above-average first division upside in a kid that could be at Double-A by the time he turns 20 in 2014 takes it for me. I also like that Almora's is a more controlled aggression on the field.
JP: Sure. That's a good argument. Baez is a lunatic with a weapon. He could be a star or he could flame out because of the wild approach. Almora's positional value and game maturity make him very appealing.
Mark Anderson: I think there's a legit case to be made for [Jorge] Soler at the top of this list. It's not a case I'm actively prepared to make, as I believe Baez is the top prospect in this system, but I would be willing to consider Soler as the #2 guy in a toss-up discussion with Almora. I think any order is defensible for these three....but I prefer Baez, Soler, Almora, based on the middle-of-the-order threats that the Baez/Soler ceilings offer.
NF: I have to qualify my position on Soler with the fact I have not seen him in person, whereas I have seen a lot of Almora and Baez over the last two years. I love the upside in Soler's bat and from what I have heard regarding his physical tools in the outfield, believe others when they say he can be molded into a solid defender. So how do we try to project out the offense? Overall package? Soler is more physical than Baez but can't quite match Baez's bat speed, right? Both are unrefined in approach and like to get after it. More leverage on Soler's side; potential for more impactful force at contact for Baez? Does it matter that Soler is coming over from Cuba and will be dealing with adjustments in lifestyle/culture in addition to pro ball? Maybe, though I'm not sure how to quantify it. I would say my general tendency would be to side with Baez due to bat speed, potential for a little more defensive value, and 10 months in the age department (according to the paperwork), but can't honestly say I have a strong opinion. As you have all noted, 1-3 can really be argued any number of ways. Gun to my head, based on current knowledge, I like Almora/Baez/Soler.
JP: Quality points. Soler has more unknowns in the developmental plan, and that alone is reason to be cautious. He's a talent, and the bat has enormous potential, but I've yet to talk to a source that can't live without Soler. The profile is a first-division RF, with good (but not special) athletic ability, middle-of-order power, etc...
Baez has the highest ceiling of all three, in my opinion, with crazy great hands and bat speed. He's a total read-and-react player, but he's not in control now on either side of the ball, and despite the easy 7 power (maybe 8), he doesn't put himself in good hitting conditions. He's a major wildcard. He could be a 7 role player, with GG-level chops at 3B and big, big power. Or he could flame out with a shitty approach. He's either number one or number two on the list, for me.
Almora is the safer choice, but its not like he doesn't have legit tools. Not sure if the profile in CF looks in three-five years, and I'm not sure the bat is all that sexy in a corner, so I don't think he's a slam-dunk first-division guy at the highest level. Maybe. He has a lot more now-talent, and a much lower risk factor than the other two. I can see the case for him being the better prospect, but having a lower ceiling than Baez/Soler.
Jason Collette: I agree with your thoughts; coin flip says Baez over Soler this time.
JP: I have six scout sources and I spoke with [redacted] today about some of the movements on the player development side. This system has a chance to emerge as a top tier force if some of the high-ceiling arms pop; the bats already have impact potential. Lots of love for [Dan] Vogelbach. Lots of love for Duane Underwood. Split decision on Baez/Almora. More passion for Baez, but the higher floor of Almora was mentioned often.
MA: I like the overall list... I'm partial to the high-impact potential of Baez, over Almora, but I'm not going to pitch a fit either way. One of my own internal biases has trouble dealing with Vogelbach. The body is so, so bad and there is an incredible amount of pressure on that bat maximizing every iota of its potential. That’s a scary situation for a prospect.
JP: I agree. Vogelbach will probably always be a DH on the field, so the value (and the pressure) will rest entirely on the bat. The body is never going to win any awards. But the raw power is very, very big, and the hit tool [itself] received more love than I expected. He's pretty quick to the ball, and squares with authority. He has a mature approach, and the pitch recognition skills are present. He is going to have to crush at each level; proving it as he goes along. But if the hit tool is plus (or better), and the big raw can play at 6 (or better), that's a very legit hitter. I was very much on the fence coming into this list, but after a week talking to amateur scouts about his offensive potential, I'm sold that the kid is going to rake. Does that make him a #5 prospect in this system? I'm not sure. I have [Brett] Jackson as a low-5 type. If Vogelbach hits, he could be a beast. But Jackson has better all-around value given the speed/defense tools. Tough call.
Nick: Any background with Vogel-Buick?
NF: I have no issue being aggressive with a Vogelbach ranking. If I had a farm system and someone told me, "Pick one—Jackson or Vogelbach," I'm going with Daniel. He is one of those rare young hitters that exhibits a true feel for the craft, and obviously he also has top-tier power. Most impressive (to me) is that he gets to that power pretty easily—doesn't need to "gear up" for it. Obviously, that's important since he'll have negative value on the bases and in the field. Also, have never heard anyone with first-hand experience with Vogelbach give anything other than a glowing report from a makeup standpoint. He, Henry Owens and Lindor were great "team" guys on that 2010 FTB Mizuno/Cardinals Scout squad.
Chris Mellen: With a straight DH prospect or one with a very iffy defensive future, I think you have to consider the overall trend in regards to the position over the last handful of seasons. Only Billy Butler logged more than 500 PAs (591) this year as a DH. In 2007, there were six players that broke that threshold as a comparison. Teams are using the position to rotate players or give defensive days off, which is putting more of an emphasis on most of the DH types to at least be able to play a little bit of defense to stick on the roster.
That's fills about a year's quota of stats research for me. In the case of Vogelbach, he is going to have to be a beast year in and year out to carve out a career if he can't at least stand out there and not butcher things for 50-ish games a year in the field for an AL team.