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January 24, 2010

Future Shock

Cubs Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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top 11 prospects

Five-Star Prospects
1. Josh Vitters, 3B
2. Starlin Castro, SS
Four-Star Prospects
3. Hak-Ju Lee, SS
4. Brett Jackson, CF
Three-Star Prospects
5. Andrew Cashner, RHP
6. Jay Jackson, RHP
7. Chris Carpenter, RHP
8. Chris Archer, RHP
9. Kyler Burke, OF
10. Ryan Flaherty, INF
11. John Gaub, LHP

Four More:
12. Chris Huseby, RHP: All but written-off, Huseby is a seven-figure signing from the 2006 draft. He shined out of the Low-A Peoria bullpen, showing a big-league quality sinker.
13. Logan Watkins, INF: Watkins is a little second baseman with speed, a line-drive bat, and on-base skills, but zero power.
14. Dae-Eun Rhee, LHP: This Korean import missed nearly all of 2009 recovering from Tommy John surgery, but his upside remains high.
15. Darwin Barney, SS: He's one of the minors' best defenders with enough bat to be a nice utility player.

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)
2009 Stats: .316/.351/.535 at Low-A (70 G); .238/.260/.344 at High-A (50 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 1

Year in Review: Finally healthy, this former top pick was having a breakout season in the Midwest League before a hand injury slowed him down in the Florida State League.
The Good: Vitters' swing is among the sweetest in the minors. It's smooth, powerful, gets into the hitting zone quickly, and stays there a long time. His plate coverage is off the charts, and he's as comfortable turning on an inside fastball as he is driving an outside breaking ball to the opposite field. He made significant strides defensively in 2009, with most scouts believing he can stay at the hot corner for at least the remainder of the decade, while his arm is a plus tool.
The Bad: Vitters' plate coverage works against him, as with so many hittable pitches, he draws very few walks. He's a tick below average as a runner, which limits his range a bit at the hot corner.
Ephemera: Over a 15-game stretch from May 16 through May 31, Vitters went 26-for-64 (.406) with 10 home runs.
Perfect World Projection: Vitters will be a bigger, stronger version of Howie Kendrick.
Path to the Big Leagues: Aramis Ramirez could become a free agent after this year, or he could remain a Cub through 2012.
Timetable: Vitters made up for his poor second half by hitting .353/.380/.453 against far more advanced pitching in the Arizona Fall League. He could begin 2010 as high as Double-A.

2. Starlin Castro, SS
DOB: 3/24/90
Height/Weight: 6-1/160
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2006
2009 Stats: .302/.340/.391 at High-A (96 G); .288/.347/.396 at Double-A (31 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not ranked

Year in Review: The Cubs surprised everyone by starting Castro in High-A for his first full season, and then Castro provided more surprises by earning All-Star honors in the Florida State League and continuing to perform at Double-A.
The Good: Castro certainly can hit. He has an instinctive knack for contact and rockets balls from line to line with regularity, projecting as a .300 hitter in the majors. His defensive fundamentals are outstanding for both his level and his age, with smooth actions, soft hands, a quick transfer, and a plus arm.
The Bad: While most believe that Castro will be an above-average big-league shortstop, he doesn't have the tools for true impact potential. His line-drive swing and contact-oriented approach offers little power or projection for much more, while he's also a free swinger who rarely walks. Several scouts noted below-average running times to first base, and his range is affected by it, possibly leading to a move to second base down the road.
Ephemera: Castro's birthplace of Monte Christi is a small town of 25,000 tucked away in the very northwest corner of the county, but it's produced 11 big leaguers, including five-time All-Star catcher Tony Pena and Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz.
Perfect World Projection: Castro may be an above-average shortstop who doubles as a good second hitter in the lineup.
Path to the Big Leagues: Castro doesn't turn 20 until just before the regular season, but he's moving quickly and Ryan Theriot does not provide a huge roadblock.
Timetable: Castro will likely return to Double-A to begin 2010, but after his impressive showing in Arizona, the Cubs are trying their best not to rush him.

3. Hak-Ju Lee, SS
DOB: 11/4/90
Height/Weight: 6-2/170
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: Korea, 2008
2009 Stats: .330/.399/.420 at Short-Season (68 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 4

Year in Review: The Korean infielder's injury-delayed pro debut was a stunner, as he led the Northwest League in runs and stolen bases, while finishing fifth in the batting race.
The Good: Lee's pure upside is the highest of any infielder in the system, including Castro. He already has one of the better approaches in the system, as well as a line-drive bat with gap power that could produce double-digit home runs annually down the road. He's a 65 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale, and he already knows how to use his speed as a weapon. He has plus range to both sides, an above-average arm, and a flair for the dramatic in the field.
The Bad: Lee's defensive game can be raw, as for every spectacular play he makes, he matches it with a silly error on a routine one. While his skill set is that of a leadoff hitter, he'll need to improve his contact rate to stay there. He'll never have much in the way of power.
Ephemera: Lee failed to reach base in only five of his 66 starts for Boise in 2009.
Perfect World Projection: Lee looks to be a shortstop and leadoff man with occasional All-Star appearances.
Path to the Big Leagues: While he's behind Castro in terms of both the depth chart and experience, some within the organization envision a future middle infield of Lee at short, Castro at second, and the pair batting first and second in the batting order.
Timetable: Lee's highly anticipated full-season debut will likely take place at Low-A Peoria.

4. Brett Jackson, CF
DOB: 8/2/88
Height/Weight: 6-2/210
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2009, Cal
2009 Stats: .455/.533/.636 at Rookie-level (3 G); .330/.443/.398 at Short-Season (24 G); .295/.383/.545 at Low-A (26 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Did not qualify

Year in Review: After slipping a bit towards the end of the first round in June, Jackson looked to be far better than that in his pro debut.
The Good: Jackson's tools are worthy of an early first-round pick, arguably one in the single digits. He's a true five-tool outfielder with a good approach at the plate and plus raw power. He's a 65 (on the 20-to-80 scouting scale) with outstanding range in center field and has a very good arm.
The Bad: Scouts spent all spring debating just how much to knock the considerable amount of swing-and-miss in Jackson's game, as he struck out 61 times in 53 games during his junior year, and 56 more times over his 53-game pro debut, leaving many to wonder if he'll hit for average at the upper levels.
Ephemera: Jackson was seemingly destined to go to Cal, as he was born in Berkeley, and his father attended while also playing for the university's soccer team.
Perfect World Projection: He has the tools to be a dynamic power/speed center fielder.
Path to the Big Leagues: Three years for Marlon Byrd sounds about right; maybe one year too long.
Timetable: Jackson's showing at Peoria proved that he's ready for an assignment to High-A Daytona for his full-season debut.

5. Andrew Cashner, RHP
DOB: 9/11/1986
Height/Weight: 6-6/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, Texas Christian
2009 Stats: 1.50 ERA (42.0-31-15-34) at High-A (12 G); 3.39 ERA (58.1-45-27-41) at Double-A (12 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 5

Year in Review: The Cubs' 2008 first-round pick made a statistically successful conversion to starter, but still left many questions about his future.
The Good: Cashner has pure power stuff. While he couldn't throw as hard as he did as a closer, he still sat at 92-94 mph with his fastball, getting up to 97 on several occasions. His slider is a plus offering that gets strikeouts as much as his fastball, while his changeup is at least average.
The Bad: Many still think Cashner's future lies in the bullpen. There's considerable effort in his delivery, and an ultra-conservative pitch count had him going over five innings just three times all year, while averaging just over 80 pitches per Double-A start. He can overthrow at times, leading to command and control issues.
Ephemera: Cashner was drafted four times as an amateur, including once prior to 2008 by the Cubs, who selected him in the 29th round of the 2007 draft.
Perfect World Projection: He looks to be a third starter, maybe a bit more, but has more star potential as a true power closer.
Path to the Big Leagues: The multiple paths give the Cubs more options.
Timetable: Cashner will remain a starter for now, and the Cubs will loosen the reigns a bit on his pitch counts as he returns to Double-A.

6. Jay Jackson, RHP
DOB: 10/27/87
Height/Weight: 6-1/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 9th round, 2008, Furman University
2009 Stats: 3.70 ERA (82.2-73-39-77) at Double-A (16 G); 1.64 ERA (38.1-31-4-46) at High-A (7 G); 1.50 ERA (6.0-5-3-4) at Triple-A (1 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Just missed

Year in Review: An athletic right-hander, Jackson solidified his reputation as one of the best finds of the 2008 draft by succeeding at Double-A in his first full season.
The Good: Jackson offers intriguing upside. There's little effort to his delivery, and his 91-93 mph fastball explodes out of his hand, reaching 96 at times. His power slider is a true out pitch, and he'll also throw an occasional solid curveball.
The Bad: Jackson's changeup is below average, but most scouts believe it can be a good enough offering. His control is average at best. He was sent back to High-A for disciplinary reasons in July, but the Cubs insist it was an isolated incident and no indication of makeup issues.
Ephemera: Jackson was a two-way star at Furman, leading the team during his junior year with nine wins and 94 strikeouts as the Paladins' Friday starter, while also batting .336 with eight home runs and a team-leading 41 RBIs as an everyday outfielder.
Perfect World Projection: He's a solid third big-league starter.
Path to the Big Leagues: He needs some refinement, but has no major holes, and he probably doesn't need more than another year of development.
Timetable: Jackson will return to Double-A in 2010, and it will be interesting to watch the battle he has with Cashner to be the first to reach the big leagues.

7. Chris Carpenter, RHP
DOB: 12/26/85
Height/Weight: 6-4/215
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2008, Kent State
2009 Stats: 2.44 ERA (73.2-55-33-60) at Low-A (15 G); 1.44 ERA (25.0-15-8-33) at High-A (5 G); 4.78 ERA (32.0-30-11-25) at Double-A (7 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not ranked

Year in Review: A power arm with very long injury history, Carpenter calmed concerns by reaching Double-A in his full-season debut and staying healthy over 27 games and 130 2/3 innings.
The Good: Carpenter is a big, physical righty who sits in the low-90s, getting up to 95-96 at times with impressive late movement. His slider flashes plus, and he has good feel for a changeup with nice fade.
The Bad: Carpenter's long track record of arm problems, including a 2005 Tommy John surgery and a later clean-up procedure are still in the back of scouts' mind, especially considering the effort to his delivery. His release points rise and drop, leading to control troubles at times. His changeup needs to be more consistent, and as he's already 24, some feel there's not much room left for improvement.
Ephemera: Carpenter was a seventh-round pick in 2004 out of Bryan High School in northwest Ohio, where he was not only an All-State baseball player, but also the school's all-time leading scorer in basketball.
Perfect World Projection: His ceiling is a third starter, or perhaps an eighth-inning reliever if the arm doesn't hold up.
Path to the Big Leagues: Carpenter, Cashner, and Jackson are all basically on the same path.
Timetable: Carpenter will be back in Double-A to begin 2010, with a September big-league look not completely out of the picture.

8. Chris Archer, RHP
DOB: 9/26/88
Height/Weight: 6-3/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 5th round, 2006, Clayton HS (NC)
2009 Stats: 2.81 ERA (109.0-78-66-119) at Low-A (27 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not ranked

Year in Review: One of the arms received from Cleveland in return for Mark DeRosa, Archer had a minor breakout performance as one of the Midwest League's top arms.
The Good: Archer's fastball has plus velocity, sitting at 91-92 mph and touching 95, but it plays up due to movement and location. He consistently stays low with the pitch and has a bit of natural sink, and he did not give up a single home run in 109 innings. He gets good spin on a hard 78-83 mph curveball and earns high praise for his poise.
The Bad: Archer's control is well below average, especially with his breaking ball, which he has problems throwing for strikes. His changeup is rudimentary, and it will need to improve significantly for him to remain a starter.
Ephemera: While Archer held batters leading off an inning to just a .133 batting average (12-for-90), he still allowed 31 percent of them to reach base thanks to 23 walks.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a third or fourth starter, with a power reliever option as a backup plan.
Path to the Big Leagues: Archer is a full two steps behind the power righties ahead of him, so there is no need to rush him.
Timetable: Archer will head the rotation at High-A Daytona going into 2010.

9. Kyler Burke, OF
DOB: 4/20/88
Height/Weight: 6-3/205
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2006, Ooltewah HS (TN) (Padres)
2009 Stats: .303/.405/.505 at Low-A (132 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not ranked

Year in Review: The athletic outfielder finally lived up to scouts' expectations in his fourth pro season, finishing second in the Midwest League in on-base percentage and third in slugging.
The Good: Burke has solid across-the-board tools. He's always had good plate discipline, but a simplified swing allowed him to break out offensively, showcasing average power with projection for a bit more. He's a good right fielder and has more than enough arm for the position. Burke also has at least average speed.
The Bad: While Burke has few weaknesses, none of his tools are overly impressive, either. He shortens his swing against southpaws and shows little power against them. Some scouts see him as a mistake hitter who will struggle at the upper levels against more advanced secondary offerings.
Ephemera: In 29 day games and 95 at-bats in 2009, Burke hit just one home run, with his other 14 coming in nighttime action.
Perfect World Projection: Burke can be Rusty Greer minus about 20 points of batting average.
Path to the Big Leagues: Burke is a one-step-at-a-time player who needs to prove it at every level...
Timetable: ...With the challenge beginning at High-A Daytona in 2010.

10. Ryan Flaherty, INF
DOB: 7/27/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/200
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, Vanderbilt
2009 Stats: .276/.344/.470 at Low-A (131 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 8

Year in Review: A supplemental first-round pick who received seven-figure bonus, Flaherty finished among the Low-A Midwest League's top five in home runs, RBI, and total bases.
The Good: Flaherty's calling card is power that is well above average for a middle infielder. His approach is solid, and he uses all fields. While power is his only big-league plus tool, he's a grinder who gets the most of his abilities with good base running instincts and nice defensive fundamentals.
The Bad: Flaherty split time between three positions in 2009, but scouts project him as a second baseman in the end. He has neither the range nor the arm for the left side of the infield. He's an average runner at best, and he struggles against left-handed pitching. Plenty of scouts noted that they were still skeptical of his performance, as he turned 23 during the year and came from a major college program, so it should be expected for him to hit well in the Midwest League.
Ephemera: Ryan's father, Ed Flaherty, has been the head baseball coach at the University of Southern Maine for nearly a quarter of a century, winning two Division III national titles. He was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2004.
Perfect World Projection: He can be a second baseman who hits .260 with average defense and 20 home runs annually.
Path to the Big Leagues: If both Lee and Castro develop, he could end up blocked.
Timetable: Flaherty could see his timetable accelerated in 2010, and while he might not begin there, he should reach Double-A at some point in 2010.

11. John Gaub, LHP
DOB: 4/28/85
Height/Weight: 6-2/200
Bats/Throws: R/L
Drafted/Signed: 21st round, 2006, University of Minnesota (Indians)
2009 Stats: 2.83 ERA (28.2-19-17-40) at Double-A (26 G); 1.72 ERA (31.1-17-16-40) at Triple-A (26 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not ranked

Year in Review: Another pitcher received in the Mark DeRosa deal, Gaub dominated at both Double- and Triple-A, establishing himself as the best pure relief prospect in the system.
The Good: Gaub attacks hitters with two plus pitches, beginning with a 91-92 mph fastball that can touch 94, and an excellent slider with good depth and tile. His twisting delivery provides plenty of deception, as batters have real problems picking up the ball out of his hand. He's far more than just a future LOOGY, as he was actually better against right-handed hitters in 2009, limiting them to a .156 (22-for-141) batting average.
The Bad: Much of Gaub's effectiveness depends on deception as opposed to stuff, which is always a concern for scouts as to how it will play at the big-league level. His mechanics are tough to repeat, and he has problems throwing strikes at times.
Ephemera: No pitcher drafted 641st overall has ever reached the big leagues, although former Pirate catcher Keith Osik appeared in a pair of games on the mound, allowing nine runs over two innings.
Perfect World Projection: Gaub's a late-inning reliever, but he's probably short of being a closer.
Path to the Big Leagues: He might be a finished product.
Timetable: Gaub will compete for a job this spring in a crowded Cubs bullpen, but he'll need to blow hitters away to avoid a return to Triple-A Iowa.

The Sleeper: Dominican right-hander Rafael Dolis has arguably the most electric arm in the system, but his control is below average and he's yet to find a dependable secondary offering.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (Born 4/1/84 or later)

1. Josh Vitters, 3B
2. Starlin Castro, SS
3. Hak-Ju Lee, SS
4. Brett Jackson, CF
5. Andrew Cashner, RHP
6. Jay Jackson, RHP
7. Jeff Samardzija, RHP
8. Chris Archer, RHP
9. Kyler Burke, OF
10. Ryan Flaherty, SS

The Cubs have worked hard on a public relations level to make Cubs fans believe that Samardzija is worth the ludicrous package he received out of the draft, but he's now 25 and in 46 big-league games he's allowed more than twice as many base runners (102) as strikeouts (46), and those outside the organization see him as little more than a usable bullpen piece. The fact the Samardzija is the only player on this list speaks to a system that had produced very little of late, and a big-league team that is old with a window that is rapidly closing, as of their eight projected starters among position players, only catcher Geovany Soto will be under 30 at the All-Star break.

Summary: While things didn't work out at the big-league level (cue broken record), the Cubs' 2009 season down on the farm was an unmitigated success, with far more steps forwards (many of them huge) than regressions, and a possible piece of thievery with finding Jackson at 31st overall. The North Siders will move way up in this year's organizational rankings.


Next up: the Cincinnati Reds.

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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