Most minor league sites will do top-10s, top-15s, top-20s, or some other ranking. Last year, to be a bit different, the FanSided team prospect lists (which were done at Call to the Pen, since S2S didn’t exist), instead listed a team’s top prospect at each position (C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, 3 OFs, 5 SPs, and 2 RPs). This year, we’re keeping that format, but also adding a “Best of the Rest” section that lists the top ten players beyond the positional rankings. That’s 25 players per system, if you’re counting.
The Chicago Cubs system is largely devoid of impact talent – especially at the upper levels – but there are a number of guys further down that are very intriguing. After you get past the first 3-4 prospects there is a great deal of variance in rankings, opinions and projection on the bulk of the guys in the organization. Since the majority of the team’s most intriguing prospects are raw, inexperienced and in the lower levels the general lack of consensus isn’t all that surprising.
There are areas of strength, like their collection of 2B/SS prospects – many of which really pique my interest – but there are other areas where the depth is almost non-existent – like catcher. The quality of the pitching prospects is rather underwhelming but if you’re not too adverse to risk there are a couple of arms you can dream on a little bit.
Position Player Upside: C+
Position Player Depth: C+
Pitching Upside: C
Pitching Depth: C
System Grade: C
Catcher - Welington Castillo (24): The Cubs, as I mentioned in my overview above, are very thin at Catcher but they did spend their 6th, 15th and 16th round picks in the 2011 draft to help address the shortfall. Those guys are going to take some time to develop but that’s okay because Castillo is ready to contribute now. He’s a 0.270/.332/.507 hitter with 26 2B and 28 HR in 131 Triple-A games and he’s received brief callups each of the last two seasons. He’s slow (even for a catcher) and is overly aggressive at the plate but he has a plus arm, plus power and is solid defensively. He figures to open 2012 as the primary backup to Geovany Soto but could assume the role as the starter by the end of the season.
First base - Anthony Rizzo (22): When they traded for him just over a week ago the Cubs became Rizzo’s 3rd organization in a little over 2 years. He struggled to the tune of 0.141/.281/.242 in 153 big league PA with the Padres in 2011 but that shouldn’t taint anyone’s opinion of him. He’s the future at 1B for the Cubs and the future will become the present sooner rather than later. Once he gets his feet wet he’s capable of hitting 0.270-0.280 with 25-35 HR on a regular basis. Rizzo is also fairly patient at the plate for a power hitter and is capable with the glove at first base making him very likely to have a long and productive career.
Second base - Zeke DeVoss (21): Chicago’s 3rd round pick in the 2011 draft, DeVoss quickly made the team’s $500,000 investment in him look sound. He hit 0.311/.458/.386 with 14 SB in 38 games for Boise (A-) and finished with an impressive 28-32 SO-to-BB rate. He’s a switch hitter with excellent speed and great plate discipline making him an ideal candidate to hit lead-off. Most prospect sources haven’t warmed up to the idea the Zeke is legit, but I have a feeling they will be singing a different tune after the 2012 season.
Third base - Jeimer Candelario (18): In 2011, Jeimer made his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League and hit 0.337/.443/.478 with 16 2B, 5 HR, 50 BB and 42 SO in 72 games. Like DeVoss, he’s a switch hitter and showed excellent plate discipline. While stats don’t mean as much in the DSL, his performance – as a 17-year old – was impressive regardless of the league. Based on scouting reports, the plate discipline and ability to hit for average are for real. He already flashes some power and that aspect of his game should continue to develop as well. While his bat is very advanced for a 17-year old, the defense needs some work. He seems likely to move across the diamond as he gets older but his bat has the potential to carry him to the majors regardless of where he plays.
Shortstop – Javier Baez (19): Baez was the 9th player taken in the past draft and signed for $2.625 million. The moment he agreed to the deal he immediately became the Cubs best prospect in terms of upside. His ability to reach his ceiling is another matter entirely as there are concerns about his maturity and makeup. Outside of those concerns however, his bat, power and arm all grade out to well above average. His range and speed are both currently average and while he’s capable of playing short there is an expectation among many that he will wind up at 3B. Due to signing late he only played in 5 professional games in 2011 – 3 for the AZL Cubs (Rk) and 2 for Boise (A-).
Outfielder #1 - Brett Jackson (23): There is almost a consensus among sources that Jackson is the Cubs top prospect heading into 2012 and with good reason. While none of his tools are truly plus, they are all at least average to above-average tools and he plays a solid CF to boot. He has the potential to be a 20/20 guy in multiple seasons and it’s reasonable to envision that he will win a Gold Glove and make a few All-Star teams once he gets established in the majors. He reached Triple-A for the first time this past season and hit 0.297/.388/.551 with 25 XBH and 6 SB in 48 games. Jackson has hit reasonably well at every stop in his minor league career and his OBP has never been lower than 0.366. The one red flag is that he’s averaged more than a SO per game (320 SO / 296 G), but he has all the other tools to mask that plus the work ethic that leads me to believe we will see some improvement in that aspect of his game as he matures.
Outfielder #2 - Matthew Szczur (22): Szczur is almost exactly a year younger than Jackson but unlike Brett, he’s nowhere close to being major league ready. His commitment to baseball and football at Villanova is the main reason he’s a little behind the curve but he’s already shown the ability to adapt and learn quickly. Szczur fared well by hitting 0.314/.366/.431 in 66 Midwest League (A) games before being promoted to Daytona (A+). The FSL proved to be a stiffer challenge for Matt and he slipped to hit 0.260/.283/.410 in 43 G. He did, however, recover to hit well in the FSL playoffs. Right now there is little debate that Szczur is an excellent athlete with off the charts makeup and plus-plus speed. However when you start to project what he can become, there is some disagreement. Some see an above-average major league regular while others see a 4th or 5th outfielder. Collegiate two-sport guys are always difficult to project because you never know how much their drive and athleticism will make up for lost development time.
Outfielder #3 - Reggie Golden (20): Picking a 3rd outfielder in this system was surprisingly difficult, but in the end I went with tools and potential over all else and selected Golden. The Cubs 2nd round pick from the 2010 draft, Reggie spent the entire 2011 season playing for Boise in the Northwest League. In 265 PA he hit 0.242/.332/.420 with 10 2B, 5 3B, 7 HR, 5 SB, 28 BB and 68 SO. He’s an outstanding athlete blessed with a great deal of talent but molding that talent into a professional baseball player is going to take some work. Golden has good speed and a strong arm but it’s his power potential that’s most intriguing. The attrition rate on guys like this is very high, but when they pan out they’re certainly worth the risk.
Starting Pitcher #1 - RHP Dillon Maples (19): For me Maples leads the pack of Cubs pitching prospects despite the fact he hasn’t made his professional debut. That’s not so much a testament to Maples – who might become a #2 starter - as it is a statement on the lack of impact arms in the system. To reach his ceiling he’s going to have to develop a third pitch to complement his already plus mid-90s heavy fastball and a power curveball. He has a rudimentary changeup but really didn’t need it as an amateur so it lags far behind his other offerings. As with most young pitchers he also needs to improve his command and smooth out some elements of his mechanics but he’s an excellent athlete and should be able to handle the necessary adjustments. The Cubs deserve a great deal of credit for getting Maples under contract – for a $2.5 million bonus – after drafting him in the 14th round. He was a 1st round talent who slid due to a very strong commitment to play both football and baseball at the University of North Carolina.
Starting Pitcher #2 - RHP Trey McNutt (22): McNutt, like Maples, has a plus fastball and a plus power curve. The need to develop a changeup and improve his command are two more similarities they share. Trey throws a little harder but Dillon is 3 years younger. McNutt also has similar #2 upside but is less likely to reach his ceiling. After a very strong 2010 season, he regressed quite a bit statistically and really struggled in his first extended time in Double-A. His H/9, BB/9 and SO/9 all went the wrong way as he lost velocity on his fastball, bite on his curve and his command as well. He dealt with some minor injuries – blisters and bruised ribs – during the season which surely contributed to his struggles, but we can’t dismiss the fact that the Southern League hitters also sent him a message. He gets a bit of mulligan for 2011 but there are reasons for concern here.
Starting Pitcher #3 - RHP Zach Cates (22): I still don’t know what the Padres were thinking when they traded Rizzo and Cates to the Cubs for Andrew Cashner and Kyung-Min Na but it surely worked in the Cubs favor. Granted you won’t find Cates on many top-prospect lists but much of that is a reflection of San Diego’s loaded system. Cates converted from catcher to the mound full time while still at Northeast Texas CC so he’s behind other prospects his age but there’s no denying his arm strength, clean delivery and nearly ideal pitcher’s frame (6′ 3″, 200 lbs). He already throws a mid-90s fastball with good life and augments that with a quickly developing changeup that could wind up as an above average pitch. His curveball trails his other pitches but does show flashes of being an average offering as he continues to develop. 2011 was his first professional season and given the circumstances he handled himself well in the Midwest league with a 4.73 ERA, 1.356 WHIP, 8.2 H/9, 4.0 BB/9 and 8.5 SO/9. I’m expecting a breakout season for Cates in 2012 and believe his ceiling is that of a #3 starter.
Starting Pitcher #4 - RHP Benjamin Wells (19): Selected by the Cubs in the 7th round of the 2010 draft, Wells is another later round pick that the team signed to a well above slot bonus – in this case $530,000. Like the vast majority of players who sign at the deadline he didn’t make his professional debut until this past season. He spent all of 2011 with Boise in the Northwest League and finished with a 4.66 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 9.7 H/9, 2.2 BB/9 and 6.2 SO/9 in 77.1 IP. At 6’2″ and 220 he’s a got the frame you want in a durable starter. He will likely never be a high SO guy since he prefers to use his low-90s sinking fastball – that peaks at 94 – to generate ground balls. It’s something he’s successful with as evidenced by his 56.1% ground ball rate in 2011. As he advances and the defense behind him improves so too will his ERA, WHIP, and H/9. His arsenal also includes a slider that could evolve into a plus pitch, a changeup that he picked up in instructional league after the 2010 season and a splitter that’s a holdover from his high school days. Like Cates, he projects to be a #3 starter if things break right.
Starting Pitcher #5 - LHP Austin Kirk (21): Chicago selected Kirk in the 3rd round of the 2009 draft and gave him $320,000 to sign. He pitched for one of the top HS programs – Owasso HS – in Oklahoma which has also produced recent first round picks Pete Kozma (2007) and Dylan Bundy (2011). The Cubs system has a gaping hole when it comes to LHSP and Kirk is one of the few options. He spent all of last season pitching for the Peoria Chiefs in the Midwest League (A) and finished with a 4.29 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 8.5 H/9, 2.3 BB/9 and 7.3 SO/9. Those numbers on their own are fairly decent but they mask the season he had until he wore down at the end. After throwing 13.2 innings in 2009 and 64.1 in 2010, his workload jumped significantly to 151.0 innings in 2011. As a result of the significant increase in innings it’s not a surprise that his ERA in August and September ballooned to 7.64. During that same timeframe he gave up 49 hits, walked 11 and struck out 21 in 33.0 IP. Kirk throws a high-80s/low-90s fastball that gets on hitters quickly and complements it with a solid curveball and changeup. He has excellent control and throws strikes but he does need to improve his command and spot his pitches better. At 6′ 1″, 200 lbs he’s well built, but the significant innings increase may have taken its toll. If all breaks right he could wind up as a #4 starter in a major league rotation.
Relief Pitcher #1 – RHP Rafael Dolis (24): Dolis has had quite a journey in his professional career thus far. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2004, the Cubs converted him from SS to pitcher in 2006. In 2007 his elbow gave out and he needed Tommy John Surgery, which of course kept him off the mound in 2008. He returned to the FSL (A+) in 2009 and had climbed to the Southern League (AA) by the end of 2010. Dolis spent all of 2011 back in the Southern League with the Smokies as the Cubs elected to shift him to a relief role. He went on to finish 36 games and amassed 17 saves with a 3.22 ERA. Dolis has all the stuff to be successful in a major league bullpen with a heavy sinking fastball that can scrape triple digits and a biting mid-80s slider. However he struggles to finish off hitters and also has a tendency to lose the strike zone at times. Dolis made his major league debut with a 1.1 inning outing on September 26th and barring a meltdown he should log a fair number of innings in the Cubs bullpen this year. His control will dictate whether his future is as a middle reliever, set-up man or closer in waiting, but he has the stuff to succeed in any of those roles.
Relief Pitcher #2 - LHP Jeff Beliveau (24): In many ways Beliveau, the Cubs 18th round pick in the 2008 draft, is the opposite of Dolis. He’s on this list because of the results more than his stuff and has shown a knack for missing bats. He features a low-90s fastball, a solid curveball and complements his pitches with excellent control that took a big step forward in 2011. Between Daytona (A+) and Tennessee (AA) he finished with a 1.57 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 6.1 H/9, 2.3 BB/9 and 10.8 SO/9 in 74.1 IP and wound up as the Cubs 2011 Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He appeared in 4 AFL games in November and showed very well, allowing just 3 earned runs that all came in the same outing. Beliveau has a very good shot of making the Cubs bullpen out of Spring Training and if he doesn’t I have little doubt he will be in Chicago at some point this summer. Many have type-cast him as a lefty-specialist but I think that is selling him way too short, especially if the gains in control from this past season are legitimate and sustainable.
Best of the Rest
- #1) 1B – Daniel Vogelbach (19): Hit 0.292/.370/.542, 1 HR, 2 BB, 2 SO in 27 PA with the AZL Cubs after being selected in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft. Vogelbach is a beast with big-time plus-plus power to all fields. At 6′ 0″ and 250 lbs his conditioning will be something worth keeping an eye on at all times, but he’s already shown a renewed dedication to that in recent years which bodes well for his future. He’s started to creep onto the back of some Cubs Top-10 lists and with good reason as he profiles to also be a solid – perhaps even very good – hitter in addition to his incredible power. I can’t wait to see how he does in his first full pro season.
- #2) SS – Junior Lake (21): Hit 0.279/.316/.434, 21 2B, 12 HR, 38 SB, 19 BB and 109 SO in 478 PA split between Daytona (A+) and Tennessee (AA). He’s an exciting prospect with a ton of tools but his lack of plate discipline gives me pause. Lake was very impressive in the Arizona Fall League despite the 4-1 SO-to-BB.
- #3) 3B – Josh Vitters (22): Hit 0.283/.322/.448, 28 2B, 14 HR, 22 BB and 54 SO in 488 PA with the Tennessee Smokies (AA). The Cubs 1st round (3rd overall) selection in the 2007 draft, he’s was on Baseball America’s Top-100 three straight years from 2008-2010. Vitters has fallen from those lofty expectations and has been terribly inconsistent but had a solid 2011 season and is still young. I still believe he has a productive major league career ahead of him.
- #4) 2B – Ronald Torreyes (19): Hit 0.356/.398/.457, 3 HR, 12 SB, 14 BB and 19 SO in 306 PA with the Dayton Dragons (A). Came to the Cubs, along with Dave Sappelt and Travis Wood, in the trade that sent Sean Marshall to Cincinnati. Nathaniel aggressively ranked him 93rd in our 2012 Top-100.
- #5) 2B/SS – Marco Hernandez (19): Hit 0.333/.375/.486, 16 2B, 9 SB, 16 BB and 29 SO in 233 PA with the AZL Cubs (Rk). He has excellent range, instincts and a great glove. Those three things alone might get him to the majors and while he lacks power he makes good, consistent contact.
- #6) SS – Gioskar Amaya (19): Hit 0.377/.417/.510, 11 2B, 8 3B, 13 SB, 13 BB and 39 SO in 227 PA with the AZL Cubs (Rk). I mentioned in my brief overview that the Cubs were loaded in the middle infield and Amaya is just further proof of that statement. He’s an intriguing guy who gets overshadowed in this system but is worth keeping an eye on going forward.
- #7) OF – Pin-Chieh Chen (20): Hit 0.301/.363/.424, 14 2B, 20 SB, 25 BB and 44 SO in 263 PA with the Boise Hawks (A-). He made the transition from 2B to the OF in 2011 and did so flawlessly as he didn’t commit an error all season. He has the speed and defense to play in the majors so it’s his bat that will determine if he winds up as a regular or a 4th/5th outfielder.
- #8) RHP – Anthony Zych (21): 2.25 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 4.5 H/9, 4.5 BB/9 and 11.2 SO/9 in 4.0 IP (4 G) split between the AZL Cubs (Rk) and Boise Hawks (A-). The Cubs drafted him in the 4th round of the 2011 draft out of the University of Louisville and gave him a $400,000 bonus to sign. While his delivery isn’t ideal, he throws mid-90s with his fastball and can run it up to as high as 99 and also has a mid-80s slider. Zych was named the top prospect in the 2010 Cape Cod League and should move quickly through the minors.
- #9) RHP – Robert Whitenack (23): 1.93 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 6.4 H/9, 2.1 BB/9 and 7.0 SO/9 in 60.2 IP (11 GS) split between Daytona (A+) and Tennessee (AA). He was having a breakout season before leaving his May 27th start after just 2.2 innings pitched due to injury. Whitenack underwent Tommy John Surgery shortly thereafter and will spend 2012 on the rehab trail trying to work his way back. While he likely won’t pitch next season he was so impressive in his 11 starts that I felt compelled to give him a spot on this list.
- #10) RHP – Eric Jokisch (22): 3.09 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 8.2 H/9, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.9 SO/9 in 134.0 IP (28 G/14 GS) primarily with the Peoria Chiefs (A) and a brief stint with Tennessee (AA).
The complete list of S2S 2012 Team Prospect Rankings can be found here.
For more on the Cubs, check out Cubbies Crib.
Topics: Anthony Rizzo, Austin Kirk, Ben Wells, Brett Jackson, Chicago Cubs, Dan Vogelbach, Dillon Maples, Eric Jokisch, Gioskar Amaya, Javier Baez, Jeff Beliveau, Jeimer Candelario, Josh Vitters, Junior Lake, Marco Hernandez, Matt Szczur, Pin-Chieh Chen, Rafael Dolis, Reggie Golden, Robert Whitenack, Ronald Torreyes, Tony Zych, Trey McNutt, Welington Castillo, Zach Cates, Zeke DeVoss