As anticipated, the Chicago Cubs underwent a significant facelift at the trade deadline. The Theo Epstein rebuilding era has fully commenced for the North Siders, and farm names Cubs fans have long awaited—namely, third baseman Josh Vitters and outfielder Brett Jackson—are now taking the field each night.
Despite the excitement of new faces and a new era of Cubs baseball, after a 3-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday, the youthful Cubs have now dropped 11 of 12, and new call-ups Vitters and Jackson are demonstrating why it took so long for them to make the leap to the majors.
Through six games, Vitters has collected only two hits in 16 plate appearances, and carries and .125 batting average. He has drawn zero walks against five strikeouts, and has generally looked outmatched against big-league pitching. Jackson’s promotion has been equally disappointing through his first six games. In 20 plate appearances, Jackson has fanned 12 times, and none of his three hits have gone for extra bases.
Yes, the sample size at the major league level for these two touted prospects is still extremely small, and brighter days may not be far away. But what if those days don’t come? Both Vitters and Jackson have holes in their games that left many scouts and fans skeptical of their potential success. Both struggle with plate discipline. Both strikeout much more than the Cubs organization would like.
In full rebuild mode, Epstein and the Cubs need a contingency plan in case the likes of Vitters and Jackson do not pan out as all Cubs’ faithful hope. Thankfully, Theo & Co. have made significant strides in revamping the Cubs farm system, and it may already be stronger than it ever was under previous GM Jim Hendry.
Javier Baez, the Cubs first selection (ninth overall) in the 2011 draft, is a raw offensive talent, who many project to make a move to third base. Only 19 years old, he already has an imposing frame at 6’1”, 205 lbs, with a frame that can support an additional 10-20 pounds. Baez is known above all else for having plus bat speed for his age, and has already experienced success at every level of competition. In his limited minor league career, he has compiled a .333 batting average, a .383 on-base percentage, and plus pop. In 213 at-bats, he has 12 home runs, projecting early on to be a 25-30 home-run, middle-of-the-order type bat. Baez’s ceiling has not yet been reached, and he could very well serve as Vitters’ replacement should Vitters fail to meet expectations.
Jorge Soler and Albert Almora are both 2012 additions to the Chicago Cubs system, and the organization could not be more excited to have them. Almora projects to have a faster ascent to Chicago than Soler, but both are the five-tool type prospect. Through 16 games, Almora is finding his groove in the Rookie Arizona League. He has already driven in nine runs, and hit his first professional level four-bagger in his first ever at bat. He is still only 18 years old.
Soler has a more interesting back story than Almora, having defected from his native Cuba to pursue his dream baseball career in the US. He also could turn out to be the more interesting prospect. Having split his 17 game minor league career between the Rookie Arizona League and the Cubs Single A affiliate, the Peoria Chiefs, Soler has already contributed to the tune of three home-runs and 16 RBI. Like Baez, Soler has a major league frame at 6’3”, 205. And, like Baez, Soler has the build to add 10-20 pounds of muscle.
The Chicago Cubs will give Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson every chance to prove they deserve to stay in the Bigs. But for the first time in a long time, it seems the Cubs future successes will not be placed on the shoulders of one or two big name players. Prospects like Baez, Almora, and Soler provide that much needed insurance.
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