Top-5 Check-In: Chicago Cubs

Now that we’re a month in to the 2013 minor league season, it’s a good time to check in on how the top prospects in each of the organizations are faring. It is way too early to get overly excited or overly depressed about anyone’s performance thus far, but it’s never too early to dig into the data and results that each prospect has added to their resume. For the purposes of these check-ins we will be using Baseball America’s rankings unless otherwise noted.

The Chicago Cubs have for years tried to throw money at their Major League struggles. It made sense, of course, as the Cubs are one of the bigger market clubs in the league. The franchise philosophy changed course when Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer came to town and the new emphasis on scouting and development, combined with the deep pockets of Tom Ricketts, figures to bring success back to the North side in the not too distant future. Chicago’s Top-5 is heavy on former first-round draft picks but, thanks to injury and ineffectiveness, these guys have had an underwhelming start to the season.

#1: SS – Javier Baez (20)

Daytona (A+) .238/.271/.462 4 2B, 3 3B, 6 HR, 3 SB, 5 BB, 45 K in 155 PA

After performing very well in the Midwest League in 2012, Baez got an in-season promotion to Daytona but struggled mightily as a 19-year-old at High-A. Unfortunately, those struggles have stayed with Baez so far this season. He has shown excellent extra-base pop as evidenced by his .462 Slugging and .224 ISO, but his low average and on-base numbers are a legitimate concern. With a .292 BABIP, he’s not getting unlucky at the plate; he’s simply not making contact nearly often enough.  His contact issues have been severe as he has fanned in 29 percent of his trips to the plate. Baez has plenty of raw skill and has a top-20 ranking by most outlets, but he’ll have to improve his contact skills dramatically in order to fulfill his vast potential.

#2: OF – Albert Almora (19)

Almora suffered a broken hammate bone during Spring Training and has yet to appear in a game this season.

#3: OF – Jorge Soler(21)

February 25, 2013; Glendale, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs right fielder Jorge Soler (68) hits against the Los Angeles Dodgers during a spring training game at Camelback Ranch. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Daytona (A+) .262/.345/.505 8 2B, 1 3B, 5 HR, 3 SB, 13 BB, 19 K in 119 PA

Soler has made headlines for all the wrong reasons a couple of times this season, first for arming himself with a bat and challenging the opposing dugout to a fight in early April, an event which lead to a suspension, and later in the month by getting himself benched by Daytona manager Dave Keller for showing a poor work ethic. When he’s been on the field, he’s been one of the better hitters in the Florida State League thus far and though he’s an aggressive hitter, he doesn’t strike out often (just 38 total in 268 professional PA’s) and consistently makes hard contact with the ball. Soler clearly has some maturity issues, but there is no question about the talent and he’s been productive with that talent early in his career in the minors. If he can keep his head on straight, Soler has a chance to move quickly through the organization.

#4: RHP – Arodys Vizcaino (22)

The Cubs landed Vizcaino at the trade deadline last year in a deal that sent Reed Johnson and Paul Maholm to Atlanta. While the Braves have gotten strong returns on that deal so far, Vizcaino has yet to throw a pitch in the Chicago organization as he continues to work his way back from Tommy John surgery undergone in March of 2012. Prior to the injury, Vizcaino was considered one of the better prospects in the game, ranked as high as number 36 by MLB.com in their pre-2012 rankings. Provided he makes a complete recovery, the Cubs expect to be the long-term winners of that trade.

#5: OF – Brett Jackson (24)

Iowa (AAA) .247/.330/.404 4 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 4 SB, 9 BB, 27 K in 1101 plate appearances

Jackson was a consensus top-40 prospect prior to the 2012 season and got an extended look with the Cubs last season. The high strikeout rates that have plagued his minor league career became an even bigger problem when facing big league pitching and Jackson has begun the 2013 season back in the minors and no longer listed as a top-100 prospect.

So far, things haven’t been going very well for Jackson at Iowa, where his strikeout rate remains high at nearly 27 percent while his walk rate has fallen off dramatically; certainly not a good sign of an improving approach at the plate. Jackson has shown a combination of speed and power in years past, but his ISO has dropped significantly the past two seasons at Triple-A. At this point, Jackson looks to be headed in the wrong direction as a player. Chicago would probably be wise to try to move him while he still has even a small amount of value.

Topics: Albert Almora, Arodys Vizcaino, Brett Jackson, Chicago Cubs, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler

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