Reaping What You Sow: Chicago Cubs Top 10 Prospects

Top10

cubsOne of these years, the Cubs will win a World Series, and with Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Co. in the Windy City, that scenario just became a lot more likely. That will at least give Cubs fans hope because little at the major league or minor league levels was going to do it. No prospect of note was brought up besides Chris Carpenter, who didn’t spend long in the MLB before suffering an injury.

Down in the minors, things went equally bad. Brett Jackson had another excellent season, but his contact issues remain worrisome as he continues to move up. Otherwise, the good news was relegated to a solid campaign from Welington Castillo and a strong draft that included Javier Baez, Dan Vogelbach, and Dillon Maples among others. When you have several of your recent draftees as top prospects, it can be a sign of an unusually strong draft, or it can mean there wasn’t much in the system. This seems to be the latter.

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Pitching was hit particularly hard. Trey McNutt was the top pitching prospect in the system, but he took a step back as his strikeout rate dipped while his walk rate increased. Jay Jackson had a more catastrophic campaign, and he may be injured. Robinson Lopez, the key part of the Derrek Lee trade, didn’t live up to the hype whatsoever. And 2010 first-rounder Hayden Simpson was pretty awful.

All is not lost, however. Jackson and Baez teeter on the border between tiers, and they both still have significant potential. In fact, all of the “Good” prospects have a chance to be star-caliber players with the possible exception of Castillo. But that doesn’t make up for the fact that there’s little depth and little potential star power after the first few. The new front office seems intent on a full rebuild, but with little impact talent in the majors, there really isn’t much talent they can expect to get back. Garza could bring in some talent, but he isn’t going to be restock the system all by himself. It’s probably going to be a long process, but the new front office knows what it’s doing.

 

Good

Brett Jackson      CF

Bats/Throws:      L/R

Height/Weight:      6’2/210

Age/Level:      23/AAA

Projection:      2-4 WAR

Secondary skills are helpful. Jackson’s only real weakness is his strikeout rate, which is too high and will take a toll on his batting average in the majors, but he compensates by being patient and having above-average power. All of this is more helpful when you can play center, where the offensive bar is set fairly low. Nothing Jackson does is awe-inspiring, but he does everything pretty well. If the strikeout rate wasn’t so worrisome, he might be a tier higher, but he’s one of the better “Good” prospects.

 

 

Javier Baez       SS

Bats/Throws:      R/R

Height/Weight:      6’/180

Age/Level:      19/Low-A

Projection:       3-5 WAR

The most recent first-round pick by the Cubs, Baez enters pro ball as one of the better hitting prospects from the past draft. With excellent hand-eye coordination and above-average (which could become plus as he grows) power, Baez has the ingredients to be a very successful hitter. Baez, however, has his demons. His hitting ability leads him to being over-aggressive, and while that scares me a bit, I’ll remind you that the Cubs have a new regime now than when Josh Vitters was drafted. The other problem is his ultimate position. He’d be a tier higher if anyone thought he would stick at shortstop, but despite his plus arm, his range will probably make him move to third. One interesting scenario would be to put him behind the plate, but I’m not sure if the Cubs would do that or not.

 

Welington Castillo       C

Bats/Throws:      R/R

Height/Weight:      5’10/210

Age/Level:       25/AAA or MLB

Projection:       2-4 WAR

With Geovany Soto in Chicago and little to no speed, Castillo isn’t going anywhere anytime soon (ba-dum-cha; sorry). Despite Castillo’s lack of athleticism, he’s a strong defensive catcher with an above-average arm, and although he had receiving problems early in his career, he’s worked hard to minimize those. At the plate, he generates above-average to plus power and makes frequent contact, but he can be very aggressive at times, though he has improved there as well. Chances are that he won’t be a star-level catcher, but the secondary skills should make him useful enough.

 

Dillon Maples       SP

Bats/Throws:       R/R

Height/Weight:      6’2/195

Age/Level:       20/Rookie Ball

Projection:       2/3/4

Falling to the 14th round due to huge signing demands, Maples took $2.5 million in the 14th round and turned away from the University of North Carolina. What the Cubs got in return was a young, strong righty with a low-to-mid 90s fastball and a hammer curveball. He has no change-up as of yet, but that’s because he didn’t need one in high school. As for his mechanics, they’re downright ugly with a short arm action, a step toward third, and a really stiff landing. While that sounds bad, it’s what instructs and Rookie ball is for, and even though Maples is old for a high school draftee, he’s still got plenty of time.

 

Josh Vitters       3B

Bats/Throws:      R/R

Height/Weight:     6’2/200

Age/Level:      22/AAA

Projection:     2-4 WAR

It’s fashionable to jump down Vitters’ throat, but I think the criticism is a little overblown. While he hasn’t lived up to the hype, he’s never exactly failed and still demonstrates the same tools that made scouts believe in him in the first place. He still makes a lot of contact and has above-average power, but he does need to be more patient at the plate. In the field, he still has a strong arm and should stay at third base, though he won’t be an asset there. I think the new regime may make his patience a real priority, and I hope it works. Don’t sleep on him, yet.

 

Matt Szczur       CF

Bats/Throws:      R/R

Height/Weight:      6’1/195

Age/Level:      22/High-A or AA

Projection:      2-4 WAR

Considering Szczur has only spent the last year or so focusing on baseball, you have to give him a slight break for his rough second half in High-A. Szczur still has tools, including plus speed that combines with a solid arm to make a possible plus defender in center. At the plate, his swing is a little long, but he makes contact and has decent enough power. Because he played football, he needs more time to work on making his tools play into actual games, and with fantastic reports on his enthusiasm and work ethic, we might want to hold off on writing him off.

 

Dan Vogelbach       1B

Bats/Throws:      L/R

Height/Weight:      6’/260

Age/Level:      19/Low-A

Projection:      2-4 WAR

It’s tough to be a first baseman-only prospect because so much has to go right with your bat, but Vogelbach has a lot going for him. While his size scares some, he’s worked to lose some weight, and the size does help give him plus-plus power to all fields with a swing that produces contact. Vogelbach will never be a whiz defensively, but he’s improved recently enough to think he can handle the position. The bat will definitely have to carry him, but it’s hard not to like a nice swing with a good approach and just massive power.

 

Fair

Trey McNutt       SP

Bats/Throws:      R/R

Height/Weight:     6’4/220

Age/Level:      22/AA or AAA

Projection:     3/4/5, Relief Ace

McNutt took a step backward in his move to AA, but all is not lost. He retains a low-to-mid 90s fastball that has hit 98, and he has a plus curve/slider. The drawbacks, however, are evident. His change-up really hasn’t progressed much and is not a usable third pitch, and his command and control leave something to be desired. Because the delivery isn’t too bad, it’s the lack of a third pitch that concerns me most, but while he needs a full year at AAA, he’s young enough to work on it and remain in a rotation. That being said, it’s hard not to see a reliever future for him.

 

Junior Lake      SS/3B

Bats/Throws:      R/R

Height/Weight:      6’3/215

Age/Level:      22/AA or AAA

Projection:      1-3 WAR

At this point, Lake is still all tools. His arm is ridiculously strong and gets 80 grades, but he doesn’t always know where it’s going and may not even field the ball in order to throw it. While he could probably cover the ground necessary to play shortstop (38/44 in SB), he’s downright awful defensively. Offensively, he has average to above-average power, but he’s nowhere near patient and has trouble getting the power into the game. Lake will just be 22 next season, so he has time. But man, he still has a lot to learn.

 

Rafael Dolis       RP

Bats/Throws:       R/R

Height/Weight:      6’4/215

Age/Level:      24/AAA

Projection:      Relief Ace

When you throw in the high-90s, you’ll tend to get noticed. Dolis has that big fastball, and he has a power breaking ball to match. But he’s still working on his control, and his lack of control caused his strikeout rate to plummet in AA. There’s certainly a chance that Dolis doesn’t turn out to be anything, but as long as he hits triple digits a few times a year, he’ll keep getting a chance.

 

Big Question – Zeke DeVoss

The diminutive second baseman isn’t the toolsiest guy in the world. He has plus speed, but he has little other major tools. What he does have going for him is that he makes a lot of contact and has an excellent eye at the plate. Having a .458 OBP (granted in Low-A and only over 38 games) is really impressive, and that kind of on-base mentality can make you an asset anywhere. DeVoss’ lack of power, however, may end up killing those skills. As pitchers realize that he’s nothing to fear, they may throw him a lot more strikes. If he can continue to hit, they won’t be able to just lay it in there, but if the stick isn’t for real, DeVoss’ star will burn out quickly.

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