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Top 30 Cubs Prospects- May Update

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Matt Swain

Illinois engineering student, way too emotionally invested in the Cubs.

I haven't re-ranked the troops since October, and a lot has changed since then, so it's time to revisit things. 

I tried not to weigh early season performance too highly, but come on, it's human nature right?

I know you'll disagree with me with some guys, and I probably did thrust a few too high or too low to make a point, but overall I'm happy with how it turned out. Let me know your thoughts in the comments, and I'll provide the reasoning for any of my listings.

Before I give you the list, I have a couple comments. First, you'll notice I added a grading system in to give a better idea of each guy's individual talent. A list doesn't really tell you how good the 18th player is, just his relative rank, so I thought the grades could help things.

I graded three categories: floor, ceiling, and overall. Essentially the ceiling is a player's potential, and floor is the likelihood they'll reach it. I used a system I just made up, so allow me to explain the grades with this chart, in which I roughly tried to capture the system I used.

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Please keep in mind that the grades aren't strictly defined or scientific, and are for entertainment purposes more than anything. If you have any problems with them, leave an argument in the comments.

For the overall grades, they're kind of a combination of those two factors that are loosely based on the grades John Sickels gives out at his website, though you'll find them to be somewhat higher. These are to give an idea of how I see the tiers within the organization and to hopefully be more informative than just a list would be.

So here they are, my May top 30 Cubs prospect rankings after the jump.

1. SS Starlin Castro, 20, AA Tennessee
Floor: A  Ceiling: A-  Overall: A
  • Was tops coming into the year and has possibly been even better than expected. Safest bet in the Cubs system. Should make MLB debut sometime this season.
2. SP Andrew Cashner, 23, AA Tennessee
Floor: A-  Ceiling: A-  Overall: A-
  • Scintillating start pushes him up from 3rd spot. High floor based on possibility of relieving also. Another guy we'll probably see in Chicago this season.
3. CF Brett Jackson, 21, A+ Daytona
Floor: B  Ceiling: A-  Overall: A-
  • His plate discipline has been excellent, answering perhaps the biggest question about Jackson. Next to figure out is if he's a leadoff hitter or a power hitter. One of the system's highest ceilings in my estimation, he could easily be another Grady Sizemore.
4. 3B Josh Vitters, 20, A+ Daytona
Floor: D  Ceiling: A-  Overall: B+
  • Low floor based on huge discipline and defensive concerns as well as distance from majors. If he clicks though, Vitters could win a batting title with above-average power.
5. SP Jay Jackson, 22, AAA Iowa
Floor: B+  Ceiling: B  Overall: B+
  • Very polished, athletic pitcher who is just about ready for the majors. Ceiling isn't as high as Cashner, which keeps him down a little bit, but he's still an excellent prospect.
6. SS Hak-Ju Lee, 19, A Peoria
Floor: C-  Ceiling: A-  Overall: B+
  • Super athletic shortstop has struggled in Peoria so far, but should bounce back. Gets on base and runs like the wind while playing an excellent shortstop.
7. SP Chris Carpenter, 24, AA Tennessee
Floor: C+  Ceiling: B-  Overall: B
  • Fully recovered from some spring training shoulder stiffness and back to throwing in the mid-90's. Under the radar compared to Cashner and Jackson, but just a tick behind them.
8. RF Tyler Colvin, 24, MLB Chicago
Floor: B  Ceiling: B-  Overall: B
  • Colvin isn't the star he's looked like early, but it's incredible how much he's done to improve his stock since last July. Now looks like he could be a legitimate starter someday.
9. RF Kyler Burke, 22, A+ Daytona
Floor: D+  Ceiling: B  Overall: B-
  • It's been a rough start for Burke, who had a lot of questions coming into the year about whether he could hit outside of the Midwest League. The Florida State League isn't the easiest place to prove it, but he should come around. If not, he'll plummet down this list in a couple months.
10. 2B/3B Ryan Flaherty, 24, AA Tennessee
Floor: C+  Ceiling: B-  Overall: B-
  • Powerful and versatile infielder in the Mark DeRosa mold. Hasn't hit a lick yet, but he gets some leeway after making a two level jump from Peoria to Tennessee.
11. SP Trey McNutt, 20, A Peoria
Floor: D  Ceiling: A-  Overall: B-
  • Has been terrific this year, and when you combine youth, a mid-90's fastball, strikeouts, and a 1.57 ERA, you get a breakout. Control will be a question as he moves forward, as well as the development of his offspeed pitches.
12. 2B Logan Watkins, 20, A Peoria
Floor: C+  Ceiling: B  Overall: B-
  • Another guy who had a rough April. Speedy infielder who has enough defensive chops to play shortstop and has shown an excellent batting eye in the past (though it's disappeared so far this year).
13. SP Rafael Dolis, 22, A+ Daytona
Floor: D  Ceiling: B  Overall: C+
  • Extremely hard thrower who has compiled a 1.85 ERA but with bad peripherals. Still learning to pitch, so you hope he throws more balls past people in the future.
14. SP Chris Archer, 21, A+ Daytona
Floor: D-  Ceiling: B-  Overall: C+
  • Archer has been a strikeout machine through his career, but has major walk problems. His future may be in the bullpen.
15. CF Brandon Guyer, 24, AA Tennessee
Floor: C  Ceiling: B-  Overall: C+
  • Guyer had a terrific April, showing speed, power and discipline and finally using his array of tools at a high level. Sits on the disabled list now with an undisclosed injury.
16. SP Jeffry Antigua, 20, A Peoria
Floor: C  Ceiling: C  Overall: C+
  • Young lefty doesn't have overpowering stuff, but his performance record is outstanding prior to this season. His poor start and ceiling concerns drop him some, but he's got plenty of time to turn it around.
17. SP Dae-Eun Rhee, 21, A+ Daytona
Floor: D+  Ceiling: B-  Overall: C+
  • Ground-ball specialist doesn't miss generate enough K's for my taste, but his sinker is very good. Coming off TJS and struggling so far this year lead to low floor grade.
18. SP Brooks Raley, 22, A+ Daytona
Floor: C  Ceiling: C-  Overall: C
  • Polished and athletic college lefty with a deep arsenal. He's 3 mph away from being Jay Jackson in my eyes. Probably never a star pitcher, but he could move fairly fast.
19. IF Matt Cerda, 19, A Peoria
Floor: C-  Ceiling: C+  Overall: C
  • Cerda may be small, but he's an on-base machine with a line-drive swing. He couldn't handle catcher and has been forced to 3rd due to the presence of Hak-Ju Lee and Logan Watkins in the Peoria infield, so his position is a question.
20. C Robinson Chirinos,  26, AA Tennessee
Floor: C+  Ceiling: C+  Overall: C
  • Best April in the system, Chirinos is coming into his own as a hitter after a good year last year. He's versatile, excellent behind the plate, and has good power and plate discipline. If he was 3 years younger, he's probably in the top 5 of this list, but being 26 in AA hurts your ceiling significantly.
21. C Welington Castillo, 23, AAA Iowa- Hits and throws hard, but lacks other skills.

22. 2B DJ LeMahieu, 21, A+ Daytona- Produces too many groundballs to hit for average or power.

23. 1B/OF Matt Spencer, 24, AA Tennessee- Home run hitter in a system that lacks them.

24. SP Nick Struck, 20, A Peoria- Off to a great start for Peoria, above-average stuff and some projection.

25. CF James Adduci, 25, AAA Iowa- Nearly ready outfielder who could be a good bench player.

26. P Jeff Beliveau, 23, A+ Daytona- Strikeout rates are off the charts from the lefty.

27. SP Austin Kirk, 20, Ex. ST- A 3rd-rounder in 2009 with intriguing upside, short track record.

28. SS Darwin Barney, 24, AAA Iowa- Can field with the best of them, but lack of secondary skills at the plate make him a backup.

29. 3B Marquez Smith, 25, AAA Iowa- Another excellent fielder with a below average bat for his position, could move up with a good year at the plate.

30. SP Casey Coleman, 22, AAA Iowa- The classic minor league ace who doesn't project well to the majors due to poor peripheral stats and low velocity. He'll get a chance and could pull a Randy Wells. Who knows. I don't see it though.

Five more...
31. RP John Gaub, 25, AAA Iowa- Has had a rough go in AFL, Spring Training, 2010 season.
32. OF Dong-Yub Kim, 19, Ex. ST- Very high ceiling, I think he will be in the top 20 after this year.
33. RP Blake Parker, 25, AAA Iowa- Control problems and limited ceiling.
34. 2B Tony Thomas, 23, AA Tennessee- If his April is for real, could re-establish himself as a top 20 guy.
35. SP Chris Rusin, 23, A+ Daytona- Terrible start to the season, needs to turn it around or fall completely off the radar.

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18 Comments

WearShades said:

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This seems as good a time as any to ask: assuming they develop Brett Jackson as a power hitter, which given his recent switch to the 3rd spot in the lineup seems very possible, what do you think his HR and batting average potential will be?

I'm also interested to know when you think Brett Jackson and/or Vitters will be moved to Tennessee.

Matt Swain said:

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He actually seems to be trending more towards leadoff man, taking more pitches and not hitting for as much power so far. But he did the same thing in Boise last year before swinging for the fences more in Peoria, so who knows.

But assuming he develops as a power hitter, Jackson could be looking at something like a .280 guy with 25-30 HRs, a good on-base percentage and some stolen bases. Of course that's a pretty ideal situation, but that's why his ceiling is high. More conservatively, I'd guess something like .270 with 20 HRs in his prime.

As for Jackson and Vitters, there's little chance either will be going anywhere before the all-star break. At that point, Jackson should move up and Vitters may depending on how things go. Of course, with the nature of prospects being so unpredictable, Vitters could easily rip off 10 HRs in 10 games or something and get the call earlier. So the best I can give you is we'll have to wait and see.

Thanks for the question, hope that helps.

WearShades said:

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Thanks for the answer Matt.

Here's another one. Does Castro have leadoff potential? He's hit at the 2 spot in nearly all the games at Tennessee this season (there was one game a within the last week where he hit third while Wright had the day off), so I've been assuming that's where his ideal hit spot is. However, he seems to have the speed and the on base percentage to make a quality lead off hitter. He needs to not get thrown out so much on stolen base attempts, but he could improve with time. What are your thoughts?

Matt Swain said:

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Castro's projection is something I've been thinking about recently, and if you don't mind I think I'm going to save my full answer for this one and write it up as a post in the next week or two.

I'll give you a quick answer though, which is that I don't see Castro as a speed player 5 years from now, and the 2 spot is likely his future home. I'm becoming more and more convinced he's going to climb up the leadoff-power hitter ladder sooner than I had previously thought. I'll detail the reasons why in that post I promised.

WearShades said:

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I look forward to it Matt.

Dan Cupples said:

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Nice list.

Dan Cupples said:

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Matt,

Curious on your thoughts of Su-Ming Jung. I sorta thought he would have come in somewhere in your list of 35 here.

Matt Swain said:

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Dan-

Jung was close to making the cut, along with 15-20 other guys who merited consideration. Jung is a decent prospect who has a case for 36, actually. He's a low 90's thrower with an above average curve and average changeup, but he needs to have some more success before he'll make it on the list. 11 BBs and 11 Ks this year isn't encouraging.

toonsterwu said:

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Solid list Matt. I disagree with a couple placements, but everyone judges differently (even at 19, Cerda seems a tad high despite his solid start.)

Shame none of our 3 top 2nd base prospects are looking all that hot at the moment (Flaherty/LeMahieu/Watkins). Here's hoping they heat up in the summer months.

toonsterwu said:

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skimming over your thing again, if there's a surprise, it's that Alberto Cabrera isn't on it. He's had a very good start to the year, and certainly has enough with the fastball to imagine that he could develop into something. I'll be the first to admit I don't know enough about him and that all the attention paid to him this offseason surprised me.

toonsterwu said:

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was pondering what my top 10 would look like if I regraded. roughly something like this (taking Castro out for the moment unless he surprises and is prospect eligible for next year, right now, I'm assuming he'll use up his eligibility)

1. Cashner
2. B. Jackson
3. Vitters
4. J. Jackson

5. Lee
6. Carpenter
7. McNutt

8. Rhee
9. Dolis

10. ?

10's a hard spot. A tad disappointed that Bristow's still out. I had wondered if he'd break through and be a top 10 guy. I could go with a positional guy like Burke or Flaherty, but both are scuffling (and in Flaherty's case, despite the low BABIP, he's also not hitting for power). Guyer crossed the mind briefly, but not really sold on him getting a top 10 spot yet. LeMahieu's been bad, and Watkins hasn't been great either. If I went positional, I'd probably go Watkins. There's some decent arms to ponder, like Raley/Antigua/Cabrera/Coleman and personal favorite, Struck, but none of them scream out to me as worthy of that slot. Ugh, if forced, I'd probably go with Raley's upside.

Matt Swain said:

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I'm trying not to let one poor month affect my opinions of Flaherty and Burke too much (Flaherty had a rough start last year too), which is why they're still so high. I'll probably come back to this at the all-star break and see where things stand.

I just can't buy Dolis as a top 10 guy until I see him strike some batters out, and I'm not sure what you like so much about Rhee (I'd love to hear your thoughts on him).

I know what you mean on the dropoff though, that 9-15 range was tough to fill, and it almost seems like the guys in the 20's aren't that much worse as prospects.

toonsterwu said:

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working backwards ...

Rhee - Superb control, high ground ball rate. While his frame was always an issue (relative to sticking as a starter pre-surgery), he should physically mature a bit more. I'll give him a tad more time to see if he gets a feel for things, adjusts and K's a few more bats. To be honest, two other factors as to why I'm not that down on him yet (furthermore, perhaps this should be reflected as not being high on guys after Lee/Carpenter as of right now) is that the neutralized numbers off the SSS looks solid, and the fact that I really didn't think he should be in the tougher FSL right now.

Dolis - Like with Rhee, perhaps this should be viewed as a nod towards the fact that I'm not as high on the guys after Lee/Carpenter as of now. But ... this is a guy, in Dolis, that should be in the pen. If the expectations are geared towards that, and that we look at the fact that the Cubs have him starting and using his whole arsenal, it's somewhat understandable why his K rate is so low. I haven't heard anything negative on the fastball, and everything so far still suggests that he should be a solid pen type arm. That said, he was 9 for a reason. I wasn't real sure where to put him, and feel more comfortable with Rhee.

I can see valid cases for Flaherty/Burke at 8/9 still. In the former's case, the lack of power troubles. A case can be made for bad luck as something hurting him early, but the lack of power is troublesome. Yes, he probably, despite the age, should've been at A+ to begin with, but that reflects negatively on him as well.

In Burke's case, I really want him to succeed. The organization badly needs the skills he brings to the table, corner OF, power arm, lefty bat with power potential. That said, this is a really, really bad start, and it's hard not to think about the reports that floated out there questioning his ability to hit higher level pitching.

Again, that was a rough list from a few days ago. I can see myself sliding Burke in at 9 and being fine with it.

Matt Swain said:

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You know, I don't know much about him either, and that's why he's still a little bit off my radar. I'll admit the stats are intriguing and when paired with a reportedly mid-90's fastball...you're right he should be on here somewhere. Oversight on my part. I'll beat the bushes a bit and see what I can find out about him.

toonsterwu said:

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I think he's a slider and change guy, and both are decent, but I am too uncertain on that.

Matt Swain said:

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After seeing Cerda in Peoria the other day, I would agree that I was too high on him.

toonsterwu said:

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the second issue for me is the fact that I just don't like his bat's potential at 3rd. At 2nd, perhaps.

toonsterwu said:

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eh forgot to finish. at 2nd, perhaps it works if he develops it. Shame he never took to catching.

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