There's little question that the Cubs need to rebuild their major league team. What's not as often mentioned is that the Cubs need to overhaul the farm system as well. While there is some depth, many of the upper level players project as role players. The Cubs began to realize this the past couple of years and started taking chances and spending money on potential impact players. This gives Theo Epstein and company a bit of a head start as they attempt to rebuild as system that produces more in the way of starting pitchers, impact athletes, and big bats. The good news is the Cubs may have a few players that already match this description. The bad news is that almost all of these higher ceiling players reside in the lowest levels of the system. When you talk about possibly trading players like Matt Garza, Carlos Marmol, and Geovanny Soto, the hope is that the Cubs can build on what they started last year and fill the gaps in their farm system.
1. Starting pitchers - Not counting Andrew Cashner, the Cubs have 3 pitchers who have the stuff to qualify as mid-rotation or better starters. They are Trey McNutt, Ben Wells, and Dillon Maples. The latter two have yet to play full-season ball (Maples has yet to throw a pitch in professional ball), while McNutt is coming off a year where he battled nagging injuries and command issues that have thrown his status in doubt. He still has the stuff to be a #3 starter and possibly a #2, but he's going to have to put it together in 2012 or risk being labeled as a reliever.
2. Impact athletes - The Cubs have some athletic players, most notably Brett Jackson, Matt Szczur, and Junior Lake, but there is some question as to whether they can project to be anything more than solid to good everyday players. In the case of Sczcur and Lake, there is some debate as to whether they even project to be everyday players at all. Next year will be a big year for those two prospects as they should both reach AA at some point in the season. They certainly have the natural ability to become impact players, it's just a matter of honing their baseball skills. To be fair, the Cubs have tried to correct this weakness in the last draft, selecting good athletes like Javier Baez, Zeke DeVoss, Shawon Dunston Jr., Darien "Trey" Martin, and Taiwan Easterling. International signees Jeffrey Baez Pin-Chieh Chen, and Oliver Zapata are also good athletes, but they are all a long way away at this point.
3. Power Hitters - When your best power hope in the minors is a 29 year old former minor league free agent, you know there is a huge gap. Some Cubs prospects have disappointed so far in the power department, most notably Josh Vitters, so the Cubs took a chance on some power prospects like Baez, Dan Vogelbach, Rock Shoulders, and Trevor Gretzky -- as well as Reggie Golden over the past couple of seasons. The Cubs also signed highly projectable players such as Marck Malave, Luis Acosta, Ricardo Marcano, and Jeimer Candelario in that time, all of whom could develop extra base power or perhaps more. Again,these players aren't close to the majors.
Not coincidentally, you have heard Cubs linked to potential front-line starting pitchers (Kyle Drabek, Martin Perez, Manny Banuelos, Jacob Turner, etc), athletic players (Anthony Gose, Jake Marsinick, Yoennis Cespedes) and potential power hitters (Anthony Rizzo, Mike Olt, Jorge Soler) whenever you hear rumors about trade discussions or international signings.
The Cubs front office is challenged with a formidable task when it comes to rebuilding the farm system, perhaps more difficult than rebuilding the major league team when you take into account the limitations imposed by the new CBA. It's the only reason the Cubs are even considering trading a young talent such as Matt Garza. The Cubs can probably put a winning team on the field within the next two years by spending big in free agency, but building an organization that can sustain success long term will be the most difficult task that Epstein and Co. have to accomplish. And it's going to require a lot of patience from Cubs fans.