Jim Callis joined Matt Spiegel and Barry Rozner today on The Score to talk about Cubs prospects. As you might expect, they talked about some of the bigger names that everyone is counting on in the near future. Callis is still the top prospect guru, in my opinion, especially from the scouting perspective.
- On the Cubs future shortstop: Callis was asked if Starlin Castro will eventually move to 3B to eventually make room for Javier Baez or Junior Lake. If you've read my prospect pieces in the past, you already know the answer to this. While Castro may not ever be a great defensive SS, he is better than either Javier Baez or Junior Lake. Callis even used a similar analogy by comparing him loosely to Derek Jeter in the sense that he'll be an offensive SS who isn't ideal defensively. Baez figures to outgrow the position and Lake has probably already done so and lacks the range, quickness to play SS -- and in my opinion, probably 2B too. Baez projects more as a 3rd baseman. He did mention Marco Hernandez as a possibility down the line. He's a lower level favorite of mine as a kid with solid tools across the board.
- On Josh Vitters: Callis defended the pick, saying he certainly warranted being picked that high (although I contend Matt Wieters was the best available player that year), but said he probably won't live up to his draft status. He's not going to be a star, but he's young and hit well in AA as one of the younger players in that league. Callis thinks his upside now is more of a solid regular. Personally, I'm willing to see what he does this year at Iowa in a good lineup that includes disciplined hitters Jackson and Rizzo. All 3 players are friends and there are no better two guys for Vitters to emulate at the plate. I also want to reiterate something I've said in the past and was confirmed in my conversation with Shiraz Rehman. While it is not easy, hitters can improve their plate approach. It depends on the players aptitude and willingness to adapt. It's also less likely to happen the older the player gets, but as we mentioned, Vitters is still pretty young. I also think he has the willingness to adapt. My only question with him is his aptitude as far as reading pitchers. I think we'll find out a lot this year.
- On Jorge Soler: Callis is a little skeptical on Jorge Soler because of MLB's propensity to hype players from Cuba (and Japan). He'd rank him behind Brett Jackson and Javier Baez and would be in the mix for 3rd with Anthony Rizzo. That statement reminds us to be cautious when it comes to international prospects, but it's also a statement as to how much the Cubs system has come along. It wasn't too long ago that someone like Soler would have been a slam dunk choice for #1. He's thought of as a top 100 prospect and probably top 50 in all of baseball, so the fact he could be 3rd (or even 4th in the Cubs system) says a lot.
- On Matt Szczur: Callis likes Szczur more than a couple of other well-known prospect gurus. He said Szczur will not be a slap-hitting outfielder but should have extra base power with 10-15 HRs a year. He's fast enough to steal bases and play a good CF defensively. If that holds true, that's more than enough from a CF'er if you can get at least an average OBP. It also potentially sets up a dilemma as to who plays CF in the future between Szczur and Jackson. It's a nice problem to have.
- On Brett Jackson: He thinks Jackson is ready and could probably play everyday right now, but said he wouldn't be surprised to see the Cubs keep him in Iowa and go with Marlon Byrd for now, but he should take over the starting job by midseason. Callis did bring in other factors we've talked about in the past as far as delaying his arb clock, but my feeling is that if the Cubs think he's ready and they get a nice offer for Byrd, they'll make the move sooner rather than later.
I think overall it was an honest assessment yet it was encouraging. There's reason for some cautious optimism with the Cubs system and quite a few of these players are on the cusp of helping the team. Yesterday we touched on some midseason upgrades for the Cubs if it turns out they're playing better than expected. The upgrades, for the first time in recent memory, may just come from within the Cubs organization.