If you read my article on top position player prospects, you know that it's the strength of the organization right now. However, of the top 5 prospects three are still at least 3 years away. Javier Baez is playing his first season at low A ball, Jorge Soler has yet to have an AB, and Albert Almora hasn't even signed yet.
With Rizzo rumored to be ready for a promotion on Tuesday, it got me thinking...What about the guys that are closer to helping now and in the next year or so? I took a look at 4 top AAA Cubs prospects plus Junior Lake in AA. If you follow my recaps, you know about their stats, but how do these prospects compare when we look at more of the behind the scenes type numbers?
Let's take a look at 5 categories that look more at process and see how that may affect their results now and in the future...
P/PA (Pitches per plate appearance)
- Brett Jackson 4.22
- Welington Castillo 3.78
- Anthony Rizzo 3.58
- Junior Lake 3.45
- Josh Vitters 3.13
This is Brett Jackson's strength. Only Ian Stewart (4.18) and David DeJesus (4.12) even compare at the MLB level. The surprising thing about this list to me is that Castillo is 2nd over Rizzo, but part of the explanation can be found in that, for whatever reason, Rizzo sees a high percentage of strikes...nearly 60% compared to Castillo seeing strikes on 52% of his pitches. Perhaps some of that has to do with Castillo's past reputation for a hacktastic approach, but those people need to get with the program. Castillo is letting those bad pitches go by now and it has resulted in a 15% walk rate, by far the highest on this list. Rizzo, by comparison, has an 8% walk rate, partially because pitchers inexplicably keep giving him good pitches to hit. That is going to change at the MLB level.
The other surprise is Lake seeing a fair amount of pitches. The notorious free-swinger now sees about as many pitches as Darwin Barney. Now Barney isn't a paragon of patience but you wouldn't call him a free-swinger either, so perhaps we will soon be able to stop tagging Lake with that label. One can only hope. It happened with Castillo, so maybe the light is beginning to click for Lake too.
Speaking of lights clicking on, though there are some encouraging signs, it hasn't quite happened yet for Josh Vitters. His PPA is the lowest in the Cubs organization for any Cubs regular player between AA and the majors. An odd thing about Vitters is, like Rizzo, he's seeing a high number of strikes (62%), which seems like an odd strategy considering Vitters' reputation. We know he won't see that many strikes in the majors. It seems that Vitters is really feasting on some mediocre PCL pitching. The same could be said of Rizzo, but the difference is that Rizzo's numbers are through the roof and he'll still produce even when those numbers come down somewhat at the MLB level.
- Welington Castillo 80.3%
- Anthony Rizzo 79.7%
- Josh Vitters 79.4%
- Junior Lake 68%
- Brett Jackson 67%
Again, Castillo surprises with a quality contact rate that isn't behind Starlin Castro's 82.4% number. Rizzo and, not surprisingly, Josh Vitters are also making quality contact.
There is some obvious concern here with the contact rates of Lake and Jackson, which are lower than any non-Cubs pitcher from AA on up. The lowest Cubs regular is Bryan LaHair, who is at 72.7%.
O-Swing% (percentage of swings taken outside the strike zone)
- Josh Vitters 7.8%
- Anthony Rizzo 11.1%
- Brett Jackson 11.5%
- Junior Lake 11.8%
- Welington Castillo 13.3%
None of these are all that bad, though they will get worse at the MLB level, where pitchers have better command and nastier stuff. They're going to get fooled a whole lot more often, as Starlin Castro has found out. Castillo's aggressive approach still shows up a bit in this category. Surprising here is Lake's improved pitch selection which is on par at this point with both Jackson and Rizzo, but the biggest surprise may be Vitters staying within the strike zone this year, which is undoubtedly one of the reasons for his improvement. Vitters is still very aggressive as we saw in the PPA category, but he's aggressive in the strike zone and makes regular contact on those pitches. (83%). The trick for him is to make pitchers throw him strikes at the MLB level, because it's obvious he can hit them.
O-Con% (contact rate outside the strike zone)
- Welington Castillo 44.8%
- Anthony Rizzo 22.2%
- Josh Vitters 19.2%
- Brett Jackson 10.6%
- Junior Lake 6.9%
Although I wouldn't consider it a strength, at least not compared to someone like Castro, Castillo's plate coverage shows up here. He's head and shoulders better at making contact at pitches outside the zone than the rest of this prospects on the list. While you don't want any hitter swinging at a lot of pitches out of the zone, Castillo can get away with being aggressive more than Jackson and Lake, who have incredibly low rates at hitting pitching out of the zone. For Jackson, being patient isn't just an asset -- it's a necessity for his survival as a prospect. And if you ever want to compare Lake with Castro as free swingers, here's one major difference: Castro is 10 times more likely to make contact with a pitch outside the strike zone than Lake is.
Only Welington Castillo and Anthony Rizzo's numbers are at MLB quality right now. This isn't going to be popular, but the numbers seem to back up the scout who said that Rizzo feasts on mediocre pitching. That's not a bad thing, because there is plenty of that to go around in the majors too, but it's unrealistic to think Rizzo will hit anywhere near .355 in the big leagues. His good pitch selection and solid contact rates should ensure him some success, however, especially considering his big time power and solid defense. He's ready, and while he may not light the MLB on fire from day one, he should be a solid contributor who continues to get better as he gains experience.
As for Castillo, he's an underrated prospect. His defense, particularly his arm, is a huge asset, and an improved approach to go with some extra base power makes him a legit starting catcher.
Jackson, Lake, and Vitters, in my opinion, need more seasoning. I don't see them as significant contributors until next season and possible later.