I have my list of top 40 Cubs prospects already, but it's a working list. It's difficult to say where to place certain drafted players as well as where to put injury situations (i.e. Robert Whitenack's recovery and Ben Wells recent season ending TJ surgery). Wells has the kind of peripherals that tend to forecast some success as he climbs up the ladder, so that injury is a crushing one to the Cubs, who desperately need impact pitching.
All that being said, it makes it a bit easier to start with the hitters. The top guy on this list won't be there much longer, however. The top 5 are pretty obvious, though the order can be debated. A good case can be made for any of the first 4 guys on this list as the Cubs top prospect. Here goes...
1. Anthony Rizzo: AAA, 1B, 22
Over 159 games, Rizzo is hitting .339 with 49 HRs and a 1.084 OPS. He has also hit lefties extremely well and has improved his range. He has made 9 errors, however, a high total for a first baseman. Rizzo is adept at scooping balls out of the dirt, so he'll probably save Castro a few errors over the course of a season. His upside may not be as high as the next 3 but he's by far the most likely to reach it right now.
2. Javier Baez: Low A, 3B, 19
Baez may have a higher ceiling than Rizzo, but as a guy in low A ball, he's a bigger risk to reach his potential. Baez crushes balls with the best bat speed in the Cubs organization and should be able to hit for average as well. Baez is a decent SS with the penchant for making great plays, but he could be a gold glove type fielder at 3B. He's learning to play under more control, so he needs time.
3. Jorge Soler: Has not played, RF, 20
The more I hear and read about Soler, the more I think the Cubs have a potential monster on their hands. Jim Callis believes the Cubs would have taken him ahead of Albert Almora had he been in the draft and Keith Law called him a top 5 pick, so he gets the edge over the unsigned Almora for now. Soler is an all-around player with 2 outstanding tools: power and throwing arm, but he also runs, defends, and should hit for average. He has shown flashes of a patient approach at the plate.
4. Albert Almora: unsigned, CF, 18
Almora's tools are a tick below the two players ahead of him on this list but he is much more likely to reach them because of his strong mental makeup and advanced approach to the game. His instincts and strong arm allow him to play an excellent defensive CF despite slightly above average speed. At the plate he should hit for average, and though he's just 18, it would surprise me if he didn't wind up being a strong OBP guy with a good plate approach. He could develop 20 HR power, but even if he doesn't, he has all-star potential in CF.
5. Brett Jackson, AAA, CF, 23
Jackson has many of the same kinds of tools and a similar strong mental makeup/work ethic as Almora. The biggest difference is that Jackson has more raw power and runs better, but his contact issues could prevent him from being a star. Still, he has all the other skills and traits you want from a solid to good everyday regular. Almora will likely move Jackson to a corner once he makes it, which would diminish Jackson's value a bit.
6. Welington Castillo, AAA, C, 25
The oldest prospect on this list, Castillo won't be a prospect much longer. He's high on this list because he is a starting caliber catcher who can control a running game, hit for some power, and has improved from being a free swinger to a hitter with a good approach at the plate (3.78 PPA and 15% walk rate across 3 levels). Catchers who can do those things have tremendous value in this league. Not to put unrealistic expectations on him, but from a strictly physical standpoint, he can be a poor man's Yadier Molina, with the key difference being that he is nowhere near Molina's ability to handle pitchers right now.
7. Jeimer Candelario, Short-Season A, 3B, 18
Candelario may be the best pure hitter in the Cubs system and it's a toss-up as to who will have the better bat between he and Baez. Candelario is a switch-hitter who can hit well from both sides of the plate, having already HR'd as a lefty and a righty early in the season. Candelario has mostly been a line drive/gap hitter, but he has 20+ HR power potential and has shown it early on in the season. He's also a patient hitter with an advanced approach for his age. Candelario is young but he has a chance to be a special hitter.
8. Junior Lake, AA, SS, 22
Lake is about as toolsy as they come. He's a strapping 6'2", 215 lbs. player with strength and speed -- and the Cubs best infield throwing arm since Shawon Dunston. He's had an uneven minor league career because of a poor approach. Gradually, however, he has changed that, shortening his swing, using all fields better, and this year there's an uptick in his pitch selection, which has allowed him to flourish early on against AA pitching. So far he's hit .318/.370/.480 early on. His 8% walk rate is a surprise and if he can maintain it, we could finally see Lake make use of those tremendous tools. Interesting stat: Only 11.7% of his strikeouts have come swinging, suggesting he isn't chasing many bad balls with 2 strikes. As a reference point, that is about the same % as Bryan LaHair.
9. Matt Szczur, High A, CF, 22
Szczur has worked hard to improve his baserunning, defense, and plate approach this season and it has paid off this year with a .359 OBP and 19 SBs and 43 runs scored in 48 games. His defense is vastly improved as well. What Szczur lacks right now is the ability to hit for power, which could limit him to 4th OF'er, but his OBP skills and speed make him a viable starter in CF even if he doesn't hit for a ton of power. From an athleticism and mental makeup perspective, Szczur is top of the charts, but his baseball instincts are still a notch below the top 5 players on this list. Not surprising for a guy who once looked headed for an NFL career as a WR, but Szczur has made a lot of progress since being drafted
10. Josh Vitters, AAA, 3B, 22
Vitters is a polarizing prospect among Cubs fans. Some seem to love him. Some are extremely skeptical. Not many question that he's a natural hitter with great hand-eye coordination and about the most picturesque RH swing you'll ever see. He has shown some signs of progress, slugging .476 with 11 HRs in the first half and improving his walk rate to around 6%, which is still below average. His pitches per plate appearance is just 3.12, among the lowest in the entire organization for those in AA and above (only Nate Samson is lower among non-pitchers). Vitters is hitting now, but MLB pitchers will exploite that aggressiveness, so Vitters may need a lot more time in AAA than appears from just looking at his .280, 11 HR, 37 RBI line in the first half.
A chance to move up:
Zeke DeVoss: low A, 2B, 22: He has done everything but hit. He gets on base, has become a good defender at 2B, and runs well. His BABIP is .318 which is low for a player with his kind of speed. If DeVoss can hit around .270 with a little gap power, he could be serious asset at the top of a lineup.
Marco Hernandez: short season A, SS, 19: The one true SS in the Cubs organization. Hernandez hit well in Peoria after struggling in April, but has since been demoted to Boise to make room for Javier Baez. Hernandez BABIP is ridiculously low at .261, so I'm expecting better things offensively in the 2nd half.
Gioskar Amaya: short season A, 2B, 19: Amaya is one of the top pure hitters in the Cubs organization with a solid glove, speed, and the potential for gap power. As far as intangibles, he great instincts and good mental makeup. He could challenge Zeke DeVoss as the Cubs best 2B prospect before the year is over.
Kelvin Encarnacion: DSL, CF, 20: Encarnacion is an intriguing combo of power, speed, and OBP skills but I'd like to see him do it outside the DSL before I get too excited.
Taiwan Easterling: low A, OF, 23: Ball jumps off his bat better than anyone on that team except for Baez. A former WR at FSU, he's a very good all-around athlete, including a surprisingly good, accurate arm. I like his swing better than Szczur, though Szczur shows a better knack for putting the bat on the ball.
Arismendy Alcantara, high A, SS, 20: The wiry thin Alcantara has a lot of rough edges (4% walk rate, 25 errors), but he can hit (.295 with a .415 slugging pct.), run (21 SBs), and has legit SS range. Problem is with his footwork, causing him to make sloppy throws. But hey, he's 20 and he can work on that, and if not, he becomes another 2B candidate. He's had no trouble hitting in the FSL, a notorious pitcher's league.
Tool Box Summary: (Focus is on players in my top 40 list)
Best Hitter: Javier Baez, with Jeimer Candelario close behind.
Best Power: Anthony Rizzo has the most consistent power, but Javier Baez can launch them too. Jorge Soler also looms.
Fastest runner: Matt Szczur is utilizing his raw speed better. DeVoss isn't far behind.
Best defensive infielder: Marco Hernandez. Baez could be a plus defender at 3B
Best defensive catcher: Cubs have plenty, but Welington Castillo's arm is a difference maker.
Best defensive outfielder: Jae Hoon-Ha. Albert Almora could challenge him once he signs.
Best infield arm: Junior Lake. That is all. To mention a runner up would imply that someone is actually close.
Best outfield arm: Jorge Soler. Almora will have a plus arm from CF. Ha may have the best among those actually playing.
Filed under: prospects