Javier Baez is making quite the leap forward in terms of prospect status. After barely sneaking in some top 100 lists at the start of the year, Baez is now considered among the top prospects in the game just one year after being drafted.
Baseball America ranked Baez as MLB's #25 overall prospect.
The likelihood that Baez won't stay at SS likely prevented him from being ranked even higher. Most scouts believe he'll end up at 3B where he has the actions and athleticism to be a superb defender. He's also shown some surprising speed this year with 11 SBs in 12 attempts. It's Baez's bat that will be his calling card, however, and he has the swing and bat speed to hit for both average and power.
The top 50 list didn't include recent draftees or international signees. That includes Cuban signee Jorge Soler, whom BA's Jim Callis said would have made the top 50 as well. Had Albert Almora been signed he would not have qualified either. On a related note, Callis has said he expects Almora to sign sometime next week while RHP Duane Underwood should sign within the next couple of days.
Two players that did not make it were Brett Jackson who was listed, in fact, in the "Stock Down" category because of his strikeouts and the resurgent Josh Vitters. When asked about Vitters in the subsequent chat, Callis said,
As someone who does our Cubs Top 30 for the Prospect Handbook every year, I talk to people incessantly about Vitters. He has made some progress, but his ceiling is solid regular and the guys on this list have higher ceilings than that. I'm also not sold Vitters could be an everyday third baseman at the big league level. I think you'd want a better defender than that. So no, I can't tell you he even received consideration for the Top 50.
When BAs JJ Cooper was asked about Brett Jackson's potential to regain entry into the top 50, he was not optimistic, saying,
My best guess on the end of season rankings is no. Jackson never wowed scouts with any plus-plus tool, now he's got a significant wart in a strikeout rate that is baffling.
So how close Jackson, Szczur, and Vitters were to making the list? According to Cooper,
Not that close (Jackson), further away (Szczur) and not that close to making the list (Vitters). Jackson's K-rate is a major concern for a guy who doesn't have a lot of 65s on his scouting report. Szczur is a solid prospect, but didn't really compare yet to the guys at the back end of the 50 and Vitters is having a much better season, but there still doesn't appear to be a whole lot of ceiling there.
In other words, those guys are solid prospects, but they aren't top 50 type quality -- at least not yet in the case of Szczur, much as we've talked about here, so that shouldn't be a surprise.
John Sickels, who made his list earlier, ranked the following Cubs players in his top 120 list..
- #22 Anthony Rizzo
- #43 Javier Baez
- #55 Brett Jackson
Matt Szczur also received consideration but did not make the list. Apparently, Vitters did not receive much consideration from Sickels either, almost certainly because of his lack of ideal plate discipline.
Jason Churchill of ESPN (insider only), however, has put Vitters on his list of prospects who are next in line for an MLB call-up. Of Vitters, he said that his improved approach and legit power numbers, combined with the lack of a regular 3B on the Cubs roster, makes Vitters in line for a call-up.
Kevin Goldstein also wrote a piece on ESPN (insider only). Goldstein says that scouts have always reserved some optimism for Vitters because of his power potential and ability to make contact. While he doesn't think he'll be a star, Goldstein believes Vitters is "definitely blooming" and can still be a guy who will hit for average and power. Like Churchill, he also cites the Cubs gaping hole at 3B.
Keith Law said the following about Vitters on a response in his chat today,
His main flaw as a pro has always been the complete lack of patience/plate discipline. That's really not any better this year. And I say that as someone who raved about him out of the draft and would still call it one of the best-looking RH swings I have ever seen.
In the same chat, Law also called Jeimer Candelario a "legit" prospect right now.
As it looks right now, stock up on Baez, stock down on Jackson, and Vitters looks to have made significant progress but even the most optimistic evaluators seem him more as a solid regular than a star. The same seems to be true of Matt Szczur. With Candelario, it's much too early to tell, but he seems to have the chance to enter that "impact" category along with Baez, Soler, and Almora.
Anthony Rizzo's promotion means one less top 50 prospect and if the Cubs are going to add any top 50 prospects, they'll be Albert Almora when he signs and Jorge Soler. Both should appear when BA makes it's top 100 list later while Jackson should also make the list with Szczur, Vitters, and maybe even Candelario having an outside shot depending on how they finish the season.