Making a top prospects list isn’t easy. You have to weigh performance and potential. You have to project what players will be like based on their tools and statistics. It’s easy when you have both, as we do for the top prospect on this list but, of course, that’s not always the case.
Other things taken into consideration include age, positional value, and where they are at on the organization level. The top 4 prospects are pretty set in stone for me, but it gets a little bit tougher to forecast from about #5 on. You could rearrange many of these prospects in different ways and make a solid argument.
Keep in mind two that the Cubs graduated former top prospect Anthony Rizzo, who no longer qualifies, as well as C Welington Castillo and closer prospect Alberto Cabrera. The latter two would have made this top 20 list but I excluded them because I believe they are with the Cubs for the foreseeable future.
For statistics, click on player's name...
1. Javier Baez, SS, 19, Class A: Baez is young for his level, and plays a premium position. Some, including one scout I spoke to, think he can stick there. Most, however, think he’ll move to 3B where he has the ability to be a Gold Glove caliber defender. His bat will play anywhere. Baez has elite bat speed and consistently makes hard contact. The ball jumps off his bat and he should hit for both average and power at the major league level. He’s also stolen 19 bases but that is due more to his great instincts than raw speed. If there is one thing he needs to work on, it’s taking more pitches as he has just 9 walks. At this level, however, there aren’t many pitches that he can’t drive.
2. Jorge Soler, RF, 20, AZ Rookie League: Soler hasn’t played much but he’s made an impression already with his tools with one scout reportedly saying, "He's going to be a monster". He’s hit a couple of bombs, stolen 3 bases, and has played well defensively. The Cubs are letting him get his feet on the ground and his timing back for now, but he’ll likely be moving up in the near future, probably to Boise, and then they’ll go from there.
3. Albert Almora, 18, CF, AZ Rookie League: Almora hasn’t lit it up, but he’s done enough to show some of his vast skill set early on. Almora doesn’t have the raw tools that the first two players have but he’s a good athlete who plays them up with great instincts and tremendous mental makeup. He should eventually contribute in all phases of the game and be a solid all-around player at a premium position, perhaps at an all-star level.
4. Arodys Vizcaino, 21, RHP, AAA: Vizcaino will be on the DL for the rest of the year as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery. If he were healthy, he may well be at the top of the list. He’s that good. He has two plus pitches in his mid 90s fastball and a sharp breaking curve to go with a solid change as his third offering. One scout I spoke with called him “a stud” and “a special arm”. There are some who doubt he can be a starter because of his slight build and his injury history, but he has the command and stuff to be a frontline starter if he does. If not, he can be a dominant closer.
5. Brett Jackson, 23, CF, AAA: Everyone seems to want to talk about the strikeouts and they are a big concern, but we don’t seem to talk enough about what Jackson does do well – which is everything else. In 150 AAA games he has 25 HRs and 30 SBs to go with a .352 OBP – and he does it while playing above average defense at a premium position. The contact issues though, do limit his upside considerably and it may eventually relegate him to the bottom 3rd of the order, but he still has a chance to be a solid player based on his all-around skill set. I still have hopes for Jackson, but there's a dropoff here after the top 4.
6. Josh Vitters, 22, 3B, AAA: Like Jackson, Vitters is another player with some warts, most notably his defense and his plate discipline. The defense is still shaky but the discipline is improving. Vitters walk rates have gone up every month: 5 in April, 6 in May, 8 in June, and 10 in July and he has 30 on the year, 8 more than his career high with another month to play. So it's not out of the question that Vitters may end up with 40+ walks this year. Nothing to go gaga about, but considering Vitters should hit for average and some power (31 doubles, 16 HRs), it'll be enough to put him at around a .350 OBP and an OPS north of .800. That would make him a legit starting caliber 3B if he can become at least an adequate 3B defensively.
7. Christian Villanueva, 21, 3B, Advanced A: The Cubs have quite a few 3B prospects right now and of the ones currently playing the position, he is easily the best defender. Only Baez will be better once he switches. Villanueva is not a standout in anyone area but he should hit for average and provide gap power and double digit HRs. He's not fast, but he's a smart, instinctual baserunner who can be an asset on the bases as well. Villanueva was considered a sleeper by the Rangers people and it's easy to see why. He doesn't do one particular thing that grabs your attention, but he's a perfect example of a sum being greater than it's parts.
8. Matt Szczur, 23, CF, AA: Szczur is having a breakout season in terms of improving his defense, baserunning, and plate discipline. Those were the 3 major areas of concern before the season. Detractors have now turned their focus to a lack of power and a less than picturesque swing. He's extremely athletic and has excellent speed, but as someone who played a lot of football and grew up in a cold weather state, he currently lacks the experience and the instincts of some players who focused strictly on baseball (i.e. Albert Almora). What he does have is tremendous mental makeup so he'll work hard to continue to fill in those gaps. For now, he may be more of a grinder with tools type, but he wouldn't be the first MLB player to succeed with that profile.
9. Jeimer Candelario, 18, 3B, Short-Season A: The switch-hitting Candelario has a smooth stroke from both sides of the plate and has begun to show some flashes of power. He's not very athletic or quick, and that limits his range in the field. He does have soft hands and a good arm, so the hope his he can stick at 3B, where he'd have the most value. Calendario's ticket, though, is his bat. He has the potential to hit for both average and power with good plate discipline thrown in. After adjusting to a more advanced level of pitching, Calendario has begun to draw some walks again. What limits his ranking here is that he's doing it at such a low level and he'll lose value if he can't stick at 3B.
10: Pierce Johnson, 21, RHP, Rookie League: The Cubs were pleasantly surprised to see Pierce Johnson still available by the time their first supplemental pick rolled around. According to prospect guru Keith Law, he has the ability to be a #2 starter, a distinction that only one three other Cubs SP prospects have: Vizcaino, who is 4th on this list, Dillon Maples, who has been injured, and Duane Underwood, who is much too raw to crack this top 10. Johnson works with a fastball that reaches 96 mph and sits at 92-94, a power curve ball, a cutter which is rapidly improving, and a solid change considering his stage of development. Law has some worries about his delivery, but the Cubs don't share those concerns - at least not to the same degree. The key to Johnson, like Vizcaino, is to stay healthy.
11. Dillon Maples, 20, RHP, Rookie League: Similar ceiling and concerns with Johnson. He's a power pitcher who also features a 92-96 mph fastball and a power curve, but he's not as advanced as Johnson, particularly when it comes to command.
12. Gioskar Amaya, 19, 2B, Short Season A: Amaya can flat-out rake. He has an excellent approach at the plate, both in terms of working the count and spreading the ball to all fields. This year he has added power to his game, posting a .223 ISO and a .541 slugging percentage. His size may limit him to average power in the bigs, but more than adequate if he stays at 2B. Defensively he has the skills to stay at 2B though he's been inconsistent in the field so far. Amaya is an intelligent, instinctual player with strong mental makeup. He's a confident kid who plays hard. One of my personal favorites, this kid has the "it" factor, in my opinion, to be an MLB ballplayer. Could shoot up this list next year.
13. Junior Lake, 22, SS, AA: Tremendous physical tools but questionable defense and approach. My concern is he won't hit well enough to start anywhere but SS -- but his defense won't cut it there. I view him as a potential super-sub who can use his athleticism and tremendous arm to play anywhere on the field while contributing some power and speed off the bench.
14. Dan Vogelbach, 19, 1B, Short Season A: Vogelbach is basically a one tool player, but that one tool is light tower power. He may also hit for a decent average and has a solid approach at the plate. His bat could be a big time asset, but unless the NL comes up with a DH, Vogelbach may have limited options with the Cubs.
15. Trey McNutt, 22, RHP, AA: McNutt has had a disappointing season thus far, but I can't give up on him completely. Moving to the bullpen really hurt his stock, however, and so far he hasn't shown the big uptick in velocity that you would like to see from that switch. When right, McNutt has two plus power pitches in a mid 90s fastball and a power curve that can move and act like a slider. He has the athleticism to repeat his delivery and develop better command but thus far it hasn't happened. If he does, he could find himself a starter again down the road.
16. Arismendy Alcantara, SS, Advanced A: Alcantara has always been something of a sleeper in the Cubs system. Players with true SS skills simply don't grow on trees and the Cubs have at least 3 under the age of 22 (Castro, Alcantara, Marco Hernandez) and possibly 4 since more and more people think Baez has a chance to stick. What's made the difference for the switch-hitting Alcantara is that he has added offense to his game this season, hitting for average and extra base power (.302/.339/.447). He has good speed (25 steals in 29 attempts). Biggest weaknesses are a an aggressive approach (19 walks, though he has 7 walks in his last 10 games) and a tendency to get sloppy with his throws (34 errors in 71 games).
17. Ronald Torreyes, 19, 2B, Advanced A: Listed at 5'9", Torreyes is probably at least 3 inches shorter than that, but he wields a pretty big bat. Off to a horrendous (and unlucky) start that saw him hit .137 in May, Torreyes has been on fire since the calendar flipped to June, hitting .338 and slugging just under .500 in a noted pitcher's league. Defensively he has average range and an average arm but his excellent instincts make him an above average defender. Throw out the measurables here, this kid is a ballplayer. It will be interesting to see him and Amaya vying for that 2B job down the road.
18. Duane Underwood, 18, RHP, Rookie Level: While he has yet to pitch in a professional game, Underwood may have the best raw stuff of all the Cubs pitching prospects... when he's on. He can throw a high 90s fastball and a knee-buckling curve at his best. The problem is he hasn't consistently pitched at that level. Underwood does have excellent makeup and is considered to be very coachable, so if the Cubs can find a way to unlock that extreme potential, watch out.
19. Tony Zych, 21, RHP, AA: Zych hails from Monee, IL and is a power pitching prospect with surprisingly good control (2.5 walks per 9 IP) and the ability to miss bats (9.8 Ks per 9 IP). That helped translate to a 1.97 FIP at Daytona. He throws a mid 90s fastball that can touch 99 and plays up even more because of a deceptive delivery. His slider is solid at times, but so far it's not on par with his fastball. He's a lesser prospect than Cabrera, but could give the Cubs a power combo at the end of games as soon as next season.
20 (tie). Marco Hernandez, 19, SS, Short Season A: I know what the numbers say, but I was impressed with this kid when I saw him and I'm giving him a mulligan. He was rushed to Peoria this year and hasn't quite recovered, but he has shown signs recently of righting the ship. He has average tools across the board and considering that he's a legit SS defensively,that makes him a potential solid MLB starter.
20 (tie). Logan Watkins, 21 2B, AA: Watkins is a very different type of player than Hernandez. Although both are athletic, he's less fluid and more of a grinder. It has hard deciding between the two because Watkins has a far greater chance to get to the majors but Hernandez has the raw potential to be a true MLB SS with a solid bat, which as I've said, is uncommon. What Watkins does is get on base (.368 OBP), run well (20 of 26 in SBs), and play 3 key defensive positions with varying degrees of competence (2B, SS, CF). 2B is his best position and best shot to make it as a starter, but Watkins ultimate role may be a valuable utility man who provides some speed, defense and on-base skills off the bench.