Early look at 2013 Cubs Rookie Watch

Early look at 2013 Cubs Rookie Watch
Logan Watkins

One of the few things that kept some fans going this season was the anticipation that Anthony Rizzo would soon get the call, and then later, Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson.  So who are the guys to give us hope and something to look forward to next season?  While next year's rookie class isn't likely to have a lot of impact players, here's an early look...

  1. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP:  This is the one guy on this list who has some impact potential -- if he's healthy and can stay a starter.  The watch with Vizcaino will start in the spring.  Talent-wise, the Cubs don't really have anyone better as Vizcaino could give the Cubs an intriguing, under 30 top 3 along with Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija.  My feeling is that the Cubs will start him in the minors, possibly even extended spring training where he doesn't have to pitch in the cold Wrigley April, and where they can more easily control his workload as he recovers.  The Cubs have nothing to gain and a lot to lose by rushing him into the rotation by opening day if he doesn't look 100% ready.
  2. Josh Vitters, 3B:  The thought here is we'll have to re-start the Josh Vitters watch as he is not ready this season.  Vitters has been slow to change his approach at the plate and MLB pitchers are exploiting it,  "Obviously, the pitchers here are better than minor league pitching," he said. "It's not like the talent is better, just the skills are better and they know how to use it better. It takes a little bit of getting used to. It's just kind of learning their mindset and having (an idea) of what they're going to do to you. I'm trying to wait pitches out a little bit and get a good pitch to hit."  In other words, Vitters can no longer rely on his natural talent to beat everyone else's natural talent.  The good pitchers at the big leagues have both mastered both the physical and mental part of the game, while Vitters needs to improve substantially on the latter.  It's encouraging to know he understands this and that will be his next hurdle is to become a true MLB'er.  That is, as he himself described, someone who knows how to use his skills better.
  3. Junior Lake, 3B: If Vitters can't make the needed adjustments, he'll have another player with natural skills and a questionable approach right there at AAA with him.  Lake has the same basic flaws that Vitters does -- playing consistent defense and commanding the strike zone.  Lake does potentially offer a couple of things that Vitters doesn't, and that's some much needed speed to a pretty slow team and the athleticism to play multiple positions. He'll start in AAA but if he gets off to a good start in Iowa and shows improvement in his approach at the plate and in the field, we'll start watching for him in Chicago by midseason.
  4. Logan Watkins, 2B: Watkins is more polished than Lake but has a lower ceiling.  He has had a tremendous year but unlike Vitters and Lake, he has a legit MLB starter in front of him in Gold Glove candidate Darwin Barney.  Adding to that obstacle, Watkins has yet to play at the AAA level so we should expect to get a long look at him next spring and then follow his progress at Iowa.  Watkins has been a slow starter the past two years so it wouldn't be surprising to not see Watkins in the bigs until closer to September.  After a sluggish start this year, Watkins has hit .314/.419/.466 since June 1st.  If the Cubs decide Barney is getting too expensive for a defensive oriented 2B, they may turn to Watkins as a cheaper replacement that offers the OBP and speed they like but, not surprisingly, he would be a step down defensively.
  5. Tony Zych, RHP:  Zych features a mid 90s fastball that has touched 99 mph as well as a deceptive delivery.  His advantages over the other pitchers in terms of moving quickly are that he is a) a reliever and b) has good control for a power pitcher. At the class A level, Zych allowed just 1.7 walks/9IP and had an FIP of 1.93.  At the AA level, he has fanned 10.6/9IP but his walks have gone up to 3.8/9 IP.  However, Zych's numbers are somewhat deceptive because he had a couple of rough outings shortly after his promotion and now has not allowed a run since August 2nd, a span of 12.1 innings.  In that stretch, he has lowered his walk rate to 2.19/9IP while still averaging over a strikeout per inning.  Zych, along with Alberto Cabrera, Rafael Dolis, and Trey McNutt, are all future closer candidates once Carlos Marmol moves on.
  6. Trey McNutt, RHP: It's not as exciting to follow McNutt now that he's a reliever but he could help the Cubs quicker that way.  Although he's had more time in AA, he's not as close as Zych in my opinion simply because his command hasn't been as good.  McNutt has a 4.10 ERA as a reliever and although his fastball is back in the 96 mph range and he has pitched better in his last few outings, he's still walking 4.78 batters per 9 innings pitched.  His second pitch, a power curve that has the sharp break of a slider, is better than Zych's slider, so the ceiling is still higher for him.  He just has to throw strikes.
  7. Jae-Hoon Ha, CF: Ha has really picked it up of late, hitting .301/.385/.446 since the all-star break and while he doesn't profile as a starter, he could be a stopgap solution in CF if Jackson falters.  He'll provide good defense, grind out ABs, and play the kind of smart, instinctual baseball that the team seems to lack sometimes.  Ideally he's a 4th or 5th OF'er but guys like Ha find a way of sneaking into the lineup because of their solid approach to the game.  The guess here is that he'll impress the coaching staff this spring and put himself in position to be an emergency call-up.  He'll eventually battle Dave Sappelt for an extra outfielder spot.
  8. Nick Struck, RHP: Struck won't wow you with any one trait. He's 5'11", throws a low 90s fastball and has solid breaking stuff but no true out pitch.  That doesn't stop him from aggressively attacking the strike zone (2.5 walks/9 IP) and daring hitters to beat him, something they haven't been able to do regularly this season (13-10, 3.30 ERA)  He'll strike some guys out 7Ks/9IP, but at the MLB level most guys will put the ball in play against him, so he'll need to keep the ball down and have a good defense behind him.  He's had a bit of luck on his side (.278 BABIP) and he's probably a middle reliever long term, but the Cubs don't have a lot of options at starter, so he'll probably be part of the depth at AAA, possibly among the first in line along with either Brooks Raley and/or Chris Rusin, whichever of the two doesn't earn a job with the big club next spring.
  9. Matt Szczur, CF: Szczur has played just 30 games at the AA level and has hit just .202, so he's not that close right now.  The most likely scenario is that he starts in AA and tries to move up to AAA by the end of the year.  If he has a great seas0n, we could see him in September.  Szczur suddenly finds him in a crunch as his bat will only play in CF and he has Brett Jackson ahead of him and the advanced Albert Almora behind him.   Szczur's biggest steps forward this year have been his plate discipline, defense, and baserunning.  He had a 13.4% walk rate in Daytona and is still holding his own at a solid 8% in the much more advanced Southern League.  The big worry with Szczur is his bat, specifically a swing that many scouts aren't crazy about.  If he doesn't hit, he has the skills to be a good 4th OF'er.
  10. Eric Jokisch, LHP: If there's one area where the Cubs will produce in "waves" it's LH finesse pitchers.  We mentioned Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley above, and there's also Austin Kirk and Frank Del Valle right behind Jokisch.  While that's not particularly exciting, it does give the Cubs some depth with the hope that one of them sticks as a bottom of the rotation starter long term and perhaps another will be become solid lefty reliever such as James Russell did.  Jokisch's best pitch is a circle change and like Struck, he's had some success this season (10-6, 3.15 ERA between A and AA) but despite going 7-2 with a 2.97 ERA in AA, his strikeout rate has dropped dramatically, from 8.61 to 5.22 since the promotion.

Filed under: Analysis, prospects

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  • John - Nice topic!

    We need to have McNutt as a starter. He needs to receive some intense coaching to help him with his command and hone his secondary pitches.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Thanks! Maybe they'll revisit him as a starter this offseason. For now, he looks like a reliever. Perhaps they'll start him off that way and convert him later, as they did with Andrew Cashner.

  • What is the chance that Rohan will be given an opportunity with the club. I know he's relatively old, and is on nobody's prospect list. But the guy has flat raked this year, and doing it now at Iowa.

    The Theocracy claims to focus on #s and production. They shouldn't be ignoring them. I still think Vitters has the best ceiling of all of the 3B candidates, but would not be disappointed if him, Stewart, and Rohan are all given an equal chance to win the starting job in spring training.

    Maybe if Stewart does not return, then give Valbuena the same chance to win the job. I agree he has been productive in "crunch time" at-bats, but it just looks like his ceiling is as a .250/.300/.400 utility guy.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    I think pretty low, which is unfortunate as I know there are a lot of Rohan fans out there.. He'll be exposed to the Rule 5, I believe, so it's possible a team will take him. If not, he'll be in the mix but he doesn't have the ceiling that the other guys have.

    These guys also focus on ceiling and how their skills will translate to the MLB. That is still very much in the air with Rohan. They also look at age vs. level, so a lot to prove still. But if he does stick around and Stewart/Valbuena can't cut it and Lake/Vitters aren't ready, he could get his shot -- and if he does, he'll have to run with it because guys like Rohan aren't the types that get multiple opportunities. It's the harsh reality of the game.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    I have to say Rohan won me over this year. At the beginning of the year, I looked at him and saw a 26 year old in A ball and had completely written him off. But, in retrospect, it wasn't his fault he was kept in A ball as long as he was, and he has performed just as well in AA and AAA as he did in A ball. I think it's possible if he has a good spring that he could end up with a Jeff Baker-type role with the Cubs. The one thing he has going for him is he's right-handed, and the Cubs are short on right handed bats, so that could help him.

  • john I think the rotation could be good next year with shark,garza,and Arodys Vizcaino in it. But first I would take things slow with Arodys Vizcaino, he is very important to the long term success of the team. If they trade garza then you still have shark and Vizcaino to build around. Another thing that is looking good is the future of the bullpen with Zych,Cabrera,dolis,and mcnutt, but I hope mcnutt could still be a starter.

  • In reply to seankl:

    It has potential if everyone is healthy and sticks around. And I very much agree they'll have to take it slow with Vizcaino. It's highly unlikely they'll turn things around in 2013 so you don't want to get him hurt in a year where the Cubs have little chance of making noise.

    The bullpen has some solid arms and all you need is for 2-3 to work out to make this a strong, power-pitching oriented bullpen.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Why not go the Dempster route: closer for a year or two while he rebuilds arm strength, and then give him a rotation slot when he's back -- which would incidentally coincide with 2015, which people seem to think is the year for a serious push.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I'd like to see them do this. Sometimes simplifying what a pitcher has to do on the mound can accelerate their progress. If McNutt ever becomes a starter, he will turn almost exclusively to his FB and breaking pitch, two offerings he'll use as a reliever anyway. It may not be a bad idea to give him frequent looks too -- so that he learns to repeat mechanics without the long wait in between starts. Once he seems to have improved his command significantly, the Cubs can revisit the idea of making him a starter.

  • In reply to seankl:

    I think it'd be huge risk and a mistake to put Vizcaino into the rotation in 2013. He hasn't pitched in over a year. They should protect him with a strict inning limitation for 2013. If he progresses nicely and proves to be healthy, then he may be a RP piece for the 2nd half of 2013.

    His ultimate role will depend on A). first & foremost his health and how well he actually does, B). how well the other closer candidates perform. C). what the FO values more a top of the rotation SP or a top shelf closer....

    We appear to have more viable closer candidates than SP right now. So hopefully (in a perfect world) Dolis/Cabrera, etc step it up and seize that opportunity, and Vizcaino & later McNutt realize their upside and would would make a formidable rotation with Shark & Garza (if signed) and Wood/Volstad/Rusin, etc.... for 2015.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I agree that it's probably foolish to expect Vizcaino to produce as a starting pitcher at the MLB level next year. Not only has he been out with the injury, but he only has a handful of starts above A ball, also. He probably is going to need a full year of AAA ball next year. Probably not what Cub fans want to hear, but I think it would be doubly a mistake to rush him next year, with both the injury and the lack of high minors experience.

  • We really enjoy these profiles on the top prospects. Can't
    wait to see your after season top prospect list from each
    level (AAA, AA, etc.) of the farm system. Will be out of
    state Friday to Thursday. Hope a deal is made by late
    Friday.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Thanks E! I'll probably do some lists after the season to take the place of the minor league recaps. Not sure on the DSL, though. Frankly I don't get to see those guys play and using stats to determine prospect worth at that level is not very useful.

  • My guy is also Arodys Vizcaino. If he comes back close to 100% , he will be a steal

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    Agreed. The Cubs don't have another SP prospect like him right now. The guys I'm most high on right now after him are Johnson and Paniagua...and both are quite a bit away.

  • I think Vizcaino is the poster boy why the Cubs need to hire a biomechanics coach.

    Here's a great article on what the Orioles are doing with Dylan Bundy and others with this technology: http://tinyurl.com/74rcbl4

    The Cubs put so much value on analysis, this field is a just natural extension to it.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Besides helping to avoid injuries, biomechanics would also help pitchers with their command.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Interesting stuff. I have no idea if this is something that the Cubs have looked into or what their opinion is on the subject.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Mark Prior had a very easy and natural pitching motion coming out of USC, thanks to Tom House, who was one of the early proponents of biomechanics. Prior got away from it when he joined the Cubs, and his mechanics turned more violent. You know the rest.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    We lost a great pitcher he lost a ton of money. Whose
    to blame?

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Too late now to place blame. Now's the time to try to stop it from happening to others. Check out that link I posted earlier on. Very enlightening.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    It's worked wonders in other sports like basketball too, for the Phoenix Suns especially & guys like Steve Nash & Grant Hill

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    Every good Olympic athlete also has a biomechanics coach. Even most workers are taught at their job the correct way to pick up boxes, mainly to lessen workman comp issues.

    Pitching is repetitive motion, and doing something incorrectly can end up injuring you. I've never seen Dillion Maples on the mound, but from what I've read about his delivery, it could be troublesome.

  • I'm surprised that Solar isn't going to play fall ball in AZ. Possibly sending him to a different league? It'll be fun to watch Baez back in a hitter's league!

  • In reply to cowboy2024:

    err....Soler.

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    In reply to cowboy2024:

    There are rules that only allow you to send one AA guy to AFL, so apparently Baez won the coin flip.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Sorry, one guy lower than AA.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Was not aware of that. Dodgers must plan on making a roster move soon. I see they have three guys (Puig, Eadington and Pederson) off their A+ roster represented.

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    In reply to cowboy2024:

    Based on my understanding of the rules, they can't do that. Which obviously means there are loopholes they took advantage of that the Cubs didn't/couldn't. The rules are very confusing.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Not sure of the exact details ... but apparently there's some sort of "pinch hit" detail that allows extra players to be sent but not included on the day-to-day roster. Some kind of DH'y, used in a pinch, thing. Sorry for the awkward wording.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Yep! I'm sure the Cubs would like to have taken both if possible.

  • In reply to cowboy2024:

    I'm a little surprised too. I thought they'd pick one of the two, but I was leaning toward Soler.

    Agreed on Baez in a hitters league. I'll be down there in October.

  • In reply to cowboy2024:

    My guess is that they want to let him get his feet on the ground as a new transplant to the US a bit before they throw him in the AFL. This will be his first off-season, and they're probably going to work with him on adjusting to life here, plus adjusting to being a pro ball player--the workouts, diet, etc. I'm sure they're going to have people working with him daily over the off season (maybe Garbey), after investing so much money in him.

  • john, I hear that the cubs hired hyde as their new farm director

  • In reply to seankl:

    News coming in like crazy! Not surprised. Will have a post later. Just posted fall league stuff.

  • Any interest in Félix Doubront?... Theo/Jed signed him as a IFA in 2005 and he's only 24 and won't be a FA until 2018.

    Also, the Indians claimed Scott Maine.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I think they'd definitely be interested if it didn't cost them too much in terms of return.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I'm surprised that we've been so quick to cut guys like Maine when we've been so quick to pick up some guys like Hinshaw. I'm surprised that they don't consider a guy like Maine as being worth a roster spot. He hasn't been that bad this year, and he has pitched very well at the AAA level the last 2-3 years. Does anyone really think that guys like Jacob Brigham and Jaye Chapman are more worthy of roster spots than Scott Maine??? It takes a lot of imagination to picture those guys as ever having any success in the bigs.

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    In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    We would be really lucky to grab Doubrant!!

    He could slide right into the rotation next year, and w some good instruction along w a change from the AL east to NL central, I think he could shine.

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    That was my thinking.... Obviously Theo & Co., know him well just not sure what'd it take to get him. He's reportedly been claimed off of waivers by someone.....

  • Seems like many fairly young players are being put on waivers.
    I hope Theo/Jed are keeping track of this. I still hope something
    happens by Friday's deadline.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    No team is going to let a young player go. They'll either get a good haul of prospects back or they'll pull them off waivers.

    Keep in mind too that almost everybody is put on waivers this time of year.

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    Great list John. I think you're dead on with what I've seen from Vitters vs. Jackson at the major league level so far. While Jackson clearly has a lot to learn, his ABs are getting better and while he is still striking out too much, he doesn't look overmatched in as many trips to the plate. He is starting to make some adjustments and you can see legit major league talent coming through. How good he'll be is still an open question, but at this point I don't have to squint to see a major league player there. Vitters still looks like he's scuffling to me. Hopefully, he will take the lessons he learns during the rest of this year to heart and start making the necessary adjustments to succeed next year.

    Overall, I feel like the system is generating some pretty exciing hitting prospects (especially at the lower levels) and hopefully a continued focus on pitching through next year's draft will start bringing those 'waves' of arms that management talks about. Honestly I'm as optimistic about the farm system as I have been in quite some time.

  • In reply to Tom Wozniak:

    Thanks Tom,

    I think Jackson at least has some mastery of the strike zone. He'll strike out, but he seems to know what to swing at most of the time. And when he connects, he makes hard contact.

    Right now, just don't see the same thing with Vitters, at least not consistently.

    And totally agree. The lower levels is where the talent is really at.

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    I think Ha is like our version of Aoki.

    If he's as good as Aoki's been of late along w John description, he could really make this team as a 4th OF !

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