If you've read my blog, you'll know I've made it no secret that Jim Callis is one of my favorite baseball writers and I consider him one of the top authorities on prospects. I've been reading Baseball America for as long as I can remember and it's a big reason as to why I've come to love amateur baseball, the draft, and the minor leagues. He's had a huge impact on prospect writers everywhere.
I'm absolutely thrilled that he was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
JA: Which 2 Cubs prospects, one position player and one pitcher, will be the next to make a big impact in Chicago?
JC: If we're saying "big impact" and not counting guys who have come up to the Cubs this year, then I think the next guy is Javier Baez. He's probably two years away from the majors, but he has huge upside with the bat (.300, 30 homers) and has gotten stronger reviews than I expected for his play at shortstop. I really don't see a pitcher who I'd say would make a huge impact. I really like Pierce Johnson, their supplemental first-round pick this year, who has a chance to be a No. 2 starter but more realistically might be a solid No. 3. He's a couple of years away, too.
JA: We all know about the top guys, but which lesser known, under-the-radar prospect (or prospects) should Cubs fans really keep an eye on?
JC: Arismendy Alcantara never has made the Cubs Top 30 in any of our Prospect Handbooks, but he's a toolsy shortstop who's playing well in high Class A this year at age 20. Starlin Peralta is a low Class A righthander with a fastball that hits 96 mph and the makings of a plus slider.
JA: Whether it's in a good way or bad way, which Cubs prospect(s) surprised you the most this season?
JC: Brett Jackson losing his decent control of the strike zone really surprised me. I once had high hopes for Trey McNutt, but now he clearly looks like a reliever to me. On the positive side, as I mentioned before, I've been surprised at the reviews Baez has gotten for his play at shortstop.
JA: Other than 1st pick Albert Almora, which pick(s) should Cubs fans get really excited about in the 2012 draft?
JC: Johnson would have gone in the bottom half of the first round if he hadn't strained his forearm and missed a couple of starts. I also liked the high school pitching they got with the three picks after Johnson: Paul Blackburn, Duane Underwood and Ryan McNeil. Among the late-round sleepers, I like 16th-round righthander Mike Hamann.
JA: If the 2013 draft were held today, which player should the Cubs pick?
JC: They really need pitching so I think they'll take the best college pitcher on the board, either righthanders Mark Appel (Stanford) or Ryne Stanek (Arkansas) or lefthander Sean Manaea (Indiana State).
JA: How do you see the Cubs system overall as compared to last year and what areas still need the most improvement?
JC: It stands out to me as a system with more depth in the lower levels than the higher levels, especially in terms of pitching. It's going to be a couple of years before the system can provide much help. There is some upside with player like Baez, Almora, Jorge Soler and company, but Cubs fans are going to have to be patient.
Great stuff from Jim as always and a big thanks for sharing his time and information with us. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @jimcallisBA and read his great prospect work at www.baseballamerica.com.