Reader supercapo asked me an interesting question yesterday about which 3 Cubs prospects had the best chance to breakout in 2013. Now by breakout, I'm going to assume we're talking about prospects who are not yet in the limelight. It's safe to say that Javier Baez, Albert Almora, and Jorge Soler are already well known in prospect circles, so for purposes of this piece, we'll leave them out. That's not to say they can't break through even more and suddenly reach Oscar Tavares or Jurickson Profar status, but this focus is going to be on the prospects outside the top 100 who have a chance to make a name for themselves this season.
As I thought about this, I started wondering what defines a breakout player. There are so many ways to do it and, for different reasons, I found myself compiling a list in my head that was much larger than 3 prospects.
So, instead of 3 players, I'm going to go with 10 pitchers and position players and break them up into 5 categories.
With that, these are 10 prospects whom I think have a chance to outperform expectations in 2013...
These players had miserable 2012 seasons. One tried to come back from a serious injury while the other sustained one early in the season.
- Robert Whitenack, RHP: Whitenack burst on the scene in 2011, showing a fastball that peaked at 96 mph. He junked his super cool, but hard to control knuckle-curve in favor of a slider and suddenly his command was off-the-charts good. Then, right when there were whispers that Whitenack could rise to the majors that very season, disaster struck. Whitenack felt the dreaded twinge, underwent TJ surgery and, although he worked hard to make it back in 2012, he just wasn't the same pitcher. He threw about 90, the slider was flat, and the command wavered. Now fully healthy again, the hope is that we see the 2011 Robert Whitenack -- and if we do, we can be sure we'll start hearing the whispers of reaching the majors again in 2013.
- Reggie Golden RF: Remember him? Before there was the toolsy Jorge Soler, there was the toolsy Reggie Golden and his RF athleticism, strong arm, and prodigious power potential. What was especially encouraging is that for a raw player, Golden seemed to pick up the game quickly, showing surprising pitch recognition and selectivity (10.6% walk rate at Boise in 2011). Perhaps a year off will allow him to finally heal and maybe, just maybe his athleticism and maturity can help him quickly make up for the loss of development time. Either way, it's probably make or break for Golden this year.
The comeback kids
These guys had uneven years but to me, they showed enough skill and talent to become consistently better players in 2013...
- Dillon Maples, RHP: Maples also had an injury issue slowing him down, though it wasn't nearly as serious as Whitenack. His arm was just fine last year as he displayed a fastball that sometimes sat at 96-97 and a curveball that was about as unhittable as it was uncontrollable (10 walks in 10 IP). The concern with Maples is an awkward delivery that almost certainly leads to his command issues and probably some of the nagging arm issues as well. The Cubs have worked on cleaning up and simplifying the delivery this offseason. Reportedly they have been pleased with the results so far. If Maples can harness his potent 1-2 combo, he'll move quickly.
- Zeke DeVoss, 2B: DeVoss had a disappointing year after a good debut in 2011 and has gotten lost in the 2B shuffle. I got a chance to see DeVoss firsthand often last season. He's a smallish but wiry guy. Not as much raw speed as I thought but he's very athletic and a smart baserunner. He also takes a ton of pitches and I sometimes wondered if he was too selective at times. Few Cubs prospects saw more pitches than DeVoss last season and my hope is that it pays off this season. I would like to see him to continue to grind out ABs but I'd like to see him be a tad more aggressive and pounce on hittable pitches. He's strong enough to shoot balls into the gaps and fast enough to run out a few ground balls. He should hit better than the .249 average he hit last year while still maintaining a healthy walk rate. Defensively, he has the range and arm to play 2B, but he's still a work in progress.
Reaching the next level
These guys are top 10 prospects for the Cubs but nobody considers them elite on a national level. Not yet, anyway...
- Pierce Johnson, RHP: This is a lofty choice because much is already expected from Johnson, but it's mostly from a Cubs-centric point of view. Nationally, he's just another high-round pick. To the Cubs, he was a mid first round talent who only slipped because he missed two weeks late in the season. It turns out he's fine. The Cubs will have to hope he can stay that way. Johnson doesn't throw quite as hard as other young Cubs prospects such as Juan Paniagua, Dillon Maples, or Duane Underwood, but he throws plenty hard enough. Johnson is able to consistently throw 93-94 and touch 96. He has a second plus pitch, a power curveball, that is a legit strikeout offering as well. He can also mix in a hard cutter and is developing a solid change. That's what sets him apart from the other Cubs young pitchers. He's simply more advanced and could even start the year in Daytona. If he succeeds there, perhaps even earning a mid-season promotion to AA, then we'll start hearing a lot more about Johnson from guys outside the Cubs organization.
- Jeimer Candelario, 3B: Keith Law stole some of my thunder on this one by putting him in his top 110 but most prospect experts don't have him quite that high. What's impressive about Candelario is that he has such an advanced feel for hitting that, despite being it's youngest player, he held his own in the middle of a powerful Boise lineup. At times, Candelario seemed over-matched. He's also still growing into his big frame, so the numbers, particularly on the power side, didn't meet expectations. But perhaps we were all being a bit unrealistic in retrospect. We're talking about an 18 year old kid playing pro ball in the U.S. for the first time. Boise, Idaho is about as far away in terms of miles and culture as Candelario can possibly get from the Dominican Republic. Add that while he was adapting to all this, it wasn't unusual for him to face pitchers that were about 4 years older than he was -- all while getting to know a whole new set of teammates. No other Cub made the jump from the DSL to the NWL that season. Despite all that, Candelario hit a respectable .281/.345/.396 and seemed to get more comfortable as the year went on. This year, he'll be coming to Kane County, which is just a one step jump and he'll have a year's experience worth of life and baseball in the U.S. With his focus squarely on demolishing baseballs and improving his 3B defense, Candelario could carve out a big name for himself this year even amongst all the great prospects scheduled to play at Kane this year.
Not really late as both are still young and far from their peak years. One player has had to learn the nuances of the game while the other has struggled with nagging injuries and inconsistency. A fresh start in 2013 may do them both good...
- Matt Szczur, CF: Let's start from the beginning. He's an athletic player, but coming from a football background and a cold weather state, he just didn't develop the necessary baseball skills early on in his career. Despite great speed, he didn't run the bases well nor did he cover a lot of ground in CF. His body was built for football and it affected his flexibility and arm strength. He was aggressive at the plate. He was, in short, a football player playing baseball and for awhile, his pure athleticism kept him afloat. Szczur has worked ridiculously hard to shore up every single one of those aforementioned weaknesses. He is now considered a plus defender with a solid arm, a good baserunner, and he has a good eye at the plate. Like DeVoss, he saw a lot of pitches in 2012 and sometimes that can pay off down the road. But there's still one big question. Will he hit? Szczur once again went to work this offseason. This time to improve a swing that uses too much upper body and sometimes has an awkward, sweeping follow-through that costs him bat speed. The fall league was hit or miss for Szczur. At least while I was there. At times, I saw a good, balanced, hard swing and at others I saw him revert to old habits. Szczur may have progressed enough in most areas to already be considered a 4th or 5th OF'er prospect at the very least. Whether he can me more than that is going to depend on developing a swing that will allow him to consistently drive pitches into the gaps rather than settle for just putting the bat on the ball.
- Trey McNutt, RHP: If you catch Trey McNutt on the right day you'll see a pitcher who repeats his delivery well, throws in the mid 90s, and has a nasty breaking ball -- one with a curve like break and slider velocity. If you squint really hard, you might even see a little young Kerry Wood in the 6'4", 220 lbs. McNutt. Unfortunately, those days have been frustratingly scarce of late. He's had some minor obstacles/injuries, including a Wood-like recurring blister problem, which hasn't made things any easier. But if McNutt is healthy, he has the athleticism, makeup, and talent to put it all together quickly. His stuff is still potentially as good as any pitcher in the Cub system. He just needs to stay healthy and throw strikes. The Cubs are putting him in the bullpen for now, but as we've seen with Jeff Samardzija and Alberto Cabrera, the Cubs have no qualms about returning athletic, big-bodied, strong-armed pitchers to the rotation once they start figuring it out.
A couple of guys whom I think are underrated as prospects, but some polish and physical maturity could allow their natural athleticism and talent to blossom into big results on the baseball field...
- Jose Arias, RHP: I got a chance to see Arias pitch in instructs and was impressed. He's a tall, big-bodied pitcher with a live arm who can reach the mid 90s. He over-matched the Dodgers prospects that day, to the point where more than a couple of the players tried to "cheat" on their swings by starting early. That only seemed to make things worse for them because Arias also had a good curve and a solid change going on that day. Afterward, by happy coincidence, he took a break and sat right next to me. I seized the opportunity and asked him about his performance. He told me he'd been pleased with the progress of his offspeed stuff -- not just that day, but in general that fall. We know he can throw hard. And he can be intimidating with his mound presence. If he can carry over that secondary stuff into the season, then maybe we'll see him dominate MWL hitters in the same way he dominated those Dodgers prospects.
- Trey Martin, CF: Martin is a long, loose-limbed fluid athlete who eats up ground in the OF defensively while also displaying a strong throwing arm. But he's not just an athlete playing baseball, he has great body control and hand-eye coordination which help him make good hard contact at the plate. His swing gets a little long as he's still not filled out and doesn't yet have the strength to hit for consistent power. But I think that as he matures physically, we'll see him shorten up and potentially settle into a comfortable 15 HR/year guy with plenty of doubles and triples. Martin is still putting things together and it's hard to say when (or if) it will click for him, but once he matures, both physically and in terms of baseball specific skills, he has all the raw tools to give the Cubs yet another top CF prospect.
These are my 10 guys. I'm curious to know who some of your breakout candidates are....so I turn the question back on to you all...
Which 3 prospects (or more) do you believe will break out big for the Cubs this year?
Filed under: prospects