I wrote a lot of my thoughts back when Keith Law listed the Cubs as the #5 overall organization, so I won't go into detail rehashing here. But the premise was that in order for anyone to rate the Cubs that highly, they have to like the Cubs pitching, particularly their young pitching, and few see them more often than Law, who does much of his scouting in Arizona.
Today he came out with his Cubs top 10 and that indeed appears to be a significant factor. Five pitchers are in the top 10: Arodys Vizcaino (4), Duane Underwood (6), Juan Carlos Paniagua (7), Pierce Johnson (8), and Paul Blackburn (9).
Heres the rest of the list...
1. Javier Baez, SS (31)
2. Albert Almora, CF (33)
3. Jorge Soler, RF (42)
4. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP (64)
5. Jeimer Candelario, 3B
6. Duane Underwood, RHP
7. Juan Carlos Paniagua, RHP
8. Pierce Johnson, RHP
9. Paul Blackburn, RHP
10. Arismendy Alcantara, SS
The top 5 are as expected because of his top 100 rankings, but there is usually a surprise or two on Law's list and, once again, he doesn't disappoint. The Underwood and Blackburn rankings are the highest we've seen by far. Paniagua also rates highly. I'm a big fan as well, rating him 6th after getting all giddy about how the ball just explodes out of his hand with such an effortless delivery. Baseball America had him 11th, though you could almost say they rated him top 10 as far as traditional prospects since they rated 32 year old NPB veteran Kyuji Fujikawa at #9. So while the Paniagua rating is high, it's the Underwood and Blackburn rankings that were the most pleasant surprises to me.
In what is no surprise, Law left Dan Vogelbach off the list as he has been especially vocal about his athletic and defensive limitations. While that is a concern, that has been exaggerated in my opinion. On offense, Law grants he has "80", or top of the scale, power while also saying he has a "pretty good" idea at the plate. I have to respectfully disagree with that choice of words. By many accounts, including my own, Vogelbach shows an an advanced approach at the plate, a good feel for hitting, a powerful yet efficient, fundamentally sound swing, and he controls the strike zone. If that's "pretty" good, then I'd like to know what "very" good is. Even more perplexing to me is that Vogelbach gets downgraded because Law doesn't see how the Cubs can use him. My response to that is this: "How does that affect his pure ranking as an individual prospect and a ballplayer? " I understand the concerns about being hesitant to rank a 1B/DH type who has only played at the lowest minor levels, but if he reaches his offensive ceiling as a good hitter with 80 power, then Vogelbach will undoubtedly have use as a major league ballplayer. Perhaps "use" factors in if you're ranking overall organizational strength, but it shouldn't be a factor in Vogelbach's ranking as an individual major league prospect.
But let's get back to Underwood and Blackburn. Their inclusion on the list gives us an excellent reason to talk about a couple of our favorite pitchers from the Cubs 2012 draft.
Some consider Duane Underwood to have the best raw stuff of any Cubs pitcher in the organization and he flashed it at times in AZ. Right now, Underwood can touch 98 -- but he can also sometimes struggle to get out of the low 90s. He can throw a big, breaking curve -- but sometimes it lacks bite and is too hittable. He even shows potential for a plus change but it doesn't always have enough separation from his fastball. He's also a very athletic pitcher which can be a big factor on how quickly pitchers can apply instruction from a purely physical standpoint. There is a lot to work with when you look at Underwood and, to top it all off, he has reputation for being very coachable. I imagine Cubs new pitching guru Derek Johnson must be chomping at the bit to work with him this spring.
Paul Blackburn is the more polished pitcher but that's not to say he doesn't have good stuff as well. It would be a mistake to call him a finesse pitcher. He can throw in the 90-93 range already, has an advanced feel for pitching, and should be able to develop at least average secondary pitches. Like Underwood, he's a good athlete and as we've mentioned often, that translates into an ability to repeat one's delivery which in turn can translate into good command. Aside from polish and athleticism, the Cubs see one more thing with Blackburn -- projection. Physically he still looks very much like a teenager, which is to say he looks lean, maybe even a little gangly. It's not hard to imagine the possibility that he will throw with better, more consistent velocity as he fills out that frame. He has a chance to be a very well-rounded pitcher who some think may one day slot in nicely as a #3, but it wouldn't surprise me if he turned out to be a little more. He's not going to wow you like Underwood, but he has good stuff, a clean athletic delivery, and the potential for plus command or better. And, of all the Cubs young pitchers the Cubs drafted in 2012, nobody has more of that mysterious, unquantifiable quality known as "pitchability".
Filed under: Uncategorized