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Unique perspective on Cubs SP prospects the key as Law ranks system #5 overall

Unique perspective on Cubs SP prospects the key as Law ranks system #5 overall
Arodys Vizcaino and Juan Carlos Paniagua

The good news keeps coming as far as the Cubs farm system rankings.  Jim Callis of Baseball America has said he'd rank them in the top 12, but that it could still go up depending on trades.  John Sickels rated them #10.  Now Keith Law has them ranked #5.

My first reaction was one of surprise, but to be honest, my focus is on the Cubs system more than it is on other systems around the league.  I follow prospects around baseball from every team but I don't attempt to formally rank the 30 teams because there is an imbalance as far as what I know about the Cubs and what I know about every other team.  And so I am more than happy to trust the experts like Callis, Sickels, and Law to handle these type of overviews and rankings.

And it makes me especially happy that the Cubs organization ranked #5 in Law's esteemed opinion.

Here's a quick synopsis of what Law had to say...

  • System quality is down overall and there is surprisingly little depth among farm systems in general.
  • Teams that ranked ahead of the Cubs are the Cardinals, Twins, Rays, and Astros.
  • He likes what the Cubs did internationally, specifically mentioning "toolshed" Jorge Soler and the "electic-armed" Juan Carlos Paniagua as excellent pick-ups.
  • He also wrote that the Cubs scored big in last year's draft.  They addressed the system's lack of starting pitching candidates while also bulking up its depth in outfield prospects.

The article is an overview, so it's short on names and specifics, but I think those last two statements give great insight into Law's thinking when you consider that a) he watches a ton of ballgames and b) he does a lot of it in Arizona.  Coincidentally this is where many of the Cubs high-ceiling prospects spent a lot of their time.  So while other prospect gurus may be hesitant to rank the Cubs highly because of the uncertainty with young Cubs pitchers, Law has seen them more than most.  Constant exposure to certain prospects has a way of either easing doubts or confirming them.  In Law's case, it seems to be the former.  This past season alone, he mentioned that the Cubs AZ team was one of the most "loaded" he had seen all summer, and if you follow him on Twitter, he's made numerous references to many of the Cubs lower level pitching prospects, including Paniagua, Pierce Johnson, Dillon Maples, Duane Underwood, Paul Blackburn, and even lesser known prospects such as Trey Lang.

This unique perspective leads to a unique ranking.

There is no doubt the Cubs have impact position player prospects, led by Javier Baez, Albert Almora, and Jorge Soler. That trio alone is enough to warrant the Cubs consideration as a system in the top half of all of baseball.  There is Dan Vogelbach, whom Law seems less high on than others, but behind him are more solid positional player prospects such as the near-ready Brett Jackson and top 10 3Bs such as Jeimer Candelario, and Christian Villanueva.  Beyond the more well-known names, you also have intriguing athletes at premium positions such as Arismendy Alcantara (SS), Marco Hernandez (SS), Trey Martin (CF) and a player that Law considers a sleeper, Shawon Dunston Jr. (CF). There may be some difference in opinion with regard to some prospects, most notably Matt Szczur and Junior Lake, but most scouts and prospect writers would agree that the Cubs have a good combination of impact talent and depth when it comes to position players -- and that by itself puts them on the fringes of a top 10 organization.

But let's get back to pitching.

If you think the Cubs merit a spot in the top 5, then it has to be about the pitching.  We've already mentioned the lower level, live-armed pitchers that the Cubs have in their system, but there's an important name I've omitted so far.  It is top SP prospect Arodys Vizcaino, whom Law ranked as the 12th best prospect in baseball before his injury.  The news since the injury has been excellent and every opinion I've heard indicates that a full recovery is expected.  Considering how highly Law had him ranked just a year ago, a return to form would be a tremendous boost for the Cubs pitching in terms of impact talent, especially at the upper levels, where they need it most.

You may also remember that Law was a fan of Alberto Cabrera and his "electric" fastball last spring.  He lauded the pitch for both it's velocity and movement. Cabrera is now switching back to the rotation and I'd be interested to hear Law's thoughts on that conversion.  At the time, even while raving about the heater, Law was less impressed with Cabrera's secondary pitches.  Since then, however, Cabrera has recaptured the plus slider he showed earlier in his career and he appears to have made significant progress with his change-up.

Organizational rankings come and go.  They change from one year to the next (the Cubs were 20th on Law's list last season).  So while it's exciting to me that they ranked 5th, the reasons why I believe they ranked that high offer the most encouragement to Cubs fans.  That reason is pitching.  Considered by most to be the area of weakness in the Cubs system, we can take heart that at least one prominent national talent evaluator has seen them early and often.

And, from what I can gather, he seems to like what he sees.

Filed under: prospects

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  • When i read that I was pumped that we are ranking in the top ten... Its been awhile since we have had so much promise in the minors

  • In reply to UTsoccer:

    Hard to believe it's come so far so quickly. it's only going to get better after some trades, the draft, and int'l FAs. Only one top 10 prospect is expected to be lost through graduation, Brett Jackson. So if normal progression continues, the Cubs should really shoot up again next year.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    look, this raning put a smile on my face as much as anyone else, but let's not get carried away. We have two MLB players that could get us any sort of impact return (Marmol, Soriano) and there hasn't seemed to be much of a market for them. Garza is a question mark in terms of what he can be traded for, due to his health, his impending free agency and the fact the Cubs may just decide to keep him after all. And finally, yes there is another draft next year, but remember all 30 teams are part of the draft - it happens every year, right? Every year every team gets an infusion of talent - doesn't mean your team is going to leapfrog over everyone else and "shoot up" the rankings. I don't mean to be a bummer, but I am a Cub fan and a Democrat and so I am well acquainted with disappointment and falling short of expectations.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    Difference though with having two high picks in a shallow draft. The Cubs stand to gain more than most teams from it. Don't forget Cubs will have other trade possibilities in addition to Garza (I think they'll get a quality return if they trade him), Marmol, and Soriano as year goes on: Baker, Feldman, DeJesus, Hairston, Scheirholtz....They're trying to raise the value on these guys and sell high. Will it work? We'll have to see.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Would NOT count on much return from baker, Feldman, djj or especially schierholtz

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    "ranking" sorry

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    What does Law think of Dillon Maples? He is another arm with alot of promise, but not alot of action so far.

    I still think #5 is aggressive, considering Vizcaino is the only potential impact pitcher that's close to the majors (aside from bullpen arms like McNutt and Zych).

  • In reply to Zonk:

    He hasn't gone much into depth on Maples from what I've seen. We'll have to ask him. Just about everyone likes Maples arm and stuff, but the delivery and command are the big question marks. He did rank him #7 on his Cubs list last year.

  • I can't wait to see the talent in the system after (1) June draft
    (2) international signings and (3) any good prospects for Garza

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Exactly! It's very likely to go up, not just because of the things you mentioned, but also because other than Brett Jackson, the Cubs don't expect to graduate any top 10 prospects to the MLB team in 2013. Most of the top prospects will still be there and they should add a lot more.

  • If this keeps up, the Cubs are only a few experts away from having the #1 ranked system in baseball.

  • Haha! Good point.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Here's hoping some of these prospects progress, not like when Hendry was in a charge. Then it was always "they're a year or two away" and after a year or two they were still a year or two away.

  • Very true. Lack of a coherent development plan really negated much of the Cubs solid scouting work under Hendry (especially in the early days).

  • I'm sure that some of the upward movement can be attributed to other organizations depletion of talent due to trades (Jays and Braves coming to mind)

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Some of that factors in as does the fact that other teams have been graduating more top talent to the big leagues recently.

  • With all this talent we have at the mid level, is it safe to say we are favor to win the Double A title this year at Tennessee?

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    Minor league championships tough to predict because players get promoted. Also doesn't tell you much about prospects because sometimes you have good players who are non-prospects who put up big numbers.

  • I live in Knoxville and look forward to watching these players coming thru

  • I'm looking forward to see where he ranks Arodys Vizcaino in his top 100. With him having the Cubs this high, I expect Vizcaino to be ranked surprisingly well too, with Law being so high on him.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    That is an interesting case because of the injury. Mayo had him ranked 110th. I have to guess that Law will have him a bit higher.

  • I'm very pleased with laws assessment of the cubs system. For him to rank them this high he has to really believe in the pitching. Every system has guys with high ceilings, but law must really think that guys like Underwood, maples, Johnson, vizcaino, painagua, Blackburn have very good chances of reaching those ceilings and that is very exciting. It also says a lot about how theo Jed and Jason are handling the kids down on the farm.

  • In reply to jshmoran:

    It is an exciting time as far as having a lot of good, young arms. I can't help but be a little reserved until they move up a little more. The key is to develop them better than that last big class of good young arms they had in the early to mid 2000s.

  • John...do you think people would be more high on Vogelbach if he was either a.) with an AL team or b.) the NL had a DH?

  • In reply to Mikethoms:

    I think they'd be more high on him if he played another position. If he was a 3B putting up those kind of numbers he'd get more attention.

    The reason for the reserved opinion is that he's so bat dependent. Because of his position, he absolutely has to hit and hit for power to have a lot of value. When you are a 1B, it's not good enough to hit .280 with 20 HRs if you don't do anything else well.

    The other factor is that he hasn't yet played at full season ball, so he has to keep hitting through a few more levels. Since he's not going to change positions, the thing that will boost Vogelbach's stock the most will be to keep on hitting as he moves up. If he's still putting up big numbers in AA, then we'll start to see him get more attention as a nationally ranked prospect. Any thing else he can do to improve the rest of his game (i.e. defense) will be a plus as well.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I read somewhere that Vogelbach is seriously trying to shed pounds this offseason. He has a regimen for the first time, and is trying to trim-up. Maybe that will make him more mobile.

    Maybe with 30 lbs off, he could try OF at some point

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Maybe. It's a longshot, though. I'd just as soon let him keep hitting and worry about the other stuff later.

  • The Cubs had some interesting arms a couple of years ago. Mcnutt, Archer, and Whitenack. One got traded and the others faltered. Hopefully this new class develops better.

  • In reply to Mitchener:

    I think all 3 are still interesting. Whitenack and McNutt have battled some injuries, with Whitenack even having TJ surgery, so maybe a good healthy year will get them back on track.

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    In reply to Mitchener:

    Though they suffered setbacks, both McNutt and Whitenack still have enough promise to develop in #3 starters. Especially Whitenack if he returns to form. If both come back strong we're in great shape.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Agreed...Cubs thought enough of them to put them both on the 40 man roster. It's a big year for both of them, though. They need to take a step forward this year.

  • Your articles keep raising the bar, John.

    After years of watching Billy Williams, Dave Kingman, George Altman, Henry (O'Henry) Rodriguez, Alfonso Soriano, etc., etc. TRY to play left field, do you really think Vogelbach could do any worse out there? I'm hoping the Cubs put him in LF for a couple hundred minor league games and get him a really good coach to work with.

    I think the young man has a chance to be something really special and I'd hate to see yet another ex-Cub reach stardom with another team....

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    Thanks DTP! I don't think anyone can be worse than Kingman was :) Holy moly. Game is different now, though. Even Sori made some plays with his arm and athleticism out there from time to time.

    As for Vogelbach, it's a lonshot. I'm not going to rule it out because the kid works hard and he loves to play. One of my favorite guys to watch out there. He'll do whatever it takes to get on the field.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Soriano was WAY worse than Kingman during his hop days.
    At least Kong could catch a can 'o corn hit right to him.

    If Luzinski could play LF, I don't see why Vogelbomb couldn't.
    But he'll need to show Bull-like power to make up for his fielding.

  • Billy Williams does not belong on your list. He was a decent enough outfielder; not in the same class as your other guys.
    (p.s. Even Walt Moryn made the catch of his life to seal Cardwell's no-hitter in '58.)
    This Vogelbach question has been asked before, many times. The answer always has been that Vogelbach doesn't have the range or type of body/projected growth to be a passible outfielder, or even a 3B. Much as it would be nice, you can't change a plowhorse into a thoroughbred, no matter how well the plowhorse hits in the low minors.

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    In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    could he be a catcher?

  • In reply to SKMD:

    Good question; I don't know. John, Tom, SFToby, anyone have thoughts on that?

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    I think he has a much better shot at being a LF'er than a catcher. And I don't think he has much chance of being a LF'er.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    In the old days you'd see a coach try to give a young athlete some real cross training - Ray Meyer once had George Mikan take ballet training so he could work on his footwork. I'd like to see V get some type of training that could help him in another position, because it'll be hard to move Rizzo. Catcher? Squint, and maybe he's another Barry Foote, but that's an awfully tough transition. DH is a more likely possibility.

  • I love following the prospect rankings, and love discussions such as this. I rarely get too excited about low level prospects. There is just too much that can happen from A ball to Triple A...........if they make it that far.

    Anyone remember Trey McNutt? He might still break out, but the enthusiasm has waned. The one great thing, is that I don't feel our upcoming prospects will be anything like our flops of the recent past, ie, Pie, Patterson, etc.

  • In reply to givejonadollar:

    I think there's a better development plan in place, so hopefully that makes a difference.

    I'm still very intrigued by McNutt. I think he might surprise this year.

  • They need to find a left handed or switch hitting second baseman you can steal 40 bases a year and leadoff.

  • In reply to ucandoit:

    Zeke DeVoss is potentially exactly the player you describe but he has to be more consistent on defense and at the plate.

  • With regards to Vogelbach, I don't think he's gonna be able to play anything outside of 1b, at least not for the cubs. I hope I'm wrong as I would love to see him and Rizzo in the same lineup, but its unlikely.

    If the nl adopts the dh then I think its very reasonable to project him as the dh of the future, but again that doesn't seem like its gonna be happening anytime soon.

    Barring a position change or any injury to Rizzo, I think the most likely scenario would be a trade similar to the Montero-pineda trade between the Yankees and mariners last year.

    Montero was viewed by most experts as a catcher who couldnt catch and would probably move to dh early in his career. Vogelbach is currently viewed in a similar light as a firstbasemen who can't play first, but both of these guys are highly regarded because their power is so uncommon and they can also really hit. I'm hoping that Vogelbach can reach the same type of status when he gets to AAA so the cubs can get a similar type of return that the Yankees did.

  • In reply to jshmoran:

    I don't think so either. I think the goal is really just for him to be more mobile at 1B.

    The Montero scenario would be a good one for the Cubs, provided the pitcher they get back doesn't hurt themselves right away.

  • John,

    If you were to predict which 3 minor league pitchers were most likely to have a break out season, who do you think they are and why?

    Also you mention that Cabrera has regained his slider and made significant progress with his change. If this improvement continues what type of ceiling do you feel he could have as a starter? Is he a #3 or could he be viewed as a potential front line guy?

  • In reply to supercapo:

    My hope for Cabrera is that he can be a mid-rotation workhorse. He's a good athlete with a big body and a simple delivery. Could end up with 2 plus pitches and average command. He has come a long way but the lack of plus command is why I don't think he'll be front line. Maybe Edwin Jackson-ish.

    3 minor leaguers to break out? To be honest, I'd have to think about it a little. It's a great question -- even sounds like a good article topic doesn't it? Seems like it would make for great discussion afterword as well with everyone giving their opinions.

    I'll tell you what. If you can wait until tomorrow (maybe even late tonight), we'll make it 5 and I'll write an article on it.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Sounds like a great idea. Thanks, I look forward to reading it.

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    In reply to supercapo:

    Also very interested in that piece. Would have to think Cabrera, McNutt, and Whitenack would be on there but a few guys we never talk about are Dallas Beeler and Jose Arias. Arias especially with his high 90's fastball + slider combo. Surprised he's not mentioned more.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    I couldn't agree more, Marcel. I would like to see names like Maples and Ben Wells as well, but they may need a little more time, considering the injuries last year, before they can really make a substantial showing.

  • Completely off topic: Nice fluff piece on Ian Stewart on the Cubs' site:

    http://chicago.cubs.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20130204&content_id=41326688&vkey=news_chc&c_id=chc&tcid=tw_article_41326688

    He trained under Rod Carew, and said he's finally pain-free so maybe we can expect more than we envisioned this year, which would be huge. I didn't realize that his father-in-law is a baseball minor league manager, so that will help keep him honest. For those who questioned his rehab, "Stewart got the go-ahead in late November to resume baseball activities." I'm looking for a big year out of him. He's my 2nd pick to click.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Big year from Stewart would be huge for the Cubs. They could really use the power, defense, and his ability to grind out some ABs.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    And he came cheap in a difficult year for 3b FAs.

  • Even more off topic: Venezuela vs Mexico live:

    http://new.livestream.com/accounts/1632075/events/1856546

  • John, the thing I find the most encouraging for the Cubs ranking in the years to come is that many of these upside arms and bats are still so young. Obviously, I would like them to be closer to the bigs now, but for the sake of the organizational ranking, assuming there isn't a complete washout of the 20-and-under crowd, this organization should rank well for a while.

    Players like Pierce Johnson, Juan Paniagua and Josh Conway (when healthy) might move quickly and create the next wave of pitching prospects after Vizcaino, Loux, Whitenack and McNutt. If they do, that will buy time for the 20-and-under wave.

    Here's the list of intriguing arms that will be 20 years old or younger at the start of the upcoming season. Duane Underwood, Paul Blackburn, Ryan McNeil, Carl Lang, Dillon Maples, Ben Wells, Anthony Prieto, and Taylor Scott. There are 3 pitchers in the DSL that are intriguing to me as well. I know that only 1 or 2 of those guys will likely make an impact at the major league level, but that's all you need to keep the waves coming.

    And that's just the arms. Almora, Vogelbach, Amaya, Candelario, Trey Martin, Marco Hernandez, Torreyes and Baez all start the season 20 or younger.

    This system will be good/great/intriguing for a long time. Add in the Cubs new developmental staff, high draft position and money allotments for draftees and international signings and one can really begin to understand the good position the Cubs organization should be in for the next several seasons. After that, who knows, hopefully, by then, the Cubs will have a World Series Championship to celebrate.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    The arrow is certainly pointed up. It's great to feel this optimistic. Ever since the Cubs somehow landed Theo, the sky is the limit. I know to temper my enthusiasm but it is pretty sweet to have guys at the helm who say they are going to do something and then go and do it. Theo and co. will make mistakes, and have alreay. But there is little doubt that we are witnessing something special. The experts have spoken.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    Mix and stir those ingredients for two years, add in another two drafts and a few more prospects from trades and we have the recipe for sustained success.

    Go Cubs!

  • In reply to Quedub:

    All good names to watch and it's amazing to me that there is such depth in the system. We know not every one of those guys will wind up being impact players but the sheer number of them increases the odds that there will be a few who breakthrough. Then, of course, it's been awhile since the Cubs have had 3-4 impact guys with such high ceiilngs.

  • Not sure why everyone is so down on Vogy as an athlete. Sure he was young and dumb and let his body go. He was so dominant in HS, it didn't matter. Since he has signed though, he has shed 50lbs. That's a lot of weight! His Brother is a personal trainer (yes really) and he has worked very hard on losing that weight. He's quick and athletic for his size. Give him some time to develop. If we're lucky, the Cubs will have to decide whether to trade him or Rizzo for pitching. Then again, in a year or two, he may not be the liability in LF that he would appear to be now.... time will tell.

    Whoever suggested Catcher, forget it. Even if he proved he could play back there, (which I doubt) the physical grind would mitigate his biggest asset...

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Well, he's not a non-athlete. He has great, strength, good body control (especially at the plate) and hand-eye coordination but he does fall short of his peers in terms of raw athletic tools like speed, quickness. and other things we associate with athleticism. In the end it's his bat that's going to carry him and I haven't heard from anyone that he'll be able to play anywhere but 1B at this point.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    "Lady, I'm not an athlete. I'm a professional baseball player." - John Kruk

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Haha :)

  • Tim Sheridan ‏@BoysOfSpring
    I watched #Cubs RHP Matt Garza throw at Fitch Park today. Long toss and off the mound, looked very strong. Pitchers and catchers Feb 10!

    Encouraging news!....

  • I hope I am proven wrong, but I think many have their skis way to far out in front of them when talking about Cabrera. I love his fastball and the movement he gets, but his control is nowhere near major league ready. Again, hope he can corral the cannon, but just don't see him making a major jump like that.

    I am also high on Vizcaino. I would love to see him make 5 starts in September next year to have him ready to go April 1, 2014.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    Maybe. But it's not that big a jump when you look at his walk numbers at AA (2.52/9 IP) and AAA (1.82 walks per 9 IP). He's never been terribly wild in the minors. If anything his small sample size in the majors was a departure from the norm.

  • When Vogelbach was in high school, he got up to about 290. When he was drafted, he was down to about 265. Last year, he was about 250, and I have heard that he is a little under 240 now.

    If he can still hit at the lower weight, views of him are likely to change quickly.

  • In reply to DaveP:

    If he can show better mobility at 1B it'll be big for him. I think he'll still hit, it's about that great swing of his and he's just plain strong. Doesn't need that extra weight, in my opinion.

  • Bill James already ranks Rizzo in the top 10 first basemen. He said something like Rizzo's power will be off the charts. We may have two of the top power hitting 1Bs (yet to come, of course) in baseball. The question becomes whether or not Vogelbach can approach Prince Fielder's 1B play. Same body types?

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