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