A scouting and statistical look at 10 Cubs prospects making progress in 2013

One common refrain I've heard from those in the scouting industry is that the most important they look for with any prospect is that they continue to make progress.

So I decided to look for some of that progress.

Sometimes it's easy to measure and is apparent in the numbers and at other times it's better to see the player in person.  In this piece I've done a little bit of both and took a look at 10 prospects who I think have made progress in at least one area this year.

Jorge Soler's ability to adapt

When I wrote about Jorge Soler's bat incident and later his benching for not running out a couple of grounders, I noted that mistakes are going to happen -- especially when we're talking about 21 year old kids trying to adapt to a whole new culture.  What's more important is how they react and respond to that kind of adversity.

Well, in the 9 games since his benching, the quiet Soler has responded loud and clear.  He has hit .313/.421/.781 with 3 HRs and 5 walks.  8 of his 10 hits have been for extra bases.

Sometimes you learn more about a player when he fails or more accurately, how he responds to those failures, and I think we're learning a lot of good things about Jorge Soler right now.

Dan Vogelbach's all-field approach

The Cubs power hitting 1B prospect can hit the ball a long way and his debut last season was outstanding.  If there was one weakness at the plate, however, it was his tendency to try and pull everything.  The short season level pitchers weren't able to exploit it consistently enough to make it matter much, but it was going to be a factor as he moved up.

This year Vogelbach struggled at the outset of the season as teams tried to stay away from him.  But if pitchers thought Vogelbach was just getting by on brute strength, they were sadly mistaken.  Vogelbach started taking those pitches the other way, hitting to left and left-center with power.  What you like about Vogelbach is that he is an intelligent hitter with an idea of what he wants to do -- and, most importantly, the ability to adjust when pitchers start approaching him differently.

Jeimer Candelario's defense

Some have questioned whether Candelario would be able to stay at 3B.  He has a bit of a thicker build and there was concern as to whether he would get to big and lose range.  Well, one of the first things we noticed this year at Kane County was how fit he looked.  He has obviously put in some work this past offseason and it has paid off.  I've attended enough Kane County games now to see Candelario make all the plays -- to his left and right as well as charging slow rollers.  He's made them all and I have little doubt right now that he'll be able to play 3B long term.  And that's  a good thing because Candelario's real strength is his bat and his approach at the plate.

Arismendy Alcantara's plate discipline

This is something we've talked about in the past and it continues to be the case as we head into the 2nd week of May.  Alcantara drew two more walks yesterday and now has 13 on the season, more than he had in the first 3 months of last year.  Formely a free-swinger, Alcantara is now seeing 3.60 pitches per plate appearance, which isn't outstanding, but it is an improvement.  Alcantara has quick wrists and makes hard contact easily, so I don't expect his current slump at the plate (.239 for the year) to last all season.

Michael Heesch's fastball movement

I follow a lot of minor league players so I'm not surprised that easily, but Heesch is an exception.  I was immediately impressed by his 90-91 mph fastball which showed good arm side run and is a weapon against lefties and righties.  He also has good command of that fastball.  He works quickly and throws strikes (career 1.21 walks/9 IP)  and keeps his defense in the game.   The movement on his fastball induces a lot of weak contact, but he's not just a pitch to contact guy, he does have 8.2 Ks/9 IP, so the ability to miss bats is there as well.  If he can refine his breaking pitch and his change, Heesch could stick as a starter with multiple pitches moving along different planes.  If he doesn't, he has a good enough fastball and command to be a reliever.

Zach Rosscup's control

Rosscup has always had the ability to miss bats.  He throws a 90-91 mph fastball with good deception, so that hitters react to it as if it's at least 5 mph faster than it is.  He's also had a solid curveball to complement his heater.  What's improved this year is his control.  Rosscup has walked just 2.35 batters per 9 innings this year -- and he continues to miss bats.  Going into yesterday's game, Rosscup has struck out 13.86 batters per9 IP, a 27.1% K rate swinging,  and a very low 73.7% contact rate in the strike zone.  At this rate, Rosscup may be helping the team by the end of this season and should certainly get a long look next spring.

Roderick Shoulder's 2-strike approach

Shoulders has always had good power and a good eye, but he struck out...a lot.  In fact, he struck out 29.1% of the time last year at short-season Boise, which is a cause for concern considering it's not yet full season ball.  Things can only get tougher as he moves up.  But whiile you might expect that K rate to rise as he faces tougher pitching, Shoulders has stayed ahead of the game and made an adjustment to his two strike approach.  He's done a much better job of fouling pitches off or simply just taking the ball where it's pitched.  The result is that, early on, Shoulder's K rate has dropped significantly, down to 21.8% so far.  That, in turn, has helped impact the rest of his game as Shoulders was named the organization's player of the month for April.

Willson Contreras power

Contreras has become much more selective at the plate and has already walked 8 times (10.4% rate) after walking just 11 times all of last year, when his walk rate was just 4.1%.  The selectivity has also meant that he has done a better job of waiting for pitches he can drive.  Despite playing in hitter friendly Boise last season, Contreras had just 3 HRs, a slugging percentage of .357, and an ISO of .084.  This year through the first week of May, he has already matched the 3 HRs and has improved his slugging to .492 and his ISO to .215.  If Contreras can use his athleticism to become a more consistent defender, then he suddenly looks like a catcher who will draw some walks and provide a little pop on offense.

Dallas Beeler's pitch location

Beeler isn't an overpowering pitcher who is going to miss bats, so location is key for him, both in terms of keeping the ball down and in the strike zone.  Because hitters will put the ball in play, he can't help them out with free passes or leaving the ball up in the zone.  This year Beeler has been a groundball machine.  He has improved his GO/AO ratio from 1.84 to 3.22.  He has a 67.8% GB rate and has also reduced his walks, from 3.18 to 2.37 BB/9.  He'll likely need to miss more bats as he moves up, but we'll take it one step at a time for now.

Dustin Geiger's  situational approach

I realize that RBI doesn't tell you much about a player other than his opportunities, but Geiger has done a better job of capitalizing on those opportunities this year.  He has 28 RBI in 31 games this year as he's toned down his approach in RBI situations and has been looking to get runners home.  Last year he tended to get a little home run happy regardless of  the situation.  His plate discipline also suffered from that approach (6% walk rate).  This year he has been willing to see pitches and it has resulted in more walks (9.7% rate).  As a bonus, he has also mad better contact, reducing his K rate from 23.8% to 16.1%.  He's also hitting .293 with a .371 OBp this year after hitting .251 with a .301 OBP last season.  All of these trends have made Geiger a more productive and consistent hitter this season.

In all of these cases, it is early, but I like the trend that is developing with all these players and pitchers.  If you want to move forward in this league, you have to make individual progress and it seems so far that these 10 players are doing just that.



Filed under: Analysis, prospects


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  • Nice article as usual.

  • In reply to John57:

    Thanks John.

  • In reply to John57:

    Nope.. all of them are failures.. See the history before.. LOL

  • Agree, keep us up-to-date to the best of your ability. Every once
    in a while give us info on a very young raw prospect.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Will do.

  • Good insight backed with meaningful stats. Thanks, John.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    You're welcome and thanks, Hubbs.

  • Man! I love this site! Great article John.

    Alcantara's approach is something that I was hoping for in all the players in our system, including our current SS on the big league club. Through his slump he hasn't been striking out a lot (or walking). Im sure that's a luck thing (BABIP) then?

    Rosscup's has been extremely productive, but then again his numbers are kinda Beliveau-esque. Does his stuff translate to the Majors? He would be a nice addition to James Russell as a LH reliever next year (the way I thought Beliveau might last year).

    Also looking like Willson Contreras could give this organization the legit catcher prospect it needs.

    Great stuff!

  • In reply to Cub Fan Dan:

    There are some similarites with Beliveau. I was surprised Beliveau didn't do better but with him it was that his lack of control came back to haunt him. Rosscup has to worry about the same thing. He's had control issues in the past and hopefully he's conquered those, but as we saw with Beliveau, those things tend to resurface sometimes.

  • In reply to Cub Fan Dan:

    Man this is pathetic.. This writer is just a puppet .. Only brainwashed cub - like hey this is cub town - what happened? no one gives a damn.. And you flubs got headache
    Tribune got all money LOL LOL - a Bankrupt newspaper

    Tribune suckered in with their media hey hey cubs are going to win today and this is cub town.. so you Bartman got suckered in all of these year - and they sold and LOL - Brainwashed

    All of prospects ? LOL what a joke.. They are failures

    Hey hey what a pathetic franchise fold this .. Cubs fans are worst as Marty Brennaman is still saying that Bartman goat smelling losers LOL

  • In reply to cubfanspathetic:

    Nice necro-post.
    Did you just come to? How was the sun rising over the curb today?

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    The more I see and read about Dan Vogelbach, the more I compare him to Billy Butler. I know Butler's a great hitter, and its early, but is that comparison optimistically close? They have similar builds and are known as heavy hitting, light fielding 1B/DH.

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    In reply to Mark Manser:

    And the way Rizzo is playing, the NL is going to need a DH for us to use Vogelbach. He could bring back a really nice return in trade, though, if he continues to show plus plus power with an advanced approach in the upper minors.

  • In reply to Mark Manser:

    I think it's a fair comparison. Vogelbach may have more raw power, but then again, people said that about Butler when he was younger.

  • In reply to Mark Manser:

    Vogelbach has more raw power than Butler. That said, who knows whether he becomes a good major leaguer. Butler is already there and has tremendous on base skills to anchor him there.

  • In reply to Mark Manser:

    Their approach is similar as a pure hitters, but Butler's power surge last season is more of an anomaly. Vogelbach, I believe has potential to put up 30+ bombs consistently if he reaches his ceiling.

  • In reply to HowlinWolf:

    Vogelbomb is avg 1hr/15abs as a 20 yo. With the ability to make adjustments(as he appears to have), what might his power numbers look like as a 26/27 yo?

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    I can't imagine the numbers. I just pray it'll be in a Cubs uniform. So exciting having these guys in our system!

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    The glaring omission there speaks volumes.

  • I find it a little ironic that you write "I realize that RBI doesn't tell you much about a player other than his opportunities" while everyone agrees that one of the two big problems for the MLB club has been that the current Cubs do bad "job of capitalizing on those opportunities this year." Thanks for going beyond the metrics without backing all the way up to my level of understanding.

  • In reply to bruno14:

    Advanced metrics will tell you RBI are meaningless but intuitively it doesn't seem that way at all. I think players can change their approach and some seem more likely to drive runs. Geiger seems to do whatever it takes to drive in a run even if it means making an out. Geiger has been a better hitter all around this year.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I come here, at least in part, for the metrics. But anyone who has watched the game for a while knows that you want some players up more than others when the game is on the line. I like your common sense approach to it all.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I have a friend that worked for the grounds crew for Peoria last year and he said Geiger had the best attitude of all the players on the team. Good sense of humor and a very likeable guy that kept the rest of the team loose.

  • In reply to Zachary Myers:

    He's a very friendly guy on Twitter.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    To me its easy, John. If someone is driving in 120 runs/yr or so an abg of 1/5.5 abs, some of those have to be coming in game situations. The 98 yanks had 5 80+ rbi types on there team, including folks like Scott Brosius and Tino Martinez, who were not truly high-average hitters.

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    Tangentially related to the minors: the Tigers and Indians are coming on strong and they Royals are starting to fade. They desperately need to make a move to further bolster the the rotation and get some more punch out of right field. Dayton Moore should think of Wrigley as "one stop shopping."

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Lots of players on this team he can use.

  • Speaking of Rizzo, it's good to see him back engaged and adjusting. He had me worried early. He looked so lost at the plate.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Agreed. I think he's proven a few times now that he can adjust to how pitchers are approaching him. I feel pretty confident that we won't need to worry about Rizzo as long as he's healthy.

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    John, you really do an amazing job-thank you so much for all the insight!

    I posted this yesterday right before you made another review.

    Proposed Blockbuster:

    Soriano, Garza and DeJesus to the Phils for Pettibone, Dom Brown and Phillipe Aumont.

    I'd love to get some feedback.

    I think it works on a couple of levels-it helps the Phils immediately and doesn't tie them up with long term salaries-unless of course they sign Garza.

    It helps the cubs establish another core starter and OF, while we patiently let them develop at the major league level. Another good bullpen arm would also help us in the short term.

    Like all of you, I'm a wanna be GM.

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    In reply to Dale Miller:

    No kidding. Both John and Tom have been at the top of their game this morning.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Thanks Mike.

  • In reply to Dale Miller:

    Haha! Always fun playing GM.

    There's some talent there but I'd like to get a higher ceiling pitching prospect if possible. Aumont may be a good reliever and Pettibone is perhaps a 4th starter type. Of course, the only higher ceiling pitching prospect they have is Biddle and I'm not sure they're willing to give him up in a season that looks lost. I think it's fair to ask for him as I don't think he's an ace, more of a 2-3 type. I like the idea of getting Brown.

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    Don't know about you guys but I would sure love to see the Cubs bring up Watkins right now. I don't know if Borbon has options but it would make sense to have him play everyday down in Iowa and then bring him back if DDJ gets traded. I'm also really pulling for Vitters. Ransom has done a nice job but he's 37. I think having Vitters in a platoon role with Valbuena and getting some spot starts in Lf would be a good way to ease him in. Naturally, he'll need a few more weeks but I'm anxious to get him up and give it another shot.

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    In reply to Dale Miller:

    Watkins needs to cut down the strikeouts and raise his average. I don't think he's ready yet.

  • In reply to Dale Miller:

    Borbon has no options. The Cubs need to keep him in the majors or they'll almost certainly lose him on waivers.

    Watkins is struggling a bit against lefties and his contact rate is down this year. I think he's going to need a full season in AAA. He's the type of player that seems to take some time to adjust.

  • John, if things go according to plan will we see many changes
    come Aug or Sept?

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Depends on what the plan is. I think if they're winning they'll stand pat or make a few minor moves. If they're losing then expect to see quite a few changes.

  • If butchers like Soriano, Braun, and Dunn can play left field, is Vogelbach really that bad of an athlete that he can't play there?

    Also, when do you suppose we start seeing players start moving within the system?

  • In reply to Ike03:

    I love Vogelbach but he's a 1B only. He's working hard to make himself a dependable 1B right now.

  • In reply to Ike03:

    This gets asked every week. Every week the answer is "Vogelbach's a 1B in the making".
    By the way, Soriano is no "butcher" out there. Neither is Braun, for all there is not to like about him.
    Now Lucas Duda of the Mets?....chop chop chop.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Soriano has turned himself into a serviceable left fielder, but he was bad for several years. Same as Braun. If Vogelbach is going to be a 1st baseman then I don't think we'll ever see him in a Cubs uniform but I do think he'll be the centerpiece of a big trade in the next 3 years.

  • I don't really recall Rock Shoulders being high on our prospects list. Do you think he'll develope to be one of our top guys? He seems to be making a leap this year.

  • John, any idea when Almora might return? Heading to Kane County next week but doesn't look like he'll be there yet?

  • Love the article, John. This site follows cubs minor league baseball like no other!

  • In reply to fsufrenzy911:

    Thanks FSU!

  • Great article John. Thanks! Thinking of possible future Cub prospects, I don't know if anyone has posted something yet, but I noticed that Oklahoma is playing Oklahoma St. tomorrow night at 7 central time on ESPNU. Should be Jonathan Gray on the bump, no?

  • In reply to Denim Dan:

    Thanks and you're welcome. Yes, it should be Gray. In general a college team's best pitcher is scheduled to start on Fridays. Good heads up. Good chance you're looking at the Cubs next top prospect.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    You think Astros go Appel, then? Or just 50-50 chance Gray is the pick?

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Industry seems to think Appel will be the pick for the Astros. And most think the Cubs will then scoop up Gray. I'm an Appel guy, so I'll be slightly disappointed but Gray has some serious potential as well.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Agreed on the disappointment. Too bad, if it's true. I was really hoping the Astros would do something stupid.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Give 'em a minute, or month.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree on Appel. I'm in the Bay Area and made a point of getting out to the Sunken Diamond early on to watch Appel absolutely obliterate the Longhorns with 14 K's. Had a no-no into the 6th I believe. Hitters were continually very late or early. I saw a few swings on his change-up where the bat had completely vacated the zone when the ball reached home plate. Would look real nice is Cubbie Blue!

  • In reply to Denim Dan:

    I hope Houston prefers Gray and more money to spend later in the draft. They'll likely explore that option at least.

  • I would be curious to see what your thoughts are on the develoment of Starlin Castro? Have we seen improvement at all from him over the past 2-3 years?

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    Yes we have, his ISO which measures pure power and his defensive metrics have both gotten better over the past 2-3 years. Even if he doesn't develop any further, which is unlikely given he is 23, he's already a well above average SS using metrics like WAR.

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    Jim Callis has a pretty good mock draft out. This one has Appel to the Astros and Gray to the Cubs. I would be somewhat disappointed, but not too much.


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    Hey John: Any updates on these mystery Cubs who are injured?

    --Arodys Vizcaino (60-day DL; is he even throwing?)
    --Dillon Maples
    --Duane Underwood
    --Gerardo Concepcion; we still owe him a few million bucks

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Maples and Underwood are pitching in Ext. ST. I don't think the other two guys are at this point.

  • Is it very often that word leaks out if a team has made a deal with a player before the draft? It's obvious that it will be Appel or Gray as our top pick and it's going to be up to Houston as to who our next top prospect will be. I'm just wondering if you think it's likely that we will know before the draft who our guy will be. If word will leak out that Houston is negotiating with somebody.

  • In reply to Holy Cattle:

    I think we may have a pretty good idea in the week heading up to the draft.

  • Thanks once again for such good insights. Question. Are these weaknesses that both the player and coaching staffs are aware of? How much of improvement in these areas can be attributed to better lower level coaching?

  • In reply to Wild Bill:

    I'm sure the coaching staff is well aware of any strengths and weaknesses. Some improvement can result from coaching a player up, sometimes it take some maturation -- physical and/or mental, from the player. Some things are harder to teach -- contact rate, for example

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Do you think the coaching is better now than other years? All I have read is yes it is. Are the current coaches keener to what to look for in a player where improvements can be made? What I have read in past years there was not much coaching. Sounds like they would turn the players loose and have it. I certainly believe that is not true any longer.

  • In reply to Wild Bill:

    I think it's better and perhaps more importantly, the Cubs have an organization-wide development plan and coaches that are better fits for those plans. Giving coaches a structured plan and finding guys who have the same philosophy is the key here.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    That is what I have been learning and reading about the concept spread across the board. Thank you. I appreciate you answering my questions.

  • In reply to Wild Bill:

    You're welcome, thanks for the good questions.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Being a Cub fan since 67' this is the first time I know of that so much priority has been put on the farm system. I for one am willing to wait it out. I have thought for years this is the way to go. So I only hope this is what I have been waiting for. And is what is going to bring the big Cubbies to the promised land.

  • On a different note. I see B. Jackson was back in the lineup today. Going 2-4, and better yet, no K's. It would have been nice if he was one of the ten players you featured that improved on his k rate.

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    In reply to Wild Bill:

    B-Jax's K rate has improved....from 38.8% to 37.5% (I guess a little lower after today). Meanwhile, his walks, power, and batting average have all plumetted.

    B-Jax is on the train to Bustville. Hasn't made the final stop yet, but he better get off soon......

  • In reply to Zonk:

    It's 31.1%. K rate is calculated with PAs. Not that that's much better.

  • In reply to Wild Bill:

    I would have loved to have had him on there. Maybe we'll look at progress later in the year again.

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    According to the DCubs broadcasters, we had some moves today. The ones of most note: Starling Peralta was demoted to extended spring training to work on his mechanics. Chadd Krist was promoted to Daytona, and will presumably get the majority of starts there and open up more starts for Contreras in Kane County. (Pierce Johnson was not promoted -- part of me wonders if his poor outing was the cause.)

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I actually saw those on Twitter. Krist deserves the promotion and it's probably more of a reflection on the Cougars being able to trust Contreras on a near everyday basis.

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    On the opposite of progress: Javy Baez was called out on a close play at first, and didn't like the call. He then walked towards the ump to protest and slammed his helmet on the ground. (Fortunately, for Javy, the ump didn't see him slam the helmet to the ground so he wasn't thrown out.)

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    It's Javy who may be getting a little frustrated now. Hope he learned from the Soler experience.

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