We talk a lot about Cubs prospects here and we do our best to give you statistical analysis, scouts' takes and, of course, our own thoughts and opinions on each player. One question I often get are where the Cubs prospects rank in the top 100. My answer is always this: I'm not fully qualified to do that because I don't see as many prospects as the national writers. So I asked one of the best in the business, Jason "Professor" Parks of Baseball Prospectus, if he could compare some of the top Cubs prospects with some of the elite prospects in the game. I gave him some names to compare and he responded in his always entertaining style with some great, unbiased feedback.. It lends some great perspective on just where Cubs prospects stand overall.
I want to also note that I was ambitious with my comparisons because it was interesting to me to see where Cubs prospects don't quite measure up as well as some encouraging opinions on just how close they are -- and in some ways, how they can potentially be even better.
So with all that in mind, here are the comparison/contrasts I presented to Professor Parks:
1A and 1B: I was having trouble deciding whom to pair up with Sano. Baez because of their similar development pace, silly power, and top 10-ish prospect status and Bryant because they're both big, patient power hitting 3B who may need to move to RF. So, why choose? Let's do both.
Javier Baez/Kris Bryant vs. Miguel Sano
Parks: Baez has the highest ceiling of the trio, which is saying something considering Bryant’s recent draft placement and Sano’s monster power potential and present prospect status. Baez has the best bat speed in the minors, the kind that will eventually be compared to the best in the game, guys like Cano, et al. When discussing power, Sano is top of the food chain in the minors (along with Joey Gallo of the Rangers), but Baez has just as much raw power, as I’ve seen him go over the batter’s eye in dead center on a line, a shot that was basically 440 ft. The power utility is showing its face now, and if he can continue to temper his approach and keep himself in favorable positions, he can continue to bring his power into the game.
He’s never going to be an on-base machine, as he’s aggressive mentality will keep the bat moving and the ball in play. But he does have the potential to hit for a high average, which is a big separator between him and Sano. A good front office source just put a 6+ future on Baez’s bat, with 7 power, meaning he could be a .285+ hitter with 30+ bombs. That’s a monster. Sano is unlikely to find contact with such consistency, most likely developing into a low average/high power/high strikeout type. Bryant could end up a 6/6 type, which could put him in the same tier as Baez as far as offensive value is concerned, but I think Baez has a much better defensive skill-set and is likely to remain a left-side player, giving him the highest potential value of the group.
2. I know you dig on Almora about as much as I do and we may both be a little higher on him than most, so I'm throwing a lofty prospect comparison at you on this one-- the consensus best prospect in the game.
Albert Almora vs. Byron Buxton
Parks: Almora can show all five tools, with solid-average to plus projections across the board from a premium spot on the field. Add to the equation an intrinsic feel for the game, and his overall profile puts in the discussion for being a top ten prospect in the game. Buxton is by far the best prospect in baseball, with loud tools that can drown any and all in his class. He is a legit elite runner that hasn’t even learned how to steal bases yet. His arm is plus, his glove could be elite, and the combination makes him a potential gold glove winner in centerfield at the highest level. His bat is more advanced than expected, with easy plus bat speed and a knack for hard contact. He isn’t a free swinger, and knows how to identify pitches and shows an approach, so his attack at the plate isn’t one-dimensional. At the end of the day, Buxton could be a high-average hitter, with elite speed and solid-average power with top-shelf defense at a premium position. That’s one of the best players in the game, and that’s a moderate projection, as some in the industry have thrown 8 grades on his ceiling and compared his potential to that of hall of famer level players. One source suggested his floor was Torii Hunter and his ceiling was Willie Mays, and after a field sobriety test, it was determined that the scout was stone sober and dead serious. It’s lofty and borderline irresponsible to propagate, but his talent is on a different level than his contemporaries.
3. Here's a couple of tall, athletic future RF'ers for you who would have been at about the same pace had Soler not gotten hurt.
Jorge Soler vs. Gregory Polanco
Parks: I’d take Polanco over Soler, but mostly because I’ve been able to put eyes on him during his career and I’m more familiar with his skill; I think he’s a better all-around athlete, has more projection in the body, and can match (if not exceed) Soler’s offensive potential. Soler’s season was frustrating on several levels, but when he was healthy and on-the-field, it was easy to dream on the future, as he looked the part of a prototypical corner player, with 25+ home run potential. Polanco is most likely a right fielder at the end of the day, but has the athleticism to play some centerfield, and that swing from the left-side has the potential to hit for average and power. They have similar profiles and similar ceilings, but I’ll take the left-handed power and more projectable body. It’s close.
4. Alcantara has started to get more national attention this year and it looks like he'll crack some top 100 lists, so how does he compare with another wiry, athletic switch-hitting SS/2B who has been on that national radar a bit longer.
Arismendy Alcantara vs. Alen Hanson
Parks: I’ve often felt that Hanson was overrated, despite the fact that he was putting the bat on the ball at an advanced level at a very young age. I still think he’s a promising player, but I don’t think he’s the first-division talent that his early production might have suggested. He can swing it, shows good pop for his size, and can run, so he can beat you in several ways. He’s a legit prospect and a future major leaguer, but not a high-impact type, in my opinion. Alcantara might not live on the same prospect tier as Hanson, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he ends up having the better major league career. Despite owning left-side tools, Alcantara is a better fit for second base, where his throwing mechanics won’t be such an issue and his range can really shine. He has the potential to be a very good second baseman, a position that often gets overlooked next to its left-side counterpart, but requires similar athleticism and coordination to properly execute. At the plate, Alcantara isn’t a middle-of-the-order hitter that will impact a lineup with his power; rather, he’s a catalytic player, with very good speed, very quick hands capable of producing quality bat speed and more pop than you would expect given his size. He has a lot of swing and miss, and I don’t see a high-average player despite the speed. But he can really drive the ball, especially to the pull-side, and if a pitcher sleeps on his bat speed and tries to work him in, he can get the bat head around on the ball and hurt you. Like Hanson, he’s probably a second-division type at the highest level, but a very capable (and affordable) talent nonetheless, and if I ran an organization and I had to pick either Hanson or Alcantara, I’d take Alcantara.
5. We'll take a different route here for this last question. The Cubs pitching prospects lag a bit behind right now but they have some interesting arms at the A ball level and below: Pierce Johnson, C.J. Edwards, Paul Blackburn, Duane Underwood, and a couple of guys drafted this year, Tyler Skulina and LHP Rob Zastryzny. There is also the injured, but still young and very talented Arodys Vizcaino and a pitchability/command guy having a great season in Kyle Hendricks at the upper levels. Do any of these guys have a shot at your top 101 list and whom among this group do you like best long term?
Parks: Johnson has a shot at the 101; Edwards should be in the discussion as well. I don’t love Edwards’ ceiling like some, but I’ve been around the kid since he was drafted and I want to be wrong about the projection. With Edwards, I see a short-burst reliever in the end, despite the easy delivery and loose arm. I don’t see a high-end secondary offering, and I question his physical ability to log 200+ a season at the highest level. The young arms have taken a frustrating journey so far, but the potential is still in place, so hopefully they can finish strong, take developmental steps forward this off-season, and put their names back on prospect lists in 2014. The talent is there.
Many thanks to Jason Parks for his insightful responses. Please follow him @ProfessorParks on Twitter and read him at Baseball Prospectus, including this piece which includes a report on Javier Baez and Dillon Maples.