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Cubs depth chart: The centerfielders

Cubs depth chart: The centerfielders
Albert Almora

It's been a while, but we now continue with our prospect depth chart series.   We'll start off with CF today.  One thing both this front office and the previous one have done is target the middle of the field players, and it shows up in the Cubs CF depth.  It's hard to say there are a lot of likely starters on this list.  That claim can only really be made of Albert Almora right now, but there is still time for some players to develop the complete skills to make them starters.

Current Centerfielders

Ryan Sweeney

.286/.351/.529; .379 wOBA, 140 RC+, 1.3 WAR

Junior Lake

.313/.356/.474; .363 wOBA, 128 RC+, 1.4 WAR

We talked about these players in a recent piece so I don't want to repeat too much info. Both Sweeney and Lake have shown some promise in CF.  Neither are natural CF'ers but both have shown they can handle the position from an athletic standpoint.   While Lake is the better athlete with more speed and the better arm, the is the less refined defender of the two.  Sweeney is also the more polished player with the better approach (9% walk rate/15% K rate) at the plate, but Lake has all kinds of tools and the ability to make things happen.  The Cubs may try to find room for both in the OF for 2014.

Top prospect

Albert Almora, 19, Kane County

.329/.376/.466, .383 wOBA, 137 RC+

Almora is the best pure hitter in the Cubs system, using a smooth swing that stays in the hitting zone, allowing him to make easy contact.  He employs a leg kick but his tremendous coordination allows him to repeat it easily.  His approach is solid.  He is an aggressive hitter in the strike zone but doesn't wildly chase pitches.  I think he'll draw his share of walks in time and I think he'll improve on that 6.3% walk rate, though I think is OBP will largely come from a .300+ batting average.  He's not a big kid nor does he project to have big time power,  but he does make hard contact and it's not hard to imagine him hitting 15-20 HRs as he matures physically and turns to turn on some pitches.

On defense, Almora is outstanding, one of the best defenders at any position in the minors.  He makes up for his lack of top end speed with excellent instincts.  He gets great jumps and takes efficient routes to the baseball.  He has a good arm that plays up even more because of it's accuracy.  Despite being a high school player, Almora is relatively low risk because of his present skill set.

Other prospects to watch

Rounding out the prospect list you have a combination of players who are toolsy, athletic, and in some cases, possess good instincts.  There isn't a lot of power on this list at this point, but there are a number of players with useful skill sets that could come into play as extra outfielders, perhaps even legit prospect depth at CF if they take that next step..

Matt Szczur, 24 ,Tennessee

.281/.350/.367, .335 wOBA, 112 RC+

Szczur is an athletic player with off-the-charts makeup -- two traits which have helped him greatly improve his baseball skill since joining the Cubs system.  Szczur possesses good speed which he uses to play an above average CF with a penchant for making the spectacular play.  He's still somewhat unrefined as a base stealer, getting caught 12 times in 34 attempts.  At the plate, Szczur has an unorthodox swing which doesn't use his lower half much. It costs him power (.086 ISOP), but it's level path and his excellent hand-eye coordination help him make consistent contact (13.1$ contact rate).  Along with his good speed, it should help him hit for average.  He also has a good approach but doesn't possess enough extra base power to keep MLB pitchers honest, so the expectation is he'll see a lot more strikes in the bigs, putting a bigger burden on his bat.  I think he's a 4th OF'er unless he finds a way to generate more doubles/triples power.

John Andreoli, 23, Daytona/Tennessee

.305/.379/.402 (A/AA); .350 wOBA, 122 RC+

Andreoli provides an interesting comparison/contrast to Szczur.  His swing is in some ways similar because he primarily uses his upper half, but he's a bigger player and can generate a bit more extra basepower (.109 ISO), though that's not really his game either.  He's not the athlete Szczur is but he's a solid athlete and possesses better instincts on the bases.  He was a more efficient basestealer (40 steals in 45 attempts across two levels).  He's not quite as good in CF, however, and that limits his viability as a starter due to his lack of power.   Like Szczur, he has a good approach at the plate but I expect that high walk rate to become harder to come by as he faces better pitching.

Jacob Hanneman ,21, Boise

.290/.313/.468; 364 wOBA, 125 RC*

Hanneman is another good athlete who runs very well and can play CF and projects to hit for average.  He's a strong kid and may have a bit more pop than either Szczur or Andreoli, but he is also less refined when it comes to his approach.  He's a raw player but his great instincts could allow him to quickly make up for that lost time.

Jae-Hoon Ha, 22, Tennessee/Iowa

.254/.318/.365 (AA/AAA); .293 wOBA, 69 RC+ (AAA only)

Ha is a solid athlete with average speed and a very good arm.  Those natural tools are played up by excellent baseball instincts and it gives him the ability to play a well above average OF at all 3 positions.  The question is the bat.  Ha was a similar hitter with a similar approach to Andreoli/Szczur at the AA level but he struggled at AAA.  Right now he profiles more as a 5th OF'er/defensive replacement.

Shawon Dunston, Jr., 20, Boise

.290/.378/.358; .358 wOBA, 121 RC+

Like his father, Dunston is a quick twitch athlete with fast hands, good speed, and a strong arm.  Unlike his father, Dunston plays the OF and in what is a 180 degree turn, is a very patient hitter, walking in 12.6% of his plate appearances.  He also makes good contact, striking out just 11.2% of the time.  Dunston has a wiry build but those quick hands/wrists suggest he could develop some pop as he fills out.

Zeke DeVoss, 23, Daytona

.246/.393/.354; . 361 wOBA, 125 RC+

We should probably see something of a pattern by now with most of these players in that there is athleticism, speed, solid approaches -- and a lack of power.  DeVoss may have the best approach of all (15.2% walk rate) and his defense is highlight film worthy.  DeVoss is a tremendous athlete who is capable of spectacular catches.  He covers a lot of ground and has enough arm for CF.  He is a good baserunner and efficent as a base stealer, stealing 39 bases in 49 attempts.  What's lacking here is his hit tool.  Some think DeVoss should be a bit more selectively aggressive at the plate and perhaps lets too many hittable pitches go by.  He has some wiry strength so it's not unreasonable to think he could have some extra base power despite his slight build (5'10, 175 lbs), but like many of these players, DeVoss projects more as a role player until he proves he can hit.

Trey Martin, 20, Kane County

Martin's year was sort of a wash because of injuries but he showed some exciting skills the previous season, particularly on defense.  He's a good athlete with great speed.  He has a lanky, long-limbed build which helps him eat up ground in CF with long strides -- some say he could play CF at a major league level right now -- but also presents an obstacle at the plate.  His swing can get a bit long and he can get tied up inside by pitchers with good fastballs, so he'll have to make some adjustments as he moves up.  Unlike many of the prospects here, he has the potential for 15 HR power.

Jeffrey Baez, 19, Arizona/Boise

.287/.357/.384, .353 wOBA, 111 RC+ (At AZ Rookie League)

Signed for $350K out of the Venezuela in 2010, Baez was perhaps the Cubs best position player at the AZ Rookie complex before getting the call to Boise for the stretch run and the playoffs.  He is yet another athletic, toolsy CF with a solid approach.  He has the frame to add some size/strength (6'0", 180 lbs) and develop some extra base power, but speed may be his greatest asset.  In 49 games across two levels, Baez stole 26 bases in 29 attempts.

The Cubs also have a couple more athletic CF types at the lowest levels in 2012 11th round pick Rashad Crawford and 2013 9th round pick Charcer Burks.  Burks had the better season and is considered something of a late riser and sleeper in this year's draft.  He has quick wrists and solid bat speed at the plate with the kind of athleticism and speed you look for in CF.

 

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  • fb_avatar

    Think this might be a typo since no Soler/Shoulders here: "decided to do all the outfielders in one fell swoop, since corner outfielders are pretty scarce."

    Is it too soon to ask if we can trade Albert Almora for prospects?

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Ahh. Thanks. Forgot to delete it. Was going to do them all but list was getting long, so decided last minute to separate them.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    And why would you trade Almora for prospects? I don't understand the logic there.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    Starlin Castro syndrome. I want new toys.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Mike Moody:

    That was unclear: just having a lityle fun with my rep of wanting to trade everyone on the team for draft picks and prospects.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Went right over my head! I pulled my hammy yesterday and am taking a muscle relaxer -- so I may be a little slow on the uptake.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    LOL! The shiny new toy syndrome. Happens to all of us at times :)

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree. Trade Almora for a prospect like Almora? It was great to read about his progress. I don't mind his modest power. Runs can be produced and pressure exerted on the opposing defense in more ways than just homers. Love his defense. It's amazing what strong up the middle defense can do to help a pitching staff that doesn't over-rely on "fascist strikeouts."

  • Castro is a toy you have played with for a few years. Almora is still in the box waiting to be unwrapped. If I had to choose 2 guys to keep from our top 5 prospects, it would be Almora and Bryant. Not that I would give up any, but if I had to trade some it would be others.

  • In reply to Buzz:

    Almora and Bryant strike me as the two prospects most likely to reach their ceiling == though Baez could still be a good player even if he doesn't quite reach his.

  • That's cuz Baez's ceiling is greatest player of all time! ;)

    No Rubi Silva? Is he a corner guy then?... thought he was still thought of as a potential CF.

  • In reply to Rudy:

    He can play CF as can Encarnacion, but I'm going to list them with the corner guys. Silva has a RF arm and not sure Encarnacion retains his speed. Both have moved around.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John, in your opinion, is there any part of Silva's game that doesn't project as a CF? They have a real logjam of CF'rs in TEN. It seems like he gets pushed to RF because of his canon arm. But that violates the concept of best players in the middle. But from what I've seen, he's just as good as the other options they have in TEN. Seems like he's pushed to RF not because he's any worse than Andreoli or Szczur, but because he is no better and IS better in RF.... just curious.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    He can play CF, it's just that the other guys played it more and it's the most objective way I could separate CF and the corners in the organization. The same goes for Jackson and I've only seen Encarnacion play RF.

    He's really a 4th OF'er anyway and will play all three in the bigs if he makes it, so it's really difficult to divide these guys.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I'm going to nitpick. Silva played almost twice as much CF this year than Andreoli. 31g to 18g

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Do you know was it divided after Andreoli arrived at Tennessee? Andreoli hardly played CF at all in Daytona, where he spent more than half the season. DeVoss was incredible defensively out there this year.

    At any rate, I think they're both 4th outfielders in the bigs if they make it. The dividing line is somewhat arbitrary but to me Silva's power and arm make him more likely to play in the corners regularly than Andreoli would.

    I'll also mention all the guys who can play CF in the next piece as part of their profile.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Andreoli played 11 g in CF at Daytona, 7 in Tenn. I think DeVoss was hurt earlier this year or maybe just slumping because I also remember Saunders playing a bunch of games in CF instead of Andreoli as well. I'm guessing most of Silva's reps in CF came early in thte year before Andreoli and then Jackson arrived, but I honestly don't know.

    I do agree with you though that both are backups anyway so it really doesn't matter. Silva can play all 3 spots and Andreoli probably could too.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Thanks. I don't have that data either, only that it seems like every time I've watched TN lately, Silva has been in RF. It's always somewhat arbitrary where I make these cutoffs. I had to cut the list a bit because CF is long and there are few corner prospects because generally the better players don't start there. Part of my thinking is Silva (and Jackson, Encarnacion), may have a chance to help even if they don't play CF. For Andreoli, I think it's essential that he plays CF to have a shot at a big league roster.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    You and mjvz kind of confirmed what I was thinking. He is not head & shoulders above the others at CF, but he is in RF, so to RF he goes.

    I've always thought of him as a 4th OF'r kind of guy, and he still is for now. But from what I saw of him here in Jax and since... if he can maintain that, he has a chance... for possibly more. Sort of what we saw with Junior Lake, when it just seemingly "clicked" for him. Not sure he can maintain that... But he'll be interesting to watch and we could do a lot worse for a 4th/5th OF'r.

  • Wheres Vogelbach? I'm calling it now, he switches positions to CF because of Rizzo.

  • Have you totally forgotten Brett Jackson?

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to cubsin:

    I think Brett Jackson has forgotten Brett Jackson ....

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to cubsin:

    Maybe B-Jax should be in there, but you have to wonder if he'll be DFA'ed this offseason. If the Cubs need a 40-man spot, he's a good candidate.

  • In reply to cubsin:

    Putting him on the list for corners too. Never really thought he was a long term CF'er anyway and he hardly seems to player there now.

  • fb_avatar

    Way off topic, just watching QuickPitch and I can't help but notice no matter which game highlights are on, every stadium has vast stretches of empty seats. Problem for MLB?

  • In reply to SKMD:

    I don't think so. Middle of the week games with school back in session is going to greatly reduce attendance. Check back on the weekends and many will be full.

    Happens to the NFL toward the end of the season too when teams fall off. Lots of empty seats when teams are bad.

  • Do you have any more information about Jacob Hanneman? He seemed like a stretch in the 3rd round but they did pay him overslot. For some reason this seems to me like a pick that Epstoyer made because they think they found a real sleeper. He had good numbers at BYU after a 2 year mission so hopefully he can be a real player in this organization.

  • In reply to Sandberg2014:

    Seems like he's always hurt/dinged up... They picked him higher than all the "guru's" were forecasting. That's the only reason it seemed like a "stretch" to anyone outside of baseball. Then they paid him over-slot... That would indicate they like him a lot. He was exciting in his very limited action... We'll see. Hopefully he can rip through KC and make it to Daytona next year. For now, I'll reserve judgment until he gets a full season next year.

  • In reply to Sandberg2014:

    I haven't seen enough of him right now. He's cut along the same lines as their other guys but I'm thinking they were hoping to get more of a combo of the skills of some of the other guys mentioned. He's athletic and has similar size, but I think they consider him more of a fluid guy and less grindy than Szczur or Andreoli. They're also hoping he has more pop than either one of them.

  • Just like our infield positions we have an abundance of good players coming. I really like Hanneman, he bats lefty and has some pop but is 22 not 21. Only if he could stay healthy.

  • In reply to John57:

    Given his age, seems like he has to move very fast these next 2 years to maintain his "prospect" status. That would put him at the upper levels of the system knocking on the MLB door and in direct competition with Almora. IDK if he's up for that... we'll see. If he takes 3 years, it's not the end of the world. But he has to stay healthy. He doesn't have the luxury of being young enough to repeat a level or losing a season to injury.

  • In reply to John57:

    There's a lot of love for Hanneman. I haven't seen him in person so I have to off of bits and pieces I've heard/read.

  • I've described Szczur swing as looking as if he is always batting with two strikes and making sure that he puts it in play. I did notice some doubles power on occasion, but I'm not sure it will keep the outfield honest. He will be interesting to watch at Iowa. Lots to like about him.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    That's a good description of him. When they were in Jax last month, I noticed he seemed "tense". Then A.A. was next in the order and you could tell he was slumping & pressing a bit at the time. Then Baez & Silva were just so smooth and fluid... very relaxed and confident. That was what stood out to me. He seemed tense.. But I like your description better. Either way, he needs to relax and not shorten up until he does have two strikes, then maybe the power "potential" that some have seen will come out. Could just be a confidence thing too. IDK

  • In reply to 44slug:

    I've seen him take some good rips, but I do agree he does seem content to put it in play a lot.

  • I know the Cubs can't play guys that suck just because they hit from the left side, but MLB teams need balance. Our best prospects are right handed so I find myself with high hopes for upside left and switch hitting candidates.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    White Sox one a WS with one left handed hitter (Piezynski). It can be done.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    That's good to know, but it seems in past years that the Cubs were always looking for another lefty. Plus this FO seems to stockpile them searching under every rock.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    I think it gets overblown a little. It is important, but good hitters are good hitters. I would rather have a bunch of good righties than a couple good righties and a couple less good lefties. I think teams talk themselves into becoming more lefthanded and actually downgrade their lineup sometimes.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to mjvz:

    They had more. Podsednik was a lefty and Carl Everett a switch hitter.

  • I assume Almora is going to be batting second.

    A couple of years ago Hannemann had surgery where they took a bone out of thigh and put it in his knee.

  • In reply to ucandoit:

    Really? Wow I never heard that. No one mentioned that when he was drafted this year.

  • fb_avatar

    Kinda tangential, but the draft is super volatile right now. The Cubs are currently picking 4th -- one loss ahead of the Brewers and owning the tiebreaker due to a worse 2012 record. But the Phillies -- currently picking 15th -- have 5 more wins than the Cubs. There are a lot of ways this could shake up going into the last couple weeks.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Sorry, Phillies are picking 14th.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Mike Moody:

    I hate to think that way, but let's face it: There are rewards for being bad. There are no rewards for being mediocre.

    Go Pirates (?)

  • fb_avatar

    Keith Law today. This is incredible. (Link: http://espn.go.com/sportsnation/chat/_/id/48887 )

    MKPJ (Chicago)
    Hey Keith. Please tell me the Cubs can get some weight to stick on CJ Edwards.? This guy can be really good, right?

    Klaw (1:21 PM)
    Potential star. Weight/durability will be an issue, but he's athletic and does it all very easy.

    Jack (Toronto)
    Klaw, I saw that John Manuel said that scouts he talked to in the FSL preferred CJ Edwards to Syndergaard (better breaking ball, better secondary offerings, also throws hard). This seems crazy to me. Wasn't Syndergaard posting triple digits? What do you think about those 2 pitchers?

    Klaw (1:22 PM)
    I didn't see John's piece, but I can completely understand that point of view. Velocity doesn't make the pitcher and Edwards has a far better breaking ball. Syndergaard is much further along, which balances things out somewhat.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Mike Moody:

    This is really nuts. We have Law sayings it's close. John Manuel at BA says Edwards is flat out better than Syndergaard. And Parks responds with this tweet:

    @ProfessorParks: They shouldn't be in the same sentence together.

    Mayo has Syndergaard as the 12th best prospect in baseball, while he has Edwards as the 11th best prospect on the Cubs.

    Seems like we're going to get a lot written about Edwards in the near future.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Edwards seems to me like the kind of prospect that will be on some people's top 40 list and off some people's top-100. I've read articles before that say he's a potential TOR starter, and others that say he'll be a bullpen guy.

    Either way, a very nice guy to have in the system. He alone could make the Garza trade worth our while even if Olt flames out.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Jason Pellettiere:

    I'm convinced he was the guy they really wanted in the Garza deal. The other three are nice, but I think Edwards is the one they had to have to make the deal happen.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Olt was already damaged goods when he got to us this time; the guy we couldn't pry away last year, this year was less value.

    I think you are right. Grimm and Ramirez were kind of throw ins.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Zonk:

    Those are some pretty good throw-ins. May not be A-list prospects but both have solid ceilings and good arms. Agree with both of you, Edwards was the prize.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Got this from Jim Callis:

    @JimCallisMLB: Syndegaard > Edwards for me b/c succeeded at higher levels. @mqmoody: Where do you think he ranks relative to Syndegaard? #Cubs #Mets

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Law has always been lower on Syndergaard than the usual suspects. Never liked his secondary offerings. Ie. In previous years most prospect analysts had Aaron Sanchez and Syndergaard pretty close, and most favored Syndergaard. Law had Sanchez way up at 19 and Syndergaard 97. Basically that Syndergaard only threw hard and Sanchez had much better pitchability. If anything it sounds like Klaw is coming around on Syndergaard.

  • fb_avatar

    Speaking of the Garza trade, Jon Heyman on a podcast (per MLBTR), said the Cubs "sold high" on Garza after a string of starts against bad teams. He has been disappointing for the Rangers, that strange twitter rant aside.

    I don't think we could have played the trade deadline any better this year.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Yeah, especially with the anti-climatic ending to the trade deadline... You have to give Epstoyer an A+. Some may argue that they should've & could've moved Navaro or Nate, but I can't get upside for them not selling for than max value.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I couldn't agree more. Indeed, while there have been some moves that haven't worked out, it is difficult for me to not give Epstoyer an A+ for their efforts since taking over. This was a really bad Cubs system with little major league talent and a barren farm system (with a few gems but little else).

    I can disagree with certain things and certainly every move didn't pan out, but if you would've told me that we would be where we are now talentwise when they took over, I would have said you were nuts.

  • I didn't realize how many good CF prospects we had until John wrote this up.

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