As we get prepped for the daily minor league recaps, it's good to get a look at what we'll be watching this year. Every team announced it's Opening Day roster with the exception of Iowa, but we can pretty much deduce who is going to be there.
The Tennessee (AA) and Kane County (A) teams are stacked with pitching while Daytona and their strong coaching staff inherits the promising young bats that played in the Midwest League last year.
Here's a rundown (click on the team name for links to the full roster). I pretty much have info on all these guys, so fire away if I didn't mention a player here that you want to know more about.
- Javier Baez: He may not be long but if he can figure out how more experienced pitchers are approaching him, he may just put up some monster HR numbers in the hitter friendly PCL. The bat speed allows him to crush mistakes and with experience, will allow him to wait on breaking pitches better.
- Arismendy Alcantara: Whether you think of him as a future OBP type table-setter or more of an extra-base machine with speed, Alcantara is an exciting player to watch. Quick-twitched with strong wrists, he has some deceptive power to go with his speed and an improving approach at the plate.
More Prospects to Watch
- Christian Villanueva: The best defensive 3B in the system, he's next in line if Mike Olt struggles again. He could hit for average power and does enough little things across the board to make him a potentially solid everyday big league starter.
- Kyle Hendricks: He may be more of a bottom of the rotation type but he's a good bet to get there. Good command with a knowledge of how to locate and change speeds, Hendricks is the cerebral fan's type pitcher. Pitching in the hitter friendly PCL will be good practice to make sure he becomes even more precise with his command.
- Neil Ramirez: He may have had the best spring of any Cubs pitcher. Nobody has ever really questioned his stuff as much as his ability to stay healthy, repeat his delivery, and pitch with enough command to be a starter. If he can't, he can make a heck of a power reliever, but I hope the Cubs give him another shot at starting.
- Matt Szczur: Good speed, a solid approach, and a penchant for the spectacular on defense bring a young Reed Johnson to mind. The key for Szczur will be the bat.
- Dallas Beeler: He isn't going to miss bats or wow you with his stuff, but when he's on, he'll make you repeatedly pound the ball into the dirt -- and that has some value at the MLB level.
- Jae-Hoon Ha: A great defender with excellent instincts for the game, Ha won't do enough of anything to make him a starter, but could do just enough of everything to make him an extra outfielder.
- Brett Jackson: A sleeper? Maybe not, but I think he still has a shot as an extra outfielder -- but he has to make at least some consistent contact.
Other names of note: Chris Rusin is basically the 6th starter, Josh Vitters needs to hit more to compensate for his lack of utility on defense, mediocre approach, or any other secondary skills, Logan Watkins is a utility type but needs to hit better than he did last season, Marcus Hatley throws hard but also gets hit harder than he should; Carlos Pimentel doesnt stand out in any one area but may have enough to be a middle reliever; Marcelo Carreno was the payment for Jeff Baker. He's more a pitchability type whose stuff was bottom of the rotation before his injury, so he's a bigger question mark now; Trey McNutt was once ranked closely with Chris Archer but command issues and injuries have stalled his development.
- Kris Bryant: He'll man 3B for now but a move to the OF is likely. Wherever he plays, it's the bat that makes him a potential star. A good approach and power to match top prospect Javier Baez makes him one of the top hitting prospects in the game -- and he's a good enough athlete to hold his own on defense.
- Jorge Soler: The emergence of Bryant and Baez has overshadowed Soler but the Cuban OF'er can almost match them moonshot for moonshot. It's easy to forget he looked like the Cubs top prospect for the first two months last year before injury shortened his season.
- CJ Edwards: An exploding fastball and a nearly unhittable curve are considered TOR stuff by some, but some question his stamina. This will be a good test for him.
- Pierce Johnson*: Not on the roster yet and presumably will start off in extended spring training after a minor leg injury this spring. Stuff isn't as explosive as Edwards, but size may make him better suited to eat innings as a legit #3 starter.
More Prospects to Watch:
- Ivan Pineyro: Relies more on command, pitchability, and poise than sheer stuff, so he's more of a bottom of the rotation type, but he's had a lot of success early in his career at the lower levels. Like Hendricks last year, it will be interesting to see how his stuff plays against upper level hitters.
- Corey Black: Similar to Edward in that he's small of stature but has an explosive arm, Black has stamina questions when it comes to sticking as a starter. But the stuff is plenty good enough to miss MLB bats and if he doesn't start, he could find a niche in the back of the bullpen.
- Armando Rivero: Can touch 97 mph and has a much improved slider. Rivero has the stuff to be a power reliever if he can continue to throw strikes.
- Dustin Geiger: Solid but not great power, a vastly improved approach, and a knack for situational hitting give Geiger a shot. As a 1B, however, there's a big burden for him to hit and hit with power.
- Stephen Bruno: One of those guys who can seemingly roll out of bed and line a single right back through the box, Bruno is recovering from TJ surgery. He's athletic and versatile to be a utility player if needed.
- Matt Loosen: A 90-94 mph FB and a very good curve. Can be dominant when he's commanding his stuff but he's been inconsistent.
- Wes Darvill: Athletic with solid speed and versatility, Darvill has a good approach and gained some strength last year. A late bloomer, he profiles more as a utility guy.
- John Andreoli - OBP machine with good speed. Swing not conducive to power and is better defensively in the corners, so that limits his upside.
- Rubi Silva: great athlete with speed, pop, and a cannon for an arm. A poor approach may undermine it all.
Others: Zeke DeVoss, intelligent player with a good approach and the athleticism to make spectacular plays but hit tool is a big question, Tony Zych, good fastball, deceptive delivery but doesn't miss enough bats; Hunter Cervenka - Good FB with movement + slider make him a LOOGY possibility, Charles Cutler -- good hitter with solid approach, could be a Steve Clevenger type; Rafael Lopez is a solid athlete for a catcher with a decent approach and some pop; Lendy Castillo is throwing hard again and has flashed a good slider on occasion.
- Albert Almora is the best hitter in the organization. Approach is improving with experience. Defense is Gold Glove quality as he makes up for a lack of elite speed with tremendous reads and routes. Has some pull power.
- Arodys Vizcaino has a 98 mph FB and a hammer curve to go with perhaps the best pure arm in the system, but he's only here so he can pitch in warm weather. He'll move up through the system all year, possibly all the way to Chicago by midseason.
- Dan Vogelbach has done a great job of trimming down in an effort to improve his mobility on defense. There's not a lot of question about his bat. Vogelbach has an advanced approach, clean hitting mechanics, and the strength to hit 30 or more HRs in a season.
- Jeimer Candelario may have the best plate discipline in the system. More of a line drive hitter with the potential for 15 HRs, it'll be his defense that will be the key as his bat profiles best at 3B. He improved in that area last year.
More Prospects to Watch:
- Rob Zastryzny: A solid FB, a good change, and a feel for pitching make him a bottom of the rotation type prospect but if he can regain the mid 90s fastball he showed in regionals last year, perhaps he can be more than that.
- Gioskar Amaya: A good hitter with a solid approach, decent speed, and above average defense at 2B, Amaya's ceiling is that of a solid big league regular.
- Willson Contreras: An athletic catcher with a strong arm and a fiery personality, Contreras has some pop at the plate but an inconsistent approach. Lot of work to do but the physical tools are there.
- Marco Hernandez: True SS skills and solid tools across the board, but needs to mature as a player. I like the idea of him and Contreras working with this staff. It's a big development year for both players.
- Tayler Scott: He's well-liked in the organization because of his athleticism, mental makeup, and potential to play up what could be average stuff as he fills out. Curve is his best pitch. Profiles more as a 5th starter.
- Michael Jensen: Injuries have stalled him but a low 90s FB, a big 12 to 6 type curve, and an intelligent pitching approach make him a sleeper candidate according to one scout I spoke with.
- Zach Cates: Velocity kept rising and he was hitting 96 by the end of the season. Struggles with his breaking pitch but does have a decent change.
Others: Rock Shoulders has a great approach and great power but there's a lot of swing and miss and he's limited defensively, Bijan Rademacher is an intelligent hitter with a good arm in the OF, but lack of power or ability to play CF make him something of a tweener for now, Tim Saunders is a versatile, athletic player with utility potential; Starling Peralta was an up and comer two years ago but his command deserted him last year; Jose Rosario has a 92-94 mph FB but inconsistent secondaries and questions about his stamina; Austin Reed can hit the mid 90s and has an average breaking ball and change but gets hit way harder than he should; Stephen Perakslis has a good arm and a short reliever's mentality; Felix Pena works in the low 90s and occasionally shows good command; Yao-Lin Wang is a versatile pitcher with a very good change-up and a knack for missing bats
The (Rising) Stars
- Paul Blackburn: May be the best pitching prospect in the system after Edwards and Johnson. He doesn't have that one "wow" pitch but he does everything well. He hit the mid 90s early in the year, has the potential for average or better secondaries, and the athleticism and delivery to develop good command.
- Jen-Ho Tseng: He burst on the scene this spring and the Cubs were impressed enough to have skip both short season leagues. He's 19 but he's advanced for his age. Showed a 90-94 mph FB this spring to go with a couple of different curve balls, and a solid change. Should have the poise to handle this jump.
More Prospects To Watch:
- Tyler Skulina: Great size and good stuff to go with it. Pitches with good plane. Just needs to be aggressive and pound the lower part of the zone to be successful.
- Scott Frazier: Yet another rising young arm to watch. Frazier has tremendous size and can run his fastball up to 96 mph. He has to keep throwing strikes. Most likely profiles as an intimidating power reliever, but Cubs may try and start him for now.
- Daury Torrez: He's put up great numbers at the lower levels but visa issues have slowed his ascent. Low 90s fastball, good slider, change and the ability to command all 3 pitches give him a starter's profile.
- Juan Paniagua: Some of the easiest heat in the system. He's also had visa issues but he's here early this year and needs to get off to a good start. Has shown a good slider and his easy, repeatable delivery should help him throw strikes.
- Jacob Hanneman: Athletic, fast player with decent size and some power potential. Approach at plate and on defense need lots of work but good instincts could help him close the gap quickly.
- Shawon Dunston, Jr.: Athletic player with excellent OBP skills and the quick hands to hit for average power.
- Yasiel Balaguert: Makes hard contact with very good bat speed. Can turn around just about any fastball but struggles with breaking stuff. Needs to keep weight in check. Potential power hitting LF'er.
- Trey Martin: Smooth CF'er with average power potential, though a long swing and an aggressive approach don't bode well for high OBP numbers at this point.
- Carlos Penalver: Is a slick fielding SS with OBP skills and good speed. Won't hit for much power but given the rest of his skill set, that's not a huge concern.
- Daniel Lockhart has great bat to ball skills, excellent instincts, and enough athleticism to move around the infield. Projects as a solid hitting utility type but could be a starting 2B if hit tool holds up.
- Will Remillard fits the Cubs mold of catchers who have some power at the plate and the arm to control the running game behind it. Remillard, Contreras, and Malave are my picks for the most talented catching prospects in the system, but all have a ways to go before we can call them legit prospects. Would like to see at least one of them establish themselves this season.
Others: Jose Arias is a big kid with a big arm, but doesn't sell his offspeed stuff well. At this point, I think his best shot is as an RP. Nathan Dorris is a lefty with a decent FB and a big breaking curve; James Pugliese has average stuff across the board and showed improved command. Best pitch may be his 2 seamer; Gerardo Concepcion is a finesse LHP who has yet to be healthy enough to show his stuff; Cael Brockmeyer is a big catcher with a big bat, but questions about whether he can stay there; Ben Carhart changed positions to help fill a big organizational need -- and the doubles power bat should play at catcher. Has taken well to the position.