We're at a point now where the prospects we are covering are guys who'd be in the top 10 range on many other teams. In fact, one could make an argument for any of these next 5 players in the Cubs own top 10 and earlier drafts of this list reflect that.
The one good thing about making this list over an extended period of time is that we were able to get a better read on the health of some of the prospects and that is especially true of Arodys Vizcaino, who just missed the top 10 and comes in at #11, but it is less good news for a couple of 3Bs on this list, who got leapfrogged by a different 3B who has shown a return to health this spring.
But as I said, an argument could be made for any of these players being top 10 talents depending on your philosophy. I could see prospects #8-#15 being put together in a number of different ways. When you have your #15 prospect good enough to be considered as a top 10 guy, that speaks to the tremendous depth and talent in this system.
No podcast with Brian Bedo of MiCubs again this week as a stress fracture in my left foot has wreaked havoc with my schedule, but we do have video from Tim Sheridan of Boys of Spring. We may shoot for a podcast later in the week if time permits.
15. Eloy Jimenez, OF, R/R
- Age: 17
- 6'4", 200 lbs.
- Expected 2014 Level: Arizona (rookie level)
- Key 2013 Stats: N/A
Jimenez was widely considered the top prospect in the 2013 IFA class. He's a physical specimen who is more than just raw athleticism. He has good instincts and while his swing isn't as advanced as teammate's Gleyber Torres, it's pretty far along for a guy who just turned 17 in November. He has good hand-eye coordination and keeps his bat in the zone a long time, a couple of traits which should help him make contact and hit for average, but not conducive to great power despite his excellent size and natural strength.
Jimenez will need to make some adjustments as he develops. Considering he is very likely a corner outfielder, it's going to be important for him to hit for more power, but according to those who have seen him hit in Arizona this spring -- the raw power is there. It's just a matter of him being able to tap into it during games.
Defensively he has above average speed and an excellent arm, though he may not retain that speed as he matures and fills out physically. There's a lot of talent here and while Jimenez may be advanced enough to hold his own in a jump to the U.S., there is still a lot of work to be done before he is the power hitting, strong-armed RF'er many think he can be in the long term. As far as pure ceilings go, he's right up there with the Cubs core 4 but the risk factor is very high right now.
14. Kyle Hendricks, RHP
- Age: 25
- 6'3", 190 lbs.
- Expected 2014 Level: Iowa (AAA)
- Key 2013 Stats: 7.2 K to 1.85 BB ratio, 1.85 ERA (2.65 FIP) at AA, 2.48 ERA (3.18 FIP) in AAA.
Hendricks is a so-called finesse type pitcher who relies more on location and getting ahead in the count than pure stuff. He works 87-91 mph on his FB though there are some reports he can bring his 4 seamer to 94 if needed. Considering Hendricks relies on things like movement and placement of that FB, however, the velo isn't as important -- and in fact, not desirable if it costs him that movement/precision, so we can expect him to work mostly in that high 80s range with an occasional venture into the low 90s. Hendricks also developed a cutter which gives him a new wrinkle in that he can throw it for strikes and it has just enough movement where hitters have had a hard time squaring it up at the upper levels of the minors.
I also noticed a bit more movement on Hendricks slider this spring than I had during the season last year but it came at the expense of him throwing strikes with it consistently, something he may need to work on at Iowa. If he can harness that pitch it could give him another go-to pitch to team with his best offering -- his change-up. The change is Hendricks' bread and butter and he can use it both as a set up pitch and a change-of-pace out pitch when he has hitters looking fastball.
A pitcher like Hendricks has a small margin for error because he doesn't have that one dominant swing and miss offering that he can go to no matter what the situation or count. Everything works together with Hendricks and he has to have his command and multiple pitches working for him to succeed consistently. He'll have to be even more precise with his location at the MLB level to avoid hard contact and to maintain an acceptable swing and miss rate --essentially meaning he needs to avoid being over reliant on his defense. But so far Hendricks has proven his doubters wrong. He'll be on-call at AAA should the Cubs need a starter mid-season.
13. Christian Villanueva, 3B, R/R
- Age: 22
- 5'11", 210 lbs.
- Expected 2014 Level: Iowa (AAA)
- Key 2013 Stats: .469 slugging, .208 ISO, 19 HRs, .356 wOBA, 126 RC+
It's hard to believe Villanueva is still just 22 years old as he's seemingly been around forever between the Cubs and the Rangers. He'll reach the AAA level this year and is a good bet to play for the Cubs sometime this season.
The Cubs suddenly find themselves with a lot of depth at 3B. The emergence of another former Rangers prospect Mike Olt, has the Cubs with all kinds of options for the 2014 season. Luis Valbuena is still surprising but nobody really doubts that he's more than a utility player long term. Olt, on the other hand, presents a greater challenge for Villanueva down the road.
Villanueva is considered to be the best defensive player in the bunch. He has a rather stocky build but he's more athletic than he appears and has the good hands, strong arm, and quick reaction time you like for the hot corner. The question for Villanueva has always been whether he can hit enough to be an everyday player. Last year he showed some power with 19 HRs and 41 doubles, resulting in a career best .208 ISO and .469 slugging percentage at the AA level. That bodes well for his ability to hit with some pop long term. What's more, Villanueva showed some improvement in his approach as the year progressed. He's always been a bit of an aggressive swinger but he has shown solid pitch recognition skills and last year those to more walks in the 2nd half. He's not going to hit for a high average, so he is going to need to get on base in whatever way he can. The guess is that Villanueva will be a starting 3B somewhere in the big leagues, but with the Cubs having so much depth at the position, he may need to get that chance with another team.
12. Jeimer Candelario, 3B, S/R
- Age: 20
- 6'1", 185 lbs.
- Expected 2014 Level: Daytona (High A)
- Key 2013 Stats: 11.9% BB rate/15.7% K rate, .346 OBP
Candelario is another top 10 caliber player on this list. He has some of the best plate discipline/pitch recognition skills in relation to his age/playing level than any player in this system.
Candelario has a simple stance, holding his bat straight up with a bit of a bat waggle and employing a relatively short load. He keeps his hand in, his swing short, and a level plane toward the ball -- all qualities which should allow him to hit line drives and make contact consistently as he moves up the system. But that relatively level swing and lack of explosive hip rotation likely means he isn't going to hit for a lot of power despite his good size.
Defensively he has worked hard to improve and most people I talk to now believe he can stick there long term, though he isn't going to win any Gold Gloves. His bat should play well, however, as at his ceiling Candelario should hit for a solid average (about .285 or better) with 15 HRs and the potential for very high OBP numbers if he can maintain his high walk rates at the MLB level.
It gives the Cubs yet another option at 3B in a position that will likely see Kris Bryant move to 3B while Mike Olt gets the first crack at a full-time job. Candelario may be the best pure hitter in the bunch.
- Age: 23
- 6'0", 190 lbs.
- Expected 2014 level: Iowa (AAA)
- Key 2013 stats: N/A
Vizcaino has the best pure arm in this system and so only injuries and questions about his long term stamina hold him back from the top 10. He can run his FB up to 98 mph again and has shown a wipeout, hammer curve at times. It's an offering which gives him a second legitimate out pitch. If that weren't enough, his change-up is at least solid average and he's able to command all 3 pitches.
What's tempting in all of that is that that description pretty much profiles as a top of the rotation starter. What's dangerous about it is that Vizcaino has missed nearly two whole seasons with elbow injuries.
Even before the injuries there were some scouts who doubted whether Vizcaino can be durable enough to be a TOR and that even if he started, could fit better at the middle of the rotation where he can still occasionally dominate, but won't have the burden of 200+ innings vs. the other team's best starter type over the course of a long season.
If Vizcaino doesn't start then he profiles as a dominant closer type reliever who can shut down the opposition in high leverage situations. The stuff is electric, the command is solid, and the health has apparently returned for 2014. That should add up to pretty valuable pitcher no matter which role he fills.
Here is the video from Tim Sheridan of Boys of Spring...
Filed under: 2014 Top Cubs Prospects