Cubs Top 5 prospects: Our Top 35 Prospect List concludes with the biggest impact talent (Video)

Cubs Top 5 prospects:  Our Top 35 Prospect List concludes with the biggest impact talent (Video)

You cannot win without impact talent and while you can get contributors from all over the draft, most impact talent in baseball comes from the top. Studies have shown that the players long term value decreases with every pick, so when you get those picks at the top, you have to hit on them. So far, the Cubs have done just that -- 4 of the top 5 players were picked in the top 10 and one was a good old-fashioned scouting find you normally only see in the movies.

One more thing to note about this list -- all of them are at the AA level or above except for Almora, who should be there by midseason if he stays healthy.

As always, much thanks to Tim Sheridan of Boys of Spring for the video.  You can catch the rest of the Top 35 here.

5. CJ Edwards, RHP

  • 6'2", 155 lbs.
  • Age: 22
  • 2014 Level:  Tennessee (AA)
  • 2013 Key Stats: 11.76 Ks/9 IP (12.91 w/Cubs) 1.83 ERA (1.78 FIP) w/Rangers; 1.96 ERA (1.81 FIP) w/Cubs; 3.28 BB/9IP w/Rangers (2.74 w/Cubs)

Edwards is the exception to this list in that he was a 48th round pick out of a small school in South Carolina.  He amplified that experience by playing in the bush leagues, which features a lot of grown men.  His experience there gives you insight into his strong makeup,

 I also played bush league baseball. And that’s like grown men. They are yapping at you, they’re talking junk. They’re telling you this––saying you won’t be this. But at the end of the day, I go out there and handle my business, and they all say, ‘Hey man, you’ve got a good shot at being something special.’ I pretty much took what I learned from out there and brought it here. Because you never know when you’re going to get to a stadium and fans are going to be yapping at you. I’ll be used to that, while some other people wouldn’t. I think that is pretty much my advantage––playing with older guys and then coming here and playing with guys my same age.

Edwards was a man among boys (figuratively, not literally as he was just 21) last season in Class A.  His strikeout numbers were off the charts, his ERA and FIP was below 2.00, and he managed to keep the walks down to around 3 per 9 IP.  He does it with 3 good pitches -- a mid 90s fastball, a knee-buckling curve, and a change-up that he sells well and has some good movement -- to me it's an above average pitch as well.  Having seen Edwards pitch now at least on video, I feel good about ranking him 5th.  I had some misgivings because of his slender build, but he has such an athletic,. effortless delivery and such natural arm strength that I now have misgivings about my misgivings.  And there's just something old school about Edwards, from the baggy uniform and the  high black socks, to the high leg kick in his delivery, to his beyond his years maturity  -- and the romantic in me wants to believe that the new school rules don't apply to him.  I think he can be a very good starter and whether you slot him at the top or the middle or your rotation, I believe Edwards is going to deliver his share of dominant outings in the MLB as long as he can stay healthy.

4. Jorge Soler, OF, R/R

  • 6'3", 225 lbs.
  • Age: 22
  • 2014 Level: Tennessee (AA)
  • 2013 Key Stats: 8.9% BB rate; 16.1% K rate; .281/.343/.467; .186 ISO

With a body that looks like it was designed by Marvel Comics, Soler just looks the part.  When I  took my wife to a game last year, I asked her, "Who do you think the prospects are in this game?  Who are the future big league players?"  She studied the field and picked out two players: Miguel Sano and Jorge Soler.  Not bad.  It's a testament to just how much Soler fits the profile of what a baseball player should look like.

But what might surprise you is that Soler is more than just a physical guy -- he has a patient, disciplined approach with good contact skills, as his numbers above imply.  Those skills were evident early on -- even before those walks came into play.  Soler would work counts and then when he got the pitch he wanted, he'd often make good, solid contact.  In the OF the skills are there to be a solid RF,  particularly his arm, but Soler doesn't always get great reads.  I believe that once he has consistent time in the OF, he will improve -- but aye, there's the rub.  Soler has been unable to stay on the field and has played relatively little in 3 years.  And for all his physical prowess, he hasn't had the chance to hone his craft and learn to make the adjustments that are needed over the course of a long season.

If Soler can be healthy, he will have tremendous power that's generated by his powerful, explosive hands.  He should hit for a solid average -- in the .275-.285 range that he'll supplement with at least an average walk rate.  He has the power to hit 35 HRs.   I don't think he'll be a great runner -- he has something of an awkward running style (not Hunter Pence awkward, but certainly not smooth) and I believe as he has filled out, he'll probably end up an average runner who could be a bit above average underway (think Starlin Castro speed).

Soler is still something of an enigma and his bat-wielding incident last year didn't do him any favors.  I've seen Soler in person a lot and I believe that incident was a blip on the radar, the result of an accumulation of factors coming to a head -- but in my experience, he's always struck me as a bit of a shy, gentle giant -- much more laid back than fiery.  Soler will do his talking on the field, he just needs to stay on it first.

3. Albert Amora, OF, R/R

  • 6'2". 180 lbs.
  • Age: 20 (Happy Birthday!)
  • 2014 Level: Daytona (High A)
  • 2013 Key Stats: .329/.376/.466, 11% walk rate; 6.3% K rate

I've made no secret of my man crush on Albert Almora.  He's the best pure hitter in this system, employing a high leg kick but keeping the head steady and swing path consistent.  Don't be deceived by the low power numbers -- Almora makes consistent, hard contact and I've seen him hit some bombs in instructs to his pull side -- and that was before he filled out physically the way he has there.  I think he'll hit 12-15 HRs and possibly as many as 20 when all is said and done.

Almora doesn't put up high walk numbers but he has good pitch recognition.  He's not a hacker -- but he makes contact so easily that he sometimes doesn't get the chance to work counts.  I think that part of his game will evolve and we'll see Almora hit for average and draw enough walks to put up high OBP numbers.

One question that has emerged with Almora is whether there will be a trade off when it comes to power and speed.  Almora has never been all that fast to begin with and has always relied on his tremendous instincts in CF.  Will the added weight slow him down to the point where he'll have to move to a corner?  I don't think so.  Almora is a thinking man's CF -- he positions himself well, gets great jumps and reads, and takes great routes.  He plays with a little flair out there, willing to sell out his body to make a catch and that can be something of a concern because Almora has been injury  prone early in his pro career.  As far as his arm goes, it's above average but it's very accurate and he puts himself in prime position to throw and it plays up to well above average once the game starts.  I think he has a chance to  be a gold glove CF even if he isn't going to be the fastest guy out there.  At the very least he's going to be a plus out there.  And if some of those scouts are right and he does move to a corner -- I think he'll have the bat to carry the position anyway.  But if Almora stays in CF as I expect, he can be a perennial all-star.

2. Kris Bryant, 3B, R/R

  • 6'5", 225 lbs.
  • Age: 22
  • 2014 Level: Tennessee (AA)
  • 2013 Key Stats: .333/.387/.719 in 62 Class A PAs; 4.8% BB rate, 27.4% K rate; .386 ISO

Bryant destroyed pitchers at the collegiate level and continued to do so in his brief professional debut and then again in the AZ Fall League.  There is no question that Bryant is an advanced hitter.  He's a big strong kid who generates tremendous power with a wide stance and a quick, short path to the ball.  His power rivals that of top prospect Javier Baez though he doesn't have the same kind of elite bat speed (who does?).

Bryant is also a very patient hitter and that has started to manifest itself in terms of walks early this season at AA.  He won't hit for a high average .265-.275 is my guess, but he'll take a lot of walks and should put up good OBP numbers.  Although he has a tendency to strike out so far, I think much of that is because he works deep counts and partly because he has made a significant jump as far as going from college last season to AA at the same point this year.  He'll need to make adjustments and he'll get a chance to do that with his first full professional season.  Despite what will probably be a high K rate, I think he'll put up that .270-ish average because there isn't a lot of length to his swing for a power hitter and he has the ability to go to RF exceptionally well for a young power hitter.

As far as defense goes, Bryant is at 3B for now and has the skills to be adequate there, but with 3B being a deep position, Bryant will likely move to an OF corner where he can utilize his underrated athleticism and strong, accurate arm.  Like Soler, he profiles as RF'er, though either player can make a smooth transition to LF if needed.  In the end, Bryant projects as a 30-35+ HR guy who won't hurt you in any other facet of the game.  He has impact potential and a high floor, so his probability of being a productive big league player is very good.

1. Javier Baez, SS, R/R

  • 6'0. 190 lbs.
  • Age: 21
  • 2014 Level: Iowa (AAA)
  • 2013 Key Stats: 37 HRs overall:  At AA .294/.346/.638; .344 ISO; 7.9% walk rate; 28.8% K rate

Bat Speed.  I might as well get that out of the way because those are the first two words you hear when Javier Baez's name is mentioned.  The previous names on this list, Almora and Bryant, may be the more polished hitters, but neither can match Baez's bat speed.  At the very least that bat speed will give Baez the ability to crush mistakes, even at the MLB level, where he should at least hit for power, but if he can continue to develop better plate discipline and RF appraoch -- Baez can be more than just a big swinger who hits the occasional dinger.  With good pitch recognition, good bat speed can also help Baez wait that extra split second on breaking pitches.

Aside from power, I think Baez will hit for a solid average simply because he hits the ball so hard -- coupled with his solid speed, his BABIP numbers should be above the MLB average on a consistent basis.

The concerns with Baez as a hitter have to do with his approach.  Though it has improved, he can still get overly aggressive and good pitchers will allow Baez to get himself out.  To his credit, Baez is making a concerted effort to continue improving in that aspect and AAA is a good stepping stone for him in that respect.  He'll see more experienced pitchers with better command and a better idea about how to set up pitchers than he saw at AA last season.  So far at AAA, Baez has come out swinging, something that has become a pattern with him at the start of each new year and level, but if the rest of the pattern holds true, he'll make the proper adjustments as the season goes on.

Defensively, Baez has the ability to play SS though most people think he is better at 2B and even better at 3B.  What's more, I don't know if he provides an upgrade over incumbent Starln Castro at SS, particularly the way Castro has played so far this year, so that and the fact that Castro is established at the MLB level means that Baez will be the guy to move barring a trade.  Although 3B is his best positon, I like him at 2B because the position will keep the instinctual Baez in the game, his bat plays up even more, and the Cubs already have good depth at 3B.  The downside is that it's a high contact position relative to 3B and greater risk of injury.

Wherever he plays, Baez's biggest impact will come with the bat and whether he becomes a mistake hitting power hitter or a nighmare-inducing all-around hitter will depend on his ability to make adjustments as he faces greater competition.  Given Baez's short history and his willingness to adjust, his instincts and aptitude for the game, and his strong desire to improve, I think he will make those adjustments.  And if he does, may the baseball gods have mercy on the souls of NL pitchers.

 

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  • fb_avatar

    Thanks John! The defensive positions for Baez and Bryant....so much really rides on the development of others. What if Olt hits? What if Alcantara hits? And Christian Villanueva? It's a good problem to have, but I suspect performances and/or non-performances will start to sort-out where Baez and Bryant end-up.

    My money would be on Bryant in RF and Baez at 2B, but I can see it going a different way too.

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    Losing a little hope on soler, would like to see him on the field and getting into a rhythm. He's certainly not looking as trade-untouchable as the other big 3.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    I've talked to at least one scout who still thinks he may have the highest ceiling after Baez, so I want to give him some time before we trade him. When he's been healthy, he's been very, very good.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Of all the guys I've seen at Daytona the past couple of years, Soler has been the most physically impressive, for sure! Doesn't have Bryant's polish or Baez's bat speed, but just looked like a man among boys.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Soler has a man's body for sure, but that makes it less impressive to me. Look at the barrel speed from Almora's kid body on that first swing. That's impressive. Once he finishes going through puberty watch out. Jokes aside, I've been getting a sketchy vibe from seeing Soler on tape. In previous ones the way he seems so preoccupied with his "act" pre at bat (tapping cleats, posturing) ,, to his neon headband and "call my agent" t shirt from this one here. I gotta watch some of his tape closer for sure, but his rhythm and whip isn't jumping out at me. Only his muscular shell.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John,

    Sorry to reply under your comment again, but I'm having problems posting after clicking onto the "leave a comment" link. When I click on that, the page just refreshes, however, when I click on "leave a reply" under an original poster, a box will pop up for me to type on. I'm using a phone to post and not sure if that may be why. Have you heard this before?

  • These series of prospect lists are always a must-read; culminating with the Top 5 today. Was interested to see if Edwards might move up to # 4 based on the year he had in 13', Soler's injury difficulties, and the emerging buzz around him. The Boys of Spring video with the cool music was an added bonus here!

  • In reply to Upstate NY Cubs Fan:

    Thanks Upstate!

  • fb_avatar

    Question, if you see Edwards as a Top to middle of the rotation guy do you think there are any (potentially) true #1 guys in the system right now? I know its difficult to project a guy in A ball to be a #1 but just for arguments sake is there a hidden Clayton Kershaw in the system?

  • In reply to Brandon Halford:

    I see him as a middle of the rotation guy who will occasionally dominate -- but I don't think I'd give him the workload of a TOR. He's not Kershaw but he'll be a solid 3.

    As far as a TOR, I think the only chance is if some of the younger guys develop in Class A, but I think that's a longshot as well.

  • Another Kane County game; another solid outing by their pitching staff. Skulina is really starting to intrigue me-love to see the big guy end up in the Cubs rotation in a few years.

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    In reply to Upstate NY Cubs Fan:

    I remember Jim Callis really liked him after the draft, and lauded the Cubs for being able to get him as late as they did (Rnd 5, IIRC?). Him and Masek.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    You bring up an interesting thing, Zonk-where is Masek? I see Skulina, Godley, Frazier and others listed-but no Masek. Maybe I missed an injury with him.

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    It really hard to pick #2 from that group.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I'm guessing you meant that in a good way?

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Very much so. Baez is in AAA (or had finished AA when the list was made) and has the highest ceiling, so he's a clear #1. But after that you can make a real argument for any of the remaining guys to be #2. A lot of talent in that list.

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    When I saw Almora at SB last summer, the way he played defense reminded of Jim Edmonds. He's never out of position, and he never misses a read. That's instinct. You can't teach that.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Defensively - that's Edmonds comparison is a level I suspect everybody who is a Cubs fan would love to see.

    I suspect - from everything I have seen & read - Almora will never quite have the power potential that Edmonds had. Probably a higher batting average though.

    Still - stick that kind of guy into CF in Wrigley for a decade or so - We'll take it!

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    In reply to drkazmd65:

    Yeah, I think his batting average is going to tell whether he's a solid major league starter vs. a perennial All Star or more. The defense is what it is and isn't going to change. But the bat looks more and more special every year. I don't think a consistent .300 to .320 hitter is out of the question with him.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    If Almora was taking the "supplements" Edmonds was, then he might have similar power potential...

  • In reply to Quedub:

    I think it was the eyeliner Edmonds wore that gave him the boost ..

  • In reply to Bryan Craven:

    Ha! That too, but Albert's eyes are so dreamy he doesn't need liner.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    Haha! This whole thread is hilarious!

  • John,
    If Soler and Bryant both make the bigs and Olt or Villanueva has secured 3b, would one of them be able to handle LF? If so, which would profile better there?

  • What's really exciting is that all the minor league teams have won today and the best performances don't include anyone on this top 5 list. John is going to have so many prospects to write about he won't know where to start.

  • In reply to Paulson:

    Alcantara had a nice day, Arrieta, Skulina...that Kane County team is a load.

  • John,
    Think this might have gotten lost somewhere so posting again, but briefer-- If Soler and Bryant both make it, and Bryant isn't at 3rd, would one of them be able to handle left field?

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    In reply to Break The Curse:

    Almora, Bryant, and Soler would bring tears to many a pitcher's eye.

  • Both players can handle LF -- at the MLB level it's actually an easier position to play than RF. I think Soler is more prototypically a RF'er but the two players are interchangeable.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Absolutely agree. Left field is the easiest and least consequential position on the diamond.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    Is this based on not needing a notably strong arm to play LF?

    I figured the majority of right handed hitting, and the tendency for most players to pull the ball would mean you'd still need pretty good range to play LF.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    There are some who would say that and I don't necessarily disagree. The Pirates put their best corner OF"er in LF in Barry Bonds because they felt he would make more plays there.

  • I've been listening to as many Tennessee games as possible, and whenever Bryant struggles making a play or makes an error, Mick usually makes the call that he had trouble getting down on it. I think he's ticketed for the OF, but that's not a bad thing.

  • In reply to nmu’catsbball:

    That's why you don't see so many tall infielders. Some are able to get down quickly but we'll see on Bryant -- in end I think you're right and he ends up in the OF.

  • In reply to nmu’catsbball:

    1st base.

  • In reply to Oneear:

    He would have the same issue there. But he does have a great arm and is athletic, so that would be a waste at 1B. He's an OF even without being blocked by Rizzo.

  • I haven't been this excited about a new Cubs addition since 1977 when a bright eyed, wild haired, fully mustached, entire pack of tobacco chewin', Steve Ontiveros first stepped onto Wrigley Field.

    I kid, I kid...love all 5 of these guys, can't wait for them to come up.

  • In reply to YouCannotBeSerious:

    Painful memory! Steve Ontiveros was acquired for my favorite player when I was a little kid -- Bill Madlock.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Haha, me too. I was CRUSHED when Wrigley sent Madlock out of town, the cheapskate. Madlock was my number one guy. Two batting titles, thanks man! Now get lost. Cubbery.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Mine was Billy Williams and Madlock was awesome but I think all Cubs fans from that 70s era can agree on one thing...when you really needed a position player to take the mound, it was hard to beat The Hawkeye, Larry Biittner.

  • I'm not going to lie, I look forward to checking minor league stats every night, but these last few days with Baez, Soler and Almora all sitting I get pretty depressed

  • Darwin Barney just made the Cubs look like the Bad News Bears.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    ... and Travis Wood bails him out. For a guy that's not a strikeout pitcher, Wood sure has a knack for pitching out of trouble. I think that's why he can maintain a career BABIP that's higher than normal and continue to have success.

  • gosh I wish Alcantara was AB instead of Barney that last inning . Cubs offense and managing is offensive

  • In reply to Bryan Craven:

    Why is Barney batting with 2 on 2 outs? Put someone up that can give you the lead please.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    Well thats how you lose, when you dont give yourself a chance.

  • In reply to Bryan Craven:

    On a good team Rizzo hits 6th, Castro 7th and Castillo 8th. No other current Cub is a starter. That is how you get shutout in a doubleheader. This is the worst offensive Cubs team that I have seen. Kalish looked lost in his last AB. He missed a thigh high 91 MPH fastball right down the middle. If you can't hit an average major league fastball thigh high on 3 and 1, you need to find another profession. I believe in Theo and Jed but this is very difficult to watch!

  • In reply to Gladiator:

    In all fairness, it was belt high.

  • In reply to Gladiator:

    ALCANTERA BAEZ BRYANT

  • In reply to Gladiator:

    I disagree that rizzo and castro are six and seven hitters. When you have no one else in the lineup then things look worse than they are. When you point out three out of nine players in a lineup then that tells me the rest of the lineup is garbage.

  • In reply to seankl:

    Agree with you 100%. If rizzo and Castro hit 6 and 7 then that lineup would be by far the best in baseball. Castro is going to be a .300 hitter again and rizzo is definitely capable of 30-35 hrs. Those would be amazing 6 and 7 hitters

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    In reply to Gladiator:

    How do people make stupid statements like this and still manage to dress themselves in the morning?

    Seriously, go root for the Brewers and shut up.

  • So many ugly, ugly pop ups tonight.

  • You said 4 of the top 5 players were picked in the top 10. Was that a typo and you meant 3 or am I missing something? Edwards was picked in the 48th and Soler was an IFA.

  • Well the brightside? Rosscup.

  • In the reverse standings, Cubs are #1. Were we ever worst in baseball at any point the last several long years? I think this may be the nadir right now.

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    In reply to notcarlosdanger:

    #1. I'm pretty sure we were last year.

    #2. We aren't in last place right now. Arizona is.

    #3. So what?

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