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.
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.
Filed under: 2014 Top Cubs Prospects