As we head into July, it's time to check in on our top Cubs prospect list. I am not going to do a top 35 again, well, not until this winter or next spring, but we'll take a quick look at the Cubs top 15 prospects and then a bonus of 10 prospects who are on the rise this year. I will break it up into 3 parts with the top 6 prospects going today, the next 9 tomorrow, and then the 10 risers on Wednesday.
I am not going to count down this time since we all know who the top 6 prospects are. It's just a matter of the specific order.
One thing to note, I didn't include any 2014 draftees with the exception of Schwarber because he has had some time already at Boise and Kane County, but you can expect to see some of them when we do our big list in the offseason.
Click on player's name for link to statistics.
Based on his approach and the increasing ability he may stick at 3B, not to mention the ridiculous season he is having, he moves up one spot to #1. Bryant is an advanced hitter who has shown he can quickly adapt to all levels of pitching. He's not just a power and plate discipline guy either. He can take the ball the other way with ease and will probably hit for a pretty good average to go with his HRs and walks. The defense can be average at 3B with his best tool being a strong arm. Considering the offense, the Cubs will gladly take that.
Bryant is a different hitter than Baez and it goes beyond approach. He creates power with leverage and great natural strength rather than with raw bat speed. He is going to hit for power. There isn't much question there. He also has the makeup to handle what lies ahead. The ceiling may not be as high as Baez, but it's close enough. Ultimately, it;s his floor that ultimately has him ranked 1st on this list.
The last time I dropped Baez off of #1, he proceeded to go on a terrifying streak of crushing baseballs. I did not drop him based on performance even though he has struggled. The potential is still there, the bat speed still borders on unholy, and the athleticism remains to stick in the middle infield. Baez has shown that he is adapting to the more advanced pitchers in AAA and has walked 7 times in the 11 games since Bryant joined him at Iowa, upping his rate to a solid 7.5%. He's already going to be a good ballplayer, but if he continues to mature at the plate, he will still be the best player to come out of this group. No player has a higher offensive ceiling in this system.
As far as defense goes, Baez has the athleticism and instincts to play anywhere in the field but he prefers the infield. With Starlin Castro entrenched at SS, Baez's favored alternative position is 2B, where he can provide plus defense to go with uncommon power numbers for the position.
We have always been intrigued with Alcantara, from the first days we started writing recaps back in 2011, but he was anything but a sure thing back then: skinny, unable to stay healthy for a full season, erratic in the field, aggressive at the plate -- yet his athleticism and ability to make plays has always been evident. It has only been a matter of maturity and consistency. We often hear about the great makeup of players like Bryant, Albert Almora, and Kyle Schwarber but I would put Alcantara in that group as well. As for the physical skills, they are undeniable. Alcantara is still skinny but he has dynamite in those wrists, he doesn't just use speed to amass the 42 extra base hits he has in half a season, he puts a charge into the baseball. We have seen him hit it into the upper deck and CitiField and I personally have seen him flick his bat out and drive it just foul on a line over the LF wall. I was almost impressed as with that as I was the upper deck shot. Alcantara won't have one standout skill, he will just be good at everything. If you keep score, make sure you right legibly and leave enough room or he will completely mess up your scorecard. Alcantara has no significant holes to his game. His splits are surprisingly consistent and his biggest weakness last year, his performance against lefties, has turned into a strength, He is hitting .379/.478/.617 against them this year.
On defense, Alcantara can play 2B but with Baez looming, a position change could be in order. Alcantara has started to log some innings in CF where he has become increasingly comfortable after a rather cautious approach in the first couple of games. He has the athleticism and instincts to be an above average defender at either CF or 2B.
I really debated whether to rank Almora. I had him anywhere from 3rd to 5th but in the end we want to make sure we don't put too much stake in half a season worth of statistics. Yet I could not overlook the progress of Alcantara, so the drop to #4 is more of a reflection of Alcantara than it is of Almora. In all honesty, if Almora is producing the way Alcantara is in 2 years at AAA, we will all be very happy. At the same time, he is a much better player at the same age and he sill has the higher ceiling. Like Baez, Almora has struggled but also like Baez, he hasn't suddenly lost any of his tremendous ability. Almora has begun to pick it up in the second half and my bet is that we will all be singing his praises again by the end of the season. Almora had some distractions early in the year but you won't hear Almora use them as an excuse. It was the first time Almora has struggled in his career and thus the first time he has had to make real adjustments in his approach. He also has a rather high leg kick and it may be the first time that was exploited, causing Almora to fall out of rhythm and lose his great timing. He still has the sweetest swing and is the best pure bat in the system. He still plays top-notch MLB caliber CF. Those two skills alone give him a high floor, but Almora's ceiling will hinge on improving his plate discipline and developing more power. I think he has a great chance to develop both of those skills. Once Almora figures it out, he'll be back on the fast track.
I know a lot of you will be disappointed in Schwarber being this "low" but it speaks to the strength of this system. Schwarber is an advanced bat, but we should remember he is still in low A ball where he has yet to be challenged. All of the players ahead of him, with the exception of the relatively late blooming Alcantara, have destroyed the MWL (or in Bryant's case the FSL). Almora also thrived in this league when he was 2 years younger and just one year out of high school. I'm not saying Schwarber won't go on to tear up the FSL, AA, and then AAA too, I'm just pumping the brakes a bit.
There is no doubt Schwarber can hit, though. He has a patient, disciplined approach and the ability to hit for power to all fields. One scout said at the very least you have a left fielder who hits .280 with 25 HRs and a good OBP. That is a pretty nice floor and the ceiling, of course, is much better than that.
There is still the question about his ultimate position but the feeling is he will end up in LF. Considering how quickly he has moved so far, the Cubs may move him there sooner rather than later to avoid delaying his ascent through the system. No matter where he plays however, almost all of his value will be tied to his bat and that also played a role in this ranking, but that bat has a chance to be pretty special.
Soler has as much talent as anyone on this list and that includes Baez. The problem for him has been staying healthy. When he has been on the field this year, he has hit as if he has never had a day off at all. The approach is good, the power is 70 grade at it's ceiling and he can play a decent enough corner OF. The Cubs think they have figured out Soler's problems and have created an appropriate regimen that they believe will limit his hamstring injuries in the future. I wonder now when I look back now when I commented early in his career on his awkward gait as a runner -- could that have been a symptom of the muscle strength imbalance and lack of good posture the Cubs have talked about? If they get him healthy, he could move quickly and be in the majors sooner than we think.
If healthy, Soler should hit for average and power while playing an average to above average corner OF, with a strong arm being his best asset in the field.