How Will the Chicago Cubs Prospects be Dispatched?

How Will the Chicago Cubs Prospects be Dispatched?
CJ Edwards headlines a stacked roster at AA Tennessee.

Disclaimer: I have no idea what I'm talking about!

But rather than speculate to myself about how the Cubs prospects will be distributed, (gobs of minor league talent across several farm franchises) I thought I would take notes in this here blog post drafting window throughout, then publish so you can see what I think. Lucky you!

For each level, I'll take an inventory of the resources available to and utilized by each farm team for the 2013 season. We'll note significant vacancies left by graduated talent, then go down a level to try and fill holes. (I realize that, say, Edgar Gonzalez has no business blocking, say, Javy Baez from a promotion, but this is the most rigorous and repeatable way to go through a multi-leveled system, so I'm doing it.)

IF YOU WANT TO SKIP 1,500 WORDS OF TEXT AND JUST SEE HOW I ALLOCATE THE MINOR LEAGUE TALENT ACROSS AAA, AA, AND A+, SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM NOW!

Let's start with Iowa.

Iowa 2013 starting pitchers, ranked by games started: Brooks Raley (25), Nick Struck (20), Chris Rusin (18), Guillermo Moscoso (17), Barret Loux (16), Yoanner Negrin (14), Justin Grimm (8), Jake Arrieta (7), Drew Carpenter (6), Kyle Hendricks (6), etc.

Raley hasn't graduated -- he's been taken. Brooks is gone to Minnesota via waiver claim. Moscoso is in Japan, and Rusin, Grimm, and Arrieta are, based on the current construction of the roster, decent bets to spend most of their time in 2014 at the major league level. I don't know where Carpenter is but I don't think he's with Chicago anymore. That leaves:

Struck (24), Loux (25), Negrin (30), Hendricks (24),

as the foundation of the Iowa rotation. As fans, we should actually feel pretty good about the fact that three of those pitchers are well under the age of 27 (I've listed each player's baseball age for 2014 in parenths above). And based on what I've read from the interwebs, each of those four seems a good bet to start quite a few games in AAA this upcoming season.

It doesn't probably make much sense to fixate on searching for Iowa's presumptive fifth starter at this point in the analysis; to that end, 13 different pitchers started a game for Iowa last year. And I'm not going to even attempt to sort out relief pitching. So let's move to bats, which is a bit trickier to sort out than SP.

Iowa Batters, 2013:

  • C: JC Boscan (71 games played) / Luis Flores (61)
  • 1B: Brad Nelson (100)
  • 2B: Logan Watkins (90)
  • 3B: Mike Olt (38) / Junior Lake (36) / Josh Vitters (18)
  • SS: Donnie Murphy (73) 
  • OF: Dave Sappelt, Brian Bogusevic, Darnell McDonald, Jae Hoon Ha, Brett Jackson, Ty Wright

What a mess -- almost zero of these names would merit inclusion on an April 1, 2014 "Prospect Watch List" for Iowa. Watkins, Olt, Lake, and Murphy SHOULD break with the major league club, and nearly everyone else on the list is either gone or not worth worrying about.

By my count there are three exceptions.

Jae Hoon Ha will be just 23 next year, and although there doesn't seem to be much power in his bat, he has a good glove, and just enough hit to maybe make it as a fourth outfielder in the bigs.

And then there are Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson, both of whom have seen their prospect stocks fall precipitously in the past year. Jackson couldn't even hit in Tennessee last year, so he'll probably repeat that level (egads!) to start 2014.

Vitters did hit when he could play, but was injured for much of 2013. Once a possibility at 3B, I think it's pretty widely accepted that whatever possible future Josh has at the major league level will be as a right-handed bench bat, filling in at 1B or a corner outfield spot in the mold of Jeff Baker. So he'll probably get some looks at those spots to start this upcoming season.

 

There's another name not on that list up there that could be a factor in Iowa in 2014: Greg Rohan manned first for Iowa in each of the team's last 12 games, and seems a decent bet to get another shot at AAA 1B next year.

To summarize, here's what we have carrying over from Iowa 2013 to Iowa 2014:

SP: Struck, Loux, Negrin, Hendricks

Bats: Rohan (1B), Ha (CF), Vitters (LF?)

On to Tennessee! And a note: I won't re-hash guys we've already discussed. E.g., Kyle Hendricks pitched 21 games at AA last year, but we already have him slotted in for AAA, so I won't list him in this next section.

Tennessee 2013 SP: Eric Jokisch (26 GS), Alberto Cabrera (18), Matt Loosen (13), Dae-Eun Rhee (11), AJ Morris (10), Dallas Beeler (9), Austin Kirk (9), Yeiper Castillo (7), Eduardo Figueroa (6), Neil Ramirez (1)

Lots of interesting names here. Jokisch is probably the fifth starter at Iowa: he pitched a full season at AA in 2013, and pitched pretty well, even if he wasn't totally dominant. And Cabrera probably won't be back either -- seeing as how he continues to struggle to get lefties out, I think he'll work as a ROOGY, either for AAA or MLB.

Each of the next eight players listed will probably start 2014 in Tennessee. But as we'll see later, there's quite a bit of SP talent slated to move up from A+ ball to start the year, as well. So it may be difficult to get each guy a dozen starts. Of those eight, Neil Ramirez is probably the only guy with enough upside to merit a close watch next season. Beeler and Kirk are young enough to be in the conversation for a few starts, while Loosen, Rhee, Morris, Castillo, and Figueroa look more like org filler to me.

Tennessee Batters, 2013:

  • C: Rafael Lopez (88 games played) / Chad Noble (28)
  • 1B: Justin Bour (74) / Jonathan Mota (52)
  • 2B: Arismendy Alcantara (64)
  • 3B: Christian Villanueva (124)
  • SS: Alcantara (66) / Javier Baez (50)
  • OF: Matt Szczur, Rubi Silva, John Andreoli, Brett Jackson, etc.

Hellooooo, prospects! Ednel Javier Baez (yes that is his full name) is bound for Iowa, along with Alcantara, Villanueva, Szczur, and Silva, who has quietly amassed 573 plate appearances across 146 games at the AA level to this point.

Bour, who hit just .237 last year, is a non-factor, so I consider the Tennessee 1B job open. And I really don't know what to make of the Cubs' catching "depth." Andreoli and Jackson most likely make up two thirds of Tennessee's starting outfield on 4/1/14.

Let's go through projections for Iowa and Tennessee for 2014 again now.

Iowa SP: Struck, Loux, Negrin, Hendricks, Jokisch

Iowa Bats: C?, Rohan (1B), Alcantara (2B), Villanueva (3B), Baez (SS), Vitters (LF), Szczur (CF), Ha (RF)

Tennessee SP: Ramirez, Beeler, Kirk, ?

Tennessee Bats: Andreoli (CF), Jackson (RF), ?

Daytona: moar prospectz!!1

Daytona 2013 SP: Ben Wells (21 GS), Zach Cates (20), P.J. Francescon (13), Kyler Burke (8), Pierce Johnson (8), Ivan Pineyro (8+3), Yao Lin Wang (8), C.J. Edwards (6+18), Corey Black (5+19), etc.

Cates, Francescon and Burke are org arms. Wang will be 23 next year, so his prospect clock is ticking, but for what it's worth he has had success at each level of pro competition he's seen so far.

And now let's talk about the sexy names. Edwards is widely considered the top pitching prospect in the Cubs organization; Johnson is not far behind in most rankings; Pineyro put up a 38:9:44 K:BB:H in 45 A+ innings last season; Black got 28 K in 25 IP; and Wells, born 9/10/92, put up a 3.28 ERA in 21 starts last season.

I know Cub fans are excited about the prospect (heh) of watching Edwards, Johnson, Black, Pineyro, and Wells all move up to AA together in 2014. And each player should see some innings at the next level this year. But based on those games started figures, I think there are some questions about how quickly each guy should be moved up.

Black and Wells have each exceeded the 100 IP mark at A+, so I could see them starting 2014 at Tennessee. As for Edwards, Johnson, and Pineyro, despite their sterling performances respectively thus far I think it's less of a sure thing that each is promoted straightaway. Of course, I'm not a professional talent evaluator, but it feels like at least Pineyro and Johnson, and possibly Edwards as well, could use more A+ experience.

Daytona 2013 Batters:

  •  C: Chadd Krist (54 games played) / Yaniel Cabezas (29)
  • 1B: Dustin Geiger (106)
  • 2B: Wes Darvill (55) / Tim Saunders (38)
  • 3B: Ben Carhart (93) / Kris Bryant (13)
  • SS: Elliot Soto (37)
  • OF: Zeke DeVoss, Jorge Soler, Pin-Chieh Chen, Bijan Rademacher

Now that we're 1,300 words in, let's finally talk about the biggest questions for the Cubs in March 2014 at the minor league level: where do we put Bryant and Soler?

I think it's easier to place Bryant, who slugged .719 in his 62 PAs at A+. Move that guy up! The more difficult decision is Soler, who last played a pro game on June 13, and hit OK, but not great (.806 OPS) in limited action. I bet he starts at A+, but maybe you know something I don't.

Elsewhere in Daytona, Geiger looks ready to take over 1B at the AA level (which opens up a spot for future major league hitter Dan Vogelbach). DeVoss did post a .393 OBP last year, but hit just .246, with a .354 SLG. At the same time, with more than 500 PA from A+ to his name and a potential vacancy at AA, I could see him being promoted. Chen and Rademacher both hit better than DeVoss, but not by much. None of the other names on that list are factors.

One name not on the list worth watching is Stephen Bruno, who has a .933 OPS in 370 PAs across A and A+ ball, after being drafted in the 7th round of the 2012 draft from UVA. I honestly don't know why he didn't play more in 2013 (I'm guessing injury?) but he's earned another look next season, probably at 2B.

OK, I'm not gonna do anything lower than A+ today (I'm at 1,500 words!), so let's summarize the talent distribution one more time. Guys who I expect to start at a different level from where they ended 2013 are bolded.

Iowa SP: Struck, Loux, Negrin, Hendricks, Jokisch

Iowa Bats: C?, Rohan (1B), Alcantara (2B), Villanueva (3B), Baez (SS), Vitters (LF), Szczur (CF), Ha (RF)

Tennessee SP: Ramirez, Beeler, Kirk, Black, Wells

Tennessee Bats: C?, Geiger (1B), 2B?, Bryant (3B), SS?, Andreoli (LF), DeVoss (CF), Jackson (RF)

Daytona SP: Edwards, Johnson, Pineyro, Wang, ?

Daytona Bats: C?, Vogelbach (1B), Bruno (2B), 3B?, SS?, Rademacher (LF), Chen (CF), Soler (RF)

 

P.S. There are probably some guys from A (Almora, Candelario, Amaya) that could be moved to A+ but I'm not about to guess on all that.

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  • Great but what I want to know is, what is the plan with Bryant and Baez? We know Castro is the starting SS barring injury. What if Olt impresses and wins the 3B job? And what if he plays well and Castro bounces back? I realize it will take at least two months of actual season to determine if Castro has bounced back and if Olt can be the player the Rangers once thought he was. I realize that is a lot of "what ifs" but also probably the ideal scenario in the mind of the front office. So what is the plan for switching Bryant and Baez's position? There's a good chance both of them will be ready to come up this year and I'm sure the FO doesn't want a positional logjam preventing that. So do Bryant and Baez split time at new positions this spring in the minors? Do they start doing that earlier, in spring training?

  • In reply to Mikethoms:

    I disagree with you that there's a "good" chance both Baez and Bryant are ready this year. In particular, Bryant doesn't even have 100 A+ plate appearances to his name yet, so I think he has a long way to go. I may be wrong, but just speaking objectively I don't think the chance that Bryant plays in the bigs before September is better than 50 percent right now.

    If Javy Baez obliterates AAA pitching, and the front office wants him up in June/July, Ricky Renteria will find room for him. But I don't think that's at SS -- I think that job is Starlin's for at least the first half of 2014, and probably well beyond that. I think it's likelier that Baez gets put at 3B, with Luis Valbuena possibly replacing Darwin Barney at 2B.

    If Olt is hitting better than .230, we might see Baez replace Barney at 2B instead in 2014. But I think the front office hopes to have Rizzo, Alcantara, Castro, and Baez in its starting infield for Opening Day 2015, so getting Baez to 3B sooner rather than later would be good.

    I think Kris Bryant stays in the minors for the duration of 2014, and I think he spends the whole year at 3B as well. Whether he plays there at MLB or is moved to the outfield depends on roughly one zillion variables that are difficult to predict right now.

  • In reply to AJ Walsh:

    I also think they leave Bryant at 3B as long as possible, ala Baez SS.

  • In reply to AJ Walsh:

    He's also a college player instead of a high school player. I fully agree with the 100+ appearances philosophy and I certainly don't want to rush any player. I just think because he's a college player there's a stronger chance than for a guy like Almora. I also have to assume that Theo and Jed have plans for multiple scenarios including the most desired, but also more unlikely, scenario I have laid out.

  • In reply to Mikethoms:

    So many variables, a lot hinges on Olt. If Olt rebounds, as well as Castro, then you got something.

    Castro could be trade bait, or move Baez to 2B. Then Bryant is you RF of the future?

  • I wonder what it says for the Cubs that they have prospects named Jock Itch and Wang.

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    Might not be the most popular but I have Olt, Baez, Alcantara and Rizzo as your infield. Bryant in RF and Almora in CF.

    Then I have Castro being used for that #1 TOR pitcher or the big bopper LH bat for LF duty. The lineup is a bit too right handed at the moment.

    Then there is Soler. He will eith end up in LF or traded, imo.

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    Someone will have to be dealt. Soler and Castro always come up when I talk with industry people.

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    Bobby I have been saying the exact same thing you just stated for a couple months now. I am getting a lot of blow back about trading Castro but I see him as having the most trade value right now. More than the prospects. I think he is the only one that can reasonably bring back a TOR SP. And I want to leave Soler in LF, don't want to trade him before I know what he is.

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    Epstein has already pretty much said that Pierce Johnson, CJ Edwards, Corey Black, and Ivan Pineyro will be in the Tennessee rotation.

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    Arodys Vizcaino is not on your lists. I doubt he will be going to Chicago this Spring and might go to Tennessee as well.

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    Tennessee would be surprising to me.

  • I expect Vizcaino to spend a month or so with Tennessee to keep him from pitching in cold weather, then move up to Iowa and eventually Chicago.

    I expect Johnson and Edwards to start with Tennessee, with the rest of the 2013 Daytona staff on the borderline between AA and A+ (Black, Wells and Pineyro).

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    A lot could happen in the coming days/weeks/months, but is Arodys is hitting high 90s and has any control, he'll be up quickly. I think Bryant ends up in outfield and Olt's performance determines whether Baez plays 2B or 3B. I think they stop messing with Castro and he bounces back. But I'm an opinion guy and a Starlin apologist.

  • In reply to Evan Altman:

    Then what happens to Alcantara? I guess these are good problems to have. I just don't know who can be traded to get a top pitcher. Can Vogelbach, Alcantara and some other prospects get it done? If you are trading for an unproven minor league pitching prospect?

  • In reply to Mikethoms:

    Maybe Baez in LF or Alcantara in CF

  • Keeping a balance lineup and who can bring back the best TOR/lefty bat will be a factor in how it all plays out. The Cubs will be reluctant to trade any of the few left/switch hitter guys.

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