Here at Goat Riders we're in the process of a 30-something part Mega-Preview, covering guys who will be a part of your 2011 Chicago Cubs, as well as guys who *might* be part of your 2011 Cubs. However, there are a few more names to watch. The following is a look at players listed as Top-30 prospects by Baseball America who could be on the big league club this year at one point or another. Marcos Mateo (ranked 18th) and Esmailin Caridad (29th) have already been previewed in the past few days, and Darwin Barney (12th) and Welington Castillo (17th) will get full previews soon. Here's a look at 5 other guys who could emerge on the scene sooner, rather than later.
*P Jay Jackson (ranked 15th) - Twelve months ago, Jackson was ranked higher by prospect mavens and more was thought of his future. A full season at AAA Iowa where he didn't dominate (and potentially more important) and didn't get a call to the big club has changed things some. His defenders say Jackson is still what he was heading into last year - a solid starting pitching option who has 3 usable pitches and an ability to get big league hitters out. However, to some degree, the stats don't lie on this one: while been shuffled from the rotation to the bullpen and then back to the rotation last year for the I-Cubs, Jackson's peripherals dropped. He struck out 9 batters per 9 innings in 2009, while last year that number was just 6.8. His groundball rate dropped in 2010 as well. Was 2010 just an adjustment year for Jackson? We're about to find out. He's all but ready, and if the Cubs need a starter, Jackson's just down Interstate 80 in Des Moines.
*P Scott Maine (ranked 14th) - I'm a little surprised that we declined to preview Maine in our pre-season writeups, so I'll take the opportunity to do so here. Scott Maine is a LHP who was one of the pieces of the Aaron Heilman trade after the 2009 season. He was sent to AA Tennesee and sort of thought as an organizational arm. Then he started throwing harder. Scouting reports suggested his fastball was hitting the mid-90's and his slider was breaking better than ever. He moved up to Iowa, and then ultimately to the big league team. In 13 innings for the Cubs, he allowed just 9 hits and 5 walks. So why isn't Maine truly in the mix for a big league job this spring? In short, numbers and guaranteed money. Most big league bullpens have 2 or 3 left-handed pitchers, and while Quade has spoken of his desire to have 3, Maine is still behind Sean Marshall, John Grabow (owed a large sum of money for 2011), and likely James Russell once he doesn't win a rotation slot. Therefore Maine heads back to Iowa, but I'd imagine he'll resurface in Chicago at some point this year. Grabow isn't a good bet to stay healthy and effective all season long.
*P Chris Carpenter (ranked 6th) - The Arizona Fall League. For most part, the stats that come out of there are worthless. I take most of what occurs out there with a grain of salt. However, the Cubs got some good news last fall when it comes to Chris (Christopher? I'm not sure really - I've seen it both ways) Carpenter. Carpenter had just completed a season with AA Tennessee that statistically looked ok, but questions were being raised about his long-term role and upside with the organization. However, in the aforementioned AFL, Carpenter worked as a reliever, and according to ESPN's Keith Law was working in the 97-99 MPH range with his fastball, hitting triple-digits once. That's a gamechanger. If Carpenter can throw that hard out of the pen, and you throw in his pitching savvy and his ability to mix in other pitches, you've got yourself a very, VERY intriguing relief prospect. It remains to be seen what role the Cubs will slot Carpenter into in Iowa this year (I'm assuming he'll head to Iowa), but he's got the Cubs brass' attention with those performances. I'm intrigued to see how long he sticks around in big league camp this spring. I'd be stunned if he didn't get called up at some point in 2011.
*P Trey McNutt (ranked 3rd) - I'm putting McNutt in here because he's a special talent, and anytime special talents are in AA or above, there's always the chance they could be called up at any point. McNutt was a later round pick who the Cubs have struck gold with. He pitched at 3 levels last year (Peoria, Daytona, and Tennessee) and will likely be the #1 starter for Tennessee when minor league season starts. Even though Baseball America disagreed (and ranked him lower), I've read articles where the Cubs management was higher on McNutt than Chris Archer, who headlined the package sent to Tampa for Matt Garza. If the Cubs are in contention and need him, and if McNutt is pitching well, I wouldn't be shocked to see McNutt get the call later this season. Keep an eye on him this year.
*OF Brett Jackson (ranked 2nd) - It's been floated out there that Brett Jackson could be on the "Starlin Castro Plan", where the top prospect starts in AA, and gets the call to the big league team in May or June directly from Tennessee without going through AAA. While I believe Jackson is both talented enough to make said leap, and will be ready to contribute at the big league level soon (if he's not now), I just don't see where there's room. Our current outfield has 4 guys for 3 daily starting positions. So unless 2 of the 4 get hurt or get traded, I can't see the Cubs bringing Jackson up just to play a couple times a week off the bench. Still, he has to be mentioned in a piece like this because you just never know. Jackson can hit, has power, can field, can run, and can throw. He looks the part of an everyday CF'er. The question is when? That's one of the great stories of the 2011 season. We'll have to see.
..and a bonus 6th top 30 prospect who could have an impact on the 2011 Cubs:
*OF Michael Burgess (ranked 19th on the Nationals top 30) - Burgess was part of the trade that sent Tom Gorzellany to Washington. Burgess is a former top prospect who's lost some of his "luster", but he has a couple things still going for him - he bats lefty and he has some pop in his bat (something the Cubs minor league system is lacking). Unlike Jackson, I don't think the Cubs would hesitate to bring up Burgess if they thought he could fill a role as a lefty thumper off the bench who can play all 3 outfield spots. Burgess will start in AA most likely, but could be with the Cubs at some point this year.
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