John Sickels preliminary grade breakdown of the Cubs prospects was released today and it reveals a top heavy system. The Cubs have top tier prospects that are the envy of nearly every system in baseball. Consider that at the start of the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer regime the Cubs entered with just two prospects ranking as a B+ according to Sickels. Today he reveals that not only do the Cubs still have two B+ prospects but also three more that rate as an A- or higher. The Cubs system is loaded but temper your expectations. After all remember that the two B+ prospects in Sickels' 2012 list were Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson.
First a quick breakdown of grades that Sickels uses can be found here. The gist of it is that the A rated prospects are the guys most likely to become stars or superstars. Of course there are no can't miss prospects in baseball, but players in this category are the most likely to at least become major league regulars with a shot to be much more. The Cubs have the most of these prospects out of the six teams ranked so far by Sickels. The Cubs have the most B+ or higher prospects.
Now Sickels has yet to grade BA's top rated farm system, Pittsburgh Pirates, or some of the other higher rated systems in baseball, but the fact that the Cubs top the Twins and Red Sox is an encouraging sign. Now lets look at the guys most likely to get those particular grades from Sickels.
We have a bit of a cheat sheet here of the 40 names most likely to be on these 37 grades. We also have Sickels' end of 2013 updated Top 75 list which gives us some other clues. Using all of this information I will present you my best guesses at the current Sickels breakdown of Cubs prospects:
Description:Not much needed here, but these are the clear cut top two prospects in the Cubs system. It would be a huge shock if these two weren't the top two prospects on Sickels breakdown of the Cubs system likely coming soon.
Description:It would seem unlikely that Albert Almora isn't listed as the A- prospect. He checks in third among Cubs prospects on the Top 75 list at number 22. Given his performance in the Arizona Fall League (.286/.340/.531) as the second youngest player in the league it is hard to see him dropping in Sickels rankings.
Description:These are the last two prospects to crack Sickels top 50 from the end of last season. These also make sense given most prospect gurus rankings of the Cubs system so far. Opinions on CJ Edwards vary based mostly on opinions of handling a starters workload, but checking in at a B+ given his status as a sleeper pick by Sickels that panned out in 2013 makes sense. Soler's injury and maturity concerns also makes him a logical B+.
Arismendy Alcantara is the last ranked prospect on that top 75 list, and makes sense as a solid B prospect. The Cubs had two prospects that made honorable mention in Pierce Johnson and Dan Vogelbach. Looking at an interview from September 2 at VFTB suggests that Johnson out to get the nod over Vogelbach since he was mentioned as having a chance of edging into the Cubs top 5.
Vogelbach is the one no brainer on the list. Corey Black started 2013 as a B- in the Yankees system, and with a solid season at an age appropriate level ought to remain at a B- level. Vizcaino remaining a B- is probably generous in some eyes, but given the ridiculous ceiling I think it is a fair ranking. The injury concerns are huge, but if those didn't exist there is an argument for B+/A- rating. Amaya and Villanueva might be stretches at B- given their seasons, but these were both sleeper picks by Sickels last year that had solid but not breakout seasons.
Description:Don't feel particularly confident in this group. I think Sickels is pretty low on Kyle Hendricks even given the great season. Neil Ramirez and Mike Olt in the same group feels right to me given how down Sickels is on Olt overall. I might be aggressive on the Pineyro promotion to C+, but he did have a good season. Szczur as a C+ makes sense given his steady production in AA, and Sickels generally being down on him. Watkins is another guy that I see as holding steady given a decent season in AAA with virtually no chance given at the big league level. Maples and Candelario both at C+ as guys with high ceilings and time, but limited results so far in competitive games.
Shawon Dunston, Jr.
The omissions from the list include Brett Jackson, Duane Underwood, and Zac Rosscup. Those were easy to suss out since they are the three players on a list of 40 that had bubble or other descriptions written next to their name. With the total of players graded at 37, those three were immediately dropped. Sickels has also mentioned that the Cubs had a ton of high ceiling guys that are C grades for Sickels because of little objective data available for them. That meant that the whole international class and the Cubs draft picks from 2013 not named Kris Bryant fall into this lot. I think the rankings are low on guys like Cabrera, Rivero, Jokisch, and Beeler, but there is nothing to indicate a higher than C ranking from Sickels.
The rankings from A to B+ are a virtually positive to be correct. Pierce Johnson over Dan Vogelbach is something I feel strongly in as well, but that could be the first surprise. The prospects in the B- to C range get interesting. I think Sickels could drop Vizcaino all the way down to a C given the injury concerns and likely future, if he gets over it, as a reliever. I see Vitters as the most likely C prospects to get a nudge up a spot by Sickels, but I wouldn't be surprised if most of my list in the B- and below range is off to be honest. In summary, I'm very happy with the depth of the farm system and will continue following prospect progress with cautious optimism.