Farm Report Wrap-Up: Daytona featured key prospects on left side

Outfielder Matt Szczur stole 38 bases for Daytona in 2012. (Photo by Rodger Wood)

Today we continue our tour around the Cubs farm system, taking a level-by-level look at performances the organization hopes to build on in 2013. The high Class-A Daytona Cubs are next in the spotlight.

They may have dropped from Florida State League champions to last place, but the Daytona Cubs featured several intriguing position prospects worth keeping an eye on. And it’s the continued development of that talent that’s going to be vital for the Chicago Cubs in the coming years.

Chief among them is Javier Baez, who spent the last month of the season in Daytona Beach. He’s become the organization’s quickest climber since being drafted out of high school in 2011. Since his mid-August signing last summer, Baez has played in four different leagues—at the Rookie and three Class-A levels. (He spent the season’s first two months in extended Spring Training before resuming his rapid ascent.) Though Baez batted just .188 in 86 plate appearances for Daytona, he ended the year with two home runs in the finale to bring his season total to 16 (12 with Peoria) in 80 games. That evidence of his plus bat speed, as well as his overall athleticism and competitiveness, puts him as baseball’s 23rd-best prospect and fourth-best shortstop in Jonathan Mayo’s end-of-season rankings at MLB.com.

To Baez’s right, third baseman Christian Villanueva was an important midseason addition via the Ryan Dempster deal with Texas. He’s considered to have very natural actions at third base, along with a strong arm and good hands. On the offensive side, he has plus bat speed and good pop, though he’s still refining his approach. Considering that third base is wide-open at the major league level, Villanueva could be one to watch.

Both Baez and Villanueva will be getting extra at-bats this fall—Baez in the Arizona Fall League and Villanueva in the Mexican Winter League (for Obregon). And both have considerable upside in how high they can climb.

Final Records:

First Half / 30-38, fifth place, 12.5 GB

Second Half / 29-36, sixth place, 7.5 GB

Storylines: Hope you had your stopwatches ready—new Manager Mark Johnson loved to send his runners around the bases. The Cubs’ 201 steals was 34 better than the No. 2 team in the league. Daytona also led the league in triples. Outfielder John Andreoli stole 55 bases in 75 tries to pace the team. Outfielder and top prospect Matt Szczur, promoted to Tennessee in July, had 38 steals in 50 attempts, while shortstop Arismendy Alcantara was 25-for-29.

Daytona can in some ways be seen as the midpoint in the Cubs system, and there’s always a good amount of turnover over the course of the season. Szczur was the most significant player to advance from Daytona this fall, while starting pitchers Eric Jokisch and Austin Kirk, and reliever Tony Zych all enjoyed success in Tennessee. With the need for arms in the top levels of the system, those three are important near-term pieces.

Rob Whitenack was one of the system’s better arms before 2011 Tommy John surgery, but he had an up-and-down return in 15 starts. He resumed racking up ground balls with his sinker but had some control issues before being shut down in late August.

MLB.com Rankings: Three Daytona players were on the organization’s end-of-season top 20 prospect list, according to prospect expert Jonathan Mayo. Baez was ranked first, Villanueva came in at seventh and Whitenack was 13th. Of the other players who passed through Daytona this season, Szczur ranked sixth and Zych was 19th.

Top Performances: Andreoli (17th round, 2011) doesn’t have power as of now, but he was the team’s best in plate discipline. He had 75 walks in nearly 500 plate appearances, against 89 strikeouts. Andreoli finished with a .289/.402/.376 slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) along with the 55 steals that paced the team. And he threw out 13 base runners while splitting time between left and center field. Andreoli doesn’t turn 23 until next June.

Alcantara (international, 2009) is a speedster who also boasts a very strong arm. The Dominican shortstop, who turns 21 at the end of October, has climbed the organization steadily—spending a full season at each of the Class-A stops since his U.S. debut with Boise in 2010. With Daytona, his line-drive bat developed some pop, as he hit seven home runs with a .302/.339/.447 slash line in 85 games (compared to the FSL average of .255/.326/.373). His season was slowed by a leg injury—leading to the promotion of Baez—but his toolset, combined with being a shortstop, has put him on the radar.

Matt Loosen (23rd round, 2010) was a workhorse, throwing 112.2 innings over 23 starts. In May, June and July, he was one of the team’s best starters. Over that three-month span, he had a 2.81 ERA with an 8.7 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 and 5.8 H/9. Loosen did fade in August before recovering with a strong appearance in September. He’ll be 24 next year and is likely headed to Tennessee.

Kirk (third round, 2009) was similarly great at preventing hits and runs (3.13 ERA in 129 innings with Daytona) but with a different method of attack. The left-hander struck out just 5.4 per nine innings and generally works with guile more than pure stuff, but he kept the ball in the park all season long. He also had decent success in a few starts for Tennessee, though his walk and home run numbers both increased. He’ll turn 23 next May and is another one to expect at Double-A next year.

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