From the Pages of Vine Line: 2014 Minor League Prospectus, Close to the Big Leagues

Alcantara

Infielder Arismendy Alcantara could see time at Wrigley Field this year.

(Photo by Rodger Wood)

For many Chicagoans, February means cold weather. At Vine Line, it’s all about the Cubs minor league prospectus. In the February issue, fans can check out frequent contributor Sahadev Sharma’s player breakdowns for more than 45 of the organization’s top prospects, from teenagers like Eloy Jimenez to elite talents like Javier Baez. We’ll post some of the profiles here on the blog in the coming weeks so you can keep track of all the names to know in the Cubs highly ranked system.

Also From the Series
2014 Minor League Prospectus- The Elite

Close to the Big Leagues
“The most important currency in the game right now, from a baseball standpoint, is either massive amounts of payroll flexibility or a real surplus of above-average young players who are major league ready or already making an impact in the big leagues,” said baseball president Theo Epstein at last December’s Winter Meetings.

Epstein admitted the Cubs aren’t where they want to be in either area, but said when it comes to the latter, they’ve taken the appropriate steps to get there soon. The front office has drafted well and made smart trades. As these prospects continue to develop and get closer to the majors, Epstein said, “They’re infinitely more valuable, to us and potentially in a trade, than they are while they’re working away in the farm system.”

Though none of the organization’s upper-tier players will be ready to start next season in the majors, there are several others who could make an appearance at Wrigley Field at some point in 2014. The Cubs may not compete for a division title this summer, but some prized young talent will likely provide a glimpse of just how good this team could be in the near future.

ARISMENDY ALCANTARA
DOB: 10/21/1991
POSITION: 2B
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: TENNESSEE
2013 STATS: .271/.352/.451 (133 GAMES)

After spending much of his career at shortstop, Alcantara shifted to second base when Baez was moved up to Tennessee. He is solid with the glove, but his real value comes on offense. The switch-hitting leadoff man is one of the more dynamic players in the organization, with a rare speed-and-power combination to go along with on-base skills and the ability to play in the middle of the field.

A hot start to the season earned him a spot in the Futures Game, but the Dominican tapered off a bit in the second half. With a tremendous amount of ability and strong makeup, Alcantara has what it takes to excel in the majors, but the Cubs brass want to be sure he can perform consistently throughout the season before he gets the call to Wrigley.

DALLAS BEELER
DOB: 6/12/1989
POSITION: RHP
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: TENNESSEE
2013 STATS: 54.2 IP, 3.13 ERA, 35 K, 17 BB (9 STARTS)

A finger injury cut short Beeler’s 2013 season, but he looked good when he was on the mound and built on that success in the AFL. With his velocity ticking up to 94 mph and a newly developed cutter—which helped him fend off lefties, previously his bugaboo—Beeler looked like a new man. He doesn’t miss a lot of bats, but rather relies on his defense, inducing ground balls by staying low in the zone with impressive sinking action on his pitches.

Beeler was added to the 40-man roster to keep from losing him in the Rule 5 draft, something that was a legitimate concern after his impressive AFL performance. As a big, physical strike thrower who knows how to pitch, he fits the bill for what the Cubs are looking for in an arm.

BRETT JACKSON
DOB: 8/2/1988
POSITION: CF
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: IOWA
2013 STATS: .210/.296/.330 (95 GAMES)

It was just a few years ago that Jackson was supposed to join Starlin Castro on the big league roster and light up the North Side with his immense talents. The Cal-Berkeley product didn’t get his chance until the summer of 2012 and struggled mightily with his strikeout rate. After the season, Jackson worked hard on his swing in an effort to reduce the whiffs, but early on, nothing changed.

“He came into Spring Training, and I think when the results weren’t there right away, he probably started pressing a little bit,” McLeod said. “When he went to Iowa, he got off to a slow start. The strikeouts started piling up again, and then unfortunately he got nicked up and missed quite a bit of time before he came back.”

When he returned to action, the Cubs sent him to Double-A, where his struggles continued. But the organization hasn’t given up on Jackson, who, from a physical standpoint, can do a lot of things not many others can do on a baseball field. Given a fresh start, the team hopes he can put a horrendous 2013 season behind him and somehow reduce his swing-and-miss tendencies. His combination of power, speed and defense could definitely come in handy for a major league club searching for high-end talent in the outfield.

MIKE OLT
DOB: 8/27/1988
POSITION: 3B
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: IOWA
2013 STATS: .201/.303/.381 (107 GAMES)

Olt is another third baseman who may end up at Triple-A. Once deemed untouchable in the Texas organization, he found himself battling eye issues last season as his prospect status tumbled. He was ultimately swapped with other players for Matt Garza. The two keys for Olt will be putting his poor season in the rearview mirror and finding whatever it is he needs to take care of his vision problems.

Like Vitters, Olt will be moved around the field to increase his value, playing his normal third base, along with some first base and corner outfield. He strikes out a lot, but when he’s right, the whiffs are mitigated by his plus power and ability to take a walk. He is also an excellent defender at third. The Cubs would love nothing more than for Olt to come into camp healthy and hitting, and stake a claim to the big league third-base job early on.

JOSH VITTERS
DOB: 8/27/1989
POSITION: 3B
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: IOWA
2013 STATS: .267/.368/.465 (33 GAMES)

When Vitters plays, he usually hits. Unfortunately, he was waylaid by injuries for much of 2013. Add in the Cubs’ newfound system depth at the hot corner, and suddenly Vitters is a player without a position. Though he’s been in the organization for seven years and already has had a taste of major league action, Vitters is still only 24.

Now that Triple-A first baseman Justin Bour was selected in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft, Vitters will get some time at first base as well as in the outfield at Iowa to increase his versatility and value going forward.

The California native doesn’t take many walks and only flashes average power, but if he can find a spot defensively, he has a chance to be a solid contributor. His ability to hit could help him become a serviceable asset in the majors. Because his hand-eye coordination is good enough that he makes contact with almost everything, pitch selection will be key.

Others to Watch
ALBERTO CABRERA (RHP)
– After being used as a starter in 2013, Cabrera will likely contend for a bullpen spot next spring. He has a big fastball and a wipeout slider, which could make him a very valuable weapon in a late-inning role.

ERIC JOKISCH (LHP) – The Northwestern alum doesn’t light up the radar gun, but he is a big, durable, left-handed starter. Though Jokisch eats a lot of innings and throws strikes with an 87-90 mph fastball and a strong change-up, he needs to tighten up his breaking ball. He doesn’t have plus stuff to wow scouts, but he could be a more physical version of Chris Rusin.

ARMANDO RIVERO (RHP) – A hard thrower from Cuba, Rivero hits the mid-90s and has a diagonal-slanting slider. He looked strong in the minors and though the results weren’t great in the AFL, the experience gave him much-needed innings against a higher level of competition. He could be a factor in the bullpen in the near future.

MATT SZCZUR (OF) – Szczur, a steady performer throughout his minor league career, improved in numerous offensive categories in 2013 and took a step forward defensively. The hard-nosed, athletic outfielder will likely start the season in Triple-A and has a chance to contribute at the big league level as a fourth outfielder in the Reed Johnson mold.

TONY ZYCH (RHP) – Zych has top-notch velocity in the 95-98 mph range, but he sometimes struggles to miss bats. He throws a lot of strikes, but the quality can waver night to night due to an inconsistent delivery that requires some effort and energy. When it’s working, the velocity is elite, and he has a hard, sweeping slider that could be effective in high-leverage situations out of the bullpen.

—Sahadev Sharma

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