Archive for the ‘ Minor Leagues ’ Category

From the Pages of Vine Line: Minor League Prospectus, Part 6 – Impressive Arms

TsengPOY14

Jen-Ho Tseng is one of the many impressive arms in the Cubs system. (Photo courtesy Kane County Cougars)

As evidenced by the additions of players like Jon Lester and Miguel Montero, the Cubs front office is transitioning from a period in which it focused primarily on bringing in assets to help improve the future of the franchise to an extended period in which they expect to compete every year at the big league level. However, if you were to suggest to baseball president Theo Epstein or general manager Jed Hoyer that this transition means they are now less inclined to build through their farm system, they would be quick to correct you.

Just because Cubs fans may finally start seeing wins accumulate at Wrigley Field doesn’t mean the minor league pipeline is suddenly going to go overlooked. In fact, for the second year in a row, the North Siders will have arguably the best system in all of baseball. Boasting the top prospect in the game, an overabundance of high-profile shortstops and a suddenly large group of interesting arms at the lower levels, the Cubs have built the scouting and player development monster they promised to deliver more than three years ago.

In our annual minor league prospectus, Baseball Prospectus’ Sahadev Sharma helps us break down the names to know at all levels of the system. All month long, we’ve unveiled player bios on a section-by-section basis. Here is Part 6, the final portion of the Cubs minor league prospectus:

Part 1 – The Elite
Part 2 – The Up-And-Comers
Part 3 – A Phone Call Away
Part 4 – Ready to Rebound
Part 5 – Keep an Eye on

Impressive Arms
The Cubs system is known far and wide for its abundance of young bats—and rightfully so. But that doesn’t mean the organization is devoid of pitching talent. The front office has avoided arms in the first round of the draft lately, but has grabbed them in bulk in the subsequent rounds. They have also been aggressive in targeting pitchers on the international free-agent market and via trades.

Corey Black – RHP
Black’s 5-foot-11 frame has led many to believe he’s best suited as a reliever, but he also has a power arm and three legit pitches. For now, the Cubs are keeping him as a starter because of that three-pitch arsenal and the fact that he continues to work hard on building up his strength, which could allow him to assume the innings demand that comes with being part of a big league rotation. If he can’t stick as a starter, many believe the right-hander could easily transition into a high-leverage, late-inning reliever.

Paul Blackburn – RHP
Blackburn is another player frequently compared to Hendricks due to his advanced pitchability and his excellent command to all zones. The biggest question about Blackburn’s future is whether his fastball can play up as he continues to fill out his body. Currently, his velocity fluctuates. Sometimes it sits between 88-90, and other times it moves up to 93-94. Consistency in his pitch velocity will be improved through conditioning and by adding more weight to his frame so he can stay strong throughout the season. With his solid curveball and change-up, Blackburn currently has the look of a back-end starter, but if he does improve his fastball velocity, a mid-rotation grade is possible.

Juan Paniagua – RHP
Paniagua flashes three plus pitches and displays the type of dominant stuff that has some dreaming he could become an impressive starter. However, his command comes and goes, often due to problems with repeating his delivery. He also struggles with the finer points of attacking hitters over six or seven innings, which likely pushes him into a bullpen profile. With such an impressive repertoire, Paniagua could excel in a relief role where command is less of an issue over shorter bursts.

Jen-Ho Tseng – RHP
Tseng has an advanced feel for command, as evidenced by his 3.8 percent walk rate in his first professional season, and the stuff to be a solid mid-rotation starter in The Show. The Cubs’ 2014 Minor League Pitcher of the Year made a lot of adjustments over the course of the season, and when he’s going strong, he attacks the zone with a solid three-pitch mix. Though Tseng impressed this year, many feel he doesn’t have much projectability, making the floor high, but the ceiling relatively low. He did state that his offseason goal was to put on more weight, which could add a little zip to his fastball. At the very least, more lean muscle mass should allow the Taiwanese arm to go deeper into games on a consistent basis.

Daury Torrez – RHP
Torrez placed himself on the prospect radar after impressing this past summer at Kane County. He has a big, strong body, gets downhill while pitching, shows three plus offerings and goes deep into games. Unlike Tseng and Blackburn, who are command-first guys, Torrez has the tools. If his command comes around, he should be able to stick in a starting role. If it doesn’t, he’ll likely move into the bullpen where his stuff could play up as he becomes a two-pitch set-up guy.

 

From the Pages of Vine Line: Minor League Prospectus, Part 5 – Keep an Eye On

As evidenced by the additions of players like Jon Lester and Miguel Montero, the Cubs front office is transitioning from a period in which it focused primarily on bringing in assets to help improve the future of the franchise to an extended period in which they expect to compete every year at the big league level. However, if you were to suggest to baseball president Theo Epstein or general manager Jed Hoyer that this transition means they are now less inclined to build through their farm system, they would be quick to correct you.

Just because Cubs fans may finally start seeing wins accumulate at Wrigley Field doesn’t mean the minor league pipeline is suddenly going to go overlooked. In fact, for the second year in a row, the North Siders will have arguably the best system in all of baseball. Boasting the top prospect in the game, an overabundance of high-profile shortstops and a suddenly large group of interesting arms at the lower levels, the Cubs have built the scouting and player development monster they promised to deliver more than three years ago.

In our annual minor league prospectus, Baseball Prospectus’ Sahadev Sharma helps us break down the names to know at all levels of the system. As the month progresses, we’ll unveil player bios on a section-by-section basis. Here is Part 5 of the Cubs minor league prospectus:

Part 1 – The Elite
Part 2 – The Up-And-Comers
Part 3 – A Phone Call Away
Part 4 – Ready to Rebound

Keep an Eye On
Like everyone else who watches the game regularly, scouts often fall in love with certain players. Unless you spend a great deal of time digging deep into the farm system, which isn’t all that unusual for Cubs fans of late, you may not have heard of some of the following names. But these are the guys scouts have identified as having a legitimate shot to put themselves on the map in 2015.

Jeffrey Baez – OF
Though he is generally known as the less-famous Baez in the Cubs organization (for the record, he and Javier are not related), Jeffrey is a big, strong-bodied outfielder with a chance to hit for power. He has some speed for his size, which has allowed him to rack up stolen bases early in his professional career and play solid defense from a corner outfield spot. Baez dominated in Boise, and after a slow start following a promotion, he eventually hit his stride with the bat in Kane County. He has the upside to be a legit major league bat, but that depends on his ability to make adjustments and keep his body in shape.

Charcer Burks – OF
A former high school football player, Burks has the tools and athleticism to open some eyes. He possesses an advanced approach for a younger player, but must continue to get stronger and utilize his speed by hitting line drives or keeping the ball on the ground rather than trying to hit it in the air. He has a gap-to-gap, line-drive swing and will likely be more of a singles and doubles guy than a power hitter.

Victor Caratini – C/3B
Caratini plays both third base and catcher, but he will stick behind the plate for the time being. If he can prove he has the skills to remain there, he’ll join Zagunis and Schwarber to give the Cubs some depth at a position at which they were largely lacking just a year ago. The switch-hitter has the flexibility, soft hands, strong arm and overall tools to become a solid backstop. Either way, he has enough bat to provide value. If it’s behind the plate, that value suddenly becomes of the impact variety.

Trevor Clifton – RHP
Clifton was a top-round talent, but the Cubs were able to sign him to an over-slot bonus after selecting him in the 12th round of the 2013 draft. The big, physical righty has an easy plus fastball, and his body has filled out since he joined the organization. With the potential for a solid change-up and a strong breaking ball, he has the weapons to be a starter, but he hasn’t yet shown the necessary consistency

Kevonte Mitchell – OF
Mitchell is a great athlete with a body scouts say is a mix between Giancarlo Stanton’s and Matt Kemp’s. Kemp is the dream here, as he is for every toolsy player who needs everything to go just right to reach his potential. As of now, Mitchell has the tools, but needs his game to catch up, which can only happen with playing time and lots of it. He profiles in a corner outfield spot, but there are some who believe the former basketball player could be adequate in center. Mitchell is the type of athlete scouts dream about. The ball flies off his bat, and he looks the part, but everything needs to click. If it doesn’t, which is the case more often than not with these types of players, he could end up less like Kemp and more like Reggie Abercrombie—a player with monster tools who never fully puts it together and struggles to perform in the high minors.

Cubs duo tops ESPN’s 2015 impact prospects list

Soler

(Photo by Stephen Green)

As described by ESPN Insider Keith Law, there’s a difference between being a top prospect and being an impactful rookie heading into 2015. The Cubs’ youth movement has been well documented, with most media outlets—including Law—ranking the Cubs as the top farm system in baseball.

On Tuesday, the ESPN writer ranked his top 20 impact prospects heading into 2015. These are not the top prospects in baseball, but the players he expects could make major league contributions this year. Law ranked super prospect Kris Bryant, who is expected to see action for the majority of the major league season, tops on his list. Directly following the third base phenom was Jorge Soler, who enjoyed a brief taste of the majors in 2014, following a late-August promotion. Here’s what Law had to say of the Cubs’ talented duo:

1. Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs

Bryant probably won’t head north with the Cubs on April 5, but he’ll be at Wrigley Field maybe two weeks later as the Cubs look to push off his eventual free agency by a year. He’s my pick right now to win NL Rookie of the Year, likely to hit 20-plus homers and get on base at a strong clip even with a strikeout rate that will probably top 25 percent.

2. Jorge Soler, RF, Chicago Cubs

If Bryant doesn’t win the ROY award, maybe his teammate will. Soler hit the majors like he was fusing deuterium and tritium nuclei, but it lasted only about a week before he discovered the travails of a hitter facing the major league strike zone. His hands are explosive, and he’s a more disciplined hitter than the raw strikeout rate he had with the Cubs last year might indicate. He should have 25 homers in him this year, but with a modest OBP and average to above-average defense in right.

Due to Bryant’s service clock, many believe the 23-year-old will make his big league debut a few weeks into the regular season, which would allow the Cubs one more full season of contractual control. Soler, who signed a nine-year major league deal in 2012, will likely start the year in the middle of the Cubs’ order and play right field. Those two, paired with 2014 All-Stars Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, could be the heart of the Cubs’ order for years to come.

From the Pages of Vine Line: Minor League Prospectus, Part 4 – Ready to Rebound

Hannemann1

The 2015 season will be an important one for outfielder Jacob Hannemann. (Photo by Kane County Cougars)

As evidenced by the additions of players like Jon Lester and Miguel Montero, the Cubs front office is transitioning from a period in which it focused primarily on bringing in assets to help improve the future of the franchise to an extended period in which they expect to compete every year at the big league level. However, if you were to suggest to baseball president Theo Epstein or general manager Jed Hoyer that this transition means they are now less inclined to build through their farm system, they would be quick to correct you.

Just because Cubs fans may finally start seeing wins accumulate at Wrigley Field doesn’t mean the minor league pipeline is suddenly going to go overlooked. In fact, for the second year in a row, the North Siders will have arguably the best system in all of baseball. Boasting the top prospect in the game, an overabundance of high-profile shortstops and a suddenly large group of interesting arms at the lower levels, the Cubs have built the scouting and player development monster they promised to deliver more than three years ago.

In our annual minor league prospectus, Baseball Prospectus’ Sahadev Sharma helps us break down the names to know at all levels of the system. As the month progresses, we’ll unveil player bios on a section-by-section basis. Here is Part 4 of the Cubs minor league prospectus:

Part 1 – The Elite
Part 2 – The Up-And-Comers
Part 3 – A Phone Call Away

Ready to Rebound

While it may seem like everything went right for the Cubs at the minor league level last season, that obviously was not the case. Whether it was due to injury or just flat-out poor performance, there were several talented prospects who struggled in 2014. However, these players still have great potential and certainly could provide value as they look to regain their form in 2015.

Jeimer Candelario – 3B
Candelario has never put up eye-popping numbers, but he’s always been young for his level and has shown an advanced approach at the plate. When challenged with a High-A assignment at just 20 years old, he failed to make the necessary adjustments and was sent back to Low-A, where the struggles continued. Hope still remains he can return to the form that generated such high expectations.

Candelario has one of the best swings from both sides of the plate in the organization, which is why many believe he’s eventually going to hit and develop power. The key will be understanding what pitchers are trying to do to him. He has the tools to be an impact bat, but because he has a stocky body and slow feet, Candelario’s defense may always be in question.

Dylan Cease – RHP
Though he comes with a first-round pedigree, Cease was drafted in the sixth round in 2014 after struggling early in his senior season of high school and eventually being shut down with an elbow issue. The Cubs took a chance on the righty, giving him a bonus well above slot even though they knew he’d require Tommy John surgery. By all accounts, his rehab has gone well, and he’s currently undergoing a modified throwing program.

Assuming no setbacks, Cease should be ready to take the mound competitively in late April. When healthy, he flashes a plus fastball that sits 93-95, a plus curve and mid-rotation-or-better potential.

C.J. Edwards – RHP
After a breakout 2013 campaign that put Edwards on the prospect radar, many were looking for him to take the next step in 2014. But barely a month into the season, he suffered a shoulder injury. Therefore, the biggest question—whether his extremely lean frame can handle the 200-plus innings required of a major league starter—remains unanswered.

The Cubs were very conservative with Edwards after the shoulder issues, allowing him to fully recover so he would be ready to go without any restrictions upon his return. He tossed 15 innings in the Arizona Fall League, posting a 1.80 ERA and striking out 13. He has swing-and-miss stuff and displays three legit pitches, with the fastball and curve both as plus offerings.

Jacob Hannemann – OF
The Cubs surprised many when they took the BYU product in the third round of the 2013 draft, but the organization fell in love with his athleticism. Hannemann’s baseball development has been stunted due to two years away from the game on a Mormon mission as well as his time playing cornerback on the BYU football team.

The lefty struggled for much of 2014, but the Cubs still pushed him with a promotion to High-A, where his struggles continued. This offseason, the front office presented him with another challenge, the Arizona Fall League, where he was solid, but still failed to wow scouts. Currently, Hannemann gets by on his natural ability, but he has a lot to learn about the nuances of baseball.

Rob Zastryzny – LHP
Zastryzny has two keys to focus on to turn things around in 2015: commanding his fastball and working down in the zone. He also lacked consistency last year. Some scouts reported him hitting 95 with his fastball, while others saw him sitting 88-90. If he can repeat his delivery on a consistent basis, he should be able to level that out.

This past summer, the Missouri product was often caught between commanding his pitches and really letting them fly. He’s in the process of finding that middle range, which could create more consistency and allow his stuff to play up. He is very competitive and has a tremendous work ethic. That’s why many in the organization are confident he’ll work through his issues.

From the Pages of Vine Line: Minor League Prospectus, Part 3 – A Phone Call Away

Jokisch2
Eric Jokisch should be ready to step in and help the big league club in 2015. (Photo by Stephen Green)

As evidenced by the additions of players like Jon Lester and Miguel Montero, the Cubs front office is transitioning from a period in which it focused primarily on bringing in assets to help improve the future of the franchise to an extended period in which they expect to compete every year at the big league level. However, if you were to suggest to baseball president Theo Epstein or general manager Jed Hoyer that this transition means they are now less inclined to build through their farm system, they would be quick to correct you.

Just because Cubs fans may finally start seeing wins accumulate at Wrigley Field doesn’t mean the minor league pipeline is suddenly going to go overlooked. In fact, for the second year in a row, the North Siders will have arguably the best system in all of baseball. Boasting the top prospect in the game, an overabundance of high-profile shortstops and a suddenly large group of interesting arms at the lower levels, the Cubs have built the scouting and player development monster they promised to deliver more than three years ago.

In our annual minor league prospectus, Baseball Prospectus’ Sahadev Sharma helps us break down the names to know at all levels of the system. As the month progresses, we’ll unveil player bios on a section-by-section basis. Here is Part 3 of the Cubs minor league prospectus:

Part 1 – The Elite
Part 2 – The Up-And-Comers

A Phone Call Away

While prospects are always fun to follow, no player dreams of a long career in the minor leagues. The ultimate goal for each is to help out at the big league level. Most everyone is aware that guys like Bryant and Russell will be making an impact at Wrigley Field in the near future, but there are other, less-heralded players who could contribute this year as well in a variety of roles.

Dallas Beeler – RHP
Beeler isn’t the kind of prospect who wows you with his stuff, but he still made his major league debut last season after missing much of 2013 with a finger injury. His ability to work down in the zone, primarily with his sinker and splitter, means he has a chance to induce a significant number of ground balls, which could offset the fact that he’ll likely never be a big strikeout guy. And that’s where Beeler must live—down in the zone—if he’s going to carve out a career in the back end of a major league rotation. His modus operandi is relying on his defense while coaxing weak contact from hitters. The big righty is well aware of this fact and does his best to always work to his strengths. He’ll likely enter Spring Training contending for a spot in the big league bullpen.

Eric Jokisch – LHP
Jokisch is often called a left-handed version of Kyle Hendricks, and the comparison works for multiple reasons. Both pitchers are highly intelligent and attended acclaimed colleges (Jokisch went to Northwestern, Hendricks to Dartmouth), both rely more on command than stuff, and both soak up knowledge, using every bit of information they can get their hands on to try and make themselves better at their craft. Jokisch works hard on scouting the opposition, learning hitters’ tendencies and working to expose their weaknesses. While he could find success at the back of the rotation, he has the advantage of being a southpaw, which many believe will allow him to be most effective out of the bullpen. The Cubs, like most teams, could certainly use more left-handed help in the late innings.

Armando Rivero – RHP
Rivero has a solid chance to join a big league bullpen that rapidly improved throughout the 2014 season. He has an explosive fastball that hitters have difficulty picking up, especially when it’s down in the zone. It’s a special pitch with late cutting life, and he combines it with a power slider that’s one of the best breaking balls in the organization. No matter where he ends up, Rivero will likely rack up strikeouts (as evidenced by his 38 percent K rate last season). He also has a change-up that grades out as average or better, leading some to believe he could be a starter. However, he rarely uses it out of the bullpen, and the Cubs have determined that his best role right now is as a reliever. After missing some time following his defection from Cuba, Rivero has moved quickly through the Cubs system. It’s not unreasonable to think he could have a significant impact at the major league level this summer.

Christian Villanueva – 3B
After Villanueva enjoyed an impressive 2013 campaign that had many projecting a bright future, the 23-year-old struggled in his first taste of Triple-A action in 2014 and was eventually sent back to Tennessee when Bryant earned his promotion to Iowa. One thing that will never be in doubt is his glove. He offers plus defense at the hot corner—the type that could garner a Gold Glove or two if the bat ever comes around to the point where he’s getting regular playing time.

However, the bat does leave major question marks, as Villanueva struggled even when sent back to Double-A. He needs to stop giving away at-bats if he’s ever going to live up to the potential some saw after his breakout 2013 season. Either way, his glove makes him a valuable piece, and he could provide some versatility, as he did see time at second base last season and in the outfield in the Mexican Winter League.

Baseball America unveils its top 100 prospects with Kris Bryant at No. 1

SolerSwing

Jorge Soler should be featured in the middle of the Cubs’ order in 2015. (Photo by Stephen Green)

Scouting publication Baseball America unveiled its 25th preseason top 100 prospects list on Friday. Of course, there were plenty of Cubs farmhands scattered throughout the rankings, including Kris Bryant as the top prospect and Addison Russell coming in at No. 3. Also included on the link are the player grades on a 20-80 scouting scale and the estimated time before each player makes his major league debut.

The publication also released a coinciding story titled “What Could Go Wrong?” for each of baseball’s top 10 prospects. Here’s where each member of the Cubs organization fell on Baseball America’s list, as well as the pros and cons of the elite-level Cubs minor leaguers:

1. Kris Bryant, 3b, Cubs

What Could Go Wrong: Like many sluggers, Bryant’s power has always come with some swings and misses. Bryant’s strikeout rate in the minors isn’t all that much better than Javier Baez’s was at similar levels, although Bryant’s understanding of the strike zone has been better. If Bryant’s strikeout rate climbs even further in the majors like Baez’s did, it could quickly end up higher than 30 percent, which puts a massive amount of pressure on the rest of his plate appearances.

Why You Shouldn’t Worry: Bryant has shown an advanced understanding of hitting and has made steady adjustments throughout his career. His production got better and better in his three years at San Diego and he’s shown little trouble adjusting to tougher pitching as a pro. His work ethic and understanding of his swing makes him more likely to replicate Giancarlo Stanton’s steady strikeout rate improvement than an Adam Dunn feast-or-famine approach.

3. Addison Russell, ss, Cubs

What Could Go Wrong: There are no clear red flags in Russell’s game that should clearly derail his big league dreams. He’s an outstanding athlete with a sweet swing and a track record of hitting. If you’re looking to nitpick, the crowded Cubs infield may force Russell to move off of shortstop, and he became a little more aggressive upon joining the Cubs’ Double-A club. His bat should handle a move to pretty much any other spot, but he’s most valuable as a shortstop with a corner outfielder’s bat.

Why You Shouldn’t Worry: The worst-case scenario for Russell is still a pretty solid player, whose solid but not spectacular arm strength could move him off short. His athleticism should make him as least a useful defender if he moves, and his power would make him playable even is his batting average were to dip.

12. Jorge Soler, of
19. Kyle Schwarber, c/of
38. C.J. Edwards, rhp
83. Billy McKinney, of

Cubs fill FanGraphs’ top 200 prospects list

Edwards,-CJ

C.J. Edwards is one of the Cubs’ top pitching prospects. (Photo by Roger C. Hooever)

The fact that Cubs farmhands continue to pop up all over prospect rankings is an ongoing testament to the job Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have been doing since they took over the baseball operations department in late 2011. On Tuesday, baseball website FanGraphs released its top 200 prospects, which included 11 members of the Cubs’ organization.

Seeing Kris Bryant and Addison Russell as high as they are is no longer much of a surprise, but 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber’s inclusion in the top 25 puts him in elite territory. It’s also worth mentioning that three of the Cubs’ first four picks in the 2012 draft are included.

Each capsule below includes a brief segment from the individual’s FanGraphs scouting report. Check out the link above for a more comprehensive report on each player.

1. Kris Bryant, 3B
Scouting Report: Bryant is the top prospect in the game for me and for a majority of sources I talked to, but it isn’t by a landslide. Bryant still has some questions, and the guy right behind him could be terrifyingly good. Bryant has either 75 or 80 raw power for scouts, but the two questions about him are 1) how much contact he’ll make/how much of his power will he get to in games, and 2) if he will play third base or right field.

3. Addison Russell, SS
Scouting Report: [Russell] went 11th overall to Oakland and surprised from day one with how advanced he was offensively, while continuing to improve defensively. He was dealt to the Cubs last year in the Jeff Samardzija deal and joins a glut of talented young hitters for the Cubs. The biggest remaining question for Russell is if he can still stick at shortstop due to a hitch in his release that limits how quickly he can unload the ball deep in the hole.

13. Jorge Soler, RF
Scouting Report: He’s an explosive quick-twitch power hitter with easy plus bat speed and raw power, along with just enough huge cuts and erratic stuff to his game that you never know what you might see. The erratic aspects of his game slowly melted away this year as he matured mentally and had his first full year of reps in the system with a clean bill of health.

21. Kyle Schwarber, LF
Scouting Report: The Cubs took him #4 overall out of Indiana. … They’ll develop him as a catcher this year, but most assume his bat will be ready before his glove, meaning he’ll be a part-time catcher at best. There’s legit 30 homer power and surprising feel to hit with a realistic chance for a big league look in late 2016.

64. C.J. Edwards, RHP
Scouting Report: Edwards was a near unknown pitcher as an amateur; you don’t see many pitchers this high on prospect lists that signed for $50,000 out of high school in the 48th round. The Cubs smartly grabbed him from Texas in the Matt Garza trade late in his breakout season in 2013. He’s still a rail-thin righty that some think will never add the necessary bulk to throw 200 innings in the big leagues, but the stuff and command projects for the middle of the rotation.

92. Albert Almora, CF
Scouting Report: He’ll need to make some adjustments to his approach since Double-A was the first level where he couldn’t hit with that approach. If he makes some progress there, he has 15+ homer power and near Gold Glove defense, so there’s some real ceiling despite just solid raw tools.

124. Duane Underwood, RHP
Scouting Report: Underwood was an inconsistent prep arm from Atlanta in the 2012 draft that, early in his pro career, look to be more bust than boom. He turned things around and had a breakout 2014 campaign in Low-A, flashing three plus pitches at times.

125. Pierce Johnson, RHP
Scouting Report: Johnson popped up in his draft year at Missouri State flashing above average stuff, slipping on draft day due to some concerns about his delivery, command and future health prospects. Johnson has avoided major injuries and performed well, with his above average to plus fastball-curveball combo giving him #3 starter upside, but the command and consistency have been bugaboos and he may ultimate fit best in the bullpen.

First baseman Dan Vogelbach, outfielder Billy McKinney and shortstop Gleyber Torres were also listed among the unranked players to round out FanGraphs’ top 200 prospects.

Baseball Prospectus puts Cubs atop organizational rankings

Zagunis2-(Photo-by-Ethan-Chivari)

Mark Zagunis demonstrates the Cubs’ organizational depth. (Photo by Ethan Chivari)

With one organization possessing two of baseball’s top five prospects, that fact alone would probably force everyone else to play catch up. But then you add in the depth the Cubs’ organization provides even behind those players, and the gap between the North Siders and everyone else widens. On Monday, prospect publication Baseball Prospectus unveiled its 2015 organizational rankings, where the Cubs found themselves with top billing.

Last week, BP released its top 101 individual prospects, which included Addison Russell (2), Kris Bryant (5), Jorge Soler (19), Albert Almora (38), Kyle Schwarber (77), Billy McKinney (81) and Pierce Johnson (83). Even with the combination of quality and quantity on the top 101 list, Baseball Prospectus came away impressed with the depth even behind the ranked players.

1. Chicago Cubs

Farm System Ranking in 2014: 2
2015 Top Ten Prospects: Link
Top Prospect: Addison Russell (2)
Prospects on the BP 101: 7
State of the System: Despite graduating infielders Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez, and mildly uninspiring years from former Top 10 prospects like C.J. Edwards and Christian Villanueva, the Cubs are the proud owner of the game’s top system. With the 2014 arrival of shortstop Addison Russell via trade, the explosive emergence of third baseman Kris Bryant, and the selection of a hit-first prospect like Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs remain absolutely loaded with impact talent. The arrival and emergence of those players doesn’t even begin to touch on the continued presence of outfielders Jorge Soler and Albert Almora, as well as quality depth of high ceiling players like Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez, Carson Sands, and Mark Zagunis. The Cubs’ system is loaded to the gills with talent that could help their roster continue to improve internally, or via trade.
Must-See Affiliate: Triple-A Iowa
Prospects to See There: Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Pierce Johnson

From the Pages of Vine Line: Minor League Prospectus, Part 2 – Up-And-Comers

Underwood

Duane Underwood put together an impressive 2014 campaign. (Photo courtesy Kane County Cougars)

As evidenced by the additions of players like Jon Lester and Miguel Montero, the Cubs front office is transitioning from a period in which it focused primarily on bringing in assets to help improve the future of the franchise to an extended period in which they expect to compete every year at the big league level. However, if you were to suggest to baseball president Theo Epstein or general manager Jed Hoyer that this transition means they are now less inclined to build through their farm system, they would be quick to correct you.

Just because Cubs fans may finally start seeing wins accumulate at Wrigley Field doesn’t mean the minor league pipeline is suddenly going to go overlooked. In fact, for the second year in a row, the North Siders will have arguably the best system in all of baseball. Boasting the top prospect in the game, an overabundance of high-profile shortstops and a suddenly large group of interesting arms at the lower levels, the Cubs have built the scouting and player development monster they promised to deliver more than three years ago.

In our annual minor league prospectus, Baseball Prospectus’ Sahadev Sharma helps us break down the names to know at all levels of the system. As the month progresses, we’ll unveil player bios on a section-by-section basis. Here is Part 2 of the Cubs minor league prospectus:

Part 1 – The Elite

Up-And-Comers
Soon enough, the elite names will be filling major league lineup cards instead of prospect lists. But perhaps the most impressive thing about the Cubs system—and this is a testament to the job the front office has done over the last few years—is that there are more waves of talent coming. If the organization is going to produce another generation of game-changing prospects, they will likely come from this group.

Eloy Jimenez – OF
Many believed Jimenez was the top prize of the 2013 international free-agent class. However, a combination of injuries limiting his playing time and fellow international signee Gleyber Torres outshining him led some to forget about the mammoth teenager. Jimenez battled shoulder soreness early in the season and a leg issue that shut him down late. But when things are going right, he displays impressive plate discipline for his age, the ability to drive the ball to all fields and tremendous power. The next step for the big outfielder is to learn which pitches he can drive and really backspin.

Carson Sands – LHP
The second pitcher taken by the team in the 2014 draft, and the first in a string of nine straight, Sands could turn out to be the best of the bunch. The southpaw has the body strength, athleticism and ability to throw strikes, coupled with the tools and weapons to be an effective starting pitcher over the long haul. Sands’ fastball plays up with late life, and he has enough feel to work down in the zone.

Along with the fastball, he shows a curveball that has a chance to be a plus pitch and a developing change-up. His command and control should continue to develop, and the Cubs believe if everything clicks, he has the durability and arsenal to turn into a solid No. 2 starter. Though he’s not even a year removed from high school, Sands could be challenged with a full-season assignment in South Bend to start 2015.

Jake Stinnett – RHP
Soon after joining the Cubs organization, Stinnett suffered a groin injury that required surgery, ultimately delaying his pro debut. However, the University of Maryland product battled back and returned to toss 11 innings with mixed results.

When Stinnett is on, he shows an easy-plus fastball, sitting 92-96, that he can work to both sides of the plate with riding life and explosiveness. He complements that with a power slider that often proves unhittable and a change-up with a chance to be a plus pitch. He still needs to show that arsenal consistently and develop command and control to reach the No. 2 role the Cubs envision for him.

The recent convert to pitching has had a full offseason in the Cubs strength program and time to recover from his injury. If all goes as planned, many believe Stinnett is an arm that could really take off for the Cubs this year.

Gleyber Torres – SS
Add this name to an already-long list of impressive shortstop talent in the Cubs organization. A part of their big 2013 international free-agent class, Torres has displayed a very advanced, pure approach at the plate at the ripe age of 17. Given he has all the skills to stick at short—the hands and feet work, he has strong body control and athleticism, and he displays the ability to go side to side—the impressive bat makes him a very intriguing prospect.

Torres stood out in the Arizona League and during his short stint at Boise with his ability to drive the ball to all fields and really control the zone. With only the power tool lacking, he appears to be a fairly complete package. If the hit tool continues to develop, he has a chance to be special. While nothing has been determined yet, there’s a strong possibility he will open the season as the starting shortstop at Low-A South Bend at just 18 years old.

Duane Underwood – RHP
After coming into 2013 out of shape, Underwood realized he couldn’t rely solely on his natural talents in pro ball and showed up last spring ready to compete. When it comes to pure stuff and tools, the righty might possess the highest upside of any pitcher in the system. Minor league pitching coordinator Derek Johnson worked with Underwood to tweak and simplify his delivery, and the pitcher showed more repeatability with it this past summer. Underwood has a fastball he can run up to 97, along with a plus curve and change.

 

From the Pages of Vine Line: Minor League Prospectus, Part 1 – The Elite

Almora_ST

Albert Almora is one of the Cubs’ brightest future stars. (Photo by Stephen Green)

As evidenced by the additions of players like Jon Lester and Miguel Montero, the Cubs front office is transitioning from a period in which it focused primarily on bringing in assets to help improve the future of the franchise to an extended period in which they expect to compete every year at the big league level. However, if you were to suggest to baseball president Theo Epstein or general manager Jed Hoyer that this transition means they are now less inclined to build through their farm system, they would be quick to correct you.

Just because Cubs fans may finally start seeing wins accumulate at Wrigley Field doesn’t mean the minor league pipeline is suddenly going to go overlooked. In fact, for the second year in a row, the North Siders will have arguably the best system in all of baseball. Boasting the top prospect in the game, an overabundance of high-profile shortstops and a suddenly large group of interesting arms at the lower levels, the Cubs have built the scouting and player development monster they promised to deliver more than three years ago.

In our annual minor league prospectus, Baseball Prospectus’ Sahadev Sharma helps us break down the names to know at all levels of the system. As the month progresses, we’ll unveil player bios on a section-by-section basis. Here is Part 1 of the Cubs minor league prospectus:

The Elite
The truly elite portion of the Cubs system took a hit last year—the good kind—when Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara and Jorge Soler graduated to the big league club. However, the front office, always with an eye toward long-term success, added two huge names to the fold in Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber, both of whom are generating tremendous buzz. The Cubs will enter this season with arguably the best system in baseball, and while there is plenty of depth, it’s these top-tier names who really make this an impressive bunch.

Albert Almora – CF
While some are down on Almora after a largely disappointing season at the plate, don’t forget he’s still considered an elite-level defender in center field, which brings tremendous value, and that he’s always been very young for his level. This past season was the first time he has ever struggled at any aspect of the game, professional or otherwise, in his life.

The 20-year-old has such tremendous hand-eye coordination that he can put pretty much any pitch into play. When he initially struggled at High-A, the Cubs challenged him to be more selective at the plate and to put more emphasis on driving the ball rather than just making contact. He quickly adjusted, and the Cubs rewarded him with a promotion to Tennessee, where he ended the season with a subpar .605 OPS in 36 games.

But that shouldn’t slow the confident Almora, who competed in a Double-A league with players nearly a half-decade older than him on average. Selected with the sixth-overall pick in the 2012 draft, the outfielder is also known for his strong mental makeup, so few people doubt he’ll be able to overcome his challenges in 2014.

Once again, he’ll need to learn what it means to really control the strike zone and get pitches he can do damage with. But if Almora can make that final leap and become the hitter many believe he has the potential to be, the complete package could be quite special.

Kris Bryant – 3B
From a purely statistical standpoint, Bryant’s 2014 season was one of the most impressive minor league performances in recent memory. And it wasn’t solely numbers driven. Scouts loved what they saw from him with the bat, and it’s understandable why many believe the power-hitting righty is the best prospect in the game. Bryant’s power stroke was on full display last summer, when he delivered 43 home runs and 34 doubles across two minor league levels on his way to winning nearly every minor league award he was eligible for.

There are two key questions about Bryant’s game: strikeouts and defense. While swing and miss will likely always be a part of his game—as it is for most home run hitters—insiders don’t believe he has the kind of serious contact issues that could derail him on his journey to stardom. As Bryant continues to develop and learn about himself as a hitter, it’s easy to see him fixing the minor holes he has at the plate because of his extreme work ethic and his ability to self-scout and analyze game video.

The 23-year-old is a cerebral player who is constantly working to improve, which is why the Cubs believe he can at least begin his major league career at third base. He’s worked hard to avoid a move to the outfield, and he made major strides with the glove last summer. He certainly has the arm to stick at third—or play in right if an outfield move eventually becomes necessary. At 6-foot-5, Bryant is tall and rangy, making it difficult at times for him to get small and stay in front of the ball. Though his actions are longer than those of a more compact player, he has diligently worked with his minor league instructors to stay mobile and agile at the hot corner.

Addison Russell – SS
Russell joined the Cubs organization on July 4 in a huge trade that sent Jeff Samardzija and the recently returned Jason Hammel to Oakland. The highly regarded shortstop got off to a slow start in 2014 due to a hamstring issue, but after joining the Cubs, he immediately displayed why he’s widely considered one of the 10 best prospects in baseball.

Russell definitely understands his game. At times, he can get a little too rotational at the plate, but when he stays through the ball, he can drive it to both gaps, and he backspins it as well as anyone. Thanks to his strong hands, everything really jumps off his bat, and many project he’ll display quite a bit more power as he continues to learn pitch selection and figures out which balls he can leverage. But expect more line drives from Russell, not the kind of towering shots we’ll see from Bryant.

Some wonder if it’s in the cards for the 21-year-old to stick at shortstop long term, but he is a tremendous athlete. He’s explosive and possesses impressive quick-twitch, first-step movements. When he gets to a ball, he makes the play, but he doesn’t have the ideal body. It’s more of a football look—boxier and stronger than the traditional shortstop, who’s normally graceful and a little more fluid. Still, when you watch him over time, he does everything the smoother-looking shortstops can do (and often more), due to his body control and arm strength.

Kyle Schwarber – C/OF
Many felt the Cubs were reaching when they selected Schwarber with the fourth-overall pick in last summer’s amateur draft, but the team was adamant he was second on their board—behind first-overall pick Brady Aiken—and that they were getting a special talent. Schwarber did nothing to dispel the Cubs’ belief in him, tearing through three levels thanks to his impressive bat. The linebacker-like lefty really understands what he’s doing at the plate. He has the ability to drive the ball to all parts of the field and can send a double to the left-center gap as easily as he can pull a long, towering home run. The Indiana University product possesses a special combination of bat speed, plate discipline and pitch recognition, and displays a short, compact stroke with leverage.

The Cubs took Schwarber under the assumption he’d end up in left field, but the improvements he made defensively in such a short timespan were impressive enough for the organization to shift philosophies in his development plan. They’re now allowing him to give catching a real try. Most college players prefer to shift out of catching so they can get on the fast track to the big leagues. Schwarber realizes that being behind the plate will slow his timetable, but it’s what he wants to do. That desire is what many believe is a separator for him.

Schwarber has worked hard with catching instructor Tim Cossins to improve his transfer and set-up, and the results have been eye-opening. College pitching coaches generally call every aspect of the game, so while Schwarber possesses all the smarts and intangibles organizations love behind the plate, he has a ways to go before becoming the de facto field general at the major league level.

—Sahadev Sharma, Baseball Prospectus

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 7,999 other followers