(Photo by Stephen Green)
The 2015 Prospect Watch continued on MLB.com Tuesday with perhaps the least surprising unveiling of the week. Adding to his already-packed trophy case, Cubs farmhand Kris Bryant was named the top third baseman in the minors. The 23-year-old had a huge season in 2014 and is likely primed to make his major league debut in 2015. Here’s some of what MLB.com had to say:
[Bryant] won every Minor League player of the year award imaginable in 2014, when he led the Minors in home runs (43), extra-base hits (78), total bases (325), slugging (.661) and OPS (1.098) while reaching Triple-A in his first full pro season.
Bryant has everything needed to lead the Majors in homers at some point: size, strength, bat speed and loft in his swing, plus the willingness to work counts to find a pitch he can punish. He doesn’t sell out for power, instead letting it come naturally, and he can drive the ball out of the park to the opposite field as well as anyone. Though Bryant will pile up some strikeouts, he makes enough hard contact to hit for a solid average and draws enough walks to post a robust on-base percentage.
Chicago’s stockpile of young infielders eventually could push him to the outfield, where he played some in college at San Diego. Scouts love his makeup almost as much as his power and think he’ll be a star.
Though his ultimate defensive location is still in question, it’s the slugger’s bat that will undoubtedly get him to the majors. In 138 games between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa last year, he hit .325/.438/.661 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 34 doubles and showed some speed on the basepaths with 15 stolen bases.
Kris Bryant heads what Keith Law calls the best system in baseball. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
In July, ESPN prospect expert Keith Law raved about the Cubs’ system, naming it the best in the game at that point. He went so far as to say, “This has to be the most loaded the Cubs’ farm has been in at least 30 years.”
That feeling has continued to resonate with Law, who again named the Cubs’ farm system the best in baseball heading into the 2015 season.
1. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs’ draft strategy under the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer regime has been to grab a polished hitter in the first round and load up on arms later. That, along with the trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel that netted two more top hitting prospects, has produced a system that’s full of hitting prospects but still a bit light on the pitching side. The first wave of bats reached the majors in the middle of 2014, with more coming this year, but there won’t be enough at-bats for Javier Baez and Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara and Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber and Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo … and that’s not even everyone who might end up pushing for playing time. The Cubs are in prime position to flip a young hitter for a pitcher or even to swing a bigger deal, especially if they want to try to set themselves up to win the NL Central in 2016. There are young starting pitching prospects here to like, led by 20-year-old Duane Underwood, but they’re all a few years away.
Law ranked the Cubs the No. 4 system at this time in 2014, No. 5 in 2013, and No. 20 in 2012—mere months after Epstein and Hoyer took over.
Law will unveil his top 100 prospects on Thursday and list his top 10 prospects for each club on Friday.
(Photo by Aldrin Capulong/Daytona Cubs)
As MLB.com continues its positional top 10 prospect lists, the Cubs have another young player getting press. On Friday, the 2015 Prospect Watch unveiled its top minor league first basemen, with slugger Dan Vogelbach slotting in at No. 8. The big 2011 second-round pick has long been known as a deep-ball threat. Here’s some of what MLB.com had to say about Vogelbach:
Bryce Harper made a name for himself when he slammed a 502-foot home run at the 2009 Power Showcase, a high school homer run derby, and Vogelbach topped him the next year with a 508-foot blast. … Vogelbach is more than just a one-dimensional masher, however. He controls the strike zone, makes consistent contact and uses the entire field, so he should hit for a solid average while providing plus power. He has yet to fully tap into his pop, though he’s also still just 22.
There are two obstacles to him becoming a regular for the Cubs: All-Star Anthony Rizzo and persistent questions about whether Vogelbach has enough athleticism to be more than a DH.
Vogelbach spent the entire 2014 season at High-A Daytona with mixed results. He batted .268/.357/.429 (AVG/OBP/SLG) compiling a solid 66 walks and 28 doubles and driving in 76 runs. That said, he also only hit 16 home runs and his .787 OPS left something to be desired, especially given that power is by far his most prominent tool. Known as a slow starter, his production picked up as the season progressed. His 2015 could be an important year, especially if he gets an extended opportunity at Double-A Tennessee.
(Photo by Aldrin Capulong/Daytona Cubs)
Well, that didn’t take long. Just seven months after being selected with the fourth-overall pick in the 2014 draft, catching prospect Kyle Schwarber’s name is already beginning to rise up prospect lists. MLB.com is currently going through their positional ranks, and they recently named the Cubs’ farmhand the No. 3 catching prospect in baseball. Here’s what MLB.com had to say about Indiana University product:
In his pro debut, Schwarber showed why many scouts considered him the best all-around college hitter in the 2014 Draft. He combines strength and bat speed from the left side of the plate and excels at recognizing pitches and working counts. He repeatedly makes hard contact and has the tools to become a .280 hitter with 30 homers and a high on-base percentage.If he can stay at catcher, Schwarber’s bat could make him a superstar. He moves well for his size and has some arm strength, but his throwing and receiving need a lot of work, and most scouts outside the organization don’t think he can make it as a backstop. If he has to move to left field, where he played some in Indiana and in his pro debut, he still should make an offensive impact.
Schwarber sped through the Cubs system, playing five games in Short-Season Boise before a promotion to Single-A Kane County. After a 23-game stint with the Cougars, the left-handed-hitting slugger finished the year in High-A Daytona. In 262 total at-bats, Schwarber hit .344/.428/.634 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 38 extra-base hits, including 18 homers.
“The season overall, it was great,” Schwarber told Vine Line at the 2015 Cubs Convention. “I learned a lot of things, I matured a little bit. I got through my mind that, you know, you are going to struggle at some points. It’s just how you get through that that really defines you as a player.”
After struggling for the first few weeks in High-A, Schwarber rebounded strong, recording hits in 23 of his last 27 games. He played a big role in the D-Cubs’ run to the Florida State League championship series and finished his FSL season with a .302/.393/.560 line.
“Overall, I took it as a good season, but it’s over now. It’s done. I can’t look on the past,” Schwarber said. “It’s time for the present now, and the future, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Games were scarce around the Caribbean Thursday, with many leagues taking the day off. However, there was a game in Venezuela featuring a pair of Cubs representatives. Here’s how they fared:
- 1B Willson Contreras had a two-hit game, finishing 2-for-5, as the Tigres de Aragua took down the Tiburones de La Guaira. He finished with two runs in the finale of the round robin portion of the postseason. Aragua finished 8-8 and will not advance to the finals.
- LHP Joseph Ortiz pitched a scoreless inning of relief for the Tiburones, earning his third hold of the playoffs. La Guaira finished the postseason 5-11.
Junior Lake recorded a home run for his Dominican squad in an otherwise quiet day for Cubs representatives around the Caribbean Wednesday. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action:
- CF Junior Lake provided all the offense for the Estrellas de Oriente in their 5-1 loss to the Gigantes del Cibao. Lake hit his second home run of the postseason in the fifth inning, finishing 1-for-3 with a walk. His team reached base only two other times as the Estrellas now trail 3-2 in the best-of-nine championship series.
- SS Javier Baez went 0-for-5 with a walk, though his Cangrejeros de Santurce squad topped the Indios de Mayaguez to tie the best-of-nine championship series 1-1.
- 1B Willson Contreras couldn’t repeat his solid Tuesday, going 0-for-4 on Wednesday, but his Tigres de Aragua topped the Aguilas del Zulia. The Tigres have been mathematically eliminated from advancing to the championship round.
South Bend Cubs players will be able to relax here before and after games. (Photo courtesy of the South Bend Cubs)
At the conclusion of the minor league season, the dance begins. Player development contracts between major and minor league teams expire, often resulting in a frantic search for new partners.
This fall, the Cubs were the belle of the ball with three openings, all at the Single-A level. And it’s easy to see why, as the organization has one of the most widespread and devoted fan bases in all of sports.
“With the Cubs on WGN for all those years, every TV in America was able to pick up Cubs games,” said Director of Player Development Jaron Madison. “In almost every area of the country, you’ll find Cubs fans.”
The team chose two of its new affiliates for the usual reason: they offered better facilities. After striking a deal with the Short-Season Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs will now assign newly drafted players and young prospects to a state-of-the-art complex on the University of Oregon campus.
The Emeralds share PK Park with the school, which reinstated its baseball program in 2010. Set in the shadow of the Ducks’ football facility, Autzen Stadium, PK Park has all the latest training and clubhouse facilities big league organizations need.
“One area we don’t mess around with is player development,” said Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein. “Our success will be impacted in large part by how we develop our young players and get them ready for the big league level.”
One of the tougher decisions the Cubs faced was moving the Low-A affiliate from Kane County, located just 40 miles down the road from Wrigley Field, to South Bend, Indiana. Madison said the organization was satisfied with the Kane County partnership and was ready to re-up, but South Bend impressed Cubs executives with a list of improvements, including upgrades to the turf, video room and clubhouse at Four Winds Field, and the construction of a new strength-and-conditioning facility. The team even rebranded itself, changing its name from the South Bend Silver Hawks to the Cubs.
“The owner there was committed to wowing the Cubs and really making us a part of their community,” Madison said. “They went all out with the presentation [and] with all the upgrades they were willing to make.”
As for the change to High-A Myrtle Beach, the organization wasn’t necessarily swayed by facilities. It was more about the weather. Cubs fans who have climbed atop the third-base bleachers at Jackie Robinson Ballpark in Daytona Beach, Florida, know they can get a great view of the marina and downtown area. They also get a good look at advancing storm fronts blowing in.
In the last three seasons, the Daytona Cubs have suffered 33 rainouts, second most in the Florida State League to Lakeland’s 34.
“It puts a lot of strain on the players to have to play rescheduled games on their days off and back-to-back doubleheaders,” Madison said. “It’s no fault of anyone in Daytona. When Myrtle Beach became available, we knew we’d get more consistency with the weather and more getting our games in on time.”
The decision to move ended a fruitful 22-year relationship with Daytona that culminated in back-to-back years of record attendance at Jackie Robinson Ballpark. It was easily one of the longest affiliations in professional baseball.
But player development isn’t about looking back. It’s about the future, and Madison likes where his prospects will be headed for at least the next several years.
It was a quiet day Tuesday in the Caribbean, as only the Dominican League was in action. Both Frank Batista and Junior Lake had solid performances in their respective team’s victories. Here are some notes from yesterday’s games in the Dominican:
- RHP Frank Batista surrendered one run in 3.1 innings to pick up his first postseason victory in the Aguilas Cibaenas’ win over the Toros del Este. He struck out four as the Aguilas improved to 6-8 in the playoffs.
- CF Junior Lake finished with two hits, including a double, as the Estrellas de Oriente defeated the Gigantes del Cibao Tuesday. Lake went 2-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored as the second-place Estrellas picked up a game on the postseason-leading Gigantes in the Dominican playoffs.
Javier Baez had a pair of hits, and Christian Villanueva drove in a run as Caribbean postseason play continued Monday. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action:
- SS Javier Baez recorded a pair of hits, drove in a run and scored a run in the Cangrejeros de Santurce’s 5-4 win over the Criollos de Caguas. Santurce remains in first place in the round robin postseason, sitting at 6-2.
- 3B Christian Villanueva went hitless, but drove in a run on a sacrifice fly as the Yaquis de Obregon tied the semifinal series against the Charros de Jalisco 1-1 with a win Monday. Villanueva finished 0-for-2 with a walk.
- 3B Jonathan Herrera went 0-for-3, but the Navegantes del Magallanes picked up a win over the Aguilas del Zulia. Magallanes sits at 5-3, a game out of first place in the postseason round robin.
- LHP Joseph Ortiz picked up a loss, surrendering three earned runs on three hits, as the Tiburones de La Guaira fell to the Tigres de Aragua. La Guaira is now 3-5.
Javier Baez had a nice day at the plate, and Junior Lake drove in a run in playoff action Sunday. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action around the Caribbean:
- SS Javier Baez went 1-for-3 with two walks despite his Cangrejeros de Santurce falling to the Gigantes de Carolina in postseason play. He added two runs scored as Santurce lost its second game of the postseason.
- CF Junior Lake had a hit and drove in a run as his Estrellas de Oriente picked up the win. He finished 1-for-5, and the Estrellas improved to 7-6 in postseason play.
- LHP Joseph Ortiz retired the lone batter he faced as the Tiburones de La Guaira secured a victory against the Aguilas del Zulia in postseason round robin play. La Guaira sits at 3-4 and 2.5 games out of first place.
- 3B Christian Villanueva finished 0-for-3 with a walk in the Yaquis de Obregon’s loss to the Charros de Jalisco in Game One of the league semifinals.