Archive for the ‘ Minor Leagues ’ Category

Cubs prospect Baez possesses best power tool

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(Photo by Aldrin Capulong/Daytona Cubs)

Baseball Prospectus continues to lavish praise on Cubs top prospect Javier Baez. A few weeks after naming the 21-year-old the No. 4 prospect in the game, the baseball analysis website ranked the shortstop as having the best power tool of anybody in the minors. For some perspective, BP gives Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton the nod as having the top major league power tool, while the all-time standard is set by Yankees legend Mickey Mantle. Here’s what they had to say about Baez:

Top Power in the Minor Leagues: Javier Baez (Chicago Cubs)
Among the prospects in the game with elite raw power, Baez takes the cake because of his ability to translate that power to game situations. Despite being an ultra-aggressive hitter, Baez’s ability to consistently make contact allows him to tap into his raw power and could lead to him dropping 35-40 bombs a year in the majors. Elite raw power is rare, but the ability to bring that type of raw from batting practice into games is even rarer. Of the players considered for this list, Baez is clearly the best bet to actualize his top-of-the-scale raw power, and he could begin doing that as soon as this summer.

In 130 games at two levels last year, Baez recorded a .578 slugging percentage, along with 37 homers, 34 doubles and 111 RBI. He was named the organization’s Player of the Year in 2013. Baez is currently with the big league club at Spring Training, and he will start the year in Triple-A Iowa.

Fellow prospect Kris Bryant (No. 17 overall prospect) was one of five players listed in the “others considered” group.

Bryant’s raw power rests a half grade behind the others, but he should bring a significant portion of his raw pop into games, allowing him to hit 30-plus home runs a season.

The 2013 first-round draft pick (second overall) led the country in home runs with 31 during his final college season at the University of San Diego. In 36 games at three different levels (rookie ball, Short-Season A, High-A), the 22-year old hit nine homers in 36 games, along with 14 doubles, 32 RBI and a .688 slugging percentage. Bryant also excelled during his time in the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League last offseason, picking up league MVP honors.

Cubs add Emilio Bonifacio to the mix

Bonifacio

(Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)

The Cubs signed IF/OF Emilio Bonifacio to a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training over the weekend.

The 28-year-old has spent all or parts of the last seven seasons in the majors, splitting time between Toronto and Kansas City in 2013. Known for his versatility, Bonifacio has played regularly at six positions throughout his career. He made the majority of his appearances at second base last year but has also played third base, shortstop and all three outfield spots.

Career Appearances/Starts:
2B: 165/143
3B: 134/121
CF: 110/92
SS: 97/81
LF: 66/46
RF: 28/20

Offensively, Bonifacio is a career .262/.322/.340 (AVG/OBP/SLG) hitter who could prove to be a threat on the basepaths. Last season, he stole 28 bases while hitting .243 with three home runs and 22 doubles. The switch-hitter’s finest season came in 2011, when he batted .296 with five home runs, 26 doubles, 78 runs scored and 40 stolen bases (second in the NL) in 152 games.

Stolen Bases:
2007: 0
2008: 7
2009: 21
2010: 12
2011: 40
2012: 30
2013: 28

Bonifacio could push for an Opening Day bench spot, with his defensive versatility and speed proving valuable in the later innings.

From the Pages of Vine Line: 2014 Minor League Prospectus, Ready to Break Out

Duane-Underwood

Duane Underwood has one of the highest ceilings of all the Cubs arms. (Photo by Scott McDaniel)

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. This is our final online installment. For more information, pick up the February issue of Vine Line.

Also from the Series:
2014 Cubs Minor League Prospectus – The Elite
2014 Cubs Minor League Prospectus – Close to Big Leagues
2014 Cubs Minor League Prospectus – International Impact
2014 Cubs Minor League Prospectus – Pitching Depth

READY TO BREAK OUT

Not every name in the Cubs system sits atop prospect lists like Javier Baez and Kris Bryant. But the best organizations not only have top talent and balance, they also have players not everyone has heard of who have a chance to blossom into very good major leaguers.

Whether they’re lacking the flashy tool that garners headlines or are just a little raw and haven’t yet put everything together, there are definitely names worth watching in the Cubs system. And many of these prospects could become much more familiar to fans over the next nine months.

STEPHEN BRUNO
DOB: 11/17/1990
POSITION: 2B
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: DAYTONA
2013 STATS: .362/.436/.478 (19 GAMES)

There’s no two ways about it, this kid can flat-out hit. With a front-to-back stroke, Bruno uses the whole field, attacks the fastball and has the ability to stay on the breaking ball. Unfortunately, his season ended early with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. If not for that, it wouldn’t have been a surprise for Bruno to hit his way up to Double-A.

He likely won’t be ready by Spring Training, but the hope is he’ll be able to get on the field early in the minor league season. When he does, expect him to once again hit line drives all over the field.

ROCK SHOULDERS
DOB: 9/26/1991
POSITION: 1B
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: KANE COUNTY
2013 STATS: .258/.352/.445 (117 GAMES)

The man with the best name in the system mashed at a tough park for hitters in Kane County early on, earning organizational Player of the Month honors in April. A full-figured kid, Shoulders is more athletic than many realize. He played third base as an amateur, and there are those in the Cubs organization who believe he could have some value in the outfield.

With a winning combination of patience and power, the bat will always be enticing. Now it’s a matter of developing versatility on defense or finding one place to play and really focusing on it.

DUANE UNDERWOOD
DOB: 7/20/1994
POSITION: RHP
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: BOISE
2013 STATS: 54.1, 4.97 ERA, 36 K, 27 BB (11 STARTS, 14 APPEARANCES)

Outside of C.J. Edwards and perhaps Pierce Johnson, Underwood may have the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the organization. Unfortunately, he came into Spring Training in less-than-ideal shape, which led to inconsistent performance throughout the season. The hope is that he learned his lesson and will prepare appropriately this offseason so he can come into the spring ready to take off.

As far as the stuff is concerned, when he’s on, the fastball is 92-96 mph, and he has a knee-buckling curve. But consistency is an issue, and he didn’t get as many whiffs as you’d expect from a guy with his stuff.

“He’ll come into next season as a 19-year-old, and we’re just waiting for the light to come on,” McLeod said. “His upside is as high as anybody we’ve got.”

CHRISTIAN VILLANUEVA
DOB: 6/19/1991
POSITION: 3B
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: TENNESSEE
2013 STATS: .261/.317/469 (133 GAMES)

Already a big league-caliber defender at third, Villanueva showed some pop for the first time in his career in 2013, hitting 41 doubles and 19 home runs. There are some swing mechanics the Cubs will continue to work on with him, and they’d like to see him improve his plate discipline as far as controlling the strike zone. But Villanueva has the profile teams look for at third base, especially if the power output remains at the level he showed this season. Defensively, his hands and feet are as good as anyone’s.

DAN VOGELBACH
DOB: 12/17/1992
POSITION: 1B
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: DAYTONA
2013 STATS: .284/.375/.449 (131 GAMES)

Vogelbach grew up playing baseball in the Florida sun, so the cold late spring in Kane County was a shock to his system this past season. Many balls that normally would have cleared the fence or fallen for doubles became easy outs. However, his struggles in a cold and rainy April helped him grow immensely as a player. By the end of the year, his numbers were solid, and he’d done enough to earn a promotion to Daytona.

The bat has always been a plus for Vogelbach, as he shows light-tower power and can drive the ball to all parts of the field. Of course, the biggest question will always be his body and whether it will keep him from sticking at first base. While he’ll never be mistaken for slender, there have been some positive signs of late.
“He was probably the best I’ve ever seen him look [in November for instructs] in Arizona,” McLeod said.

McLeod pointed to next season as being a huge year for Vogelbach. He’ll have to continue to stay in shape and prove his bat can carry him to the bigs.

GIOSKAR AMAYA (2B) – Amaya had an up-and-down 2013, but he has bat speed, power for a second baseman, solid plate discipline and the speed to steal a base here and there. He’s a very hard worker, but he can be too tough on himself from time to time. Still, he’s an intelligent ballplayer with tools and plus-makeup.

SHAWON DUNSTON JR. (OF) – Dunston grew up a lot in 2013 after struggling early in his professional career. He had a strong first half in Boise but fell off toward the end. He has all the tools, drew a lot of walks and can steal bases. The Cubs are working on his bat path, as Dunston tends to get a little pull-happy.

KEVIN ENCARNACION (OF) – Encarnacion hit for average and power, drew walks and stole bases in a strong year at Boise. He’s a switch-hitter with a corner-outfield profile. Though he was a little old for the Northwest League, his confidence improved this season after a strong performance. He shows a fluid swing with a very good idea of the strike zone.

DUSTIN GEIGER (1B) – This streaky, big-bodied power hitter mashes lefties and holds his own against righties. Geiger should move into a hitters’ park in Tennessee next year, so he needs to keep putting up offensive numbers and improving defensively.

JACOB HANNEMANN (OF) – Hannemann was a surprise third-round pick in last summer’s draft. He flew under the radar because he hadn’t played for a few years due to a Mormon mission and commitment to the BYU football team. He has a strong left-handed bat and a good feel for the strike zone. From a tools standpoint, he’s a dynamic guy with tremendous speed, a Jacoby Ellsbury-type body and athleticism. He’s raw because of limited playing time, but the Cubs are betting on his upside.

CARLOS PIMENTEL (RHP) – Recently named the Dominican Winter League Pitcher of the Year, this strong-armed reliever has proven to be a tough match-up. He’s a short-arm guy, and hitters often have a tough time picking up the ball. He has been up to 94 mph with the fastball, which he complements with a slider and a solid change-up. His command and control can waver, but he’s a pitcher who gives opponents an uncomfortable at-bat.

IVAN PINEYRO (RHP) – Acquired in a trade with the Nationals for Scott Hairston, Pineyro is a strike thrower with an impressive change-up. He’s not a stuff guy, but the belief is he can end up at the back end of a good major league rotation.

—Sahadev Sharma

From the Pages of Vine Line: The Cubs next wave of talent

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Albert Almora could be part of the next big Cubs renaissance. (Photo by Jason Wise)

The following can be found in the Inside Pitch section of February’s Vine Line.

“The good ones get to the big leagues fast. The great ones come faster,” said Cubs superscout Hugh Alexander, circa 1987.

For Cubs fans, the great ones can’t arrive fast enough.

A total of 288 losses—the most of any three-year period in franchise history—has tested everyone from ownership to the beer vendors. There is, however, hope on the horizon.

After two years of aggressively building the minor league system, many of the organization’s prized draft choices and international free agents are getting closer to Wrigley Field. Fans might want to circle the third week in June for the possible big league debuts of No. 1 picks Javier Baez (2011) and Kris Bryant (2013).

It’s been at least 30 years since the last meaningful renaissance in Cubs player development. In the mid-1980s, GM Dallas Green produced a succession of big league stars, including Greg Maddux, Shawon Dunston, Joe Carter, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark Grace and Jamie Moyer.

But you have to go all the way back to GM John Holland to find the Cubs’ longest stretch of player development success since the 1930s. He kept the franchise over .500 for six consecutive seasons between 1967-72.

Under Holland, eventual Hall of Fame third baseman Ron Santo arrived in 1960, followed by two Rookies of the Year—HOF outfielder Billy Williams in ’61 and second baseman Ken Hubbs in ’62. Even after Hubbs’ death in a 1964 plane crash, Holland’s astute trades fortified a talented nucleus of Santo, Williams and Ernie Banks.

Now, having drafted in the top 10 three years in a row, the organization hopes to launch another golden age. President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer generally believe hitters need 500 Triple-A at-bats before they’re major league ready. Still, exceptions arise.

“We won’t rush our young people,” said Jason McLeod, VP of scouting and player development. “Each is different, though. We view individual development as a combination of a player and a person being ready.”

Shortstop Baez, the ninth-overall pick in 2011, has more experience than third baseman Bryant, the No. 2 overall pick in 2013. But Bryant’s maturity makes him equally worthy of promotion.

To merit a quick jump, a player must dominate the competition. Bryant, 22, was the 2013 College Player of the Year, leading the nation with 31 homers.

He then slugged his way through three minor league stops (.336, nine homers, 32 RBI in 128 at-bats) and helped Single-A Daytona win the Florida State League title. He followed that by being named MVP of the Arizona Fall League, a breeding ground for future superstars, with a .364 average and six homers in 20 games.

Between Daytona and Double-A Tennessee, Baez, 21, was one of the most potent offensive players in baseball. He led the minors in RBI (111) and extra-base hits (75) and tied for second in homers (37).

“This young man will be a monster in the majors when he gets there,” said an AL scout. “His bat is lightning fast. He might not be patient now (147 strikeouts and 40 walks in 577 at-bats last season), but he’ll reduce strikeouts as he moves up and matures.”
For Baez, defense is the greater challenge. He committed 44 errors in 2013.

“He has a great arm, and when he learns to control his responses, he’ll be a reliable fielder,” the scout said.

Though the 6-foot-5 Bryant currently plays the hot corner, many feel he could end up in the outfield.

“Guys over 6-foot-4 generally lack the quickness to stay at third,” an NL scout said. “With his presence and work ethic, I don’t doubt he can play the position. But with his arm, he could easily play a corner outfield spot.”

The goal is to meld the likes of Baez, Bryant, and outfielders Albert Almora and Jorge Soler with young big leaguers Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Junior Lake.

Almora, who turns 20 in April, was the Cubs’ No. 1 pick in 2012 (6th overall) and hit .329 during an injury-shortened 2013 season at Class-A Kane County. Scouts project some power, and they like his bat control and stroke to all fields. They also rave about his instincts in center. Though he lacks great speed, he makes up for it with quick reads.

Maturity seems to be the hurdle for Soler, who turns 22 in February. In an injury-marred 2013 season with Daytona, he was suspended five games for charging the opposing dugout with a bat and benched one game for not hustling.

The NL scout said Soler, in addition to possessing a strong arm, “has the most natural power in the system.” Some scouts believe the Cuban defector is still adjusting to the U.S. after signing a nine-year, $30 million contract in June 2012.

Contractual control can certainly be a consideration in timing a player’s promotion to the majors. By postponing a big league debut until the end of June, a team guarantees three full seasons of control before that player becomes arbitration eligible.

Though Baseball America ranks just three pitchers—Arodys Vizcaino, Pierce Johnson and C.J. Edwards—among the organization’s top 10 players, there’s little cause for concern.

“They have more right-handed power hitting than anyone in baseball,” said the NL scout. “If all pan out, they’ll be able to add pitching [by trading] hitting depth.

—Bruce Levine and Joel Bierig

Cubs prospects all over Pleskoff’s Dream Team

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Dan Vogelbach is one of baseball’s top minor league first basemen. (Photo by Aldrin Capulong/Daytona Cubs)

Over the last few weeks, multiple baseball outlets have unveiled their respective prospect rankings, but the fun hasn’t stopped there. Some scribes are now taking things a step further.

As Vine Line documented yesterday, ESPN insider Dan Szymborski used his stat projection system known as ZiPS to show some love for Cubs uberprospects Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Arismendy Alcantara.

On Wednesday, MLB.com’s Bernie Pleskoff unveiled another unique way to look at baseball’s best minor leaguers. He created a National League ‘Dream Team’ of prospects, naming his top player at each position.

Four Cubs farmhands claimed a spot in his starting lineup. Here’s what he had to say about the future North Siders:

First Base: Dan Vogelbach, Cubs, 21 years old

This is not a very deep position in the NL.

Vogelbach can flat-out hit, and he has produced at every level of play. He is a wide-bodied guy at six feet and 250 pounds. Vogelbach’s fielding leaves something to be desired, but in a slim group of first baseman, he gets my nod.

Shortstop: Javier Baez, Cubs, 21

I saw Baez hit some of the longest home runs ever struck in the Arizona Fall League. He has lightning-quick hands through the ball. Baez will be an offensive force.

Third Base: Kris Bryant, Cubs, 22

I am not convinced Bryant will continue as a third baseman. He’s a big man at 6-foot-5, 215 pounds. Bryant may be best suited using his outstanding arm in right field.

Bryant is a power hitter with a sweet stroke. He has advanced hitting ability with a chance to fly through the organization.

Outfield: Albert Almora, Cubs, 19

Almora has the ability to play an outstanding center field without great fanfare. He’ll hit. He’ll run. He’ll play outstanding defense. Almora is a complete player with knowledge of his role. A line-drive hitter, Almora knows how to use the entire field as his personal playground.

From the Pages of Vine Line: 2014 Minor League Prospectus, Pitching Depth

Kyle-Hendricks-(Credit-Matthew-Shalbrack)

Kyle Hendricks was the Cubs 2013 Minor League Pitcher of the Year. (Matthew Shalbrack/Tennessee Smokies)

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 Cubs Minor League Prospectus – The Elite
2014 Cubs Minor League Prospectus – Close to Big Leagues
2014 Cubs Minor League Prospectus – International Impact

PITCHING DEPTH
The Cubs’ last two drafts kicked off with position players Albert Almora and Kris Bryant, but the next dozen rounds or so were focused heavily on adding pitching depth to the system. While the Cubs still lack a knockout pitching prospect (something missing from most systems around baseball), they have some interesting arms acquired via bulk drafting, trades (both major and seemingly minor ones) and international free agency.

The draft strategy the Cubs have employed over the past two Junes has done two things: It’s increased their chances of finding a gem who can be a big contributor in their rotation and given them options to fill the bullpen with arms who don’t stick as starters. In the long run, this will save the Cubs money and keep them from investing heavily in relievers, who are notoriously erratic from year to year. That way, they can allocate funds in different areas while attempting to improve the major league ballclub.

COREY BLACK
DOB: 8/4/1991
POSITION: RHP
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: DAYTONA
2013 STATS: 107.2 IP, 3.93 ERA, 116 K, 55 BB (24 STARTS)

It’s easy for scouts to peg Black as a bullpen arm, because he’s a smaller guy with a slender upper body. However, while he does have some effort in his delivery, he brings premium stuff, including a mid-90s fastball and a big-time slider to complement his very aggressive personality on the mound.

“I love watching this guy pitch,” said SVP of Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod. “He is a bulldog and a half.”

The most common guess is that Black ends up as a reliever, with the potential to be an elite back-of-the-bullpen arm. But the Cubs are going to keep him in their loaded Tennessee rotation to see if his stuff will play up in a starter’s role.

PAUL BLACKBURN
DOB: 12/4/1993
POSITION: RHP
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: BOISE
2013 STATS: 46.0 IP, 3.33 ERA, 38 K, 29 BB (12 STARTS, 13 APPEARANCES)

With a strong delivery, three pitches and good arm action, Blackburn has all the ingredients to be an advanced feel pitcher. He relies on plus command, but the youngster had some outings in which his walk totals perplexed the Cubs front office. While he has room to fill out and possibly bring his average fastball into plus territory, Blackburn still projects as an efficient, innings-eating, athletic pitcher even if the velocity stays where it is now.

He can move the ball all around the zone, but he often nibbles, which creates the high walk totals. If he can trust his stuff on a consistent basis, he has everything it takes to develop into a solid middle-of-the-rotation piece.

KYLE HENDRICKS
DOB: 12/7/1989
POSITION: RHP
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: IOWA
2013 STATS: 166.1 IP, 2.00 ERA, 128 K, 34 BB (27 STARTS)

Recent Dartmouth grad Hendricks is a premium strike thrower who has the ability to cut up both sides of the plate with multiple pitches. He is the type of pitcher who throws to a scouting report rather than relying on pure stuff, and was one of the more efficient pitchers in the Cubs system in 2013. He lasted six innings or more in 19 of his 27 starts and did so while throwing a minimum of pitches.

Though his fastball isn’t light, it isn’t overpowering either, sitting at 88-92 mph. But his ability to locate the pitch with precision, combined with a cutter he can throw to both sides of the plate, keeps hitters from barreling him up too often. He’s never going to rack up strikeouts, but with his four-pitch arsenal, he will keep hitters guessing and could fit nicely in the back end of the Cubs rotation.

PIERCE JOHNSON
DOB: 5/10/1991
POSITION: RHP
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: DAYTONA
2013 STATS: 118.1 IP, 2.74 ERA, 124 K, 43 BB (21 STARTS, 23 APPEARANCES)

Johnson did everything asked of him in 2013 and progressed just as the Cubs hoped he would. He showed steady improvement throughout the season and got stronger as the year went on—his velocity actually ticked up when he was promoted to Daytona.

Johnson is getting better at repeating his delivery, an important point of emphasis as he often finishes upright, causing his fastball to be up in the zone. He also developed more consistency with both command and his breaking ball. His focus this offseason has been on adding weight to his frame, as he looks to increase his workload. He should team up with C.J. Edwards to lead a formidable Tennessee rotation.

DILLON MAPLES
DOB: 5/9/1992
POSITION: RHP
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: KANE COUNTY
2013 STATS: 76.2 IP, 4.93 ERA, 75 K, 50 BB (16 STARTS, 21 APPEARANCES)

With Maples, the key is and always has been consistency with his delivery. After a very up-and-down couple of months at Kane County, Maples was sent down to Boise in July and turned his season around. It was the best many in the Cubs front office had ever seen him perform in terms of his delivery. During that time, Maples got his curveball over the plate and down in the zone, generating swings and misses.

Not only were the results different, but so was Maples’ attitude. Observers say he looked more confident on the mound in Boise, with a chest-out bravado. He was aggressive in the zone, a stark contrast to the pitcher who seemed to be constantly thinking about his mechanics and worrying about getting hit, which led to nibbling and high walk totals. If the new and improved Maples can carry over this season, he may end up turning into the steal many thought the Cubs had when he was drafted in the 14th round in 2011.

BARRETT LOUX (RHP) – Loux brings a four-pitch mix, but injuries have diminished the stuff that made him a top 10 pick in Arizona just three years ago. Despite shoulder issues, he still proved competitive on the mound last season. He will continue his shoulder maintenance program with hopes of recovering some of the life on his once-plus fastball and other pitches.

TREY MASEK (RHP) – Masek is on the smaller side, so his eventual role could be out of the bullpen. He uses a fastball-slider combo and has a split-grip change-up. He will be given the chance to be a starter in 2014.

NEIL RAMIREZ (RHP) – The former Rangers first-rounder suffered through shoulder and elbow injuries in 2013, so the Cubs are taking a conservative approach with him. When healthy, he shows a typical three-pitch arm, featuring a fastball that sits at 90-94 mph and a hard slider. The focus is on getting him strong and healthy so he can get through a full season.

TYLER SKULINA (RHP) – Skulina is a big man who touches 96 mph with his fastball and has a swing-and-miss slider. At 6-foot-6, his key is getting consistent rhythm to his delivery. He impressed in instructs and could jump up the rankings if he continues to develop his change-up.

ROB ZASTRYZNY (LHP) – Zastryzny is a hard-nosed lefty with a 90-93 mph downhill fastball, plus curveball and solid change. He’s a strong competitor who pitches with a chip on his shoulder and will attack the zone every fifth day.

Cubs prospect Baez tops projected ZiPS ranking

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Prospect rankings generally spark great debate and are subjected to a significant level of scrutiny.

Last week, ESPN insider Keith Law unveiled his top 100 prospects in the game, which included six Cubs. Fellow insider Dan Szymborski decided to put Law’s rankings to the test, utilizing Szymborski’s projection system, known as ZiPS.

As described on fangraphs.com, ZiPS attempts to project a player’s numbers using weighted averages from four years of data and adjusting for aging by looking at similar players and their aging trends. Szymborski ran his system for all the players on Law’s list, and found that Cubs top prospect Javier Baez is projected to have the highest career Wins Above Replacement total.

As its top pick, ZiPS selects Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs. Part of the projections calculated by ZiPS involves translating minor league statistics and comparing those to previous players’ numbers. ZiPS translates Baez’s 2013 performance in the minors at .248/.293/.472, and while that OBP is slightly on the low side, that’s a phenomenal offensive season for a 20-year-old shortstop. ZiPS compares Baez to names such as Cal Ripken, Alex Rodriguez, Tony Batista, and Danny Tartabull.

Cubs prospect Kris Bryant also cracks the top 10 in ZiPS projections, coming in at No. 9, six spots higher than where Law ranked him.

One of the biggest discrepancies between Law’s list and Szymborski’s related to five-tool Cubs infielder Arismendy Alcantara. While Law ranked him at 72, ZiPS projections moved him all the way up to 13.

Going down the ZiPS rankings, you see the first large disagreement in ranking in the form of another Cubs infield prospect, Arismendy Alcantara. A 21-year-old shortstop/second baseman putting up an OPS north of .800 in Double-A would have gotten a lot more attention if he was not in the same organization as Baez and a boatload of other prospects. ZiPS sees Alcantara regularly hitting in the .260s with 15-20 home runs a year, but with hitters like Michael Young, Barry Larkin, and Robin Yount high up in his offensive comp list, there’s the possibility that he’s even better.

There’s also a section discussing first base prospect Dan Vogelbach, whose player comparison is John Kruk, who had a similar build.

Vogelbach doesn’t have the body of someone seen as a prospect, looking more like Bartolo Colon, but he also more than held his own in a full-season league just two years out of high school. Vogelbach’s top ZiPS comp? John Kruk.

Below are the Cubs prospects in the top 100 ZiPS projections, with Law’s ranking in parenthesis:

1. Javier Baez, SS (7)
9. Kris Bryant, 3B (15)
13. Arismendy Alcantara, 2B (71)
24. Albert Almora, CF (28)
40. Jorge Soler, RF (26)
53. C.J. Edwards, RHP (67)
97. Dan Vogelbach, 1B (NA)

From the Pages of Vine Line: Jaron Madison on the value of statistics

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

The following can be found in the Farm Report section of February’s issue of Vine Line.

Every major league team has a department dedicated to analyzing statistics that are designed to help big league managers and players gain an edge over the competition. For player development personnel, however, the potential of statistics isn’t yet clear.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Cubs farm director Jaron Madison ignores the reports he gets from the number crunchers.

“If you don’t pay attention to and use information available to you, you’re doing yourself and your club a disservice,” he said. “But you have to recognize it’s just one tool to help our players get to Wrigley Field.”

Just how valuable are stats? It depends on where a player is in the system. Numbers are less valuable to Madison and the Cubs front office when they pertain to players in the organization’s lower levels.

“Those players are still growing into themselves and making corrections,” he said. “There are still quite a few things they have to learn and work on.”

With a Single-A player, Madison said he looks for more general information, such as how that player compares with his peers. As a prospect moves up the ladder and becomes more of a finished product, statistical analysis can help determine how he can best help the Cubs at the big league level or what tweaks he must make to get there.

“By the time they reach [Triple-A] Iowa, players have already had four or five years to work on specific tools and develop into who they are,” he said.

One thing Madison doesn’t do with numbers is use them to set benchmarks. Leadoff hitters, for instance, aren’t required to walk a certain number of times, and pitchers aren’t told they’ll be promoted only if their ERAs stay under a specific number.

“Our evaluations are more comprehensive, paying attention to how guys control the zone on both sides of the ball,” Madison said. “We look at the things they can control.”

Plus, there is definitely such a thing as too much information, especially for players. Young hitters, Madison said, can put too much stock in their home run totals and batting averages, often to the detriment of their overall development.

“It’s more important for our hitters to work on the process and focus on having good at-bats,” he said. “You can square it up and hit the ball hard seven out of 10 times but hit it right at someone. Or you can go up there and get on base on six balls that don’t leave the infield.”

That means Cubs minor league coaches must convince prospects to forget about their numbers, which isn’t an easy task in such a results-oriented business. Hitters often take a while to realize that striking out but seeing 15 pitches can actually be a good thing in the long run.

The bottom line is the Cubs don’t want prospects thinking too much when they’re on the field, and statistics can definitely lead to overthinking.

“The message we send our players is to have a plan and work that plan,” Madison said. “Yes, we will tell them they need to control the zone better to get a good pitch to hit. But when they get that pitch, it’s OK to let it rip.”

Statistical analysis is yet another tool to help Madison and his staff move prospects forward in the system, but every team has access to similar information. It’s how the Cubs use all this new data—and keep players focused on their development plan—that will determine how useful the numbers really are.

From the Pages of Vine Line: 2014 Minor League Prospectus, International Impact

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Shortstop Gleyber Torres was one of baseball’s top international prospects in 2013. (Image by Bill Mitchell)

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 Cubs Minor League Prospectus- The Elite
2014 Cubs Minor League Prospectus- Close to the Big Leagues

INTERNATIONAL IMPACT

Over the past 15 years, the Cubs have done well on the international free agent market, especially in Latin America. From Carlos Zambrano to Starlin Castro to, most recently, Junior Lake, the organization continually produces international players who impact the major league roster.

However, while teams like the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees were competing for big-money players, the Cubs were content to sign low-cost free agents and hope their bulk purchases would eventually pay off. But with the signing of Soler in 2012, the new Cubs regime announced to the baseball world they were becoming serious players in the international community. Even with spending restrictions in place, the trend continued in 2013, as the Cubs blew past their allotted cap, signing numerous highly regarded prospects. Due to their free-spending ways, they will have even harsher limits on their spending next summer, but clearly Epstein and company believed the talent level available this year made it worth the risk.

Along with the many players inked during the international signing period in July, the Cubs also have some intriguing names who are young and still growing into their bodies. These raw athletes likely won’t make an impact at Wrigley anytime soon, but they help create the depth necessary to ensure the Cubs system can consistently funnel talent to the big league roster.

ELOY JIMENEZ
DOB: 11/27/1996
POSITION: RF
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: N/A
2013 STATS: N/A

At just 17 years of age, Jimenez is already a physical specimen. He was the consensus top player in last summer’s international free agent class, and the Cubs paid him accordingly, giving him a $2.8 million bonus, the highest handed out in 2013.

The Dominican native already has great strength, and scouts expect him to display his tremendous raw power in game action as he continues to grow. Jimenez also has the strong arm and athleticism necessary to play a solid right field.

GLEYBER TORRES
DOB: 12/13/1996
POSITION: SS
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: N/A
2013 STATS: N/A

Many considered Torres the second-best prospect in the 2013 class, just behind Jimenez, but that’s where the similarities end. Torres doesn’t project to have much power—he might touch double-digit home runs at his peak—but he already has an advanced hitting ability and approach for his age.

If his development goes as expected, the Venezuelan could hit for a high average, knocking doubles into the gaps while playing plus defense at shortstop.

JEN-HO TSENG
DOB: 10/3/1994
POSITION: RHP
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: N/A
2013 STATS: N/A

Of the big names the Cubs signed this July, the 19-year-old Tseng could be the most developed. He throws a lot of strikes with three strong pitches—a split-finger fastball, curve and slider—and his fastball can touch 95. With an advanced feel for pitching, it wouldn’t shock anyone if Tseng started the year in Kane County.

The Taiwanese pitcher has already performed on a bigger stage than most international free agents, pitching for his home country in both the World Baseball Classic and the 18U World Championship Games. Though the overall quality of his stuff was down in his most recent outings, some believe it was due to heavy usage. Some time off should help as he gets acclimated to a less intense workload stateside.

JEIMER CANDELARIO
DOB: 11/24/1993
POSITION: 3B
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: KANE COUNTY
2013 STATS: .256/.346/.396 (130 GAMES)

Candelario first caught scouts’ eyes in 2011, when he posted a .443 on-base percentage at the age of 17 in the Dominican Summer League. While those statistics should be taken with a grain of salt, he also performed well the following year in Boise, earning time at full-season Kane County in 2013.

While the numbers at Kane County don’t jump off the page, his performance was still impressive considering his age and the league in which he was playing.

A switch-hitter with a feel for the zone, Candelario, who was born in New York but grew up in the Dominican, is still growing into what McLeod referred to as his “man strength,” which should help increase his power numbers in the future.

YASIEL BALAGUERT
DOB: 1/2/1993
POSITION: OF
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: BOISE
2013 STATS: .261/.334/.439 (67 GAMES)

In 2012, Balaguert was sent to Peoria (the Cubs’ low-A affiliate at the time) and performed poorly, hitting only .208 in 149 at-bats. But he rebounded for a solid season after spending most of 2013 at Boise. He is still trying to figure out who he is as a hitter, but he’s strong, has a lot of power and is learning to control the strike zone better.

Balaguert is the type of athlete with a wide variance of possible end points. In 2014, he could explode into a top prospect or struggle mightily and get lost among the numerous other talented players in the Cubs system. If things do click for the young Cuban, it’ll be a credit to his tremendous work ethic as well as the Cubs’ scouting and player development team for identifying and molding a truly raw kid into a valuable piece of the puzzle.

ERICK LEAL (RHP) – This 18-year old, acquired for Tony Campana, is tall and lanky with average velocity and good feel for a change-up. He’s a strike thrower with minimal walks and a good understanding of pitching. The Cubs hope his velocity will tick up as he gains strength.

CARLOS PENALVER (SS) – The best defensive shortstop in the system, Penalver has smooth hands, easy transfer and plenty of arm strength. He also shows the ingredients of someone who can handle the bat, including a good idea of the zone and strong swing path. He needs to gain weight and strength to put his offensive skill set to use at the major league level.

JEFFERSON MEJIA (RHP) – Mejia has a big frame and projects to have three plus offerings if he fills out and adds velocity to his current 87-90 mph fastball. He works down in the zone and keeps bats off his fastball with an advanced change-up and a quality breaking ball.

ERLING MORENO (RHP) – This 6-foot-7 Colombian throws in the low-90s with a change-up that can miss bats and an average curveball. His athleticism allows him to repeat his delivery with consistency, something that can often be an issue with taller pitchers.

—Sahadev Sharma

Hot Off the Presses: The 2014 Minor League Prospectus

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We always have mixed feelings about the February issue. The annual minor league prospectus probably takes more work, and more combined man-hours, than any other issue. To compile our comprehensive breakdown of the Cubs farm system, we pore through each of the organization’s minor league affiliates, from Iowa to Kane County to the Caribbean.

That’s a lot of players in a lot of different locations. To get our information, we read prospect reports, watch fall and winter league games, and talk to people in the know. By the time this issue goes to the printer, the whole Vine Line staff needs a nap.

But it’s also one of the most rewarding magazines we publish, because it gives us a clearer picture of what to expect in the Cubs’ future. And since President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, General Manager Jed Hoyer and Senior Vice President of Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod took over more than two years ago, the Cubs have been all about what’s on the horizon.

The team has enjoyed top 10 picks in each of the last three drafts, has been among the most aggressive in baseball on the international free agent market, and has made shrewd trades to add young, high-ceiling talent. The process may be taking more time than many fans and even upper management hoped it would, but the efforts are paying off—and the evidence could soon become evident at Wrigley Field.

Baseball America’s 2013 organizational rankings, released shortly after the season ended, had the Cubs system tied for fifth-best in baseball. And prospect experts such as MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo and Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks rave about Albert Almora, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, C.J. Edwards, Pierce Johnson, Jorge Soler and others.

This month, frequent contributor Sahadev Sharma sat down with McLeod to review the organization’s top players and talk about the system as a whole. Though it’s the big names that rightfully grab the headlines, the Cubs farm now has enviable depth, especially in position players. A few years ago, for example, the team struggled to find a serviceable third baseman. In addition to Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy, they now have Kris Bryant, Mike Olt, Christian Villanueva, Arismendy Alcantara, Josh Vitters, Jeimer Candelario and others who could all effectively man the position.

We break down the Cubs talent into five categories: The Elite, Close to the Big Leagues, International Impact, Pitching Depth and Ready to Break Out. This is your primer on everyone, from seasoned talent that could make the jump to the major leagues this year to 17-year-old international prospects whose professional careers are just getting started.

For those who can’t wait to see the organization’s top young players, this may be the perfect year to head out to Mesa, Ariz., for Spring Training, because the team is opening Cubs Park, a state-of-the-art training facility that rivals the best in the game. In this issue, we take a look at the new facility and what it means for the organization’s player development team.

Spring Training will also offer fans their first opportunity to hear the team’s new radio voice, analyst Ron Coomer, a former Cubs infielder who has spent the last nine years broadcasting for the Twins. The 47-year-old Chicago native grew up rooting for the North Siders, so he understands the team’s unique history and what it means to be a part of its rich broadcasting tradition.

“Probably the only place I would go to leave Minnesota would be the Chicago Cubs,” Coomer said. “My situation with family and everything [in Minnesota] is phenomenal. But it’s the Cubs job. It’s been a dream of mine since before I knew I could hit a baseball.”

Finally, in our monthly Wrigley 100 feature, we chronicle the ballpark’s beginnings. This dates back to when the stadium seated only 14,000 people in a single deck; back to when it was called Weeghman Park; back to when it was known as the home of the Federal League’s Chi-Feds, not the Cubs. It’s an interesting tale not many people know, and it set the foundation for the last century of events at the Friendly Confines.

Cubs past, present and future. That’s our mission, and we cover all the bases this month. Subscribe to Vine Line at cubs.com/vineline and follow us on Twitter at @cubsvineline.

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