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.
(Photo by David Durochik)
Tuesday afternoon began a baseball prospect frenzy at ESPN. Insider Keith Law started it off by unveiling his organizational rankings. Like most other prospect outlets, Law spoke highly of the Cubs, ranking their farm system fourth-best in baseball, trailing only Houston, Minnesota and Pittsburgh.
4. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs are absolutely loaded with bats, but they could use a few arms; either arm, not terribly picky, must throw at least 92 mph.
Their top four prospects are all impact position players, three because of how they’ll hit, one (Albert Almora) because of his defense/offense combination. With those prospects joining what they already have in the majors, they could have one of the NL’s best offenses by 2016.
On Wednesday, Law continued by naming his top 100 prospects, which included six Cubs farmhands. Be sure to click the link to check out the complete list, but below is some of what he had to say about the Cubs prospects.
7. Javier Baez, SS
Baez has the best bat speed of any hitter in the minors right now, and the ball explodes off his bat like he’s splitting atoms with contact. … He’s got 30-plus home run power, and showed at least some signs in the second half of 2012 that he could improve his plate discipline, working the count a little more effectively in some of his plate appearances. … Baez is agile enough to handle shortstop, and could even be average or a tick better there, but his arm will play anywhere on the diamond and he’s quick enough to handle second if the Cubs move him there. Wherever he plays, he’ll probably start his career as a low-walk guy, maybe a .270/.310/.450 type of hitter right out of the chute, but the progress he showed in 2013 may give us hope he can improve that OBP in time and become an MVP candidate.
2013 Rank: 31
15. Kris Bryant, 3B
Bryant has big-time power, especially to his pull side, with huge hip rotation after starting with a very wide base. He has no stride and a tendency to slightly overrotate; combined with just average bat speed, it creates some risk that his contact rates will drop as he faces better velocity in Double-A or higher. He’s a good athlete for his size and has a chance to remain at third base; if he has to move to the outfield, he’ll be above average to plus in right, with plenty of arm for any position on the field. At worst, he’ll be an impact power bat with good defense in right and adequate OBPs; his ceiling is a 30- to 35-homer bat with .350-plus OBPs and solid-average defense at third, the kind of bat you stick in the cleanup spot so you can build your lineup around him.2013 Rank: N/A
26. Jorge Soler, OF
Soler has outstanding hand speed and acceleration at the plate, with big-time power when he concentrates on staying back and letting his hips work to add leverage to his swing; he does have a tendency to cut across the ball rather than finishing toward the middle of the field, which reduces his power. His plan at the plate has been better than anticipated, and he’s going to be above-average to plus in right field. … I see explosive offensive potential, with easy plus power and enough feel for the zone to be a middle-of-the-order bat.2013 Rank: 42
28. Albert Almora, OF
Almora lacks the huge upside of the three Cubs position player prospects ahead of him on this list because his tools aren’t as explosive, but he makes up for that with incredible instincts and game awareness that make him a very high-probability prospect who looks like a lock to spend a decade in the big leagues in center field. He gets some of the best reads off the bat I’ve ever seen from an outfield prospect, so although he’s a below-average runner he still plays a plus center field. At the plate, Almora has a clean, controlled swing that produces a lot of hard contact, with hip rotation for future average to above-average power. He has great hand-eye coordination that allows him to square up a lot of pitches, but has to learn to rein himself in and wait for a pitch he can drive to make full use of his hit and power tools — and if that means taking a few more walks, well, both he and the Cubs could use that right about now.
2013 Rank: 33
67. C.J. Edwards, RHP
Edwards will sit 91-96 mph with little effort, getting natural cutting action on the pitch as well as some downhill plane, and he has a big, old-school curveball that’s a 55 or 60 on the 20-80 scale, and both pitches have missed bats in the minors. His changeup has made progress and was solid-average by year-end, giving him a three-pitch mix along with average control, similar in total package to Chris Archer at a similar stage of development. … He’s still on the skinny side for a potential 200-inning starter. He’s been healthy so far, and he has No. 2 starter upside if he can handle the workload associated with making 33 starts a year in the majors, a tremendous get for the Cubs for two months of Matt Garza’s time.
2013 Rank: Unranked
71. Arismendy Alcantara, 2B
Alcantara was a bit of a surprise pick for the 2013 Futures Game, given how many higher-profile prospects the Cubs have, but homered from the left side and impressed scouts with his range of tools. … He can run and is a legitimate switch-hitter with sneaky power thanks to very strong wrists. He’s a versatile athlete who could back up shortstop but probably shouldn’t play it every day; he could also likely handle center or third base if needed, and might be a candidate for a Tony Phillips-type super-utility role.
2013 Rank: Sleeper
(Photo by Jon Antonoff)
The Cubs unveiled their Spring Training broadcast schedule Monday afternoon, and 33 of 36 games will be available for Cubs fans via some medium. Ten games will be televised by Cubs broadcast partners WGN and Comcast, four more than last season. Also, eight games can be heard via WGN Cubs radio, and 23 will be broadcast on cubs.com.
WGN TV will broadcast Chicago’s first game from its new Spring Training home, Cubs Park, on Thursday, Feb. 27, against Arizona (tickets are available at cubs.com/mesa). WGN Radio will have its first broadcast the next day versus the Angels, with new commentator Ron Coomer making his debut. Comcast SportsNet’s first game will be Sunday, March 16, against Cleveland.
Cubs TV play-by-play announcer Len Kasper will again join Mick Gillispie, radio broadcaster for Chicago’s Double-A Tennessee affiliate, for most of the cubs.com internet radio broadcasts.
All games start at 1:05 Arizona time unless otherwise noted. Chicago is one hour ahead of Arizona through Saturday, March 8. before moving to two hours ahead on Sunday, March 9.
(Photo by Charlie Vascellaro)
The Cubs have invited 24 non-roster players to major league camp, including top prospects Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora.
Spring Training kicks off Thursday, Feb. 13, when pitchers and catchers are invited to report in advance of their first formal workout on Friday, Feb. 14, at brand new Cubs Park in Mesa, Ariz. The team’s first full-squad workout will be on Wednesday, Feb. 19.
The following nine pitchers have been invited to major league camp: right-handed pitchers Marcus Hatley, Kyle Hendricks, Carlos Pimentel, Armando Rivero and Brian Schlitter, as well as left-handed pitchers Tommy Hottovy, Eric Jokisch, Jonathan Sanchez and Tsuyoshi Wada.
Five infielders have been invited to major league camp: Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Ryan Roberts, Chris Valaika and Jeudy Valdez.
Seven outfielders have been invited to major league camp: Albert Almora, Chris Coghlan, Aaron Cunningham, Ryan Kalish, Mitch Maier, Darnell McDonald and Casper Wells.
Three catchers have been invited to big league camp: John Baker, Rafael Lopez and Eli Whiteside. Additionally, minor league catchers Luis Flores and Will Remillard will assist.
They say it’s best to think about being somewhere warm when it’s cold outside. How does Mesa, Ariz., sound?
Spring baseball is just around the corner, and single-game Cubs Spring Training tickets will be available this weekend. Starting Saturday, Jan. 11 at 10 a.m. MST/11 a.m. CST, fans can purchase tickets by phone at 1-800-THE-CUBS or at cubs.com. Fans already in Mesa can get tickets at the new Cubs Park box office at that same time and can also get a sneak peak of the ballpark between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.
The first game at Cubs Park will take place on Thursday, Feb. 27, against the Diamondbacks. The complete 2014 schedule can be found at cubs.com/mesa.
“We’re excited about our inaugural season at Cubs Park,” said Justin Piper, general manager of Spring Training business operations. “This new facility is going to be a popular attraction for Cubs and baseball fans all season long. Anyone planning to visit us for games this year will want to purchase tickets early.”
Fans with questions can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Cubs unveiled their new Spring Training calendar Monday afternoon with 16 games to be played at Cubs Park, the organization’s new Spring Training facility. The season will kick off on Feb. 27 against the Diamondbacks and will wrap up on March 29 vs. the D-backs. The club will play a total of 36 games (16 home games, 16 road games, two games in Las Vegas, two games vs. Arizona at Chase Field).
Individual game tickets for the Cubs go on sale on Jan. 11 at 11 a.m. CST and are available at the Cubs Park ticket office, at cubs.com or by calling 1-800-THE-CUBS. All games begin at 1:05 p.m. Arizona time unless otherwise noted. Split squad games are noted with an (ss).
Mesa came back to defeat Salt River 5-4 Monday night in a rain-shortened, eight-inning affair. Jorge Soler stepped up in a big way for the Sox, while right-hander Matt Loosen picked up the win despite a shaky inning of relief. Here are the highlights from yesterday’s fall/winter league action.
Arizona Fall League
Kris Bryant, 3B – Batting fourth, Bryant finished 0-for-2 with a walk.
Matt Loosen, RHP – Loosen entered the game in the fifth inning, walked the first two batters and surrendered a single to load the bases with no outs. But then he got Stephen Piscotty (Cardinals) to pop out, and after giving up an RBI single, fanned Tim Wheeler (Rockies) and induced a line out from Richie Shaffer (Rays) to end the inning. Loosen was credited with the win. His final line read: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 ER 2 BB, 1 K.
Jorge Soler, RF – With men on second and third in the bottom of the fifth, Soler hit a sharp grounder to left, scoring David Freitas (Athletics) and Addison Russell (Athletics). The two-RBI double scored the game-tying and game-winning runs. He finished 1-for-4.
Mesa heads to Salt River Tuesday to take on the Rafters, with first pitch scheduled for 8:08 CST. The game will be broadcast on MLB Network. Tommy Collier (Tigers) will throw for the Sox opposite Sam Gaviglio (Cardinals).
Arismendy Alcantara, 2B – Alcantara went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles in a 2-1 win for Licey.
Despite a three-run eighth inning, Mesa put itself into too deep a hole Tuesday, falling to Salt River 7-3. Cubs prospect Kris Bryant registered his sixth home run of the fall, and Matt Loosen pitched two solid innings in relief to headline the North Siders’ efforts. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s action.
Albert Almora, CF – Almora led off the game with a single to center. He also drew a walk in the fifth inning to finish the game 1-for-4.
Kris Bryant, 3B – Bryant recorded the Sox’s first run on a leadoff homer in the eighth inning. The third baseman was 1-for-5 on the afternoon. He leads the AFL with six home runs.
Lendy Castillo, RHP – Castillo came on in the sixth, and struck out the first batter he faced, Jacob Wilson (Cardinals, No. 20 organizational prospect, according to MLB.com). But he followed that with three walks and a double. His final line read: 0.1 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 1 K, 3 BB.
Matt Loosen, RHP – Loosen replaced starter Matt Purke (Nationals) in the fourth and made an immediate impact, striking out his first two hitters faced, Dustin Garneau (Rockies) and James Ramsey (Cardinals, No. 10 organizational prospect). He then induced a ground out to end the inning. After giving up a one-out base hit in the fifth, Loosen forced Kyle Parker (Rockies, No. 9 organizational prospect) to fly out and fanned Richie Shaffer (Rays, No. 9 organizational prospect) to end the inning. His final line read: 2.0 IP, 1 H, 3 K, 0 BB.
Jorge Soler, RF – Soler went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.
Mesa heads to Scottsdale to take on the Scorpions Wednesday afternoon. Cubs prospect Dallas Beeler is scheduled to pitch. He has a 2-0 record with a 5.40 ERA this fall. Opposite the right-hander will be Phil Irwin (Pirates). First pitch is scheduled for 2:35 CST.
Dave Sappelt singled in his first game with Iowa Tuesday. (Photo by Stephen Green)
Iowa, Tennessee and Daytona all struggled to get the bats going Tuesday night, all resulting in losses while Kane County had the night off. Despite the defeats, here are some highlights from yesterday’s action:
Iowa Cubs (11-18)
Iowa mustered only four singles in a 5-0 setback at Colorado Springs in the first game of a four-game series.
- RF Dave Sappelt (1-for-3) singled in his first game with Iowa.
- 2B-LF Edwin Maysonet (.254) went 1-for-1, extending his hitting streak to four games (.500/5-for-10).
- C Luis Flores (.200) singled, snapping a five-game hitless skid.
- RHP Zach Putnam tossed 1.1 shutout innings of relief, allowing no hits and striking out one.
Tennessee Smokies (15-15)
Tennessee allowed back-to-back, six-run frames (third and fourth innings), falling 16-0 to Birmingham in a rain-shortened, five-inning game.
- LF Ty Wright (.257) recorded a hit for the fourth time in five games, going 1-for-2 with a single.
- DH Ronald Torreyes (.317) walked twice in two plate appearances. He has reached base in five-consecutive games.
- C Rafael Lopez (.231) extended his hitting streak to five games with a fifth-inning single.
- Tennessee has been shut out in three-consecutive games and five times in the last eight outings.
Daytona Cubs (16-15)
- SS Javier Baez (.238) went 1-for-4 with a solo home run, his sixth of the season.
- LF Taiwan Easterling (.224) recorded his first multi-RBI game since April 12, knocking in two runs as part of a 1-for-3 outing.
- 3B Ben Carhart (.310) extended his hitting streak to a season-high 12 games (.422/19-for-45) with a fifth-inning single.
- LHP Sheldon McDonald (IP) tossed his third-consecutive scoreless outing (4.0 IP).
2011 Rule 5 pick Lendy Castillo will start 2013 with the Kane County Cougars. (Photo by Stephen Green)
The Cubs made their fair share of organizational changes during the offseason, from roster transactions to the proposal to restore Wrigley Field. But one of the bigger moves this winter was partnering with the Kane County Cougars as the club’s new Single-A affiliate. The Cougars play their home games in Geneva, Ill., roughly 40 miles west of Chicago, which gives fans a chance to view the future of the organization up close.
On Tuesday morning, the Cougars announced their Opening Day roster, and it’s full of high-upside talent that Cubs fans should (and now can) keep an eye on.
First baseman Dan Vogelbach headlines the squad’s roster, along with a trio of exciting young infielders in Jeimer Candelario, Gioskar Amaya and Marco Hernandez. Vogelbach, a 2011 second-round pick, is viewed by many as the best power hitter in the organization.
Pierce Johnson, a right-hander the Cubs selected in the supplemental first round of the 2012 draft, could be one of the organization’s best young arms. Lendy Castillo, a 2011 Rule 5 pick who got into 13 games last year for the Cubs, will also start 2013 with Kane County.
Here is the full roster manager Mark Johnson will have at his disposal when his squad opens up on Thursday:
Justin Amlung RHP
Jeff Antigua LHP
Jose Arias RHP
Lendy Castillo RHP
Ian Dickson RHP
Nathan Dorris LHP
Michael Heesch LHP
Pierce Johnson RHP
Eddie Orozco RHP
Felix Pena RHP
Stephen Perakslis RHP
Tayler Scott RHP
Brian Smith LHP