Results tagged ‘ Albert Almora ’

Cubs fill FanGraphs’ top 200 prospects list

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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

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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 1 – The Elite

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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

Baseball Prospectus includes seven Cubs prospects in top 101

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Outfielder Billy McKinney makes his Baseball Prospectus Top 101 Prospects debut. (Photo by Aldrin Capulong/Daytona Cubs)

At this point, the baseball community is well aware of the Cubs’ system depth. Almost universally rated the best farm system in baseball, the Cubs continue to flaunt their strengths on every preseason prospect list. So it should come as no surprise that Baseball Prospectus included seven farmhands in its annual 101 Prospects list.

Given the subjectivity of these lists, every top prospect ranking is going to display some opinions that don’t necessarily run parallel with other publications’ rankings. And Baseball Prospectus is no different, even after we remember Baseball Propsectus named Addison Russell as the organization’s top prospect in November. Regardless, the Cubs still see two farmhands in the top five, three in the top 20 and a pair of players making their Baseball Prospectus Top 101 debuts. At 7 p.m. Monday, members of the Baseball Prospectus staff will be hosting a live chat to talk about the list. Here are the Cubs represented on the rankings:

2. Addison Russell, SS
2014 Ranking: 7

5. Kris Bryant, 3B
2014 Ranking: 17

19. Jorge Soler, OF
2014 Ranking: 45

38. Albert Almora, CF
2014 Ranking: 25

77. Kyle Schwarber, C/OF
2014 Ranking: N/A

81. Billy McKinney, OF
2014 Ranking: N/A

83. Pierce Johnson, RHP
2014 Ranking: 91

Baseball America releases Cubs top 10 prospect rankings

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Jorge Soler is one of the Cubs top prospects by any measure. (Photo by Stephen Green)

When it comes to prospect rankings, there are several offensive weapons in the Cubs system that find themselves atop almost every list. Baseball America unveiled its 2015 Cubs Top 10 Prospects Monday, and sure enough, the familiar bats make up the top half.

Here are Baseball America‘s best Cubs prospects and some of the more interesting comments:

1. Kris Bryant, 3B
The Cubs have a surplus of athletic infielders who can hit, and it’s conceivable either big league shortstops Baez and Starlin Castro or Double-A shortstop Addison Russell could wind up at third base, with Bryant shifting to the outfield. Bryant also could stay at third, where Luis Valbuena is keeping the hot corner warm in Chicago. Barring a poor start back Triple-A Iowa, Bryant should arrive on the North Side as soon as the Cubs deem it financially feasible. Bryant has the talent, confidence and makeup to be one of the game’s biggest stars. All he’s waiting for is the playing time.

2. Addison Russell, SS
Russell combines above-average athleticism with extremely quick hands and impressive strength to produce both plus hitting ability and power. He’s nearly impossible to beat with a fastball when he’s looking for it and stays back on offspeed stuff, trusting his fast hands and making plenty of high-impact contact. Defensively, Russell has the range and improved footwork to stay at shortstop.

3. Jorge Soler, OF
Kris Bryant hits more homers, but Soler’s create more buzz. His vicious bat speed, top-of-the-scale raw power and impressive feel for hitting make him a terror to pitchers. When locked in, he generates scorching line drives to all fields; some just don’t stop going until they’re over the fence. He’s coachable, takes quality at-bats and isn’t fazed by hitting with two strikes.

4. Kyle Schwarber, C/OF
Schwarber has thick, strong legs and swings from the ground up, incorporating his powerful lower half to deliver plus power with a short, furious stroke. He keeps his hands back and has the strength to hit the ball out to any part of the park. He has a .300-hitting, 30-homer ceiling. A college catcher, Schwarber has leadership skills and solid-average arm strength, but his receiving was rudimentary as an amateur, frequently dropping to one knee to handle breaking balls. He has the tools to be a capable left fielder, having shown instincts for the position.

5. C.J. Edwards, RHP
At his best, Edwards delivers three above-average to plus pitches, with excellent body control leading to an easy, rhythmic delivery and strike-throwing ability. He’s very tough for hitters to square up due to late cutting action on his fastball, which generally sat 90-93 mph in August and in his Arizona Fall League stint. The late life on the pitch has allowed him to allow just two home runs in 237 career pro innings.

6. Billy McKinney, OF
The Cubs were stunned they were able to pry both Addison Russell and McKinney, the Athletics’ top two prospects, away in the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel trade. Signed in 2013 for $1.8 million, McKinney jumped to high Class A for his first full season and hit better in the high Class A Florida State League after the trade than in the offense-first California League.

7. Albert Almora, OF
Almora has first-round tools, starting with a line-drive bat with present strength, fine hand-eye coordination, bat speed to catch up to good fastballs and average raw power. He was pitched backwards much of the season and struggled to adjust. He still employs a big leg kick and can get streaky, as evidenced by a .377/.395/.649 finishing kick with high Class A Daytona before his promotion. A bit more patience would go a long way to making him a big league regular considering Almora’s defense, which remains advanced.

8. Gleyber Torres, SS
A $1.7 million signee, Torres finished his U.S. pro debut by earning a promotion to short-season Boise before his 18th birthday. His maturity showed as he maintained his focus despite turmoil in his native Venezuela that prompted his family to come to the U.S.

9. Pierce Johnson, RHP
If Johnson puts it all together, he profiles as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter with two plus pitches and potentially above-average control. Chicago’s 2014 ace, Jake Arrieta, had a similar (albeit more durable) career path, and Johnson’s stuff is worth the wait. He could pitch his way to Triple-A Iowa with a strong, healthy spring training.

10. Duane Underwood, RHP
No one took as big of a step forward for the organization in 2014 as Underwood, who has the system’s most electric stuff. If he combines better control with more consistent displays of the best of his repertoire, he could move quickly. He’ll start 2015 with Chicago’s new high Class A Myrtle Beach affiliate.

Baseball Prospectus unveils Cubs top 10 prospects

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Scouting publication Baseball Prospectus unveiled its list of the top 10 Cubs prospects on Friday. For Cubs fans and prospect junkies, it’s like Christmas day.

Over the last few seasons, the organization has stockpiled a deep farm system many view as the best in baseball. Unlike some other major league clubs, the list of high-upside Cubs farmhands extends well beyond a top 10—even with Javier Baez and Kyle Hendricks graduating to the big leagues. Here is how Baseball Prospectus viewed the top players in the organization:

1. SS Addison Russell
2. 3B Kris Bryant
3. OF Jorge Soler
4. OF Albert Almora
5. C Kyle Schwarber
6. OF Billy McKinney
7. RHP Pierce Johnson
8. SS Gleyber Torres
9. 1B Dan Vogelbach
10. LHP Carson Sands

On Russell:

Strengths: Impact potential with the stick; strong hands and barrel control; good bat speed; improved approach; should grow into high-contact MLB bat that will hit for average and power; solid actions at short; good hands with left-side arm; solid run paired with baserunning acumen; clocks plus times out of the box and should settle in as average run at maturity.

Weaknesses: Still working to slow down game in the field; set-up and footwork can get loose, particularly at the margins, leading to drift in throws; can slip into overly aggressive approach at plate.

The Year Ahead: Russell is close to major-league ready and possesses the skill set, makeup, and natural ability to make an immediate impact as soon as he is called upon. The profile is an elite blend of offensive upside, defensive stability at a high-worth position, athleticism, and strength; the aggregate of which could produce a perennial all-star capable of impacting the game in all facets. Not only might this be the best collection of tools, upside, and probability from a talented crop of minor-league shortstops, but there’s a case for top prospect in the game. He should debut in Chicago in 2015 and it won’t be long before Russell surpasses the ‘L’ stop as the best known Addison in Wrigleyville.

On Bryant:

Strengths: Elite raw power; big leverage and big-boy present strength; ability to produce regular hard contact; good plate coverage allowing for wide kill zone on mistake pitches; borderline double-plus arm; solid athleticism and coordination for a big man; strong grades for makeup.

Weaknesses: Long levers produce holes in swing that could be attacked by major-league arms; limited swing plane/pitch plane overlap narrows contact margin; some issues with velocity on inner half; capable at third base but may lack lower-half agility to excel; run could settle a tick below average at maturity.

The Year Ahead: Through his minor-league career, which totals just a shade over a full major-league season’s worth of plate appearances, Bryant has posted pornographic numbers at the plate, including a slash line of .327/.428/.666 while averaging nearly a home run every three games. He’s ready to bring his act to The Show, where he should eventually settle in as a fixture in the middle of the Cubs lineup. This season could be choppy at times due to the potential for major-league arms to exploit shortcomings in a swing. But the approach, work ethic, and IQ should aid Bryant in making his adjustments, and the raw power will be a legit threat from day one. Depending on the organization’s needs, Bryant could remain at third or transition out to right field where his arm and athleticism could make him a solid defender. Either way, he will join Russell as the foundation of a talented, young Cubs lineup for years to come, with 2015 likely to serve as the coming out party.

On Schwarber:

Strengths: Advanced bat; plus-to-better raw power that plays in game thanks to plate coverage and strike-zone awareness; solid bat speed and good bat-to-ball skills should help hit tool play average or better; strong leader and big makeup; lauded for work ethic; positive reviews from instructs on progress behind the plate.

On Johnson:

Strengths: Loud stuff led by lively, low-90s fastball and sharp, low-80s hammer; can dial up to mid-90s with regularity; capable of cutting fastball for different look, counterbalance to two-seamer; some deception; traditional starter’s build; good present strength; will flash above-average change piece with fade mirroring fastball action; showed improvement in consistency of pitch execution and command over final two months.

On Sands:

Strengths: Balanced repertoire featuring three above-average offerings and above-average command; reports of improved consistency in mechanics and arm action through instructs; comfortable pitching to all four quadrants; some room to bump velo band to firm plus in comfort zone; already showing feel for sequencing; sturdy build; solid presence and even demeanor.

A notable absence from the list was right-hander C.J. Edwards, ranked No. 5 a year ago. Despite missing three months to a shoulder strain, Edwards enjoyed a solid second half that included a nice run in the Arizona Fall League. The publication seems to be skeptical of his long-term health, but still had positive things to say about the hard thrower.

Upon returning to action in late July, Edwards showcased impressive swing-and-miss stuff over six starts, with his fastball and curve each grading out as plus offerings and his change showing promise to boot. Were there more certainty that Edwards could maintain the quality of his stuff over the course of a full season at the upper levels, he would fit comfortably as one of the top-ten prospects in the system.

Soler reached the majors in 2014, and the publication believes Russell and Bryant could both join him at Wrigley Field in the upcoming season. They expect Almora, Schwarber, Johnson and Vogelbach to see action in the majors sometime in 2016.

 

ESPN’s Law says the Cubs have baseball’s top farm system

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Jorge Soler is one of the many reasons the Cubs have the top farm system in the game, according to ESPN’s Keith Law (Photo by Stephen Green)

ESPN insider Keith Law unveiled his midseason top five farm systems Tuesday, and, based off his prospect rankings from earlier this month, the baseball world shouldn’t be surprised to see the Cubs at the top of the list. The organization has three prospects in the top eight of Law’s individual rankings in Kris Bryant (No. 1), Addison Russell (No. 4) and Javier Baez (No. 8). And Cuban import Jorge Soler checks in at No. 38.

Along with that quartet, Albert Almora, C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson have all generated buzz and graced various prospect lists in the past year. But the farm system goes even deeper than that.

Here’s some of what Law had to say about the Cubs system:

I know Cubs fans have heard this before, but just wait ’til next year, because this club is going to get good in a hurry, at least on the run-scoring side of the ledger. The system already had the minors’ best collection of high-end bats, and it added several more during the past seven weeks, including the fourth-best prospect in the minors in shortstop Addison Russell, who came over with promising left fielder Billy McKinney in the Jeff Samardzija trade with the Athletics.

The Cubs also added catcher/left fielder Kyle Schwarber with the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft. It’s a pick I think was an overdraft in part due to doubts he will stick at either position, but he has raked so far in limited at-bats, mostly against younger competition. They used the savings on Schwarber’s bonus to grab several high-upside high school arms later in the draft, including right-hander Dylan Cease, whose elbow ligament injury might require Tommy John surgery but who was seen as a top-15 pick talent before his injury. Cease has a fastball that can touch 100 mph and at times a plus breaking ball.

Most of the successful arms in the system this year have been pitchers at low-Class A Kane County, particularly undersized Taiwanese right-hander Tseng Jen-Ho and 2012 draftee Paul Blackburn, which means the Cubs probably won’t get the starting pitching help they need from their system in the next year or two. Fortunately for them and their fans, they have the bats to trade to acquire pitching from outside the organization.

Rounding out Law’s top five were the Twins, Astros, Mets and Pirates.

Updated midseason prospect lists praise Cubs’ talent

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Triple-A Iowa’s Kris Bryant has become a top-five prospect. (Photo by Stephen Green)

For a while now, the Cubs system has been widely viewed as one of the best in baseball. After the recent Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel trade with Oakland, it might now be the best.

On Monday, Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus both published their updated midseason top 50 prospects lists, and Cubs farmhands were scattered throughout each, with a trio of minor leaguers in the top 10. Below is what the publications said about the Cubs’ prospects. And while Baseball Prospectus’ and Baseball America‘s lists do differ, the quantity and location the Cubs farmhands can only be seen as a huge positive for the organization and its fans.

3B Kris Bryant
Baseball Prospectus Rank: 3
Baseball America Rank: 2

Baseball Prospectus:
Placement on preseason 101:
#17

Current MiLB level/Affiliate: Triple-A Iowa

Developmental Update: Bryant continues to launch home runs, rack up strikeouts, rake at an eye-popping clip, and show a discerning eye at the plate. Through 371 plate appearances between Double A and Triple A, Bryant is slashing .357/.453/.717 and finds himself knocking on Wrigley’s door. He has proven himself without question to be the loudest bat in the minors and a potential impact mainstay in the middle of the Cubs order for the foreseeable future. –Nick Faleris

Baseball America:
Power has been just as advertised, while his defense has been better than expected.

SS Javier Baez
Baseball Prospectus Rank: 5
Baseball America Rank: 7

Baseball Prospectus:
Placement on preseason 101:
#4

Current MiLB level/Affiliate: Triple-A Iowa

Developmental Update: Baez has the best bat speed in the minors, and it’s not even close for me; a lethal weapon that could make him the premium power bat in the game. But his approach is below average, and he routinely puts himself in bad hitter’s counts and conditions. With more refinement, the ceiling is cathedral but the risk is still quite high despite the fact that the 21-year-old is more than holding his own at the Triple-A level. –Jason Parks

Baseball America:
Long-term potential is still as an elite regular, but he has to moderate his swing-from-the-heels approach.

SS Addison Russell
Baseball Prospectus Rank: 6
Baseball America Rank: 5

Baseball Prospectus:
Placement on preseason 101:
#7

Current MiLB level/Affiliate: Double-A Tennessee

Developmental Update: From a skill-set perspective, Addison Russell has the most well-rounded profile at the shortstop position in the minors, with above-average chops in the field (including double-plus hands), and impact potential with both the hit and power tools. Russell has lost half a season to injury, but could challenge for the top spot in the minors with a strong second half. The ultimate upside is a perennial all-star at a premium spot, and the future could start as early as 2015. –Jason Parks

Baseball America:
Missed half the year with a hamstring problem; remains an elite all-around shortstop prospect with his new team.

2B Arismendy Alcantara
Baseball Prospectus Rank: 18
Baseball America Rank: 33

Baseball Prospectus:
Placement on preseason 101:
#83

Current MiLB level/Affiliate: Triple-A Iowa

Developmental Update: I’ve always liked Alcantara, but I was too low on him coming into the season, despite a skill set that has three-way impact potential at the highest level (hit/glove/run). Now that the 22-year-old has taken his talents to Triple-A, and exceeded expectations at the plate and on base, the future first-division player has jumped the list and emerged as a top 20 prospect in the game. –Jason Parks

Baseball America:
Hard not to like an athletic middle infielder who can play short in a pinch and has power and speed.

OF Albert Almora
Baseball Prospectus Rank: 37
Baseball America Rank: NR

Baseball Prospectus:
Placement on preseason 101:
#25

Current MiLB level/Affiliate: High-A Daytona

Developmental Update: Almora’s had a rough start to his season. His lack of production in half a season at High-A as a 20-year-old shouldn’t obfuscate the tools he still has. Almora makes loud, consistent contact and plays a very good center field due to his ability to make early reads off the bat. The baseball IQ is high and it helps the other tools play up. He’s not the sexy name in the Cubs system, but don’t forget about him. –Mauricio Rubio

The recent 2014 draft class was off-limits for consideration on each list. But Baseball Prospectus noted a few prospects from the class, including the Cubs’ first-round pick in Kyle Schwarber.

Baseball Prospectus:
C/OF Kyle Schwarber
Where he fits:
Somewhere after Hunter Renfroe (44th)
Schwarber was the most advanced collegiate bat in the draft class, with an ability to hit for plus in-game power without sacrificing average. He puts together professional at bats, shows well against top competition, and has a general knack for finding his pitch and driving it. At present he’s being permitted to feast upon heavily overmatched Low-A arms, and likely won’t face his first real professional challenge until Double-A (or perhaps the Arizona Fall League if he finds a spot on the taxi squad). The BP Prospect Team loves catchers, so his ranking on the Top 101 might be largely dictated by the position at which the Cubs elect to stick him. If it looks like he is destined for first base, he won’t debut on the Top 101 as high as organization mate Kris Bryant (17th last winter), but he could fit comfortably in the Top 60 or so with a solid 2014 pro showing.

 

Checking in on the Cubs top 10 prospects

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Kris Bryant is ripping the cover off the ball in Double-A. (Photo by Stephen Green)

We’re more than two months into the minor league season, so it seemed like a good time to check in on some of the organization’s top prospects. While a few have struggled this year, others are exceeding expectations and could be in line for a promotion in the near future. Here is an update on how MLB.com’s top 10 Cubs minor leaguers have fared thus far in 2014.

1. Javier Baez, SS
Triple-A Iowa

Baez entered 2014 as possibly the most talked about prospect in baseball. And a stellar Spring Training left people wondering when the club’s top prospect would make his way to Wrigley Field. But his free-swinging approach looks to have caught up with the 2011 first-round pick at the moment, as nearly 35 percent of his plate appearances have resulted in strikeouts.

There’s no denying his power though, as he still has nine homers and 10 doubles. His .225/.285/.430 (AVG/OBP/SLG) will need to improve, but as he gets better adjusted to Triple-A pitching—the closest replica to what major league arms have to offer—the closer he gets to being a regular on the North Side. Mind you, Baez started last season slowly too, and he has shown signs of breaking out lately. Plus, he doesn’t even turn 22 years old until the offseason.

2. Kris Bryant, 3B
Double-A Tennessee

Frankly, there isn’t a whole lot more Bryant can prove in the Southern League at this point. The 2013 first-round pick has destroyed everything Double-A pitchers have to offer, and the stats show he is the best hitter in the league—and maybe in all the minors. He currently is the SL leader in all three slash line categories (.359/.461/.717), home runs (22), RBI (56), hits (85), total bases (170), walks (40) and OPS (1.178).

It’s unclear what the Cubs have in store for Bryant as we reach the halfway point of the season. He could see a position change to the corner outfield, where many believe he’ll see the most time once he reaches the majors. But a promotion of some kind is likely in the works in the near future.

3. Albert Almora, CF
High-A Daytona

Almora’s season has been up and down, as he’d surely like to improve his .250/.273/.332 line. The defensive standout has been as advertised this year, committing just one error in 152 chances. Though he doesn’t have the power of the first two guys on the list, the 2012 first-round pick benefits from not striking out nearly as much (12.4 K%).

Almora’s batting average on balls in play is down 85 points from last season, and it’s well below his career average. This suggests he might be having some poor luck as well. He has still managed to drive in 29 runs this year, already more than his injury-plagued 2013, which means that his hits have been somewhat timely.

4. C.J. Edwards, RHP
Double-A Tennessee

The mid-June report on Edwards could only be summed up as incomplete, as the thin right-hander hasn’t pitched since April 20, following inflammation in his right shoulder. In four starts and 20.2 innings pitched, Edwards has a 2.61 ERA and an 8.7 K/9 total.

Edwards shot up most prospect charts late last season. He dominated at Daytona after coming over in a trade for Matt Garza from Texas.

5. Jorge Soler, OF
Double-A Tennessee

Soler has been unable to remain healthy in 2014. He began the season dealing with a stress fracture in his leg and is currently rehabbing his right hamstring. In seven games this year, the Cuban-born outfielder has hit .333 in 27 plate appearances.

Soler’s got the build of a future middle-of-the-order bat, and the Cubs hope he can get back onto the field quickly and remain there. For Soler, it’s all about reps.

6. Arismendy Alcantara, IF
Triple-A Iowa

Alcantara is making a nice case for a call-up to the major league level. The middle infielder recently made his first start in the outfield—a likely destination in the bigs—and is hitting .273/.309/.515 with eight homers, 30 RBI and 10 stolen bases.

His ability to play multiple positions definitely bodes well for the future, but he needs to cut down on his 25 percent strikeout rate. He definitely has top-the-order potential.

7. Pierce Johnson, RHP
Double-A Tennessee

The 2012 supplemental first-round draft pick enjoyed a ton of success in 2013 as one of the key members of the High-A Daytona Cubs FSL championship team. The 2014 season has been a bit of a struggle for Johnson, as calf injuries have kept him off the field since mid-May. He currently has a 4.39 ERA and a 1-1 record in six appearances (five starts).

Johnson’s 7.43 K/9 rate is still solid for a starter.

8. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
Double-A Tennessee

Vizcaino was the prize of the Paul Maholm haul in a 2012 deal with the Braves. When he joined the Cubs, he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, but he had a setback that caused him to miss all of 2013. The right-hander returned this season and after a solid start in High-A Daytona, was promoted to Tennessee. He’s pitched only 11.2 innings in the Southern League, but has been impressive for his new club, posting a 3.09 ERA and a 10.0 K/9 rate. He’s also cut his walk rate in half from his time in Daytona.

Vizcaino still needs to play more regularly, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him coming out of the Cubs bullpen sometime later this season.

9. Jeimer Candelario, 3B
High-A Daytona

Candelario is still a raw prospect with the Cubs, as his .194 average in High-A indicates. But he’s on the younger end of prospects in the FSL, and his ability to draw walks (9.9 BB/9) is just what the organization is looking for. He’s getting a lot of experience in a league notorious for its pitching, which will be nothing but good for the young Candelario.

10. Dan Vogelbach, 1B
High-A Daytona

Vogelbach has had a decent season at Daytona this year, despite a slight drop in his power numbers through the first half. For a middle-order bat, he’s managed to cut down on an already-impressive strikeout rate, while maintaining his walk rate. His five homers are down from last year, but he has 25 RBI and his .267/.352/.406 line is right on par with his career numbers. The 2011 pick managed to drop some weight heading into the season, which will bode well for his long-term prospects.

From the Pages of Vine Line: The Cubs’ recent draft trends

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Kris Bryant visits Wrigley Field shortly after the Cubs made him their top pick in 2013. (Photo by Stephen Green)

Major league scouting directors tend to be vague when asked about their draft strategies leading up to the big day in June. They generally offer some variation on the same theme.

“It is the simple answer of picking the best guy available,” said Jason McLeod, the Cubs’ senior vice president of player development and amateur scouting. “We’ve made no bones about trying to get as much pitching as we can. But in the last two drafts, we’ve taken position players with our first picks, because we felt Albert [Almora] and Kris [Bryant] were the most impactful guys for us at those draft positions.”

The 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft will take place next week, from June 5-7. Though McLeod and his staff have consistently gone after the best available players with their top picks—regardless of need—they have shown a few common tendencies that might inform their decisions this year.

Since 2011, the year before the current front office took over, the Cubs have trended toward college selections. That year, 40 percent of the players the team picked came out of college. Last year, 55 percent of draftees played college ball. Meanwhile, the percentage of high school players drafted has decreased from 42 percent in 2011 to 27.5 percent in 2013.

Second, right-handed pitchers have dominated the draft board. Nearly 40 percent of the players selected by the Cubs in each of the last three drafts were righties. Under the Epstein/Hoyer regime, the Cubs have picked 38 right-handed arms, 20 of them from college and seven from junior college.

But the Cubs’ right-hander-heavy drafts may be less a function of preference than of consistent depth at the position. And this year is no exception. According to Baseball America, there are 19 right-handed pitchers among the top 50 draft-eligible players for 2014.

McLeod also added that pitchers in general are easier to project.

“You walk into a ballpark and see someone with fairly clean mechanics who’s throwing 90-94, and you’re pretty comfortable recommending him,” McLeod said. “Hitters, especially high school hitters, take more investment. You have to see them on multiple occasions and in the right circumstances before you can say that, yes, you think this guy will hit at the next level.”

Of course, drafting players is only half the battle. Signing them takes just as much work. A year ago, the Cubs signed just 60 percent of their draft picks. The prior season, the team had better luck, inking 81 percent of players selected.

The good news is the organization has gotten better at signing premium talent. In 2011, 17 of the club’s first 20 picks signed, followed by 18 of 20 in 2012 and 19 of 20 last year. Plus, the Cubs signed every one of their top 10 draftees in 2013—a crop that includes hot prospects Bryant, Tyler Skulina and Jacob Hannemann.

The team has also shown a knack for getting quick returns on draft investments. Seven of the organization’s top 20 prospects, according to MLB.com, were selected in 2012 or 2013.

“The last few drafts have had a few no-doubt guys,” McLeod said in late April. “This year, the draft is deep, but we’re still waiting on players to step to the forefront. We’re pretty wide open in terms of who we’re looking at for that top pick.”

History and the current talent pool may suggest the Cubs will take a right-hander with their top pick. But the only certainty is McLeod’s assertion that the front office will select the best players available when they are on the clock.

—Chris Gigley

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