Results tagged ‘ Arismendy Alcantara ’
Javier Baez got his first taste of major league action this summer. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
When Theo Epstein sat in front of the assembled media last October and announced, “The story [around the league] is that the Cubs are coming fast, and the Cubs are coming strong,” many had trouble stifling laughter. How could Epstein suggest a team fresh off its third-consecutive 90-loss season was on the rise—especially during a press conference announcing the firing of the club’s manager, Dale Sveum?
It seemed preposterous at the time, but Epstein was hardly joking. He knew what he and his staff had built over the previous two seasons, and he believed it wouldn’t be long before that lofty statement was accepted as fact—even by those not paying close attention to what’s been happening in the Cubs system.
Sure enough, while the 2014 season didn’t produce a dramatic increase in wins, the media and fans finally got a chance to see what the Cubs have been building, as the first wave of prospects finally funneled into Wrigley Field.
It all began with Arismendy Alcantara and Kyle Hendricks, two somewhat under-the-radar prospects, but intriguing players nonetheless. Next, one of the best power hitters in the minors, Javier Baez, arrived in the big leagues—along with the corresponding media maelstrom. Finally, the Cubs called up Cuban slugger Jorge Soler toward the end of August.
Not every one of these young players immediately took the National League by storm. There have been ups and downs. But each has provided a spark and shown the potential to be a big contributor to the next Cubs playoff run—which is exactly how the front office drew it up.
“It’s a lot of fun, and there’s definitely a lot of energy,” Hendricks said. “I’m just glad a lot of us have been able to perform well. I think that’s a testament to the coaching we have in the minor leagues. The guys got us ready for this level.”
Epstein understands that this process, which has included many losses, has been tough for both the players and the fans. That’s why finally being able to display the fruits of the front office’s labor has been so rewarding.
“These are players who have been part of our plan, part of our vision, for a while now,” Epstein said. “Now that they’re up here, people can get excited about it. It creates a little bit of momentum, which is nice to have around the organization.”
So what exactly is the Cubs’ vision, and what has the organization been doing to realize it?
When Epstein was first introduced as president of baseball operations in late October 2011, he laid out his plan for how he wanted to rebuild an organization that had gone from being the toast of the National League to 91 losses in just three years.
“Our goal will be to build the best scouting department in the game—one that makes an annual impact in the draft and internationally,” Epstein said at the time. “As far as player development goes, we will define and implement a Cubs Way of playing the game, and we won’t rest until there is a steady stream of talent coming through the minor league system trained in that Cubs Way making an impact out here at Wrigley Field.”
Epstein didn’t waste much time in following through with those promises. A week after his introduction, he sat in front of the media yet again, this time introducing Jed Hoyer as his new executive vice president and general manager and Jason McLeod, a man Epstein referred to as the “rarest commodity in the industry—an impact evaluator of baseball talent,” as his senior vice president of scouting and player development.
The three men spent the next year evaluating what they were working with from the bottom of the organization all the way to the top. After a year, they made a few tweaks to the scouting department, and completely revamped the player development side. Brandon Hyde was brought in as the farm director, but has since moved on to become manager Rick Renteria’s bench coach, while Jaron Madison has transitioned from amateur scouting director to Hyde’s old position.
Under Hyde, the Cubs hired four new minor league coordinators and had one of their better developmental seasons throughout the system in 2013.
Of course, it certainly helped that so much talent had been added to the mix—and continues to be added to this day—through astute trades, the amateur draft and international signings.
“In order to have success in this game, the foundation has to be through scouting and player development,” Hoyer said when he was introduced as general manager. “There’s no shortcut. There’s no magic bullet. All three of us believe in the philosophy wholeheartedly.”
Hoyer acknowledged the ultimate goal is to win a championship, so the baseball operations department first had to build a team that went into Spring Training every season with a realistic shot at making the playoffs. Less than three years later, it appears the Cubs are on the verge of achieving that goal.
And it’s not just the players who have reached the majors this year that have so many people both inside and outside the game optimistic about the Cubs’ immediate future. While the influx of top-notch talent is undeniable, it’s quite likely the best is yet to come.
Last year’s top draft pick, Kris Bryant, dominated every level of the minor leagues, making it all the way to Triple-A Iowa in his first full professional season. His otherworldly stat line of .325/.438/.661 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 43 home runs and 110 RBI has pushed the third baseman to the top of the national prospect rankings. Shortly after the season, he was named both USA Today’s and Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year. Addison Russell, a consensus top 10 prospect in the game, was acquired in early July via trade and has continued to excel, hitting for both power and average while playing strong defense at shortstop.
Kyle Schwarber was the fourth pick in June’s amateur draft and has already shot up two levels in the Cubs system. So far, he has displayed an impressive combination of power and patience at the plate and appears to be on the fast track to the majors.
And that’s not all. The regime’s first draft pick from 2012, Albert Almora, made it to Double-A at the tender age of 20, and the international scouts flexed their muscles in 2013, as the Cubs spent more money than any other organization. Thanks to those efforts, they added big-time prospects like Jen-Ho Tseng, Eloy Jimenez, Gleybar Torres and Jefferson Mejia, all of whom are proving advanced for their age and are ranked as top 20 organizational prospects by MLB.com.
The system is not only loaded with talent, it’s also deep, ensuring that as the Cubs continue to graduate players to the big leagues, the cupboard won’t suddenly be left bare. It looks like Epstein and Hoyer have built the scouting and player development “machine” they promised to work toward when they were first brought into the organization.
CALL TO ARMS
Of course, since the majority of the Cubs’ young players grabbing headlines are bats, there are still questions about where the organization is going to find the right combination of arms to lead the charge. But even on that front, the team is better off than most people realize.
The front office has now divested the organization of the many onerous contracts from the Hendry regime—meaning there is money to spend—and has proven quite adept at identifying and acquiring undervalued pitching talent. Names like Paul Maholm, Scott Feldman and Jason Hammel, who all excelled under the tutelage of pitching coach Chris Bosio, have been used to acquire players who fit into both the short- and long-term plans.
Feldman, in particular, netted a huge piece in pitcher Jake Arrieta. A former top prospect, the 28-year-old underwhelmed during parts of four years in the majors with the Baltimore Orioles. Though Arrieta was perhaps at his lowest value at the time, the Cubs were bullish about the struggling righty. After missing the first month of the 2014 season with shoulder soreness, Arrieta went on to make the move look like a stroke of genius, putting together a season that rivals those of some of the best pitchers in the game.
Hendricks, acquired from the Rangers in the 2012 Ryan Dempster deal, also opened eyes with a strong run of starts to begin his major league career. Though many had the 24-year-old pegged as a fringe major leaguer and back-end starter at best, his poise and control are making some wonder whether he can exceed expectations and become a big part of the rotation’s future.
“He’s doing exactly what he did in the minor leagues,” Epstein said. “He’s as polished and prepared as you’ll see with any rookie. We speculated that he might even take it to another level when he got to the big leagues because he uses all the tools available to him as well as anybody.
“We have video in the minor leagues, but we don’t have this much video. We have scouting reports in the minor leagues, but we don’t have scouting reports this extensive. He just attacks the video and attacks scouting reports. They’re a huge weapon for him. You see the confidence he has. No matter how good a hitter he’s facing, he’s likely to have identified one area he can attack and put [himself] in a good position to have a chance to get him out. I think that’s been big for him. We’re awfully proud of how he’s adjusted.”
Epstein has acknowledged that while he doesn’t think the Cubs’ position player group is a finished product, he certainly feels great about the nucleus the organization has built. Even with Arrieta, Hendricks and the surprisingly impressive Tsuyoshi Wada (who will be 34 next season, but could still find himself competing for a spot in the Cubs rotation), the obvious focus becomes how to build up the front five.
“I like some of the pitchers we have coming along in the minor leagues, and I think our big league staff has done sort of an underrated job this year,” Epstein said. “There are some bright spots. But we’ve been open about the fact that it would be nice to add an impact pitcher or two. When you look over the next 18 months or so, that’s certainly a priority for us. Whether we develop one from an unlikely spot like might be happening with Arrieta or acquire someone who’s already at those heights remains to be seen.”
FINISHING THE JOB
Surprise success stories like Arrieta and Hendricks, coupled with bounce-back years from Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, have certainly boosted the optimism around the team as the prospects are rising to the big leagues.
“It’s good for the fans,” Hendricks said. “They’ve needed some winning the last few years, and unfortunately we haven’t been able to give it to them. I think with a lot of us young guys coming up—a lot of young hitters especially—they’re doing an unbelievable job. And there’s more to come.”
While the narrative may have recently changed as far as the media and average fans are concerned, nobody within the Cubs organization considers the work done.
“Our fans deserve to get excited. I’m happy for them,” Epstein said. “Ultimately, the only thing that matters is winning. That’s what’s on our mind, and we’re working hard to get there. Having young players that are worth following and at-bats you can’t miss, we’re human and that makes us feel good that our fans have something like that in their lives at this point, because certainly there’s been some tough times that they’ve had to endure.”
Epstein and company know they’ve still got work to do. They’re aware that pitching is a need, as is a veteran presence in the clubhouse to lead by example. But they strongly believe they’re on the right path and have felt that way for some time now. Still, the ultimate goal has yet to be accomplished.
“We’ve felt really good about it for a period now, and we also feel like there’s so much more work to do that we don’t deserve any kudos or pats on the back,” Epstein said. “On the other hand, we’re all human, and we feel the optimism of our fans and our players. It only makes us want to work harder and finish it off. We’ll feel like it’s finished when we win the last game in October.”
—Sahadev Sharma, Baseball Prospectus
Arismendy Alcantara will make his major league debut Wednesday. (Photo by Stephen Green)
The first of the big-time Cubs prospects will make his major league debut Wednesday, as infielder/outfielder Arismendy Alcantara gets the start at second base against the Reds in Cincinnati. The athletic Alcantara, who was recently named the No. 18 prospect in the game by Baseball Prospectus, will bat in the two spot. Right-handed pitcher Dallas Beeler has also been recalled and will make his second start of the season tonight.
Alcantara will temporarily replace Darwin Barney, who has been placed on paternity leave and is expected to return on Friday. Left-handers Chris Rusin and Tsuyoshi Wada have both been optioned to Triple-A Iowa.
Alcantara, 22, is hitting .307 with 25 doubles, 11 triples, 10 home runs, 41 RBI and 21 stolen bases in 89 games with Iowa this season, his first year at the Triple-A level. Named a Pacific Coast League All-Star, he is the only player in the minors to reach 25 doubles, 10 triples, 10 home runs and 20 stolen bases. His 46 extra-base hits are tied for ninth in the minors.
The switch-hitter has a .374 average against left-handed pitching and a .280 average against right-handers. He batted .345 in June and enjoyed a 13-game hitting streak from June 22-July 3, in which he hit .463 with a 1.214 OPS. This season, he has played 70 games at second base, 11 games in center field and six games at shortstop.
Signed by the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent in November 2008, Alcantara owns a .284 batting average with 104 doubles, 41 triples, 40 home runs, 254 RBI and 112 stolen bases in 530 career minor league games. He was a 2013 Southern League midseason and postseason All-Star for Double-A Tennessee, and hit a home run in the 2013 All-Star Futures Game.
Beeler, 25, will make his second start for the Cubs after making his major league debut in the first game of the June 28 twinbill versus the Nationals, an outing in which he allowed one unearned run over six innings. He is 5-3 with a 3.93 ERA in 11 starts with Iowa this season. The 6-foot-5, 210-pounder has walked only 17 batters and allowed just five home runs in 66.1 innings pitched, an average 2.3 walks per nine innings and one home run allowed per 13.1 innings.
The right-hander is in his fifth professional campaign since being selected by the Cubs in the 41st round of the 2010 draft out of Oral Roberts University. Beeler reached Double-A Tennessee in his first full pro campaign in 2011 and made a career-high 27 starts for the Smokies in 2012 before being slowed by a sprained finger on his right hand. Beeler is a career 17-21 with a 3.69 ERA in 77 minor league outings (69 starts).
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Slugger and 2013 first-round draft pick Kris Bryant has been assigned to minor league camp. (Photo by Stephen Green)
The Chicago Cubs have assigned 12 players to minor league camp, reducing their spring roster from 66 to 54 players.
Infielders Arismendy Alcantara and Logan Watkins, outfielder Matt Szczur and right-handed pitcher Dallas Beeler have been optioned to Triple-A Iowa. Outfielder Jorge Soler has been optioned to Double-A Tennessee.
Six nonroster invitees have been assigned to minor league camp: right-handed pitchers Marcus Hatley and Carlos Pimentel, left-handed pitcher Eric Jokisch, infielders Kris Bryant and Jeudy Valdez, and outfielder Albert Almora.
Additionally, outfielder Aaron Cunningham has been granted his release.
Chicago’s spring roster now consists of 27 pitchers (seven nonroster invitees), five catchers (three nonroster invitees), 11 infielders (four nonroster invitees) and 11 outfielders (five nonroster invitees).
Welington Castillo was one of 19 players to agree to a deal with the Cubs Monday afternoon. (Image by Stephen Green)
The Cubs have come to terms with 19 players on their 40-man roster with zero-to-three years of major league service time. The terms of the contracts were not disclosed.
The players who have reached agreements include right-handed pitchers Jake Arrieta, Dallas Beeler, Alberto Cabrera, Justin Grimm, Blake Parker, Neil Ramirez, Hector Rondon and Arodys Vizcaino; left-handed pitchers Zac Rosscup and Chris Rusin; catcher Welington Castillo; infielders Arismendy Alcantara, Mike Olt, Christian Villanueva and Logan Watkins; and outfielders Brett Jackson, Junior Lake, Matt Szczur and Josh Vitters.
Arismendy Alcantara has established himself as a top 100 prospect. (Photo by Rodger Wood)
At this point, fans shouldn’t be surprised to see Cubs farmhands taking up some prime real estate on baseball’s top prospect lists. Throughout the offseason, various publications and websites have released their top 100, and the Cubs routinely land seven players among the best in the game.
Baseball America unveiled its Top 100 list Thursday, and the Cubs’ elite seven were again present—and that included two in the top eight. BA also provided fans with an estimation of when to expect these minor leaguers to arrive at Wrigley Field. According to the publication, six of the seven could be at the Friendly Confines sometime in the next two years.
Here’s what BA had to say about the Cubs seven:
5. Javier Baez
Major League ETA: 2014
Slow down—not his bat, the minors’ fastest, but the rest of the game, especially at shortstop. Otherwise, Baez’s task will be learning to play another position.
8. Kris Bryant
Major League ETA: 2014
Bryant could have a successful season even if he doesn’t match his 31-homer season in college; a move to the outfield could be in the offing.
28. C.J. Edwards
Major League ETA: 2015
Edwards can’t post better results than he did last year, when he moved from the Rangers to the Cubs in the Matt Garza deal. He’ll aim to reach 150 innings while maintaining his high-quality stuff and control.
36. Albert Almora
Major League ETA: 2016
Almora is another prospect who just needs to show he can stay healthy. Evaluators love his bat and defense in center—when he’s on the field.
41. Jorge Soler
Major League ETA: 2015
It’s easy to be satisfied when you’ve already signed a $30 million contract. If Soler plays with an edge, he’ll be a big league right fielder sooner than later.
87. Pierce Johnson
Major League ETA: 2015
Durability is at the top of the list for the slender Johnson, who could beat the similarly built C.J. Edwards to Chicago if he can repeat his 2013 production at higher levels.
100. Arismendy Alcantara
Major League ETA: 2015
With a crowd ahead of him at shortstop, Alcantara’s best path to the majors is as an everyday second baseman. Honing his skills on the right side of the infield is job one.
(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)
Infielder Arismendy Alcantara could see time at Wrigley Field this year.
(Photo by Rodger Wood)
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 Minor League Prospectus- The Elite
Close to the Big Leagues
“The most important currency in the game right now, from a baseball standpoint, is either massive amounts of payroll flexibility or a real surplus of above-average young players who are major league ready or already making an impact in the big leagues,” said baseball president Theo Epstein at last December’s Winter Meetings.
Epstein admitted the Cubs aren’t where they want to be in either area, but said when it comes to the latter, they’ve taken the appropriate steps to get there soon. The front office has drafted well and made smart trades. As these prospects continue to develop and get closer to the majors, Epstein said, “They’re infinitely more valuable, to us and potentially in a trade, than they are while they’re working away in the farm system.”
Though none of the organization’s upper-tier players will be ready to start next season in the majors, there are several others who could make an appearance at Wrigley Field at some point in 2014. The Cubs may not compete for a division title this summer, but some prized young talent will likely provide a glimpse of just how good this team could be in the near future.
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: TENNESSEE
2013 STATS: .271/.352/.451 (133 GAMES)
After spending much of his career at shortstop, Alcantara shifted to second base when Baez was moved up to Tennessee. He is solid with the glove, but his real value comes on offense. The switch-hitting leadoff man is one of the more dynamic players in the organization, with a rare speed-and-power combination to go along with on-base skills and the ability to play in the middle of the field.
A hot start to the season earned him a spot in the Futures Game, but the Dominican tapered off a bit in the second half. With a tremendous amount of ability and strong makeup, Alcantara has what it takes to excel in the majors, but the Cubs brass want to be sure he can perform consistently throughout the season before he gets the call to Wrigley.
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: TENNESSEE
2013 STATS: 54.2 IP, 3.13 ERA, 35 K, 17 BB (9 STARTS)
A finger injury cut short Beeler’s 2013 season, but he looked good when he was on the mound and built on that success in the AFL. With his velocity ticking up to 94 mph and a newly developed cutter—which helped him fend off lefties, previously his bugaboo—Beeler looked like a new man. He doesn’t miss a lot of bats, but rather relies on his defense, inducing ground balls by staying low in the zone with impressive sinking action on his pitches.
Beeler was added to the 40-man roster to keep from losing him in the Rule 5 draft, something that was a legitimate concern after his impressive AFL performance. As a big, physical strike thrower who knows how to pitch, he fits the bill for what the Cubs are looking for in an arm.
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: IOWA
2013 STATS: .210/.296/.330 (95 GAMES)
It was just a few years ago that Jackson was supposed to join Starlin Castro on the big league roster and light up the North Side with his immense talents. The Cal-Berkeley product didn’t get his chance until the summer of 2012 and struggled mightily with his strikeout rate. After the season, Jackson worked hard on his swing in an effort to reduce the whiffs, but early on, nothing changed.
“He came into Spring Training, and I think when the results weren’t there right away, he probably started pressing a little bit,” McLeod said. “When he went to Iowa, he got off to a slow start. The strikeouts started piling up again, and then unfortunately he got nicked up and missed quite a bit of time before he came back.”
When he returned to action, the Cubs sent him to Double-A, where his struggles continued. But the organization hasn’t given up on Jackson, who, from a physical standpoint, can do a lot of things not many others can do on a baseball field. Given a fresh start, the team hopes he can put a horrendous 2013 season behind him and somehow reduce his swing-and-miss tendencies. His combination of power, speed and defense could definitely come in handy for a major league club searching for high-end talent in the outfield.
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: IOWA
2013 STATS: .201/.303/.381 (107 GAMES)
Olt is another third baseman who may end up at Triple-A. Once deemed untouchable in the Texas organization, he found himself battling eye issues last season as his prospect status tumbled. He was ultimately swapped with other players for Matt Garza. The two keys for Olt will be putting his poor season in the rearview mirror and finding whatever it is he needs to take care of his vision problems.
Like Vitters, Olt will be moved around the field to increase his value, playing his normal third base, along with some first base and corner outfield. He strikes out a lot, but when he’s right, the whiffs are mitigated by his plus power and ability to take a walk. He is also an excellent defender at third. The Cubs would love nothing more than for Olt to come into camp healthy and hitting, and stake a claim to the big league third-base job early on.
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: IOWA
2013 STATS: .267/.368/.465 (33 GAMES)
When Vitters plays, he usually hits. Unfortunately, he was waylaid by injuries for much of 2013. Add in the Cubs’ newfound system depth at the hot corner, and suddenly Vitters is a player without a position. Though he’s been in the organization for seven years and already has had a taste of major league action, Vitters is still only 24.
Now that Triple-A first baseman Justin Bour was selected in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft, Vitters will get some time at first base as well as in the outfield at Iowa to increase his versatility and value going forward.
The California native doesn’t take many walks and only flashes average power, but if he can find a spot defensively, he has a chance to be a solid contributor. His ability to hit could help him become a serviceable asset in the majors. Because his hand-eye coordination is good enough that he makes contact with almost everything, pitch selection will be key.
Others to Watch
ALBERTO CABRERA (RHP) – After being used as a starter in 2013, Cabrera will likely contend for a bullpen spot next spring. He has a big fastball and a wipeout slider, which could make him a very valuable weapon in a late-inning role.
ERIC JOKISCH (LHP) – The Northwestern alum doesn’t light up the radar gun, but he is a big, durable, left-handed starter. Though Jokisch eats a lot of innings and throws strikes with an 87-90 mph fastball and a strong change-up, he needs to tighten up his breaking ball. He doesn’t have plus stuff to wow scouts, but he could be a more physical version of Chris Rusin.
ARMANDO RIVERO (RHP) – A hard thrower from Cuba, Rivero hits the mid-90s and has a diagonal-slanting slider. He looked strong in the minors and though the results weren’t great in the AFL, the experience gave him much-needed innings against a higher level of competition. He could be a factor in the bullpen in the near future.
MATT SZCZUR (OF) – Szczur, a steady performer throughout his minor league career, improved in numerous offensive categories in 2013 and took a step forward defensively. The hard-nosed, athletic outfielder will likely start the season in Triple-A and has a chance to contribute at the big league level as a fourth outfielder in the Reed Johnson mold.
TONY ZYCH (RHP) – Zych has top-notch velocity in the 95-98 mph range, but he sometimes struggles to miss bats. He throws a lot of strikes, but the quality can waver night to night due to an inconsistent delivery that requires some effort and energy. When it’s working, the velocity is elite, and he has a hard, sweeping slider that could be effective in high-leverage situations out of the bullpen.
(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