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Outfield prospect Albert Almora ranks No. 2 on Baseball America’s Top 10 Cubs prospects. (Photo by Jason Wise)
Every year, Baseball America breaks down each major league organization’s top 10 prospects. Earlier this week, Jim Callis unveiled his list for the Cubs.
The Cubs organization has undergone a dramatic overhaul since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over in October 2011, and this prospect list is a perfect example. Five of the top 10 players are new to the list—and the organization—this year.
The top portion of the rankings offers few surprises, with infielder Javier Baez, outfielders Albert Almora and Jorge Soler, and pitcher Arodys Vizcaino at No. 1 through 4. Baez was the team’s 2011 first-round pick, and Almora was the top pick in 2012. Soler was signed as a non-drafted free agent this summer, while Vizcaino was acquired from the Braves in a deal for Paul Maholm. All four are expected to be major contributors to the future of the organization, and Vizcaino, on his way back from Tommy John surgery, should be a member of the Cubs’ big league squad in 2013.
Outfielder Brett Jackson, who got his first taste of the big leagues this past season, was ranked No. 5. Despite showing flashes of good play in 2012, he struggled in his major league debut, hitting just .175 and striking out 59 times in 120 at-bats. But his stellar play in the outfield and work ethic keep him at the top of most Cubs prospect lists.
Right-handed pitcher Pierce Johnson, slugging first baseman Dan Vogelbach and infielder Jeimer Candelario were ranked sixth, seventh and eighth, respectively.
The 32-year-old Japanese import Kyuji Fujikawa comes in at No. 9. Though he has no major league experience, the longtime NPB pitcher will break camp with the major league club out of Spring Training and likely inhabit a late-innings role. Infielder Arismendy Alcantara rounds out the list.
For more information on the prospects, a list of players with the best particular tools and a projected 2016 lineup, click the link above.
To cap off a whirlwind week for the team, the Cubs acquired high-ceiling first base prospect Anthony Rizzo and right-hander Zach Cates from the Padres in exchange for righty Andrew Cashner and outfielder Kyung-Min Na.
Last month, Baseball America named Rizzo, 22, the top prospect in the Padres organization and MLB.com ranked him as the top first base prospect in all of baseball. The left-handed slugger hit .331 with 34 doubles, 26 home runs and 101 RBI in 93 games for San Diego’s Triple-A affiliate in 2011. Although he has dominated minor league pitchers throughout his career, he struggled during a brief 49-game big league call-up last year. According to General Manager Jed Hoyer, he will likely start the 2012 season at the Cubs Triple-A Iowa affiliate.
“We believe Anthony has the potential to be a middle-of-the-order run producer for the Cubs for a very long time,” Hoyer said. “He still has some development left. We feel what he’s done at age 20 at Double-A and age 21 at Triple-A was remarkable.”
Rizzo was originally selected by the Red Sox but was sent to San Diego in the Adrian Gonzalez trade.
Read the full press release below:
CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs today acquired first baseman Anthony Rizzo and right-handed pitcher Zach Cates from the San Diego Padres for right-handed pitcher Andrew Cashner and outfielder Kyung-Min Na.
Rizzo, 22, batted .331 (118-for-356) with 34 doubles, 26 home runs and 101 RBI in 93 games for San Diego’s Tucson affiliate last season, his first-career stop at Triple-A. The left-handed batter recorded a .404 on-base percentage and a .652 slugging percentage, good for a 1.056 OPS, the second-best mark in the Pacific Coast League. Despite time in the majors, Rizzo tied for fifth in the league in batting average, ranked sixth in RBI, tied for eighth in homers and ranked second in slugging. He has reached 100 RBI in his last two minor league years.
Named last month as the top prospect in San Diego’s farm system by Baseball America entering the 2012 season, Rizzo began the 2011 campaign by hitting .365 (73-for-200) with 16 home runs and 63 RBI in his first 52 Triple-A games to earn his first call-up to the big leagues, making his debut on June 9. Rizzo had a .444 on-base percentage, a .715 slugging percentage and a 1.159 OPS at the time of his promotion. He spent six weeks in the big leagues before returning to Triple-A on July 21. Rizzo was recalled to the majors September 4 and combined to bat .141 (18-for-128) with eight doubles, one triple, one homer and nine RBI in 49 big league games last year.
Rizzo was originally selected by the Red Sox in the sixth round of the 2007 Draft out of high school. He was limited to 21 minor league games in 2008 after being diagnosed with Limited Stage Classical Hodgkins Lymphoma in late April. He returned a season later to lead all Red Sox minor leaguers with a .368 on-base percentage and ranked third in the system with a .297 batting average between Single-A Greenville and Single-A Salem.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Rizzo was named the Red Sox Offensive co-Player of the Year in 2010 after leading their system with 25 home runs between Salem and Double-A Portland. He finished second in the organization with 100 RBI, and batted .260 (138-for-531) with 42 doubles, 61 walks and 92 runs scored. He was Portland’s Most Valuable Player and tied for the team lead with 20 home runs in only 107 games.
Rizzo was acquired by the Padres as part of the five-player deal that sent Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox on December 6, 2010. A native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., he has batted .296 (425-for-1,436) with 119 doubles, 64 home runs and 281 RBI in 375 career minor league games covering five seasons.
Cates, 22, was selected by San Diego in the third round of the 2010 Draft and made his professional debut last season, going 4-10 with a 4.73 ERA (62 ER/118.0 IP) in 25 starts for Single-A Fort Wayne. He allowed only four home runs with 111 strikeouts in 118.0 innings pitched. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Cates is a native of Conway, AR and attended Northeast Texas Community College.
Cashner, 25, is 2-6 with a 4.29 ERA (31 ER/65.0 IP) in 60 major league outings (one start) the last two years with the Cubs. Chicago’s first round pick in the 2008 Draft, Cashner made his big league debut in 2010, making 53 relief appearances, and was limited to only seven outings (one start) in 2011 due to a right shoulder strain.
Na, 20, combined to bat .268 (72-for-269) with 10 doubles, no home runs and 22 RBI in 83 games between four different teams in the club’s minor league system last year. The Seoul, South Korea native was originally signed by the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent on August 12, 2009.