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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.
(Photo by Aldrin Capulong/Daytona Cubs)
The initial perception among some scouts and draft experts was that the Cubs might have been reaching when they selected C/OF Kyle Schwarber with the fourth-overall pick of the 2014 draft. But after an impressive half season of professional baseball, Schwarber has already put those beliefs to rest and has publications like Baseball America calling him the best hitter in the draft.
Baseball America‘s 2014 Draft Report Cards named the Indiana University product both the best pure hitter and best power hitter from this year’s draft. He also ranked second in the publication’s Best Pro Debut from a College or Junior College group, trailing only Brandon Finnegan, who has been a key piece in the big league bullpen during the Royals’ World Series run.
Schwarber impressed early on, so much so that he was promoted from Short-Season A Boise after just 20 at-bats. In 23 games with Single-A Kane County, the 21-year-old hit .361/.448/.602 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with four homers and eight doubles, before being sent to High-A Daytona to help out with a late playoff push. In Daytona, he again hit over .300 with 10 homers in 44 games. On the season, he put up a .344/.428/.634 line with 18 home runs and 53 RBI over 262 at-bats.
Baseball America also credited the Cubs with the fourth-best draft from top to bottom.
Also, check out our video with Schwarber from earlier this season.
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.
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.
Javier Baez was one of two members of the Cubs organization on Baseball America‘s 2013 Minor League All-Star team. (Photo by Stephen Green)
In the last few years, the Cubs farm system has gone from the bottom of the rankings to one of the best in baseball. Many of the top farmhands improved their stock with solid play this year, and three clubs—Double-A Tennessee, High-A Daytona and Short-Season Boise—reached the postseason in their respective leagues.
And it’s not just Cubs fans taking notice of the success within the organization. On Thursday, Baseball America unveiled its 2013 Minor League All-Star Team , and a pair of Cubs prospects, SS Javier Baez and RHP C.J. Edwards, made the first team. Triple-A Iowa right-handed starter Kyle Hendricks was named to the second team after finishing 2013 with a 13-4 record and a 2.00 ERA with 128 strikeouts over 166 innings. Below is what BA had to say about the Cubs All-Stars.
DH Javier Baez • Cubs
Double-A Tennessee (Southern)
Baez slammed 20 homers in 54 Double-A games to catch and tie George Springer for second place in the minors with 37 bombs. Baez stands all by himself, however, with minor league-leading totals for extra-base hits (75) and RBI (111). The 20-year-old stepped up his game with runners on base this season, hitting .325/.384/.654 with 19 homers in 231 at-bats at Tennessee and high Class-A Daytona. While Baez possesses the raw tools to play a big league shortstop, he needs to clean up his fundamentals and improve his efficiency after committing 44 errors in 123 games, a performance good for a .932 fielding average.
Javier Baez- .282/.341/.578, 130 G, 517 AB, 98 R, 146 H, 34 2B, 3 3B, 37 HR, 111 RBI, 20 SB
SP C.J. Edwards • Cubs
High Class-A Daytona (Florida State)
A 48th-round pick by the Rangers out of high school in Prosperity, S.C., two years ago, Edwards is the scouting and player development success story in the minors. He quickly refined his mechanics and added velocity during his 2012 debut before utterly dominating low Class-A competition for the first half of 2013. Edwards didn’t allow a home run in 18 starts for Hickory prior to his July 22 trade to the Cubs as part of the bounty for Matt Garza. He breezed through another six starts afterward, finishing with a minor league-best 12 strikeouts per nine innings and ranking fourth in the ERA race at 1.86. He then added 10 shutout, one-hit innings as Daytona won the Florida State League championship.
C.J. Edwards- 8-2, 1.86 ERA, 24 GS, 116 IP, 76 H, 1 HR, 41 BB, 155 K, .182 OBA
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.