Results tagged ‘ ESPN ’

Cubs rank third in ESPN future power rankings

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Javier Baez could be a key to the Cubs’ future success. (Photo by Stephen Green)

In an attempt to forecast how well each major league organization will do over the next five-years, ESPN Insiders Jim Bowden, Keith Law and Buster Olney created the preseason MLB Future Power Rankings. The trio ranked each club in the following five categories: the quality of the current big league roster, the quality of the farm system, the team’s finances, a team’s management, and the mobility of the current roster or the current age and contract status of the team.

With the best minor league system in the game and a number of key veteran offseason additions, the Cubs find themselves at No. 3 in the rankings. The team jumped up one spot from when these rankings were last compiled on Oct. 31. Here’s what ESPN had to say about the Cubs.

Majors: 17 points (30 being the best score)
Minors: 30 points
Finance: 23 points
Management: 29 points
Mobility: 23 points

The overview
To date, Theo Epstein’s plan is playing out very well. Now the Cubs need prospects such as Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Javier Baez to make a successful jump to the next level. They also need to grab one of the elite starters on next winter’s free-agent market, such as Jordan Zimmermann or David Price. — Buster Olney

The dilemma
How will the Cubs configure their middle infield over the next few seasons? For now, Javier Baez is the front-runner at second base, with Starlin Castro at shortstop, but when shortstop prospect Addison Russell is major league-ready, he’ll end up beating out one of them, which could cause multiple players to shift positions. It could even mean third-base prospect Kris Bryant has to play a corner-outfield spot. — Jim Bowden

Impact prospect
Bryant should be the Cubs’ Opening Day third baseman, but he’ll probably be brought up by late April and is my pick to win NL Rookie of the Year. If it’s not him, it could just as easily be right fielder Jorge Soler. — Keith Law

ESPN’s Schoenfield ranks Cubs preseason No. 13

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

With the official beginning of Spring Training just days away, ESPN senior writer David Schoenfield has been unveiling his preseason MLB team rankings. On Wednesday, he named the Cubs No. 13 on his list, predicting the club would finish with an 84-78 record.

I‘m just the messenger: Just pointing out that [Jon] Lester had a 4.82 ERA in 2012 and 3.75 in 2013. Yes, big 2014, new league, no DH and more cutters instead of four-seamers and he could be even better. But you never know. He may not be as good as he was last year. And then there’s Jake Arrieta, former faded prospect turned rotation anchor. He looks like the real deal but … again … you never know. Hey, I’m trying. I like the Cubs! I have them ranked 13th!

The final word: If I had more guts I’d predict them to win the division, but they have two strong clubs ahead of them and even the Brewers or Reds are capable of 90 wins. The Cubs are still sorting a few things out and waiting for some of the young guys to mature. Sometimes, teams do break through right away; if [Kris] Bryant and Jorge Soler are 3-4 win players as rookies and Lester and Arrieta throw 400-plus innings of great baseball, the Cubs could be the big surprise of 2015.

Schoenfield said he expects second baseman Javier Baez and infielder/outfielder Arismendy Alcantara to have better seasons than they had in 2014, and he likes the potential Anthony Rizzo/Kris Bryant combination in the middle of the order. Though Kyle Hendricks was stellar in his 2014 stint, Schoenfield said he expects the young right-hander to regress slightly.

Even with the Reds and Brewers coming in at Nos. 24 and 22, respectively, the Cardinals and Pirates have not yet been named and are therefore in Schoenfield’s top six for 2015, making the NL Central a tough division on paper.

Law lists a quartet of Cubs among his top 100 prospects

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Keith Law ranked Addison Russell the No. 4 prospect in baseball. (Photo by Rodger Wood)

A day after ESPN Insider Keith Law named the Cubs the top farm system in baseball, the analyst handed the organization another compliment Thursday, naming four Cubs to his top 100 prospects., including two in the top five.

As has become the consensus for the last six months, Law anointed third baseman Kris Bryant his No. 1 prospect in the game. Joining him on the list were Addison Russell (No. 4), Jorge Soler (No. 14) and Kyle Schwarber (No. 90).

After hitting .325/.438/.661 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with a minors-best 43 homers between Double- and Triple-A in 2014, Bryant received multiple minor league player of the year awards. Even though he was selected just 18 months ago as the second-overall pick of the 2013 draft, the slugger has quickly ascended the minor league ranks, and is primed to make his major league debut this year. Law ranked Bryant his No. 15 prospect prior to 2014. Here is what he thinks about the third baseman’s future:

Bryant’s swing is very balanced, with a wide setup and good use of his lower half to generate power. While there were concerns when he was an amateur that his bat speed might not catch up to major league velocity, he really has had no problem with better stuff in the pros, probably because his eye is so good and his swing is very short from load to contact. He’s a good enough athlete to be able to handle third base, although he’d probably be better defensively in right field with his plus arm and fewer quick-reaction plays to challenge him. Wherever he ends up, he has 30-homer, .400 OBP potential, and should challenge for MVP awards once he has a few years in the majors.

Though Russell’s name may be a little newer to Cubs fans, he has been hovering around the top ranks of prospect lists for a while now. Law ranked the muscular Russell No. 3 on this list last year when he was a member of the Athletics organization. A July trade brought the highly touted prospect into the Cubs system, and while a hamstring tear shortened his 2014, the shortstop still manged to hit .295 with a .350 on-base percentage and demonstrated a little more power to his game.

Russell is a true shortstop with one of the best pure hit tools in the minors, both of which are a function of his outstanding hands, which are strong enough to produce hard contact yet smooth enough that he makes difficult plays look easy at short, whether it’s a tough ground ball or a quick transfer on a 4-6-3 double-play turn. His swing did get a little longer in 2014, producing more power but also more ground ball contact, as he would get on top of balls he didn’t square up. Russell always will face questions about his position because he’s not a runner, but his footwork is more than adequate, and he has the hands and arm to be above-average there. Shortstops with the potential to hit .300-plus with double-digit homers are rare commodities — Troy Tulowitzki was the only major leaguer to do it in 2014 — which makes Russell’s skill set extremely valuable.

Cubs fans got a glimpse of Soler at the major league level in 2014, as the power-hitting outfielder spent 24 games on the big league stage. He demonstrated his exciting tools early on, slugging five home runs, driving in 20 and posting a .292/.330/.573 line. Many expect Soler to start the season as the Cubs’ Opening Day right fielder.

Soler has gotten much stronger since he first signed a nine-year, $30 million contract with the Cubs in 2012, retaining much of his athleticism but losing some running speed as he bulked up. He always had enormous power thanks to very rapid hand acceleration and a beautiful, rotational swing with long extension through contact. He has a right fielder’s arm and the ability to be an average or better defender there, but for now his routes are a bit suspect and he’ll need more work out there to avoid being the new Domonic Brown. Soler wasn’t patient in the majors, but he had been so in the minors, and I expect that skill to return as he gains experience in the majors and stops trying to recreate what he did in those first five games. He projects as a 25-30 homer guy who hits .270-280 with a solid OBP and, we hope, average defense, which would make him maybe the Cubs’ third- or fourth-best hitter in their suddenly loaded lineup.

Though Law doesn’t see Schwarber as an everyday catcher, the Cubs appear a lot more confident, having worked with the 2014 first-round pick extensively behind the plate this offseason. Regardless, the big sell on the catcher/outfielder is his bat, which helped Schwarber power through Short-Season Boise and Single-A Kane County before finishing in High-A in 2014. He hit .344/.428/.634 with 18 homers and 18 doubles in his first professional year.

He has a chance to end up with a plus hit tool and plus power, showing much better plate discipline this summer than he did as an amateur, although his front side can get soft and he can be vulnerable to soft stuff away because his typical swing is so hard. If he hits .280 or so with a strong OBP and 25-30 homers, he’ll be a good everyday player even if he ends up as a bad left fielder, and the Cubs certainly believe he has a chance to exceed even those marks.

ESPN’s Law ranks the Cubs’ system best in baseball

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Kris Bryant heads what Keith Law calls the best system in baseball. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

In July, ESPN prospect expert Keith Law raved about the Cubs’ system, naming it the best in the game at that point. He went so far as to say, “This has to be the most loaded the Cubs’ farm has been in at least 30 years.”

That feeling has continued to resonate with Law, who again named the Cubs’ farm system the best in baseball heading into the 2015 season.

1. Chicago Cubs

The Cubs’ draft strategy under the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer regime has been to grab a polished hitter in the first round and load up on arms later. That, along with the trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel that netted two more top hitting prospects, has produced a system that’s full of hitting prospects but still a bit light on the pitching side. The first wave of bats reached the majors in the middle of 2014, with more coming this year, but there won’t be enough at-bats for Javier Baez and Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara and Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber and Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo … and that’s not even everyone who might end up pushing for playing time. The Cubs are in prime position to flip a young hitter for a pitcher or even to swing a bigger deal, especially if they want to try to set themselves up to win the NL Central in 2016. There are young starting pitching prospects here to like, led by 20-year-old Duane Underwood, but they’re all a few years away.

Law ranked the Cubs the No. 4 system at this time in 2014, No. 5 in 2013, and No. 20 in 2012—mere months after Epstein and Hoyer took over.

Law will unveil his top 100 prospects on Thursday and list his top 10 prospects for each club on Friday.

 

ESPN’s Law names Rizzo one of baseball’s top young players

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

ESPN Insider Keith Law unveiled his third-annual top 25 players in MLB under the age of 25 on Thursday. In order to qualify, a player had to be 24 years old or younger on April 24 and had to have exhausted his rookie eligibility.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo made the list for the second straight year, coming in at No. 23. The 24-year-old hit .233/.323/.742 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 23 homers in 2013, earning 2.6 wins above replacement. Rizzo is off to a strong start in 2014, hitting .319/.432/.458 with a pair of homers in 20 games. Here’s what Law had to say about the Cubs first baseman:

Current: An enigma; Rizzo’s swing is constantly changing, and after it appeared to be straightened out last spring, he reverted back to some old, bad habits that cause him to struggle against lefties and generally make less contact than he should. He’s an above-average to plus defender at first, has a good idea of the strike zone, and has 20-to-25 home run power as long as he can find a consistent setup and swing and stop tinkering with it.

Future: I retain a bit of stubborn optimism on Rizzo—he’s a future above-average regular at first, not a star, but better than he’s shown us over the last year-and-a-half. I also feel more optimistic about Rizzo reaching his potential than I do about teammate Starlin Castro, who also qualifies for this ranking.

Last Season: 18

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