Results tagged ‘ Javier Baez ’
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The Cubs may be only a brief stop away from their next destination. Or, perhaps, a shortstop. That is, if they are willing to trade one.
In his postseason address to season ticket holders, President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said he expects the team to contend for a division title in 2015. And that was before marquee manager Joe Maddon first put on the pinstripes at the Cubby Bear.
With holes still to fill, the Cubs can’t stop short with their hiring of Maddon. In their quest to be the best, middle-infield depth could be the key to acquiring more pieces to the puzzle.
Since arriving in October 2011, Epstein and his front office mates have done a lot of heavy lifting to strengthen the organization—signing international free agents, making astute picks in the June amateur draft and trading for other teams’ top prospects. As a result, the Cubs’ system is rated among the consensus top three in the majors.
At this stage, moving surplus talent, notably at shortstop, could be vital to improving the major league product.
“I believe the Cubs potentially have three All-Stars in [Starlin] Castro, [Javier] Baez and [Addison] Russell,” said a top major league executive. “I watched Russell last year in the Arizona Fall League. This year in the minor leagues, he got a little thicker and stronger. This young man is going to be a fine hitter and could very well be an All-Star shortstop. I love his natural instincts. Nothing about his game is below average.”
The Cubs acquired Oakland’s top draft picks from 2012 and 2013—Russell and outfielder Billy McKinney—along with pitcher Dan Straily in a July 4 deal for starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Athletics General Manager Billy Beane said he didn’t want to trade the 20-year-old Russell, rated the No. 5 prospect in the game by MLB.com, but succumbed to the urge to add pitching depth in hopes of making a deep playoff run last season.
Of the three shortstops in question, Baez has the greatest power potential. His lack of contact at the major league level—95 strikeouts in his first 213 at-bats—hasn’t tempered the club’s confidence in him. Epstein said Baez will start the 2015 campaign on the Cubs’ 25-man roster, “barring anything out of the ordinary.”
A top National League scout raved about the raw skills he sees in Baez, who turns 22 on Dec. 1.
“I love his power, and he really seems comfortable at shortstop,” the scout said. “He’s not a flashy fielder—just gets the ball and throws the runner out. Baez has less moving parts than Castro.
“Will he hit? I really think so. Remember when [Anthony] Rizzo first came up in San Diego? He struck out almost 40 percent of the time. That bat speed and the quick hands cannot be taught. [Baez] is 21 and struck out at every level a lot of times until he figured it out. I like him as a shortstop, second baseman or third baseman. And I see a lot of extra-base hits in his future.”
The Cubs’ third shortstop jewel is the young veteran Castro, already a three-time All-Star at just 24 years old. His recovery from a disappointing 2013 season was a boon for both him and the organization.
After landing a seven-year, $60 million contract in August 2012, Castro seemed to enter 2013 as if he had nothing to prove. He reported to camp 10 pounds heavier and never hit his stride, batting just .245 on the season (39 points below his current lifetime average).
In 2014, a rededicated Castro led the team in hitting with a .292 mark from the middle of the order and regained his All-Star status. Working with infield instructor Gary Jones, he also reduced his errors from 22 to 15—the first season in four he didn’t lead major league shortstops in miscues.
The question of what the Cubs will do with their surplus of middle-infield talent could be answered this winter. If so, Castro might be the likeliest to go. At least three major-market teams will be seeking a top shortstop, and Castro would seem the most marketable commodity as an already-established big league star.
Ultimately, the Cubs could elect to keep all three shortstops—each 24 or younger—and move two of them to different positions. Baez is currently scheduled to be the Opening Day second baseman, with Russell ticketed to play shortstop at either Double-A Tennessee or Triple-A Iowa.
Maddon’s arrival seems to accelerate the team’s timetable for winning. A blockbuster deal for a top young pitcher could be the next step.
In other words, don’t sell Epstein short. Not so long as he has shortstops to sell.
—Bruce Levine and Joel Bierig
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
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Cubs’ 2011 first-round draft pick Javier Baez is slated to make his major league debut Tuesday, as the Cubs kick off a three-game set in Colorado. After a slow start in Triple-A Iowa, MLB.com’s No. 5 prospect was hitting .260/.323/.510 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 23 home runs and 80 RBI at the time of the recall. Twelve of his home runs have come in the last 32 games.
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.
(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
During Sunday’s MLB Futures Game, which pits the top international prospects with the best American talents, Cubs prospect Javier Baez ripped a home run in the sixth inning to put the World Team ahead. As the Puerto Rican-born shortstop rounded rounded third, his Iowa Cubs teammate Kris Bryant (representing the U.S. Team) applauded his efforts. Baez finished 1-for-2 with the homer, while Bryant went 0-for-3 with a walk.
After a slow start to the season, Baez has picked up the pace. He wrapped up the first half hitting .240/.305/.449 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 14 homers at Triple-A Iowa. In 92 games between Double-A and Triple-A this season, Bryant is hitting .346/.444/.701 with 31 homers and 81 RBI.
Kris Bryant is now seen by many as the top prospect in baseball. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
A year ago, Kris Bryant hadn’t even made his rookie ball debut. Fast forward to now, and the Cubs farmhand is viewed by many as the top prospect in the game. ESPN Insider Keith Law recently unveiled his midseason Top 50 MLB Prospects list, and he put the Triple-A third baseman squarely at the top. Joining Bryant on the list are three other Cubs prospects, including two more in the top eight overall. Below are excerpts from the list on the top Cubs prospects:
1. Kris Bryant, 3B | Chicago Cubs
Age: 22 | Current Level: AAA (Iowa)
Preseason Ranking: 15
While there are players in the minors who offer higher ceilings — notably the next two guys on this list — Bryant is so close to major-league ready that his value at this moment is at least as high as that of Buxton, who’s playing now but has been hurt most of the year, or Correa, who’s out at least until the Fall League. Bryant has power, he’s capable at third base, and his eye and approach continue to improve. Even if he’s just a .260-.270 hitter — probably a pessimistic forecast — he’ll still be a MVP-caliber bat who hits 30-40 homers and gets on base at a solid clip.
4. Addison Russell, SS | Chicago Cubs
Age: 20 | Current Level: AA (Tennessee)
Preseason Ranking: 3
Russell will be the best prospect to change hands this season, going from the Oakland Athletics, who took him with the 11th overall pick in 2012, to the Cubs in the deal that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the A’s. A torn hamstring robbed Russell of most of April and May, but he’s healthy now and hasn’t lost anything at the plate or in the field. He has outstanding hands and plenty of arm for shortstop, which makes up for slightly limited range. His footwork has improved over the last year, so I don’t really doubt that he can stay at the position. Those great hands also serve him well at the plate, helping him to accelerate his bat quickly and get good loft in his finish to create line-drive power. I see a high-average hitter with a strong OBP and 10-15 homers — maybe even a few more — who plays above-average defense at shortstop.
8. Javier Baez, SS | Chicago Cubs
Age: 21 | Current Level: AAA (Iowa)
Preseason Ranking: 7
Baez still has the minors’ best bat speed, with great wrist and forearm strength that translates into huge all-fields power, which you saw in his homer in the Futures Game off a hanging breaking ball. He’s still rough around the edges at short, agile enough to play but lacking the finesse or the focus to do so at a major league level. That same Futures Game performance also saw him lollygagging on a groundball to short and delivering a lazy throw when he needed to fire one over to first base. Makeup may be the biggest concern here. Otherwise, Baez has the raw ability to become a 35-40 homer guy at second or third base.
28. Jorge Soler, RF | Chicago Cubs
Age: 22 | Current Level: AA (Tennessee)
Preseason Ranking: 26
Soler is a monster if he can just stay on the field. He has electric bat speed, plus-plus raw power and the athleticism and arm to play an above-average or better right field. He’s gotten bigger and stronger since signing in 2012, and in the 15 games he’s managed to play in Double-A this year, he’s hit .400/.456/.880 with 14 extra-base hits in 57 at-bats (tiny sample size caveat applies), indicative of his crazy strength. While he’s been injured too often for me to rank him higher, he has the raw offensive ability to be a top 10 prospect if he gets the at-bats to work on his recognition of offspeed stuff.
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.
With the First-Year MLB Player Draft looming next week (June 5-7), ESPN Insider Keith Law updated the Top 25 players from his preseason Top 100 prospect rankings Friday. Despite the fact that three players from the initial group have moved on to the big leagues, there were no huge changes. The Cubs landed two players on the list, with third-baseman Kris Bryant—and his 16 home runs—moving up seven spots since the preseason, and Javier Baez falling two spots after a sluggish start.
Here’s what Law had to say about the Cubs prospects. The whole article is definitely worth a read, but you must have an ESPN Insider account to access it.
8. Kris Bryant | 3B | Chicago Cubs (age 22)
Current level: Double-A (Tennessee)
Preseason ranking: 15
Aside from a high strikeout rate (more than 25 percent of his plate appearances), Bryant’s season so far is unimpeachable, as he’s walking, hitting for average, hitting for huge power and improving the second time around the league. We’ll have to see what happens to that contact rate when he gets to Triple-A, though.
9. Javier Baez | SS | Chicago Cubs (age 21)
Current level: Triple-A (Iowa)
Preseason ranking: 7
Speaking of Cubs who don’t make enough contact in Triple-A, here’s Baez, owner of the fastest bat in the minors, striking out in a third of his plate appearances so far this year for Iowa.
When he does square the ball up, he hits it hard, but he’s got work to do to make more contact, especially cutting down on his aggressiveness with two strikes, before he’s ready to come up and take over any position in Chicago.