Results tagged ‘ Javier Baez ’

Cubs vs. Cubs, white team takes down blue 7-3

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The Cubs season is officially underway. After a few weeks of workouts, batting practice and bullpen sessions, the team cranked it up to game speed in a blue vs. white intrasquad matchup Thursday afternoon at HoHoKam Stadium. The veteran-laden white team took down the top prospects in the system 7-3 in a five-inning affair.

After a rainy day yesterday in Arizona—it even snowed in some areas—the grounds crew spent most of the morning getting the HoHoKam field back in playing shape. But by game time, things had dried out.

The white team got off to a fast start off blue team starter Chris Rusin in the first. After a David DeJesus groundout, Starlin Castro doubled, Anthony Rizzo walked and Alfonso Soriano singled to load the bases. New Cubs catcher Dioner Navarro followed with a single, and third baseman Ian Stewart laced a ringing double to left center to put the white team up 4-0.

Shortstop Starlin Castro, who many expect to have a big year in 2013, got off to a good start with the bat, going 3-for-3 with a double and three runs scored.

“Castro put two good swings and then just missed another really nice swing down the right field line,” said manager Dale Sveum. “That’s obviously one guy we really don’t have to be concerned with when the numbers are all done. That guy can just hit.”

Though the white team boasted most of the projected Opening Day starters, the blue team might have been the more interesting group, as it was loaded with many of the organization’s top prospects, including Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, Junior Lake and Brett Jackson.

And Soler didn’t disappoint. The left fielder gave Cubs fans a glimpse of the future when he crushed a soaring home run to left off minor league pitcher of the year Nick Struck in his first at-bat of the game. Soler also walked and made a good play coming in on a ball in left. Mind you, it was only an intrasquad, five-inning game and he was hitting off a minor league pitcher, but Soler certainly made a good impression.

“Pretty nice bat speed you saw,” Sveum said. “Those were some good at-bats—took a walk. … That guy following him up (Baez) had some pretty good bat speed going through the strike zone too—as well as Lake. There are some guys who are on that radar right now that could possibly be impact players some day.”

Top-ranked shortstop prospect Baez, who batted in the seven hole, had a little more of an up-and-down game. He struck out in the second and was robbed by Castro, who ranged to his left for a diving catch, in the fourth. On defense, he made a diving play of his own to rob David DeJesus of a single, but also got eaten up by Navarro’s single in the first.

“Baez was a little shaky today,” Sveum said. “Kind of some young stuff that’s still there that’s got to be cleaned up. [There's] a lot of stuff, even stuff that’s behind the scenes that everybody else doesn’t see, that we have to change—some instinctive stuff.”

New Cubs right fielder Nate Schierholtz homered in the bottom of the third inning and had an RBI sac fly for the white team. Brian Bogusevic, an Oak Lawn, Ill., native who spent the last three years with the Houston Astros, also homered for the blue team.

Following the game, Sveum announced that third baseman Ian Stewart, who was pulled from the game in the second inning, was day-to-day with a mild—emphasis on mild—left quad strain. Josh Vitters is also day-to-day with the same injury.

“It’s an epidemic,” Sveum joked.

Cactus Notes: Sveum on Fitch, leadership and the future

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A steady rain drowned out most of the final day of Cubs baseball at Fitch Park on Wednesday, but there was still a little news.

The Cubs announced the starters for the opening games of their Cactus League slate, which kicks off this weekend. Travis Wood will get the Saturday start against the Los Angeles Angels in Tempe, and Jeff Samardzija will pitch the Sunday home opener against the San Francisco Giants. Carlos Villanueva will pitch Game 3 on Monday against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Edwin Jackson will start on Tuesday against the Colorado Rockies.

Matt Garza’s debut has been pushed back due to a mild lat strain on his left side. It was announced Tuesday that he’ll likely be out about a week before resuming baseball activities.

Manager Dale Sveum also held his daily presser, despite the lack of on-field action. Here are Sveum’s best quotes from the day:

Then vs. Now
“We have a lot of the same guys in camp [from a year ago] that ended getting some time in the big leagues. But like I said yesterday, there’s just a whole different look in their eyes. Having that experience and going through some adversity with some of the young guys, it’s a whole lot different. There’s just so much more talent in camp this year than there was last year—and also depth. Guys that are very capable of pitching in the big leagues or guys that are on our radar getting really close to the big leagues. … There’s just more playable talent in camp this year.”

Leaving Fitch
“Spring Training is what it is in any park. Here it’s a little bit unique because you have to move [from Fitch to HoHoKam]. Probably my first memory here is when I had to come over here 25 years ago and rehab my leg clear across from Peoria [in extended Spring Training]. We shared it with the Cubs at that time.”

Prospect Watch (Javy Baez, Jorge Soler, Junior Lake, etc.)
“We have so many split-squad games they’re going to get quite a few games in before being sent down. There are a lot of at-bats out there.”

“I’m very anxious [to see them]. Those are the guys you talk about that are on your radar in the minor league systems that have all those God-given tools—the speed, the arm, the power, hopefully the hitting ability, meaning OPS and those things. A lot of that stuff comes a little bit later in careers. But it’s pretty special talent and bat speed those guys have. You want to see it in person and at game speed.”

Veteran Leadership
“We do have some personalities that are able to fill those [leadership] roles. I think [Anthony] Rizzo is one of those guys. I think [Darwin] Barney is ready to be that guy. Obviously Rizzo’s rookie year and Barney winning a Gold Glove—those kinds of things give you added ability to be a leader in the clubhouse because people look up to people like that. We have [Alfonso] Soriano, and [Jeff] Samardzija is going to take on that role, as well as [Matt] Garza and Edwin Jackson. So we have plenty of personalities that can do that.”

Building for the Future
“Going into this last year, you knew the plan we had, and we weren’t going to take any shortcuts to vary from it. Within a year, the whole organization has changed so dramatically for the good. You just get better players in the organization, and you create an atmosphere where people want to play here, and they want to come to this ballpark and work. That’s all you can do. That’s the transformation we’re trying to do all the time here. And it’s changed a ton in a year.”

Cubs scattered throughout BA’s Top 100 prospects

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Cubs minor leaguers Albert Almora and Jorge Soler were both ranked on Baseball America‘s top 100 prospects list.
(Photo by Stephen Green)

February is the month when most baseball prospect lists are unveiled and displayed for all to see. On Tuesday afternoon, Baseball America released its Top 100 Prospects list—and gave Cubs fans another reason for optimism.

Slugging shortstop Javier Baez, currently in major league camp with the Cubs, heads the quartet of North Siders on the list, coming in at No. 16. The 2011 first-round pick played his first full season in 2012, hitting .294/.346/.543 (AVG/OBP/SLG) at two Single-A levels and mashing 16 home runs. He is the third-highest shortstop prospect on the list. Baseball America is the first major publication to put Baez ahead of Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor, a fellow shortstop picked one spot ahead of Baez in the 2011 draft. The publication also rated Baez the most exciting player in the Midwest League last season.

Last year’s first-round pick Albert Almora was ranked No. 33, one spot ahead of 2012 signee Jorge Soler. Almora joined an exciting Short-Season Boise squad late into the year and hit .292 in 65 plate appearances. The 18-year-old former Team USA player is heralded for his feel for the game, especially at such a young age.

Despite still assimilating himself to American culture after coming over from Cuba, Soler managed to crush Single-A pitching last year, hitting .338/.398/.513 in 80 at-bats in 2012. Known for his power at the plate and strong arm in the outfield, the massive 21-year-old projects to be a right fielder. Soler is currently working out with the major league squad in Mesa, Ariz., and is on the 40-man roster.

Arodys Vizcaino, who came over in the Paul Maholm trade with Atlanta last summer, rounds out the Cubs representatives at No. 83. This year marks the fourth straight time the right-hander has been ranked on Baseball America’s list. BA voted Vizcaino the organization’s best fastball and curveball after 2012, despite the fact that he missed the season recovering from Tommy John surgery. Though he will be eased back slowly, expect to see the power arm playing at Wrigley Field sooner rather than later.

The Cubs had four players on the list last year: Brett Jackson (32), Anthony Rizzo (47), Baez (61) and Matt Szczur (64).

ESPN unveils top 10 Cubs prospects

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ESPN Insider’s Keith Law named Paul Blackburn the Cubs’ No. 9 prospect. (Photo courtesy of Heritage High School)

All week long, ESPN Insider’s Keith Law has been releasing his 2013 prospect rankings. His lists came to a conclusion Thursday, when he unveiled his top 10 prospects by team in the National League.

The Cubs’ farm system—ranked No. 5 in baseball, according to Law—was likely rewarded for a group of high-ceiling prospects at the top of the list. In his team breakdown, Law praised the club’s use of trades, international spending and the draft.

They’ve turned around substantially after trading Paul Maholm, spending lavishly on international free agents (when permitted) and drafting well in 2012, although most of what I like about this system is a good two years away. … They’re another good trade deadline and draft class away from the point where you can begin to see a turnaround in the majors.

Law believes Arodys Vizcaino (No. 64 prospect overall), who is still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, could be a nice addition to the bullpen in 2013, but he doesn’t see anyone else contributing this season. Still, many of the other prospects on the list could jump into his Top 100 prospects in time.

Aside from Jeimer Candelario, whom I discussed yesterday on the list of guys who just missed, I could see any of these guys jumping into the top 100: Juan Carlos Paniagua, who sits in the mid-90s with a plus slider but has very little pro experience after two years of suspensions; Duane Underwood, drafted at 17 and flashing velocity up to 96 with a very athletic body and quick arm; or Arismendy Alcantara, a plus runner and thrower who might end up at third but shows pop from both sides of the plate.

Below are Law’s top 10 prospects in the Cubs system:

1. Javier Baez, SS
2. Albert Almora, CF
3. Jorge Soler, RF
4. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
5. Jeimer Candelario, 3B
6. Duane Underwood, RHP
7. Juan Carlos Paniagua, RHP
8. Pierce Johnson, RHP
9. Paul Blackburn, RHP
10. Arismendy Alcantara, SS

Four Cubs in ESPN’s top 100 prospects list

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ESPN Insider Keith Law named Javier Baez his No. 31 prospect in baseball.
(Photo by Rodger Wood)

It’s easy to dismiss an individual’s prospect rankings. After all, it’s just one person’s opinion, which can easily be perceived as someone arbitrarily putting numbers next to a name.

But ESPN Insider Keith Law has a pretty good track record dating back to 2008, when he started compiling this list for ESPN. After all, his top five preseason prospects in 2012 were Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Matt Moore, Manny Machado and Shelby Miller. Trout and Harper won Rookie of the Year awards in their respective divisions, Moore started 31 games for a 90-win team, and Machado and Miller were both call-ups that helped their teams reach the playoffs.

So whether you’re a fan of prospect rankings in general or not, it has to be reassuring for any Cubs supporter to see four members of the organization on Law’s Top 100 prospects of 2013. On the list are the usual Cubs suspects, Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler and Arodys Vizcaino. In addition to those four, infielder Jeimer Candelario also received consideration in the 10 prospects who just missed category.

Below is Law’s analysis on each of the Cubs prospects:

Javier Baez
Prospect Rank: 31
2012 Ranking: 95
Position: SS
Age: 20

Baez might have the best bat speed in the minors, and he certainly has the angriest swing, often reminiscent of John Belushi’s samurai character from “Saturday Night Live.” (Of course, when Baez was born, Belushi had been dead for a decade, so perhaps I need a more contemporary reference.)

His hands are explosive, and the bat speed is so good that he’s already got plus-plus raw power and can drive the ball out to the opposite field like he’s tying his shoes. He’s also one of the least patient hitters in the minors, approaching each pitch in fourth gear, swinging and missing because he doesn’t shorten up or otherwise adjust his swing to the situation. In the field, he’s quieted doubts about his ability to stay at shortstop; he has the agility and instincts for it, as well as a plus arm, so the only major issue is whether he eventually outgrows the position.

He’s one of the highest-beta prospects on this list — he could be a 30-homer shortstop, or he could stall out in Double-A because pitchers exploit him and he can’t adjust. I’m willing, for now, to bet on the former.

Albert Almora
Prospect Rank: 33
2012 Ranking: NA
Position: OF
Age: 18

The joke in scouting circles last spring was that Cubs President Theo Epstein didn’t just want to draft Almora, he wanted to adopt him. Almora is a natural center fielder who has outstanding instincts, especially when reading the ball off the bat, so even though he’s an average runner he plays with plus range and has an above-average arm.

Almora starts his swing with a high leg kick but gets his foot down in time, with a very steady, controlled swing that has plenty of hip rotation for power without sacrificing his ability to square up the ball for solid contact. He has excellent hand-eye coordination and doesn’t swing and miss much, even with the wood bat. His lack of patience in his pro debut (two walks in 145 plate appearances) was something of a surprise, although he might have just wanted to fit in with all of the Cubs’ other hitting prospects.

His ceiling is as a high-average hitter with plus defense in center and 20 home runs, although he’s going to have to show he can take a pitch now and then to get there.

Jorge Soler
Prospect Rank: 42
2012 Ranking: NA
Position: OF
Age: 20

Soler signed before the new CBA rules on enriching owners at the expense of impoverished Latin American kids went into effect, signing with the Cubs for a $6 million bonus and $24 million in salary over nine years, although he can opt out of the deal if he becomes eligible for salary arbitration.

He’s a wiry, athletic outfielder with explosive hands at the plate, starting them high and deep but getting them moving so quickly that he has no trouble catching up to good velocity. He doesn’t look like a typical power hitter, but he’s got the quick-twitch muscles to be able to rotate the bat through the zone and drive the ball out to left-center like an older or more physical player would. On defense, he might be playable in center for now but the Cubs have him in right, which would be his long-term position regardless.

Soler only played 34 games last summer after signing, but it’s a point in his favor that he struck out just 19 times even though he hadn’t faced live pitching on a regular basis in nearly two years. At just 21 this year, he should be able to get to Double-A with the upside of an above-average regular in right who should peak in the 25-30 home run range.

Arodys Vizcaino
Prospect Rank: 64
2012 Ranking: 14
Position: RHP
Age: 22

Vizcaino entered 2012 with a partial ligament tear in his right elbow, and in March he underwent surgery to repair it, ending his season before it began, although he did find himself part of a midyear trade from the Braves to the Cubs in exchange for Paul Maholm.

When healthy, Vizcaino has electric stuff, a top-of-the-rotation arsenal with a lightning-quick arm, needing work on command and refinement on his changeup a little further to reach that potential — and, of course, to stay healthy.

Before the surgery, Vizcaino would work at 92-96 as a starter and hit 98 when he worked in relief for Atlanta late in 2011. The pitch doesn’t sink but does have late life up in the zone. He has a hard curveball that works at near-slider velocity with hard two-plane break and good depth. The changeup has good arm speed, and improving it is a question of feel, something he’ll get with reps. His arm works well aside from a lack of extension out front, and he gets on top of the ball enough to get that depth on the breaking ball.

The Cubs will likely bring him back slowly this year, so if he appears in the majors at all in 2013, I’d speculate that it would be in relief, with a rotation spot by mid-2014 a more realistic goal.

Jeimer Candelario
Prospect Rank: Just Missed
2012 Ranking: NA
Position: 3B
Age: 19

He’s an offensive third baseman with great rhythm at the plate and a smooth swing, showing just enough to make you think he can stay at third base. I’d just like to see the offensive skill set translate into a little more performance before buying in all the way, because the defense will never be a plus. If you squint, you might see a Pablo Sandoval future here.

Cubs invite 22 non-roster players to Mesa

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Reliever Jaye Chapman was one of 22 players invited to Spring Training Friday.

(Photo by Stephen Green)

The clubhouse in Mesa, Ariz., will be a little more crowded later this month as the Cubs have invited 22 non-roster players to major league Spring Training camp. For some of the younger ballplayers, the invite serves as a chance to get acclimated to major league hitting or pitching. For the veterans, it could be another shot to break camp with a big league team.

The Cubs non-roster invitees include a mix of top prospects (Javier Baez, Nick Struck), familiar faces (Jaye Chapman, Casey Coleman, Blake Parker) and former major leaguers (Brent Lillibridge, Brian Bogusevic, Darnell McDonald).

Pitchers and catchers report to Mesa Feb. 12, and the first full squad workout is Feb. 17. Below is the complete list of non-roster invitees:

Right-handed pitchers: Drew Carpenter, Jaye Chapman, Casey Coleman, Dayan Diaz, Jensen Lewis, Barret Loux, Blake Parker, Zach Putnam, Nick Struck, Cory Wade

Left-handed pitchers: Hisanori Takahashi

Catchers: J.C. Boscan, Michael Brenly, Rafael Lopez

Infielders: Javier Baez, Alberto Gonzalez, Brent Lillibridge, Edwin Maysonet, Brad Nelson

Outfielders: Brian Bogusevic, Johermyn Chavez, Darnell McDonald

Hot Off the Presses: The Minor League Prospectus

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Here’s why we love the Cubs Convention. It essentially marks the beginning of the end of the offseason. When the season ends in October, there’s not much to look forward to for the rest of the calendar year except the temperature plummeting and the Bears narrowly missing the NFL playoffs yet again. But once the new year hits, it’s less than a month until the Cubs Convention, which is less than a month from Spring Training, which is about a month from April 1—Opening Day.

The Convention is the first time all interested parties—players, coaches, front office personnel and fans—are back in the same location. It’s also a great opportunity to meet some of the young players who are expected to comprise the bright future of the franchise. The 2013 Convention introduced us to future stars such as infielder Javier Baez (recently named the Cubs’ top prospect by Baseball America’s Jim Callis), pitcher Robert Whitenack, and minor league player and pitcher of the year Logan Watkins and Nick Struck.

This month, in a February tradition, we unveil our latest Minor League Prospectus, a detailed look at the top prospects at all levels of the Cubs system. We sat down with Senior Vice President of Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod to get scouting reports on athletes throughout the organization. He also provided tremendous insight into the front office’s mindset and how they have been trying to build the team through the draft, trades and player development.

“From a player perspective, I think we’ve added more potential for impact,” McLeod said. “I think the organization had some depth to it. With the acquisitions that have been made, with the focus on the draft and some of the things we’ve been able to do with the trades, we’ve been trying to get back more what we would term as impact talent, whether it be arms, or athletes, or power.”

We’ve broken down the names you need to know into five categories: 2012 draft, 2012 trades and claims, international players, approaching the majors and down the pipeline. We’re not ranking the prospects—plenty of other publications do that—we’re giving you information, straight from the front office, about what to expect from the farm system this year and down the road.

With pitchers and catchers reporting this month, we also talked to the newest member of the Cubs’ starting five, the well-traveled Edwin Jackson. After pitching for seven teams in his 10-year big league career, the 29-year-old fireballer has finally settled down with a four-year, $52 million contract on the North Side. Jackson, who has pitched on three postseason teams and won a World Series title in St. Louis in 2011, is ready to bring his experience and winning mentality to Wrigley Field.

Finally, the first pitch of the Cactus League season is scheduled for Feb. 22. We go around the horn with the new-look 2013 Cubs in our Spring Training preview.

To read these stories and more, pick up the January issue of Vine Line, on sale soon at select Chicago-area retailers. Or subscribe to Vine Line today.

We’ll be heading down to Mesa, Ariz., later this month to cover the early days of Cubs camp, so make sure you check out the blog and our Twitter feed, @cubsvineline, for daily updates and videos on the Cubs’ 2013 squad.

Four Cubs named to MLB.com’s top-prospect lists

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MLB.com ranked Albert Almora baseball’s No. 9 outfield prospect and the 39th best prospect overall.

(Photo by Jason Wise)

As January winds down, baseball publications everywhere are unveiling their lists of the game’s top prospects.

MLB.com got things rolling this week as they released draft expert Jonathan Mayo’s top 10 prospects by position and wrapped things up last night with a list of their top 100 prospects in the game. The Cubs were well represented on many of the lists and had three players in the top 50—Javier Baez (16), Albert Almora (39) and Jorge Soler (42). First baseman Dan Vogelbach was also named the eighth-best first-base prospect in baseball. Below is a breakdown of each of the mentioned prospects with MLB.com’s analysis, followed by a brief recap of the player’s 2012 season.

Javier Baez
Position: SS
Positional Rank: 3
Overall Rank: 16
ETA to big leagues: 2014
Age: 20

Taken No. 9 overall in the 2011 Draft, just one spot after [No. 2 shortstop Francisco] Lindor, Baez might be the more dynamic pure hitter of the two, even if Lindor is the better defender. Baez’s plus bat speed will allow him to hit for average and power, both of which have already been on display, and he will improve as he refines his approach. He’s not without defensive skills, with a strong arm and good hands, and more folks are thinking he can stay at shortstop than did when he was coming out of the Florida high school ranks. Even if Baez has to slide to third base, his bat will profile just fine there.

Baez opened the season by showing all of his offensive tools in Low-A Peoria, hitting .333/.383/.596 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 12 home runs, 10 doubles, 20 stolen bases and 33 RBI in 213 at-bats before an inevitable promotion to Daytona. Baez openly admitted to struggling to adjust to the unfamiliar pitching. In 80 at-bats, he hit just .188/.244/.400 with four home runs. However, the shortstop will improve with time. He was one of only 10 players issued a future rating of 7, meaning he could develop into a perennial All-Star.

Albert Almora
Position: OF
Positional Rank: 9
Overall Rank: 39
ETA to big leagues: 2015
Age: 18

While [No. 5 outfielder Byron] Buxton might have had the most tools of any high school outfielder in the 2012 Draft, Almora wasn’t far behind. Taken No. 6 overall, the Florida high school standout is a veteran of USA Baseball and the international stage several times over. He has the offensive skills to be an above-average hitter, and he can drive the ball to all fields. He’s shown glimpses of power, but he should grow into that as he matures. His instincts and work ethic are off the charts, which should allow all of his tools to play up as he progresses.

Everyone has been hyping Almora’s instincts in the outfield, but he also fared pretty well in limited action at the plate in 2012. He manhandled Arizona League pitching, hitting .347/.363/.480 in 18 games, racking up five doubles and driving in 13. He then got bumped up to a young but exciting Short-Season Boise squad, and his numbers didn’t slip much while playing for the league runners-up. Almora’s stat line read .292/.292/.446 in 15 games. Expect him to break camp with either Low-A Kane County or High-A Daytona to start 2013.

Jorge Soler
Position: OF
Positional Rank: NA
Overall Rank: 42
ETA to big leagues: 2015

Three Cuban outfielders signed big contracts with Major League organizations in 2012. The first was Yoenis Cespedes, who finished second in American League Rookie of the Year voting. Soler signed with the Cubs shortly before Yasiel Puig did with the Dodgers and it will be interesting to watch the trio develop over time. While Soler is young, he has a very good approach at the plate with good discipline. His plus bat speed gives him the ability to drive the ball to all fields and he has significant raw power. A solid runner, Soler has an above-average arm, giving him both the offensive and defensive profile for a prototypical right fielder.

Closely following Almora in the ranking was friend and former Arizona League roommate Jorge Soler. After the 20-year-old Cuban finalized a deal with the Cubs in June, he was shipped to Arizona, where he had to handle the assimilation to the United States as well as face new pitchers. Though he went 13-for-54 (.241/.328/.389) in 14 games in Mesa, his numbers shot up after a promotion to Peoria. There, Soler hit .338/.398/.513 and struck out just six times in 80 at-bats—solid numbers for a guy known for his power tool.

Dan Vogelbach
Position: 1B
Positional Rank: 8
Overall Rank: N/A
ETA to big leagues: 2014
Age: 20

When Vogelbach was an amateur, he created a good amount of buzz with his left-handed power bat. Vogelbach has not disappointed as a pro after the Cubs took him in the second round in 2011. He has as much raw pop as anyone in the Minors at this position and can hit the ball out to all fields. Vogelbach has an advanced approach that has allowed him to get on base and hit for average. He was very out of shape in high school, but has worked hard to slim down since signing, something he will have to continue to do as his bat propels him up the organizational ladder.

Hyped as prospect with massive power, Vogelbach also showed off his hitting ability in his first minor league season. In 24 rookie league games, the massive first baseman hit .324/.391/.686 with seven homers and 31 RBI in 102 at-bats. His numbers didn’t drop even after a jump to Boise for the second half of 2012. He posted a .322 average and a 1.031 OPS with 10 homers and 31 RBI in 143 at-bats.

Baseball America unveils top Cubs prospects

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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.

From the Winter Meetings: Sveum on the bullpen [Part 2]

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Former Cubs reliever and MLB Network analyst Dan Plesac (center) joined Brian Kenny and Tom Verducci for on-site reporting from the Winter Meetings.

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Here are more Dale Sveum dispatches from the sprawling Gaylord Opryland Resort, where the halls have been buzzing on this last full day of the Winter Meetings.

• Sveum made it clear the bullpen is getting attention in the Cubs front office. The team already re-signed Shawn Camp, their lone free agent, and may look to add more.

“Upgrading the ‘pen is something we wanted to do. … Whatever happens from here on out—we’re talking to a lot of people, and hopefully things work out. But [Carlos] Marmol is our closer, and we’ve got to get better at the back end. We signed Shawn Camp back, James Russell, so that’s a start. But we have to get better in that seventh, eighth inning.”

Sveum wouldn’t directly comment on Japanese pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa, though the Cubs’ pursuit of the reliever attracted plenty of Japanese reporters to the manager’s press conference. Fujikawa, a free agent who saved 220 games over 12 years with the Hanshin Tigers, clearly intrigues Sveum.

“I think he can fill any kind of role. He’s got that kind of stuff. Those numbers and that ability to do things with three, four different pitches just doesn’t come around very often. So he can set up, he can close, do anything he wants with the baseball. He’s got four quality pitches and can add and subtract with his fastball. Yeah, I mean, he can pitch in the seventh, pitch in the eighth, pitch in the ninth, he can get left-handers out—so he can pitch in any kind of situation.”

• Sveum spent about a week in Arizona to see Cubs prospects, including highly regarded shortstop Javier Baez, who just turned 20 last week. Many have compared Baez’s bat speed to Gary Sheffield’s.

“Incredible bad speed. Didn’t get to see any results, but the bat speed was pretty good. I didn’t go to his best games. But he had a heck of a minor league season—the combination of the home runs and everything. He was a bigger kid than I thought when I saw him in person. I saw him without a shirt on one day, and I was like, wow, he’s a pretty big kid. But a lot of tremendous, tremendous tools at that age. That kind of bat speed just doesn’t come around at 19 years old.”

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