Results tagged ‘ Jeimer Candelario ’

Checking in on the Cubs top 10 prospects

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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
Triple-A Iowa

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
Double-A Tennessee

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
High-A Daytona

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
Double-A Tennessee

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
Double-A Tennessee

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
Triple-A Iowa

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
Double-A Tennessee

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
Double-A Tennessee

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
High-A Daytona

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
High-A Daytona

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.

Cubs farm system ranks second in baseball

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Kris Bryant is a big reason why the Cubs have one of the best farm systems in baseball. (Photo by Stephen Green)

The Cubs haven’t fared that well on the field at the major league level for a few seasons now, but they’ve still earned a well-deserved pat on the back for the transformation that’s taken place at the minor league stages. On Wednesday, Baseball Prospectus ranked the Cubs the second best farm system in the game.

To put that into perspective, the list Baseball Prospectus unveiled during the 2011 Spring Training—the last before baseball president Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer’s arrival—had them ranked No. 23.

In the 2014 list, the Cubs trail only the Twins for the best farm system. Here is what they had to say about the club:

2. Chicago Cubs
Farm System Ranking in 2013: 12
2014 Top Ten Prospects: Link
State of the System: Thanks to a strong draft, clever trades, an aggressive acquisition plan in the international market, and developmental progress from some of the big names in the system, the Cubs became one of the strongest systems in the game.
Top Prospect: Javier Baez (4)
Breakout Candidates for 2014: Jeimer Candelario and Paul Blackburn
Prospects on the BP 101: 7
Must-See Affiliate: Double-A Tennessee
Prospects to See There: Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, CJ Edwards, Pierce Johnson, Dan Vogelbach
Farm System Trajectory for 2015: Up. While its likely that several of the Cubs’ top prospects will get a taste of the majors in 2014, the majority of the talent will remain eligible for next season’s list, and if you add to the mix a high draft pick this June and an extreme amount of young depth ready to make their stateside debuts, the system could take over the coveted rank of number one in baseball.

From the Pages of Vine Line: 2014 Minor League Prospectus, International Impact

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Shortstop Gleyber Torres was one of baseball’s top international prospects in 2013. (Image by Bill Mitchell)

For many Chicagoans, February means cold weather. At Vine Line, it’s all about the Cubs minor league prospectus. In the February issue, fans can check out frequent contributor Sahadev Sharma’s player breakdowns for more than 45 of the organization’s top prospects, from teenagers like Eloy Jimenez to elite talents like Javier Baez. We’ll post some of the profiles here on the blog in the coming weeks so you can keep track of all the names to know in the Cubs highly ranked system.

Also from the series:

2014 Cubs Minor League Prospectus- The Elite
2014 Cubs Minor League Prospectus- Close to the Big Leagues

INTERNATIONAL IMPACT

Over the past 15 years, the Cubs have done well on the international free agent market, especially in Latin America. From Carlos Zambrano to Starlin Castro to, most recently, Junior Lake, the organization continually produces international players who impact the major league roster.

However, while teams like the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees were competing for big-money players, the Cubs were content to sign low-cost free agents and hope their bulk purchases would eventually pay off. But with the signing of Soler in 2012, the new Cubs regime announced to the baseball world they were becoming serious players in the international community. Even with spending restrictions in place, the trend continued in 2013, as the Cubs blew past their allotted cap, signing numerous highly regarded prospects. Due to their free-spending ways, they will have even harsher limits on their spending next summer, but clearly Epstein and company believed the talent level available this year made it worth the risk.

Along with the many players inked during the international signing period in July, the Cubs also have some intriguing names who are young and still growing into their bodies. These raw athletes likely won’t make an impact at Wrigley anytime soon, but they help create the depth necessary to ensure the Cubs system can consistently funnel talent to the big league roster.

ELOY JIMENEZ
DOB: 11/27/1996
POSITION: RF
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: N/A
2013 STATS: N/A

At just 17 years of age, Jimenez is already a physical specimen. He was the consensus top player in last summer’s international free agent class, and the Cubs paid him accordingly, giving him a $2.8 million bonus, the highest handed out in 2013.

The Dominican native already has great strength, and scouts expect him to display his tremendous raw power in game action as he continues to grow. Jimenez also has the strong arm and athleticism necessary to play a solid right field.

GLEYBER TORRES
DOB: 12/13/1996
POSITION: SS
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: N/A
2013 STATS: N/A

Many considered Torres the second-best prospect in the 2013 class, just behind Jimenez, but that’s where the similarities end. Torres doesn’t project to have much power—he might touch double-digit home runs at his peak—but he already has an advanced hitting ability and approach for his age.

If his development goes as expected, the Venezuelan could hit for a high average, knocking doubles into the gaps while playing plus defense at shortstop.

JEN-HO TSENG
DOB: 10/3/1994
POSITION: RHP
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: N/A
2013 STATS: N/A

Of the big names the Cubs signed this July, the 19-year-old Tseng could be the most developed. He throws a lot of strikes with three strong pitches—a split-finger fastball, curve and slider—and his fastball can touch 95. With an advanced feel for pitching, it wouldn’t shock anyone if Tseng started the year in Kane County.

The Taiwanese pitcher has already performed on a bigger stage than most international free agents, pitching for his home country in both the World Baseball Classic and the 18U World Championship Games. Though the overall quality of his stuff was down in his most recent outings, some believe it was due to heavy usage. Some time off should help as he gets acclimated to a less intense workload stateside.

JEIMER CANDELARIO
DOB: 11/24/1993
POSITION: 3B
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: KANE COUNTY
2013 STATS: .256/.346/.396 (130 GAMES)

Candelario first caught scouts’ eyes in 2011, when he posted a .443 on-base percentage at the age of 17 in the Dominican Summer League. While those statistics should be taken with a grain of salt, he also performed well the following year in Boise, earning time at full-season Kane County in 2013.

While the numbers at Kane County don’t jump off the page, his performance was still impressive considering his age and the league in which he was playing.

A switch-hitter with a feel for the zone, Candelario, who was born in New York but grew up in the Dominican, is still growing into what McLeod referred to as his “man strength,” which should help increase his power numbers in the future.

YASIEL BALAGUERT
DOB: 1/2/1993
POSITION: OF
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: BOISE
2013 STATS: .261/.334/.439 (67 GAMES)

In 2012, Balaguert was sent to Peoria (the Cubs’ low-A affiliate at the time) and performed poorly, hitting only .208 in 149 at-bats. But he rebounded for a solid season after spending most of 2013 at Boise. He is still trying to figure out who he is as a hitter, but he’s strong, has a lot of power and is learning to control the strike zone better.

Balaguert is the type of athlete with a wide variance of possible end points. In 2014, he could explode into a top prospect or struggle mightily and get lost among the numerous other talented players in the Cubs system. If things do click for the young Cuban, it’ll be a credit to his tremendous work ethic as well as the Cubs’ scouting and player development team for identifying and molding a truly raw kid into a valuable piece of the puzzle.

ERICK LEAL (RHP) – This 18-year old, acquired for Tony Campana, is tall and lanky with average velocity and good feel for a change-up. He’s a strike thrower with minimal walks and a good understanding of pitching. The Cubs hope his velocity will tick up as he gains strength.

CARLOS PENALVER (SS) – The best defensive shortstop in the system, Penalver has smooth hands, easy transfer and plenty of arm strength. He also shows the ingredients of someone who can handle the bat, including a good idea of the zone and strong swing path. He needs to gain weight and strength to put his offensive skill set to use at the major league level.

JEFFERSON MEJIA (RHP) – Mejia has a big frame and projects to have three plus offerings if he fills out and adds velocity to his current 87-90 mph fastball. He works down in the zone and keeps bats off his fastball with an advanced change-up and a quality breaking ball.

ERLING MORENO (RHP) – This 6-foot-7 Colombian throws in the low-90s with a change-up that can miss bats and an average curveball. His athleticism allows him to repeat his delivery with consistency, something that can often be an issue with taller pitchers.

—Sahadev Sharma

Cougars announce Opening Day roster

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2011 Rule 5 pick Lendy Castillo will start 2013 with the Kane County Cougars. (Photo by Stephen Green)

The Cubs made their fair share of organizational changes during the offseason, from roster transactions to the proposal to restore Wrigley Field. But one of the bigger moves this winter was partnering with the Kane County Cougars as the club’s new Single-A affiliate. The Cougars play their home games in Geneva, Ill., roughly 40 miles west of Chicago, which gives fans a chance to view the future of the organization up close.

On Tuesday morning, the Cougars announced their Opening Day roster, and it’s full of high-upside talent that Cubs fans should (and now can) keep an eye on.

First baseman Dan Vogelbach headlines the squad’s roster, along with a trio of exciting young infielders in Jeimer Candelario, Gioskar Amaya and Marco Hernandez. Vogelbach, a 2011 second-round pick, is viewed by many as the best power hitter in the organization.

Pierce Johnson, a right-hander the Cubs selected in the supplemental first round of the 2012 draft, could be one of the organization’s best young arms. Lendy Castillo, a 2011 Rule 5 pick who got into 13 games last year for the Cubs, will also start 2013 with Kane County.

Here is the full roster manager Mark Johnson will have at his disposal when his squad opens up on Thursday:

PITCHERS
Justin Amlung RHP
Jeff Antigua LHP
Jose Arias RHP
Lendy Castillo RHP
Ian Dickson RHP
Nathan Dorris LHP
Michael Heesch LHP
Pierce Johnson RHP
Eddie Orozco RHP
Felix Pena RHP
Stephen Perakslis RHP
Tayler Scott RHP
Brian Smith LHP

CATCHERS
Yaniel Cabezas
Willson Contreras
Chadd Krist

INFIELDERS
Gioskar Amaya
David Bote
Jeimer Candelario
Marco Hernandez
Rock Shoulders
Dan Vogelbach

OUTFIELDERS
Pin-Chieh Chen
Trey Martin
Bijan Rademacher
Oliver Zapata

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.

Prospectus Preview: Down the Pipeline, Jeimer Candelario

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(Photo courtesy Boise Hawks)

The Cubs front office—and Midwest fans of the team—already are planning to wear out their odometers on day trips this spring. Located about an hour west of Wrigley Field, the Class-A Kane County Cougars will feature a host of legit prospects, many of whom starred for the ultra-exciting Boise Hawks last summer.

One player expected to start there is Jeimer Candelario, just one of more than 60 players covered in Vine Line’s annual Minor League Prospectus. The issue will hit newsstands in February, and single issues are available by calling 800-618-8377. It’s an exhaustive rundown, perfect for Spring Training and beyond. And if you’re heading to the Cubs Convention this weekend, make sure to stop by the Down on the Farm panel Sunday at 9 a.m., hosted by broadcaster Dave Otto and Vine Line Managing Editor Gary Cohen.

IF | JEIMER CANDELARIO
Ht./Wt.: 6-1/180
B/T: S/R
Born: 11/24/93 in New York, N.Y.
Acquired: 2010 Non-Drafted Free Agent
Tools: HIT, POW
2012 STATS (Short-Season): .281 AVG/.345 OBP/.396 SLG (71 G)

Barely the age of the typical high school draft pick, the 18-year-old Candelario held his own against college-age competition in the Northwest League. He’s a big-framed, stocky kid who can really swing the stick, and he has a chance to be a special hitter. If you’re willing to spare the expectations, he’s a bit like Pablo Sandoval in that he’s a switch-hitter who hits for average, has man strength and will try to stick at third base. But Candelario’s defense needs work, as he battled inconsistency in the field for the Boise Hawks. Most promising may be his surprisingly advanced plate approach. He plays the game under control and with a real rhythm to his work in batting practice. He’s one to keep an eye on in his first year of full-season ball. 


Other players featured in this section: Infielders Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, Gioskar Amaya, Marco Hernandez and Dan Vogelbach; catcher Wilson Contreras; outfielder Trey Martin; and pitchers Dillon Maples and Ben Wells.

Plus, tidbits on IF Ronald Torreyes, RHP Jose Rosario, RHP Austin Reed, IF Carlos Penalver, RHP Tayler Scott, RHP Michael Jensen, OF Jeffrey Baez, IF Zeke DeVoss and OF Pin-Chieh Chen.

Sean Ahmed

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.

Farm Report Wrap-Up: Hawks turned talent, youth into postseason run

Albert Almora (Photo Courtesy of Alex Hernandez/USA Baseball)

Today we begin our tour around the Cubs farm system, taking a level-by-level look at performances the organization hopes to build on in 2013. First up, the Short-Season Class-A Boise Hawks.

When Albert Almora took batting practice earlier today at Wrigley Field, Theo Epstein commented to reporters that Boise “had a prospect at every position” by the end of the season.

One of those prospects was Almora, of course, the sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft. Almora played a strong center field for the Hawks and also hit for a .292/.292/.446 slash line (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) in 65 plate appearances. That included seven doubles and a home run in his 19 hits. Before his mid-August promotion, he had hit for a .347/.363/.480 slash line in 80 plate appearances with the organization’s Rookie-level complex team.

Other names that are well known to watchful Cubs fans are catcher Willson Contreras, first basemen Dan Vogelbach and Rock Shoulders, second baseman Gioskar Amaya, shortstop Marco Hernandez, third baseman Jeimer Candelario and infielder/outfielder Stephen Bruno.

Don’t forget the pitching: Pierce Johnson and Tayler Scott were impressive in the rotation, while Michael Heesch formed a crucial part of the bullpen.

Final Records:

First Half / 13-25, third place, 8.0 GB

Second Half / 24-14, first place, 8.0 GA

Storylines: The Hawks won the Eastern Division’s second-half championship to make the postseason, despite being the Northwest League’s youngest team. They came back from a one-game deficit in their best-of-three series against the Yakima Bears (Diamondbacks) but couldn’t do the same against the Vancouver Canadians (Blue Jays) in the championship series. (more…)

Farm Report: Hawks drop Game 1 of the NWL championship, return home Saturday

Photo by Scott McDaniel / BoiseHawks.com

The wheels came off late for the Boise Hawks in Game 1 of the Northwest League championship series, as they squandered a six-run lead. They’ll look to bounce back tomorrow night when the series shifts to Idaho for the next two games, if necessary.

The Hawks built a 7-1 lead by the top of the sixth inning thanks to an offense that was taking its walks and getting clutch hits. Up 2-1 in the fifth, they added on three runs thanks to a bases-loaded RBI walk by Dan Vogelbach, an RBI single by Jeimer Candelario and an RBI ground out by Albert Almora. Another potential run was lost when Stephen Bruno thrown out at the plate.

In the sixth, Marco Hernandez plated Willson Contreras and Trey Martin with a single. The shortstop Hernandez went 3-for-5 with two runs and two RBI in the game.

After Hawks starter Ian Dickson worked his way out of some trouble in three innings of work, allowing just one run and striking out three, the game was turned over to five relievers with mixed results. Justin Amlung (12th round, 2012) struck out the side with the bases loaded in the fourth. Hunter Ackerman (fourth round, 2010) got two strikeouts in a scoreless fifth but then put two runners on in the sixth for James Pugliese (18th round, 2011). Both scored as the game narrowed to 7-3.

But it all fell apart in the seventh. Vancouver plated seven runs off Pugliese, Hayden Simpson and Rafael Diplan, partly thanks to some mistakes in the field. Third baseman Calendario made a fielding error, and second baseman Gioskar Amaya threw the ball into left field on a grounder that would have ended the inning. Simpson (first round, 2010) suffered from that but also walked two of the three batters he faced. With the game tied at seven, Diplan (international, 2010) allowed a two-run single with the bases loaded and then a wild pitch before getting out of the jam.

Game 2 Starting Pitchers: Pierce Johnson takes the hill for the Hawks. He gave up an unearned run in three innings of work in his first-round start—it was his longest appearance of the year. He’ll be on a strict pitch count again, so expect him to pair up with spot starter Jose Arias again. You can read some of our notes about the Cubs’ supplementary-round pick in last week’s preview.

Vancouver pitcher Roberto Osuna will be one to watch. He was born Feb. 7, 1995—I’ll pause as you do the math. (Yes, he’s 17 years old.) The Blue Jays purchased his contract from the Mexican League’s Mexico City franchise, and he’s been on the fast track since. He’s 6-foot-2, 230 pounds and reportedly sits in the low-to-mid 90s with his fastball. He has limited opposing batters to a .201 batting average in 12 appearances this year (five in the Northwest League) and has struck out 49 batters while walking 15 in 43.2 innings.

His last appearance was on Aug. 26 against Boise—he gave up a run on three hits and a walk in three innings. Baseball America’s Ben Badler has some more details on Osuna, and Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks posted a scouting report last year.

Listen Live: Once again, you can pick up Mike Safford’s broadcast for the Boise Hawks at BoiseHawks.com.

Time Traveled: Ah, the glories of minor league life. The Hawks won Game 3 of their divisional series in Yakima, Wash., Wednesday night. They then had to make the five-hour drive to Vancouver, Canada, for Thursday night’s game. Today, they made the 12-hour drive back to Boise for a championship series that resumes tomorrow night.

—Sean Ahmed

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