Results tagged ‘ Jorge Soler ’

From the Pages of Vine Line: Strength in Numbers

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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.”

MASTER PLAN
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

Cubs recall OF Soler, IF Watkins from Iowa

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Jorge Soler will make his first major league start Wednesday. (Photo by Stephen Green)

The Cubs recalled outfielder Jorge Soler and infielder Logan Watkins from Triple-A Iowa Wednesday afternoon, placing outfielders Justin Ruggiano and Ryan Sweeney on the 15-day disabled list with left ankle inflammation and a left hamstring strain, respectively.

Soler, 22, was the organization’s No. 5 preseason prospect, according to Baseball America and ranked the No. 49 prospect in all of baseball prior to the season. The right-handed batter and thrower combined to hit .340/.432/.700 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 23 doubles, 15 home runs and 57 RBI in 200 at-bats over 62 games this season across three minor league levels.

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound player started the 2014 season at Double-A Tennessee, where, despite being slowed by hamstring injuries, he batted .415/.494/.862 in 65 at-bats over 22 games to earn a promotion to Triple-A Iowa on July 24. In just more than a month with Iowa, Soler batted .282/.378/.618 with eight homers and 29 RBI in 32 games.

Soler originally signed a nine-year major league deal with the Cubs in June of 2012 out of Cuba. He entered the 2013 campaign ranked by Baseball America as the No. 3 prospect in the organization and batted .281 (59-for-210) with 13 doubles, eight homers and 35 RBI after being limited to 55 games with Single-A Daytona due to a left shin fracture. He was named to the World Team in the Futures Game that year (though he did not play due to injury) and recovered to participate in the Arizona Fall League with the Mesa Solar Sox, playing in 20 games.

Overall in 151 career minor league games, Soler has batted .307 (167-for-544) with 300 total bases, 108 runs scored, 43 doubles, three triples, 28 home runs, 117 RBI, a .383 on-base percentage, a .551 slugging percentage and a .934 OPS.

Watkins, who turns 25 on Friday, returns to the Cubs for his second stint this season. He hit .300 (3-for-10) with a double and three RBI in four games with the Cubs last week before being optioned back to Iowa after the game on Sunday. At Triple-A this season, he is batting .256 (83-for-324) with 21 doubles, four home runs and 38 RBI in 103 games. He was the organization’s 2012 Minor League Player of the Year.

Ruggiano, 32, is batting .281 (63-for-224) with 13 doubles, six home runs and 28 RBI in 81 games with the Cubs this season.

Sweeney, 29, is batting .251 (52-for-207) with nine doubles, three home runs and 20 RBI in 77 games.

ESPN’s Law says the Cubs have baseball’s top farm system

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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.

ESPN’s Law names Bryant top MiLB prospect

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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: 20Current 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: 22Current 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.

 

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.

Baseball Prospectus ranks two Cubs as having best outfield tools

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Baseball Prospectus offered fans another installment of its Top Tools series, this time discussing outfield defense. Cubs prospects Albert Almora and Jorge Soler were both named in the honorable mention section for best outfield defense and best outfield arm, respectively.

Almora’s defensive instincts are a large reason the Cubs made him the sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft. Here’s what BP had to say:

Though Almora has plus defensive projections, he rates a solid step behind the likes of [Rays outfielder Kevin] Kiermaier and [Boston's Jackie] Bradley, simply because his speed may prevent him from sustaining a plus profile in center field. A fringe-average runner, Almora has exceptional reads and routes that allow him to make plays in center, but there are lingering questions about whether he can maintain his current defensive ratings as he matures and settles into a big-league role.

Baseball Prospectus views the 19-year-old as the No. 25 prospect in baseball. Almora had a solid but injury-shortened 2013 season (.329 AVG, 17 doubles) with Single-A Kane County, playing in 61 games before groin issues ended his year in August. He committed just one error last year. He was also the second-youngest player at the Arizona Fall League, where hit .307/.342/.480 (AVG/OBP/SLG).

The publication sees Cardinals outfielder Peter Bourjos as the best defensive outfielder in today’s game, with Devon White setting the all time standard.

The best word to describe the Cuban expat Soler is “powerful.” The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder looks and plays big. Like Almora, his 2013 was cut short to injury, but his .281/.343/.467 line with eight homers and 35 RBI over 55 games at High-A Daytona was a good start, especially considering last year was his first full year in the states. The No. 45 prospect in baseball committed three errors while playing right field exclusively for the D-Cubs. Here’s BP’s take:

Cubs right field prospect Jorge Soler was also plagued by inconsistency on this throws in 2013, but his raw arm strength stands with that of every player on this list, and he has the potential to top the list in the future.

Bryce Harper is viewed as the top outfield arm today by Baseball Prospectus, while longtime Blue Jay and Yankee Jesse Barfield is thought to have the best arm all time.

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.

1000 Words: Happy Birthday Jorge

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Cubs prospect Jorge Soler turns 22 years old Tuesday. The La Habana, Cuba native signed a nine-year deal with the club in the summer of 2012 and has been viewed as one of baseball’s top prospects since his arrival. MLB.com recently named him the Cubs’ No. 3 prospect and No. 26 in baseball.

Injuries shortened what looked to be a promising 2013 campaign, where he hit .281/.343/.467 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with eight home runs, 13 doubles and 35 RBI in 55 High-A Daytona games. A member of the 40-man roster, Soler has been in Mesa with the major league side, though it’s likely he’ll start the 2014 season in Daytona or Double-A Tennessee.

Cubs prospects cover Baseball America’s Top 100

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Arismendy Alcantara has established himself as a top 100 prospect. (Photo by Rodger Wood)

At this point, fans shouldn’t be surprised to see Cubs farmhands taking up some prime real estate on baseball’s top prospect lists. Throughout the offseason, various publications and websites have released their top 100, and the Cubs routinely land seven players among the best in the game.

Baseball America unveiled its Top 100 list Thursday, and the Cubs’ elite seven were again present—and that included two in the top eight. BA also provided fans with an estimation of when to expect these minor leaguers to arrive at Wrigley Field. According to the publication, six of the seven could be at the Friendly Confines sometime in the next two years.

Here’s what BA had to say about the Cubs seven:

5. Javier Baez
Major League ETA: 2014
Slow down—not his bat, the minors’ fastest, but the rest of the game, especially at shortstop. Otherwise, Baez’s task will be learning to play another position.

8. Kris Bryant
Major League ETA: 2014
Bryant could have a successful season even if he doesn’t match his 31-homer season in college; a move to the outfield could be in the offing.

28. C.J. Edwards
Major League ETA: 2015
Edwards can’t post better results than he did last year, when he moved from the Rangers to the Cubs in the Matt Garza deal. He’ll aim to reach 150 innings while maintaining his high-quality stuff and control.

36. Albert Almora
Major League ETA: 2016
Almora is another prospect who just needs to show he can stay healthy. Evaluators love his bat and defense in center—when he’s on the field.

41. Jorge Soler
Major League ETA: 2015
It’s easy to be satisfied when you’ve already signed a $30 million contract. If Soler plays with an edge, he’ll be a big league right fielder sooner than later.

87. Pierce Johnson
Major League ETA: 2015
Durability is at the top of the list for the slender Johnson, who could beat the similarly built C.J. Edwards to Chicago if he can repeat his 2013 production at higher levels.

100. Arismendy Alcantara
Major League ETA: 2015
With a crowd ahead of him at shortstop, Alcantara’s best path to the majors is as an everyday second baseman. Honing his skills on the right side of the infield is job one.

From the Pages of Vine Line: The Cubs next wave of talent

Almora1

Albert Almora could be part of the next big Cubs renaissance. (Photo by Jason Wise)

The following can be found in the Inside Pitch section of February’s Vine Line.

“The good ones get to the big leagues fast. The great ones come faster,” said Cubs superscout Hugh Alexander, circa 1987.

For Cubs fans, the great ones can’t arrive fast enough.

A total of 288 losses—the most of any three-year period in franchise history—has tested everyone from ownership to the beer vendors. There is, however, hope on the horizon.

After two years of aggressively building the minor league system, many of the organization’s prized draft choices and international free agents are getting closer to Wrigley Field. Fans might want to circle the third week in June for the possible big league debuts of No. 1 picks Javier Baez (2011) and Kris Bryant (2013).

It’s been at least 30 years since the last meaningful renaissance in Cubs player development. In the mid-1980s, GM Dallas Green produced a succession of big league stars, including Greg Maddux, Shawon Dunston, Joe Carter, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark Grace and Jamie Moyer.

But you have to go all the way back to GM John Holland to find the Cubs’ longest stretch of player development success since the 1930s. He kept the franchise over .500 for six consecutive seasons between 1967-72.

Under Holland, eventual Hall of Fame third baseman Ron Santo arrived in 1960, followed by two Rookies of the Year—HOF outfielder Billy Williams in ’61 and second baseman Ken Hubbs in ’62. Even after Hubbs’ death in a 1964 plane crash, Holland’s astute trades fortified a talented nucleus of Santo, Williams and Ernie Banks.

Now, having drafted in the top 10 three years in a row, the organization hopes to launch another golden age. President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer generally believe hitters need 500 Triple-A at-bats before they’re major league ready. Still, exceptions arise.

“We won’t rush our young people,” said Jason McLeod, VP of scouting and player development. “Each is different, though. We view individual development as a combination of a player and a person being ready.”

Shortstop Baez, the ninth-overall pick in 2011, has more experience than third baseman Bryant, the No. 2 overall pick in 2013. But Bryant’s maturity makes him equally worthy of promotion.

To merit a quick jump, a player must dominate the competition. Bryant, 22, was the 2013 College Player of the Year, leading the nation with 31 homers.

He then slugged his way through three minor league stops (.336, nine homers, 32 RBI in 128 at-bats) and helped Single-A Daytona win the Florida State League title. He followed that by being named MVP of the Arizona Fall League, a breeding ground for future superstars, with a .364 average and six homers in 20 games.

Between Daytona and Double-A Tennessee, Baez, 21, was one of the most potent offensive players in baseball. He led the minors in RBI (111) and extra-base hits (75) and tied for second in homers (37).

“This young man will be a monster in the majors when he gets there,” said an AL scout. “His bat is lightning fast. He might not be patient now (147 strikeouts and 40 walks in 577 at-bats last season), but he’ll reduce strikeouts as he moves up and matures.”
For Baez, defense is the greater challenge. He committed 44 errors in 2013.

“He has a great arm, and when he learns to control his responses, he’ll be a reliable fielder,” the scout said.

Though the 6-foot-5 Bryant currently plays the hot corner, many feel he could end up in the outfield.

“Guys over 6-foot-4 generally lack the quickness to stay at third,” an NL scout said. “With his presence and work ethic, I don’t doubt he can play the position. But with his arm, he could easily play a corner outfield spot.”

The goal is to meld the likes of Baez, Bryant, and outfielders Albert Almora and Jorge Soler with young big leaguers Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Junior Lake.

Almora, who turns 20 in April, was the Cubs’ No. 1 pick in 2012 (6th overall) and hit .329 during an injury-shortened 2013 season at Class-A Kane County. Scouts project some power, and they like his bat control and stroke to all fields. They also rave about his instincts in center. Though he lacks great speed, he makes up for it with quick reads.

Maturity seems to be the hurdle for Soler, who turns 22 in February. In an injury-marred 2013 season with Daytona, he was suspended five games for charging the opposing dugout with a bat and benched one game for not hustling.

The NL scout said Soler, in addition to possessing a strong arm, “has the most natural power in the system.” Some scouts believe the Cuban defector is still adjusting to the U.S. after signing a nine-year, $30 million contract in June 2012.

Contractual control can certainly be a consideration in timing a player’s promotion to the majors. By postponing a big league debut until the end of June, a team guarantees three full seasons of control before that player becomes arbitration eligible.

Though Baseball America ranks just three pitchers—Arodys Vizcaino, Pierce Johnson and C.J. Edwards—among the organization’s top 10 players, there’s little cause for concern.

“They have more right-handed power hitting than anyone in baseball,” said the NL scout. “If all pan out, they’ll be able to add pitching [by trading] hitting depth.

—Bruce Levine and Joel Bierig

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