Results tagged ‘ Jorge Soler ’
(Photo by Stephen Green)
If you needed further proof that the Cubs’ system is loaded with top talent, here it is. In MLB.com’s final installment of their positional top 10 lists unveiled on Thursday, Prospect Watch has Jorge Soler the No. 3 outfield prospect in baseball.
Though [Soler’s] first two full seasons were marred somewhat by a pair of suspensions and repeated leg injuries, he reached the Majors last August. He homered off Mat Latos in his first at-bat, delivered two more long balls in his third game and looked every bit the slugger Chicago hoped for.
A fine athlete with strength, leverage and explosive bat speed, Soler has huge raw power to all fields and the hitting ability to translate it into game production. He recognizes pitches and works counts well, so he should hit for average. He makes more consistent contact than Javy Baez and Kris Bryant, two other prodigious sluggers with whom he rose through the Cubs system.
With solid speed and a well above-average arm, Soler also can be an asset in right field.
Soler played in 24 games at the big league level in 2014 and made quite a debut. Though most of his success came during the early portion of his call-up, the outfielder hit .292/.330/.573 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with five homers and eight doubles, driving in 20. There’s certainly room to grow and he’ll need to remain healthy, but Soler could be a middle-of-the-order force for the Cubs for a long while.
Keith Law ranked Addison Russell the No. 4 prospect in baseball. (Photo by Rodger Wood)
A day after ESPN Insider Keith Law named the Cubs the top farm system in baseball, the analyst handed the organization another compliment Thursday, naming four Cubs to his top 100 prospects., including two in the top five.
As has become the consensus for the last six months, Law anointed third baseman Kris Bryant his No. 1 prospect in the game. Joining him on the list were Addison Russell (No. 4), Jorge Soler (No. 14) and Kyle Schwarber (No. 90).
After hitting .325/.438/.661 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with a minors-best 43 homers between Double- and Triple-A in 2014, Bryant received multiple minor league player of the year awards. Even though he was selected just 18 months ago as the second-overall pick of the 2013 draft, the slugger has quickly ascended the minor league ranks, and is primed to make his major league debut this year. Law ranked Bryant his No. 15 prospect prior to 2014. Here is what he thinks about the third baseman’s future:
Bryant’s swing is very balanced, with a wide setup and good use of his lower half to generate power. While there were concerns when he was an amateur that his bat speed might not catch up to major league velocity, he really has had no problem with better stuff in the pros, probably because his eye is so good and his swing is very short from load to contact. He’s a good enough athlete to be able to handle third base, although he’d probably be better defensively in right field with his plus arm and fewer quick-reaction plays to challenge him. Wherever he ends up, he has 30-homer, .400 OBP potential, and should challenge for MVP awards once he has a few years in the majors.
Though Russell’s name may be a little newer to Cubs fans, he has been hovering around the top ranks of prospect lists for a while now. Law ranked the muscular Russell No. 3 on this list last year when he was a member of the Athletics organization. A July trade brought the highly touted prospect into the Cubs system, and while a hamstring tear shortened his 2014, the shortstop still manged to hit .295 with a .350 on-base percentage and demonstrated a little more power to his game.
Russell is a true shortstop with one of the best pure hit tools in the minors, both of which are a function of his outstanding hands, which are strong enough to produce hard contact yet smooth enough that he makes difficult plays look easy at short, whether it’s a tough ground ball or a quick transfer on a 4-6-3 double-play turn. His swing did get a little longer in 2014, producing more power but also more ground ball contact, as he would get on top of balls he didn’t square up. Russell always will face questions about his position because he’s not a runner, but his footwork is more than adequate, and he has the hands and arm to be above-average there. Shortstops with the potential to hit .300-plus with double-digit homers are rare commodities — Troy Tulowitzki was the only major leaguer to do it in 2014 — which makes Russell’s skill set extremely valuable.
Cubs fans got a glimpse of Soler at the major league level in 2014, as the power-hitting outfielder spent 24 games on the big league stage. He demonstrated his exciting tools early on, slugging five home runs, driving in 20 and posting a .292/.330/.573 line. Many expect Soler to start the season as the Cubs’ Opening Day right fielder.
Soler has gotten much stronger since he first signed a nine-year, $30 million contract with the Cubs in 2012, retaining much of his athleticism but losing some running speed as he bulked up. He always had enormous power thanks to very rapid hand acceleration and a beautiful, rotational swing with long extension through contact. He has a right fielder’s arm and the ability to be an average or better defender there, but for now his routes are a bit suspect and he’ll need more work out there to avoid being the new Domonic Brown. Soler wasn’t patient in the majors, but he had been so in the minors, and I expect that skill to return as he gains experience in the majors and stops trying to recreate what he did in those first five games. He projects as a 25-30 homer guy who hits .270-280 with a solid OBP and, we hope, average defense, which would make him maybe the Cubs’ third- or fourth-best hitter in their suddenly loaded lineup.
Though Law doesn’t see Schwarber as an everyday catcher, the Cubs appear a lot more confident, having worked with the 2014 first-round pick extensively behind the plate this offseason. Regardless, the big sell on the catcher/outfielder is his bat, which helped Schwarber power through Short-Season Boise and Single-A Kane County before finishing in High-A in 2014. He hit .344/.428/.634 with 18 homers and 18 doubles in his first professional year.
He has a chance to end up with a plus hit tool and plus power, showing much better plate discipline this summer than he did as an amateur, although his front side can get soft and he can be vulnerable to soft stuff away because his typical swing is so hard. If he hits .280 or so with a strong OBP and 25-30 homers, he’ll be a good everyday player even if he ends up as a bad left fielder, and the Cubs certainly believe he has a chance to exceed even those marks.
Kris Bryant heads what Keith Law calls the best system in baseball. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
In July, ESPN prospect expert Keith Law raved about the Cubs’ system, naming it the best in the game at that point. He went so far as to say, “This has to be the most loaded the Cubs’ farm has been in at least 30 years.”
That feeling has continued to resonate with Law, who again named the Cubs’ farm system the best in baseball heading into the 2015 season.
1. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs’ draft strategy under the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer regime has been to grab a polished hitter in the first round and load up on arms later. That, along with the trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel that netted two more top hitting prospects, has produced a system that’s full of hitting prospects but still a bit light on the pitching side. The first wave of bats reached the majors in the middle of 2014, with more coming this year, but there won’t be enough at-bats for Javier Baez and Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara and Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber and Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo … and that’s not even everyone who might end up pushing for playing time. The Cubs are in prime position to flip a young hitter for a pitcher or even to swing a bigger deal, especially if they want to try to set themselves up to win the NL Central in 2016. There are young starting pitching prospects here to like, led by 20-year-old Duane Underwood, but they’re all a few years away.
Law ranked the Cubs the No. 4 system at this time in 2014, No. 5 in 2013, and No. 20 in 2012—mere months after Epstein and Hoyer took over.
Law will unveil his top 100 prospects on Thursday and list his top 10 prospects for each club on Friday.
Jorge Soler is one of the Cubs top prospects by any measure. (Photo by Stephen Green)
When it comes to prospect rankings, there are several offensive weapons in the Cubs system that find themselves atop almost every list. Baseball America unveiled its 2015 Cubs Top 10 Prospects Monday, and sure enough, the familiar bats make up the top half.
Here are Baseball America‘s best Cubs prospects and some of the more interesting comments:
1. Kris Bryant, 3B
The Cubs have a surplus of athletic infielders who can hit, and it’s conceivable either big league shortstops Baez and Starlin Castro or Double-A shortstop Addison Russell could wind up at third base, with Bryant shifting to the outfield. Bryant also could stay at third, where Luis Valbuena is keeping the hot corner warm in Chicago. Barring a poor start back Triple-A Iowa, Bryant should arrive on the North Side as soon as the Cubs deem it financially feasible. Bryant has the talent, confidence and makeup to be one of the game’s biggest stars. All he’s waiting for is the playing time.
2. Addison Russell, SS
Russell combines above-average athleticism with extremely quick hands and impressive strength to produce both plus hitting ability and power. He’s nearly impossible to beat with a fastball when he’s looking for it and stays back on offspeed stuff, trusting his fast hands and making plenty of high-impact contact. Defensively, Russell has the range and improved footwork to stay at shortstop.
3. Jorge Soler, OF
Kris Bryant hits more homers, but Soler’s create more buzz. His vicious bat speed, top-of-the-scale raw power and impressive feel for hitting make him a terror to pitchers. When locked in, he generates scorching line drives to all fields; some just don’t stop going until they’re over the fence. He’s coachable, takes quality at-bats and isn’t fazed by hitting with two strikes.
4. Kyle Schwarber, C/OF
Schwarber has thick, strong legs and swings from the ground up, incorporating his powerful lower half to deliver plus power with a short, furious stroke. He keeps his hands back and has the strength to hit the ball out to any part of the park. He has a .300-hitting, 30-homer ceiling. A college catcher, Schwarber has leadership skills and solid-average arm strength, but his receiving was rudimentary as an amateur, frequently dropping to one knee to handle breaking balls. He has the tools to be a capable left fielder, having shown instincts for the position.
5. C.J. Edwards, RHP
At his best, Edwards delivers three above-average to plus pitches, with excellent body control leading to an easy, rhythmic delivery and strike-throwing ability. He’s very tough for hitters to square up due to late cutting action on his fastball, which generally sat 90-93 mph in August and in his Arizona Fall League stint. The late life on the pitch has allowed him to allow just two home runs in 237 career pro innings.
6. Billy McKinney, OF
The Cubs were stunned they were able to pry both Addison Russell and McKinney, the Athletics’ top two prospects, away in the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel trade. Signed in 2013 for $1.8 million, McKinney jumped to high Class A for his first full season and hit better in the high Class A Florida State League after the trade than in the offense-first California League.
7. Albert Almora, OF
Almora has first-round tools, starting with a line-drive bat with present strength, fine hand-eye coordination, bat speed to catch up to good fastballs and average raw power. He was pitched backwards much of the season and struggled to adjust. He still employs a big leg kick and can get streaky, as evidenced by a .377/.395/.649 finishing kick with high Class A Daytona before his promotion. A bit more patience would go a long way to making him a big league regular considering Almora’s defense, which remains advanced.
8. Gleyber Torres, SS
A $1.7 million signee, Torres finished his U.S. pro debut by earning a promotion to short-season Boise before his 18th birthday. His maturity showed as he maintained his focus despite turmoil in his native Venezuela that prompted his family to come to the U.S.
9. Pierce Johnson, RHP
If Johnson puts it all together, he profiles as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter with two plus pitches and potentially above-average control. Chicago’s 2014 ace, Jake Arrieta, had a similar (albeit more durable) career path, and Johnson’s stuff is worth the wait. He could pitch his way to Triple-A Iowa with a strong, healthy spring training.
10. Duane Underwood, RHP
No one took as big of a step forward for the organization in 2014 as Underwood, who has the system’s most electric stuff. If he combines better control with more consistent displays of the best of his repertoire, he could move quickly. He’ll start 2015 with Chicago’s new high Class A Myrtle Beach affiliate.
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Every baseball season is filled with memorable moments, and this year’s Cubs campaign was no exception. Cornerstone players had bounceback seasons, newer additions stepped up, and top prospects made their big league debuts. To wrap up the year, we asked you to pick your top 10 moments of 2014. This was your favorite moment from the season.
No. 10: Rizzo’s late-season walk-off homer
No. 9: Hendricks makes an easy transition to the bigs
No. 8: Castro, Rizzo named All-Stars
No. 7: Maddux gets inducted into the Hall of Fame
No. 6: Wrigley Field celebrates its 100th birthday
No. 5: Baez hits the eventual game-winning homer in ML debut
No. 4: Baker scores the game-winning run after pitching a scoreless 16th inning
No. 3: Arrieta leaves Fenway Park to a standing ovation after pitching gem
No. 2: Arrieta tosses a complete-game one-hitter
As our top vote-getter, it’s clear Cubs super prospect Jorge Soler not only made an impression on his major league club, but on the fan base as well. In 89 big league at-bats, the 22-year-old put up an impressive .292/.330/.573 slash line with five home runs and 20 RBI. But no moment was more memorable than his first.
With the North Siders leading 1-0 in Cincinnati after a Luis Valbuena homer, Soler stepped to the plate for his first major league at-bat in the top of the second inning. The Cuban expat took two pitches down in the dirt from Reds righty Mat Latos and watched a third go by for a strike on the inner half. The fourth pitch sat up in the zone, and Soler was ready for it, taking it over the bullpen in deep center for his first career home run.
“I feel real proud about it,” Soler told MLB.com. “All of my family was watching the game, especially my father here at the game. I feel real happy and proud that I did well today.”
Injuries had caused Soler’s stock to drop prior to the season, but the young slugger put any lingering doubts to rest in his first 24 big league games. It will be interesting to see what he can accomplish in a full season in 2015.
Anthony Rizzo is one of the most valuable assets in baseball. (Photo by Stephen Green)
For the third year in a row, ESPN-based website grantland.com created its annual MLB Trade Value top 50. The full piece by Jonah Keri is a fun read and dives into further detail as to how the rankings were compiled using 2014 statistics, contract status, age, health and position scarcity.
The story is not assuming all the players listed are going to be traded, but simply aims to determine which players are more valuable than others. Here’s Keri’s explanation of the ideal candidate:
“The perfect Trade Value player is an established star who’s still young enough to carry growth potential, has no significant injury history, and has an affordable contract that brings numerous years of team control. Ultimately, this is a thought experiment: If every team made every player available via trade, which guys would fetch the greatest return?”
A trio of young Cubs found their way onto the list, with Anthony Rizzo checking in at No. 7, Kris Bryant at No. 18 and Jorge Soler at No. 44.
The White Sox get to employ [first baseman Jose] Abreu — the reigning rookie of the year and MVP candidate — for the next five years for just $51 million. The Cubs have an even better deal with Rizzo, whom they’ve got for five years at $35 million, plus a pair of $14.5 million club options in 2020 and 2021 that look supremely reasonable for a 25-year-old slugger who just batted .286/.386/.527 (the NL’s third-best park-adjusted line) while flashing a solid glove. Right now, there’s nothing to dislike about either player.
Bryant, however, is fresh Trade Value fodder. Admittedly, this is an aggressive ranking for a player who’s never seen a pitch in the big leagues, but several factors work in his favor. For one thing, Bryant isn’t a pitcher, so his risk of major injury or sudden skill erosion is comparatively low. For another, he’s a damn beast. No amount of park adjusting or number manipulating can douse the .325/.438/.661 beating he laid on Double-A and Triple-A pitchers last season, when he launched 43 homers in 138 games. He’s an all-world talent, he doesn’t turn 23 until January, and he’s one of the biggest reasons to start fearing the Cubs.
Soler was never rated as highly as [Pirates outfielder Gregory] Polanco (let alone [Twins outfielder Byron] Buxton), even getting overshadowed by flashy prospects Bryant, [Javier] Baez, and [Addison] Russell within the Cubs system. But he made it to the Show at age 22 last summer and punished the ball, belting five homers, eight doubles, and a triple in just 89 at-bats, with three of those five long balls traveling 420 feet or more. He doesn’t quite have the well-rounded tool set that Polanco and especially Buxton do, but at a time when power is at a premium throughout the majors, the Cubs have a player with major pop who’s ready to be their Opening Day right fielder four months from now — and take aim at Waveland Avenue for years to come. In 2012, the Cubs signed Soler to a nine-year, $30 million contract, with a clause that would allow him to opt out of the deal and into arbitration when he became eligible. If he continues to hit at anywhere near the level he did in his first brush with the bigs, that’ll surely happen after the 2017 season. In either case, the Cubs control his rights through 2020.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Scouting publication Baseball Prospectus unveiled its list of the top 10 Cubs prospects on Friday. For Cubs fans and prospect junkies, it’s like Christmas day.
Over the last few seasons, the organization has stockpiled a deep farm system many view as the best in baseball. Unlike some other major league clubs, the list of high-upside Cubs farmhands extends well beyond a top 10—even with Javier Baez and Kyle Hendricks graduating to the big leagues. Here is how Baseball Prospectus viewed the top players in the organization:
1. SS Addison Russell
2. 3B Kris Bryant
3. OF Jorge Soler
4. OF Albert Almora
5. C Kyle Schwarber
6. OF Billy McKinney
7. RHP Pierce Johnson
8. SS Gleyber Torres
9. 1B Dan Vogelbach
10. LHP Carson Sands
Strengths: Impact potential with the stick; strong hands and barrel control; good bat speed; improved approach; should grow into high-contact MLB bat that will hit for average and power; solid actions at short; good hands with left-side arm; solid run paired with baserunning acumen; clocks plus times out of the box and should settle in as average run at maturity.
Weaknesses: Still working to slow down game in the field; set-up and footwork can get loose, particularly at the margins, leading to drift in throws; can slip into overly aggressive approach at plate.
The Year Ahead: Russell is close to major-league ready and possesses the skill set, makeup, and natural ability to make an immediate impact as soon as he is called upon. The profile is an elite blend of offensive upside, defensive stability at a high-worth position, athleticism, and strength; the aggregate of which could produce a perennial all-star capable of impacting the game in all facets. Not only might this be the best collection of tools, upside, and probability from a talented crop of minor-league shortstops, but there’s a case for top prospect in the game. He should debut in Chicago in 2015 and it won’t be long before Russell surpasses the ‘L’ stop as the best known Addison in Wrigleyville.
Strengths: Elite raw power; big leverage and big-boy present strength; ability to produce regular hard contact; good plate coverage allowing for wide kill zone on mistake pitches; borderline double-plus arm; solid athleticism and coordination for a big man; strong grades for makeup.
Weaknesses: Long levers produce holes in swing that could be attacked by major-league arms; limited swing plane/pitch plane overlap narrows contact margin; some issues with velocity on inner half; capable at third base but may lack lower-half agility to excel; run could settle a tick below average at maturity.
The Year Ahead: Through his minor-league career, which totals just a shade over a full major-league season’s worth of plate appearances, Bryant has posted pornographic numbers at the plate, including a slash line of .327/.428/.666 while averaging nearly a home run every three games. He’s ready to bring his act to The Show, where he should eventually settle in as a fixture in the middle of the Cubs lineup. This season could be choppy at times due to the potential for major-league arms to exploit shortcomings in a swing. But the approach, work ethic, and IQ should aid Bryant in making his adjustments, and the raw power will be a legit threat from day one. Depending on the organization’s needs, Bryant could remain at third or transition out to right field where his arm and athleticism could make him a solid defender. Either way, he will join Russell as the foundation of a talented, young Cubs lineup for years to come, with 2015 likely to serve as the coming out party.
Strengths: Advanced bat; plus-to-better raw power that plays in game thanks to plate coverage and strike-zone awareness; solid bat speed and good bat-to-ball skills should help hit tool play average or better; strong leader and big makeup; lauded for work ethic; positive reviews from instructs on progress behind the plate.
Strengths: Loud stuff led by lively, low-90s fastball and sharp, low-80s hammer; can dial up to mid-90s with regularity; capable of cutting fastball for different look, counterbalance to two-seamer; some deception; traditional starter’s build; good present strength; will flash above-average change piece with fade mirroring fastball action; showed improvement in consistency of pitch execution and command over final two months.
Strengths: Balanced repertoire featuring three above-average offerings and above-average command; reports of improved consistency in mechanics and arm action through instructs; comfortable pitching to all four quadrants; some room to bump velo band to firm plus in comfort zone; already showing feel for sequencing; sturdy build; solid presence and even demeanor.
A notable absence from the list was right-hander C.J. Edwards, ranked No. 5 a year ago. Despite missing three months to a shoulder strain, Edwards enjoyed a solid second half that included a nice run in the Arizona Fall League. The publication seems to be skeptical of his long-term health, but still had positive things to say about the hard thrower.
Upon returning to action in late July, Edwards showcased impressive swing-and-miss stuff over six starts, with his fastball and curve each grading out as plus offerings and his change showing promise to boot. Were there more certainty that Edwards could maintain the quality of his stuff over the course of a full season at the upper levels, he would fit comfortably as one of the top-ten prospects in the system.
Soler reached the majors in 2014, and the publication believes Russell and Bryant could both join him at Wrigley Field in the upcoming season. They expect Almora, Schwarber, Johnson and Vogelbach to see action in the majors sometime in 2016.
Javier Baez got his first taste of major league action this summer. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
When Theo Epstein sat in front of the assembled media last October and announced, “The story [around the league] is that the Cubs are coming fast, and the Cubs are coming strong,” many had trouble stifling laughter. How could Epstein suggest a team fresh off its third-consecutive 90-loss season was on the rise—especially during a press conference announcing the firing of the club’s manager, Dale Sveum?
It seemed preposterous at the time, but Epstein was hardly joking. He knew what he and his staff had built over the previous two seasons, and he believed it wouldn’t be long before that lofty statement was accepted as fact—even by those not paying close attention to what’s been happening in the Cubs system.
Sure enough, while the 2014 season didn’t produce a dramatic increase in wins, the media and fans finally got a chance to see what the Cubs have been building, as the first wave of prospects finally funneled into Wrigley Field.
It all began with Arismendy Alcantara and Kyle Hendricks, two somewhat under-the-radar prospects, but intriguing players nonetheless. Next, one of the best power hitters in the minors, Javier Baez, arrived in the big leagues—along with the corresponding media maelstrom. Finally, the Cubs called up Cuban slugger Jorge Soler toward the end of August.
Not every one of these young players immediately took the National League by storm. There have been ups and downs. But each has provided a spark and shown the potential to be a big contributor to the next Cubs playoff run—which is exactly how the front office drew it up.
“It’s a lot of fun, and there’s definitely a lot of energy,” Hendricks said. “I’m just glad a lot of us have been able to perform well. I think that’s a testament to the coaching we have in the minor leagues. The guys got us ready for this level.”
Epstein understands that this process, which has included many losses, has been tough for both the players and the fans. That’s why finally being able to display the fruits of the front office’s labor has been so rewarding.
“These are players who have been part of our plan, part of our vision, for a while now,” Epstein said. “Now that they’re up here, people can get excited about it. It creates a little bit of momentum, which is nice to have around the organization.”
So what exactly is the Cubs’ vision, and what has the organization been doing to realize it?
When Epstein was first introduced as president of baseball operations in late October 2011, he laid out his plan for how he wanted to rebuild an organization that had gone from being the toast of the National League to 91 losses in just three years.
“Our goal will be to build the best scouting department in the game—one that makes an annual impact in the draft and internationally,” Epstein said at the time. “As far as player development goes, we will define and implement a Cubs Way of playing the game, and we won’t rest until there is a steady stream of talent coming through the minor league system trained in that Cubs Way making an impact out here at Wrigley Field.”
Epstein didn’t waste much time in following through with those promises. A week after his introduction, he sat in front of the media yet again, this time introducing Jed Hoyer as his new executive vice president and general manager and Jason McLeod, a man Epstein referred to as the “rarest commodity in the industry—an impact evaluator of baseball talent,” as his senior vice president of scouting and player development.
The three men spent the next year evaluating what they were working with from the bottom of the organization all the way to the top. After a year, they made a few tweaks to the scouting department, and completely revamped the player development side. Brandon Hyde was brought in as the farm director, but has since moved on to become manager Rick Renteria’s bench coach, while Jaron Madison has transitioned from amateur scouting director to Hyde’s old position.
Under Hyde, the Cubs hired four new minor league coordinators and had one of their better developmental seasons throughout the system in 2013.
Of course, it certainly helped that so much talent had been added to the mix—and continues to be added to this day—through astute trades, the amateur draft and international signings.
“In order to have success in this game, the foundation has to be through scouting and player development,” Hoyer said when he was introduced as general manager. “There’s no shortcut. There’s no magic bullet. All three of us believe in the philosophy wholeheartedly.”
Hoyer acknowledged the ultimate goal is to win a championship, so the baseball operations department first had to build a team that went into Spring Training every season with a realistic shot at making the playoffs. Less than three years later, it appears the Cubs are on the verge of achieving that goal.
And it’s not just the players who have reached the majors this year that have so many people both inside and outside the game optimistic about the Cubs’ immediate future. While the influx of top-notch talent is undeniable, it’s quite likely the best is yet to come.
Last year’s top draft pick, Kris Bryant, dominated every level of the minor leagues, making it all the way to Triple-A Iowa in his first full professional season. His otherworldly stat line of .325/.438/.661 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 43 home runs and 110 RBI has pushed the third baseman to the top of the national prospect rankings. Shortly after the season, he was named both USA Today’s and Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year. Addison Russell, a consensus top 10 prospect in the game, was acquired in early July via trade and has continued to excel, hitting for both power and average while playing strong defense at shortstop.
Kyle Schwarber was the fourth pick in June’s amateur draft and has already shot up two levels in the Cubs system. So far, he has displayed an impressive combination of power and patience at the plate and appears to be on the fast track to the majors.
And that’s not all. The regime’s first draft pick from 2012, Albert Almora, made it to Double-A at the tender age of 20, and the international scouts flexed their muscles in 2013, as the Cubs spent more money than any other organization. Thanks to those efforts, they added big-time prospects like Jen-Ho Tseng, Eloy Jimenez, Gleybar Torres and Jefferson Mejia, all of whom are proving advanced for their age and are ranked as top 20 organizational prospects by MLB.com.
The system is not only loaded with talent, it’s also deep, ensuring that as the Cubs continue to graduate players to the big leagues, the cupboard won’t suddenly be left bare. It looks like Epstein and Hoyer have built the scouting and player development “machine” they promised to work toward when they were first brought into the organization.
CALL TO ARMS
Of course, since the majority of the Cubs’ young players grabbing headlines are bats, there are still questions about where the organization is going to find the right combination of arms to lead the charge. But even on that front, the team is better off than most people realize.
The front office has now divested the organization of the many onerous contracts from the Hendry regime—meaning there is money to spend—and has proven quite adept at identifying and acquiring undervalued pitching talent. Names like Paul Maholm, Scott Feldman and Jason Hammel, who all excelled under the tutelage of pitching coach Chris Bosio, have been used to acquire players who fit into both the short- and long-term plans.
Feldman, in particular, netted a huge piece in pitcher Jake Arrieta. A former top prospect, the 28-year-old underwhelmed during parts of four years in the majors with the Baltimore Orioles. Though Arrieta was perhaps at his lowest value at the time, the Cubs were bullish about the struggling righty. After missing the first month of the 2014 season with shoulder soreness, Arrieta went on to make the move look like a stroke of genius, putting together a season that rivals those of some of the best pitchers in the game.
Hendricks, acquired from the Rangers in the 2012 Ryan Dempster deal, also opened eyes with a strong run of starts to begin his major league career. Though many had the 24-year-old pegged as a fringe major leaguer and back-end starter at best, his poise and control are making some wonder whether he can exceed expectations and become a big part of the rotation’s future.
“He’s doing exactly what he did in the minor leagues,” Epstein said. “He’s as polished and prepared as you’ll see with any rookie. We speculated that he might even take it to another level when he got to the big leagues because he uses all the tools available to him as well as anybody.
“We have video in the minor leagues, but we don’t have this much video. We have scouting reports in the minor leagues, but we don’t have scouting reports this extensive. He just attacks the video and attacks scouting reports. They’re a huge weapon for him. You see the confidence he has. No matter how good a hitter he’s facing, he’s likely to have identified one area he can attack and put [himself] in a good position to have a chance to get him out. I think that’s been big for him. We’re awfully proud of how he’s adjusted.”
Epstein has acknowledged that while he doesn’t think the Cubs’ position player group is a finished product, he certainly feels great about the nucleus the organization has built. Even with Arrieta, Hendricks and the surprisingly impressive Tsuyoshi Wada (who will be 34 next season, but could still find himself competing for a spot in the Cubs rotation), the obvious focus becomes how to build up the front five.
“I like some of the pitchers we have coming along in the minor leagues, and I think our big league staff has done sort of an underrated job this year,” Epstein said. “There are some bright spots. But we’ve been open about the fact that it would be nice to add an impact pitcher or two. When you look over the next 18 months or so, that’s certainly a priority for us. Whether we develop one from an unlikely spot like might be happening with Arrieta or acquire someone who’s already at those heights remains to be seen.”
FINISHING THE JOB
Surprise success stories like Arrieta and Hendricks, coupled with bounce-back years from Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, have certainly boosted the optimism around the team as the prospects are rising to the big leagues.
“It’s good for the fans,” Hendricks said. “They’ve needed some winning the last few years, and unfortunately we haven’t been able to give it to them. I think with a lot of us young guys coming up—a lot of young hitters especially—they’re doing an unbelievable job. And there’s more to come.”
While the narrative may have recently changed as far as the media and average fans are concerned, nobody within the Cubs organization considers the work done.
“Our fans deserve to get excited. I’m happy for them,” Epstein said. “Ultimately, the only thing that matters is winning. That’s what’s on our mind, and we’re working hard to get there. Having young players that are worth following and at-bats you can’t miss, we’re human and that makes us feel good that our fans have something like that in their lives at this point, because certainly there’s been some tough times that they’ve had to endure.”
Epstein and company know they’ve still got work to do. They’re aware that pitching is a need, as is a veteran presence in the clubhouse to lead by example. But they strongly believe they’re on the right path and have felt that way for some time now. Still, the ultimate goal has yet to be accomplished.
“We’ve felt really good about it for a period now, and we also feel like there’s so much more work to do that we don’t deserve any kudos or pats on the back,” Epstein said. “On the other hand, we’re all human, and we feel the optimism of our fans and our players. It only makes us want to work harder and finish it off. We’ll feel like it’s finished when we win the last game in October.”
—Sahadev Sharma, Baseball Prospectus
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.
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.