If you read Baseball Prospectus, you probably know who Jason "Professor" Parks is. Parks had a chat yesterday that was very interesting for Cubs fans, and the most interesting question would be this one:
BTH524 (Pennsylvania): Where do you project the top 2013 draft picks (Kris Bryant, Mark Appel, etc.) to be slotted in your top prospect list? With the understanding that you may change your mind, of course!
Jason Parks: Bryant could/should be in the top ten in the game. He's a polished offensive monster that should be at the highest level at some point in 2014. Appel is also a polished collegiate talent that will move quickly, but I'm not as high on his ceiling as some and I don't see him as a future #1 type. He will be in the top 25, but not the top 10.
Say what you will about Parks (and he has his share of haters, just ask Kyle on the Bleacher Nation boards), but that's an intriguing sign about Bryant. Baez is right around the Top 10 of most boards.
For the purposes of this article, I'm going to assume the relative position of the Cubs' top prospects. If any of them seem outlandish, they might well be. I'm using a rough guide backed up by at least a cursory glance at the prospect wonks' lists.
That's an impressive list, and in fact would be impressive if you took any two names off the list! Seriously, remove Baez and Bryant and you still have an organization that is overrepresented in the Top 100, that is weighted towards the top (though not the very top), and is deeper than the average organization too (our 30th best prospect actually has a meaningful chance to make the majors for at least a half of a season, which isn't normally true).
Cubs fans, unfortunately, have seen this sort of top prospect list before. The year was 2002, and it looks awfully similar to 2013.
Let's run through each of the 7 briefly:
Mark Prior: was the best pitcher the Cubs had in the past 20 years not named Maddux. Freak Injuries and a tough throwing motion both took turns derailing his career, which isn't 100% over (but for all intents and purposes, it is).
Juan Cruz: Injuries and ineffectiveness de-railed his Cubs career, though he eventually caught on as a high-impact reliever for a few other teams.
Hee Seop Choi: traded for Derrek Lee, who has awesome as a Cub. He floundered after a concussion in 2006, though was relatively effective in spurts with the Marlins and Dodgers. Probably led to DePodesta's firing in LA, though Jim Tracy did him no favors.
David Kelton: Kelton literally only had one great season (2001 in AA), and was forgetable the rest of his career (including a repeat of AA in 2002 for no reason). He only has 251 PA the year he broke out, so next time someone tries to use a small sample size to rationalize something, think of David Kelton, please.
Bobby Hill: Part of the trade that landed Aramis Ramirez. Like Kelton, rode a small sample size to prospecthood, and it weared off as soon as he was traded.
Nic Jackson: Never made it to the bigs, one of 12 on the list not to do so. Had a nice year in A+, was injured the next year, and injuries and strikeouts ended his career (though he still soldiers on in the Indy Leagues).
Carlos Zambrano: Ended up being pretty great.
So, we look at the 2002 list and are sad at first; actually, the Cubs made out like BANDITS. They turned 2 assets into Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, and another one of the 7 was one of the best pitchers on the best Cubs team of my lifetime. Another one was incredible until a pair of injuries (Dusty Baker, Brad Hawpe), sunk his career. That stuff happens.
More important is the fact that these lists have gotten much better as time has gone on. In 2002, I'd say 7 of the top 20 players had (or are having) average or better-than-average careers (Beckett, Pena, Mauer, Teixiera, Nick Johnson, Hamilton, Phillips). You could debate Prior and Cruz either way. In 2008, I count 10 (Bruce, Longoria, Buchholz, Rasmus, Kershaw, Price, Wieters, Ellsbury, McCutchen, Andrus). Even the worst of the Top 20 are still actual MLB players (well, maybe not Brandon Wood). In 2009, you have Wieters, Price, Rasmus, Heyward, Bumgarner, Feliz, Alvarez, Posey, Stanton, all in the top 16. Comparisons from 2002 to now just don't make that much sense, because the way team's (and scouts) evaluate talent is demonstrably better. Also worth noting: the 2008 Top 100 list only had 6 players that never made it to the bigs (and one, Deolis Guerra, could still make it and was almost a Rule V last year). The 2007 list had 5. The 2006 list had 6.
Am I saying that the top prospects on the Cubs are all likely to hit? No, I don't believe that. I think I'm probably more pessimistic than the average fan about their chances. I do think they'll turn out in greater numbers than those who just point to 2002 think (and also, 2002 wasn't as bad as you might think at first blush).