This is perhaps a fool’s errand. It’s hard to forecast where each player could play in the majors. To make this easier, I’m going with the OPTIMUM realistic projection of a player’s position (with one exception – Arismendy Alcantara, would be 3rd among SS but will almost certainly never play SS for the Cubs). I’ll note in the player bio where each person may end up (if it isn’t at the position they are listed).
It might not seem like it, but the Cubs are loaded at catcher. Kyle Schwarber has done illegal things with his bat so far in his professional career. It’s looking like his bat will carry him too fast for this catching to develop, unfortunately, so he is not long for the position.
Fortunately, Will Remillard is a defense-first catcher with no such worries. I’m not convinced that Will’s bat will play at the major-league level, but it needs be merely bad for Remillard to find work in the majors some day. He’s not an elite receiver, but he’s very good, and those are the types of guys that carve out 12-15 years in the majors without ever being noticed. I’ll be keeping a close eye on Will, and you should also.
Rafael Lopez is another guy with a future as a backup, but that day is almost here. I expect Lopez to break camp with the 2015 Cubs as the secondary backstop. Lopez is a good defender, and reports say he calls a good game. He’s probably Darwin Barney at the plate with upside, but that’s irrelevant given is imminent slot at the 8 hole in the majors.
I wanted to give Justin Marra some love here, because I’ve always been a fan of his for some reason. He needs to stick behind the plate to be a prospect – 1B won’t cut it – but as of now he has a 10%+ walk rate and a .250+ ISO. Hard to complain with that. Mark Zagunis was the 3rd round draft pick this year, so he obviously has some potential.
1. Dan Vogelbach
This will be short. Vogelbach is a real prospect, but the power of 2 years ago never really returned. If it does, he’ll be extremely exciting. If it doesn’t, he’s just a bat-first 1B, and those aren’t particularly special, even if it’s attached to some exceptional plate discipline.
Arismendy Alcantara has received major helium in the Baseball Prospectus midseason Top 50 – however, if you scout the stats, I’m not 100% sure why. He’s traded patience for power, sporting a .231 ISO but a 6.4% walk rate (which is hovering right around the minimum acceptable amount), and his BABIP is generally in the .330 range but this year it’s .380. I can buy a TTL of .330, but I can’t buy one of .380, even in AAA. All that being said, he’s still a very good prospect, who I imagine will be an average 2B/CF for 10 years, with some fringe all-star years thrown in there.
Stephen Bruno is one of the late-round (7th, although 7th doesn’t seem late) afterthoughts the Cubs drafted in 2012. He was an undersized college junior (5’9″, 165) that needed to mash straight out of college, and he did. This year he sports a more subdued .283/.356/.417 slash in AA Tennessee. He has the same walk issues as Arismendy (6.5% career rate), but he makes acceptable contact (19% career K rate). His future is as a utility bench guy, and Bruno can play all over the left side of the field + 2B. He won’t set the world on fire, but cheap, serviceable utility guys are not bad outcomes with 7th round picks.
Gioskar Amaya’s profile has been falling like an anvil after a great 2012 season. Bruno’s playing tool was power; he brought his ISO up to .199 in 2012. It crashed to .117 in 2013; then, on the way to the hospital, it got into another crash (.073) in 2014. Amaya is drawing his walks and striking out at an acceptable rate, so he’s in no danger of flushing out of the system; hopefully, he can develop the power stroke that will allow him to become interesting again.
Addison Russell is my kind of prospect! The kid has plate discipline, budding power, and the defensive chops to be an asset at SS. Will he ever hit 30 HR in a season? Probably not, though I wouldn’t discount it out of hand. Will he ever hit 20 HR in a season as a SS? Probably yes, and he’ll probably do it 5 times. I think Russell’s upside is Starlin Castro with more plate discipline, which is a nice little comp to have. Castro has the better bat-to-ball ability, but I think they’ll both have careers as high-average, nice-pop, athletic shortstops.
And when it’s all said and done, Javier Baez might be better than both of them! Baez could easily, easily bust, with his over-aggressive approach taking him out of at-bats on a routine basis. However, Baez has more raw power than either Castro or Russell, and he has the opportunity to hit 40-45 HR in a season someday if it all clicks. Baez’ plate discipline is also sometimes unfairly maligned. I bet it would surprise you to find out that Baez’ walk rate this year is 8.6%. It has increased at every level. The only task left is managing the strikeout rate. Baez is fanned in 32.2% of his plate appearances at AAA; that is absolutely not a manageable total in the majors (the MLE is around 40%).
I won’t pretend to know a lot about Gleyber Torres, as I’ve never laid eyes on him. The best I can do is regurgitate the scouting reports; 5-tool player, no carrying tool, good plate discipline, already filled out (not much projection), mixed reports on sticking at SS, but should play on the dirt somewhere.
For my money, a Kris Bryant that can stick at 3B is the best prospect in baseball. When Bryant was promoted to AAA, it was natural to assume his OPS would fall; it’d also be wrong, because it’s increased from 1.16 to 1.194. His wOBA has crashed to .500 from .506, though. He’s 2nd in the world in HR (30 to Gallo’s 31. They are both from Las Vegas. Makes you think), and 1st in the heart of all Cubs fans. Bryant strikes out a little too much for my taste; they’ll always be a part of his game, but he needs to manage them. I have slightly more confidence in Bryant than Baez to fix it up (if only because Baez is hyper-aggressive – Baez’s batting eye is better than reported, though, so who knows), and if he can work on his holes (up/in most notably), he’ll be an MVP-type player.
Christian Villanueva and Jeimer Candelario have the same, sad story. They’ve both been demoted after rough starts to the season. Villanueva promptly got injured after his demotion, and Jeimer has continued to struggle at the plate. I’m not sure what to make of either. I think Villanueva’s future is still as a glove-first UTIL CIF (and a damn fine one), but Candelario could have been more. It’s been a lost season for the young (still 20) man.
Eloy Jimenez looks like an absolute monster. I haven’t seen him personally, so it’s another scouting report synopsis; hulking form, good-to-great RH power, good speed for a man of his size that’ll play as average when it’s said and done, good arm but not great instincts in the field. Jimenez is listed at 6’4″, 205 lbs, but looks 240.
Shawon Dunston Jr. hasn’t broke out like I thought he would. I’m still relatively high on him, but he’ll need to prove it, and fast.
Almora is turning it around after an abysmal start to his season. A 3.1% walk rate is terrible, but at least he only strikes out 11.4% of the time. That obviously means that BABIP Uber Alles; this year it’s at .296 (which makes Almora not a useful player), though his career rate is in the .330 range (which makes him an acceptable player). There isn’t a lot of power or speed to his game, so it will be up to his instincts in the field (said to be exceptional) and his personal drive (also said to be exceptional) to carry him up the ladder.
Billy McKinney is the polar opposite of Almora, in that his bat is his meal ticket. McKinney strikes out a decent amount (17%) but also walks more than his fair share (10%) (not to mention that 17% is not all that much anyway). McKinney’s next bomb will tie Almora’s minor league career amount, and Billy has 10 right now. He probably won’t stick in CF, and his arm probably won’t play in RF, so he’s a LF/CF profile that leans on the former. That means that he’ll need to hit reasonably well to make it, and I believe he has a chance to do that.
I’ve never been super high on Jake (or Jacob – I’m not sure which he prefers) Hannemann, and that’s because I’m always dubious of the “late to baseball” or “athlete” or “took a year off” types. I’m quite willing to be proved wrong, of course, and Hannemann’s start to his professional career has been pretty uplifting. All the peripherals are where they need to be, and if he can stick at center (reports there generally say yes), he can end up as a nice little prospect.
1. Jorge Soler
It’s Soler and nobody else. I’m not wasting words on Yasiel Balaguert or Rubi Silva, who are probably both NPs at this point. Soler is the real deal, a patient, strong hitter who dominates pitchers when healthy. I hate the fact he’s lost so much time to injuries, but they don’t really diminish his skills, at least not yet. No one is talking about it, but Soler’s unique contract situation means that he might be called up to the majors as soon as this September. I’m actually all for it, because I think Soler’s approach might be the most advanced of any of our prospects. It also stands to reason that MLB trainers are better than minor league ones, and given Soler’s injury history, it might be prudent to get him time in the major league rehab room anyways. When it’s said and done, Soler seems like the best shot in the majors to hit .300/30, if injuries don’t get in the way.
There’s almost certainly some recency bias, but I’ll take the guy who hasn’t been injured this year. Tseng has flashed 3 average or better pitches, and he has the time to develop the offspeed stuff. I’d be surprised if he debuted before 2017, but he could be a mid-rotation stalwart once there.
C.J. Edwards might reverse-eat himself out of the league, seeing as he’s 6’2″, maybe 150 lbs. The stuff is dynamite, but the frame is increasingly indicating a dominant reliever, if he can stay healthy enough to pitch at all. I like Edwards a lot and he could make the majors July 2015 if it all comes together after the ASB.
Pierce Johnson seems to be on track after a scary beginning to the season. The walks are insanely high at the moment, and they’ll but a damper on any projection you might have for Pierce. If he can limit those, he’ll be in the discussion for a 2015 promotion like Edwards.
Arodys has the best fastball and curveball in the Cubs’ system, so he has this ranking essentially by default. I really wish he could start, but he can’t. He’ll be a back-end reliever in 2015 if it all breaks right, though they may look to stretch him out one last time.
It’s kind of embarassing that Rivero isn’t in the majors yet. FO people say he’s working on his command, but he’s striking out 35-37% of batters in AA-AAA. Maybe he’s working on his command of the English language (he’s an IFA), because he looks absolutely stellar to me.
The purpose of this exercise was more or less to illustrate the futility of “too many shortstops.” If you look at the position alone, sure. 2 of our 3 best prospects are blocked by an All-Star. However, look at most of the other positions! Baez at LF is a better prospect than Eloy Jimenez, no question. While it may not be optimal from a “maximizing the farm’s efficiency” standpoint, the purpose of baseball is not to maximize the farm’s efficiency, but to win baseball games by having better players than the other guys. The Cubs are putting themselves in just that position.