It is officially season three of the Theo Epstein regime’s rebuilding process, and the Cubs enter 2014 with yet another great group of prospects to go along with a less than great major league roster.
The Cubs farm system has often been said to lack pitching, but the team continued to make strides in correcting that problem over the past year, most notably with the acquisition of C.J. Edwards in the Matt Garza trade.
Below is the 2014 WSD Top 13 Prospects List, but first, let’s take a look back at the 2012 and 2013 lists.
WSD 2013 Preseason Top 13 Prospects List:
- SS Javier Baez
- OF Jorge Soler
- OF Albert Almora
- RHP Arodys Vizcaino
- OF Brett Jackson
- 1B Dan Vogelbach
- 3B Jeimer Candelario
- RHP Pierce Johnson
- 3B Christian Villanueva
- RHP Juan Carlos Paniagua
- RHP Duane Underwood
- SS Arismendy Alcantara
- 3B Josh Vitters
WSD 2012 Preseason Top 13 Prospects List:
- OF Brett Jackson
- 1B Anthony Rizzo
- SS Javier Baez
- RHP Trey McNutt
- OF Matt Szczur
- RHP Dillon Maples
- 3B Josh Vitters
- 1B Dan Vogelbach
- 3B Jeimer Candelario
- RHP Rafael Dolis
- C Welington Castillo
- SS Junior Lake
- RHP Dae-Eun Rhee
Those lists sure looked good at the time, but now… not so much. The 2014 list looks a lot stronger, but how will it look a year or two from now? Hopefully, significantly better than the previous lists.
#1) Shortstop – Javier Baez (2013: Tennessee Smokies)
If Anthony Rizzo was highly hyped in 2012, words will not describe the expectations for Javier Baez. Whether it is power, bat speed, aggressiveness or a flaw that could potentially prevent him from succeeding at the major league level, Baez has it all.
The 2011 first round pick, the last first-rounder of the Jim Hendry era, worked his way up the prospects lists every season until checking in as a consensus Top 10 and often Top Five prospect in the game heading into the 2014 season.
After playing to a .274/.338/.535 line with 17 home runs and 57 RBIs in 76 games with Advanced-A Daytona, Baez was even better after being promoted to AA Tennessee, with a .294/.346/.638 line to go along with 20 home runs and 54 RBIs in 54 games.
Baez’s aggressive nature may get the better of him eventually, but it is just as likely that his excellent bat speed will more than make up for it, as Baez has often drawn comparisons to Gary Sheffield.
Baez is expected to start the 2014 season at shortstop for the AAA Iowa Cubs, but a promotion may be earned sooner rather than later.
Baez’s future may be determined by the career path of current Cubs shortstop – and former big name prospect – Starlin Castro. If Castro can get his offensive production back to where it used to be and improve his defense, Baez may face a change of position, with third base and second base the most likely destinations.
Baez Fun Fact: Baez had a four home run game for Daytona this past season. Repeat: a four home run game.
#2) Third Baseman – Kris Bryant (2013: Daytona Cubs)
As the team’s first round pick in the 2013 draft, Bryant added to what was already considered to be perhaps the best power-hitting trio in the minors, a group consisting of the aforementioned Javier Baez and the duo of Jorge Soler and Dan Vogelbach, who we will get to later.
Bryant absolutely dominated the college level, and didn’t slow down too much in his first professional season, hitting nine home runs and posting a 1.078 OPS in 36 games between the Rookie-level AZL Cubs, the Short-season A Boise Hawks and the Advanced-A Daytona Cubs.
Bryant will likely begin the 2014 season at AA Tennessee, but may well be hitting balls onto Waveland and Sheffield before the year is done.
A third baseman by trade, Bryant may find himself in an outfield position as part of a chain reaction of position changes, dependent upon the play of several players including Castro, Baez, Arismendy Alcantara and Mike Olt.
Bryant is a consensus Top 20 type, even earning a few Top 10 nods in league-wide prospect rankings.
Bryant Fun Fact: He has a solid chance to make it from being drafted to the major league level in a period of just 365 days. Oh, and he’s already won a championship with A+ Daytona.
ETA: Late 2014, Early 2015
#3) Outfielder Albert Almora (2013: Kane County Cougars)
The team’s first round pick in 2012, Almora completes the trio atop the rankings consisting of the team’s last three first round picks. Perhaps not the player whose tools stand out the most, Almora is probably the best rounded prospect on this list.
Without an insane amount of speed, Almora makes up for it defensively with his instinct and general defensive ability.
Offensively, Almora has the potential to hit for a high average with a decent amount of power. Though he hasn’t walked very often in his professional career, Almora has a good eye for the strike zone and has the potential to be a very patient, high-OBP type of player.
Almora has the lowest ceiling of the higher ranked prospects on this list, but has the highest floor with the smallest potential to bust.
Almora Fun Fact: He once captained the United States amateur national baseball team. The Cubs have never had a team captain (unless one counts player-managers to be within that realm), but Almora could be a solid candidate for the first in franchise history.
ETA: Late 2015, Early 2016
#4) Right-handed Pitcher C.J. Edwards (2013: Daytona Cubs)
What? Were you expecting to see another name here? Jorge Soler, perhaps? Well, think again. The pitcher that was not even in the Cubs’ system at the beginning of the 2013 season is now the organization’s top pitching prospect, and has broken up the feared “Big Four” position player prospects in the rankings.
Edwards light build has caused many to question his ability to stick at a major league starter. However, that did not stop Baseball America from recently ranking him the 28th best prospect in the game, ahead of both Almora and Soler.
Even if Edwards proves to not have the stamina to be a full-time major league starter, the “stuff” is there for him to become a solid back-end reliever. But for now, it is more intriguing to imagine him as a top-of-the-rotation starter at Wrigley in a couple years.
Edwards Fun Fact: Acquired from the Texas Rangers in the Matt Garza trade, Edwards was joined by former top prospect Mike Olt, plus Neil Ramirez and Justin Grimm. Oh, and he was part of a starting rotation that did not allow an earned run in the Florida State League playoffs as the D-Cubs won it all.
#5) Outfielder Jorge Soler (2013: Daytona Cubs)
Soler’s season was cut short by injury, and the highlight of his year was one that we’d all like to forget (see “Soler Not-so-Fun Fact” below). Yet Soler’s bat and arm strength could translate very well at the major league level if the Cuban defector can manage to stay healthy.
Ranked at #41 by Baseball America on its league-wide Top 100 list, it was noted that Soler could reach the Top 25 range if he stays healthy and produces in 2014. Soler is the only one of the aforementioned “Big Four” position players to not receive a non-roster invitation to major league spring training, but only because he is already on the 40-man roster after signing a $30 million major league contract with the Cubs in 2012.
Random Fun Fact: Notice how each of the first five prospects on this list spent at least some time with the 2013 Florida State League champions in Daytona? Just throwing it out there.
Soler Not-so-Fun Fact: Minor League Baseball is a beautiful game with smaller stadiums and young and talented players looking to make a name for themselves and reach a higher level. Oh, and sometimes it involves incidents where a player approaches the opposing dugout with a bat. Soler was ejected from the game and received a suspension, as well as taking a firm lead in that statistical department among current top Cubs prospects: 1.
#6) Blogger Dabynsky
#6) Right-handed Pitcher Pierce Johnson
A supplemental first round draft selection in 2012, Johnson is the second pitcher on this list. While not posting an ERA under 2.00 like Edwards, Johnson only got better after advancing from A-level Kane County to Advanced-A Daytona, where he posted a 2.22 ERA in ten games.
Johnson emerged as a Top 100-type during the 2013 campaign, and while he may not the same ceiling as Edwards, Johnson could very well make the big leagues first and has less concerns about his durability and ability to stick as a starter.
Johnson Fun Fact: Johnson is the second, and final, member of the four-man rotation that led Daytona to the Florida State League championship in 2013 to make this list. The remaining two after Edwards and Johnson are Ivan Pineyro and Corey Black. Of the four, only Johnson was in the organization heading into the 2013 season.
#7) Shortstop Arismendy Alcantara (2013: AA Tennessee)
Alcantara had a breakout 2013 season in which he went from a non-Top 100 to being in Top 50 consideration by the All-Star Break. He fell off a little bit in the second half, lowering him back to the lower fourth of most Top 100 lists, but for a seventh ranked prospect in the system to be in the Top 100 to any extent is great.
Alcantara slid over to second base after Javier Baez was promoted to Tennessee, where Alcantara played the entire season. With both prospects figuring to start 2014 at AAA Iowa and with Starlin Castro manning the shortstop position at the major league level, the move could be permanent. If Castro rebounds and Alcantara produces and earns a callup to the majors, that could slide Baez to third base and Bryant to the outfield. What that means for the ninth ranked prospect on this list is to be determined.
Alcantara Fun Fact: Having played in the system since 2009, Alcantara has the longest minor league career in the Cubs organization of any player on this list.
ETA: Late 2015
#8) Third Baseman Jeimer Candelario (2013: Kane County)
After a solid showing at Short-season A Boise in 2012, Candelario was considered to be a prime breakout candidate in 2013 at A-level Kane County. Ultimately, it didn’t happen, but the young third baseman did improve on his strikeout-to-walk ratio and finished with a respectable OBP of .346, 90 points higher than his batting average.
Heading into 2014, likely starting at Advanced-A Daytona, Candelario is in very much the same situation. With potential graduations of players ranked ahead of him and a possible breakout year, look for Candelario to be ranked higher by this time next year.
Candelario Fun Fact: He started his career in the Dominican Summer League and his name sounds distinctly Hispanic, but Candelario was actually born in New York City.
#9) Third Baseman Mike Olt
As the third third baseman on this list, Olt may be relatively low on the prospect depth chart. However, Olt does have one advantage over both Bryant and Candelario: he may open 2014 with the major league team.
Had the Matt Garza trade happened one year prior, the headline may have read “Rangers Acquire Garza for Olt, Three others” as Olt was once ranked in the Top 20s or 30s on most Top 100 lists. Unfortunately, vision problems derailed Olt’s 2013 season so much that he no longer is even considered to be a Top 100 prospect, and was well surpassed by C.J. Edwards as the best prospect acquired in the trade.
If Olt can overcome his vision problems and get back to a point anywhere close to the point he was at two seasons ago, the Garza trade prove to be an even bigger steal than it is already thought to be. Olt has the chance to stick long-term at third base, with plus defense and good power, but the vision issues will have to fixed for a successful major league career to be plausible.
Olt Fun Facts: Olt had thought he had fixed some of his issues before the trade, and attributed it to Manny Ramirez.
#10) First Baseman Dan Vogelbach (2013: Daytona Cubs)
If you like power, you like Dan Vogelbach. You have also probably faced a realization that the designated hitter should be implemented in the National League just because of Vogelbach.
While his power hasn’t quite been what it was expected to be, the large first baseman also proved that he is a surprisingly good pure hitter, with power not being his only offensive contribution.
Better yet, he has been relatively solid defensively for what was expected out of him. The only “problem” is that he has Anthony Rizzo ahead of him on the organizational depth charts at first base.
Vogelbach Fun Fact: A home run hit by Dan Vogelbach is commonly referred to as a “Vogelbomb.” His name translates from German to English as “Bird Brook.”
#11) Right-handed Pitcher Arodys Vizcaino (2013: Did Not Pitch. 2012: Same Story)
Vizcaino will likely pitch out of the bullpen this season, but a return to the starting rotation could still be a possibility in the future.
Originally schedule to partake in the Arizona Fall League for a Mesa Solar Sox team that included fellow top Cubs prospects Baez, Bryant, Almora and Soler, before both he and Baez were pulled out.
Vizcaino Not-so-Fun Fact: Vizcaino hasn’t thrown a professional pitch since 2011… in the Atlanta Braves organization.
ETA: 2014 (Hopefully)
#12) Outfielder Eloy Jimenez (2013: Yet to Play Professionally)
The prize of the 2013 International Free Agent pool, the Cubs managed to sign not only Jimenez, the but the second best international prospect, Venezuelan shortstop Gleyber Torres, as the team blew through its spending cap. The team will face penalties for it, but it may be worth it in the end, especially if the duo of 16-year-olds (at time of signing) amount to anything.
It is difficult to project Jimenez at this point, but it has been said that both Jimenez and Torres have the potential to skip their respective country’s summer leagues and head straight to the Arizona League for the 2014 season.
Jimenez Fun Fact: Jimenez is easily the youngest player on this list.
#13) Right-handed Pitcher Neil Ramirez (2013: AA Tennessee)
It was exceptionally difficult to pick a thirteenth prospect to put on this list. After tossing around names such as Christian Villanueva and Kyle Hendricks, to name a couple, I settled on Neil Ramirez.
Ramirez has battled injuries throughout his career, especially recently, Ramirez still has the potential to be a solid bullpen arm or a middle or back-of-the-rotation starter.
Also of note, Ramirez is the third prospect to be included on this list that was acquired in the Matt Garza trade. While some may still prefer Chris Archer and Hak-Ju Lee, the Cubs did acquire a significant amount of talent for Garza. Ramirez came to the Cubs as a player to be named later in the trade.
Ramirez Fun Fact: While Alcantara has had the longest career in the Cubs organization, Ramirez began his minor league career one year earlier in 2008.