It is that time of year again – the Cubs get to add some new prospects into the farm system without giving up any major league talent in the process.
With their first pick, the Cubs went underslot with catcher Kyle Schwarber with the fourth overall pick in the draft, making him to first position player taken. As you will soon read, he is also one of six position players to make up the team’s top eight prospects. The Cubs added Maryland right-hander Jake Stinnett in the second round.
Tier 1A – The Top Two
1. 3B Kris Bryant – 2013 First Round Draft
Remember how everybody was impressed with Javier Baez‘s stint at AA Tennessee last year? Well Bryant has done even better.
I could go on and on about how dominant he has been this season, but I’ll let the numbers do the talking.
Bryant may still be destined for a move to the outfield down the line, but his bat will play well at any position. It is still early, but a promotion to AAA could be sooner rather than later.
2. SS Javier Baez – 2011 First Round Draft
After wowing crowds at AA, the start to Baez’s career at AAA Iowa was largely unimpressive. Though he has heated up as of late (.833 OPS in his last ten games), Baez still carries an OPS of just .688 on the season with a batting average of just .219. There is plenty of reason to anticipate a rebound, and Baez could still find himself playing at Wrigley before the year ends. In 54 games at AA last year, Baez launched 20 home runs en route to a .983 OPS. Baez may be able to stick at shortstop, but could move to third base assuming incumbent shortstop Starlin Castro isn’t going anywhere.
Tier 1B – The Next Three
3. OF Albert Almora – 2012 First Round Draft
While Bryant has largely dominated in 2014, his predecessor, outfielder Albert Almora, has seen some adversity. Batting just .248 with a .608 OPS and two home runs at Advanced-A Daytona, Almora needs more time to develop at the level before the Cubs contemplate a promotion to AA Tennessee. Do note that Almora is not the last struggling D-Cub you will see on this list.
While the numbers are not encouraging, it is still far from panic time for the Cubs’ first pick under Theo Epstein.
4. OF Jorge Soler – International Free Agent
When healthy, Jorge Soler has been excellent. Unfortunately, that sample size is only seven games. Soler was already in desperate need of more playing time when the Cubs signed him out of Cuba in 2012, but injuries have plagued him both this year and last. Soler is still a great talent, but he will need to stay healthy to continue to progress, especially since he is on a major league contract and his minor league options won’t last forever.
5. RHP C.J. Edwards – 2013 Trade Acquisition
Edwards is currently in the midst of the worst statistical season of his career. I mean, come on, a 2.61 ERA? Awful.
All joking aside, Edwards is the second consecutive Tennessee prospect on this list to be plagued by the injury bug this year. Coming over in the Matt Garza trade with the Texas Rangers last year, Edwards has a career 1.81 minor league ERA. His 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings this year constitute the lowest mark of his career, but still suffice. Currently on the 7-Day DL – as is Soler – look out for Edwards on the Cubs roster by mid-2015.
6. C Kyle Schwarber – 2014 First Round Draft
Tentatively, Schwarber is a catcher, though scouts believe that he may eventually move to the outfield. Though the Cubs have a surplus of outfield prospects between Almora, Soler and potentially Bryant, a move to the outfield would speed up the development of the prospect whose biggest tools come from the bat. The third top draft pick under Epstein, Schwarber is also the third position player, and possibly the third outfielder, taken with those picks.
In three seasons at the University of Indiana, Schwarber batted .341, hit 40 home runs and drove in 149 runs.
7. 2B Arismendy Alcantara – International Free Agency
Alcantara rose quickly up the prospect rankings in 2013, and at one point was an honorable mention on several top 50 prospects lists (for all of baseball). Though his stock has fallen a bit since then, it is a great testament to the strength of the Cubs’ farm system that he is only ranked seventh here.
Don’t be fooled by the .262 batting average or the sub-.300 OBP, Alcantara has been producing to the cue of an .803 OPS – just .001 off his mark from last year – and 28 of his 53 hits have been for extra bases.
Alcantara projects as versatile middle infielder with average power who could start on a first-division team. On an interesting note, Alcantara already has seven triples this year, tied for sixth in all of Minor League Baseball, after hitting four last year.
8. RHP Pierce Johnson – 2012 First Round Draft
One of three first-round picks the Cubs made in 2012, Johnson has seen his numbers slip a bit in 2014. His ERA has risen from 2.74 to 4.39 and his WHIP has gone up from 1.285 to 1.575 this year. His K/9 is down by two from last season to a mark of 7.4 while his BB/9 has gone up to 8.1 after being at just 3.3 last year.
It is likely that Johnson is simply struggling to adjust to the AA level, and perhaps he will get back on track before the season comes to a close, but his struggles to find the strike zone with consistency will prove problematic if it cannot be fixed. Keep an eye on it.
Tier Three – Rounding Out the List
9. RHP Arodys Vizcaino – 2012 Trade Acquisition
Acquired in the deal that sent Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson to Atlanta in 2012, Vizcaino was once one of the best pitching prospects in baseball before going through Tommy John Surgery. As it stands, Vizcaino is still a high-risk, high-reward type and have been working exclusively out of the pen this year.
In nine innings at Daytona and 10 and a third at Tennessee, Vizcaino’s 19.1 IP are hardly a large sample size, but they are also the only official professional innings he has pitched since 2011. So far, so good for the right-hander, who has posted a 1.86 ERA between the two levels while finishing 10 games and registering two saves.
At this point, the Cubs would be more than satisfied in Vizcaino developed into a strong late-game reliever, though at just 23 years of age, there may still be time for a transition back to the starting rotation.
10. 1B Dan Vogelbach
After posting an OPS of .895 in a limited sample size at Advanced-A Daytona last year. Vogelbach has largely struggled at the same level this time around with a modest .740 OPS.
If Vogelbach ever starts for the major league Cubs, it will be at first base, assuming the National League does not adopt the Designated Hitter in the next couple of years. Vogelbach’s greatest tool is his power, though he has yet to put up monster numbers in that department, but he has proven since being drafted that he is also a good pure contact hitter.
Vogelbach could be trade bait if his bat holds up, perhaps packaged with a major league player to net a better prospect return.
Best-Case Scenario For a Future Lineup
CF – Albert Almora
1B – Anthony Rizzo
3B – Javier Baez
RF – Kris Bryant
C – Kyle Schwarber
LF – Jorge Soler
2B – Arismendy Alcantara
SS – Starlin Castro
SP - C.J. Edwards