The last of the significant mid-season prospect lists was revealed last night, with the MLB.com list being loaded, and again, the Cubs did spectacularly well. So well, that the prevailing wisdom is that the Cubs have the best system in the minors. And, for those of us who have paid attention since Theo Epstein took over the front office, this has been the plan. Trades, international free agency, and the draft are all well represented in the top of the Cubs system.
All four of MLB.com, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and ESPN.com’s Keith Law saw similar things in regard to the Cubs system. It’s really, really good. For the sake of this piece, I am going to limit the discussion to Top 50 prospects, because only MLB.com went as far as a Top 100 in the mid-season. In their case, 2014 First Round Pick, Kyle Schwarber and C.J. Edwards rounded out players not seen on any of the top 50 lists.
Actually, these were consensus top eight prospects by all four publications. Law ranked Bryant the top prospect in the minor leagues. The lowest any of these players is ranked is Baez, who ranked eighth, also by Keith Law. In every respect, this is an outstanding place to be, organizationally. Having three of the top eight prospects, as rated by these four publications means great things going forward. Historically, the higher the prospect rating, the more likely a player is to contribute positively in his career.
At the risk of repeating myself, this is a great problem to have. All three of these infield prospects offer the Cubs offensive and defensive versatility, should they choose to keep all three. With Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro already having earned All-Star bids on the infield, these three players could round out an infield with massive offensive upside and place Bryant or Baez in a corner outfield position. For my money, an infield with three natural short stops and Rizzo, a Gold Glove quality defensive first baseman, could provide the most offensive and defensive value.
As far as Alcantara is concerned, this is a hint of tough luck. He was called up about a week before the ESPN list was released, and Keith Law excluded players on major league rosters. He did mention that Alcantara would have been in the top 50 if he weren’t with the big league club, too.
Arismendy Alcantara was #71 overall, although he's top 50 now. Preseason report: http://t.co/5lKYGBrieB (Insider)
— keithlaw (@keithlaw) July 9, 2014
Alcantara’s play over the first half of the season vaulted him up prospect boards by all of the ranking services, however, and if the one thing keeping him from being a unanimous top 50 prospect was the fact that his play was good enough to earn a promotion, making him ineligible for a list, then that’s a win in itself.
Albert Almora was included on the Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com lists at 37 and 41, respectively. For Almora, who got off to a really slow start at Daytona before coming on strong, this is about what you’d expect. The positives, even with the poor early results, included Almora still not striking out a ton and the continued excellence in center field. His promotion to Tennessee was aggressive and if he struggles with the Smokies, his preseason 2015 ranking could suffer, as well. One critical thing to remember is that Almora is still only 20 years old. There will be peaks and valleys in his development, and those things will weigh on whatever his prospect ranking is. He does well with scouts who rate highly based on make-up and his floor. He struggles with scouts who value a higher ceiling.
Jorge Soler, with his unholy torching of AA pitching, was only included by Keith Law, ranking him number 28, saying, “Soler is a monster if he can just stay on the field.” That, coupled with concerns about his hustle seem to be the biggest obstacles to Soler being ranked higher on every list. Law cited that he could be another top ten prospect if he stays on the field.
Scouts have said same during reg season too. @TommyM44: really think the consistent effort is unfair. FO told him to take it easy in the AFL
— Jim Callis (@jimcallisMLB) July 28, 2014
More on Soler … if we ranked him at No. 54, yes, we believe in his upside as much as you @Cubs fans. Well, apparently, not quite as much.
— Jim Callis (@jimcallisMLB) July 28, 2014
Obviously, MLB.com’s crew, led by Jim Callis, had a differing opinion on Soler, but 54th is not some chump rating. Concerns about his effort aren’t new to this season or post-injury. If we remember back, he was benched for a game at Daytona before the stress fracture in his leg for not running out a ground ball. That is to say, there are a number of things holding down Soler’s prospect ranking. None of which include his performance. When he has played, he’s been very good. That’s what matters.
Prospect rankings are obviously fluid. They change quickly and sometimes drastically. In a lot of cases, a player may move down the rankings based on factors outside of their control. Other players may move up, an injury could have cost them a portion of their season, or change over in who is scouting a particular player all factor in. That is to say, rankings alone are not the important factor. It is agreement on the general value of prospects that is an important takeaway. From the Cubs’ perspective, there is nearly unanimous agreement that they have a plethora of high quality position prospects who have the ability to make profound impacts on the major league club down the line.