Minors : : General
Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Chicago Cubs Top Prospects

Todd Gold        
Photo: Peoria Cubs
Perfect Game Minor League Page | Perfect Game player profiles linked in bold

1 Jorge Soler
OF A Peoria
A+ Daytona
2 Javier Baez
SS/3B A+ Daytona
A+ Daytona 2015
3 Albert Almora OF SS Boise
A Kane County
4 Daniel Vogelbach 1B SS Boise
A Kane County
5 Brett Jackson
OF MLB Chicago
MLB Chicago
6 Arodys Vizcaino
RHP DNP Injured
AAA Iowa 2011
7 Christian Villanueva
3B A+ Daytona
AA Tennessee
8 Jeimer Candelario
3B SS Boise
A Kane County
9 Pierce Johnson
RHP SS Boise A Kane County
10 Duane Underwood
SS Boise

Others considered:  RHP Paul Blackburn, RHP Barret Loux, RHP Dillon Maples, RHP Trey McNutt, OF Matt Szczur, 3B Josh Vitters, RHP Tony Zych


The Cubs have rapidly transitioned from one of the weakest farm systems in baseball just a couple years ago to having one of the best collections of talent in the lower level of the minors in the entire game. The 2011 draft was a big part of that transition, paired with prospect acquisitions from trades and impact international signings, the Cubs have quickly reversed their fortunes at the minor league level.

The AAA affiliate in Iowa produced some solid young players that should begin to take on larger roles at the Major League level in the coming years. Catcher Wellington Castillo had a solid debut and has taken over as the big league club's regular catcher going forward. Rafael Dolis showed flashes of potential at the big league level, even earning a cameo as the closer, but his youth showed at times and he was frustratingly inconsistent. Dolis was one of several rookies to show interesting potential out of the bullpen, being joined  by Lendy Castillo and Alberto Cabrera. Brett Jackson posses the physical tools to be the most valuable asset of the group, though he had similar struggles with making contact that teammate Anthony Rizzo suffered in his debut a year earlier in San Diego. Recently acquired RHP Arodys Vizcaino (in the Paul Maholm trade with Atlanta) was a blue chip prospect before missing the 2012 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Former first round pick Josh Vitters also reached the Friendly Confines in 2012, and in spite of his struggles there is hope that he too could become a reliable contributor.

Barring a developmental leap from Vitters and/or IF Junior Lake, Jackson and Vizcaino appear to be the only big league ready prospects in the system with much of a chance to make a difference at the Major League level. And even they have their question marks coming into 2013. Cubs fans living in the Chicagoland area will want to make a trip or two out to the western suburb of Geneva to catch a glimpse of the Cubs future in Low-A Kane County, which has a chance to be one of the most exciting clubs in all of the minors. High-A Daytona should also have an exciting squad even before the first prospect earns a promotion from Kane County. While the impact prospects in the lower minors have the potential to form a valuable nucleus to build a perennial contender around, none of them are likely to reach the Majors in the next two years.

The timeline for the building process makes it a foregone conclusion that Matt Garza's days on the north side are numbered. If he can show that he is one hundred percent healthy coming back from an elbow injury and pitches well, GM Jed Hoyer could find himself in a position of leverage to land a solid package of prospects from a contender in need of pitching. There is also an outside shot that they could recoup some value from trading Alfonso Soriano and/or Carlos Marmol, if the Cubs are willing to eat a significant portion of those contacts, a luxury the Cubs organization should easily be able to afford.

The biggest weakness in the system is left handed pitching. There is a good amount of pitching depth, but aside from Eric Jokisch the organization's pitching depth is severely right handed. Though that is an issue that can be solved when the time comes to fill in the Major League roster around the prospects who pan out and is another area where their large market revenue streams will come in handy.

Holding the second pick in the 2013 draft and owning the second highest signing bonus pool gives the Cubs the opportunity to take the next step and go from being a farm system that is on the rise, to potentially becoming one of the best in the game. There is a lot of work to be done between now and June for that to happen.

The Cubs made several changes to their scouting staff following the 2012 draft. The staff under former Scouting Director Tim Wilken (who currently serves as a Special Assistant to the President/General Manager) turned in an effort in the past  two drafts that has yielded positive early returns. It is standard procedure for a new President/GM regime to bring in their own guys after their first draft. GM Jed Hoyer hired his former Scouting Director from San Diego, Jaron Madison, to assume the same position and made several other changes in the lower levels of the scouting department. It remains to be seen if the moves will be an upgrade, while the outside perception of the group is strong, the bar has been set high in the past two drafts.

2012 Draft

With new CBA rules in place, the Cubs were unable to repeat their formula for success from the 2011 draft. Though they did repeat the pattern of taking advantage of a final opportunity, as free agent compensation picks are another element of the draft that has been somewhat phased out by the new CBA.  The Cubs picked up a pair of compensation picks by offering arbitration to departing Type B free agents Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena.

The Cubs managed to sign each of their first 20 picks, and spent $9.16 Million on the 2012 draft, which was $373,800 above their bonus pool. Only the Blue Jays exceeded their bonus pool by a greater amount. The Cubs had to shell out $280,350 in tax (75% of the $373,800 overage) as a result, a mere pittance for a large market team knee deep in rebuilding mode.

The majority of the overslot money went to sixth overall pick Albert Almora, whose $3.9 Million deal was $400,000 above slot, and ranked fifth highest of the 2012 draft. While they didn't really put all their eggs in one basket, the long term success of their 2012 efforts will be judged heavily by Almora's performance. From that standpoint the early returns are promising, as Almora homered in his first professional game before hitting a combined .321/.331/.464 in his 33 game debut. After Almora they leaned very heavily on pitching, picking seven consecutive pitchers before infielder Stephen Bruno broke up the streak in round seven.

The Cubs targeted high school prospects in the early rounds, which was the norm amongst most organizations in 2012. Four of their first five picks were from the prep ranks, and six out of the first seven. Missouri State RHP Pierce Johnson (43rd overall) was the only college player taken in the first three rounds. Though they would reverse course in the middle rounds when they shifted to a strategy of grabbing college players who slipped a bit as a result of the early run on high school prospects. Johnson also fits this mold to an extent, as he had first round buzz throughout the spring and represented good value at pick No. 43.

Second rounder Duane Underwood has a chance to challenge Johnson as the top pitching prospect from the Cubs deep pitching haul. His stock dropped after a slow start to the spring at Pope HS (GA), but he finished the season strong and was still just 17 years old when he signed for a slightly overslot bonus of $1,050,000. Underwood has a low mileage arm as a converted outfielder who didn't begin to focus on pitching until the summer after his sophomore year, but is likely to move slowly as a result. His fastball has been up to 97 mph, though he typically works in the mid 90s and has a pair of promising secondary pitches (curveball, changeup).

Future Outlook

Much to the chagrin of fans on the north side, the Cubs are still at least a couple of years away for contending for their first World Series title since 1908. While the gains at the Major League level are likely to be incremental in the immediate future, their long term outlook is much more optimistic. It's still too early in the player development process to bank on any of the potential impact prospects reaching their ceiling, but there are enough of them that the system is likely to yield at least one or two highly valuable assets, if not more.

Their large market revenue stream and young current MLB roster should provide plenty or resources to build around prospects like Soler, Baez and Almora, but it will be difficult, if not impossible to contend until 2015 at the earliest. Whether or not the vocal fanbase and imposing local media will influence the front office's decisions could ultimately impact how much fruit the building efforts will bare. If the Baseball Operations staff shows patience with player development in the next couple of years and make sound decisions in the meantime, the Cubs have a chance to become annual contenders. It's a difficult environment to be sure, but one that President Theo Epstein is very familiar with from his tenure in Boston.

In spite of the bullish long term prospectus, it doesn't appear that the sign hanging from the Lakeview Baseball Club on Sheffield Ave will read "AC000000" in the near future.

Also see:  Baseball Prospectus Chicago Cubs Top 10 Prospects
Copyright 1994-2018 by Perfect Game. All rights reserved. No portion of this information may be reprinted or reproduced without the written consent of Perfect Game.