The Chicago Cubs have a large number of prospects that are only a year or two away from the show. Plus, they have young stars Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo already playing at Wrigley and signed through the 2019 seasons. This past season, they were able to grab Mike Olt, C.J. Edwards, and Neil Ramirez from the Texas Rangers for just half a season of Matt Garza’s services. Theo Epstein and Co. have also drafted well the past two seasons and selected the talents of Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, and Pierce Johnson. The Cubs have around $25.2M and $27.2M on the books for the 2015 and 2016 season respectively. It seems as if Epstein’s plans could be coming to fruition soon. Ownership will need to open up the check book in the next few off-seasons to supplement their youth, but they could look to contend as early as 2015 and have a strong core of young talent for years to come.
Cumulative Cubs Top-10 Prospects
|Source||Baseball America||Baseball Prospectus||Fangraphs||John Sickels||Keith Law ($)||MLB.com|
|1||Javier Baez||Javier Baez||Javier Baez||Javier Baez||Javier Baez||Javier Baez|
|2||Kris Bryant||Kris Bryant||Kris Bryant||Kris Bryant||Kris Bryant||Albert Almora|
|3||C.J. Edwards||Albert Almora||Albert Almora||Albert Almora||Jorge Soler||Jorge Soler|
|4||Albert Almora||Jorge Soler||Jorge Soler||Jorge Soler||Albert Almora||Kris Bryant|
|5||Jorge Soler||C.J. Edwards||Arismendy Alcantara||C.J. Edwards||C.J. Edwards||Mike Olt|
|6||Pierce Johnson||Arismendy Alcantara||Pierce Johnson||Arismendy Alcantara||Arismendy Alcantara||Arodys Vizcaino|
|7||Arismendy Alcantara||Pierce Johnson||C.J. Edwards||Pierce Johnson||Pierce Johnson||Pierce Johnson|
|8||Jeimer Candelario||Dan Vogelbach||Dan Vogelbach||Jeimer Candelario||Jeimer Candelario||Arismendy Alcantara|
|9||Dan Vogelbach||Christian Villanueva||Arodys Vizcaino||Dan Vogelbach||Corey Black||Matt Szczur|
|10||Arodys Vizcaino||Jeimer Candelario||Kyle Hendricks||Christian Villanueva||Arodys Vizcaino||Dan Vogelbach|
2013 System Breakdown
The system, overall had a good season. Three different levels were able to make the playoffs with two reaching the championship series and one winning it all. The star level was obviously the Daytona Cubs as the won their league and have a large core of the top prospects. If this core moves up to AA, keep an eye on the Tennessee Smokies and see if they can continue the success.
Chicago Cubs (66-96) (5-14 vs Reds)
3B/1B/OF Mike Olt, RHP Arodys Vizcaino, RHP Kyle Hendricks
AAA – Iowa Cubs (66-78)
AA – Tennessee Smokies (76-62) Made playoffs (5-4 vs Blue Wahoos)
SS Javier Baez, SS/2B Arismendy Alcantara, 3B Christian Villanueva, OF Matt Szczur
A+ – Daytona Cubs (75-51) Won FSL title
1B Dan Vogelbach, 3B Kris Bryant, RF Jorge Soler, RHP Corey Black, RHP C.J. Edwards, RHP Pierce Johnson
A – Kane County Cougars (55-80) (2-1 vs Dragons)
3B Jeimer Candelario, CF Albert Almora
A Short – Boise Hawks (41-35) NWL runner-up
R – AZL Cubs (27-28) (1-2 vs Reds)
Q&A with Tom Usiak of Chicago Cubs Online
I personally want to thank the guys at Chicago Cubs Online. They were a huge help in preparing this article so please go give their site a look. You can also follow the site on Twitter: @TheCCO & @TheCCO_Minors
RML: The Cubs farm system has improved mightily since acquiring Theo Epstein. Can you give me a synopsis of the system Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer have put together?
CCO: Unlike what may have been reported from other outlets, the Cubs’ system was not bereft of talent when Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over the front office. The organization had previously operated more under the “one position-one prospect” concept, and had players more in tune with the team’s philosophy at the time. The Cubs had an aggressive hitting coach in Rudy Jaramillo, and position prospects reflected that approach. Their pitching prospects where more in the line of “game managers” rather than power pitchers. Because Epstein had different philosophies in both areas, some deals were made in order to bring the system in line with them. Not all were successful, as the Cubs lost infielders Marwin Gonzalez (Astros), Ryan Flaherty (Orioles) and DJ LeMahieu (Rockies), and pitcher Andrew Cashner (Padres), while basically only gaining first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
Epstein and Hoyer then used every avenue in order to bring in more prospects in order to create “positional redundancy”. Several “flips” at the trading deadline over the past two seasons have brought pitchers such as Arodys Vizcaino, Barret Loux, Ivan Pineyro, Corey Black, and as you mentioned, Ramirez and Edwards. They also acquired third basemen Christian Villanueva and Olt. The Cubs were also aggressive in international free agency, signing Cuban outfielders Jorge Soler and Yasiel Balaguert. The front office continued that pace this past season, inking outfielder Eloy Jimenez, infielder Gleyber Torres, catcher Yohan Matos, and pitchers Jen-Ho Tseng, Jefferson Mejia, and Erling Moreno.
The two drafts that have been a product of Epstein, Hoyer, player development director Jason McLeod, and special assistant Tim Wilken have been counterpoints to each other. The 2012 draft targeted young players to build a foundation for the system, starting with outfielder Albert Almora. The Cubs also got pitchers Pierce Johnson, Paul Blackburn, Duane Underwood, and Ryan McNeil. This past year, the Cubs focused more on college age players to fill holes in the system. Drafting third baseman Kris Bryant now made them four deep at the position. Left- handed pitchers Rob Zastryzny and Sam Wilson filled a critical need, while righties Tyler Skulina, Trey Masek, Scott Frazier, and Zach Godley augmented the pitching at the Single-A/ Advanced-A level.
RML: While the Cubs haven’t made the playoffs in since 2008, it seems that there are several prospects that will be ready to make an impact in Chicago in the next year or two. There’s no need to rush him, but Javier Baez seems like he could get a call up this season or just a cup of coffee in September. However, he should make a run at the big league club in 2015. What is your overall take on the unanimous best prospect in the Cubs system? What position will he man in the majors?
CCO: I had missed a chance to see Javier Baez in person when he was in Single-A, but have seen almost every game of his online since being promoted to Double-A Tennessee. Offensively, Baez has elite bat speed that allows him to generate power. Baez is very stout physically from the shoulders to the knees, which gives him the ability to “muscle up” on a ball when he needs to. Being a young player (turned 21 on December 1), Baez can still be overly aggressive at the plate, but is getting better at laying-off pitches. Even when he is fooled, Baez’s bat speed gives him the ability to make solid contact and drive the ball to the opposite field.
From a purely defensive perspective, Baez reminds me of Jhonny Peralta, currently playing with the Cardinals. Like Peralta, Baez is a player who can field the shortstop position, but you would always be looking for a defensive upgrade. In the games I have observed, Baez seems to be a tad slow reacting and has limited lateral quickness, despite having good overall speed. His quick hands at the plate don’t seem to translate into the field. Many have reported that Baez has a strong arm, but I have yet to see him show it off. But Baez is very young to be a player at Triple- A, so there is room for some refinement in his game.
Scouts such as Jim Callis feel that Baez will be an outstanding third baseman, but I wonder if he has the reactions for the position. Baez has been reluctant to play any position other than shortstop, although that has been a source of mild controversy. Baez has publicly said that he will play anywhere the organization wants him to, but whenever one team official suggests a position change; it is soon retracted by another official higher up. The Cubs have said Baez will see time at both third and second base this spring. Time will tell whether that comes to pass.
RML: Most of the club’s top prospects are bats, but pitchers C.J. Edwards, Kyle Hendricks, and Pierce Johnson were all mentioned on at least one top 10 list. Of these three, who is most likely to be in the starting rotation in 2016 and what separates him from the others?
CCO: By 2016, all three should be part of the Cubs rotation. At this point, only injuries and a possible trade could alter that.
Of the three, C.J. Edwards has the most potential. Edwards has a fastball that tops out at 95 MPH, a curveball that is considered a plus pitch, and a change-up with some sink. Edwards is very good at changing the eye level of hitters by mixing his pitches. Of all three pitchers, Edwards has the potential of having two plus pitches.
At this point, Kyle Hendricks is the furthest along in his development and will most likely to be the first of the three to make the big leagues. He has an upper 80s/low 90s fastball, cutter, curve, slider and change-up. He has a very repeatable delivery that allows him to throw all five pitches for strikes. Like Edwards, he is very good at mixing his pitches, but has a deeper arsenal.
I have had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Pierce Johnson personally, and I came away with the impression that he has the make-up of a staff leader, even if he is not at the top of the rotation. Johnson is more of a power pitcher, and has struggled with consistency at times. Like Edwards, Johnson had a mid-90s four seam fastball, along with a power breaking pitch and a circle change.
RML: It seems that the Cubs have been continuously looking for a third baseman since losing Aramis Ramirez after 2011, but the system currently has a plethora of 3B prospects in Kris Bryant, Jeimer Candelario, Mike Olt, and Christian Villanueva. What would you say is each prospects best tool and who would be your choice for the starting 3B in 2016?
CCO: Taking them in order, the best tools Kris Bryant has are hitting for average and hitting for power. Bryant is a good enough hitter to bat third in a line-up, and has enough power to hit clean-up. Jeimer Candelario has the best strike zone discipline and is a developing power hitter. Mike Olt is the best athlete, capable of playing third base, first, the outfield, and probably catcher if you asked him. Christian Villanueva is a Gold Glove third baseman in waiting, with soft hands, quick reactions, good range, and a strong, true arm.
Just who is starting in 2016 will depend on team needs. If the organization is dead set on Javier Baez playing shortstop, then placing a defender like Villanueva next to him might be prudent. Bryant profiles the best offensively, but will have to show that he can handle the position defensively. Candelario is the closest to the “grinder” approach the front office loves, but he also has to improve on defense. But you never know. By 2016, Baez could be the third baseman.
RML: I personally saw Arismendy Alcantara play last year and love how he plays the game. By all means, he had a breakout season last year. Can you give us a name or two of non-top 10 guys who have the tools and might take that same kind of step forward this season?
CCO: The Cubs have several outfielders that are just outside the Top Prospects lists that could have an impact. Cuban National Rubi Silva is freakishly athletic, with probably the strongest throwing arm for the franchise, majors included. Silva has above average speed, great range on defense, and emerging power. John Andreoli is about as close to a prototypical “grinder” as you can get. Andreoli has led the system over the past two seasons in stolen bases (swiping 95 during that period) and has a career on-base percentage of .385. Bijan Rademacher is solid in all phases of the game and reminds me a lot of former major-leaguer Jim Edmonds defensively. The Cubs also have infielder/outfielder Tim Saunders coming off of an injury. While not as fast as Billy Hamilton, Saunders has the same type of “steal at will” ability that fans saw with former-Cub Tony Campana.
RML: The Cubs have the 4th pick in the 2014 draft. Who would you be targeting at that spot and what system holes need to be filled in the draft?
CCO: Pitching is always a need, especially left handed pitching. Therefore, I expect the Cubs to lean heavily in that direction in the early part of the draft. The biggest weakness the system has is at catcher, so they will also concentrate their efforts there. But Theo Epstein and company will not be fooled. They will take the best available player, regardless of position. We will have to wait until the 2014 season is underway before that can be determined.
That is why predicting who the Cubs will take at this time is a crap shoot. Last year, with their need for left-handed hitting, I thought for sure that outfielder Clint Frazier would be first on their list. But they went with Bryant, the best player on the board.
RML: Thanks and good luck this season.
CCO: Thank you, and good luck to the Reds. May the best team win!