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!

About The Author

As a kid who grew up in Central Florida, attending multiple Spring Training games every year sparked a love affair with baseball. I've gone from a Devil Rays fan to a minor league die-hard that gets to watch the game in beautiful Pensacola. While I may not be a writer by trade, I am a baseball fan by nature.

13 Responses

  1. Greg

    Reds will have their hands full for a long time. With the Cardinals young players now and in the future. The Pirates will be starting a new wave of players that should make them very good for a long time. The Cubs probably will be the scariest with all these young players and tons of money to spend. This division will be one of the best for the next 10 years or so. IMO Bob is going to have to open his checkbook and at the very least sign Leak and Latos if they want to be a relevant team now and for the next 5 years.

    • Thomas Felsmaier

      I completely agree. This division is going to be extremely competitive. There’s no reason why at least one wild-card team, if not both, will be from the Central for several years.

      • KyWilson1

        I agree its only getting better as a division, which is scary considering 3 teams were playoff teams last year. But the NL West has 2 good young teams with the Padres and the DBacks, the Dodgers with endless $$$ and a decent farm, and the even year Giants. The NL East has the very strong/young Braves, the team i think is the best in baseball in Washington, a very young and improving Marlins, with the Mets almost ready to reemerge, and a Phillies teams with $$$. The NL as a whole is about to get much better. The Reds have their work cut out for them to remain elite.

      • Doug Gray

        The Reds are still in good shape. Not the best, but pretty good. The thing with prospects is that they don’t always work out. While I do believe that we are better today at identifying guys that won’t (say the Corey Patterson types), we still miss on guys like Dustin Ackley or Justin Smoak. Then there are always pitchers who either get injured or somehow just can’t figure out the transition to become dominant like expected, or if they do it takes years and years (Homer Bailey).

        The Reds have some all-star caliber players locked up for quite a while moving forward. If they can just find a way to add one more over the next 3 years, I think they will still be in really good shape to contend for the Central.

      • sultan of swaff

        Good comments. Prospects don’t always work out, so it tends to be much ado about nothing. That said, I think Baez/Bryant are very safe bets. But so is Stephenson/Ervin.

        But where is the pitching??? I just don’t see how the Cubs will make all this come to fruition at the same time unless they leverage some of these position guys for an arm. And frankly, when it comes time to spend in the free agent market, will there be any good arms available? In any event, it’s gonna cost them a pretty penny.

      • Doug Gray

        Unfortunately they have the money to spend if they need to and they also, at least right now, have some prospects to trade for arms if they so choose.

    • Thomas Felsmaier

      Yes, I’ve started on all of the Central teams. Waiting for some top-10 lists but the division opponents are all in the works.

  2. Stock

    I love this article. Good job. The Cubs will be stacked offensively in a couple of years:

    1B Vogelbach, Olt or Villanueva
    2B Alcantara
    SS Castro
    3B Baez
    OF Bryant, Soler, Almora and even Vitters

    I have no doubt management will use FA and trades to fill in as needed for SP

    Even better for Cubs fans is that when this group moves up there should be another strong group behind them with all the money the Cubs spent on international FA last year and the 4th pick in the upcoming draft.

    • Doug Gray

      Being around the Dragons a bunch, I have talked with plenty of scouts about Vogelbach. Word came out today that he has slimmed down, so that may work against what was said last year, but a lot of the guys I talked with about him didn’t think he could defend well enough to play in the NL.Several cited his gut making it tough for him to get low throws, as bad as that sounds. Baez, Almora and Bryant are guys that I am worried about though. They always say that good pitching beats good hitter….. so let’s just hope the Reds keep that good pitching thing going, because as it looks right now, those kids can freaking rake.

  3. DaveCT

    Great feature. Nice job.

    With more limited resources, the team has not had the luxury of adding the ‘one more piece,’ but also hasn’t had the opportunity to make several very large mistakes in how money is spent, I.e., the Yankees, Red Sox, etc. I happen to like this because we have to be as smart or smarter with drafting, signing, extending, etc. That’s a good organizational philosophy and skill, and it gives us solid drafts and good middle road international signings. Not to mention extensions that keep our studs locked up as the face of the team.

    To me, the Broxton extensions of the world at worst can go either way, and at best can be solid.

    • Stock

      The Reds have had their fair share of bad signings:

      Good: Cueto, Cordero, Bruce
      Average: Arroyo (one bad year two good), Hernandez
      To Early to Tell: Votto, Phillips, Bailey
      Bad: Broxton, Masset, Marshall (on DL most of last year), Rolen, Ludwick

      Some would argue Cordero belongs in the bad category. I am just saying that with long term veteran signings Jocketty’s record isn’t great.