U.S. Futures All-Star Brett Jackson of the Chicago Cubs makes the catch on a fly ball during the 2010 XM All-Star Futures Game, July 11 2010 (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Chicago Cubs Top 20 Prospects for 2011
UPDATED January 13, 2011 for Garza trade.
Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2011 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders. Order early and order often!
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:
Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Almost all Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don't make it at all.
A major point to remember is that grades for pitchers do NOT correspond directly to grades for hitters. Many Grade A pitching prospects fail to develop, often due to injuries. Some Grade C pitching prospects turn out much better than expected.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise coming from me, and some C+ prospects turn out very well indeed.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
Chicago Cubs Top 20 Prospects for 2011
1) Brett Jackson, OF, Grade B+: Love the broad base of skills.
2) Trey McNutt, RHP, Grade B+: Hard to believe this guy was a 32nd round pick. . .he's got great stuff.
3) Chris Carpenter, RHP, Grade B: May end up in the pen, but he's got plus stuff and I wouldn't give up on him as a starter yet.
4) Jay Jackson, RHP, Grade B: I still like him more than the numbers say I should.
5) Hayden Simpson, RHP, Grade B-: Could rank at the top next year if he does anything in the pros like he did in NCAA Division II.
6) Reggie Golden, OF, Grade B-: Enormous potential but very raw.
7) Josh Vitters, 3B, Grade B-. I expect this will be controversial but he really needs to get things going, and age-relative-to-league is just one factor among many.
8) Robinson Lopez, RHP, Grade C+: High-ceiling arm, needs refinement.
9) Austin Reed, RHP, Grade C+: Huge sleeper for 2011.
10) Alberto Cabrera, RHP, Grade C+: Another live arm that needs polish.
11) Marquez Smith, 3B, Grade C+: Not young, but ready to help at the major league level and can catch people off-guard.
12) D.J. LeMahieu, INF, Grade C+: I think people are a bit too down on him; he could surprise this year.
13) Rafael Dolis, RHP, Grade C+: Another guy in the live arm/needs polish brigade.
14) Brett Wallach, RHP, Grade C+: Another one.
15) Brooks Raley, LHP, Grade C+: Was very effective in the second half.
16) Su-Min Jung, RHP, Grade C+: Wasn't great at Peoria, but I think he can get better faster than people anticipate.
17) Austin Kirk, LHP, Grade C+: Breakthrough candidate for 2011.
18) Jin-Yeong Kim, RHP, Grade C+: Will he be worth the big bonus?
19) Ben Wells, RHP, Grade C: Hasn't pitched yet, but seventh round pick from Arkansas high school has potential as a hard-throwing starter.
20) Welington Castillo, C, Grade C: Very effective against runners, has some power, but on-base skills are sketchy.
OTHERS: Jeff Antigua, LHP; Darwin Barney, INF; Matt Cerda, INF, Ryan Flaherty, INF; Micah Gibbs, C; Cameron Greathouse, LHP; Jae-Hoon Ha, OF; Aaron Kurcz, RHP; Junior Lake, SS; Zach Rosscup, LHP, Chris Rusin, LHP; Aaron Shafer, RHP; Kyle Smit, RHP; Matt Spencer, OF-1B; Matt Szczur, OF; Tony Thomas, 2B.
The Cubs system is unbalanced. On the positive side, you have a huge amount of pitching, including a large number of high-ceiling arms: McNutt, Archer, Carpenter, Simpson, the big bevy of arms in the teens. There are some polish/command guys as well, and Jay Jackson straddling the midpoint. The foundation for a strong pitching staff is clearly here.
The hitting is another issue. I love Brett Jackson, and there is plenty of up-the-middle material with Lee having the best potential. But there is a significant lack of power and impact bats, and I'm losing faith in Vitters. Golden could be anything.
The theory is that by being strong on the mound and at catcher, center field, and middle infield, you have chips to trade to fill in your offensive gaps at the corners. It's a good theory, but remember von Moltke's dictum: no plan survives contact with the enemy intact.