Chicago Cubs Top 20 Prospects for 2013
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2013 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 reasonable 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. Some end up as role players or bench guys. Many don't make it at all.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise, and some C+ prospects (especially at lower levels) turn out very well indeed.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book 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.
This list is current as of January 15, 2013
1) Javier Baez, SS, Grade A-: Has some rough edges with the strike zone and plays a bit recklessly at times, but his bat speed is so good he gets away with an overaggressive approach. Should produce plenty of power and batting average, and I expect the discipline will improve. Even his defense was better than expected. Gary Sheffield comps may prove quite valid.
2) Albert Almora, OF, Grade B+: Solid or better tools in all categories, excellent makeup. Was supposed to have good plate discipline but he only walked twice in 145 plate appearances, which is unacceptably low. However he kept his strikeouts under control and scouts believe he will adjust.
3) Jorge Soler, OF, Grade B+: Highly impressive power/speed combo from the Cuban defector. Main advantage Almora has at this point is a better birthday, but I love Soler. Another Sammy Sosa?
4) Dan Vogelbach, 1B, Grade B: Borderline B+. I'm having the courage of my convictions with this one. This guy is not just a masher, he's got excellent pure hitting skills too, and he's worked hard to get himself into better shape. Could end up as a Prince Fielderish run producer if everything maxes out.
5) Arodys Vizcaino, RHP, Grade B-: Rating is cautious until we see how rapidly he bounces back from Tommy John surgery.
6) Brett Jackson, OF, Grade B-: Tough ranking. All the tools are here, love the power/speed combination and he'll take a walk, but his strikeout problem could destroy his career if he doesn't make some adjustments.
7) Dillon Maples, RHP, Grade B-: Could develop into a number two starter due to promising fastball/curveball combination, but we need more data from higher levels to see if his command improves and if his mechanics (which some scouts don't like) become an issue.
8) Christian Villanueva, 3B, Grade B-: Nice pickup from the Rangers. Outstanding glove at third base, gap power, superior makeup. Needs to tighten up the strike zone but I think he can.
9) Matt Szczur, OF, Grade B-: I don't like him as much as some people do, but the tools are obvious. At worst he should be a good reserve outfielder with speed and defense, but it is still an open question if he hits enough to play regularly.
10) Pierce Johnson, RHP, Grade B-: Solid all-around, good fastball and strong curve, throws strikes, main worry is history of forearm troubles. Mid-rotation starter if his arm holds up.
11) Gioskar Amaya, 2B, Grade B-: I think he will take a huge step forward in 2013. Defense at second base is better than it was at shortstop. He's got pop, can steal bases, and has a good swing.
12) Duane Underwood, RHP, Grade B-: Borderline C+: One of my favorite players from the 2012 draft. He's erratic but was also one of the youngest guys in the entire draft class. When right, he's got upper-90s velocity and promising secondary pitches. Needs more consistency in all respects, as his velocity varies and his command is problematic.
13) Josh Vitters, 3B, Grade C+: Borderline B-. Maybe I'm underestimating him and this is just psychological prospect fatigue. I can see a B- case and ranking him as high as 11th. But after watching him many times over the years, I remain unimpressed with the glove, and if he ends up at first base the pressure on the bat will grow all the stronger.
14) Junior Lake, SS, Grade C+: Borderline B-: As with Vitters, I can see ranking him ahead of Underwood due to his proximity to the majors. Lake's tools are tremendous but he is still a very raw and frustrating player. He could turn into Nelson Cruz, or Angel Berroa.
15) Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Grade C+: Although his power production sagged in the Northwest League, he's young for the level and scouts still think he'll hit for average and power as he moves up. Poor defense will likely result in a positional switch at some point. Could be much higher next year.
16) Juan Carlos Paniagua, RHP, Grade C+: Scouting reports about his power arm are certainly intriguing, but let's see how it pans out. Could be much higher once we get some objective data.
17) Paul Blackburn, RHP, Grade C+: Doesn't have Underwood or Paniagua's upside, but he's quite polished and has strong pitchability and makeup.
18) Marco Hernandez, SS, Grade C+: Defense gets strong reviews and he's got a chance to hit, too. Hernandez/Candelario/Amaya is a hell of an infield for Low-A in '13.
19) Arismendy Alcantara, SS, Grade C+: In the middle of a strong age 20 breakout season (.302/.339/.447 with 25 steals) in High-A when he got injured, but healthy now and back in action in the Dominican Winter League.
20) Barret Loux, RHP, Grade C+: Could be a useful fourth starter, and soon, assuming that he stays healthy. Medical record is long, but he hasn't had issues since getting into pro ball.
OTHER GRADE C+ PROSPECTS: Michael Jensen, RHP; Kyle Hendricks, RHP; Trey McNutt, RHP; Ryan McNeil, RHP; Starling Peralta, RHP; Ronald Torreyes, 2B; Logan Watkins, 2B; Ben Wells, RHP; Tony Zych, RHP
OTHERS: Jose Arias, RHP; Stephen Bruno, INF; Alberto Cabrera, RHP; Marcelo Carreno, RHP; Shawon Dunston, OF; Jae-Hoon Ha, OF; Trey Martin, OF; Brooks Raley, LHP; Jose Rosario, RHP; Tim Saunders, INF; Tayler Scott, RHP; Nick Struck, RHP, Robert Whitenack, RHP.
I knew the Cubs system had improved a lot over the last year or two, but I don't think I truly grasped the amount of depth they've developed (especially at the lower levels) until I got into the analysis.
At the top you have Baez, Soler, and Almora, all three with obvious star/superstar potential. Vogelbach's bad body generates more skepticism, but the guy has got a good shot at being a devastating hitter. There is a lot of depth beyond the top group, much of it products of the Latin American operation, especially in the infield.
The guys closest to the majors (Jackson, Vitters, Lake, Szczur) all have very significant questions and may end up as just role players. But even if they don't pan out, the star-quality talents and deep depth coming up behind them is exciting, and I don't use that word lightly.
The pitching is another story. We need to see if Vizcaino fully recovers his command and stuff from Tommy John, and what role will he pitch in? Maples has a great ceiling, but he's a long way off and scouts worry that his mechanics will result in injury, though the Cubs don't seem to agree. Pierce Johnson could be quite good and top the list a year from now. There are a lot of intriguing live arms at the lower levels (Underwood, Paniagua, Peralta in particular) but they need innings and development time. Are they pitchers or throwers? We don't know yet. Keep an eye on Michael Jensen, who has received little notice as yet.
It sucks when you're team is losing, but Cubs fans have every reason to be optimistic about the future everyday lineup, and there's raw material for the mound as well.