Chicago Cubs Top 20 Prospects for 2012
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 of course. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2012 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 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.
1) Brett Jackson, OF, Grade B+: I love his broad range of skills...speed, power, patience, defense. Only problem is a high strikeout rate which could foretell adjustment issues and/or preclude a high batting average. A more complete player than newly-acquired Rizzo, so ranks ahead for me.
2) Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Grade B+: Acquired today from Padres for Andrew Cashner. Nobody should panic about 128 at-bats. Although he's not going to hit .300 in the majors, Rizzo should provide plenty of power and walks and I think he'll make the needed adjustments. Maximum outcome: Ryan Howard. Worst-case: Chris Davis.
3) Javier Baez, SS-3B, Grade B: 2011 first-round pick. Outstanding bat speed, should hit for average and power. Questions revolve around future position as well as volatile personality. Higher ceiling than Jackson or Rizzo but we need to clear these issues up first.
4) Matt "Scrabble" Szczur, OF, Grade B-: Borderline B. Grade under review. Outstanding tools but still learning how to play baseball. Uses speed very well, skilled defensively, should develop more power but plate discipline slipped in High-A.
5) Trey McNutt, RHP, Grade B-: Hampered by nagging injuries in Double-A and gets a partial mulligan, although stock is legitimately down a bit. I am concerned by low strikeout rate.
6) Dillon Maples, RHP, Grade B-: 14th round pick with second-round talent, hasn't pitched yet. Scouting reports point to number two starter potential, or perhaps a relief ace if he doesn't develop a changeup, or if his funky delivery results in durability issues. Grade speculative given lack of pro data.
7) Dan Vogelbach, 1B, Grade B-: 2011 second-round pick. I really, really believe in this bat. Enormous power combined with legitimate hitting skills and strong plate discipline. Main problem is jumbo size; at times he has carried more pounds than I do, and he's not a sedentary middle-aged writer. If he can stay in decent condition he could move quite quickly and provides a backup plan if Rizzo doesn't work out.
8) Junior Lake, SS, Grade C+: Borderline B-. Excellent athlete, with power and speed, great throwing arm. Poor plate discipline, erratic track record, and probable position switch hurt stock, but has tremendous upside. Much better physical ceiling than Vogelbach, of course, but I'm less confident in his ability to hit.
9) Welington Castillo, C, Grade C+: Considerable power with a great throwing arm, still somewhat raw with the glove. Spotty strike zone judgment could be an issue, but could supplant Geovany Soto eventually.
10) Dae-Eun Rhee, RHP, Grade C+: Tommy John survivor saw velocity boost, continued to throw strikes, and was extremely effective in High-A down the stretch, posted 32/5 K/BB in last 25 innings with 2.16 ERA. If he maintains that momentum in 2012, will break through and shoot up prospect lists.
11) Josh Vitters, 3B-1B, Grade C+: Placement is very difficult. You can make a case as high as eight or as low as 15. Strengths remain age (22) and contact ability, but still short-circuits himself with impatience. At some point he's got to produce more than this, and with the new regime in place he needs to take that step forward now.
12) Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Grade C+: Outstanding performance in the Dominican Summer League. Scouting reports are good, too. Unfortunately DSL performance is not particularly predictive, but he has good plate discipline and scouts are impressed with him. May face position switch. Could rank much higher once we see him in North America.
13) Marco Hernandez, SS, Grade C+: Solid performance in Arizona Rookie League, gap power, should hit for average, and can remain at shortstop. Could also rank much higher a year from now.
14) Chris Carpenter, RHP, Grade C+: Power arm pitched poorly in Triple-A bullpen due to command issues but looked much better in Arizona Fall League. Dominant when his command is working.
15) Rafael Dolis, RHP, Grade C+: Could rank as high as 10th if you aren't concerned by his poor strikeout rate in Double-A. Power sinker could get him significant major league innings in 2012 but will need better command to close. I don't like him as much as some other people do, but upper-90s sinkers are rare.
16) Zach Cates, RHP, Grade C+: Acquired in the Cashner/Rizzo trade. Often overlooked due to 4.78 ERA in Low-A, but he has a live arm and peripheral stats were much better. Breakthrough possible.
17) Ben Wells, RHP, Grade C+: Arkansas high school talent from 2010 draft is another sinkerball expert, impressed scouts in Northwest League. Number three starter upside.
18) Dave Sappelt, OF, Grade C+: Acquired in Sean Marshall deal. Perfect fourth outfielder with a broad balance of average tools/skills.
19) Ronald Torreyes, 2B, Grade C+: Acquired in Sean Marshall deal from Reds. Excellent performance record, hits for average, very reliable with the glove, but undersized at 5-7, 150. Can he do what Jose Altuve did with the Astros?
20) Reggie Golden, OF, Grade C+: Struggled with contact in Northwest League. A raw hitter, but power potential is quite impressive. High risk/high reward type.
21) Gioskar Amaya, INF, Grade C+: Hit .377 in rookie ball, lacks distance power at this time and needs better plate discipline. Long-term position unsettled as well, but a nice ceiling.
22) Tony Zych, RHP, Grade C+: Lively arm drafted in fourth round in '11, projects as a closer if he sharpens his command.
23) Shawon Dunston, Jr, OF, Grade C+: Excellent speed, but lacks strength/power and raw for a bloodline player. Good upside as a leadoff type but will take time to get there.
24) Aaron Kurcz, RHP, Grade C+ Good year as a swingman in Florida State League, excellent K/IP ratio with few hits given up, above-average stuff.
OTHERS: Jeffry Antigua, LHP; Dallas Beeler, RHP; Jeff Beliveau, LHP; Jeff Bianchi, INF; Lendy Castillo, RHP; Pin-Chieh Chen, OF; Zeke DeVoss, 2B; Jae-Hoon Ha, OF (a lot of people really like him but he looks like a tweener to me); Jay Jackson, RHP; Eric Jokisch, LHP; Austin Kirk, LHP (season collapsed after he threw the no-hitter);; Luis Liria, RHP; Kevin Rhoderick, RHP; Jose Rosario, RHP; Neftali Rosario, C; Hayden Simpson, RHP; Nick Struck, RHP; Yao-Ling Wang, RHP; Logan Watkins, 2B; Robert Whitenack, RHP.
The exact rankings of the players, especially 12-24, is quite difficult in this system, so don't get bent out of shape if you think the guy at 19 should be at 12 or something like that. If you are looking for guys who will help in the short run, someone like Sappelt would move up the list. Some guys in the "Others" section could see major league action soon and help out, including Jeff Beliveau, Rule 5 pick Lendy Castillo, and Nick Struck.
The major league roster needs a revamp, and the new Epstein/Hoyer administration is hard at work on that. But even before the Cashner and Marshall trades, the farm system had some good things going for it and was, in my opinion, underrated.
The weakness heading into the off-season was obvious: lack of impact talent close to the majors beyond Brett Jackson. Acquiring Rizzo helps with that. But there are very intriguing players at the lower levels who have the potential to develop considerably, particularly products of the solid Latin American and Asian programs. In this respect the Cubs remind me of the Indians system: there is a LOT of depth in C+ and "Grade C with upside" type prospects. Some of those guys will develop.
The biggest problem I see currently is lack of high-powered pitching. There is nobody here who looks like they can anchor a major league rotation with any certainty. That's not to say that there aren't live arms; there are quite a few, although most of them project better as relievers or back-end starters. There are a few candidates who can get beyond that, although they all have significant questions attached. McNutt had a bad year but could rebound, it is too soon to tell about Maples, and both Rhee and Cates could take big steps forward.
Overall, if I was a Cubs fan, I would be pleased with the level of depth, but anxious (in a good way) to see how the new front office manages the draft and international scouting to bolster what is already present.