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Chicago Cubs Top 20 2013 PRE-SEASON Prospects in Review

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Jorge Soler and Javier Baez
Jorge Soler and Javier Baez
Jennifer Hilderbrand-USA TODAY Sports

We now turn our attention to the Chicago Cubs, reviewing how things looked pre-season and where these players now stand. Remember, this is the PRE-SEASON list. This is not a new list. These are pre-season rankings and grades.

This list was originally published December 2nd, 2012, and revised on January 15, 2013.

1) Javier Baez, SS, Grade A-: The Gary Sheffield comps from high school aren't valid; Baez does have that sort of bat speed, but Sheffield was an incredibly disciplined hitter compared to Baez. I really can't think of a good comp at this point. Baez has enormous power (27 homers in 98 games) but his contact/plate discipline issues can't be ignored. I'm thinking his grade holds steady at this point due to youth, power, position, but the range of potential outcomes is very wide.

2) Albert Almora, OF, Grade B+: Hitting .324/.373/.466 with three homers, 17 walks, 29 whiffs in 238 at-bats in Low-A. No problems thus far.

3) Jorge Soler, OF, Grade B+: Hitting .281/.343/.467with eight homers, 21 walks, 38 whiffs in 210 at-bats for High-A Daytona until fracturing his shin in late June, ending his season. He looked very good before getting hurt.

4) Dan Vogelbach, 1B, Grade B: Borderline B+.Solid producer for Low-A Kane County, .290/.366/.461 with 16 homers, 52 walks, 66 strikeouts in 393 at-bats. He isn't just a power hitter; he has good pure hitting skills, too. Main problem is keeping his size under control, but he can mash.

5) Arodys Vizcaino, RHP, Grade B-: But. . .but. . .but I thought Tommy John surgery recovery was no big deal these days!

6) Brett Jackson, OF, Grade B-:
Stock down, eaten up by contact problems, hit just .223/.300/.367 with 21 walks, 77 strikeouts in 215 at-bats for Triple-A Iowa; sent to Double-A this week. Turns 25 tomorrow. Time for a change of scenery?

7) Dillon Maples, RHP, Grade B-: Ugly control problems in Low-A (8.31 ERA, 34/31 K/BB in 35 innings), was sent down to short-season Boise and has been more effective, 1.38 ERA with 15/5 K/BB in 13 innings. Now 21, needs to take a step forward in '14.

8) Christian Villanueva, 3B, Grade B-: Hitting .263/.315/.454 with 14 homers, 24 walks, 91 strikeouts in 377 at-bats for Double-A Tennessee. Not a great year, struggled in April and June, hit well in May and July. Would like to see better plate discipline, but I still like him.

9) Matt Szczur, OF, Grade B-: What I wrote pre-season: 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. I still see it that way; he's hit .278/.346/.363 with 20 steals, 37 walks, 62 strikeouts in 400 at-bats in Double-A.

10) Pierce Johnson, RHP, Grade B-: Very good year, 3.04 ERA with 102/34 K/BB in 101 innings between Low-A and High-A, 98 hits, just five homers. Solid all-around.

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. Hitting .270/.343/.407 for Kane County, 33 walks, 88 strikeouts in 356 at-bats. He's doing OK but this is not the huge step forward that I expected.

12) Duane Underwood, RHP, Grade B-: Borderline C+: 5.63 ERA with 24/16 K/BB in 32 innings for Boise, 44 hits. Control problems are the main issue at this point, but his arm remains one of the best in the system. Open question if he refines it, but just turned 19.

13) Josh Vitters, 3B, Grade C+: Borderline B-. He picked a really bad time to have an injury-plagued season. Hitting .289/.370/.470 but has managed just 26 games for Iowa; back on the DL now with hamstring problems. Turns 24 this month. What do you do with him?

14) Junior Lake, SS, Grade C+: Borderline B-: 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. Hit .295/.341/.462 in Iowa, .316/.339/.474 so far in 13 games with the Cubs. He's really entertaining to watch; he'll look like a superstar one second and a helpless hacker the next. I think they are right to let him play and see what he can do.

15) Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Grade C+: Hitting .255/.339/.387 with 50 walks, 69 strikeouts in 385 at-bat for Kane County. Good glove at third base. Not much power yet, but he controls the zone well and is just 19. Intriguing.

16) Juan Carlos Paniagua, RHP, Grade C+: Just getting started, looked great in the DSL but has shown serious command problems in the early going for Boise, 12 walks in 7.2 innings, 10 hits, nine runs. Too early to tell much other than he has a good arm but hasn't thrown strikes yet.

17) Paul Blackburn, RHP, Grade C+: Nice 3.00 ERA in a 27-inning sample at Boise, with a 27/12 K/BB, 21 hits. Holding his own, just 19, one year out of high school.

18) Marco Hernandez, SS, Grade C+: Hitting .248/.288/.316 with 14 walks, 56 whiffs, 15 steals in 310 at-bats in Low-A. Defense guy, bat questionable.

19) Arismendy Alcantara, SS, Grade C+: I like him a lot, hitting .275/.350/.458 with 13 homers, 23 steals, 45 walks, 100 whiffs in 393 at-bats for Double-A Tennessee. I'd like the strikeouts to come down, but he has a broad range of skills.

20) Barret Loux, RHP, Grade C+: 4.34 ERA with a 74/44 K/BB in 75 innings for Iowa, 74 hits. Nothing special, but he's fanning a hitter per inning at least and his arm hasn't fallen off.

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 was impressed with Chicago's group of hitting prospects pre-season and this remains true. Although Jackson and Vitters have lost stock, others have emerged (Alcantara, Rock Shoulders, John Andreoli, Dustin Geiger), Mike Olt is now on board from the Rangers, Kris Bryant from the 2013 draft has enormous power, and they continue to pour resources into Latin America (Gleyber torres, Eloy Jimenez).

The main weakness pre-season was lack of pitching arms. This remains an issue, but progress has been made, including the acquisition of C.J. Edwards from the Rangers, strong seasons from Pierce and Kyle Hendricks, the pitching-heavy 2013 draft class, and more high-ceiling international arms (Jen-Ho Tseng, Jefferson Mejia and Erling Moreno stand out).

As with any rebuilding organization, fans are tired of being told to have patience, but the trend line is clearly positive here. The foundation of a terrific lineup has been laid, the Cubs are certainly aware of the need for more pitching to go with it, and they've shown no hesitation at all about spending cash on the farm system, even if it means exceeding their allotted international bonus pool and facing penalties.

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