Top 14 in ’14: Chicago Cubs

Clark The Cub

The 2014 Draftbook is available for $1.99. Order now.

The Cubs front-office deserve a ton of credit for turning a system that was once in the bottom-third of all of baseball into one of the best in a short amount of time. Much of that is due to the fact that they’ve been dreadful for the past three seasons, but they’ve used those high draft picks well (for the most part) and found some gems in the latter rounds as well. Chicago has also accumulated some premium talents on the international market, and there are several IFA’s who could make this list if their professional debuts go as expected. The system is a little light on arms and there isn’t a “catcher of the future”, but this is a top five system, and their top six can compete with any in the game.

Rank Name Position Bats/Throws Height/Weight
1 Javier Baez SS R/R 6-0 / 190
This wasn’t the slam dunk choice that some may think it was, but the fact that Baez has a non-zero chance to play shortstop at the big league level makes him the most valuable prospect in the Cubs’ system.

There aren’t many (if any) better offensive prospects in all of baseball than Baez, with the ability to hit the ball hard to all parts of the field, and he can generate impressive extension with his long arms. He has shown improvement — particularly in the second half of last year — in pitch recognition and has toned down his aggressiveness, though it’s unlikely he ever puts up huge walk totals. Baez’ calling-card is his power though, using plus-plus bat speed and a strong lower half to be able to hit the ball out of the park to any part of the ballpark.

While there’s no denying Baez’s offensive abilities are impressive, his defense is still a question mark. Baez is a good athlete with the tools to play shortstop, but he committed 44 errors last year and many believe his long-term position is as a third baseman.Errors aren’t a great way to judge defense, but many of these are due to over-aggressiveness on defense, something that would be limited if he was on the hot corner.

If he can stay at shortstop, Baez is a special talent, but even at third the bat more than plays and he has a chance to be an all-star caliber player.

HIT 45-55

POWER 55-70

SPEED 55-55

GLOVE 45-50

ARM 60-60

ETA: 2015

 

Rank Name Position Bats/Throws Height/Weight
2 Kris Bryant 3B R/R 6-5 / 215
I have been a fan of Bryant’s bat since he was putting up ridiculous numbers at Bonanza High School in Nevada, and it didn’t surprise me at all to see him put up those same kind of stats at San Diego the last three years, nor that he continued that hot streak as a professional this summer.

Bryant doesn’t generate great bat speed, but he rotates his hips exceedingly well and uses his strong wrists to generate plus-plus raw power that has shown up in games already. His pitch recognition has improved, but there’s a lot of swing and miss in his game and I wouldn’t expect him to hit for high averages. That being said, he’s improved his discipline considerably over the last few years, and he should get on-base at well above-average rates to go with the big power.

Like Baez, Bryant’s overall position is still a bit in flux, with many believing he’ll have to move across the diamond to first base at some time. He’s only an average athlete and his speed isn’t even that, but he does the necessary arm-strength and hands to be at least average there in the short term. I give him better than 50/50 odds of staying at the hot corner, but even at first Bryant’s chance of being a 270/360/550 bat will play wherever Chicago chooses to deploy him.

HIT 45-50

POWER 60-70

SPEED 40-40

GLOVE 50-45

ARM 55-55

ETA: LATE 2014

 

Rank Name Position Bats/Throws Height/Weight
3 Jorge Soler OF R/R 6-3 / 225
Some may be surprised to see Soler at the No. 3 spot ahead of Albert Almora, but I think the overall offensive skillset gives him the edge, despite the positional value.

Soler’s bat speed is impressive, and despite a fairly high hand-load he gets through the zone very quickly, and uses all of his strong upper and lower half to generate plus-plus raw power. He’s an aggressive hitter but is willing to take walks and rarely gives away at-bats. Like Bryant there is some swing and miss to Soler’s game, but because of his plus-plus bat speed he has a better chance for hitting for average than he does, although with slightly less power.

While there was some hope that Soler could be center-field, it now appears that the Cubs see Soler as the right-fielder of the future, and he should be at least average there. He doesn’t have great speed or instincts, but he does have a very strong arm that can more than handle either corner.

There’s some volatility in Soler’s game — and there are still some maturity questions, as well — but there’s also a chance to be among the best right-fielders in baseball if everything breaks right.

HIT 45-55

POWER 55-65

SPEED 50-50

GLOVE 50-50

ARM 70-70

ETA: 2016

 

Rank Name Position Bats/Throws Height/Weight
4 Albert Almora OF R/R 6-2 / 180
There’s a lot to like about Almora’s game, and few prospects get the kind of respect Almora does from scouts in terms of his makeup and the ability to maximize his tools. He has excellent hand-eye coordination and will use all parts of the field, and uses above-average bat speed to hit the ball hard to left and right field. Power isn’t a huge part of his game, but he’s getting stronger and can put the ball into the gaps and average power for centerfield isn’t out of the question.

Despite just average speed — if not slightly below — Almora is an outstanding outfielder who takes excellent routes to the baseball and has plus hands and more than enough arm strength to handle any of the three outfield positions. He would lose considerable value if he was forced to move to right or left-field, but he should be able to stick in center for the short to medium turn and hit for average and provide the type of intangibles that teams adore.

HIT 45-65

POWER 40-50

SPEED 50-50

GLOVE 60-60

ARM 55-55

ETA: 2016

 

Rank Name Position Bats/Throws Height/Weight
5  C.J. Edwards RHP R/R 6-2 / 160
Chicago’s pitching depth isn’t nearly as impressive as their hitting, but Edwards is far from a “best of a bad situation.” Edwards still has room to grow but will touch 95 with his fastball, sitting mostly 91-93 with some life on the pitch. His breaking-ball is an average offering now and will flash plus in the high 70′s with a great deal of spin and bite, and he has good feel for the pitch. He also has a hard-slider that will flash above-average, and though he doesn’t use his change often enough, it has a chance to be average as well. He attacks hitters to both sides of the plate with all three pitches, and there are no red-flags to his delivery or arm action.

He’s not an ace, but Edwards has a chance to be a No. 2 starter overtime, though because of his wiry frame some think he might be best suited as a high-leverage reliever.

FASTBALL 60-65

CURVE 50-60

SLIDER 45-55

CHANGE 45-50

ETA: LATE 2015

 

Rank Name Position Bats/Throws Height/Weight
6 Arismendy Alcantara
2B/SS/CF S/R 5-10 / 170
The Cubs have been very patient with Alcantara, and over the last two years that potential has started to translate into results slowly but surely. Alcantara has a smooth, line-drive swing from both sides of the plate, with more power coming from his natural right side. The big improvement this year was in terms of discipline, as he walked 62 times on the year, which is impressive when you consider he had walked only 75 times the previous three years combined. He’s also an excellent baserunner who takes advantage of his plus-plus speed, capable of steals 30-40 bases at the big-league level.

The Cubs moved Alcantara from shortstop to second base to accommodate Javier Baez last year, and that’s his most likely landing spot. He has the athleticism to play anywhere, but his hands are better suited for second base or possibly centerfield, where his plus arm would be more of an asset.

Some see Alcantara as a super-utility infielder who can step in anywhere, but I think he’s an everyday second baseman or centerfielder who can get on base and hit the ball into the gaps, and provide average to above-average defense as well.

HIT 40-55

POWER 40-50

SPEED 70-70

GLOVE 45-55

ARM 60-60

ETA: 2015

 

Rank Name Position Bats/Throws Height/Weight
7 Pierce Johnson RHP R/R 6-3 / 175
Johnson was an intriguing arm to scouts coming out of Missouri State, but health scares saw him drop to the supplemental round, and it looks as if the Cubs picked up a steal. Johnson isn’t overpowering with a fastball that sits 90-92 but will touch 94, but he locates the pitch very well to both sides of the plate with some late life as well. His curve ball is already a big-league competent pitch and flashes plus-plus with big time spin and depth, and his change — while only average — is good enough to keep hitters off of the first two pitches.

If Johnson can stay healthy, he’s got a chance to be a solid mid rotation starter who can miss bats, though unless there’s an uptick in velocity he isn’t likely to be much more than that.

FASTBALL 55-55

CURVE 55-65

CHANGE 45-50

COMMAND 45-55

ETA: LATE 2015

 

Rank Name Position Bats/Throws Height/Weight
8 Arodys Vizcaino RHP R/R 6-0/ 190
Chicago did very well to acquire an arm of Vizcaino’s capabilities in the trade for Paul Maholm, but they haven’t been able to see any of the rewards as he’s missed the last two seasons after having Tommy John surgery. During the fall, however, Vizcaino showed the stuff that made him a top 50 prospect prior to the injuries. His fastball will touch the mid 90′s with some sink when he gets downhill, and his curve is a plus offering with power break and spin.

Vizcaino is almost assuredly going to head to the bullpen to fast-track the arm (and his command is only average at best anyways) but he can be a high-leverage reliever, potentially a closer as soon as next year.

FASTBALL 55-65

CURVE 55-60

CHANGE 45-50

COMMAND 45-50

ETA: LATE 2014

 

Rank Name Position Bats/Throws Height/Weight
9 Jeimer Candelario 3B B/R 6-1 / 180
Candelario — like Alcantara — has been brought along slowly, and is also a switch-hitter who has shown improvement over the past two years. Their similarities end there, however. Candelario has smooth, line-drive strokes with above-average bat speed from both sides of the plate, and though he has shown slightly more power as a left-handed hitter, he has above-average pop from the right side potentially, as well. There’s some swing and miss in his game, but he’s shown improving pitch recognition and is willing to take a walk.

There are defensive questions involving Candelario, as he lacks athleticism and his hands and instincts both leave a lot to be desired. He should be at least average at third, though, and there’s a chance to be above-average offensively there with a chance for more if he adds strength.

HIT 45-60

POWER 55-55

SPEED 40-40

GLOVE 45-50

ARM 55-55

ETA: 2016

 

Rank Name Position Bats/Throws Height/Weight
10 Eloy Jimenez OF R/R 6-4 / 200
Like most of the world, I haven’t had a chance to see Jimenez in person as he just signed with the Cubs in August out of the Dominican and has yet to make his professional debut. The scouts I’ve talked to, though, say he was the best international free agent on the market, however, and there’s big-time upside in his right-handed bat. He has long limbs that create extension and he has good feel for hitting, though that hasn’t shown up consistently in games. His swing doesn’t have much loft, but with his frame he should be able to hit for at least-above average power as he fills. He’s an above-average runner who apparently has lost some speed over the past couple of years, but has enough arm strength to handle a corner outfield.

This is an aggressive ranking, but I trust the reports I’ve read on him, and there’s a chance he shoots up this list if his professional debut goes well.

HIT 40-60

POWER 40-55

SPEED 55-50

GLOVE 50-50

ARM 55-55

ETA: 2017

 

Rank Name Position Bats/Throws Height/Weight
11 Rob Zastrynzy LHP R/L 6-3 / 205
Zastrynzy not only has one of the more difficult names to spell in all of minor league baseball, but also mid-rotation stuff from the left-handed side. He throws strikes with all three of his pitches, including a fastball that will touch 94 but sits mostly 90-92. His change is his best and most consistent pitch, with good arm action and very little difference in arm speed, and at times there’s some fade to the pitch as well. The key for Zastrynzy is whether or not he can continue the development of his curveball, which too often is a below-average pitch with limited shape and too soft of break.

If the breaking-ball can stay average, Zastrynzy can be a No. 4 or possibly No. 3, but without it he’s more a reliever, and not a high-leverage one without big velocity.

FASTBALL 55-55

CURVE 40-50

CHANGE 50-55

COMMAND 50-60

ETA: 2016

 

Rank Name Position Bats/Throws Height/Weight
12 Dan Vogelbach 1B L/R 6-0 / 250
Some may be surprised that Vogelbach is ranked this low, but as someone who values speed and defense, this is as high as I could rank him. His raw power is very impressive, capable of absolutely destroying fastballs, but his overall hit tool is just below-average to me, and without weight loss I don’t see it developing to anything but average, at best. He doesn’t give at-bats away and he’ll draw walks, but as he faces better competition I believe some of the holes in his swing will be exposed.

The main reason Vogelbach doesn’t sit in my top ten though, is that he’s a 20 runner, and while he isn’t a complete defensive liability yet, it’s tough to imagine him getting any better. That makes Vogelbach a DH for me, and with the names ahead of him all likely to play prominent roles I can’t have him any higher than this.

HIT 40-45

POWER 55-70

SPEED 20-20

GLOVE 40-35

ARM 45-45

ETA: 2016

 

Rank Name Position Bats/Throws Height/Weight
13 Scott Frazier RHP  R/R 6-7 / 215
I thought Frazier would be a top 100 pick, and that Chicago did very well to procure his services in the sixth round with pick No. 168. Frazier struggled with consistency, but has touched 98 with his fastball and will sit 91-94 with some arm-side run that unfortunately straightens as the velocity goes up. The key for Frazier will be the development of his secondary pitches; his breaking-ball will flash plus with two-planes of break, but when overthrows the pitch, it flattens and becomes more of a slow slurve. He also has a change that is below-average at this point, but if that pitch becomes average and the curveball improves, Frazier has a chance to be a mid-rotation starter, with a high-leverage reliever as a floor.

FASTBALL 60-60

CURVE 45-55

CHANGE 40-50

COMMAND 40-50

ETA: 2016

 

Rank Name Position Bats/Throws Height/Weight
14 Neil Ramirez RHP R/R 6-4 / 190
Ramirez was the player-to-be-named later in the Matt Garza trade, and has a chance to be a back-end starter as soon as next year for Chicago. His fastball will touch 95 and sits 91-93, and he has above-average command of the pitch to both parts of the plate. Ramirez curve and change both flash above-average as well,  the former a 76-78 pitch with big break but occasionally he will cast the pitch, and the latter a tumbling pitch with big movement and improving feel. If his command takes a jump he could be a No. 3, but as is he’s a back-end starter who won’t miss many bats but will keep the ball below the knees and eat innings.

FASTBALL 55-55

CURVE 50-55

CHANGE 45-55

COMMAND 45-55

ETA: 2014

 

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Responses to “Top 14 in ’14: Chicago Cubs”

  1. […] Crawford wrote up his top 14 Cubs Prospect List and it contains one major surprise — Eloy Jimenez is #10, and a few minor surprises, starting with […]

  2. […] Today’s list comes from Chris Crawford at MLB Draft Insider (he also does draft work for ESPN). Crawford offers a scouting report on each of the listed prospects, and ranks the top 14 thusly: […]

  3. […] Crawford of MLB Draft Insider ranks the Cubs top 14 prospects as […]

  4. […] Law’s partner on the ESPN Draft Blog, Chris Crawford, released his list of the top 14 Cubs prospects two weeks ago. Crawford thinks the Cubs’ top five consists of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Jorge […]

Leave a Reply

*