2013 Chicago Cubs Top Prospects


System Overview: Under the Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer regime, the Cubs’ farm system is quickly moving up the ranks. The organization, which has placed a strong emphasis on young position players, offers an intriguing quartet of prospects — Javier Baez, Daniel Vogelbach, Jorge Soler and Albery Almora — that have the potential to develop into above-average to All Star-caliber players. And the quality of the players at the top only belies the overall depth of the system. Josh Vitters, Brett Jackson, Christian Villanueva, and Gioskar Amaya all have the chance to develop into solid league-average players, maybe a touch better.

Pitching-wise, the quality of talent simply is there. The club’s top arm — Arodys Vizcaino — is on the mend following Tommy John surgery and likely won’t make a full season impact for another two years. The team’s second best pitching prospect, Carlos Rodriguez, dominated as a 16-year-old in the DSL, but is still several years away. And 2012 first rounder, Pierce Johnson, could be a potential rotation mainstay, but remains largely unknown for the time being.


#1. Javier Baez, Age:  20, Position: SS

Outside of Texas wunderkind Jurickson Profar, Baez has as much offensive potential at shortstop as any other minor leaguer. The former ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft dominated the older competition in A-ball, hitting an impressive .333/.383/.596 with 10 doubles, five triples, 12 homeruns and 20 stolen bases (in 23 attempts). His total offensive production was 70% better than the Midwest League average. He was then promoted to High-A where he struggled mightily, often looking overmatched at the plate (.188/.244/.400).

One silver lining to his struggles, however, is that his poor walk rate in A-ball (3.8%) jumped two percentage points during his stint with Daytona, a strong sign for his future development.

Projection: Baez is an incredible talent, a potential elite bat at a position that’s become noticeably weak in the big leagues. He shows above-average or better power and speed, and enough defensive chops to stay at the position. One thing that also raises a few alarms is the number of groundballs he hit last season (45.8%).

Ceiling: 5.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate to Above-Average


#2.Jorge Soler, Age: 21, Position: RF

The Cubs doled out a relatively large sum for the young Cuban’s services, $30 million over the course of nine years, which shouldn’t be that difficult to justify assuming he becomes at the very least a league-average regular.

Soler appeared in a total of 34 games in the Cubs’ system, 14 in the Arizona League before he was pushed straight to A-ball for another 20. In total, he hit .299/.369/.463 while showing the potential to develop into a complete offensive player: above-average power, good speed, and a willingness to take a walk.

Projection: It’s really too soon to get a good read on Soler, but he did offer a glimpse of an intriguing offensive future. The lone red flag at this time is the pure number of groundballs he hit last season, 49.6%. It’s difficult to hit for consistent power when he’s beating the ball into the ground at such an incredibly high rate.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A


#3. Daniel Vogelbach, Age: 20, Position: 1B

Vogelbach, Chicago’s second round pick in the 2011 draft, turned in an impressive first full season, hitting a combined .322/.410/.641 between the Arizona League and Low-A. The young first baseman showed no ill-effects switching from metal to wood, slugging an impressive 17 homeruns in 245 at bats (one homerun per 14.4 at bats), to go along with 21 doubles and three triples. His isolated power, or ISO, was an impressive .319. And according to Weighted Runs Created Plus, his total offensive production for the season was 80% better than the league average.

To go along with his power potential, Vogelbach also displayed an above-average eye at the plate (12.4% BB-rate), solid contact skills (17.0% K-rate), and the ability to handle both lefties and righties (.355/.467/.758 vs. .313/.392/.609).

Projection: All of the offensive potential Vogelbach displayed last season — elite in-game power, strong plate discipline, and modest strikeout rates — that comes with the caveat of it being done in a smallish sample size against lower level competition. Still, though, it was against either an age-appropriate level (Arizona League) or older competition (the average hitter in the Northwest League was two years older). He’s likely done enough to earn a promotion to A-ball, with the possibility of moving up to High-A at some point later in the season.

Ceiling: 5.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate


#4. Albert Almora, Age: 19, Position: CF

Almora, the sixth overall selection in the last year’s draft, made his way into 33 games — 18 in the Arizona League and 15 in the Northwest League — and hit .321/.331/.464, with 12 doubles, one triple, two homeruns, and five stolen bases. It was a solid initial showing for the 18-year-old, who displayed five-tool potential, though it comes with one exceptionally large red flag: a complete lack of willingness to take a walk, which may be an understatement of sorts.

In 18 rookie level games (80 PA), he walked just twice (2.5%). And that actually decreased upon his promotion to low-A; he failed to walk in any of his 65 plate appearances. Overall, he walked in just 1.4% of his plate appearances. Now, this, of course, is an exceptionally small sample size, but it’s nonetheless alarming.

Projection: It’s still incredibly early to determine exactly what type of prospect Almora will become, and the initial returns are fairly good. However, unless he can develop some semblance of plate discipline, he’s likely going to become a solid prospect, not elite.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A

#5. Arodys Vizcaino, Age: 22, Position: RHP

Led by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, the Chicago Cubs gambled on one of the more elite minor league arms right before last season’s trade deadline, acquiring Vizcaino from the Braves, in exchange for serviceable but replaceable veterans Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson.

The gamble, of course, comes from the fact that the right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery in late March, costing him all of 2012 and potentially a portion of 2013. Prior to the surgery, Vizcaino absolutely dominated minor league competition, averaging 9.3 K/9 to just 2.3 BB/9 throughout his career (268.2 innings), most of which came against much older competition.

Projection: Obviously, his recovery from surgery will necessitate every part of his future. But Tommy John surgery is far less damning than shoulder injuries. The Braves pushed Vizcaino aggressively through the system — he made his big league debut at 20-years-old — but they carefully monitored his workload; he’s only topped 100 innings once in his career. If he recovers completely, he has the ability to become a legitimate frontline starting pitcher or dominant backend bullpen option.

Ceiling: 3.5-win starting pitcher; 2.0-win reliever

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate (starting pitcher); Above-Average (reliever)


#6. Josh Vitters, Age: 23, Position: 3B

Forever known among the organization’s top prospects, Vitters, the third overall pick in 2007, has methodically climbed through the minors before making his big league debut in early August. The consistent knock on the young third baseman has always been a woefully poor eye at the plate. But last season, his first in Triple-A, he posted the highest walk rate of his entire career, a slightly below-average 6.6%, a very promising sign.

And despite the typically poor walk numbers, Vitters has always shown solid-average power, which also blossomed in 2012, and good contact skills. Overall, he hit .304/.356/.513 with 32 doubles, two triples, 17 homeruns and six stolen bases. His total offensive production was 21% better than the PCL average.

Projection: Although he seems like he’s been in the system forever — it’s been parts of six seasons — Vitters still holds tremendous potential as a run-producing third baseman. He has 25+ homerun potential, no discernible platoon splits, and shows plenty of loft in his swing. The poor showing with the big league club not withstanding (.121/.193/.202 with 33 strikeouts in 99 AB), he should continue to develop into an above-average regular, if he can remain at third, which is not quite a certainty.

Ceiling: 2.5- to 3.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate


#7. Christian Villanueva, Age: 22, Position: 3B

Villanueva, who will likely make the Ryan Dempster deal with Texas look like a bit of coup in the coming years, built on his impressive A-ball appearance in 2011, by hitting a combined .279/.353/.427 with 14 homeruns and 24 doubles last year.

Villanueva, who was young for the level, managed to post the sixth best offensive season among the position in all of High-A, producing at 18% better than the league average.

Projection: Listed at 5-foot-11 and just 160 pounds, he has consistently shown solid-average power throughout his career, despite being young for his levels, and could develop into a 20+ homerun threat down the line. He has a decent eye at the plate, runs well enough (though he’s stolen base production declined drastically last season), and fields his position well enough.

Ceiling: 2.5- to 3.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate


#8. Carlos Rodriguez, Age: 17, Position: LHP

Arguably the most intriguing pitcher in the entire season, at least in terms of age and production, Rodriguez was absolutely dominant in the Dominican Summer League, throwing 70.2 innings — an incredible amount for a 16-year-old — while averaging 9.2 K/9 and just 2.5 BB/9.

It’s also worth nothing that he was one of four 16-years in the DSL, and the left-hander was more than two years younger than the average competition.

Projection: Rodriguez is listed at 5-foot-11 and 178 pounds, which isn’t exceptionally big, but it is quite sturdy for a 16-year-old. And while he showed poise beyond his years, he’ll only be 17 in 2013, so any number of things can happen in the coming years, particularly injuries. But Rodriguez is certainly one to watch, though.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A


#9. Brett Jackson, Age: 24, Position: CF

Extraordinarily talented with five-tool potential, Jackson hit .256/.338/.479 in a repeat of Triple-A in 2012, showing a solid eye at the plate (10.1% BB-rate) and above-average power and speed (15 homeruns and 27 stolen bases). This, of course, comes with one large, crevice-sized caveat: he struck out in 33.8% of his plate appearances. This was only topped by the 59 punch outs he had in 142 plate appearances (41.5%) during his big league debut.

Projection: It will all come down to his ability to put the ball in play. Prior to his Triple-A numbers, Jackson’s career K-rate was still fairly high, at 27%. He could quite possibly become Chicago’s version of Drew Stubbs.

Ceiling: 2.0- to 2.5-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate to Above-Average


#10. Gioskar Amaya, Age: 20, Position: 2B

The likely long term heir apparent to Darwin Barney at second base, Amaya hit .298/.381/.496 with Boise in 2012. His total offensive production, according to Weighted Runs Created Plus, was 47% higher than the Northwest League average.

Projection: Amaya showed surprising pop for a smaller middle infielder, hitting six doubles, 12 triples, and eight homeruns in just 272 plate appearances, though some of that can be dismissed because of Boise’s offensive home ballpark (his home vs. road ISOs were .193 and .154). At the very least, he should develop league average power. He also showed solid speed (15 SBs in 20 attempts) as well as promising eye at the plate (10.4% BB-rate).

Ceiling: 2.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Low to Moderate


#11. Pierce Johnson, Age: 22, Position: RHP

Johnson, the 43rd player chosen in the 2012 draft, spent three years with the Missouri State Bears where he was coming off of the best season of his career, throwing 99.2 innings while averaging career bests in strikeouts (10.8 K/9) and walks (2.54 BB/9).

Projection: Johnson only threw an additional 11 innings in the Cubs’ system, in large part because of his heavy workload during his final collegiate season. With that being said, Johnson could develop into anything from a solid starting pitcher to a flame-out. It’s impossible to know because of the lack of data available right now.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A


#12. Arismendy Alcantara, Age: 21, Position: SS

Alcantara had a bit of a breakout year for Daytona in 2012, hitting .302/.339/.447 while showing progress in every offensive facet of his game. He set career bests in power (.145 ISO), walk rate (5.3%), strikeout rate (17.0%) and stolen bases (24 in 28 attempts). If there was one red flag it has to be defensively, where he made — as crude of a metric that it is — 30 errors.

His overall production in the Florida State League was 21% better than the average, despite being two years younger than the competition.

Projection: Alcantara showed tremendous progress last season, increasing his power and plate discipline while managing to improve his already modest strikeout totals. While his home ballpark tends to inflate homeruns a bit — the HR park factor in 2011 was 111 — he did see a noticeable decrease in groundballs (47.1% in 2011 to 41.5% last season), so that bodes well for his continued power into the future.

Ceiling: 2.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate


#13. Alberto Cabrera, Age: 24, Position: RHP

After years of disappointment as a starting pitcher, the organization finally relented and converted Cabrera into a fulltime reliever in 2012. And the initial returns couldn’t have been more promising.

Cabrera, who began the year in Double-A, tossed 35.2 innings with the Smokies, averaging 11.4 K/9 against just 2.5 BB/9. He was then promoted to Triple-A, and in 19.1 innings (13 games) his peripherals actually improved, to 13.5 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9.

The organization then promoted him to the big leagues in early August, where the production declined and he suffered through quite a bit of bad luck (59.5% LOB%).

Projection: Outside of a 17-game stint with Daytona in 2010, Cabrera’s career has largely been a disappointment. This season, however, was the first time that he showed legitimate growth a pitcher, posting a career high in strikeouts (12.1 K/9) and tying his previous best of 2.3 BB/9. He relied heavily on a two-pitch mix during his big league stint: a mid-90s fastball and a tightly spun low 80s slider. He has the potential to develop into a dominant backend option for the Cubs.

Ceiling: 0.5- to 1.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Above-Average


#14. Justin Marra, Age: 20, Position: C

In his brief debut in professional ball last season, Marra, a 15th round pick in the 2011 draft, hit .337/.467/.474 while showing a surprisingly strong eye (18.1% BB-rate), solid contact skills, and average power.

Projection: The data — 122 PAs worth — is exceptionally limited. So much so that Marra could be a completely different player next season than the one he showed in 2012. Still, though, he’s one to watch for now.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A


#15. Junior Lake, Age: 23, Position: SS

Lake fared much better during his repeat of Double-A, hitting .279/.341/.432, to go along with 26 doubles, 3 triples, 10 homeruns and 21 stolen bases.

Projection: Lake’s a fringy prospect, meaning he could develop into a serviceable big league regular for a few years, or more likely than not, a solid backup option. He has average-ish power and plate discipline, good speed (though his technique needs work), but his defense — particularly at shortstop — will almost certainly hamper his overall value.

Ceiling: 1.0- win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate to Above-Average


#16. Matt Szczur, Age: 23, Position: OF

Arguably the most polarizing prospect in the system, Szczur’s 2012 was a tale of two seasons. With Daytona, the former collegiate wide receiver for Villanova University hit .295/.394/.407, while swiping 38 stolen bases. And his total production was 32% better than the league average. However, upon his promotion to Double-A, he was overmatched, often looking lost at the plate (.210/.285/.357).

Projection: Szczur has the athleticism to become a solid big league player: blazing speed, solid plate discipline and enough power to keep infields honest. The problem, though, is that he was old for his level of competition in High-A, and once he was promoted to an age-appropriate level, he flopped. Look for him to develop into a solid fourth/fifth outfielder type capable of filling in every so often as a regular player.

Ceiling: 0.5- to 1.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate to Above-Average


Photo of Javier Baez Courtesy of mandielder via Flickr.com



After serving as a video scout/analyst for Baseball Info Solutions, Joe Werner began writing at his original site, ReleasePoints.com. He’s since transitioned into his current niche, prospect analysis, at ProspectDigest.com. He has been fortunate — and incredibly blessed — to have some of his work published and mentioned by several major media outlets, including: ESPN, Cleveland.com and the Baseball Research Journal. He can be reached at: JosephMWerner@yahoo.com.