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Chicago Cubs 2013 Top 15 Prospects

Written By on 17th December, 2012

CHC 2013 Top Team Prospects

The rest of Bullpen Banter’s 2013 Top 15 Prospects can be found on the 2013 Team Prospect Lists Bar on the right side of your screen. Thanks for reading! -BB

Bullpen Banter Chicago Cubs 2013 Top 15 Prospects

Player Name
1Albert AlmoraOF
2Javier BaezSS
3Jorge SolerOF
4Dan Vogelbach1B
5Brett JacksonOF
6Arodyz VizcainoRHP
7Christian Villanueva3B
8Arismendy AlcantaraSS
9Pierce JohnsonRHP
10Junior LakeSS/3B
11Duane UnderwoodRHP
12Jeimer Candelario3B
13Gioskar Amaya2B
14Paul BlackburnRHP
15Matt SzczurOF

Jeff Reese: Under the tutelage of Theo Epstein the Chicago Cubs franchise no longer has the tinge of stagnation that had settled overhead. They are in the talent accumulation phase and have certainly started to acquire young talent. The best of it is still in the lower levels, but there you find three excellent prospects who are not far from being considered amongst the elite in minor league baseball. Slotting the three proved fairly easy; they fit into place without much perturbation. The first round pick, Albert Almora, is an accomplished prep prospect with good tools across the board, advanced instincts, and the work ethic to get the most out of his tools. Toning down the aggressive approach at the plate will be the biggest hurdle. Javier Baez follows. The upside in his bat propelled his stock as a draft prospect; during his full season debut he mashed his way through the Midwest League before finishing the season in high-A Dayton. The defense at short stop and the ability to make contact have been better than expected. Jorge Soler was another big ticket item as a Cuban defector who followed in the wake of Yoenis Cespedes. Soler was at a much lower stage of development, but does have an intriguing blend of athleticism, power potential, and speed. 2013 will be a more extensive test.

After those three we move on to the next tier of prospects. Dan Vogelbach was the rare highly regarded, unathletic prep prospect as an amateur. There was no question that his future was as a first baseman, but the bat was still enticing enough for him to be highly regarded. Vogelbach’s bat has the chance to be special with his feel for hitting and the present power already in his frame. The demands will remain high given his profile — so far, so good. Brett Jackson meanwhile makes this list for seemingly the 10th year in a row. 2012 was supposed to be the season that he graduated into the Cubs’s everyday center fielder; instead he had a mediocre year in the PCL. There’s nothing particularly exciting about Jackson, but the tools are still above-average in most areas. If he can avoid striking out too frequently, his bat should be OK if he’s forced to right field. Christian Villanueva is a tremendous defensive third baseman who has continued to prove competent offensively. AA will provide another test. Arismendy Alcantara was a bit of a pop up prospect during the first half. He has the tools to profile at short stop if he can find more consistency in the field and with his arm; at the plate, he has surprising strength and enough offensive upside to weather a move to another position if he cannot find that consistency. A leg injury kept him out of the last couple of months. Candelario and Amaya were both well regarded international signings from the past few years who made the jump out of the complex leagues. Both have intriguing bats with Candelario having a higher offensive ceiling of the two. Amaya fits best at second base, and Candelario should profile well at third base.

The Cubs do not have the pitching prospects to match their offensive ones, but they do have some intriguing arms (including those who didn’t make the list). If you are a risk averse person that may even be the ideal composition of a farm system — I like to see elite arms even if they are prone to breaking. Fittingly, Arodys Vizcaino is at the top of the heap; he missed the entire season recovering from Tommy-John surgery. Prior to the injury, he had the delivery and stuff to profile best as a relief ace before the injury. That’s still how I view him this year. Pierce Johnson showed the stuff to be a starting pitcher during the first couple months of the college season with a good mid 90s fastball, a knockout slurvy curve ball, and a solid change up but missed time midseason with a forearm strain. His mechanics have some fearful that injuries will be a recurring issue and may force him to the bullpen long term. A Pierce Johnson without these uncertainties would have likely been a first round pick. Duane Underwood is another 2012 draftee who dropped because of uncertainty in his profile. Underwood showed flashes of being one of the elite arms of that prep class with a tall, athletic frame, a fastball that worked in the mid 90s, and an advanced changeup, but too often during the spring Underwood lacked that big fastball and had trouble commanding it in its diminished state. He could emerge into a steal if he can regain some consistency and improve his breaking ball.

It may be another few rough years immediately ahead of the in Chi city, but the talent of the farm system has seen a drastic infusion since Epstein came on board. A sustaining run of success should lay beyond that mountain.

Al Skorupa: As Jeff mentions, the Cubs are in the process of talent acquisition. While the system is improving the top three talents clearly stand far above the rest of the farm. I slightly prefer OF Albert Almora over Javier Baez and Jorge Soler. I thought Almora was a great pick for the Cubs. He’s a five tool outfielder who could move fast. He went a little under the radar for a 6th overall pick as his raw tools were eclipsed by those of 2nd overall pick Byron Buxton. Both Javier Baez and Jorge Soler do have very loud tools, but they lack the hit tool and approach to the game of Almora – which makes them much riskier bets. All three players have the potential to be well above average major leaguers, but Soler and Baez have a lot of adjustments left to make. 1B Dan Vogelbach and OF Brett Jackson are next up for me and they represent a pretty gigantic dropoff from the Almora-Baez-Soler triplet. Only the top three on my list will really get any consideration for my top 100 list. I do have considerable faith in Vogelbach’s bat, but he’s a short season 1B/DH. That’s a tough profile for me to buy into at this stage. At this point I’m unsure if Brett Jackson will overcome the swing and miss in his game and hit enough to remain a starter. I have the same kind of reservations about third baseman Christian Villanueva. Too much swing and miss and he’s not going to have a lot of over the fence power. I see Villanueva as more of a 2nd division third baseman.

Pierce Johnson rose up draft boards last Spring and emerged as a fairly polished college arm who projects as a fit in the middle of a rotation. Johnson does a lot of things I like, but his injuries stop me a bit short of giving him a full endorsement. His mechanics and particularly the arm action on his curveball are concerns to me. I do think he was good value at 43rd overall. The Cubs popped another arm in the draft I was fond of in Georgia prep righty Duane Underwood. He’s got a big arm, a projectable frame and the makings of a good repertoire. What he is not is someone who will move all that fast. I found Arodys Vizcaino very difficult to rank. He could be a real electric arm out of the pen. If I saw him come back 100% for a couple months I would consider taking him 4th on this list. The rest of this system is full of talented but raw players. The Chicago farm is positioned well for even bigger gains in 2013, especially if a few of these players really step forward in full season leagues.

SS Javier Baez (Peter Wardell)

RHP Arodys Vizcaino (Steve Fiorindo) 

RHP Duane Underwood (Steve Fiorindo) 

SS/3B Junior Lake (Chris Blessing)

Al Skorupa
Albert Skorupa
About Albert Skorupa

Al Skorupa writes about baseball & baseball prospects for Bullpen Banter and Fangraphs/Rotographs. He lives in Rhode Island. He watches & videotapes a good amount of amateur and minor league baseball. You can follow him on twitter @alskor.

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9 Comments on "Chicago Cubs 2013 Top 15 Prospects"

  1. Profile Photo
    Seth December 18, 2012 at 6:26 pm -

    Interesting – this is the first time I’ve seen Almora ahead of Baez. 

    • Profile Photo
      Jeff Reese December 19, 2012 at 9:13 am -

      It was a fairly close call between the two. Both are excellent prospects and damn near locks for the top 25.

  2. Profile Photo
    toonsterwu December 20, 2012 at 3:21 am -

    I’m not sure if my list response went through, but in general, nice list guys.  There are some areas which I disagree on, but in general, a solid, defensible list that tries to balance upside and readiness.  I get the argument for Almora, though I would go with Baez for now – upside is higher, showed well at short, and has production in A ball. 
    Anyhow, the bigger areas of curiousity for me (as it pertains to your list)
    Juan Carlos Paniagua – If the reason Underwood makes it on is upside, then where would you slot Panigua (I actually have him ahead of Underwood, in the top 10).  The reports on the stuff seem consistent and reputable enough to make an upside nod.  He’s reportedly a bit more polished with his secondary stuff to go with the explosive, easy fastball.
    Marco Hernandez – I have some bias here, but I still have a tough time leaving him off a top 15 (was 12th on my list).  There simply aren’t that many shortstops with his tools.  Alcantara’s tools might be … louder? … but Marco has a more complete toolset.  Yes, he struggled this year, but at both stops, he improved as the season progressed (it’s easy to forget that he seemed to be finding his stride in Peoria when he was demoted).  The coaches in Boise noted how he was learning to be more disciplined.  The tools showed well, though.  There’s solid pop in the bat, enough to understand why folks give it a possible mid-teens HR ceiling.  There’s good lateral range, solid arm strength for short.  The bat speed is excellent.  I just have a hard time leaving a premium position guy, with his tools, off the top 15.
    Paul Blackburn – If there’s a guy that surprises me on your list, it’s Blackburn.  I have him more 20-30.   Much as I’ve never been huge on Maples, his upside is up there with Paniagua/Underwood, so if I went a raw arm, he’d be ahead.  There’s a couple other arms I’d put at the same level or ahead of Blackburn.
    As with all lists, quibbling is what makes it fun.  In general, I think this is a fairly solid list.

    • Profile Photo
      Jeff Reese December 20, 2012 at 8:29 am -

      Thanks Toonster…

      -It’s been such an odyssey for Paniagua. I would like to see what he does first, and ideally get some first hand viewings and/or reports from someone on our staff. He’s on the radar, but I didn’t give him a ton of consideration for the top 15.

      -I agree with you on Hernandez; he was 13th on my list. Below Alcantara because I do value the upside he offers more but still making the board.

      -Blackburn was 17th for me. I like the delivery and athleticism overall. At that point we’re really splitting hairs about which young pitcher projects best.

  3. Profile Photo
    KBR December 21, 2012 at 2:05 pm -

    Any thoughts on Brett Jackson’s completely revampes swing?  The guy is an obvious toolshed  but his former swing had GIANT holes in it that MLB pitchers were easily able to expose.  If he truly has improved his swing mechanics he could perhaps finally start tapping into his enormous athleticism and reach his potential.  I’m not saying it is likely but it is definitely something to keep an eye this season.  

    • Profile Photo
      toonsterwu December 21, 2012 at 8:59 pm -

      I’m as big a fan of Brett out there, and if he had a revamped swing that cut down on the K’s and increased his contact ability, which would be the goal … then he would be at or near the top of the list.  There’s so much unknown, though.  How does it imapct his power?  It’s easy to forget that there were once some questions on his power if he had to move to a corner spot.  Those questions aren’t there anymore, but how does the revamped swing impact his power potential, because at some point, he’ll move to a corner, whether it be through aging by himself, or because a better, younger player is ready to take over in CF.
      It should also be noted that Brett might need to adjust his approach.  Too many people noted how he was too careful, passing up pitches early in the count that he could attack because they were borderline, and putting himself in bad counts.