2011 was a pretty good year for the Cubs farm system. While some of their high ceiling prospects such as Trey McNutt and Hayden Simpson were significantly hindered by physical problems, the Cubs saw a number of other prospects take significant strides forward. As a result, the Cubs farm system is stronger now than it was a year ago. Much of the talent with star potential is still deep in the system, but there are a number of quality players less than two years away who would be a welcome part of most major league rosters.
I think when Baseball America and other organizations rank the farm systems this winter, the Cubs will be in the upper half, but not the upper quarter. While the depth is still among the best in baseball, the lack of future stars will drive the ranking down. A ranking somewhere between 12 and 16 sounds about right. Another very good draft and another successful year on the international front could elevate that ranking in a hurry. With an owner committed to building a dominant franchise via player development and a front office with the credentials to make that dream believable, there is plenty of reason for optimism on the North Side.
I have already talked about most of these players as individuals in my season recap series, so rather than repeat what I’ve already said I will simply present you the 2011 Cubbies Crib Farm System All-Stars with just a few comments about each position.
First Base – Bryan LaHair
This was a surprisingly strong year for Cubs’ first base prospects. Josh Vitters, Rebel Ridling, and Richard Jones all earned some consideration here. In the end, LaHair’s incredible season was too much to pass up. Bour earns the runner up nod over the competition by being a key bat on a championship team.
Runner Up – Justin Bour
Second Base – Logan Watkins
Watkins got off to a slow start, but when his bat woke up he started putting up a lot of good numbers. Flaherty had one of the better offensive seasons in the entire Cubs’ system, but he doesn’t really have a defensive home. He played quite a bit of second this season, but don’t be surprised if he moves to third or left next year.
Runner Up – Ryan Flaherty
Third Base – D.J. LeMahieu
This is another position that showed some strength this season. LeMahieu could have taken top honors at second, but I think he’ll be a third baseman in the majors next season and so I listed him here. Vitters earned a lot of consideration, and did Gioskar Amaya. In the end, despite his age, Candelario’s ridiculously good numbers in the DSL were too much to ignore.
Runner Up – Jeimer Candelario
Shortstop – Marwin Gonzalez
I did not expect much of anything from Gonzalez going into the season, but the switch hitting shortstop produced at both Tennessee and Iowa. I don’t think he is likely to take the job from Starlin Castro, but he could start fighting for a bench role soon. Lake had one of his stronger seasons for the Cubs, but I think his days as a shortstop are numbered. Marco Hernandez just missed taking the Runner Up spot for himself.
Runner Up – Junior Lake
Catcher – Steve Clevenger
Going into the season, I did not expect Clevenger to dominate like this. This guy can hit, and it looks like he will be a pretty good catcher as well. Between Clevenger and Castillo, Geovany Soto is starting to look expendable. These two can’t rest, though. There are some good young catchers deeper in the system that could start to steal the spotlight next season.
Runner Up – Welington Castillo
Outfield – Brett Jackson
Outfield – Evan Crawford
Outfield – Pin-Chieh Chen
Brett Jackson should be with the Cubs on Opening Day, but don’t expect a Rookie of the Year performance. Jackson is going to be a good major league player, but he’s not exactly an annual All-Star in the making (I hope I’m wrong about that). Crawford had an excellent year in Daytona and was a big part of that offense. Chen came out of nowhere for Boise. If he can keep up this level of success, he could prove to be quite the asset. Szczur might be the best outfield prospect in the system, but this season he just did not quite have the standout numbers. Ha and Ridling both moved themselves up the depth charts with strong performances. Ridling could get a look in spring training if the Cubs need to fill an outfield hole.
Runner Up – Jae-Hoon Ha
Runner Up – Matthew Szczur
Runner Up – Rebel Ridling
Starting Pitcher – Nicholas Struck
Starting Pitcher – Eric Jokisch
Starting Pitcher – Ryan Searle
Starting Pitcher – Luis Liria
The Cubs are surprisingly deep in terms of middle of the rotation starters, but they are a little thin on potential aces at the upper levels of the system. Keep your eye on Rhee in that regard; he may yet emerge as a number two starter. Rusin and Struck will be pushing for major league promotions by the end of 2012 while Liria and Wang will be key players in what should be a very good Peoria rotation. Whitenack makes the list for his incredible performance before his elbow blew up. The real dark horse here is Searle. He very quietly might have had the best season of any pitcher in the Cubs farm system. If anyone is to surprise us in spring training and steal a rotation slot, my guess is that it will be Searle.
Runner Up – Chris Rusin
Runner Up – Dae-Eun Rhee
Runner Up – Yao-Lin Wang
Runner Up – Robert Whitenack
Relief Pitcher – Rafael Dolis
Relief Pitcher – Jeff Beliveau
Relief Pitcher – Frank Batista
This is one of the strengths of the system, and one of the areas in which I would stack the Cubs against any other group of prospects. The Cubs are deep in relievers, and many of those relievers have very good arms. Any one of these guys could finish 2012 as part of Chicago’s bullpen. I expect to hear several of these names featured in trade rumors during the offseason as well. The Cubs could afford to deal a few of them. There are plenty more good relief arms that did not make this list.
Runner Up – Marco Carrillo
Runner Up – Jeffry Antigua
Runner Up – Kevin Rhoderick
Topics: 2011 Minor League All Stars, Brett Jackson, Bryan LaHair, Chicago Cubs, Chris Rusin, Cubs Farm System, Cubs Top Prospects, D.J. LeMahieu, Dae Eun Rhee, Eric Jokisch, Evan Crawford, Frank Batista, Jae Hoon Ha, Jeff Beliveau, Jeffry Antigua, Jeimar Candelario, Junior Lake, Justin Bour, Kevin Rhoderick, Logan Watkins, Luis Liria, Marco Carrillo, Marwin Gonzalez, Matt Szczur, Minor Leagues, Nick Struck, Pin Chieh Chen, Rafael Dolis, Rebel Ridling, Robert Whitenack, Ryan Flaherty, Ryan Searle, Steve Clevenger, Welington Castillo, Yao Lin Wang