If you are a fan of the Cubs farm system, then this is one of your favorite days of the year. Jim Callis of Baseball America has released his list of the Chicago Cubs’ Top Ten Prospects. If you are not a subscriber of that fine publication you can see Callis’s take on the Cubs organization as a whole along with his Top 10 list. You can also add a Baseball America subscription to your Christmas list. If you are a subscriber, you can see scouting reports on the ten guys in question.
And, of course, everyone can check out my recap and comments on his list after the break. Keep checking back to Cubbies Crib throughout the winter for our own Top Prospects list. In the meantime, and without further ado, here is the cream of the Cubs’ system.
1. Brett Jackson – OF. (2010 Rank: #2).
If you are not familiar with Jackson by now, you just have not been paying attention. The likely 2012 starting center fielder brings a high on base percentage and a good mix of power and speed, but that is offset somewhat by his high strikeout numbers. While he may not be destined for stardom, he has all the earmarks of a 20 HR / 20 steals cornerstone of the franchise for a long, long time.
2. Javier Baez – SS/3B. (Drafted in 2011).
The Cubs number one pick in the 2011 draft becomes their number two prospect for now, and will be promoted to the top of the system just as soon as Jackson cracks the majors. Baez is touted for his great bat speed that has the promise of power to come. He is not expected to ever replace Starlin Castro at short, but he may well be the third baseman of the future. He is at least three or four years away.
3. Matt Szczur – OF. (2010 Rank: #7).
Brett Jackson will slide into center field in 2012, but he won’t stay there long. Szczur is the center fielder of the future, and that future could be here as soon as 2013. While the bulk of his offensive game is speed, Szczur makes good contact and has more power than you might expect. He is likely to be the best lead off hitter to hit the North Side since Juan Pierre, but don’t be surprised if his game becomes as known for doubles into the gap as it does for stolen bases.
4. Trey McNutt – RHP. (2010 Rank: #3).
McNut had a rough season, but most of that was due to blisters and a bad collision. His arm is fine and his stuff is not in question. When McNutt hits the majors, which could be as soon as the second half of 2012, he will be bring a good fastball / breaking ball combination that will look equally nice at the front of the rotation or at the back of the bullpen. Along with Matt Garza and Andrew Cashner, McNutt could form the core of a very good, young rotation.
5. Dillon Maples – RHP. (Drafted in 2011).
I did not think Maples would be rated quite this highly. Don’t get me wrong, Maples is as legitimate of a high ceiling pitching prospect as you are likely to find, but when he was drafted there were a number of questions about his mechanics that may not have been answered yet. That said, every team in baseball would love to have this kid in their farm system. He will take at least three years to reach the majors, but when he arrives he is expected to have front of the rotation stuff.
6. Welington Castillo – C. (2010 Rank: #17).
On the 2010 list, Castillo was not even the highest rated catcher in the Cubs system (at the time). Analysts seemed confident in his game calling and defensive abilities behind the plate, but his bat was in question. A highly successful 2011 season seems to have answered many of those questions. I think Castillo still need to prove himself as a major league regular, but he has broken out to the extent that the Cubs should seriously consider trading Geovanny Soto. At worst, he should be the back up catcher in 2012.
7. Rafael Dolis – RHP. (2010 Rank: #9).
Dolis has one of the strongest arms in the Cubs system, and he just gets better as he gains more experience. The Cubs moved him into the bullpen full time in Tennessee this season and he responded with a solid season as the closer for the Smokies. He even got a brief taste of the majors late in the season. I would prefer to see Dolis moved back into the starting rotation, but as a reliever he has closer potential. If the Cubs do trade Marmol this off season, do not be surprised to see Dolis groomed as the heir apparent. He could be the Chicago bullpen on Opening Day.
8. Junior Lake – SS/3B. (2010 Rank: #27).
About a year ago I referred to Lake as a player to watch, a guy who could break out in 2011. If you were watching, he did break out at High A Daytona and followed that up with a quality half season in Tennessee. His offensive explosion in the AFL has just been the icing on the cake. There are still plenty of questions about Lake’s game, particular his ability to cut back on the strikeouts, but his mix of power and speed along with his strong throwing arm will play well at short, third, or in the outfield. If he can make more consistent contact at Double A and Triple A this season, the Cubs will have to consider playing him at third base the following season. He may have more value as a shortstop, though, and in that case he could be the target of several trade attempts this winter.
9. Josh Vitters – 3B/1B. (2010 Rank: #5).
By now, the battle lines are drawn. You either buy into Vitters’ great bat speed and ability to hit nearly any pitch he swings at, or you are scared off by his low OBP and his mediocre power so far. I am firmly in the former category. I see his bat playing very well at either corner of the infield. Given his defensive struggles at third and the Cubs lack of depth at first, I think first base may be his short term destination. He showed progress at the plate in the second half of the season and in the AFL. I would be comfortable with Vitters winning the first base job out of spring training, but I think at least half a season in Iowa is more likely. His bat is for real, and the power will come. Long term he may be forced to the outfield, but I don’t think his future as a major league hitter is in doubt at all.
10. Dan Vogelbach – 1B. (Drafted in 2011).
Vogelbach is destined to become a fan favorite if he can make it to the majors. He is a big guy with tremendous power, and for that reason he may never escape comparisons to Prince Fielder. Vogelbach’s game is all about slugging, and in the National League there is no way he can play anywhere but first base. So long as he is adequate with the glove, any additional defense he brings is simply a bonus. The Cubs are hoping Vogelbach can knock out some windows across Waveland and Sheffield Avenues, and I would not bet against him. For a kid just out of high school he shows a lot of patience at the plate. If he can get into good enough shape to survive a full season and can maintain that patience, we could be seeing him send souvenirs into the bleachers sooner than we would expect from a typical high school draftee. He will need a minimum of two years in the minors, but I would not be shocked to see him called up late in the 2014 season. Patient hitters can move fast in the minors, and that means we should watch Vogelbach closely as he starts his minor league career.
Topics: Baseball America, Brett Jackson, Chicago Cubs, Cubs Farm System, Dan Vogelbach, Dillon Maples, Javier Baez, Jim Callis, Josh Vitters, Junior Lake, Matt Szczur, Minor Leagues, Rafael Dolis, Top Prospects, Trey McNutt, Welington Castillo