No one wants to suffer through a miserable season in the minor leagues. Only a fraction of the players on a farm team roster ever make it to the major leagues; no one wants to risk that ultimate goal with a lackluster season. For some players, though, the need to avoid mediocrity is a little more urgent than for others. The reasons for that can vary, but at the end of the season there are some players who will need to look back and see much more good than bad. The 2012 season is no different. There are a number of Cub prospect from whom we need to see some good things this year. For now, let’s just talk about one per team.
Vitters does not need to put up Bryan LaHair type numbers. He doesn’t even need to match teammate Anthony Rizzo long ball for long ball. What he must do is show that he can play third base in the majors and continue to improve his patience at the plate. The defense I think will come with practice. Remember, Vitters is only one year older than Starlin Castro. Learning to play professionally at third or short just takes time.
The offensive side of his game worries me more. I am not looking for a lot of walks from Vitters; that just is not his game. What I want to see is him driving a higher percentage of balls. If he can just lay off bad pitches and wait for that ball he can hammer, he’ll be a very good hitter at any level. That approach will likely come with more strikeouts, but I am ok with that as well. It is the weak grounders that need to disappear. We saw some progress in that direction in 2011. In 2012, we need to see more of it.
The Cubs need an every day second baseman, and right now they do not have one. Darwin Barney is a great backup but I’m not sold on him as an everyday guy at any position. Adrian Cardenas has plenty of promise at the plate, but scouts say his glove is lacking. The door is open for someone to step out of the minors and take the job.
Logan Watkins, that’s your cue. The Cubs could use a left handed hitting, smooth fielding, high OBP second baseman at the top of their lineup, and Watkins could get a chance to take that job in a year or two. 2012 will be Watkins’ first taste of Double A, and the jump to Double A is not an easy one for young hitters to make. He got off to a slow start in 2011, but rebounded with a torrid finish to the season. If he can open 2012 with a similar high level of production, he could easily finish the season in Iowa. The earliest we can expect to see Watkins in Wrigley is late 2013. Unless the Cubs make a move before that time, the second base job will still be available then. If Watkins wants the job, now is the time to claim it. If he has a poor season, he could easily be passed up by Zeke DeVoss.
It is easy to write off a guy who was playing in Low A at the age of 23, but that is not always a good idea. When evaluating players we have to keep age in mind, but we have to keep it in mind in context. For a guy just drafted in 2009, spending a full season in Peoria in 2011 is not terrible progress. Since 2011 also marked a breakout year for Jones, he has the chance to make up some ground in the system with a strong 2012.
In a farm system that is suddenly awash with slugging first basemen, Jones runs the risk of getting lost. His strikeout rate needs to come down a little, but he is not in terrible shape for a slugger. He did show marked improvement at the plate in 2011, and if he repeats that improvement in Daytona he will be in a good position. Unfortunately, that may not be a likely scenario. He already had half a season of experience of Low A ball before his breakout in 2011; expecting him to continue to improve as he moves the up ladder may be a little much.
If he can carry his 2011 success into a new season, though, he could put himself on the Cubs radar.
I honestly thought Golden would be in Peoria last season, but he never made it. While his 2011 season was decent, the Cubs were hoping for something more than an OPS of .752 when they selected the potential outfielder in the second round of the 2010 draft. Now that he has a year of short-season ball behind him, it is time for Golden to show Cub fans what he can do.
There is a tremendous amount of potential locked up in this kid; he might have the highest ceiling of any outfielder in the farm system. If he can harness that raw ability and polish it into baseball skills, he is ticketed for right field in Wrigley. He has the strength and the bat speed of a future star, but he has the minor league numbers of a career backup. He is still very young, but his career BA of just .248 is not encouraging. That needs to come up, as does his OBP. It is far too early to give up on Golden, but it is time for him to show some improvement. Like Jones, if he has another mediocre year, stands the chance of being buried in the system.
The one guy who needs a breakout season more than any other is, of course, Hayden Simpson. His critics wrote him off the day he was drafted. His 2011 campaign was so limited by the effects of illness and injury that not even his supporters are sure what he can do. The real Hayden Simpson has yet to pitch a professional inning at full strength. That should change in a matter of weeks. I still see Simpson as a potential top of the rotation starter, but the guesswork ends in 2012. If he has a good season, he’ll finish the year as one of the Cubs top pitching prospects. If he doesn’t, he’ll likely be pushed into the bullpen.