When Baseball America publishes their annual Top 10 Prospects list, they also include a sidebar that projects that team’s lineup a few years into the future. These sidebars are interesting to study as they often provide another way to gauge the impressions of one player versus another.
I have already talked quite a bit about about the Top Prospects list this week, and now it is time to dig into the sidebar. This year it was very interesting, and more than a little surprising.
First of all, let’s recap what Jim Callis projects for the Cubs in 2015. Remember that he is only looking at players currently on the roster or in the farm system. If Carlos Marmol of Geovany Soto are traded, then this will need to be adjusted. Likewise if Prince Fielder signs later this winter.
"Catcher – Geovany SotoFirst Base – Dan VogelbachSecond Base – Zeke DeVossThird Base – Javier BaezShortstop – Starlin CastroLeft Field – Josh VittersCenter Field – Matt SzczurRight Field – Brett JacksonNo. 1 Starter – Matt GarzaNo. 2 Starter – Andrew CashnerNo. 3 Starter – Trey McNuttNo. 4 Starter – Dillon MaplesNo. 5 Starter – Dae-Eun RheeCloser – Carlos Marmol"
Right off the bat, we can see four guys taken in the 2011 draft featured on the list at first, second, third, and No. 4 starter. That is both a nod to the impressive haul of talent the Cubs picked up in the draft as well another indication that the system was a little thin on impact players.
Second, Callis is projecting that all four of those guys, three of whom were taken out of high school, will be in the majors following just three full seasons in the minors. Stop and think about that one for a minute. Most players do not make the jump that fast, but in the 2011 draft the Cubs landed at least three high school guys that Baseball America thinks will move up the farm system quickly. That is definitely good news.
But there are a few more interesting things. For instance, Zeke DeVoss is listed at second base. That means he will have eclipsed D.J. LeMahieu (who may be best as a utility player), Junior Lake (who would be better at third anyway), and Logan Watkins. That seems like a bit of a bold assertion, particularly given the way Watkins came on in the second half of the 2011 season.
We also see Josh Vitters in left. If he isn’t playing an infield corner then left field is the best place for him, but consider for a moment the players he beat to earn that position. That list includes Jae-Hoon Ha (who looks like a fourth outfielder to me anyway) and Reggie Golden, often referred to as the third piece of the Cubs future outfield. Golden projects as a potential five tool guy who could play any of the outfield slots. For Vitters to take a corner outfield position is a nod towards his abilities at the plate. He’s always been a good contact hitter, and late this season we started to see more flashes of patience and some extra power. I still consider him a future .290 / 25 HR guy, and I’ll happily take that out of my left fielder.
Looking at the pitching, Callis continues to project both Cashner and McNutt as starting pitchers. Either could be a closer, and either may yet be turned into a closer, but I think the Cubs will be better with those two joining Matt Garza at the top of the rotation. The interesting choice here is the number five starter, Dae-Eun Rhee. Rhee was highly touted at one time, but I suspect a lot of Cubs fans forgot about him when his elbow blew up and he spent the 2009 and 2010 seasons rehabbing. In 2011, he helped lead the Daytona Cubs to a Florida State League Championship. Not bad for a comeback season. If he is healthy and his stuff holds up, he could be a number two or a number three starter on a lot of teams. That he is projecting as a number five for the Cubs speaks volumes about the quality of the four guys above him.
So, how would those guys be assembled into a line up? Its actually harder than it looks. Castro and Vitters make good contact, Jackson and Vogelbach have the power, and Jackson joins DeVoss and Szczur in the speed category where Castro can hold is own. Right now, I think it could look like this.
Szczur (40 steal potential)
Jackson (left handed swing, patient hitter, good on base percentage to go with his power and speed)
Castro (probably still the best pure hitter on the team)
Vogelbach (easy decision)
Vitters (could provide very good protection for Vogelbach)
Baez (could probably hit anywhere but lead off)
Soto (a good hitter in his good years, especially when he will take the ball the other way)
DeVoss (speed on the bases in front of the pitcher can pay off)
Combined with a rotation of flame throwers and the Cubs remarkable bullpen depth, that’s not a bad looking team, on paper. It’s a long way until 2015, though, and a lot of things can happen on the way.