The Chicago Cubs’ Top Prospects: Wrap Up


The Cubs’ Top 21 prospects have all been introduced now, but there is still a bit more to say on the subject. I’ll recap the Top 21 after the break, but if you missed any part of the three part write up you can find the links below.

Tuesday: #15- #21
Wednesday: #8 – #14
Thursday: #1 – #7

The primary takeaway from this list is that the Cubs farm system has a lot of depth, but is thin on elite level talent at the top of the system. While Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters will be drawing the headlines in Iowa, the real strength of the farm system will be quietly developing in Boise, Peoria, and Daytona. Today I’d rate the Cubs farm system solidly in the middle of the pack, somewhere between 11 and 16. I expect that rating to improve significantly over the next twelve to twenty four months.

First of all, let’s briefly recap the Cubs’ Top 21.

1. Brett Jackson – OF.
2. Matt Szczur – CF.
3. Trey McNutt – RHP.
4. Javier Baez – 3B/SS.
5. Robert Whitenack – RHP
6. Rafael Dolis – RHP
7. Welington Castillo – C
8. Jeff Beliveau – LHP
9. Josh Vitters – 3B/1B/OF
10. Junior Lake – SS/3B
11. Dae-Eun Rhee – RHP
12. Dan Vogelbach – 1B
13. Zeke DeVoss – 2B/OF
14. Pin-Chieh Chen – 2B/OF
15. Jeimer Candelario – 3B
16. Luis Liria – RHP
17. Gioskar Amaya – INF
18. Dillon Maples – RHP
19. Jae-Hoon Ha – OF
20. Hayden Simpson – RHP
21. Eric Jokisch – RHP

There are a few very interesting trends buried in that list.

International Free Agents
Of the Top 10, only two came off the international free agent market (Castillo and Lake). However, six of the remaining eleven were IFAs and all six will start 2012 no higher than Double A. In total, about a third of the list are international free agents, and most of them were signed in the past few years. That’s a credit to the team’s good recent performance in the international scouting and player development scene as well as a slight condemnation of their recent draft history (prior to 2011).

It is also a very good sign for Cub fans. The IFA efforts will only be growing stronger over the next few years. Now that the team’s commitment to the draft has increased to a competitive level, the overall level of talent in the farm system should increase as higher quality players arrive from both sources. After all, 2011 is seen as the first in a new era of Cub drafts in which the team focuses on finding and signing the best talent, not the most affordable talent. As a result of that new attitude towards the draft, four of the Cubs’ Top 21 prospects came from the 2011 class.

Finding The Power
Last year when I reviewed the farm system I noted that the Cubs had a severe lack of power hitters. This year, that has significantly changed. While Vogelbach is clearly the most powerful hitter in the system (and one of the most powerful in all of minor league baseball) and will draw the most headlines in that area, Baez is no slouch when it comes to slugging. Jackson has 20-25 HR power, as does Lake. Candelario is the real wild card here. Seventeen year old kids don’t often show much plate discipline or power in professional leagues, and Candelario is showing quite a bit of both. I don’t think he’ll eclipse Vogelbach, but he could easily emerge as a slugger in his own right. Suffice to say that the Cubs system, while not exactly awash with long ball threats, is in much better shape than it was a year ago.

Depth Up The Middle
The Cubs recently lost several middle infielders to trades or the Rule 5 draft. Fortunately, the next waive is on the way. Assuming Lake does move to third, Logan Watkins and Matt Cerda will lead the next armada of middle infielders into the upper minors next season. Close behind will be the group that includes Pin-Chieh Chen and Zeke DeVoss, along with Elliot Soto, Rubi Silva, Taiwan Easterling, Marco Hernandez, and more. Some of them (Chen and Easterling in particular) may find themselves in the outfield long term, but even those moves won’t really hurt the Cubs’ depth. Unlike the last crop, most of these players profile as having good to great speed in the majors. As the Cubs look to build teams that can win in Wrigley year round, that will be a nice asset to be developing in the system.

Another source of depth is catcher. Only Welington Castillo cracked this list, but Steve Clevenger easily could have. I also remain high on switch hitting Micah Gibbs, though he struggled some at the plate this season. The real jewel in the system might just be Neftali Rosario, who put up very good numbers as a seventeen year old in Arizona. If it were not for his elevated strikeout rate (27%), he would probably have edged his way onto the bottom of this list.

An Army Of Arms
And finally, let’s talk pitching. The pickings are rather slim at the upper levels of the farm system. There are some good arms that profile as back of the rotation starters in Iowa and Tennessee, such as Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley, but there are not that many of them. Meanwhile, the lower levels of the system are loaded with very intriguing arms that should start to rise rapidly in the coming year. Eric Jokisch is an early arrival of this new wave, and there is a long line behind him. Luis Liria is, I think, the most promising of the pack right now, but that will likely change over the next twelve months. Other analysts prefer Ben Wells, Starling Peralta, Austin Kirk, Frank Del Valle, Welington Cruz, Michael Jensen, or others. No matter in what order we list them, the point is that there are a lot of them. The Cubs have a bunch of very good quality arms in the low minors. It will take two seasons or so for that flood to reach the upper levels, but we should start to see some of the more advanced pitchers rise quickly this season.

All in all, I have a hard time looking at the Cubs farm system and being anything other than positive. There are weaknesses, but there are also a number of strengths. The Cubs not only enjoy a deep system, but one with a higher average level of talent than we’ve seen in recent years. In general, the best players are the deepest in the system. It will take time for these guys to rise through the ranks and for us to get a better grasp on what we can expect from them in the majors. Patience is still the word of the day, but the end of patience is in site. Within the next two years, I expect that the Cubs will have one on of the top five farm systems in all of baseball. That farm system will become the cornerstone of a Cubs franchise that should enjoy a lot of success for years to come.