Who and Where are the Cubs Top 20 Prospects? Part 2


Aug 7, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; Chicago Cubs third baseman Josh Vitters (5) follows through on a swing during the seventh inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Due to some technical difficulties, I had to skip posting prospects 15-11 last week. Without further adieu, here they are:

NOTE: I am no professional scout. This post is: a) an attempt to familiarize the big league team fan with prospects, and b) subject to how these players perform in Spring Training and how the brass feels they should be challenged. These are preliminary estimations of where they will play. It may not look the same come late April.

For context reasons, the minor leagues are divided into seven levels. Here’s what they are from lowest to highest, along with the Cubs affiliate in parenthesis:

1) Summer leagues (DSL, VSL, etc)
2) Rookie league (Mesa, Arizona Cubs)
3) Low-A (Boise Hawks)
4) A-ball (Kane County Cougars)
5) High-A (Daytona Cubs)
6) AA (Tennessee Smokies)
7) AAA (Iowa Cubs)

Onto the prospects! I’ll be using MLB.com’s 2012 Cubs prospect rankings, found here.

15) Ben Wells, RHP, 20:

Wells was drafted in 2010 as a seventeen-year-old from an Arkansas high school. Although young, he has matured into 6’2” 220 lbs frame. On the mound Wells features a sinking fastball that can hit up to 94 MPH, a slider, and a splitter. His bread-and-butter pitch, though, is that sinker. At 18 Ben was assigned to the Boise Hawks, forcing hitters to beat baseballs into the ground throughout the year.

His 2012, however, was a bit of a tease. Wells rightfully earned his spot on the Peoria Chiefs (A-ball) but logged in only 44 innings pitched, although to the beat of a 3.20 ERA, a 7.8 K/9, and 2.6 BB/9.

Wells is expected to be healthy for 2013 but for precautionary reasons he shouldn’t start the season higher than Kane County, with a shot at Daytona.

14) Dan Vogelbach, 1B, 20:

Ruthian, hulking, life-sized: these are some of the words that have been used to describe the Cubs’ 2011 2nd round draft pick Dan Vogelbach (His name is Daniel, but it almost seems disrespectful to call him by what his child version once was).
To beat a dead horse, Vogelbach is big – and not the good kind of big. Listed at 6’0” 250, the big fella has been called a slugger with a bad body. For this reason scouts say that he’s doomed to man 1B for his career, putting pressure on his bat. Essentially, if he doesn’t hit (and hit big, I mean), he’ll have no place to play.

But luckily, VogelBOMB – as he’s been called on Twitter – can hit. In 2012 he hit his way out of the Arizona Rookie League to a beat of .324/.391/.686 with 21 XBHs (Two of them triples!) and then Boise .322/.423/.608 with another 20 XBHs. Scouts say he has plus-plus power to all parts of the field. When evaluating big sluggers, though, you can’t just look at the offensive production and think the guy’s ready. Vogelbach is no swing-and-miss, homer-happy big man; the man takes his walks.

Vogelbach has earned his promotion to A-ball, and will begin 2013 as the first baseman and middle-of-the-order terror for the Kane County Cougars.

13) Robert Whitenack, RHP, 20:

Robert Whitenack was drafted in 2009 by the Cubs and was well on his way to being one of the team’s best starting pitching prospects. Whitenack uses his 6’5” 185 lbs frame to generate a downward movement with his low-to-mid 90s fastball, inducing a plethora of ground balls. His fastball is complemented by a nasty slider and a changeup.

Those three pitches were able to carry him all the way up to AA Tennessee and then the injury bug found a way to plague the Cubs once more; Whitenack’s elbow popped, requiring Tommy John Surgery in 2011. At the time of the injury he had 1.93 ERA over 11 starts between Daytona and Tennessee, with a 0.94 WHIP and 7.0 K/9.

2012 was a year of rehabilitation for Whitenack, so don’t be fooled by stat lines. Considering the crowded rotation of AAA Iowa, I expect Whitenack to repeat AA in 2013 until he proves his health. He does, however, have a chance to see Iowa by the end of the year.

12) Dillon Maples, RHP, 20:  

Dillon Maples, although talented, was not expected to sign after being drafted in 2011. Adamantly committed to be the kicker for North Carolina, it took a 2.5 million dollar signing bonus to pry Maples away.

Maples has excellent size at 6’2” 195, and played for Team USA in 2010. He was a strikeout machine in high school, racking up over 245, as opposed to 50 walks, his senior year. That number is telling of his pure dominant stuff, a fastball in the mid-90s and a hammer of a curve which is already labeled as a plus pitch.

However, Maples hasn’t been able to get his journey to becoming an eventual number-two starter for the Cubs due to injuries. A strained ligament severely limited his 2012 season, in which he only pitched 10.1 innings and, unsurprisingly, struck out 12 hitters.

The stuff and athleticism is all there. Dillon Maples has a shot at being one of the Cubs’ best pitching prospects (and could be much higher on the list than number 12). 2013 will be about staying healthy and actually showing what he can do in a full season. He should repeat Rookie League, but could progress up to Boise easily.

11) Josh Vitters, 3B, 23:

The number three overall draft pick in 2007 has disappointed many a Cubs fan, whether it be for his seemingly perpetual journey through the minors or his abysmal debut starting last August.

The reason why Vitters’s stay in the minor leagues has seem so long is majorly a product of his age – drafted at age 17 – and his uncanny inability to adjust quickly. Always fairly young for his league, Vitters has had success, however.

2012 was his first season in AAA, and also his best. It seemed that his ability to put the bat on the ball finally met up with his emerging power and resulted in a .304/.356/.513 triple slash with 51 XBHs in 110 games. Josh even started to take walks – never his cup of tea since he just made contact so easily – at a career rate, which led to the spike in OBP. For a while, Josh Vitters, although one of the youngest players in the Pacific Coast League, seemed like a real threat behind Anthony Rizzo for the Iowa Cubs. He earned an invitation to the AAA All-Star Game and an eventual promotion to the big leagues in August.

And then it happened: As usual, Vitters couldn’t adjust to his league quickly. Big league pitchers exploited his eagerness to make contact and left him with a .121 batting average and an even worse looking 7:33 BB:K ratio.

Will Josh Vitters ever be what he was in Iowa in 2012? Probably not. Will he ever meet the expectations of a high first round draft pick? Probably not. Will he ever be a serviceable major league player? He has a shot. Remember: This was textbook Josh Vitters. He should repeat AAA for some time in 2012.

It gets to the good stuff next time, as we’ll cover numbers 10 through 6: RHP Pierce Johnson, SS Junior Lake, RHP Trey McNutt, 3B Christian Villanueva, and OF Matt Szczur.