Chicago Cubs prospects abound in Baseball Prospectus’ Top 101


Apparently, Chicago Cubs prospects are kind of a big deal.

No, really. If you haven’t learned that by now, you must live under a rock – a big one.

The latest proof comes courtesy of Baseball Prospectus, which recently compiled its annual Top 100 prospects list, which included seven prospects in Chicago’s farm system – led by shortstop Addison Russell and third baseman Kris Bryant. Other notable names included Jorge Soler (19), Albert Almora (38), Kyle Schwarber (77), Billy McKinney (81) and Pierce Johnson (- the only Cubs’ pitching prospect included in the rankings.

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Russell, who ranked as the second overall prospect behind the Minnesota Twins’ Byron Buxton, was acquired in the midseason trade with the Oakland Athletics last season that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the West Coast, netting the Cubs both Russell and McKinney – both of whom are some of the league’s top minor league talent.

After joining the Cubs organization last summer, Russell spent the remainder of the season with Double-A Tennessee, where he batted .294/.332/.536 with the Smokies, hitting 12 home runs and driving in 36 runs, while also adding 11 doubles. Heading into last year, Russell was ranked as the number seven prospect on Baseball Prospectus’ Top 101 list – and with another year under his belt, he continues to improve his all-around game.

The biggest surprise for most Cubs fans was the fact that Bryant, who is widely expected to reach Chicago early this season after dominating Triple-A Iowa in 2014, was ranked fifth overall – behind Buxton, Russell, Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros and Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians. Correa missed time last season with an injury, while Buxton missed all but 30 games due to an array of injuries.

Bryant, meanwhile, clubbed a Minor League Baseball-leading 43 long-balls, driving in 110 runs to go along with an impressive .325/.438/.661 triple-slash between Tennessee and Iowa. One might think that such a campaign – which included countless awards and recognitions – might warrant a higher ranking, but nevertheless, having two of the top five prospects on the list speaks volumes to the work of the Chicago front office.

Two of the top five prospects in all of baseball bodes well for the Cubs’ front office.

Soler, who broke onto the big league scene in a big way last season, hitting a home run against the Cincinnati Reds in his first big league at-bat, emerged as one of the most consistent offensive weapons in the Cubs’ lineup late in the year, slugging .573 in a small 24-game sample size – pounding five homers, adding eight doubles and a triple, as well, while manning right field for Ricky Renteria.

The rest of the list is farther from reaching the Friendly Confines than the first three names. Almora is perhaps one of the most overshadowed prospects waiting in the wings for Chicago – often overshadowed by the likes of Soler and Javier Baez, who played in enough games to lose his rookie status for 2015. In 2014, however, the young center fielder showed yet more promise with Advanced-A Daytona, slashing .283/.306/.406 in 385 plate appearances – which still leaves room for improvement – but was a strong start.

He took a step backward when he was with Double-A Tennessee, as he saw his batting average, on-base and slugging percentages fall by roughly 50 points apiece. He’ll likely open the 2015 season with the Smokies looking to get himself back on the track to Wrigley.

Rounding out the list is the Cubs’ first-round pick from 2014, Kyle Schwarber, the aforementioned McKinney and the right-handed pitcher Johnson.  Schwarber, who, at this point in time, is focused on remaining behind the plate, despite some calling for a position change, put together an impressive first half-season in professional baseball.

The former Indiana University standout climbed from short-season Boise to Class-A Kane County in the Midwest League, before ending the season with the High-A Daytona Cubs. Between the three clubs, Schwarber put on an offensive clinic, finishing the year with a robust .344/.428/.634 triple-slash across 72 games. If he can keep that type of offensive output up throughout his first full season in Minor League Baseball, look for him to skyrocket on prospect lists come midseason.

Pitching in the Chicago system has always been undervalued – with the attention of scouts and fans alike fixated on the tantalizing position player prospects like Russell and Soler. However, there are several notable arms in the organization including C.J. Edwards and Johnson, who, as mentioned, is the only Cubs pitcher on this list.

The 23-year-old righty posted a 2.54 earned run average across 20 outings – 19 starts – with Class-A Kane County and Double-A Tennessee. With the overwhelming majority of the season spent with the Smokies, Johnson could open the 2015 season with Triple-A Iowa – potentially joining Chicago as early as this September.

One thing is for sure: the Chicago Cubs prospects have more than a little bit of potential. Now, it’s a matter of seeing which ones pan out long-term.