First things first, here is the top 10 list BA has given for the Cubs this year.
1. Javier Baez, SS
This is basically a unanimous projection. There’s an outside case for Albert Almora or Jorge Soler, but neither has the upside of Baez, and he also had the best minors season of the 3 also. No surprise here. I’d be pretty shocked if Baez wasn’t in the top 10 of baseball next year. He had a rough A+ end to 2012, but he absolutely owned the Midwest League and I anticipate he’ll spend the first half of 2013 mashing A+ and eventually getting a call to AA at the very end of the season. As with every young minor league player, he needs to walk a little more and strike out a little less, but he’s absolutely got the powern and defensive chops to be a routine all-star at short.
2. Albert Almora, CF
Almora garners the “best hitter for average” and “best defensive OF” awards from BA as well, which is pretty interesting to note. A line of .347/.363/.480 in rookie ball isn’t awe-inspiring: he walked 2 times in 80 PA. Generally, players that don’t walk in rookie ball just don’t need to (they are crushing all of the pitches that are in the zone because players at this level are usually not any good). There’s probably some truth to that here: Almora struck out only 8 times in 80 PA, so he wasn’t overmatched. He just wasn’t demolishing the league. An .843 OPS in rookie ball doesn’t scream “huge success,” and he was outperformed in that league by Vogelbach and even Justin Marra (who is a real sleeper prospect). The tools are really there, but Almora seems like he’s got a decent flame-out chance, though he could still be a huge bust and end up bouncing around due to his ability to play the OF and run. I’ll feel a lot better if Almora proves he can either take a walk or get some more XBH next year, which he totally can. Almora should start the season in A, and probably end it there too, with a late promotion to A+ if the season goes swimmingly.
3. Jorge Soler
Soler wasn’t the top power prospect in the system this year (Vogelbach might be in the discussion for top in all of the minors), but Soler is a legit threat to hit 35-40 HR in the big league. He had pretty good plate discipline in 2012, but only 5 HR in 149 PA. It’s a small sample size, to be sure. There isn’t enough American professional data on him to be certain of anything (same with Almora, to be fair), but Soler has the tools commensurate with a Top 50 player on I could easily see him sitting at 40-60 in baseball. He’ll start the year at A, maybe A+, but he’ll be aggresively promoted this year until he reaches a level he can’t hit (I bet AA). I’d be loathe to start him in AA but would have no problem with A+, I guess.
4. Arodys Vizcaino
Jim Callis is really bullish on Vizcaino being a starter, apparently. If Vizcaino was 100% certain to start, I could get behind this (and he’d actually probably be the #2 prospect on the team). To give you an idea of how high Callis is on this guy, Jim has Vizcaino as the best fastball AND best curveball in the system. Having two plus pitches is quite the accomplishment. His minor-league peripherals indicate he’s got as good a chance as any to be a dominant, front-end starter, except for the TJS he had last year (March 20). If his future is as a starter (and I think it is), he’s got a chance to be really good. It’s also important to note that his age-22 season is still this year. He doesn’t necessarily have to make it to the big-league for a few years to still be a well-regarded prospect (though if he doesn’t have it by 2015, he’s probably cooked). He’ll probably spend this year rehabbing through the low minors, with a call-up to the majors when/if we’re well out of it in September.
5. Brett Jackson
I think this is a little high (though I think I’m higher on Jackson than many Cubs fans). Jackson can be a productive player in the big leagues, and probably even start without getting much better. I think there’s almost no chance he’ll ever be a star in the league (his contact is just too poor, he’ll strikeout way too much), but strikeouts aren’t nearly as bad as people think they are and he can still hit for average and power (fun fact: he had a higher OBP last year than Darwin Barney despite hitting .175). Jackson is probably going to be an average to below-average MLB regular, which has some value. I don’t think that he should be ahead of a few guys on this list, though. He’ll start the season at AAA but will come to the majors in short order.
6. Pierce Johnson
Johnson was the second 1st round pick the Cubs had (Duane Underwood was the third) in last year’s draft. He basically didn’t throw last year, so this is all projection. He’s had injury problems in college (great) but apparently has nice heat (92-94) and a curve/change as well. We’ll see.
7. Dan Vogelbach
I thought this was pretty low. Vogelbach is absolutely a prospect in the majors, even if he can’t field. Vogelbach had the 6th highest wOBA last year, IN THE ENTIRE MINOR LEAGUES. 2 people ahead of him were 33 and 32 in Mexican Leagues; they don’t count. His ISO power numbers last year were 2nd in the entire minors: only Joey Gallo hit for more power. Vogelbach is one of 5 or 10 best hitting prospects in baseball, no question. There’s incredible value in that, even if he’s only a DH. He’ll get every chance to play 1B whatever level he’s at (A to start this year, most likely), and if he hits anywhere near what he did last season I wouldn’t be surprised if he was knocking down the door in 2014.
8. Jeimer Candelario
I’m pretty low on Candelario. He’s another high-projection guy who already has whispers of being a 1B, which means he’s going to have hit like crazy to be successful. Maybe he grows into his frame and starts mashing the ball. I’m betting he doesn’t (and there are whispers of poor effort, too). It is cool that’s he’s a switch hitter, though.
9. Kyuji Fujikawa
This is just Jim Callis getting cute.
10. Arismendy Alcantara
Already injured, poor plate discipline, relatively low power, “toolsy” SS. I don’t know, maybe there’s something I’m not seeing (switch-handedness), but a guy who has had 4 years of minor league instruction but STILL lacks some plate discipline just seems like a stretch to me. I’d be glad to proven wrong.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a lot better than last year. I guess I just expected guys like Dillon Maples or or Juan Paniagua or Christian Villanueva on this list. I guess it’s a good thing they aren’t, but I feel like the bottom of this list just isn’t all that great. Either they are better than I think or the guys I like are worse.