2013 Cubs Prospects Ratings

A little over 2 weeks ago, I wrote an article with Uncle Dave's help about a different way to rate prospects. Dave got the idea from Hockey's Future.

Dave's explanations of what each number grade (ceiling) represented was so awesome that I used it word for word. I did want to clarify something on the letter grades (floor). An A represents a player who could lose a grade off of his ceiling. A player with a 9 could become an 8. Nobody has a 100% chance of reaching their ceiling and even few people will have an A. Each other letter grade is another number the player could drop. A 7D could end up at a 3.

The ratings below are for the 15 positional prospects that Myles wrote about, along with 6 pitching prospects. There is a way to take these ratings and create a rankings, which we'll get to at the end, but for now, the list below does not represent a ranking of the prospects.

Dave and I each wrote about the player in our correspondence. I'm going to try and pick and choose parts of each of our comments to include with the players. if you don't like something that was said, it was probably Uncle Dave who said it.

2013 Cubs Prospects: Position Players

Javier Baez: 9F. His tools scream superstar potential, though his upside rating takes a .5 to 1 point hit if he's shifted over to third. To this point, patience has been the only thing holding him back from being a top 10 prospect. So far, it's terrible, but he's young and there's plenty of time to fix it. If he does, a switch to 3rd won't much matter, which is probably inevitable with Starlin Castro at SS anyway. He's still young enough that he could wind up a AAAA guy if everything goes wrong. His performance this year will go a long way in putting a finer focus on his evaluations.

Albert Almora: 8E. Unusual for a player so young to get an E, but his makeup and defense make it a very good bet that he hits the bigs at some point, even if it's as the next incarnation of Bobby Scales. Tools are a bit short for an elite prospect. He only has 145 professional plate appearances and has yet to play in a full season league. He'll go to Kane County this year, but right now he's a guy who's an all around good talent, but has done little to nothing.

Jorge Soler: 9F. Tools and potential are a bit below Baez given his defensive position but his absolute upside is a guy who hits .300 with 40 HR most years, which puts him in the 'perennial all-star' conversation. He has more power potential, speed and raw athleticism than anyone else in the farm system except for the next guy on the list (the power part). Maybe even the entire organization, MLB included. Again, he's at a pretty critical juncture that could see his letter rating improve significantly by the end of the year, or his number rating drop. Due to the small sample and low levels he's performed at, he still has a long way to go and can therefore drop considerably. It would be easy to rate Soler higher than Baez, but the fact that Baez can play SS gives him the edge.

Dan Vogelbach: 8.5E. I'm giving him a better letter grade than Soler due to his approach and his outlier power. Vogelbach's power potential is off the charts and he's shown great plate discipline too. It's tough to give a guy who hasn't gotten past Boise that good of a letter, but at the same time, it's tough for me to envision that Vogelbach has a floor lower than Brad Nelson, who I think is a pretty solid 3.5 now that the dust has settled.

Brett Jackson: 7C. He could still sniff Mike Cameron's career arc, and even if he doesn't I think he's all but sure to catch on as a fifth OF for someone as long as he's cost controlled. He had his worst season at AAA, but still had a 107 wRC+. Even in his worst minor league season, he was a better than average hitter and played a premium position. He'll have to cut down on the strikeouts, but this is still a guy who has fringe all-star potential. ZiPS has him at 2.5 fWAR this season and Oliver at 1.9 fWAR. His strikeouts prevent him from being an elite talent, but Jackson still has an MLB career ahead of him.

Gioskar Amaya: 8F. Could wind up as an 8.5 with another year under his belt by dint of playing a middle infield position. He's shifted from SS to 2nd, plays above average defense, but without outlier tools it's tough to consider him a sure-fire bet to hit the bigs at his age.

Arismendy Alcantara: 7.5E. That optimistic upside rating is based on his developing power and playing SS. Could be lower. Letter grade is a shade better than those above him due to his experience at the mid-minors level and lower ceiling. The numbers aren't eye-popping or anything, but he was in the middle of a really good year in a pitcher's league before getting injured. If the improvement from last year is real, he's more of a sure thing than Amaya. The potential is there as he showed more power a year ago, but we'll know more this year.

Jeimer Candelario: 6D. Does not seem like he has all-star upside (for the sake of comparison, he has 6 HR in 310 PA at A-, and Vogelbach hit 10 in 168). Candelario just finished his age 18 season and he played the entire season from July until the end in Boise. He has age on his side, but right now the numbers just don't support someone who is going to be able to hit like a traditional 3rd baseman.

Logan Watkins: 6C. As with Jackson, looks a good bet to catch on as a utilityman somewhere. Upside of blossoming into Jose Hernandez with less bat and more glove not particularly inspiring, though. Another decent comp might be Todd Walker than was mentioned in the comments here recently. He has plate discipline, bats left handed and plays up the middle, which are all the reasons why he's likely to play at the MLB level for at least a few years.

Dave Sappelt: 5.5C. Can play CF, and if the on-base skills he showed in a small number of ABs in 2012 are real, he could be useful. If he hits like he did at Iowa last year, he will not be useful. He has a passable walk rate and a low strikeout rate. He also wins the award for looking like the smallest player I had ever seen on tv during an Iowa Cubs game. From a distance, he looked his size could match that of any 12 year old in Des Moines.

Marco Hernandez: 6.5E. Has shown flashes of gap power but has a long way to develop. Apparent ability to stick at SS makes him a legit top-list prospect until he completely stops hitting. His BABIP has been high in the low minors and at A ball he was exposed for his free swinging ways. His strikeout rate went through the roof and only had an OK walk rate.

Christian Villanueva: 6.5D. Consistent power and on-base skills promising in the low minors, though he's not been young at any stop. Needs to show an upward arc this year to justify his upside rating, perhaps by improving his hit tool or making the climb to being a 25 HR-type of guy. He reminds me a bit of Placido Polanco in that he might end up an underrated 3rd baseman. I wouldn't be too terribly surprised to see Villanueva at 3rd in 2014 and Logan Watkins at 2nd base.
 Also in his favor, he was not blindsided by being traded for Ryan Dempster.

Junior Lake: 7E. Gap power and speed combo could play well if all goes right, especially if he sticks at SS. The fact that his best OBP to date has been .341 when repeating AA is a bit scary, though. If he doesn't take advantage of the PCL this year, there's a chance he washes out completely. You don't like seeing these sort of questions linger this long. Could be deserving a better letter grade due to his defense at SS. It's reportedly been MLB caliber for a couple years and guys who play good defense at SS, end up having at least a short career.

Matt Szczur: 5B. Has only performed well when old and repeating a level. His upside is limited by his age, though if he can add a bit more power and show the top end of his on-base skills he could be a useful regular. He'll never be a star, but his discipline improved last year. He struggled at AA and that's where he'll begin 2013. Makeup and glove make him a good bet to catch on as a fifth OF somewhere.

Josh Vitters: 4.5B. Last two years at age-appropriate stops in the minors were acceptable, though his value vanishes if he can't stick at 3B. Has already established value as a AAAA guy, so his floor is relatively high at this point. At the very least, Vitters will stick around the upper minors for awhile and maybe catch on at the MLB level from time to time with various teams.

2013 Cubs Prospects: Pitchers

The Cubs have 6 pitchers in their system that belong in the discussion with these 15 players. Unfortunately for the Cubs, most of them have very little professional experience, some of them have significant injury concerns above what you'd expect from any pitcher and they're mostly a very long way from reaching the big leagues.

Pitchers are harder to rate and/or rank than position players. Pitchers have a tendency to get injured. Injuries often don't heal completely and even prevent players from improving. Some of the times, they just get worse. Years ago, Baseball Prospectus came up with TINSTAAPP (there is no such thing as a pitching prospect).

Myself, and most others, even at BPro these days, would disagree with that, but it started for a reason: young pitchers are very difficult to project.

Dave and I ignored the inherit injury risk for pitchers with the exceptions of those who have already experienced them. If you didn't ignore this, almost all pitchers would receive a very low ceiling. This doesn't help us in terms of ratings the prospects. We can accept the reality that pitchers face while also sometimes ignoring that risk.

Arodys Vizcaino: 8F. There's a lot to like here, with two plus pitches and what appears to be pretty good control. It's pretty easy to imagine him being a classic front-end power pitcher. He's still young, throws hard and has been very impressive at the minor league level. His K-BB% was outstanding in the minor leagues and definitely indicates someone who could be a front of the rotation starter. However, he's recovering from TJS and we will need to monitor his recovery. Persistent arm trouble could keep him out of the bigs. We'll keep our fingers crossed on this one.

Dillon Maples: 8G. Second verse, same as the first, little bit louder and even though Maples appears to have a similar skillset as Vizcaino, a little bit worse. Hard throwing righty with a great curveball, signed in 2011 and has all of 10.1 professional innings to his name. Scouts haven't been too impressed with his mechanics and while 10.1 innings is nothing, he hasn't impressed them with his control. Still has the potential to be a front of the rotation starter, or a number 2, depending on which scout you read. Injury troubles this early are never a good sign. Also, he gets demerits for claiming on Twitter that the USA has the best national anthem in the world, which shows disturbing lack of judgement (or at least bad taste in music). Very low floor due to early injury history.

Duane Underwood: 8G. Another very live arm, but unsurprisingly lacks polish given his debut age last year was just 17. Among all the potential starters, he probably throws harder than any of them. He could get a bump in upside over Maples due to his easy velocity (said to hit 97 in live action) at such a young age, but there are a lot of questions with pitchers of this age. Won't really have a good feel for what he might be able to do until he has a couple of years under his belt. Could have 3 plus pitches, but all of them need work.

Pierce Johnson: 6D. Forearm troubles his junior year at Missouri State kept him out of the first round of the draft. The Cubs selected him with their first pick of the 2nd day. Showcases a good curveball and is fairly polished after three years at the University of Missouri. Ceiling isn't quite as high as some others on this list but I'd expect him to move up relatively quickly (could be in the high minors next year if all breaks right). He sits 90-92 and reaches 96. He only has 11 professional innings, but has good command and can strike some batters out. ETA is much sooner than the previous two pitchers.

Paul Blackburn: 7F. Throws fairly hard considering his age and stature, said to have good mechanics. His potential to physically mature gives him a slightly higher upside than we saw with Johnson. Still a long way off, so it will be a while before we can really refine this grade. Everything with Blackburn is projectability at this point. Scouts are hopeful his velocity ticks up some, which it should. They like his mound presence and polish. They think he could eventually have 3 plus pitches. Key word, eventually. The Cubs liked Blackburn a lot and he's more polished than Maples and Underwood so he could move more quickly through the system.

Juan Paniagua: 6E. Big arm, but unusually thin resume for his age. My sense is that he's basically the same developmentally as a first-year high school draftee, but he's 23 (supposedly). That makes it tough to imagine him as anything more than a bullpen arm or back-end starter as he just has too much to figure out. Raw talent requires giving him a fair upside rating, though. MLB lists his age as undetermined. According to documents, which can't possibly be trusted considering it's his third official document, he'll be 23 in less than a week and has a very long way to go. The Cubs signed him for $1.5 million so they really liked what they saw. He's currently having Visa issues and hasn't arrived in the US yet, which will only further delay what we know about him.

What if we wanted to combine the upside and floor so we could rank the players? This isn't something I'm particularly interested in. One of the reasons why I like this system so much is that it gets away from ranking and puts more focus on something that I think is more useful to us. Whether a guy is ranked 1st, 2nd or 3rd really doesn't tell us much about the player.

People do enjoy their rankings so we can use the upside and floor to create them in a more objective manner. Multiply the upside by 10 and subtract 5 from each letter below A. So a 5B player would be 45. Here they are.

Javier Baez 65
Jorge Soler 65
Dan Vogelbach 65
Albert Almora 60
Brett Jackson 60
Gioskar Amaya 55
Arismendy Alcantara 55
Arodys Vizcaino 55
Logan Watkins 50
Christian Villanueva 50
Junior Lake 50
Dillon Maples 50
Duane Underwood 50
Jeimer Candelario 45
Dave Sappelt 45
Marco Hernadez 45
Matt Szczur 45
Pierce Johnson 45
Paul Blackburn 45
Josh Vitters 40
Juan Paniagua 40

I'd like to thank Dave for being a tremendous help in understanding these ratings, helping me write this and for allowing me to waste so much of his time. It's at least his work as much as mine. Much thanks goes to Hockey's Future for the idea.

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