Checking up on the Cubs top prospects

I have always wanted to write more about the minor leagues, but whenever I start to do so I have failed to keep it up. As a result, I’ve mostly stopped writing articles about minor league players unless it’s relevant to the big league team. I know there are at least a few of you who closely follow the Cubs minor league system and we’d be appreciative of the occasional post on Unobstructed Views about minor league performances. Any registered user has access to publish their own content. It doesn’t take a great deal of time for those of you who are paying attention. (click the link below to read more)

Anyway, I’m going to use Fangraphs top prospects list for the Cubs because they updated their list after the Cubs traded their farm system for Matt Garza. I am going to look at those players as well.

10. Austin Reed — As far as I know, Reed is in extended spring training and will probably join the Boise Hawks when their season kicks off in June.

9. Reggie Golden — same as Reed. This is easy so far. I should have been doing this every day.

8. Robinson Lopez — The Cubs acquired Lopez when they sent Derrek Lee to Atlanta. After coming over to the Cubs, Lopez threw only 10.1 innings and walked 9 batters. He also hit a batter and allowed 6 hits. His ERA was pretty good, but the FIP was not. This year his control has improved, but in 32 innings he’s allowed 32 hits, walked 14 and struckout just 15. He turned 20 in March so he’s still young enough that he could improve significantly, but the strikeout to walk ratio is not encouraging.

7. Hayden Simpson — The more than a little surprising first round draft pick in 2010 made his professional debut this season and he’s allowed 35 hits in 27 Low-A innings. He’s also allowed 4 home runs, walked 9 and struckout 22. Earlier this week Kevin Goldstein wrote that he didn’t top 90 mph in the start he saw and that he hasn’t done much of that this year. He’s generally sat in the mid to upper 80s. He did have mono last year after signing with the Cubs and reportedly lost 20 pounds. He’s yet to put all the weight back on. He wasn’t a big guy to begin with, but for a guy who pitched 92-93 and could hit 96 or 97, you’d expect better velocity than he’s shown so far. He’s gotten hit around by Low A hitter so far. The Cubs went cheap and saved about half a million dollars when they drafted him. The 3rd to 5th round talent would have been more than worth picking up then, but early returns aren’t impressive.

6. Rafael Dolis — He turned 22 in January, but I swear I’ve been reading and discussing this guy for the last decade. He didn’t play professional ball here in the United States until 2006 so I’m full of shit, but it does seem like he’s been around a lot longer than he has been. Dolis threw an impressive 71 innings in High A last year and was pretty good after his promotion to AA. You look for improvements when you’re sent back to get a little more work at that level, but Dolis has gone the other way. His walk rate is higher this year. His strikeout rate is lower. Even worse, he’s moved into the bullpen and still has posted worse rates than a year ago in AA. He’s gotten a lot of groundouts since moving into the bullpen. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him up sometime this season, but his 18 to 14 K to BB ratio will have to improve for that to happen.

5. Jay Jackson — Jackson’s last three starts have been horrific: 13.2 IP, 21 H, 9 BB, 7 K, 15 runs (all earned). When Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells went down a lot of people were calling for Jay Jackson to replace one of them. Jackson was coming off of injury and had made a couple decent starts. He’s probably not very good. In 25.1 innings, he’s struckout only 12. He’s also walked 11. The truth with Jackson is that as soon as his strikeouts declined from about 8+ to 6.5 he just didn’t have much of a chance. He’s a flyball pitcher too.

4. Josh Vitters — Vitters inability to be disciplined at the plate has finally caught up to him. There’s really not much else to say. His OBP is .277 and it’s not like that’s out of line with what he did a year ago at the same level (.292). I never understood the hype for Vitters. I don’t mind the Cubs picking him where they did. From all accounts, he was arguably the best hitter in the draft not named Matt Weiters, but as soon as we saw how he was as swing happy as any player we’ve ever seen, I lost interest. The reality is that if you have horrible patience in the minor leagues then you aren’t going to succeed at the big league level unless you are a gifted fielder or hit for a ton of power. Josh Vitters is neither. Each year I’m shocked at where people put him on their top 10 lists and each year these people act disappointed. Look at the stats, people!

3. Christopher Carpenter — Another one of the Cubs pitching prospects in the top 10 who has been moved to the bullpen is Carpenter. The hard throwing righty was always an injury risk, but had been somewhat effective as a starter in his minor league career. He probably didn’t have much of a future in any rotation so the Cubs moved him to the bullpen in AAA. In Carpenter’s 12 games he’s thrown 19 innings and allowed 19 hits and a couple home runs. He’s struckout 19, but walked 14. He’s been scored on in 5 of his last 6 appearances and 7 of his last 10. Overall he has a 4.74 ERA and an FIP that isn’t any better. 

2. Trey McNutt — He’s posted an impressive 2.55 ERA and 2.46 FIP, but he’s been on the 7-day DL twice this season because of blisters. He’s allowed 17 hits in 17.2 innings, walked 5 and struckout 14. He hasn’t pitched since May 1st. It’s hard to know how he’s done this year since he hasn’t been able to get consistent work on the mound. A few too many hits perhaps, but that’s partly luck. The strikeouts are down, but that could be because of the blisters. As mentioned, the ERA is 2.55 and that’s despite a BABIP of .359. McNutt has top of the rotation potential.

1. Brett Jackson — Jackson left the game on May 11th early after injuring his hand. He’s going to miss a week with a strained ligament in his pinkie. He’s hit .295/.420/.518 with a wOBA of .432. When Jackson returns he’s not long for AA. He doesn’t have much of anything to prove there and may not have anything to prove in the minor leagues at this point. He’s easily one of the three best outfielders in the organization (including the big league club) so when healthy and returned to action he should probably be in Chicago. He won’t be for awhile yet. To give you an idea how impressive Jackson is, consider his last 10 games. He’s struggled at the plate and posted a batting average of only .233 (7 hits in 30 at-bats). Despite the low average, his OBP is .410 and he’s slugged .467. Yeah, through the 10 games of struggling, he’s posted an OPS of .867. He’s also stolen 13 bases and been caught just twice. He does strikeout a lot (30 times), but he more than makes up for that with his all around tools. They always say that speed doesn’t slump and that’s mostly true, but speed is useless if you can’t get on base. Bret Jackson gets on base. A lot. He’s probably the only player the Cubs have developed since I’ve been paying close attention who gets on base as frequently as he does. If he can stay in CF, he has superstar talent.

All in all, the performance of these 8 isn’t impressive. One of the starters has been pretty bad while another has been less than impressive in his professional debut. Two of them have been moved to the bullpen (probably should have been done) and neither has pitched that well even in relief. Another has walked as many as he’s struckout. The only one who has really been any good has been on the DL twice. Then there’s the two position players and one of them has sucked. The other has been fantastic, but is currently out with an injury.

The Fangraphs list mentions that Chris Archer, Brandon Guyer and Hak-Ju Lee were all initially in the top 10, but were traded to the Rays along with Sam Fuld for Matt Garza. Archer was the centerpiece in the deal and he’s been pretty bad for the Rays AA team. Hak-Ju Lee has been on fire thanks to a .467 BABIP and Brandon Guyer reached the big leagues and hit a home run in his first major league at-bat. He’s also hit quite well in the minors too. Matt Garza has been outstanding in terms of FIP.

My initial thought was that the Cubs would regret trading Archer, but he has horrible control. Brandon Guyer is likely the guy they regret trading. He posted a .379 wOBA in 2008, .425 wOBA in 2010 and .418 so far this year. In 2009 he posted a .410 wOBA in High A over 300 plate appearances and then was awful over the 200 PA he got in AA (.238 wOBA). He’s been a damn good player for several years now.

Since this is an update of the minor leagues, it’s important to note the MLB Draft is coming up in a few weeks. The Cubs pick 9th and while I’m certain they’ll screw it up, it’s always fun to dream about who they may draft and what kind of player they may become. We’ll cover the draft here. Baseball America updated their mock draft today and they have the Cubs taking the following player:

9. CUBS: Starling has the highest ceiling in the draft, but he also comes with some risk and a high price tag (he has a football scholarship to play quarterback at Nebraska), so he might fall a little further than expected. Chicago isn’t afraid of risk or price tag, not if it means getting a five-tool center fielder. The Cubs have been checking out the same pitchers as everyone else, may like Meyer more than most clubs and also would consider Lindor.

Projected Pick: Bubba Starling.

Starlin also pitches in the mid 90s.

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