Cubs Prospect Monthly Review: Rising May 2013

Before this season, both dmick/Uncle Dave and I made our prospect lists. These aren't the only prospects in the Cubs system, but they are nearly all the ones worth talking about. I might have missed a prospect here or there, but it's a good jumping off point. The list of the first 21 is right here:

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

Starting this month, dmick89 and I are going to cover which prospect we think are rising and falling. We'll focus on 3 or 4 guys, and list any honorable mentions we might have. Keep in mind, this is only for actually prospects; Brian Bogusevic is tearing up AAA but that's not as important as Jorge Soler tearing up A+ ball.

Honorable Mention

Pierce Johnson: Pierce has flashed a nice (K-BB)/PA this season. I'm excited to see what he can do as he grows up and fills out (6-3/175); the strikeouts have always been there (10.75 K/9 junior year of college) and if he can add some to his frame he could project at the middle of a rotation.

Dan Vogelbach: It's slightly dicey to include Vogelbach here, because he's not at the same level he was last year. A line of .292/.363/.438 isn't that impressive, and I understand that. What is impressive, though, is that his walk rate has stayed relatively the same (11.1%) and his K rate has actually plummeted (12.4%). He's not being overmatched in the slightest, the hits just aren't falling in and his power has decreased for one reason or another. That power is going to return, have no doubt. When it does, his line is going to closely resemble the one he had last year.

PA HR BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ 1B 2B 3B BB SO
168 10 13.70% 20.20% 0.287 0.364 0.322 0.423 0.608 0.469 189 26 9 1 23 34
153 5 11.10% 12.40% 0.15 0.295 0.286 0.359 0.436 0.366 126 28 5 0 17 19

Vogelbach has also more-or-less erased concerns about his ability to stick at 1B, and has even stolen 3 bases (I can't speak to the quality of those SBs, but they still exist). 

Bottom line is this: power fluctuates pretty wildly, and sometimes it takes a whole season to average out. I seriously doubt that Vogelbach is going to ISO in the middle 100s the rest of the year (he sits exactly at .150 right now). That's the only thing separating him this year from last – and the fact that he hasn't let that affect is PAs and actually improve on his walks is impressive, regardless of his slash line.

Logan Watkins: Watkins is ready to contribute at the MLB level, in my opinion. His line is deceiving at first (.236/.382/.398), but it's actually pretty impressive. He gets on base around 40% of the time, and his ISO is greater than Vogelbach's this year. There's nothing inherently wrong with that; his only issue would be his inability to effectively move runners (he doesn't put the ball in play very often). 

There's a stigma associated with low batting averages that sometimes obscure your valuation of a player, and with Watkins it's pretty telling. His power increases slightly every year, and he's reached base at the same high level throughout the majors; his batting average is depressed only because he takes so many walks (and the associated strikeouts from working deep in counts). Turn half of his walks into singles, and his line becomes .314/.382/.460, which looks a lot better but really isn't by much.

There's a concern that Logan might get outmatched at AAA but that concern is fading for me. He's showing enough power to make pitchers respect him, so I'm not worried about a Campana problem. He also has shown an ability to take a walk so he isn't going to face a Vitters problem. He works deep in counts, but I am afraid that his ability to do so won't be as strong because it's harder to make contact at this level in general, so he's not going to have as strong a chance to extend plate appearances.

#3

Kyle Hendricks: I really like Hendricks' game. He just doesn't issue free passes and doesn't give up home runs. Usually when you say that, you're looking at a groundball guy that doesn't strike many out. However, Hendricks has a little more swing-and-miss in his game than you're typical pitch-to-contact guy. This year, he's fanned 20.5% of his batters while walking 5.8%. That's a strong Joe Blanton comp; that sounds like an insult but it's not. Besides Blanton being unlucky, that's an indication that Hendricks' game can probably be slotted in for a #3-#4 spot if he keeps developing. I'm not saying Hendricks can stay at those peripherals in the majors (though that's not out of the realm of possibility), but if he does he's in some pretty nice company; Jered Weaver, Hiroki Kuroda, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann, and Mike Minor all had similar K/9 and BB/9 ratios last year. 

When the Cubs finally traded Dempster last year, Christian Villanueva was considered the better prospect in the deal. I think we can put that idea to rest at this point. Hendricks could sniff the bottom of the top-10 in a redone list. I don't think his ceiling is very high but his floor is pretty high too. He also has the arsenal of pitches that could stand up in the majors (a 4 and 2 seam fastball, change, curve, slider, and a cutter that he toys with – he'll almost certainly drop a pitch or two that won't play up in the majors). 

One last thing: in his first start this year (April 7), Hendricks allowed a 3-run blast to Donald Lutz in the 5th inning. He hasn't allowed a home run since.

#2 

Rock Shoulders: His line is the strongest among all prospects in our system. He carries a .316/.401/.571 slash brought on by a 12.5% walk rate. He has 8 home runs and a mid-200s ISO. What's not to like?

Unfortunately, there are some warts to his game. He strikes out in roughly 1/4 of his plate appearances. It's really hard to be overly productive when you can't make good contact, and Shoulders doesn't. When he does make contact, they are falling in for hits almost 2/5 of the time. That's bound to decrease at some point, especially given Shoulders' "limited" speed. It's easier for hitters that are too advanced for a league to put up gaudy BABIP (the BABIP against me in A ball would be around .800 or so), but rest assured Shoulders isn't that caliber of hitter yet (at least not in the MLB).

On the plus side, Shoulders has played in left field. That's a major hurdle for him to clear if he wants to play on the Cubs; he's outclassed by Vogelbach in the minors and Rizzo isn't likely going anywhere (though a lot can happen in the 3 years until Shoulders *might* be ready to play in the big leagues. Until then, it'll be imperative for Shoulders to work on making himself a tougher out; I'd like to see that K% sit below 20% if at all possible. 

#1

Jorge Soler: How could it NOT be Soler? He's the proud owner of a .262/.345/.505 line in the pitcher-friendly FSL. He's 16th in the FSL in wOBA, and most of the players above him are much older or are also pretty formidable prospects. He had a rough week or so, but on the whole he's been everything you could expect and more. His walk rate is 10.9%, so a lot of my concerns about Soler's game (patience, acclimating to the minor leagues) have eroded. His OBP has dropped 50 points but his SLG has only dropped by about 10; both can be explained with a precipitous drop in BABIP. I'm not sure where his true rate might lie, but even if it settled where it is (.272) he'd be a productive player. It'd be nice to see what he can do mid-June during a promotion to AA. 

The only disappointment with Soler this year was his fight or whatever. I wasn't there and it sounds like it was very overstated from where it was first reported; still, not a shining moment for a new prospect. His strikeouts have also increased slightly over last year. That's to be expected when you climb your 3rd level in 2 years. 

There you have it. No one prospect really took a leap forward, but at least these half-dozen have acquitted themselves well. Look tomorrow for dmick's sister article!

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