Cubs Prospects on the Decline

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.Myles

Stats are current through Wednesday's games

3. Gioskar Amaya: I was probably a little higher on Amaya entering this season than a lot of people, but even if I used MLB.com's 18th ranked prospect in the Cubs system, Amaya has fallen. He hit 8 home runs last year in short-season Boise, led the league in triples, and he added 6 more doubles. He slugged .498, which gave him an ISO near .200. His OBP was nearly 100 points higher than his average. For a 2nd baseman, these numbers were impressive.

So I've been more than a little disappointed with Amaya's results in 2013. Promoted to full season A ball at Kane County, he's been terrible. His walk rate has been cut in half (down below 6%) and his strikeout rate increased to nearly 25%. He hasn't yet hit a home run and has 9 extra base hits. He's hit .237/.280/.321, which is good for a 71 wRC+.

There's still plenty of time for Amaya to improve these numbers, but it's going to be difficult to have season ending numbers that look that impressive. He was rated near the bottom of the lists by the prospect analysts and is likely to drop off at this point.

2. Marco Hernandez: what was supposed to be a fantastic Cougars infield that boasted a legitimate prospect at every position has turned out to be disastrous. Hernandez struggled last year when he was promoted to A ball. His average was down, OBP down and slugging down. That's all true this year. He did have a couple nice games yesterday and that's not reflected in the stats.

His walk rate is horrendous. It's below 3%. In 280 A ball plate appearances he has a total of 12 extra base hits. He is only 20 years old and plays a premium position, but this guy has shown little skill beyond the ability to play SS.

Dave and I had Hernandez near the bottom of our list of prospects. I'm comfortable in knocking him down further at this point and depending on whether or not he shows much improvement the rest of the way, off the list entirely. The Draft is coming up next month so there will be two or three players that will sneak in above him and potentially pushing off.

1. Javier Baez. You knew it would be Baez. Baez currently has an ISO of .224, which is very good. It's allowed him to be productive enough so that his wRC+ is essentially league average (98). Doesn't sound so bad. It is bad.

Last year when he hit .188/.224/.400 (.288 wOBA, 76 wRC+) at Daytona in 88 plate appearances, you could point to him getting adjusted to the league, his .200 BABIP or highlight his .213 ISO and say things were going to be all good. The ISO is basically the same and, predictably, his BABIP has increased to .292. He's hitting just .238/.271/.462.

He's walking less than ever before and Baez was never one to take a lot of pitches. His walk rate is down to 3.2% and his strikeout rate has jumped to 29.0%. That's higher than Brett Jackson at the same level. Most of his strikeout rates are higher than Jackson's at the same levels. The difference between the two being that Jackson was very good at getting on base via the walk. Baez is not. He's flat out terrible at taking walks.

Prior to High A, Baez had 235 plate appearances in A ball. He hit .333/.383/.596. Those are ridiculous numbers for someone his age. In 241 A+ plate appearances, he's hit .220/.261/.439. Much of Baez's rankings have been based on the 235 A-ball plate appearances, but he now has nearly as many in A+ as he had before. Baez also had 18 plate appearances in rookie ball and A-.

Baez just hasn't been very good at all since getting to Daytona. I think anybody would agree that a .260ish OBP isn't going to cut it.

There are a handful of FSL players with 3 or 4 walks on the year. Baez has 5. He has the 3rd most strikeouts. He has the 26th lowest batting average this year. He has the 10th lowest OBP. Of the 7 FSL players with a lower walk rate, only 3 of them have a strikeout rate above 18.4%.

To make things even worse, Baez has made 14 errors this year in 35 games played. He stole 25 bases in his 253 pre-High A plate appearances. He's stolen 7 in Daytona.

One of the things that was actually impressive about Baez prior to Daytona was that he had been hit by 11 pitches. He wasn't afraid to stand in the box and take his base. He was afraid to not swing the bat, but that's another story. He's been hit 4 times in as many PA since he got to Daytona. It's almost like the pitchers with better control got promoted.

Baez is still just 20 years old and still has a lot of potential, but he's not the best prospect in the system anymore. Jorge Soler has taken that from him. Albert Almora may soon move ahead of him and if Dan Vogelbach's power returns, I'd put him above him too. Depending on how the rest of the season goes, it's also possible that the 1st round pick is ranked above him. We could see Baez fall down to 5th or even lower. If he doesn't improve the rest of the way, it will be lower.

I talked about this with Josh Vitters for years. You have to take walks. You have to take some. Vitters walk rate was quite low in the minors, but his walk rate is quite a bit higher than Baez's was. I'd be happy to see one improvement from him the rest of the year: patience. He has no chance to be a good MLB player walking as little as he does. He certainly has some power and could be a pinch hit specialist, but that's about it. He has to be more selective and if we see him improve at that, things suddenly look a lot better.

I guess the problem with that might be an even higher strikeout rate, which would seem difficult to do. If he's working deeper counts, he will strikeout more. Scary.

Honorable mention: Brett Jackson, Christian Villanueva

Brett Jackson's walk rate has declined 3 years in a row now. It stands at 8.7% through Wednesday. His strikeout rate has declined from over 33% to below 27%, but that's still bad. Along with the loss of strikeouts, though, his power has declined considerably. Jackson is capable of going on a tear and posting even better AAA numbers than a year ago, but he's quickly becoming an afterthought.

The Cubs working with him to cut down on his strikeouts by altering his mechanics is something I've always disliked. Sometimes it has great results, but it seems to me that more often it's the opposite. Brett Jackson was always a guy who struckout a lot and walked a lot. When he put the ball in play he'd hit it hard. He was productive. Very productive. What's wrong with that?

I understand it's the organizations obligation to help a player as much as possible, but sometimes I think they tinker too much. This might be an example because it seemed as soon as Dale Sveum talked about Jackson needing to make changes this time last year, shit got worse for Jackson. Maybe that's just a coincidence. I don't know.

Christian Villanueva's walk rate is back down to 7%, which is about what it was before the Cubs acquired him last year. His strikeout rate has jumped to 24% or more since joining the Cubs. He's reportedly quite gifted with the glove, but these numbers, along with a lack of power, aren't going to work at 3rd base.

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