Midseason look at the Cubs top prospects, part 1

I figured now was a good time to post something about the Cubs top prospects since it’s past the midway point in the full minor league seasons. The short-season teams just got under way. I’m using Sickel’s top 20. I’m breaking this into three parts. I’ll cover 11-20 here and then 1-10 while the final part will focus on players not ranked, but deserving of being discussed for one reason or another. It could be a draft pick from this season. Could just be a breakout season or something. Here we go.

20) Welington Castillo, C, Grade C: Very effective against runners, has some power, but on-base skills are sketchy.

He was injured early on and spent some time on a rehab in Daytona, which didn’t go particularly well. Since returning to Iowa all he’s done is hit. His triple slash line in just over 150 plate appearances at Iowa is .316/.386/.618. Yeah, a .302 ISO. The park-adjusted wOBA is .437, which is 20% better than league average (120 wRC+). He got 13 plate appearances with the Cubs when Geovany Soto was injured and had only 2 hits. Before you start going all crazy and stuff, he was a .344 wOBA hitter last season at Iowa and .292 the year before in Tennessee. He’s good enough to be a back-up. That’s especially true when the current back-up is Koyie Hill. John Guab would be an adequate back-up catcher when Hill is on the roster and Gaub is a left-handed reliever.

Castillo is still just 24 years old and doesn’t turn 25 until next April. That’s relatively young for a catcher. It’s hard to believe he won’t be the back-up next season, but I said the same thing last year. He’s definitely improved on his Grade C rating, but he has been in AAA for awhile.

19) Ben Wells, RHP, Grade C: Hasn’t pitched  yet, but seventh round pick from Arkansas high school has potential as a hard-throwing starter.

Wells scouting report at the time he was drafted by Baseball America said this about him:

Ben Wells pitched at 84-87 mph most of his amateur career, but by the end of this spring he was throwing 90-94 mph and pitching a five-inning perfect game in the state 7-A championship game. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound righthander has a good feel for pitching, too, as he pounds the strike zone with a three-pitch mix that also includes a hard slider and splitter. He committed to Crowder (Mo.) JC and now is drawing attention from Southeastern Conference schools. Wells has the size and stuff to go in the first five rounds of the draft, though he may not have been scouted extensively enough to go that high.

Wells just joined the Boise Hawks when their season opened and he’s made 3 appearances, 2 of which were starts. He’s allowed 15 hits in 13.2 innings and walked 5 while striking out 11. Way too early to evaluate anything he’s done this season so we’ll leave it at that.

18) Jin-Yeong Kim, RHP, Grade C+: Will he be worth the big bonus?

Like Wells, Kim is at Boise and has also made 3 appearances and 2 starts. In 8.2 innings, he’s allowed 11 hits, walked 7 and struckout 3.

17) Austin Kirk, LHP, Grade C+: Breakthrough candidate for 2011.

The left-handed starter was a 3rd pick out of high school for the Cubs in 2009. So far, he has had a breakout season this year. In 84.1 innings, he’s allowed only 63 hits, walked only 20 and has struckout 72. At Peoria all season, he’s gotten roughed up in his last 3 starts, which have totaled 14 innings, 20 hits, 13 runs allowed, 5 walks and 12 strikeouts. His tRA has been 4.25, which is good for a 108 tRA+.

Kirk made the Midwest League All-Star team this year.

16) Su-Min Jung, RHP, Grade C+: Wasn’t great at Peoria, but I think he can get better faster than people anticipate.

The 6-2 righty turned 22 on April 1st. He hasn’t gotten any better either. He’s gotten worse. Last season he struckout 79 in 89 innings and walked 39. This year he has walked 20 and struckout 19 in 39.2 innings. He has a 5.40 tRA as a starter and it’s close to 8.00 as a reliever.

15) Brooks Raley, LHP, Grade C+: Was very effective in the second half.

Raley isn’t a strikeout pitcher. Last year he struckout 97 in in 136.1 innings at Daytona. This year at Tennessee he’s struckout 46 in 80 innings. If you’re not going to strikeout a lot of batters, you need to have really good control. Raley’s isn’t terrible by any means, but last year he walked 43 and this year he’s already close to that. He’s not striking out enough batters at the moment to be considered a serious candidate for the rotation in the future. He turned 23 a few days ago so it’s likely any future for Raley is as a reliever and possibly just a LOOGY.

14) Brett Wallach, RHP, Grade C+: Another one (live arm, needs polish).

The Cubs acquired Wallach when they traded Ted Lilly to the Dodgers last year. He was unimpressive in his 7 starts in the organization at Peoria last season and has been equally unimpressive this year in terms of runs allowed. He does have a pretty good tRA, which is 9% better than average in the Southern League. He does have a 5.58 ERA. He doesn’t turn 23 until December so they may as well leave him as a starter for now and see if he can reduce the hits allowed.

13) Rafael Dolis, RHP, Grade C+: Another guy in the live arm/needs polish brigade.

Dolis made 4 starts this season before moving into the bullpen full time. I thought it was a little strange at the time, but it’s proven a decent move. His numbers as a reliever aren’t all that impressive. He has just 34 strikeouts and 19 walks in 47.1 innings. He’s also allowed 45 hits. He turns 24 next January and is currently on the Cubs 40-man roster. Unless his numbers improve in the second half of the season, he’s a good candidate to be taken off the roster.

12) D.J LeMahieu, INF, Grade C+: I think people are a bit too down on him; he could surprise this year.

Ryno and I nearly killed each other over this draft pick in 2009. The Cubs used their second selection in 2009 to draft LeMahieu. Ryno wasn’t too impressed with the first pick, Brett Jackson. I was thrilled with that one and saw some upside in LeMahiue considering his young age at the time of the draft and being a college player.

Although he has no power at all, he’s still been a good hitter since the Cubs drafted him. His park-adjusted wOBA in 2009 was .356. It was .345 in 2010 at Daytona and then this season he hit everything in sight. Prior to his big league promotion, he had a .399 wOBA at AA. He rarely played for the Cubs and was recently sent to Iowa. He doesn’t take many walks and has lived on a particularly high BABIP most of his professional career. It’s worked so far for him in the minors, but it’s likely he’s going to have to become more selective or add some power in order to continue posting the quality batting lines he has so far. He turns 23 in 11 days. It’s too bad he couldn’t stick at SS. He’s played 2nd and 3rd this season in the minors. Total Zone and UZR really liked his defense in the very small sample he had at the big league level. It’s likely he’s a very good fielder at either position considering he was once a SS.

11) Marquez Smith, 3B, Grade C+: Not young, but ready to help at the major league level and can catch people off-guard.

I was stunned last year when the Cubs did not add Smith to their 40-man roster. All he did last year at Iowa was post a .416 park-adjusted wOBA. He’s not your ideal 3rd baseman in that he doesn’t have a lot of power, but he’s a terrific fielder and makes up for his lack of power. He was older than usual for a prospect, but that’s an impressive wOBA. He’s done it throughout his career, too. His wOBAs since he was drafted have been .424 (72 PA), .416 (357), .305 (146), .348 (55), .356 (450), .307 (52), .416 (342) and this year it’s .368 in 250 plate appearances. He can hit.

But apparently I’m the only one who thinks he can be a productive player at the big league level because the Cubs did not protect him and not one team took him in the Rule 5 Draft. So there’s obviously something I’m missing, which isn’t too surprising since I’ve not seen him play. There’s something in his game that scouts do not think is going to translate well to the next level. There has to be. I don’t know what it is, but it’s there.


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