Midseason look at the Cubs top prospects, part 2

A few days ago we looked at Sickel’s Cubs prospects ranked 11-20 entering the season and how they’ve done so far. This time we’ll look at the top 10.

10) Alberto Cabrera, RHP, Grade C+: Another live arm that needs polish.

Cabrera made 9 starts for AA Tennessee and then was promoted to Iowa. I’m pretty sure the only reason he was promoted was because of all the injuries the Cubs have suffered and the I-Cubs needed a starting pitcher. At AA he threw 48.2 innings and allowed 60 hits. He struckout only 34 and walked 21.

In AAA he’s made 7 starts and thrown 34.1 innings. He hasn’t had any better luck either. Batters hit .308 against him in AA and they’re approaching .400 in AAA (.372). He’s allowed 54 hits, struckout 26 and walked 23.

He doens’t turn 23 until October, but I’m having trouble understanding why he’s ranked so high. He strikeout 90 and walk 26 in 93 innings in High A last year, but overall (A+/AA) he threw 136 innings, allowed 149 hits, struckout 125 and walked 50. These aren’t exactly numbers that jump out at you. He’s not difficult to hit. In 2009 he allowed 94 hits in 96.1 innings in Low A Peoria. In 2008, at Peoria, he allowed 55 hits in 52 innings. He doesn’t miss bats either. Between those two seasons in Low A, Cabrera threw nearly 150 innings and struckout 110. He walked 84. His command improved last seaosn, but it appears to have been a fluke.

His tRA+ was 97 at AAA and below 75 so far in AAA.

9) Austin Reed, RHP, Grade C+: Huge sleeper for 2011.

Drafted out of high school in California in 2010 (12th round) Baseball America didn’t have much on Reed, but they did say this:

Younger brother of San Diego State ace Addison Reed, Reed is a tall and physical righty who has battled mechanical and command issues all spring. Reed’s fastball sits in the high 80s and can peak at 90-91. He’s also committed to the Aztecs.

Reed threw 33.2 very good innings in Rookie League after signing for $150,000. Reed stayed behind at Extended Spring Training and then was sent to Boise when their season began a few weeks ago. So far he’s only thrown 16 innings, allowed 19 hits, struckout 9 and walked 9. Not a very good start, but he did quite well last season and doesn’t turn 20 until the last day of October.

8) Robinson Lopez, RHP, Grade C+: High-ceiling arm, needs refinement.

The Braves signed the then 17 year old Dominican in 2008 and then traded him to the Cubs last August along with Tyrelle Harris and Jeffrey Lorick. Harris and Lorick were mostly throw-ins while Lopez was a high ceiling pitcher. Unfortunately he has not yet put it all together. He walks too many, strikes out fewer than you’d like and has given up plenty of home runs. This is another ranking I have trouble understanding. Baseball America ranked him 19th, which is probably where he belongs.

In 201 professional innings between just Rookie League and Low A, he’s struckout only 6.4 batters per 9 while walking 3.8. This season at Peoria his K/9 is down below 5. Lopez just turned 20 and apparently has pretty decent stuff, but he’s not a top 10 prospect.

7) Josh Vitters, 3B, Grade B-. I expect this will be controversial but he really needs to get things going, and age-relative-to-league is just one factor among many.

Vitters kind of reminds me of Geovany Soto, but not the good way. Here’s Josh Vitters triple slash sttats over the years.

Good/OK/Good
Bad/Bad/Bad
Good/OK/Good
Bad/Bad/Bad
Good/OK/Good
Bad/Bad/Bad

Seriously. if you go to his stats pages, that’s what it says. It’s kind of like Geovany Soto’s page. The biggest difference is that when Soto is good, he’s extremely valuable and when Vitters is good, he’s worse than average for the league he’s playing in because he plays a much less valuable position. He’s played about half his games at 1st this season, which was always the likely move anyway, but he went from a guy who had some potential because he was so young to a guy who literally has no value whatsoever. At 1st base, he just doesn’t have the bat to justify playing him at the big league level. Not to mention he’s not been that good this season anyway. He has a .345 wOBA, which is a 102 wOBA+ (like OPS+, ERA+). He’s basically been an average hitter in AA in his second time through and has played half his games at a position that has the least value other than DH.

There are three guys so far in the top 10 that I don’t think had any business being ranked that high. For years it’s been all about the potential with Vitters, but he’s just not shown any ability to get on base. For a few years now we’ve known he has less patience than any player you’ve ever seen any freaking level you’ve watched yet people continued to rank him in the top 10. Name 5 players who had horrible walk rates relative to the league who have had successful careers. I’m not talking a bad walk rate. I’m talking easily the worst among all MLB players and it’s not even close. He’d make Neifi Perez, Corey Patterson and Jeff Francouer look like Barry Bonds at the plate.

6) Reggie Golden, OF, Grade B-: Enormous potential but very raw.

If I had a dollar for every Cubs prospect the last 10 years who supposedly had enormal potential, but was very raw, I’d have at least $50. I could probably buy three Obstructed View shirts. When I see that type of description I expect to see a player who doesn’t recognize a strike from a ball and swings at everything. That’s not been so with Golden in his first year of professional baseball (this season at Boise). He’s posted a batting line of .286/.403/.446. The season just started so that’s less than 70 plate appearances, but it’s good to see he has some patience. He’s struckout 16 times, which is not a good sign, but I’d much rather have a prospect his age who strikes out a lot and walks a lot than one who strikes out little and never walks (see Vitters, Josh).

The Cubs took Golden in the 2nd round in 2010 and he signed for $720,000. Here’s what BA said about him at the time.

The top player in Alabama’s high school ranks for the last two seasons, Golden is an Alabama recruit whose build and tools remind some evaluators of another Southeastern Conference player of recent vintage, current Brewers farmhand Kentrail Davis. He’s a five-tool athlete with present strength who profiles as a right fielder, even though he stands less than 6 feet tall. Golden impressed scouts by grinding through the spring despite a hamstring pull that slowed him all season. He still ran average to above-average times despite his injury, but as he matures, speed won’t be a major part of his game. Power will, as Golden has impressive strength and raw bat speed. His approach at the plate is raw, and he lacks the plate discipline that allowed Davis to star from the start of his SEC career. His best present tool is his above-average arm, which fits well in right field. He plays with energy and is coachable, and he’ll have to adjust to better pitching with his raw hitting skills.

Can’t complain so far.

5) Hayden Simpson, RHP, Grade B-: Could rank at the top next year if he does anything in the pros like he did in NCAA Division II.

I could rank near the top next year if I do anything in the pros like I did in Pee Wee. I’m not kidding. That .700+ batting average would be an all-time record. Not to mention I threw a wicked 12-6 curve and tossed 3 no-hitters when I was 9. 3 no-hitters in about 6 starts. Not bad. I’d be like Nolan Ryan, Roy Halladay, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols and Johnny Bench (I also played catcher) all in one. My season WAR would be about 123.8. I’d pass Babe Ruth for the all-time lead in WAR in my second season. No sophomore jinx me. I’d be the superstar, yo.

What kind of statement is that? Every single player drafted in the top 20 rounds would rank at the top next year if they did anything like they did in high school or Division 2. If they could do anything in the pros like they did at those lower levels, who the hell would watch professional baseball when they can watch amateurs do it better?

In 16 starts for Peoria, Simpson threw 61.1 innings and allowed 76 hits. He struckoug only 46 and walked 27. The Cubs just recently moved him back to Rookie League. Here’s what BA said last year about Simpson.

Southern Arkansas coach Allen Gum found the most successful pitcher in school history literally right next door. Simpson, his next-door neighbor in Magnolia, Ark., has gone 35-2, 2.39 with 323 strikeouts in 271 innings in three seasons with the NCAA Division II Muleriders. Though he’s just 6 feet and 175 pounds, he has a strong lower half and a quick arm that delivers 91-93 mph fastballs that peak at 96. His fastball is fairly straight and he tends to pitch up in the zone, which could lead to difficulty with tougher competition. He has a pair of hard breaking pitches, an 82-83 mph slider and an 78-80 mph curve. He also has a changeup that he uses sparingly, and he commands his entire repertoire well. His velocity decreased a little toward the end of the season, and some scouts are wary of his size and the fact that he’s never ventured far from Magnolia. Nevertheless, his fastball could get him drafted as high as the fourth or fifth round.

I bolded the last sentence because it was just plain wrong. It should have said, his fastball could get him drafted by the Cubs in the first round, but otherwise would fall to the 4th or 5th. The Cubs drafted him in the top half of the first round, but they did so in order to go under slot. Slot signing bonus was about $1.5 million and the Cubs signed him for $1 million.

I should point out that he didn’t pitch last year because he had mono and lost a lot of weight because of it. That could have impacted his performanced this season as he wasn’t full strength yet. His fastball was in the mid 80s most of the time.

4) Jay Jackson, RHP, Grade B: I still like him more than the numbers say I should.

Rated as the 98th prospect in baseball by Baseball America prior to 2010, Jackson struggled last season in his first full season at AAA. He was drafted in the 9th round in 2008 and moved very quickly through the organization. By the end of his first full professional season he was in AAA. After signing in 2008 he managed to pitch 50 innings between Boise, Peoria and Daytona and struckout 72 and walked only 13. He struckout 36.6% of the batters he faced and walked just 7.6%. In 2009 he threw 127 innings between High A, AA and AAA. He struckout 127 (24.1%) and walked 46 (8.9%). There was a good reason he was ranked in the top 100.

Then 2010 happened. In 157.1 innings, he struckout just 119 (17.6%) and walked 48 (9.0%). Back at AAA this year, he’s thrown 75.2 innings, allowed 98 hits, walked 24 (7.5%) and struckout 44 (12.7%). His K% in AAA is 15.9% while his BB is a solid 8.6%. The K-BB% is a little worse than league average. He also gives up a fair amount of home runs.

Jay Jackson’s potential began to fall the moment he stopped striking out a lot of hitters. He’s been horrible this season and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him dropped to AA at some point in the near future. He has a 6.54 ERA this year and his ERA wasn’t all that impressive last year (4.63). I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him moved to the bullpen as he likely has no future in a rotation.

3) Christopher Carpenter, RHP, Grade B: May end up in the pen, but he’s got plus stuff and I wouldn’t give up on him as a starter yet.

Since Carpenter was promoted to Iowa at the end of last season, he’s been remarkably consistent. In his 14.2 innings he posted a 7.69 tRA. He began the year in Iowa this season and posted a 7.03 tRA. He was moved back down to AA Tennessee where he posted a 7.05 tRA. Out of necessity, he was promoted to Chicago and posted an 8.18 tRA. 2011 has not been a good season for Carpenter.

Carpenter is already 25 years old and turns 26 in December. He was drafted in the 3rd round in 2008, but would have been drafted even higher had he not had a number of arm injuries in college. It’s likely he was a 1st round pick if he managed to stay healthy, but teams knew the damage was already done and weren’t going to draft him in the first couple rounds. The Cubs got a guy who could end up being a steal.

He was unimpressive in his 33 innings in 2008 after signing. He threw 130+ innings in his first full professional season and allowed only 100 hits. He pitched in Low A, High A and AA. He struckout 118 and walked 52. Most importantly, he was healthy. He was throwing in the upper 90s and even touching triple on occasion.

He was more hittable in AA/AAA the following season giving up more hits than innings pitched. He was still healthy and throwing in the upper 90s, which was kind of a miracle. He probably wasn’t going to make it as a starter as he didn’t have the command so the Cubs moved him into the bullpen this season hoping that another power righty would help the Cubs in the future. Well, Carpenter has definitely been consistent, but not the kind of consistent the organization is looking for.

After his cup of coffee (6.2 IP, 11 H, 5 BB, 6 K) he was sent back to Iowa. He’s yet to make an appearance since his demotion.

2) Trey McNutt, RHP, Grade B+: Hard to believe this guy was a 32nd round pick. . .he’s got great stuff.

DJ and I talked a bit about McNutt last night. Before I go over that, let’s back up and take a look at what BA had to say about McNutt prior to this season. 

Background: When their Alabama area scout quit early in 2009, the Cubs decided not to replace him. So while other teams saw McNutt work in the high 80s at the start of Shelton State (Ala.) CC’s season and backed off, Chicago didn’t catch him until the Junior College World Series in June, when he showed a 90-93 mph fastball. After he turned down an eighth-round offer from the Twins, he slid all the way to 32nd round, where the Cubs signed him for $115,000. His stuff has continued to improve, propelling him to Double-A in his first full pro season.

Scouting Report: When he’s going good, McNutt has two plus-plus pitches. Though his fastball comes in on a bit of a flat plane, he blows it by hitters at 92-98 mph. He can neutralize lefthanders by pitching to their back foot with his power breaking ball, which is more of curveball than a slider. Once McNutt uses his changeup more, it should become an average third pitch. He’s stingy with walks but sometimes lapses into overthrowing, costing him command.

The Future: Ticketed for a return trip to Double-A, McNutt has a profile similar to that of Andrew Cashner and Chris Archer. All three have the stuff to pitch at the front of a rotation or close games.

He was the 2nd ranked prospect in the Cubs organization behind Brett Jackson. McNutt has missed time this year a few times due to a blister and once due to a collision. As a result, he’s only thrown 44 innings. They haven’t been any good either. He’s allowed 11 hits per 9 and his ERA is 4.5. This is after a late promotion to AA last season when he gave up over 12 hits per 9. AA has not been kind to him.

Prior to AA, McNutt struckoutbatters at a rate of 28.8% and 29.7% while walking them at a rate of 10.7% and then 6.7% in High A last season. In AA, he’s struckout 14.4% of the batters and walked 8.0%. His K-BB% is .065, which is well under the Southern League average. The K-BB% average for Southern League pitchers who started at least 60% of their appearances is .09. Much like we saw with Jay Jackson when he got to AAA, McNutt’s strikeout rate has gone down to the point we have to reconsider his potential. With no way of knowing how much, if at all, the blisters and collision have affected him, all we can do is hope they’ve had a big impact.

Last season at AA McNutt had a 1.6 WHIP though it was a very small sample. This year it’s just slightly higher. There’s still a lot we don’t know about McNutt and that was true entering the season. Even with these 44 innings, he’s get to pitch his 200th professional inning. We probably got a little too optimistic with regards to McNutt, but he’s still young.

1) Brett Jackson, OF, Grade B+: Love the broad base of skills.

After batting .317/.424/.537 in April, Jackson hasn’t hit so well since. In May he batted .189/.362/.378 and followed that up in June by hitting .217/.313/.349. His OBP has stayed at least 100 points higher than his batting average each month, which is a good sign. He’s going to strike out a lot, but that’s partly because of all the deep counts and walks he’s going to take.

Jackson turns 23 on August 2nd. All he’s done since being drafted by the Cubs in the 1st round in 2009 is hit. He has a career .294/.397/.481 line in nearly 1100 plate appearances. He has some power, gets on base, is about average or better in CF, runs well and has hit for average. That’s probably not going to continue at the higher levels, though. He posted a .415 park-adjusted wOBA in 2009 at Peoria. It was .411 at Daytona in 2010 and then also in 2010 at Tennessee it was .380. It’s .379 this season despite struggling for 2 months. He’s hit very well in July and could see a call-up in September or sooner if the Cubs trade outfielders at the deadline.

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