Midseason look at the Cubs top prospects, part 4

Over the last week we’ve looked at the top 20 Cubs prospects according to John Sickels and how they’re performing this season. We’ve also looked at 15 or 16 additional players worthy of some discussion for one reason or another. Many of the 2010 draft picks, especially the high school ones, have very little playing time to their name. Few of the 2011 draft picks have any playing time and less than 20 of the 50 have been signed.

I hadn’t intended to write this part in the series, but a few thoughts came to mind as I was writing these last three parts and I thought I’d share them. Anyone who has been around here or read my stuff knows that I haven’t thought too highly of the Cubs farm system this season. I felt that way entering the season, but prior to the season I was a bit more optimistic than I had been. After looking over the performances thoroughly I think I may been wrong. The farm system does appear to be in better shape than I had thought.

The Cubs top prospect, Brett Jackson, is having another great season. Strikeouts are an issue, but he’s getting on base, which is what he’s going to be asked to do at the big league level as he’ll almost certainly be the leadoff hitter. Jackson has needed little to no time to adjust to new levels throughout his professional career and has shown the potential of being a very productive player.

Trey McNutt, the highest ranked pitching prospect entering the season, has suffered some injuries, but none of them arm-related. It hard to figure out too much when looking at his stats when you consider the blister problems as well as the performance after coming back from a collision. He’s not even thrown 50 innings yet.

Ryan Flaherty is hitting the ball exceptionally well. DJ LeMahieu has even done the same and was promoted to the big leagues to sit on the bench for awhile. Robert Whitenack emerged early this season as the breakout performer in the organization only to have his season cut short with elbow surgery.

Jeffrey Beliveau has continued to improve his control while also striking out a ton of batters. He’s very difficult to hit and even righties have struggled against him. He looks like a late-inning reliever for sure. Chris Rusin is in AAA now and has the best control in the organization. He’s not a top of the rotation starter, but if he continues to progress, he could provide some value at the backend of the rotation. Nicholas Struck is only 21 years old and already in AAA. He has more potential than Rusin and considering his age for the levels he’s played in, it’s difficult to estimate his true talent level going forward, but he’s more than held his own against older competition.

Austin Kirk has been ridiculously tough to hit and Matt Szczur has hit everything he’s seen. It seems clear the organization is in a better position than I initially thought.

While there are still no impact players, the system does have a number of players who could contribute some value in the near future.

I hadn’t intended to write this part in the series, but a few thoughts came to mind as I was writing these last three parts and I thought I’d share them. Anyone who has been around here or read my stuff knows that I haven’t thought too highly of the Cubs farm system this season. I felt that way entering the season, but prior to the season I was a bit more optimistic than I had been. After looking over the performances thoroughly I think I may have been too kind previously. The farm system appears to be in worse shape than I had thought.

Brett Jackson’s strikeouts haven’t held him back thus far, but he’s going to have BABIP his way to a decent batting average at the big league level. He’ll walk plenty so his OBP will still be solid, but it could easily be league average or worse. He’s going to strikeout more at the big league level than he has so far, which is not a good sign. He’ll also walk less, have less power, his defense will be worse and there’s already discussion about whether or not he can remain in CF. A leadoff hitter, which is what the Cubs have him pegged as, who doesn’t get on base at an above average rate would be terrible for any offense. If he has to move to a corner, much of his value is gone. There are a lot of question marks with Jackson.

Trey McNutt has had a number of blister issues and a collision that has kept his inning total to less than 50 and those 50 have been unimpressive to just plain bad. His strikeouts declined after his late-season promotion last year and they’ve continued to decline even further. His current strikeout rate leaves one little reason to hope he’ll be anything more than a bullpen arm and maybe not even a good one at that. We already saw what a big decline in strikeouts did to Jay Jackson when he got to AAA.

While Ryan Flaherty continues to hit, he also continues to be passed over for other players like DJ LeMahieu. He’s without a position having played less than half his games at 2nd base. He’s old for his level and the only time he’s been challenged was at the beginning of the 2010 season and he failed miserably.

Beliveau has excellent strikeout numbers and a good walk rate. He’ll more than likely provide value to the Cubs in the future, but they already have Carlos Marmol and Sean Marshall at the backend of their bullpen. Beliveau’s value will be limited. At 21, Nicholas Struck is already at AAA, but at 5-11, 185, endurance becomes an issue. Beyond that, he’s allowed nearly a hit per inning and struckout only 7.1 per 9. Solid numbers overall, but not a top of the rotation or even a middle of the rotation pitcher in the future.

Robert Whitenack emerged early as this season’s breakout pitcher, which kind of says enough as it is. Anyway, after his fantastic start, he went down with a torn elbow ligament and will miss a year. Chris Rusin has been solid, but again, he’s a backend of the rotation starter and that’s if he progresses as one would expect.

Matt Szczur has little to no power, but makes a lot of contact. He has decent on-base skills, but even if he progressed as one would expect, he’s no impact player and he’s years away from making any impact anyway.

Alberto Cabrera, ranked 10th by Sickels, has been bad. Number 9 prospect Austin Reed has given up more than a hit per inning at Boise. Number 8 prospect Robinson Lopez strikes out less than 6.5 per 9. Josh Vitters, ranked 7th, hasn’t got a chance in hell of being a Major League player. At number 5 is Hayden Simpson. After getting rocked at Peoria, he’s getting rocked in Rookie League. Jay Jackson was number 4. Enough said. Christopher Carpenter was number 3 and he’s now a reliever so yawn. We already talked about Trey McNutt and Brett Jackson.

Marquez Smith is number 11 and nobody even wanted him in the Rule 5 Draft. DJ LeMahieu is 12th. No power whatsoever. On-base skills are lacking. At 13th was Rafael Dolis and he’s now a reliever and only Ok considering he’s been at AA for awhile now. Brooks Raley is 15th and he strikes out fewer batters than Casey Coleman. Su-Min Jung isn’t any good.

If there weren’t a dozen or more players in the top 20 who have fallen flat on their faces this season, you could bet good money some of them would be out of the top 20. As it is, most probably remain in the top 20 because they’ve all sucked.

It’s true the organization has had some risers this season, but they’ve had more decline. Plus, even the ones who have risen have decent potential. None of them are impact players.

Tim Wilken has had 5+ years to do something with this organization and we get this?


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