Checking up on the Cubs top prospects, part 2

Yesterday we looked at the Cubs prospects ranked 11-20 and today we’ll look at the top 10. You can read about how they were doing a month ago if you’d like.

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

Cabrera was promoted to AAA Iowa because of injuries. He didn’t fare well in Tennessee and has done worse at Iowa. He’s struckout 44 and walked 38 in 61 innings while giving up 78 hits and 7 home runs. Batters have hit .324 against him at AAA. On the season he’s thrown 109.2 innings, allowed a million hits, walked 59 and struckout 78. Between AA and AAA, batters have hit .317 against him. 

You’ve surely noticed a trend so far. Cubs pitching prospects no longer strike a lot of guys out, they have slightly better command, but not all that much better, and they’re easy to hit. Cabrera is just 22 so he’s got that going for him, but he’s going to have make significant improvements to be even a legitimate spot starter candidate in the future. 

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

Unlike his brother Addison, Austin hasn’t taken to professional baseball with as much success. He was pretty good last year in limited innings in rookie ball, but has been less than impressive this year. In 39 innings at Boise he’s allowed 49 hits, walked 17 and struckout just 22. He does keep the ball on the ground and doesn’t turn 20 until the end of October so he’s got a long way to go yet. The lack of strikeouts is a major concern, but that appears to be an organizational flaw at this point. 

Since I brought up Addison Reed, all he’s done is reach AAA in his first full professional season. He had college experience so he’s the older brother. Reed’s stats are ridiculous. In 90.2 innings he’s allowed just 53 hits. He’s struckout 134 batters and walked 17. If someone showed me these stats I’d say those were college stats. 134 to 17 strikeout to walk ratio!

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

The Cubs acquired Lopez for Derrek Lee last season. He has a lot of potential, but so far that’s all it is. I’ll give you three guesses as to how difficult he is to hit, his command and his strikeouts. If you guess anything other than not difficult to hit, so-so command and poor strikeout rate you haven’t been reading along. He’s walked as many batters as he’s struckout (28) in 59.1 Low A innings. He’s allowed 71 hits, 7 of which left the yard.

In 211 professional innings, he’s allowed nearly a hit per inning (8.8), walked 3.9 per inning and hasn’t even struckout 6.3 batters per 9. 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.

I don’t know what else needs to be said about Josh Vitters at this point other than he’s somehow managed to walk less this seaosn than he did last year, which was actually a step up from previous seasons. Last year at AA he walked 13 times in 228 PA. This season it’s 15 in 366 PA. 

If there’s anything to get excited about it’s that he doesn’t turn 22 until the end of the month. He’s still young and has been at AA for a full season now, but he has too many holes in his game. About 30% of his games played this year have been at 1st base so there’s little doubt that he’s going to have to make the switch full time at some point soon. As a first baseman, even his decent power isn’t enough to offset his horrible on-base skills. He’s a poor runner (7 CS, 4 SB this season, 18 SB, 13 CS in his career). 

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

One thing I wasn’t expecting to see with Golden, who doesn’t turn 20 until October, is the ability to take walks. His OBP this year at Boise is 100 points higher than his batting average. He’s taken 20 walks in 38 games, but he’s also struckout 41 times. His batting average is so low that his OBP is only .342. The legitimate power that he’s supposed to have hasn’t shown up yet. In 155 PA he only has 11 extra base hits (6 2B, 3 3B, 2 HR) so his slugging is below .400. 

Some parts of his game have been disappointing so far, but the ability to draw walks has been impressive to me. I was not expecting that. He’s only 5-10, 210 pounds so I’m not sure how much power we can expect from him, but he apparently plays superb defense in RF. There’s reason to be optimistic with Golden, but also reason to be concerned. 

Maybe someone in the top 10 will finally be having a good season.

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.

After getting pounded in Low A, he was sent back to Rookie League where he’s continued to pitch poorly. I still get a laugh out Sickels’ comment about how good he could be if he was as good as he was in Division Fucking II. 

Combined this year’s struckout 53, walked 36 and allowed 92 hits in 73 innings. Here’s what BA had to say about him when he was drafted last year:

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’m going to continue bolding that final sentence because it still boggles the mind that the Cubs drafted him in the 1st round. As shawndgoldman said at the time, even the average fantasy baseball player knows that if a player is going to be available later that you draft someone else. 

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

His 119 strikeouts in 150+ innings last season didn’t drop him out of the top 5 for some reason, but surely 2011 will. In 104 innings, the Cbus 4th ranked prospect has allowed a hundred gazillion hits in 104 innings. Seriously, I’m pretty sure that’s what the 11.9 hits per 9 adds up to. He does have solid command as he’s walked only 3 per 9, but even his poor 6.8 K/9 rate last year has dropped to 5.6.

He turns 24 in October and will presumably be sent back to AAA next year. His numbers aren’t even good enough to be considered a decent relief prospect at this point. 

Sooner or later someone in the top 10 will be having a good season. I swear.

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.

Let’s put it this way: the best Carpenter has been all season was in his 10 big league appearances. He threw 9.2 innings, allowed 12 hits, walked 7 and struckout 8. Between AA and AAA he’s thrown 41 innings, allowed 41 hits, 5 home runs, walked 26 and struckout just 34. In his minor league career he’s struckout just 7.7 per 9, walked slightly over 4 per 9 and allowed 8.3 hits per 9. Most of those innings have been as a starter so there’s reason to think he may be able to be a decent reliever, but his numbers this year in AA, AAA and MLB tell another story.

Now that we’re at the top ranked pitching prospect we’ll get good news.

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

With just a month left in the minor league season, McNutt has thrown only 62 innings. They haven’t been any good either. He’s allowed 79 hits walked 23 and struckout only 39. It wouldn’t be fair to not mention the blister issues McNutt had early in the season or the collision, but at the same time, those numbers are just bad. Since being promoted to AA at the end of last season, he’s struckout only 6 per 9. As a 32nd round pick you can’t complain, but he’s not a top 5 prospect. Not in any decent minor league system anyway.

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

Jackson’s batting lines haven’t been as pretty as they were in the past. Since drafted in the 1st round in 2009 Jackson had been good for about a .300/.400/.500 batting line. The on-base percentage is still more than 100 points higher than the average, but the average has dropped significantly. He’s been on fire the past 10 games and overall this year between AA and AAA he’s hit .255/.370/.459. In his 19 games at AAA he’s hit .250/.358/.515. League average OBP in the PCL is .360, but Jackson got off to a rough start.

Over his last 10 he’s hit .314/.405/.686. Strikeouts have been the issue with Jackson and this year is no different. In 86 games (379 PA) he’s struckout 101 times. In AAA he’s struckout in 33% of his plate appearances, which is way too high.

All things considered, Jackson has had a solid season. He’s probably dropped a bit from what we were thinking he could be entering the season, but he’s still a very good CF prospect. 

Hey, at least 1 of the top 10 has dropped considerably. I don’t know if you’ve been keeping count at home, but of the 20 we’ve covered, only 4 have been halfway decent (Welington Castillo 20th, Austin Kirk 17th, DJ LeMahieu 12th and Brett Jackson 1st). Since I’ve been writing about the Cubs and their prospects, there hasn’t been a more disappointing season than this one. 

Their pitching prospects don’t strike enough batters out and only have so-so command. Most of them are hit pretty hard. Only a few of the hitting prospects have any on-base skills and at least two of those who do have serious strikeout issues. It’s easily the worst the Cubs farm system has been since I started writing about the Cubs back in 2003. 

Tim Wilken has been around for 5 years now and we have almost nothing to show for it. The prospects worth watching either can’t strike enough batters out or they strikeout too often. I can’t think of a single pitching prospect in the top 20 who you’d consider a strikeout pitcher at this point in their careers. It would be OK if they had pinpoint control and kept the ball on the ground, but that’s not the case with most of them. How bad does the system have to get before Tim Wilken is replaced? Whatever it is, I’m pretty sure we’re there. 


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