Cubs Minor League Progress

mb21 recently had a blog post about fangraphs Cubs top 10 prospects. As the season has progressed, I’ve become increasingly interested in the farm and less with the ML club. I wanted to give updates and some subjective analysis to those who don’t know much about the farm, but are interested enough to read an overview of their seasons so far. I’ll do my own “top 10″ with some notes about players I don’t consider part of the top 10.

Note: after the top 2 prospects, every single prospect and their respective position in the top 10 is very debatable.

1. Brett Jackson (OF) AA Tennessee Smokies – mb did a pretty good write up on him. He has been walking to the tune of a 17.3% walk rate, stealing bases efficiently (85% success rate), playing solid defense, and hitting for some power (.223 ISO). Basically doing it all before he jammed his pinky finger while getting picked off of 2B recently. Make no doubt about it, unless he completely falls off, he will be in CF for Cubs no later than July 31st.

2. Trey McNutt (RHP) AA Tennessee Smokies – When not battling blisters, McNutt has been just as effective as last year except at a higher level. So far, he has a 2.29 ERA and 2.44 FIP. He’s not striking out as many batters this year, but that may have to do with the blisters. He’s yet to give up a HR in 19+ innings. I assume he’ll receive some kind of Josh Beckett treatment to stop the blisters eventually. Hopefully it won’t take away too many starts this year.

3. Austin Kirk (LHP) A Peoria Chiefs – Kirk was a 3rd round pick in the 2009 draft out of high school. This year he broke camp with Peoria. Since then, he’s been lights out. FIP doesn’t like him (3.06) but his ERA is a mere 1.80 thanks to a 0.86 WHIP and .207 BABIP. He has a mid-90s fastball with above average secondary pitches. He is supposedly a great character kid. He’ll be in Daytona sometime in June.

UPDATE (5/18): Kirk pitched 5.1 innings, 1 hit, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 Ks

4. Ryan Flaherty (IF/OF) AA Tennessee Smokies – See the trend at AA? If you get a chance, I would go see them play. Flaherty is hitting with all kinds of power this year. His slash: .299/.364/.575. 9 doubles, 1 triple, and 8 HRs gives him a .273 ISO. That will likely regress as the season goes on.  However, it’s not out of the realm of possibility he maintains a .230+ ISO. He has Derosa-like versatility as he’s played 6 positions already for Tennessee. He’s cooled a bit since May, but if he can even have a .800 OPS at the ML-level he would be extremely valuable next year.

5. Robert Whitenack (RHP) AA Tennessee Smokies – Whitenack started at A+ Daytona and just owned hitters. He had 11 K 0 BB game at Daytona. At Daytona he had a laughable 25:1 K to BB ratio. He was promoted at the end of April. He’s been solid at AA so far. His walks are up and Ks are down likely because of the increase in talent. The biggest reason I have him here is because his sinker has apparently become plus-plus. He’s 6’5” and his sinker has heavy sink at 89-93 mph. He ditched his knuckle-curve that was supposedly his best pitch coming out of high school (graded 80 on 80-20 scale). It’s always nice to have groundball pitchers in the minors. He’s a little old, but he’s made large strides and AZ Phil called he would perform like this in ST.

UPDATE (5/18): Whitenack threw 7 innings, 3 hits, 2 BB, 0 R, 5 K.

6. Jae-Hoon Ha (OF) AA Tennessee Smokies – Ha just got promoted to AA where he’s playing CF while Brett Jackson in on the DL. He’ll remain at AA when Jackson gets back. At Daytona, Ha hit for a ton of power and good average. His patience needs work to say the least (heard that before). He walked 7 times in 160 plate appearances at Daytona (4.4% BB%). His slash of .311/.344/.523 keeps his OPS at good levels. Like many in the Cubs system, if he doesn’t hit for a high average he’s not good. He plays all the OF spots. His power potential is uncertain as I’ve heard anywhere from 15-30+ HRs.

7. Matt Szczur (CF) A Peoria Chiefs – Szczur was a two sport athlete at Villanova (football and baseball). He led the Villanova football team to a DI-AA title in 2009. At Peoria this year, he’s hit .320/.398/.369. He’s got great patience and steals bases very efficiently (90% success). I have a hard time believing his ISO will stay sub-.050. He’ll never be a power hitter, but I don’t think his bat will be like Theriot or Juan Pierre either. Oh yeah, he’s pretty good in CF.

8. Josh Vitters (3B) AA Tennessee Smokies – So, basically Vitters has sucked so far. But I’m not ready to give up on him although he’s giving plenty of reasons. He’s still not walking. He’s not hitting for enough power to offset that. Slash: .236/.281/.409. It’s looking more and more that he’s not going to be an everyday player at 3B. His defense has never been good (although reports have him at average this year compared to bad in years past). His bat was supposed to make up for that. His Ks are way down (7.1%). And his BABIP is a low .221. He’s either extremely unlucky or making weak contact. He’ll be better than he is currently, but the future doesn’t look bright. Then consider the fact that I’ve never heard praises about his work ethic. He seems to be trying to get by on talent alone.

9. Chris Carpenter (RHP) AAA Iowa Cubs – Carpenter has been in the pen fulltime since the end of the I-Cubs season. As a starter his fastball was mid-90s. In the pen, he’s been clocked at 100+. However, he’s had his trouble with walks which led to 2 bad outings in relief so far (boosted his ERA up to 6.41). I normally don’t like to put relief pitchers in the top 10 unless they are future closers/set-up men. His stuff makes me believe he can be a set-up/closer. He’s also very close to being in the majors.

10. D.J. LeMahieu (2B/3B) AA Tennessee Smokies – D.J. has split time almost evenly between 2B and 3B. He has seen a jump in his OPS (.882) because of his increase in AVG (.354)  and ISO (.143 – thanks to 12 doubles). BA called him the best hitting prospect in the Cubs organization (quite debatable IMO). D.J. attended “Camp Colvin” so they may explain the increased ISO. He only hit 2 HRs last year and has 2 this year. There are scouts who think his lack of quickness limits him to 3B and not 2B. He will have to keep up his current ISO for his bat to play there (especially if Barney and Castro are still here when he comes up).

Other notables:

Hayden Simpson (RHP) A Peoria Chiefs – As mb explained, his velocity is down likely due to his 20 lb weight loss from mono. If his fastball doesn’t get back up to 92-93 he’s not going to have much of a ceiling. He does have 4 average to above average pitches, but with none that stand out he is looking to prove that Wilken got a 3rd round talent in the 1st.

Reggie Golden (COF) EXST – Golden has the most raw power in the system. He came out as a high schooler last year, but got hurt in rookie ball. I expected BIG things from him this year. Unfortunately he showed up to spring training fat and out of shape, hence why he’s at extended spring training. He’ll likely be in Boise when their season starts.

Jay Jackson (RHP) AAA Iowa Cubs – Jay Jackson has 2 strong outings in AAA after recovering from an injury he received in spring training. But since then, he’s pitched very poorly. 26 ER in 16.2 IP. It’d be nice for him to bounce back so Doug Davis and Casey Coleman don’t pitch anymore. Jay spent a whole season at AAA last year so he should be ready, but he clearly has to figure something out.

Rafael Dolis (RHP) AA Tennesee Smokies – Dolis started the season as a starter. The Cubs scrapped that idea after 4 starts. Kind of disappointing to me because he wasn’t terrible. He’s now in relief where he’s been for awhile.

Evan Crawford (CF) A+ Daytona – Before the season, he looked to have a ceiling of 5th OF to be used as a defensive replacement and pinch runner. So far this year he’s hit everything in sight. He is a speedster and steals bases successfully 85% of the time. He was received in the Mike Fontenot trade. He’s only walking 5.5% of the time so with his speed you’d like to see that increase. He actually has an acceptable ISO for his career because of his ability to stretch out 2B and 3B. With the Giants last year he slugged 12 2B and 12 3B. His current slash: .348/.419/.470. Most likely he’s a defensive replacement and pinch runner.

Kyler Burke (LHP) EXST – You may know Burke as the former 1st round pick of the Padres. He has a great 2009, but fell off the map last year. In the OF he had the best arm in the system. He was both a pitcher and OF in high school and some scouts had him higher as pitcher. After Burke’s flop last year (.607 OPS in 567 PA) the Cubs have convinced him to try pitching. Keep an eye on him when Boise’s season starts. He’s still only 22, throws very hard, and is skilled with his secondary pitches according to AZ Phil.

The Cubs minor league system has gotten off to a fast start. If this keeps up we’re probably top 12-15 in the MLB. Now just imagine if the Cubs still had HJ Lee, Brandon Guyer, and Chris Archer still. We’d probably be top 10.