Baseball is all romance, no fucking.

Robert Bykoski

This was a scary list to compile. For a few years I had read and heard about the bare cupboard that the Cubs farm system had become. Now, there are some gems here, but it lies mainly in the outfield. The Cubs have compiled a batch of CF prospects, but that’s just one position. Indeed the Cubs depth is pretty thin on the infield, and it’s going to be a growing need if Darwin Barney and Josh Vitters don’t pan out. This is more or less a list of players that you should pay attention to this year. There are some real young bucks in there, but their progress can yield more prospects or they could become future pieces of the hopeful Cubs championship puzzle. 

So without further adieu, he’s the fuckless romance.
-Mauricio Rubio Jr.
Follow me on Twitter, @MRubio52 

Catcher:

1. Geo Soto – Soto is once again coming off a season where his offensive production cratered. Soto was an older prospect when he finally broke through in 2008 and won Rookie of the year honors. In 2009 his offense fell flat and there were legitimate concerns about the bad weight he put on during the off season. Those questions were back again last year as he appeared to be heavier than he was in 2010. Soto was finally healthy but he was unable to properly square up the ball and his swing looked off. A .228/.310/.411 slash line sunk his value as he never possessed a cannon behind the plate. When he’s right, his stick is legit. There are two prospects that are legit threats to take serious playing time away from him, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see him dealt this year if he re-establishes his value at the plate. Decent power stroke, good eye, and he doesn’t kill you at the plate, he could bring back a decent haul.

2. Welington Castillo – The Cubs are noticeably thin at catcher, their other prospects are fairly far away from the major league level, but Castillo is ready now. He’s a bit like Soto in that his offense completely bottomed out in the minors before having a renaissance with the stick. He has a strong arm, but in a more stacked organization he would start the year in the minors to work on refining his catching skills. In 2011 he hit .287/.359/.516 across three levels, and his career minor league OPS is .753. He projects to be a good defensive catcher that can hit at an above average rate for the position. The Cubs will need to figure out if Castillo can hit Major League pitching sooner rather than later.

3. Steve Clevenger – This is why the Cubs are thin at catcher, he’s 3rd on the organizational depth chart because he bats lefty. Clevenger did well at AA, but it was the second go-round for him, and repeating a level usually skews numbers. By all accounts his defense is far away from Major League ready, and he’s a year older than Castillo, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him travel north with the team in place of Castillo to allow Welington to get regular AB’s.

First Base

1. Bryan LaHair – If you’re going to be a Major League First Baseman you’ll have to slug. There are rare exceptions to this rule in the modern game, Daric Barton is one, but there is no doubt that First Base is a power production position. LaHair has obvious power, but there are several examples of players that slug in their youth down on the farm and can’t figure out Major League pitching. Matt LaPorta comes to mind. A 1.070 OPS is no joke, but consider that LaHair was 28, old for the level, and hasn’t really flashed that power consistently at the Major League level. He did well in an extremely limited sample size with the big boys last year, but he’ll have to do it consistently in 2012 to keep a hold of the starting job.

2. Anthony Rizzo – Jed Hoyer claims that he promoted Rizzo too early last year, and owns up to that mistake. I would caution him to not let a past transgression affect his decision making for the current team. Rizzo might be ready sooner than Hoyer thinks, When he was in the minors last year he absolutely destroyed minor league pitching. The problem there is the deep chasm separating the two parks he called home in 2011. PETCO is a cavernous stadium that kills flyballs. Tucson’s park is a bandbox by any measure. While his numbers are a bit skewed, the power is truly a plus-skill. He can be a legit 35+ homer guy if he can ever put it all together, and he’s the future of the Cubs at the corner.

3. Daniel Vogelbach – Vogelbach is rawer than raw, he’s a 19 year old that flashed decent power in extremely limited playing time in rookie ball, but he bears watching. Scouts are praising his ability to drive the ball to all parts of the park, he has plus-plus power and has started to creep into top 10 Cubs prospect lists. His conditioning a concern, he’s a big boy at 6’0 and 250 elbows, but he’s a name to pay attention to.

Second Base

1. Darwin Barney – He’s pretty much all effort. His offensive value is strictly tied into his batting average, which usually spells death for most prospects. Barney drew 22 walks in 570 PA’s last year, which is pretty awful. He has a high baseball IQ and he knows how to be aggressive on the base paths while still being smart, you know, kinda like the inverse Theriot. What he brings to the table is shortstop range and arm to second base. He’s a tremendous fielder and his glove will justify his fairly anemic bat for his career. If he’s hitting .280, he isn’t killing you. If he falls below that, it’s trouble. That usually spells UTL instead of 2B, but given the limited options at the keystone, he’s going to get another 500+ PA’s with the Cubs.

2. Jeff Baker – Baker struggles against right-handed hitters (.200/.229/.263) and his defense is only so-so. He’s a decent platoon backup at 2B, but it speaks more to the lack of depth the Cubs have there than any of the meager positives that Baker brings to the table. He’s 31 and clearly at the end of the road. He’s been in a decline phase for 3 years now and his willingness to play every position is a clear signal of that. His trade value is in the basement right now, so he’s likely to stick around on the club, but it’s looking like he’s limited to facing left-handers from here on in.

3. Zeke DeVoss – He’s pretty far away at this point, but I don’t feel like writing about Blake DeWitt in this space, so let’s talk about this kid. He doesn’t profile to have much power, but his main tool is a good eye at the plate and good speed. He’s going to have to show that patience again, the worry on DeVoss is that he’s too passive at the plate and that his lack of power will show itself as he progresses through the system. His ceiling looks like Luis Castillo, so make of that what you will.

Shortstop

1. Starlin Castro – Here are Castro’s statistical comps through his age 21 season. That guarantees nothing, but it’s usually a good thing when you’re putting up numbers similar to 4 Hall of Famers. Castro needs to work on his defense, he doesn’t set his feet when he throws and it makes him wild, but he started to cut his error rate last year, and that’s a positive sign. Tulowitzki and Jeter were making errors at a higher rate in the minors than Castro in the majors when they were 21, but that didn’t move them off the position. Castro should remain at short, his bat is maximized there and he has the tools to be a good defensive shortstop. Castro can hit the ball, he has incredible bat control. He can add power if he adds good weight, and he’s on the track to be a star. He doesn’t walk at a high rate, but his consistency with the stick more than makes up for that. For now at least.

2. Junior Lake – The man is solidly built and has climbed the prospect totem pole. He’s 21 and had a solid showing at High-A ball before struggling in Double-A Tennessee. Depending on how big he gets he can actually move to 3B and still project well enough with his bat. He’s very raw and has bad plate discipline (running theme with the Cubs ORG, it would seem), but his power is real.

3. Javier Baez – Baez is here over Bianchi because he’s toolsy and that makes people excited. Truth be told, he’s a long shot to develop into the player everyone wants him to be. Baez has concerns about his makeup. He’s immature, which is to be expected for a 19 year old, but he’s going to make people drool over his tools. He had a meh showing on the farm, but he has tremendous upside.

Third Base

1. Ian Stewart – He never really took advantage of Coors. He was a decent prospect and a startable 3B, but he won’t be replacing the sum of Aramis’ production. All that said, Ramirez did need to go and Stewart is just a stopgap en route to a better 3B. Hopefully the wait for the next one won’t be as long as the time gap between Santo and Ramirez. The Cubs hope that the fabled “change of scenery” will help him out, but I’m not seeing it.

2. Josh Vitters – It seems like he’s been in the organization forever, but he’s still only 22. Vitters has the habit of struggling after a promotion and adjusting fairly well the following year. That’s fine for now, especially since he was making solid contact in 2011. Youth will only be on his side for so long (ain’t that the brutal truth), and with Ian Stewart likely to struggle on the Major League level, the time for Vitters to show that he is the legit future at third is now.

3. Marquez Smith – He’s old and he’s hit his ceiling, so at this point he can contribute as a solid if unspectacular right-handed bat off the bench. He’s not a star anymore, and at this point he’s waiting on guys like Jeimer Candelario to pass him up in the organization. He’s a Bobby Scales type guy at this point, great minor leaguer, but he’s never going to develop into an everyday Major League Player.


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