Chicago Cubs’ Top 10 Prospects Going Into 2014
10 Best Prospects for the Chicago Cubs Going Into 2014
Before president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer took over the baseball operations of the Chicago Cubs, the team did not do a very good job at the minor league level. The duo took over before the 2012 season when average talents like Brett Jackson, Trey McNutt and Matt Szczur topped their top prospect lists. Let's just say that the Cubs' system is in a much better state than it was then.
While the success at the major league level has evaded them so far, Epstein and Hoyer have done an incredible job of rebuilding the Cubs' minor league system. Through the draft, international free agency and timely trades, the Cubs now have arguably the best minor league system in all of baseball.
On top of that, shortstop Starlin Castro, first basemanAnthony Rizzo and pitcher Jeff Samardzija lead a nice young core for the Cubs at the major league level. None of the three have completely proven themselves, but all are young and very talented. LHP Travis Wood really emerged for the team last season, and will be a key part of the rotation now and in the future. Also, outfielder Junior Lake and catcher Welington Castillo are very talented and appear to be ready to take the next step.
Epstein, Hoyer and company have done an incredible job of turning this around. It has been a slow process, and I understand why some fans are getting anxious, but I strongly believe that they are building this team the right way.
If this plan is going to work, the prospects will have to pan out. The prospect game is tricky because there will always be some that become busts, but the Cubs are doing the right thing by acquiring a very talented and deep system. Here are the top 10 prospects in the minor league system of the Cubs going into 2014.
10. Mike Olt, 3B/1B/OF
Mike Olt is one of the most intriguing prospects in the Cubs' system. He was one of the headline players that the Cubs landed in the Matt Garza trade with the Texas Rangers. Entering the 2013 season, Olt was ranked as the 22nd-best prospect in the game by Baseball America. Unfortunately, 2013 was a nightmare season for Olt. Playing mostly at the Triple-A level, Olt hit .201/.303/.381 with 132 strikeouts in 432 plate appearances. He apparently had vision issues throughout the season because of a concussion he suffered in the Dominican Winter League.
If Olt can get anywhere close to his 2012 form where he hit .288/.398/.579 in Double-A, the Cubs will have a great core player. He has a lot of raw power, has a good approach at the plate, plays great defense at third base and has position versatility. That being said, the contact issues are legitimate. 2014 will be a big season for Olt. At 25-years-old, he will not be considered a prospect for much longer.
9. Jeimer Candelario, 3B
He may not have the name recognition of the other prospects on this list, but Jeimer Candelario is definitely a guy worth keeping an eye on. Cadelario is a strong hitter that appears to have the potential to hit for power.
At only 20-years old, he will probably be at Advance-A next season. Candelario has always been a young player at his level. The numbers are not super impressive thus far, but he has mostly played in pitcher-friendly leagues and his age gives him a little bit of a pass. He has a rare set of tools, but he is a long ways away from being ready and is an extremely hit-or-miss type of prospect. That being said, if the power comes like I think it will, Candelario could be an All-Star.
8. Dan Vogelbach, 1B
Here is a guy that, unlike Candelario, has shown that pure home run power. Dan Vogelbach is simply a masher. He was drafted out of high school in the second round by the Cubs in 2011, the year before Epstein and Hoyer took over.
He is never going to be a burner on the basepaths or be an elite defender, but he seems to be able to handle 1B just fine. Ideally, Vogelbach would be a designated hitter at in the majors. Obviously, the Cubs play in the NL and that is not an option, and with Anthony Rizzo having a strong hold on 1B, there does not seem to be a logical opening for Vogelbach.
The Cubs will worry about finding a position for him (or trading him) when the time comes, but for now he just needs to keep hitting the ball out of the ballpark. Power is a sexy tool, he could rise up lists quickly if he continues to progress.
7. Pierce Johnson, RHP
The Cubs selected Johnson with the 43rd overall pick in the 2012 draft. At 22-years-old, Johnson has been lights out at the lower levels of the minors and could be on the fast track to the big leagues. Last season, Johnson pitched at two levels of A-ball and had incredible success along the way. In 118.1 innings, Johnson had a 2.74 ERA, struck out 9.4 batters per nine innings and walked 3.3 per nine.
He did not seem to be challenged by the talent level at A-Ball, and I see no reason why he would not start the season in Double-A. That will be a big test for Johnson and if he continues to perform, we may be seeing him at Wrigley sooner rather than later.
6. Arismendy Alcantara, SS/2B
At only 22-years-old, Arismendy Alcantara has impressed every step of the way through the minors, including at Double-A last season. Alcantara hit .271/.352/.451 last year with 36 doubles and 15 home runs. He also stole 31 bases in only 37 attempts. The strikeouts are a bit of a concern (125 in 571 plate appearances), but his 2013 walk rate of 10.9 percent is very encouraging.
Alcantara will almost certainly start the season as the starting 2B at Triple-A Iowa. With Darwin Barney giving the Cubs nothing offensively at the position in the big leagues, Alcantara could be the first of these guys to reach the majors. The talent is exciting, and if he can get his strikeouts down, the sky is the limit.
5. Jorge Soler, OF
Jorge Soler may have the highest ceiling out of any of the Cubs prospects. That being said, if he cannot find a way to stay on the field, he will never reach his high potential. An injured leg not only kept Soler out for a huge portion of the season in 2013, it seemed to effect him when he was on the field.
Soler probably makes the jump to Double-A to start the season, but returning to High-A does not seem out of the question. If he starts at Double-A and has a healthy and successful season, I think there is a strong chance that we see Soler with the big league club as a September call-up. If nothing else, it'll get him more at-bats against live pitching.
4. C.J. Edwards, RHP
Along with Olt, C.J. Edwards came to the Cubs last season from Texas in the Garza trade. Before the 2013 season, he was a bit of an unknown; but now, scouts are raving about his performance. Between the two organizations, Edwards pitched 116.1 innings, had a microscopic 1.86 ERA, 1.006 WHIP, walked 3.2 batters per nine innings and struck out a ridiculous 12 batters per nine.
Basically, it comes down to whether he will have the stamina to start or not. The stuff is there, everybody sees it, but his size is a huge concern. Edwards will surely start the season at Double-A, and who knows after that. He should be able to get the chance to prove himself and pitch 160 or so innings in 2014. If that goes well, Edwards will be on the fast track to big league stardom.
3. Albert Almora, OF
Outfielder Albert Almora was taken sixth overall by the Cubs in the 2012 draft, the first player selected in the draft by Epstein and Hoyer in Chicago. Almora was only on the field for 61 games in 2013 because of groin and wrist injuries, but he was very successful in those games, hitting .329/.376/.466 in Low-A as a 19-year-old.
Prospects are always a risky business, but Almora is as close to a sure thing that there is. He is a great kid that has good tools across the board. I would be very surprised if he is not holding down center field for the Cubs in the next couple of years.
2. Kris Bryant, 3B
Kris Bryant simply dominates pitching everywhere he goes. He was drafted second overall by the Cubs in June of 2013. In college at San Diego last season, Bryant hit .329/.493/.820 and 31 home runs in 62 games. That is one home run every other game! The guy was simply unstoppable in college.
Bryant has not been challenged yet as a hitter, and may not be until he reaches the big leagues. Next season, he will surely start at Double-A, and if he continues to put up ridiculous video game numbers, we could see him in the big leagues in 2014.
1. Javier Baez, SS
The Cubs selected Baez 9th overall in the 2011 draft. He is an athletic shortstop with a ton of natural ability. Baez has been impressive ever since he joined the Cubs out of high school, but put up almost unbelievable numbers in 2013, posting an OPS of .920 with 37 home runs in only 517 at-bats across two levels.
Baez will be the talk of Spring Training with the Cubs, but I highly doubt he will make the team to start the season no matter how he does. The Cubs will send him to Triple-A and as long as he does not fall flat on his face, I imagine we will see him around mid-season.