By Daniel Schmelzer @D_Schmelzer on March 24, 2014
While the MLB success has been severely lacking the past few seasons, the Chicago Cubs have one of the best minor league systems in all of baseball. That being said, with losses piling up, the fanbase is ready for the talent to arrive and help the big league team.
This is not only a list of the top 15 prospects in the Cubs' system, but when you can expect them to reach the majors and help the Cubs attain their ultimate goal of a championship.
Paul Blackburn is a talented pitcher with a ton of project-ability. He was taken by the Cubs in the supplemental first round of the 2012 Amateur Draft. In his first two professional seasons, Blackburn has been inconsistent, but shows great talent. I think Blackburn bursts onto the prospect scene in a big way this season, but do not expect him in the big leagues soon. He has a ton of work to do before the Cubs consider aggressively promoting him.
The Cubs signed Eloy Jimenez as a 16-year-old outfielder out of the Dominican Republic and the top ranked International Free Agent last season. Jimenez has great raw power and athleticism, and is a very advanced player for his age. Once he gets acclimated to the United States, Jimenez has the raw abilities to move quickly through the system. That being said, he is still only 17 years old and is at least four years away.
Kyle Hendricks does not have the raw "stuff" of most top pitching prospects, but he simply does an incredible job of getting batters out. Hendricks went 13-4 with a 2.00 ERA in 27 starts between double-A and triple-A last season, earning the honor of Cubs' Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Hendricks will not blow you away with his velocity or pitch movement, but he has fantastic control and incredible command. Expect Hendricks in the majors soon.
Christian Villanueva is probably the best defensive third baseman in all of Minor League Baseball. He has the entire package defensively at 3B and is a solid contact hitter at the plate. It is fair to wonder whether Villanueva will ever hit for enough power for the position, but he has shown some signs of higher power potential. Villanueva will be starting at 3B in triple-A this season, but I do not expect to see him in the majors until 2015.
At only 20 years old, Jeimer Candelario will be the everyday third baseman at high-A this season and continue to be young for the level that he is playing. He has yet to put up huge numbers in the minors, but he shows great potential. Candelario is good defensively, shows great plate discipline and nice power potential. He still has plenty of time to grow, but the future appears to be bright for Candelario.
Arodys Vizcaino probably has the best raw pitching ability in the Cubs' system. He has filthy "stuff", but injuries have always been a concern. Vizcaino finally appears to be over his elbow injury and was hitting 99 MPH on the radar gun this spring. He will start the season in triple-A, but if he remains healthy, Vizcaino will have a spot in the bullpen at some point this season.
Vision issues held him back last season, but Mike Olt seems to have put that problem behind him. Formerly one of the top prospects in all of baseball, Olt has shown his talent this spring and seems to have the inside track to the starting 3B job for the Cubs. At this point, I fully expect Olt to be in the majors and playing every day at the start of this season.
Dan Vogelbach is one of the best pure hitters in the Cubs' system. Not only does he have huge power, but his contact skills and plate discipline are very advanced for his age. Vogelbach's biggest problem is defense. Not only is he a below average defender at 1B, he offers no position versatility. With Anthony Rizzo having a stronghold on the 1B job for the Cubs, it is tough to predict when he will arrive. Eventually his bat will force its way.
Pierce Johnson is one of the most talented pitchers in the Cubs' system. He has impressive stuff and shows good consistency. Johnson will likely be a key part of the future rotation with the Cubs as soon as next season.
With one of the best combinations of power and speed in the minor leagues, Arismendy Alcantara appears to have a very bright future. He will be the starting second baseman at triple-A to start the year, and depending on how the infield shakes itself out, Alcantara could easily find himself as the everyday starter at 2B in the majors late in the 2014 season.
Injuries have held him back, but Jorge Soler is one of the most talented players in Cubs' system. He has great power, good athleticism and an incredibly strong throwing arm. Soler profiles as an ideal right fielder and a middle of the order bat. Soler will likely start this season at double-A, and if he can stay healthy, making the majors in 2015 seems likely.
C.J. Edwards has dominated in his two seasons in the lower minor league levels, going 13-5 with a 1.72 ERA and 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 38 games. Edwards has a very slender frame (6-foot-2, 155-pounds), so many scouts question his ability to remain a starting pitcher. Only time will tell if Edwards will have enough durability, but so far so good. He will begin the 2014 season in double-A with a 2015 big league call-up possible.
Albert Almora does not have one specific tool that jumps out at you, but he is very good across the board. He does not have blazing speed or great power, but he is an incredible defensive outfielder and a great contact hitter. Almora is a very advanced player for his age (19 years old) and seems like a great bet to become a big league regular. However, he is still young and there is no reason to rush him. 2016 seems like a fair bet.
Kris Bryant has dominated opposing pitchers wherever he goes. Bryant has incredible raw power and good athleticism. He strikes out a bit too much and could use some work on plate discipline, but Bryant's upside is absolutely massive and he seems to be a fair bet to reach it. He will likely start this season in double-A, but if that does not prove to be a challenge, a late season call-up will be in his future.
Javier Baez is one of the best prospects in all of baseball. His incredible bat speed generates a rare power skill that could make Baez a star. He is an aggressive swinger who needs to become more patient, but the sky is the limit for Baez. He will start the season as the starting SS in triple-A. Assuming he stays healthy and continues to progress, I think we will see Baez in Chicago by July this season.
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