League Top 20 Prospects

Chicago Cubs Top 10 Prospects Chat With Jim Callis

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Jim Callis: I've just finished my last contributions to the Prospect Handbook, so let's get this chat started a few minutes early. Fire away with Cubs questions!

    JAYPERS (IL): Just how close was it between Archer and Jackson for the top spot, and what was the deciding factor?

Jim Callis: It was very close, and Trey McNutt wasn't far off either. I think Archer has a little more upside with a pair of potential plus-plus pitches versus Jackson's solid all-around play. Jackson is a safer bet, if you wanted to go in that direction. They're the same age and have succeeded at the same level (Double-A), so those weren't any help as tiebreakers.

    Ben (Leland Grove): Thoughts on Micah Gibbs? 11-20 guy? How are his receiving skills?

Jim Callis: He didn't make the Cubs Top 30 in the upcoming 2011 Prospect Handbook. I think he was the best receiver available in the 2010 draft, but scouts aren't sold that he's going to hit enough to be a regular. I did consider him for the Top 30, but the Cubs have impressive depth.

    Harry (Trenton, NJ): I've been reading that Reggie Golden could have 5-tool abilities. Do you concur with this, and about how far off the Top 10 was he?

Jim Callis: He does, but he also has a lot of refinement to do. He fell in the middle of the 11-30 mix. Hamstring problems limited him as a high school senior and in his pro debut, but I've had multiple scouts compare him to a young Kevin Mitchell. He has plus-plus raw power.

    Guy (VA): Dae-Eun Rhee - prospect or suspect?

Jim Callis: Still a prospect. He had Tommy John surgery in 2009, so last year was just a recovery season for him. We'll have a better feel for what he can become in 2011, when the surgery will be two years behind him. His stuff hasn't come all the way back yet.

    Frank (Joliet, IL): How far down has Jay Jackson's stock fallen since last year? What's his future role likely to be?

Jim Callis: The Cubs called up 12 pitchers from Triple-A Iowa in 2010, but Jackson wasn't one of them. He has been passed by some other pitchers, and his stuff regressed a little last year, but he still has the upside of a possible No. 3 starter.

    Harry (Chitown): How far off the top 10 was Robinson Chirinos and whats the word on him. thanks

Jim Callis: He was in the middle of the 11-20 mix. He intrigues me. His conversion to catching has gone really well, and it has made him a better hitter to boot. He's blocked by Geovany Soto in Chicago, but Chirinos could be an ideal backup as a guy who can hit for solid average and power while being able to play several positions. If my team needed a catcher, I'd see if I could pry Chirinos away from the Cubs.

    Jake (MD): What did scouts have to say about LeMahieu's season?

Jim Callis: Mixed reports. Everyone agrees that he can hit, and he's the best pure hitter in the system. But while the Cubs think he has a chance to play second base and make some adjustments to hit 15 homers per year, scouts outside the organization don't think he has the quickness to play second or the power for third.

    JAYPERS (IL): About where would you rank the Cubbies' system overall at present?

Jim Callis: I won't give away all of our farm system rankings in the 2011 Prospect Handbook, but I will reveal that we ranked the Cubs at No. 8.

    Paul (Midwest): Is Simpson an overdraft in your opinion? What led the Cubs to take him as high as they did?

Jim Callis: He was in my opinion but the Cubs have no regrets about taking him 16th overall, after he missed his first pro summer with a bad case of mono. They saw him better than most clubs did, watching him work at 94-97 mph in an NCAA Division II playoff game and think he'll have four average to plus pitches with good command. The Angels also saw Simpson good and had five picks between Chicago's first- and second-rounders, forcing the Cubs' hand.

    Frankie (Dallas): Did Ben Wells come close to making your list? Why or why not?

Jim Callis: Too early to make the Top 10, but he did make the Top 30. He flew under the radar for much of the spring, and teams who were on him told me that he would have been a third-round pick (or better) had he gotten exposure and been crosschecked thoroughly. He has a plus fastball, possible plus slider and an interesting splitter.

    Jon (Peoria): Do you think that either Robinson Chirinos or Wellington Castillo can beat out Koyie Hill for the backup catcher job?

Jim Callis: They could. I think the best case would be for Chirinos to back up Soto while Castillo plays every day in Triple-A.

    Grant (Baltimore, MD): I see a few pitchers on your list you describe as either a SP or RP down the road (in addition to Cashner), yet you have Marmol as their closer on the 2014 lineup card. If you had to pick one of these prospects to be their closer right now (pretending for a minute they're all Major League-ready), who would it be?

Jim Callis: Assuming Marmol is gone, if I had to pick a closer from the remaining arms, I might go with Archer. He has the stuff to close, and his command and control aren't as good as Cashner's or McNutt's.

    Don (Rosemont, IL): Have you heard any word on whether Sczcur will formally give up football prior to the scouting combine? How do his tools compare with Reggie Golden's?

Jim Callis: I haven't heard. He was injured for part of the fall at Villanova, and I wonder if that might help drive him to baseball, where it's easier to stay in one piece. Golden has more raw power and more arm strength than Szczur, but Szczur is a better hitter, runner and outfielder.

    Dan (Lansing): Give me the quick scouting report on Dustin Geiger.

Jim Callis: 24th-round pick last June, still growing into body, power potential, good defensively at third base.

    Steve (Sarasota): If he were eligible, where would Jeff Samardzija be in the Cubs top 30? Have you or the Cubs given up on him?

Jim Callis: Maybe toward the end of the list. I don't think the Cubs have handled him well at all, and I don't see him as more as a middle reliever in the long run now. There's some obvious arm strength there but he just doesn't miss enough bats.

    JAYPERS (IL): How confident are you that Szczur will adapt to playing baseball full time better than someone like, say, Samardzija?

Jim Callis: The difference to me is that Szczur has shown aptitude in addition to raw physical talent. He's a gifted hitter who squares ball up and made strides defensively during his short time in pro ball. Samardzija threw hard at Notre Dame, but he was mostly a one-pitch pitcher and didn't strike out a lot of guys in Big East Conference competition.

    Bob (Mundelein, IL): Is Chris Rusin a guy to keep an eye on as a back-end starter either toward the end of this year or next year? Also, did Austin Kirk fall somewhere near the back end of the list?

Jim Callis: More for next year. He's a finesse lefty who can really pitch, and he has the best changeup and control in the system. I had trouble squeezing lefties onto the Top 30. I got Brooks Raley on there but left Rusin and Kirk off. They'll all close, as are Jeffry Antigua and Cameron Greathouse.

    Marty (Philly): Hey Jim, I know you like Marquez Smith a little, but was it a surprise to see him not selected in the Rule 5? He seems to be MLB ready as a nice bat off the bench. Did the Cubs get lucky?

Jim Callis: It's harder for teams to take hitters (as opposed to pitchers) in the Rule 5 draft because it's more difficult to find enough playing time to avoid wasting their year. I thought Smith might get popped because he can hit and he can play second or third base, but the Cubs gambled successfully that he wouldn't be taken.

    Bob (Mundelein, IL): Do you think that guys like Ben Wells, Austin Reed, Aaron Kurcz, or Cam Greathouse will start in Peoria next year? Who is the top pitcher (besides Simpson) to keep an eye on in the lower levels of the organization?

Jim Callis: Wells hasn't faced the competition the other guys have, so it's possible he could make his pro debut at short-season Boise, but I think the other three will open the year in Peoria. Actually, Kurcz is advanced enough that he might skip a level and head to high Class A Daytona. All of those guys are very interesting, but the best young pitcher to watch may be Robinson Lopez, who was part of the Derrek Lee trade with the Braves. The Cubs do a great job extracting value when dealing veterans, and Lopez touched 97 mph at times last year.

    Don (Rosemont, IL): As a charter member of the Junior Lake Fan Club, I'm intrigued by his power potential and arm. Do you think that his bat and defense will ever improve enough to be a starting infielder?

Jim Callis: I am too, and he spent last year in high Class A at age 20. He's not the most disciplined hitter or reliable fielder, so it wouldn't shock me if the Cubs eventually tried him on the mound. Lake's best position is probably third base, which means he may have to go back to Daytona if D.J. LeMahieu and Ryan Flaherty are in Double-A.

    John (Daytona): Where do you see Ryan Flaherty? He has hit well, with some power, at all stops except for a brief stint in AA, and can handle many positions.

Jim Callis: He's similar to D.J. LeMahieu in that he has some strengths but doesn't profile great at a particular position. Flaherty has some power, but he can't really play the middle infield and has been erratic at third base. I think he's ultimately more of a corner utility guy.

    Pigs (Fargo, Nd): Where did Trey Mcnutt come from? He didn't seem like he was on the prospect map at all until this year.

Jim Callis: Pigs, you have to read your Prospect Handbook, because he was in last year's edition. The Cubs signed McNutt as an obscure 32nd-round pick out of junior college, and he started showing a mid-90s fastball and a power breaking ball. That combo allowed him to reach Double-A in his first full pro season.

    Mike (Des Moines): What's the word on OF Evan Crawford? I don't think theres enough bat or aptitude. Prospects like him (Toolsy, all projection, high K rates) frustrate me becasue they never seem to pan out yet seem to get a lot of love from scouts.

Jim Callis: He didn't make my Top 30. He can really run and he's athletic, but I wonder about the bat as well. Not a bad get for Mike Fontenot, though.

    Don (Rosemont, IL): What are your thoughts on Jae-Hoon Ha? I was impressed with his hitting ability last year, though I wasn't sure about what type of power he could realistically have or which outfield position he would fit best at.

Jim Callis: Another guy I want to see more of. I got mixed reviews on him when I was working on our Midwest League coverage, but he did hit .317/.334/.468 in a tough hitter's league, playing in low Class A as a 19-year-old. He's more of a high-average, gap-power, 15-homer-max type of guy than a slugger. One club official told me he had the most competitive at-bats of any Cubs farmhand last year. He's a good corner outfielder who can fill in in center as needed.

    Pete O. (Chicago): A lot of turnover in the Cubs' Top 10 between this year and last. Did Jay Jackson, Flaherty, Watkins etc disappoint or did the system just get strong enough that those guys didn't crack the top 10 anymore?

Jim Callis: Some of each. Jackson, Flaherty and Watkins didn't quite have the years hoped. Archer, McNutt and Guyer took huge steps forward, and Szczur and Simpson arrived via the draft.

    Ken (Lakewood CA): Guyer's stats in AA are impressive. Where does he come up short that puts him at #10 instead of closer to the top? Not that there is anything wrong with being an organization's #10 ML. Thanks.

Jim Callis: He's overly aggressive at the plate and has a hard time staying healthy. He's a good athlete with legitimate tools, but scouts aren't convinced that he didn't play over his head during his big year in Double-A in 2010. Some see him as a possible solid regular, others see him as more of a good fourth outfielder.

    Dan (Lansing): Is Elvis Andrus a good comp. for Hak-Ju Lee or is that dreaming?

Jim Callis: Different types of players. Andrus is a better defender while Lee has more offensive potential.

    Jasen (FLL): Is the prospect book gonna be in stores by the end of the month?

Jim Callis: I believe early to mid-February for stores. If you order the Handbook directly from Baseball America, we'll ship in the middle of the month, and throw in a bonus supplement with 30 extra prospects.

    Dan (Lansing): What can you tell me about Dallas Beeler?

Jim Callis: Another good sleeper from the 2010 draft. Had Tommy John surgery at Oral Roberts, throwing 92-95 again and also showing a promising slider.

    Dan (Lansing): Any chance Casey Coleman sticks as a long term SP?

Jim Callis: Sure. He doesn't have the ceiling of some of the Cubs' other arms, but he really knows how to pitch and does all the little things well. Those guys have a habit of sticking around longer than might be expected. By the way, he didn't make the Top 30 because he exhausted his eligibility once he passed 50 innings in the majors.

    Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): Of last years top 30 prospect group, who has jumped up the most notches and who has dropped the most spots down in this years group?

Jim Callis: Archer moved up 14 spots from No. 15 to No. 1, while McNutt rose 13 spots from No. 16 to No. 3. Chirinos and Castillo both improved 10 spots from Nos. 26 and 27 to Nos. 16 and 17. (Guyer came from off the 2010 list to No. 10 this year.) In the other direction, Kyler Burke (was No. 11) and John Gaub (was No. 14) fell totally off the list. Watkins went from No. 7 to No. 21 and Flaherty went from No. 9 to No. 22. Remember, our list ultimately reflects Baseball America's opinion and not necessarily that of the Cubs.

    Travis (Phoenix, AZ): What is the outlook on Wes Darvill as he hit over .300 as an 18 year old in the AZL?

Jim Callis: Another one of the Cubs' better sleepers. He could be a very interesting hitter once he adds some needed strength. Chicago is ridiculously loaded at third base with Vitters, LeMahieu, Flaherty, Lake, Cerda, Smith, Darvill and Geiger.

    Steve (Michigan): Hello Jim, thanks for chatting...How would you rank/compare Josh Vitters to the other big 3B prospects; Moustakas, Chisenhall, Dominguez, Viviedo? And, do the Cubs plan on keeping him at 3B for the future? Thanks!

Jim Callis: That's a motley crew. I believe more in Moustakas' power than in Vitters', and I believe more in Chisenhall's bat than Vitters'. Dominguez is a better fielder, but I'd still take Vitters' bat over his. Viciedo, I see him more as a 1B/DH and I'd still take Vitters over him. The Cubs think Vitters is poised to break out in 2011, and I'll still give him the benefit of the doubt because he's barely 21. Would like to see him justify that faith next year, though.

    Bernie (Warwick, RI): Where does Matt Cerda fall in the top 30 ?

Jim Callis: He just missed, and in fact he's the bonus Cub you get if you order the Handbook directly from us and get the supplement with an extra prospect per club. He can really hit and control the strike zone, but the other facets of his game still need work. I think he fits best at third base, and he may not have enough power for the position.

    Billy (Champaign): Who do you like more: Brooks Raley or Chris Rusin? And why?

Jim Callis: Raley. It's close, but I think his stuff is a little better and he's more athletic.

    Raoul (Tucson, Az): Yo, Jimbo, does Cashner have true #1 stuff or did you slot him as the top starter cause he'll be the best of what they have in 3 years?

Jim Callis: I'm tough doling out the No. 1 platitudes and envision him as more of a true No. 2 starter. But he definitely has frontline starter stuff with a mid-90s fastball and mid-80 slider. With improved command, he could be a true No. 1.

    Bill (Lincoln,NE): Thanks for answering my question Jim, Do you see Matt Szczur's ceiling being something along the lines of a Grady Sizemore type centerfielder or am I just being optimistic?

Jim Callis: Not saying he'll get there, but no, that's not an unrealistic ceiling. Szczur has top-of-the-line speed and athleticism, and he can really hit.

    Joe R (Newport News, VA): If Hayden Simpson hadn't been a first-round draft pick, but instead a third-rounder — and had the same profile and lack of professional history, would he still have been a top ten prospect?

Jim Callis: Yes. Jay Jackson made our Cubs Top 10 in his draft year, and he was a ninth-rounder. Obviously, we know these guys' pedigrees, but we're ranking them based on talent and not draft position. I put Szczur (fifth round) ahead of Simpson.

    Bernie (Warwick, RI): What's the 2011 outlook for fellow RI'der Jeff Beliveau ? Is he a fringe mlb middle reliever if he can't harness his control ?

Jim Callis: Another terrific sleeper. Could have made a lot of Top 30s and I wanted to slide him on there. I think he's going to have a nice career as a lefty reliever.

    bubblesdachimp (DC): Do the Cubs have the best farm system in the NL central right now?

Jim Callis: Neck and neck with the Reds.

    Billy (Champaign): In the best tools section you have Brett Jackson as the best hitter for power. Does that mean you think he has more raw power than guys like Vitters and Golden or just that you think he has a better chance of getting it to actually show up in games?

Jim Callis: That would be most usable power. Vitters and Golden might have more raw power, but as of now, I'd bet that Jackson will hit the most homers in the big leagues. Jackson's raw power is nothing to scoff at either.

    bubblesdachimp (DC): Dear Jim, My buddy Steph an Orioles fan made the comment that 8 seems a little high for the Cubs ranking. Would you take the Cubs over the Orioles system and does the 8 ranking say more about incredible depth as compared to high upside talent?

Jim Callis: No question, Cubs over Orioles (No. 21 on our list, dropoff after Machado and Britton). The Cubs have a pretty solid top three (Archer, Jackson, McNutt) on the top of their list, but it's fair to say their depth drives our ranking.

    Ryan (Abingdon, MD): Can you remember the last time you ranked a player in the top 10 who didn't make their team's top 30 the year before? If so, who was it?

Jim Callis: Did the same thing with the Red Sox this year, with Oscar Tejeda going from off the list to No. 10 (after the Casey Kelly trade).

    Sang (Chicago): What do scouts think of Scott Maine? He's put up solid numbers the past couple years in the minors but I dont recall too much being written about him.

Jim Callis: Scouts give him a lot of credit for making adjustments. He looked very ordinary at the beginning of last year, but he was in Chicago throwing 93-95 mph and showing a much better slider at the end of the season.

    Bill (Deerfield, IL): Where would the Cubs system rank if Cashner and Castro still qualified?

Jim Callis: They wouldn't be No. 1 ahead of the Royals, but they could make a case for No. 2.

    Frank (Queens): Did Alberto Cabrera come close to making the list? What reports did you get on his stuff?

Jim Callis: Very close. He's No. 11. Threw 92-97 mph as a starter, has a pair of hard breaking pitches, may wind up a reliever.

    Ron (Wisc): Hello Jim, thanks for taking this...I see in the write-up on Vitters a lot about what the Cubs and others thing of him. I want to know what YOU think of him? Will be be a solid 3B, what kinda of BA/HR will he produce, and when do you think he'll get there and stay there? Thanks!

Jim Callis: He was only 20 last year, so I'll still give him the benefit of the doubt. I think he can be a .275/20 HR hitter, possibly more, but I don't see him being more than decent at third base.

Jim Callis: Thanks for all the great questions. Cubs fans always turn out in force. Feel free to hit me up at Twitter (@jimcallisBA), and I'll have a new Ask BA up tomorrow. Tune in tomorrow as well for our next prospect chat, as J.J. Cooper discusses the Reds.