2013 Chicago Cubs Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports




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Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible.

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Optimism reigned when the Cubs gave their a front office a full makeover last offseason. New president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and vice president of player development and scouting Jason McLeod had built two World Series champions with the Red Sox. Hoyer and McLeod also had revitalized the Padres farm system when they went to San Diego.

Because Chicago had focused on the short term in the last years of GM Jim Hendry's tenure and were left with an old and overpriced roster, fans understood that the club was going to have to get worse before it could get better.

That's exactly what happened in 2012. Winning at the major league level wasn't a priority—or a common occurrence. The Cubs' victory total dropped for the fourth straight season, culminating with a 61-101 record that was their worst in 46 seasons.

For all the losses, there was plenty of good news. Chicago's priority was to procure some impact talent, and they found some.

The Cubs spent the No. 6 overall pick in the draft and $3.9 million in bonus money on center fielder Albert Almora, one of the most polished high school position players in recent memory. To restock an organization seriously bereft of pitching, they spent their next seven choices on arms, starting with Missouri State righthander Pierce Johnson.

A week after the draft, Chicago landed Cuban slugger Jorge Soler with the biggest deal for an amateur in franchise history. Soler received a nine-year, $30 million big league contract that included a $6 million bonus, then teamed with Almora in the Rookie-level Arizona League.

At the trade deadline, the Cubs picked up righthander Arodys Vizcaino from the Braves in a deal for reliable veterans Reed Johnson and Paul Maholm. Vizcaino never would have been available if he hadn't had Tommy John surgery in March, but Chicago was thrilled to grab someone who ranked among the game's better pitching prospects before he got hurt.

Those were the headline moves, but there were several more. The Cubs spent heavily on three international pitchers, with $1.5 million Dominican righthander Juan Carlos Paniagua generating positive reviews and $6 million Cuban lefthander Gerardo Concepcion getting shelled in low Class A and removed from the 40-man roster in December. They imported Hanshin Tigers closer Kyuji Fujikawa from Japan in December for a two-year deal worth $9.5 million.

Of the many trades Epstein and Hoyer made in their first 14 months on the job, with one of their best coming three months before the season began. They shipped Andrew Cashner, Chicago's 2008 first-round pick, to the Padres for Anthony Rizzo, whom they had drafted in Boston. Rizzo was the biggest threat in the Cubs lineup after they called him up in late June, batting .285/.342/.463 at age 22.

There were more comings and goings in the front office, too. Vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita, who had been with the organization since 1995, was fired as part of a mid-August shakeup.

Minor league field coordinator Brandon Hyde was promoted to take over Fleita's farm director duties. Padres scouting director Jaron Madison took the same job with the Cubs. He replaced Tim Wilken, who took an expanded role as a special assistant to Epstein.

That's a lot of change in one year. But Chicago believes it was necessary and will be for the better.

1. Javier Baez, ss Born: Dec 01, 1992 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 205
Drafted: Arlington Country Day HS, Jacksonville, Fla., 2011 (1st round).  Signed by: Tom Clark
Javier BaezBackground: Born in Puerto Rico, Baez moved to Florida when he was 12. Going into his senior season at the Arlington Country Day School (Jacksonville, Fla.), he projected as a late first-round pick. He and Montverde (Fla.) Academy shortstop Francisco Lindor drew more than 100 scouts to a February showdown, and Baez kept impressing evaluators all spring. He batted .711 with 20 homers and went ninth overall to the Cubs—one pick after the Indians took Lindor—playing five pro games after signing for $2,625,000. Chicago kept him in extended spring training at the start of 2012 in order to tame his wild approach. That didn't really work, but his aggressiveness didn't stop him from posting a .979 OPS after he got to low Class A Peoria in late May. Managers named him the most exciting player in the Midwest League, where he also rated as the No. 1 prospect, and one scout said watching Baez take batting practice was the highlight of his summer. It took him just two months to hit his way to high Class A Daytona, where more advanced pitchers took advantage of his belief that he can hit any pitch in or out of the strike zone. The Cubs continued to challenge him after the season, taking the rare step of sending a teenager to the Arizona Fall League. He kept swinging from his heels, batting .211 but drilling four homers in 14 games, before breaking the tip of his left thumb in a pregame accident. He'll be fine by spring training.

Scouting Report: Baez has electric bat speed that elicits comparisons to the gold standard (Gary Sheffield), and he turns it loose every time. At some point he's going to have to tone down his swing and take more pitches—probably once he understands that opponents won't challenge him if they don't have to—but he has an uncanny ability to impart a lot of topspin on balls even when he doesn't square them up. His offensive ceiling is ridiculous, as it's not out of the question that he could develop into a well above-average hitter for both average and power. His bat alone could make him a superstar, but Baez offers a lot more in his tool kit. He surprised MWL observers and the Cubs with his smooth actions and range at shortstop. He eventually may outgrow the position, but scouts give him a chance to stay there for a while. His arm gives him a third well above-average tool, and he'd have no problem fulfilling the offensive and defensive requirements at third base. He has strong instincts and is much more under control as both a defender and baserunner. With average speed, he swiped 24 bases in 29 attempts last year. Baez plays with a cockiness that tends to infuriate opponents, which explains why he was hit by 10 pitches in 57 MWL games.

The Future: As an offensive-minded shortstop, he could be better than Starlin Castro. Baez has better defensive tools, more power and similar hitting ability. The Cubs probably won't displace Castro, but they'll keep Baez at shortstop until he shows he can't play there. He should see Double-A Tennessee at some point in 2013, perhaps even on Opening Day. Once he moderates his approach at the plate, he could get to Wrigley Field in a hurry.

Year Team AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
'11 Cubs (R) 12 2 4 2 0 0 0 0 2 2 0 .333 .333 .500
'11 Boise (SS) 6 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 2 0 0 .167 .167 .167
'12 Peoria (LoA) 213 41 71 10 5 12 33 9 48 20 3 .333 .383 .596
'12 Daytona (HiA) 80 9 15 3 1 4 13 5 21 4 2 .188 .244 .400
Minor League Totals 311 52 91 15 6 16 47 14 73 26 5 .293 .342 .534

2. Albert Almora, of Born: Apr 16, 1994 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 170
Drafted: Mater Academy, Hialeah Gardens, Fla., 2012 (1st round).  Signed by: John Koronka/Laz Llanos
Albert AlmoraBackground: Scouts say Almora has more polish and better makeup than any high schooler in recent memory. His tools are solid or better across the board too, so the Cubs selected him sixth overall in June and signed him for $3.9 million. It was no surprise that he made an easy transition to pro ball, hitting .321/.331/.464 at two short-season stops.

Scouting Report: Thanks to his bat speed, loose swing and hand-eye coordination, Almora makes line-drive contact with ease. He has natural hitting rhythm and pitch-recognition skills. He will need more patience after walking just twice in 145 pro plate appearances. He's not the most physical player, but he has the hitting acumen and projection to grow into 20-homer power. Almora's defense is exceptional. He has incredible instincts, allowing his average speed to play up on the bases and in center field. He gets outstanding jumps and takes precise routes. He also has a strong, accurate arm. A quality teammate, he has helped Jorge Soler with his English.

The Future: Almora profiles as a Gold Glove center fielder who could hit third in the batting order. He'll be at Chicago's new low Class A Kane County affiliate in 2013, and he might need just two years in the minors.

Year Team AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
'12 Cubs (R) 75 18 26 5 1 1 13 2 8 5 1 .347 .363 .480
'12 Boise (SS) 65 9 19 7 0 1 6 0 5 0 1 .292 .292 .446
Minor League Totals 140 27 45 12 1 2 19 2 13 5 2 .321 .331 .464

3. Jorge Soler, of Born: Feb 25, 1992 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 205
Signed: Cuba '12 Signed by: Louie Eljaua/Jose Serra/Alex Suarez
Jorge SolerBackground: The best prospect on Cuba's bronze-medal team at the 2010 World Junior Championship, Soler was unsuccessful in his initial attempt to defect but escaped in 2011. The Cubs were linked to Soler months before he was cleared to sign by the U.S. government and MLB in June, and they quickly signed him to a nine-year, $30 million contract with a club-record $6 million bonus. He easily handled low Class A pitching in his pro debut.

Scouting Report: The ball explodes off Soler's bat, and his well above-average power can make any ballpark look small. He hit two balls onto Waveland Avenue while taking batting practice at Wrigley Field in September. He has feel for hitting too, as he uses a game plan, recognizes pitches well and can make two-strike adjustments. Some scouts worry about an arm bar and stiffness in his swing. Soler has solid speed once he gets going and good instincts on the bases. Once he improves his routes to balls, he'll be an asset in right field. He has well above-average arm strength and makes accurate throws.

The Future: A prototypical right fielder, Soler has a ceiling that rivals Javier Baez's among Chicago farmhands. The Cubs may be conservative to start 2013, letting Soler tear up the Midwest League while he continues to get acclimated to the United States.

Year Team AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
'12 Cubs (R) 54 14 13 2 0 2 10 6 13 8 0 .241 .328 .389
'12 Peoria (LoA) 80 14 27 5 0 3 15 6 6 4 1 .338 .398 .513
Minor League Totals 134 28 40 7 0 5 25 12 19 12 1 .299 .369 .463

4. Arodys Vizcaino, rhp Born: Nov 13, 1990 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-0 Wt.: 190
Signed: Dominican Republic '07 Signed by: Alfredo Dominguez (Yankees)
Arodys VizcainoBackground: After the Braves acquired him in a four-player trade that sent Javier Vazquez to the Yankees in December 2009, Vizcaino missed time the following season with a partially torn elbow ligament. He rose from high Class A to the majors in 2011, but the ligament gave out last spring and required Tommy John surgery in March that cost him the 2012 season. Atlanta parted with him and righthander Jaye Chapman in July to get Reed Johnson and Paul Maholm from the Cubs.

Scouting Report: Before he got hurt, Vizcaino was one of baseball's top pitching prospects. He had a 93-95 mph fastball that topped out at 97, and it might be his second-best pitch. The only negative about his sharp curveball was that he threw it too much. Refining his changeup and improving his fastball command were on his to-do list. Assuming Vizcaino regains full health, the biggest question will be his future role. Chicago sees a potential No. 2 starter while his detractors think his track record indicates that he won't hold up in a rotation, even if his mechanics are fine. At worst, the Cubs think they have a closer.

The Future: Chicago will handle Vizcaino, far and away their best upper-level pitching prospect, with great care. He should be able to return early in the 2013 season, but the goal is to have him ready to start for the big league club in 2014.

Year Team W L ERA G GS SV IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
'08 Yankees (R) 3 2 3.68 12 6 0 44 38 22 18 5 13 48 .224
'09 Staten Island (SS) 2 4 2.13 10 10 0 42 34 18 10 2 15 52 .211
'10 Myrtle Beach (HiA) 0 0 4.61 3 3 0 14 16 9 7 1 3 11 .281
'10 Rome (LoA) 9 4 2.39 14 14 0 72 63 25 19 1 9 68 .227
'11 Lynchburg (HiA) 2 2 2.45 9 9 0 40 31 14 11 3 10 37 .204
'11 Mississippi (AA) 2 3 3.81 11 8 0 50 44 21 21 3 18 55 .228
'11 Gwinnett (AAA) 1 0 1.29 6 0 0 7 7 3 1 1 0 8 .250
'11 Atlanta (MAJ) 1 1 4.67 17 0 0 17 16 9 9 1 9 17 .235
Major League Totals 1 1 4.76 17 0 0 17 16 16 9 1 9 17 .239
Minor League Totals 19 15 2.91 65 50 0 269 233 233 87 16 68 279 .224

5. Brett Jackson, of Born: Aug 02, 1988 B-T: L-R Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 210
Drafted: California, 2009 (1st round).  Signed by: John Bartsch
Brett JacksonBackground: The Cubs thought Jackson had the draft's best bat speed in 2009, when they selected him 31st overall and signed him for $972,000. He had swing-and-miss issues as an amateur, but appeared to have them under control until ge got to Triple-A. He has fanned 222 times in 592 at-bats at Iowa over the last two years, and whiffed 59 times in 120 at-bats after he joined the Cubs in August.

Scouting Report: Jackson's problems may be mechanical. He has developed a bad habit of drifting toward the plate, blocking off his hands and leaving him easy prey for inside fastballs. He also takes or swings through too many hittable pitches. As his problems got worse, he started chasing more offspeed pitches. Even if Jackson doesn't hit for a high average, he still can do a lot to help a club. He draws walks and has plus power and speed, still managing to produce 60 extra-base hits (including 19 homers) and 27 steals in 2012 despite his struggles. He can play a solid center field and provide above-average defense on the corners. His arm is average and accurate.

The Future: Jackson may have gotten caught up trying to do too much as he got close to and then reached the majors. If he can relax and make some adjustments, he could be a 20-20 player. He should open 2013 as Chicago's center fielder unless he tanks in spring training.

Year Team AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
'09 Cubs (R) 11 6 5 0 1 0 4 3 4 0 0 .455 .533 .636
'09 Boise (SS) 88 14 29 1 1 1 15 17 20 2 1 .330 .443 .398
'09 Peoria (LoA) 112 30 33 5 1 7 17 11 32 11 1 .295 .383 .545
'10 Daytona (HiA) 263 56 83 19 8 6 38 43 63 12 7 .316 .420 .517
'10 Tennessee (AA) 228 47 63 13 6 6 28 30 63 18 4 .276 .366 .465
'11 Tennessee (AA) 246 45 63 10 3 10 32 45 74 15 6 .256 .373 .443
'11 Iowa (AAA) 185 39 55 13 2 10 26 28 64 6 1 .297 .388 .551
'12 Iowa (AAA) 407 66 104 22 12 15 47 47 158 27 5 .256 .338 .479
'12 Chicago (MAJ) 120 14 21 6 1 4 9 22 59 0 3 .175 .303 .342
Major League Totals 120 14 21 6 1 4 9 22 59 0 3 .175 .303 .342
Minor League Totals 1540 303 435 83 34 55 207 224 478 91 25 .282 .379 .488

6. Pierce Johnson, rhp Born: May 10, 1991 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 170
Drafted: Missouri State, 2012 (1st round supplemental).  Signed by: Stan Zielinski
Pierce JohnsonBackground: Since 2001, Missouri State has had four pitchers selected in the first or sandwich round, and has sent seven arms to the big leagues. The latest product is Johnson, who went 43rd overall last June and lasted that long only because he missed two starts with a forearm strain in the spring. His stuff looked as crisp as ever after he signed for $1,196,000.

Scouting Report: Johnson consistently works at 92-94 mph and reaches 96 with his lively fastball. His hammer curveball gives him two pitches that can get swings and misses. He also has a mid-80s cutter and a changeup that's coming along. Johnson is more about power than finesse, and his control and command are no better than average. He doesn't have a clean medical history, as he had forearm issues as a high school senior and college freshman and dislocated a kneecap while warming up in the summer Cape Cod League in 2011. The Cubs rave about his work ethic and character.

The Future: How thin is the system's pitching? Among Chicago prospects with a legitimate chance to pitch in the front half of a big league rotation, Johnson already is the second-most advanced despite having just 11 innings of pro experience. The Cubs will expedite his development, which could mean starting his first full pro season in high Class A.

Year Team W L ERA G GS SV IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
'12 Cubs (R) 0 0 0.00 2 2 0 3 4 0 0 0 0 2 .308
'12 Boise (SS) 0 0 4.50 4 4 0 8 10 5 4 0 3 12 .294
Minor League Totals 0 0 3.27 6 6 0 11 14 14 4 0 3 14 .298

7. Dan Vogelbach, 1b Born: Dec 17, 1992 B-T: L-R Ht.: 6-0 Wt.: 250
Drafted: Bishop Verot HS, Fort Myers, Fla., 2011 (2nd round).  Signed by: Lukas McKnight
Dan VogelbachBackground: The Cubs spent $12 million on the 2011 draft, highlighted by a pair of high schoolers with light-tower power in Javier Baez and Vogelbach. Vogelbach barely played after signing late for $1.6 million, but he made up for lost time by hitting .322/.410/.641 with 17 homers in 61 games last year.

Scouting Report: Vogelbach has more usable power than Baez or Jorge Soler, which is saying a lot. He has plenty of bat speed and strength, but Vogelbach does more than just grip it and rip it. He earns high marks for his advanced approach and feel for hitting. He controls the strike zone, takes walks and uses the entire field with an effortless swing. He can get pull-conscious at times but generally hits from gap to gap. Vogelbach will need to keep producing at the plate because he can't do anything else. He has improved his conditioning since ballooning to 280 pounds in 2010, but he'll always carry a lot of weight. He's a liability on the basepaths and adequate at best as a first baseman. A lot of teams see him as a DH, which wouldn't do a National League club any good.

The Future: Vogelbach's build and background as a Florida prep product are similar to those of Billy Butler and Prince Fielder, as is his offensive upside. Vogelbach and Soler should put on shows in batting practice at Kane County this year.

Year Team AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
'11 Cubs (R) 24 4 7 3 0 1 6 2 2 1 0 .292 .370 .542
'12 Cubs (R) 102 16 33 12 2 7 31 12 14 1 0 .324 .391 .686
'12 Boise (SS) 143 23 46 9 1 10 31 23 34 0 1 .322 .423 .608
Minor League Totals 269 43 86 24 3 18 68 37 50 2 1 .320 .406 .632

8. Jeimer Candelario, 3b Born: Nov 24, 1993 B-T: B-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 180
Signed: Dominican Republic '10 Signed by: Jose Serra/Marino Encarnacion
Jeimer CandelarioBackground: Signed for $500,000 in 2010, Candelario and tore up the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League in his pro debut the following year. The Cubs threw a two-level promotion at him for 2012, making him the youngest regular in the short-season Northwest League, and he was up to the challenge.

Scouting Report: Though he's just 19, Candelario already shows a fluid swing and feel for hitting from both sides of the plate. He's advanced for his age in terms of plate discipline, pitch recognition and willingness to use the entire field. He didn't drive the ball a lot last summer, but he has the bat speed and projectable frame to develop 20-homer power. He'll need to get stronger after hitting just .265 with two homers in the final two months of the NWL season. Candelario has the soft hands and strong arm for third base but it's questionable whether he can play there at the highest levels. He has below-average speed and fringy range, and his concentration wanders at times. He led NWL third basemen with 20 errors in 59 games.

The Future: Candelario will stay at third base for now as he advances to low Class A. Moving to first base wouldn't be an attractive option, because he'd have to battle Anthony Rizzo and Dan Vogelbach for future playing time.

Year Team AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
'11 Cubs 2 (R) 249 50 84 16 2 5 53 50 42 4 4 .337 .443 .478
'12 Boise (SS) 278 34 78 14 0 6 47 26 55 2 1 .281 .345 .396
Minor League Totals 527 84 162 30 2 11 100 76 97 6 5 .307 .393 .435

9. Kyuji Fujikawa, rhp Born: Jul 21, 1980 B-T: L-R Ht.: 6-0 Wt.: 190
Signed: Japan '12 Signed by: Paul Weaver
Kyuji FujikawaBackground: Fujikawa made his Nippon Professional Baseball debut at age 19 and has been once of Japan's top relievers since 2005. He led the Central League with 46 saves in 2007 and 41 in 2011, and he recorded 220 saves and a 1.77 ERA in 12 seasons with Hanshin. He also was a regular on national teams, pitching in the 2008 Olympics and the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics. Fujikawa had asked the Hanshin Tigers to post him to a major league club for several years, but they declined and he had to wait to become a free agent this offseason. Chicago signed him in December to two-year deal that's worth $9.5 million and includes a vesting option for 2015.

Scouting Report: Fujikawa throws harder than most Japanese pitchers, regularly operating with a 91-94 mph fastball. His out pitch is a mid-80s splitter, and he also uses an upper-70s slurve. He commands and controls his pitches well, with career averages of 11.9 strikeouts and 2.7 walks per nine innings in Japan. With his track record of pitching in the late innings and in international tournaments, he has no problems dealing with pressure.

The Future: The Cubs are confident that Fujikawa can handle the late innings but won't determine his specific role until spring training. Whether they ask him to close games probably depends on whether they trade Carlos Marmol.

Year Team W L ERA G GS SV IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
2012 Hanshin (Japan) 2 2 1.32 48 0 0 24 48 34 7 7 1 15 58

10. Arismendy Alcantara, ss Born: Oct 29, 1991 B-T: B-R Ht.: 5-10 Wt.: 160
Signed: Dominican Republic '08 Signed by: Jose Serra/Marino Encarnacion/Carlos Reyes
Arismendy AlcantaraBackground: Alcantara finally started to translate his intriguing tools into on-field performance in 2012, but his season came to a premature end when he broke a bone in his foot on July 11. Before he got hurt, he already had set career highs in most offensive categories and earned recognition from managers as the best infield arm in the high Class A Florida State League. He returned to play with Licey in the Dominican League.

Scouting Report: Alcantara is a live-bodied switch-hitter who can hit for average and provide solid power for a middle infielder from both sides of the plate. His further offensive development will be tied to improved selectivity at the plate, as he still gives away at-bats at times. He has plus speed and knows how to use it, stealing 25 bases in 29 tries in 2012. Alcantara has the quickness, range and arm strength to make all the plays at shortstop. But he loses focus at times and makes too many off-target throws, leading to 30 errors in 71 games at short last year. The game may just be too fast for him there, so he might be better off at second base.

The Future: Scouts throw some Jimmy Rollins comparisons on Alcantara, though at the same point of his career, Rollins already had reached Triple-A. Alcantara will seek better health and consistency when he advances to Double-A in 2013.
 
Year Team AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
'09 Cubs 1 (R) 258 44 71 11 8 3 32 30 47 20 2 .275 .349 .415
'10 Boise (SS) 219 29 62 5 6 3 24 10 53 7 3 .283 .315 .402
'11 Peoria (LoA) 369 45 100 14 5 2 37 16 76 8 8 .271 .303 .352
'12 Daytona (HiA) 331 47 100 13 7 7 51 19 61 25 4 .302 .339 .447
Minor League Totals 1177 165 333 43 26 15 144 75 237 60 17 .283 .326 .402