2013 Chicago Cubs Top 10 Prospects Chat With Jim Callis




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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.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): Thanks as always for the chat, Jim. Was the inclusion of Juan Carlos Paniagua in the Closer's spot on your Lineup Card due to lack of room on the list of SPs, or do scouts believe he's a future reliever? How close did he come to making your top 10?

Jim Callis: Hi, everyone. There's always a lot of interest from Cubs fans in our Cubs Top 10, and this year is no different if the backlog of question in the chat queue is any indication . . . With Paniagua, it's some of each. He's got a slingy arm action that leads some scouts to think he's a reliever in the long run, but he'll begin his Cubs career as a starter. He has pitched 39 pro innings in the last four years, so there are lot of unknowns, but it's hard not to like the 94-98 mph fastball.

    Ben (Leland Grove): Very surprised not to see Christian Villanueva on your list. Was he a late cut, and how high are you on him?

Jim Callis: He was No. 12. When I go through the process of Top 10, I'm constantly tweaking it, and he was on and off the bottom of the list before winding up. I do like him, I just liked 11 guys more. Villanueva gets raves for his defense and makeup, but a lot of scouts don't think his power profiles at third base in the long run. Some think he might have 15-homer power, while other think that's a stretch. And without solid pop, it's hard to profile as a first-division regular at third base.

    Frank (Chicago): Could you tell us why Gioskar Amaya missed making your list, and what is his future role likely to become?

Jim Callis: He's a second baseman who has yet to reach full-season ball, and there's not a single one of those guys on any team's Top 10. I do like Amaya and think he has the upside of a solid regular. He can hit for average, might surprise you with some pop, has plus speed and plays a nice second base. But he's at least three years away.

    Grant (NYC): I'm assuming this year's list of prospects trumps last year's overall. If you had to grade both on the 20-80 scale, what grade would each receive?

Jim Callis: It does, as three of the top four prospects are new additions: Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Arodys Vizcaino. I'd say this year's Top 30 is a 50-55, while last year's was more of a 45.

    Kate (Chi-town): Although he didn't make your top ten, I see Szczur's presence is still being felt on your Best Tools list. Can he return to form this year?

Jim Callis: The tools are all there. He has become a more selective hitter, he has the raw strength for average power, he has the plus-plus pure speed to wreak havoc on the bases and play a nifty center field. He's something of an enigma for me. On one hand, he's more advanced that someone who played four years of college football would be expected to be. On the other hand, he's still figuring out how to best translate his tools into skills. He still has the upside of a solid regular but might wind up being more of a good fourth outfielder.

    Matt (Naperville, IL): Did the Cubs make a smart pick in Paul Blackburn? What does he bring to the table?

Jim Callis: Blackburn stands out as being the most polished of all the pitchers the Cubs took in the early round of the 2012 draft. He has a chance to have good command of three solid or better pitches.

    Kelly (St. Cloud, MN): Did Shawon's kid reach your top 30 list? How do his tools look to you?

Jim Callis: Wasn't room for him on the list. Had a so-so pro debut, still a ways to go figuring out how to translate tools into skills. If you like him, you buy into his speed, defense and arm and think he can be a solid hitter with average power. He'll need time to develop.

    Dan (Peoria, IL): Who are you higher on between Dae-Eun Rhee and Trey McNutt at this point?

Jim Callis: McNutt, though he never has dominated again like he did in low Class A and is a reliever at this point. Rhee went way backward last year and didn't come close to making the Top 30.

    Jimmy J. (Bloomington, IL): Although it's early on in his career, if you had to speculate, did the Cubs make a smart investment in Gerardo Concepcion? Did he make the latter third of your list of 30, and what does he need to work on most?

Jim Callis: I would say no. I do our Midwest League Top 20, and scouts who saw him there thought a) he looked terrible and b) couldn't believe he signed for $6 million. When he signed, our reports made him sound like a finesse lefty, and I thought the bonus was over the top just from reading the reports. Didn't come close to making the Top 30.

    Laura (St Louis): Assuming his control picks up and he stays healthy, could Pierce Johnson see Wrigley before 2015?

Jim Callis: Yes. Those are the two biggest needs for Johnson, but I thought he was a steal as a sandwich pick. If he didn't have forearm tightness that cost him a couple of starts in the spring, I thought he would have gone in the bottom third of the first round. He's already one of the most advanced pitchers in the system despite barely having pitched as a pro, and I believe in the track record of pitchers from Missouri State.

    Wes (Chicago IL): What's your opinion of Marco Hernandez at this point?

Jim Callis: Though he was overmatched jumping from Rookie ball to low Class A, he has a chance to be a solid regular. Of all the Cubs prospects currently playing shortstop, he has the best chance to stay there. He can be a plus defender and a decent hitter.

    Joe (Clintonville): Juan Carlos Paniagua is the closer for the 2016 line up. I know you guys have said in the past that you set that line up basically to give people an idea of the depth in the system, but does he have a legit chance to close?? He seems to have a live arm, and lord knows the Cubbies could use a late innings stud.

Jim Callis: Kudos to Joe for remembering the point of the depth chart. We're not trying to guess at free-agent moves and trades, we're just trying to show the best options currently within the system. As I mentioned earlier, we don't know a lot about Paniagua yet, but he does have the live arm you look for in a closer. Speaking of closers, I could see Kyuji Fujikawa taking over that job this season.

    Jon (Peoria): Hi Jim: As the head of the Junior Lake fan club, what is it that puts Candelario ahead of Lake? Assuming that both Lake and Vitters start at Iowa, will Lake continue to play shortstop?

Jim Callis: You could argue Lake ahead of Candelario, as he has advanced further through the system and has a broader base of tools. But I see him as more of a tease, a guy who can impress you with his cannon arm, raw power and solid speed but doesn't put everything together consistently enough on the diamond. I think he'll move off shortstop this year, with perhaps less defensive demands leading to improved offense. Candelario is further away, but for me, he has a much better chance to provide an impact bat than Lake. He could have more defensive value, too, if Candelario can stay at third base and Lake winds up on an outfield corner.

    Fred (NYC): It seems like every write-up about Baez seems to indicate his hitting approach could use more refinement. The only way to achieve that is to accumulate more professional ABs, right? The Cubs obviously attempted to give him some extra ABs as they sent him to the AFL after the season, which I think the right thing to do. But what was curious to me was why the Cubs held him back in intructs to start the year. Any idea why they did that, considering he proved to be so much more advanced than the rest of the hitters in the MWL? Also, how many minor league ABs do you envision him needing before his bat is MLB ready?

Jim Callis: By keeping him in extended spring, I think the Cubs were trying to send a message that he needs to tone down his approach and flair. He didn't really do that, and it didn't prevent him from destroying low Class A pitching. I don't think he'll make any major changes until he struggles for a long stretch, and he's talent enough that he may get to the big leagues without that happening. If you told me that Baez was part of the Cubs' 2014 lineup, that wouldn't shock me. He's crazy talented.

    Don (Chicago): Thanks for the chat Jim. I must say I'm surprised at the love shown to Alcantara. That being said, what order would you rank the following middle infield prospects who didn't make the Top 10 and why? Marco Hernandez, Gioskar Amaya, Logan Watkins, Stephen Bruno, and Ronald Torreyes. I would think they all would make the Top 30, except maybe Torreyes.

Jim Callis: Alcantara has the tools to be Jimmy Rollins in Rollins' prime—not saying that will happen, but the talent is there—and that's quite a valuable player. My order of middle infielders on the 11-30 was Watkins, Hernandez and Amaya, but I had them all bunched up at 19-21, so there wasn't much difference. My next guy might have been Tim Saunders, but I want to see the 32nd-rounder from last year's draft have more extended success before I jumped fully on the bandwagon. Torreyes can hit, but he's so tiny and I'm not sure he does anything else special to make him a big league regular. Bruno is like Saunders in that he probably played over his head in his pro debut. Don't forget Zeke DeVoss either.

    Bob (Mundelein, IL): What are your thoughts on the mechanics of Dillon Maples? How concerning is it that he's only pitched 10 innings the last two years?

Jim Callis: Not too concerning, because he signed late in 2011 and I think the Cubs were being extra cautious in 2012. But I will say that most of the scouts I've talked to don't care for his delivery.

    Don (Rosemont, IL): Have you seen any reports on how Whitenack looked in his return from Tommy John?

Jim Callis: He didn't look nearly as good as he did in 2011, when he might have pitched himself all the way to Wrigley Field if he hadn't blown out his elbow. But how he looked last year doesn't really matter—the Cubs just wanted to get him healthy and back on the mound. How he looks in 2013 is important.

    Michael Stern (Rochester NY): How close was it between Soler and Almora for 2 and 3? It would seem to me that Soler might be ranked higher, as he appears to have the higher ceiling and louder tools, where Almora seems more solid across the board. How do you read the two? Thanks for the chat!

Jim Callis: 1-2-3 could have been shuffled into any order. Almora has the highest floor of the three (an exceptionally high floor for someone fresh out of high school) and probably the worst tools—but those tools are still pretty good (plus bat, solid power, average speed that plays up, exceptional CF defense). I've heard some people argue that Soler has a higher ceiling than Baez, though Soler has less track record than the other two. I kept going back and forth on Almora vs. Soler.

    Jack (Geneva, IL): Is this a top 10 system? Top 5?

Jim Callis: I ranked the system No. 12. They came in at No. 13 in our Handbook rankings, which we'll revise again during the spring so they'll include all of the offseason transactions.

    Navin (Pasadena, CA): Due to Fujikawa's late signing and inclusion, who was bumped out of the Cubs' top 10? What about their top 30? Thank you!

Jim Callis: Paniagua would have been No. 10 (though I also considered Villanueva) if Fujikawa hadn't just snuck in under our transaction deadline. His addition made up for the loss of Starling Peralta in the Rule 5 draft. I had Peralta toward the end of the list.

    Trevor (Minnesota): If you an American league team would you not try and land Vogelbach in a deal!? Its early but the bat and power look beast mode, don't they?

Jim Callis: I think it would be hard to swing a deal for Vogelbach, because he might be a DH only and hasn't gotten to full-season ball. So an AL club wouldn't give up a ton for him, and the Cubs have no motivation to give him away cheaply. His power is obvious, and I don't think he gets as much credit for being a well-rounded hitter as he deserves.

    Fred (NYC): Why would the Cubs still entertain the idea of grooming Vizcaino as a starter? He's had a history of arm problems and has never logged 100 IP in any minor league season. I realize his arm is special, but it's also more at risk with a starter's workload compared to a reliever's. Do you think it has to do with the lack of true pitching prospects in the upper levels of their system?

Jim Callis: In a word, yes. In more than a word, they're desperate for starters, his elbow has been fixed and they can always put him back in the bullpen if they have to.

    Theo (Chicago): With the improved farm system when do you picture the appropriate time to start spending on big free agents in the coming years? It seems as though we will need to spend a lot of money on FA pitching and may need to wait until 2015 to allow this young talent to convert the team back into a winning formula?

Jim Callis: From the outside, seems to me the Cubs' plan is to be in long term talent acquisition mode again in 2013, return to respectability in 2014 and be a legitimate contender in 2015.

    Don (Chicago): In your opinion, would Baez slot into the Top 15 prospects overall after the tools he showed in the past season?

Jim Callis: I put him at No. 11 on my personal overall Top 50 in the Prospect Handbook.

    Jody (Chicago): Obviously the Cub front office will remain in "best player available" mode in the upcoming draft but unless there's a surprise in the upcoming high school/college season, is there really a hitter in the draft that would force the Cubs NOT to take the best pitcher available with the 2nd overall pick? Sure they could go the HOU 2012 route and save money with the top pick to spend elsewhere, but is there really a hitter that would force their hand on talent alone?

Jim Callis: Right now, I see them taking a much-needed frontline college arm like Mark Appel, Sean Manaea or Ryne Stanek. But a lot can happen in the next five months. I don't really see a college bat like Colin Moran forcing his way into the No. 2 pick, but maybe someone on the high school side like Austin Meadows could.

    Jason (Dallas): Long-term... Baez or Lindor?

Jim Callis: Baez. Lindor is the better defender, but I'll go with the more spectacular offensive upside.

    Dale (KY): What is your take on the Cubs trying to "fix" Brett Jackson? Can it work? Will it work? Gut feeling...

Jim Callis: I think there's still a solid regular in there. He did strike out 217 times this year, but he also had 19 homers, 60 extra-base hits and 27 steals, and he can play center field.

    Travis (Chicago): Any chance we could get the next couple names on your list? I understand why you included Fujikawa, but I feel like it shorted me a write up on a younger player.

Jim Callis: As I alluded earlier, Juan Carlos Paniagua was 11 and Christian Villanueva was 12. Here's one more: Alberto Cabrera was 13.

    Travis (Chicago): Any reason to be optimistic about Duane Underwood? Love his upside, but I've read some reports that there could be some make up/work ethic questions with him too.

Jim Callis: Plenty of reasons to be optimistic, starting with a fastball that reaches 98 and flashes of a promising curveball and changeup. I haven't heard any makeup or work ethic questions. He's just very inconsistent right now.

    rob (Villanova University): No Matt Szczur ? Come on, this kid has some insane raw tools, and never before till recent actually concentrated on baseball alone !! Lets not forget it took a certain Notre Dame football star five plus years to finally now be considered a cornerstone to the Cubs pitching staff !! You guys really missed this one ! I am calling for a breakout this year for him. You heard it here first !

Jim Callis: You're talking to the guy who has driven the Matt Szczur bandwagon. Don't think I've ever been accused of being light on Szczur before this.

    Jon (Peoria): Catcher seems to be one of (if not the) worst positions in the system. Are there any catchers to keep an eye on, like Wilson Contreras or Justin Marra?

Jim Callis: Those are two of the Cubs' best, but you are correct in identifying that as the system's thinnest position. The Cubs' catcher of the future may not be in the organization right now.

    Justin (Nashville): Do you think the Cubs see Brooks Raley having a role in the near future? Seems like he's put up some decent numbers the last couple of years. Maybe the next James Russell?

Jim Callis: Raley might fit better in relief. I just don't see anything that's enough of an out pitch to make him successful as a starter in the long run, even in the back of a rotation.

    Josh (California): Stephen Bruno had an impressive pro debut. What are his chances of making this list next year, or does his size limit him?

Jim Callis: I thought about him for the Top 30 this year. He profiles best at second base, and his bat will have to carry him. I don't expect him to hit .361 again once he hit full-season pro ball, but if he continues to rake I won't be able to exclude him again.

    Daniel (Augusta, ME): Any love for Peoria's Michael Jensen? What do you think his ceiling is - a #4? Thanks!

Jim Callis: I do see some promise there, though I didn't put him on the Top 30. No. 4 starter is his ceiling. I bet he winds up being an effective reliever, relying mainly on low-90s fastballs with natural cutting action.

    JD (AZ): Jim, was Nick Struck in the mix for the top 30, and what do you think is his upside and timeline?

Jim Callis: Not really, though he was the Cubs' minor league pitcher of the year. He stands out more for his strike-throwing ability than his stuff. His ceiling is as a back-of-the-rotation starter, but a more realistic role would be middle reliever.

    Frank (Chicago): Vogelbach vs. CJ Cron. Who's the better hitter, better defender and possesses more raw power?

Jim Callis: Vogelbach; both are DH types, really; and Vogelbach.

    Kenny (Newburgh, NY): What can you tell me about Logan Watkins? Futurer first division regular or a bench guy? Also how close is he?

Jim Callis: Switching to lightning-round mode to squeeze a few more questions in: I'd say the consensus is quality utility guy on a good team. He could be a better all-around player than Darwin Barney. Watkins is about another year away.

    Jack (Geneva, IL): He's graduated, but can Castillo be the catcher of the future? Or is he more likely a career backup?

Jim Callis: Can be. I'm not completely sold.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): Just how far did Josh Vitters' stock fall since this time last year? In retrospect, would you consider him an overdraft? Would you start him back in Iowa if you were Theo?

Jim Callis: Not an overdraft—the Royals almost took him No. 2. Pirates loved him at No. 4. Lot of scouts still think there's a .275/20 HR guy in there, though he's probably not a third base. I would send him back to Triple-A to start the year.

    Mike (NY): Knowing what we know now about the players involved in the Cubs-Rays swap in 2011, would you trade essentially Chris Archer and Hak-Ju Lee for Matt Garza? Thanks, Jim.

Jim Callis: Had the Cubs realized they weren't going to contend again soon, they wouldn't have made that trade. But I don't think they got fleeced. Archer could be a No. 3 starter—or a reliever. Lee could be a regular shortstop—or he might not hit enough. If Garza were healthy, Cubs could swing a nice trade for some young talent.

    Dale (Ill.): Is Dustin Geiger a suspect or a prospect?

Jim Callis: There's some potential there. Those who like him see a possible big league regular, though he's a few years away still.

    Justin (Nashville): Is Trey Martin still looking like a good sleeper prospect in the Cub system?

Jim Callis: Yes. Very good defender, upside of .280 hitter with 15 homers.

    Ben (Leland Grove): I assume your top 4 will likely make BA's top 100, but does Brett Jackson have a shot at it as well?

Jim Callis: He could sneak on there at the end. I haven't plotted out my list beyond the Top 50, so can't tell you where I'd put him.

    Grant (NYC): Did Hoon-Ha make your 30 this year?

Jim Callis: Considered it but he didn't make it.

    Justin (Nashville): Any hope for Gerardo Concepcion or Hayden Simpson at this point?

Jim Callis: I'm not a believer.

    Louis Griffin (Milano): You do both lists: Baez or Bogaerts?

Jim Callis: Bogaerts. And I addressed that choice in my column for our latest issue of the magazine. Should be online soon.

Jim Callis: Thanks for all the great questions. Next up in our series of Top 10 chats is the Reds, with J.J. Cooper taking your questions on Wednesday.