Chicago Cubs: Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

Chicago Cubs: Scouting Reports

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. Ages are as of April 1, 2009.

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Cubs fans thought getting swept in consecutive Division Series in 2007 and 2008 was tough to swallow. But at least Chicago won 182 games in those seasons, the franchise's most successful two-year run since 1937-38, and made back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time since 1906-08.

The franchise still was left seeking its first World Series appearance since 1945 and its first championship since 1908, though. To help end those droughts, the Cubs decided their big addition would be mercurial Milton Bradley, who cost $30 million and was supposed to provide more balance to a predominantly righthanded-hitting lineup.

Instead, Bradley had his worst season since 2002 and damaged clubhouse chemistry, complaining throughout the year. When he criticized the team in September, the Cubs suspended him for the final two weeks of the season. His play and behavior were the most disappointing aspects of a disappointing season for Chicago, which finished 83-78 and swiftly fell out of contention after the all-star break.

It was the third straight winning year for a franchise that hadn't accomplished that feat since 1970-72, which is a step forward, but much more was expected after the Cubs opened the season with a $135 million payroll, the third-highest in baseball.

The most significant Cubs news of the year came off the field, however, when on Oct. 27 the Ricketts family completed its $845 million purchase of the club, as well as Wrigley Field and 25 percent of Comcast SportsNet Chicago from the Tribune Co. Sam Zell had plunged the media conglomerate into bankruptcy after buying it in April 2007, though the team wasn't directly affected. The sale topped the major league record of $660 million paid for the Red Sox and related assets in 2002.

How much time the Ricketts family will give general manager Jim Hendry to get the Cubs back on track remains unclear, as does how Hendry will accomplish that task. Chicago dropped from first in the National League in scoring in 2008 to 10th last season, and has only one projected regular who will be younger than 30 in 2010. The rotation has holes to fill with Rich Harden declaring free agency and Ted Lilly recovering from shoulder surgery, and the bullpen is unsettled as well.

After contributing Jake Fox and Micah Hoffpauir, who combined for 21 homers, and surprise 12-game winner Randy Wells last season, the farm system doesn't appear to have any noteworthy reinforcements to offer for 2010. However, Cubs minor league talent is on the rise after a period of decline marked by weak drafts and the departure of top prospects in trades for veterans.

Recent first-round picks Josh Vitters (2007) and Brett Jackson (2009) have slugged their way through the lower minors. Five pitchers drafted in 2008 appeared in Double-A last summer, including the system's best three mound prospects: Andrew Cashner, Jay Jackson and Chris Carpenter. The Cubs also are doing better work in Latin America and the Far East, as evidenced by shortstop phenoms Starlin Castro and Hak-Ju Lee.

Most of Chicago's best farmhands are at least a couple of years away from making an impact in the major leagues, so the Cubs may have to transition from trying to contend to trying to reload if they aren't able to quickly turn their fortunes around in 2010. That would mean more waiting for fans whose patience already has been stretched thin.

1.  Starlin Castro, ss   Born: March 24, 1990B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 175
 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2006Signed by: Jose Serra
Starlin CastroBackground: Clubs rarely ask players to make the jump from Rookie ball to high Class A, but that's exactly the challenge the Cubs presented Castro with in 2009. After he and Junior Lake shared shortstop duties in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2008, Chicago wanted both to play regularly and sent Lake to low Class A Peoria and Castro to Daytona—skipping two levels in the process. Simply holding his own as the youngest regular in the Florida State League would have been a significant accomplishment, but Castro did much more. He won MVP honors at the FSL all-star game by going 4-for-4 with an inside-the-park home run, and made the league's postseason all-star team. He singled in his lone at-bat in the Futures Game before earning an August promotion to Double-A Tennessee. Castro hit .303 in the Southern League playoffs, then moved on to the Arizona Fall League, where he continued to establish himself as an elite shortstop prospect. The Cubs, who signed him for $50,000 out of the Dominican Republic, thought Castro had all-star potential but never expected him to be this good this quickly.

Strengths: Castro's performance has drawn him comparisons with the likes of Tony Fernandez, Edgar Renteria, Miguel Tejada—and even Derek Jeter. Castro covers the plate well for a young hitter and does a nice job of staying inside the ball and using the entire field. He consistently puts the barrel of the bat on the ball and has a knack for making adjustments. He has no trouble hitting breaking pitches, usually taking the first one from a pitcher he hasn't seen before, sizing it up and attacking the next. Though he had just 32 extra-base hits in 2009, Castro has the power potential to double that total once he matures physically. He has added 15 pounds in the last year and Chicago envisions him growing to 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds. He has strong hands and wrists, and he's starting to pull and drive more pitches. He has the plus speed to make things happen on the bases. Castro excels defensively as well, with range to both sides, body control and arm strength to make any play. Managers rated him the best defensive shortstop in the Florida State League. The Cubs also like his instincts, charisma and work ethic.

Weaknesses: Castro just needs time to fill out and polish his game. He made 39 errors last season, which isn't a high number for a young shortstop but shows that he needs to play more under control. He makes so much contact that he doesn't draw many walks, though he does work counts. He's still learning to look for pitches he can drive in certain situations. He needs to hone his basestealing technique after getting caught in 11 of 39 tries in 2009, though he did go 6-for-6 in Double-A.

The Future: Castro's stellar AFL performance further accelerated his timetable. He'll probably open 2010 back in Tennessee because Darwin Barney is slated for Triple-A Iowa, but there's rumbling that Castro could be in Chicago by season's end. He has all the ingredients to become the Cubs' first all-star shortstop since Shawon Dunston in 1990.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Daytona (Hi A) .302 .340 .391 358 45 108 17 3 3 35 19 41 22
Tennessee (AA) .288 .347 .396 111 11 32 6 3 0 14 10 12 6
2.  Brett Jackson, of   Born: Aug. 2, 1988B-T: L-RHt: 6-2Wt: 210
 Drafted: California, 2009 (1st round)Signed by: John Bartsch
Brett JacksonBackground: The Cubs thought Jackson had the best bat speed and some of the best power available in the 2009 draft class, but he lasted 31 picks because other teams questioned his ability to make consistent contact. The Cubs took him with their first pick and he signed quickly for $972,000. He had a smashing pro debut until he tweaked his right wrist on a practice swing in late August.

Strengths: More than just a slugger, Jackson is the best athlete in the system. His quick bat and the loft in his swing give him well-above-average raw power. He uses his plus speed well on the bases and in center field, and he also has solid arm strength with good accuracy on his throws. He plays with constant energy.

Weaknesses: Jackson will accrue his share of strikeouts but can keep them under control if he doesn't get too aggressive. He has enough natural power that he doesn't have to chase pitches out of the zone of swing for the fences to produce home runs.

The Future: After using five different regular center fielders in the last five years, the Cubs are seeking stability. They may send Jackson to Double-A to start his first full pro season, and he could reach Chicago by the end of 2011.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
AZL Cubs (R) .455 .533 .636 11 6 5 0 1 0 4 3 4 0
Boise (SS) .330 .443 .398 88 14 29 1 1 1 15 17 20 2
Peoria (Lo A) .295 .383 .545 112 30 33 5 1 7 17 11 32 11
3.  Josh Vitters, 3b   Born: Aug. 27, 1989B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 200
 Drafted: HS—Cypress, Calif., 2007 (1st round)Signed by: Denny Henderson/Tim Wilken
Josh VittersBackground: The No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 draft, Vitters signed for $3.2 million. Managers rated him the best hitting and power prospect in the Midwest League last summer, when he arrived in low Class A a year behind schedule after developing tendinitis in his left hand in 2008. He struggled when promoted to high Class A at age 19.

Strengths: Vitters has an extremely compact stroke for a power hitter, using his exceptional hand-eye coordination to easily put the fat part of the barrel on balls. He's a potential .300 hitter who could have 25-30 homers a year. He has the hands and arm strength to play third base, and he has improved his agility and footwork since signing.

Weaknesses: Vitters makes contact almost too easily, as he rarely walks and gives away at-bats by putting balls in play that he should let go by. Though he has gotten better defensively, there's still concern that he doesn't have the quick first step and range to play third base. He's a below-average runner. The game comes so easily to him that some observers question how diligent he is about addressing his shortcomings.

The Future: By pounding Arizona Fall League pitching, Vitters made a case for opening 2010 in Double-A. He's on course to hit the majors by the end of 2011.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Peoria (Lo A) .316 .351 .535 269 42 85 12 1 15 46 7 42 4
Daytona (Hi A) .238 .260 .344 189 21 45 7 2 3 22 5 23 2
4.  Andrew Cashner, rhp   Born: Sept. 11, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-6Wt: 210
 Drafted: Texas Christian, 2008 (1st round)Signed by: Trey Forkerway
Andrew CashnerBackground: Cashner turned down the Cubs as a 29th-round pick from Angelina (Texas) JC in 2007, then signed for $1.54 million as a first-round pick out of Texas Christian a year later. He won the Florida State League championship clincher in his pro debut and finished his first full season in Double-A.

Strengths: With his frame and power stuff, Cashner is reminiscent of Kerry Wood. His fastball sits at 92-95 mph and touches 98 when he starts, and he has operated in the upper 90s as a reliever. His 81-85 mph slider breaks like a power curveball. He works down in the zone, allowing just two homers in 120 pro innings.

Weaknesses: Chicago wants to develop Cashner as a starter, but some scouts believe he's destined to be a reliever. His delivery is sound but not fluid, and he often battles his command. His changeup has the potential to become an average pitch, but he needs to use it more often. The Cubs kept him on tight pitch counts after he missed the start of last season with a strained oblique, so he has yet to prove he can pitch deep into games.

The Future: Whether he's a frontline starter or a closer, Cashner should be a big part of Chicago's future. He'll likely begin 2010 in Double-A and could make his big league debut later in the year.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Daytona (Hi A) 0 0 1.50 12 12 0 0 42 31 1 15 34 .201
Tennessee (AA) 3 4 3.39 12 12 0 0 58 45 0 27 41 .210
5.  Jay Jackson, rhp   Born: Oct. 27, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 195
 Drafted: Furman, 2008 (9th round)Signed by: Antonio Grissom
Jay JacksonBackground: Jackson looks like one of the steals of the 2008 draft after lasting nine rounds and signing for $90,000. A two-way star at Furman, he breezed through his pro debut and opened his first full season in Double-A. His only speed bump came in late July, when he was demoted for violating an unspecified team policy.

Strengths: Jackson has good feel for four pitches that are average or better. His best offering is a fastball ranging from 90-95 mph. His mid-80s slider and high-70s curveball are distinct pitches that rate as above-average at times. He also has an effective changeup. He has a long arm action, but he's so athletic that he repeats his high-three-quarters delivery easily. He's fearless and fields his position well.

Weaknesses: Jackson sometimes overthrows, costing him command. Because he's not tall, he has to stay on top of his pitches to keep them down in the zone. His changeup lags behind his other pitches and could use refinement. The Cubs believe his indiscretion was a one-time incident, and he responded well, earning a late-season start in Triple-A.

The Future: Once Jackson throws quality strikes on a more consistent basis, he'll be ready for the big league rotation. He'll probably return to Double-A to start 2010.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Tennessee (AA) 5 5 3.70 16 16 1 0 83 73 7 39 77 .236
Daytona (Hi A) 2 2 1.64 7 7 0 0 38 31 3 4 46 .218
Iowa (AAA) 1 0 1.50 1 1 0 0 6 5 1 3 4 .227
6.  Hak-Ju Lee, ss   Born: Nov. 4, 1990B-T: L-RHt: 6-2Wt: 170
 Signed: Korea, 2008Signed by: Steve Wilson
Hak-Ju LeeBackground: More active than most clubs in the Far East, the Cubs spent $725,000 to sign Lee out of Korea in June 2008. He injured his elbow before coming to the United States, requiring Tommy John surgery, delaying his professional debut. He recovered quickly, ranking as the top prospect in the short-season Northwest League in his first pro summer.

Strengths: Lee has four above-average tools, starting with plus-plus speed that he used to lead the NWL with 25 steals. He's a gifted hitter who stays inside the ball and sprays line drives all over the field. His patience and quickness enhance his ability to get on base. He gets to balls that a lot of shortstops can't reach, and he has the actions, hands and arm strength to make difficult plays.

Weaknesses: Lee doesn't possess much power and needs to get stronger, though he does sting the ball with authority. For a player with his profile, he'll have to make more contact. He can get flashy and sloppy at times, especially on defense, where he led NWL shortstops with 27 errors.

The Future: Lee is more athletic than Starlin Castro, which could push Castro to second base when they're double-play partners in Chicago. The Cubs haven't ruled out skipping Lee a level to high Class A in 2010.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Boise (SS) .330 .399 .420 264 56 87 14 2 2 33 31 50 25
7.  Logan Watkins, ss   Born: Aug. 29, 1989B-T: L-RHt: 5-11Wt: 170
 Drafted: HS—Goddard, Kan., 2008 (21st round)Signed by: Brandon Mozley
Logan WatkinsBackground: Watkins generated little predraft hype in 2008 and appeared headed to Wichita State out of high school before the Cubs selected him in the 21st round and gave him a stunning $500,000 bonus. He has been worth every penny so far, batting .326 in two pro seasons. He led the Northwest League in plate appearances per strikeout (10.3) in 2009.

Strengths: An all-state quarterback and defensive back in high school in Kansas, Watkins is a quality athlete. He has an unorthodox stance with high elbows, but whips the bat through the zone and makes contact easily. He uses the whole field and is a skilled bunter. He has plus-plus speed and an above-average arm, making him capable of playing almost anywhere on the diamond. He's a hard worker whose intensity rubs off on his teammates.

Weaknesses: Watkins needs to get stronger to hit the ball with more authority. He can get too aggressive running at times, and too passive at others. He waits on balls too much at second base, relying on his arm to make plays.

The Future: Watkins merits a look at shortstop and center field, but Chicago hasn't figured out how to make that happen. The Cubs like the way he interacts with Hak-Ju Lee, and if they play together in low Class A in 2010, Watkins faces another season at second base.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Boise (SS) .326 .389 .391 279 48 91 14 2 0 29 27 31 14
8.  Chris Capenter, rhp   Born: Dec. 26, 1985B-T: R-RHt: 6-4Wt: 215
 Drafted: Kent State, 2008 (3rd round)Signed by: Lukas McKnight
Chris CarpenterBackground: The highest-drafted prep pitcher in 2004 who opted for college, Carpenter turned down the Tigers as a seventh-rounder. He had Tommy John surgery as a Kent State freshman in 2005, then a second elbow procedure the next year. His medical history made him available to the Cubs in the third round in 2008.

Strengths: Carpenter throws his fastball at 91-94 mph and touches 97. It has very good life for a four-seamer, inducing lots of groundballs. He also has a mid-80s slurve that flashes the bite and depth of a slider. His changeup gives him a potential solid third pitch. He's a diligent worker with a frame built for innings.

Weaknesses: Carpenter's stuff can be so lively that he struggles to control it. He needs to stay on top of his breaking ball to make it a true slider, and his changeup will develop more quickly if he uses it more often. While his health may always be a concern, he has had no physical problems since a tired arm in the summer of 2007.

The Future: As long as he stays healthy, Carpenter has a bright future. He'll return to Double-A to open 2010 and contend for a big league rotation spot the following year.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Peoria (Lo A) 4 3 2.44 15 15 1 0 74 55 4 33 60 .210
Daytona (Hi A) 2 1 1.44 5 5 0 0 25 15 1 8 33 .163
Tennessee (AA) 0 3 4.78 7 7 0 0 32 30 0 11 25 .246
9.  Ryan Flaherty, ss   Born: July 27, 1986B-T: L-RHt: 6-3Wt: 200
 Drafted: Vanderbilt, 2008 (1st round supplemental)Signed by: Antonio Grissom
Ryan FlahertyBackground: After playing second fiddle to Pedro Alvarez in the Vanderbilt lineup, Flaherty went 41st overall in the 2008 draft and signed for $1.5 million. He has ranked third in his league in homers in each of his two pro seasons. His father Ed has won two NCAA Division III College World Series as the head coach at Southern Maine.

Strengths: Flaherty made significant improvements in 2009. Formerly a dead-pull hitter, he started driving balls the other way, giving him solid power to all fields. He has a polished lefthanded swing and hit .309 in the second half. His arm strength went from subpar to average, and he did a better job of turning double plays. His instincts and makeup enhance his tools.

Weaknesses: Flaherty is seeking a defensive home after splitting 2009 between second base, shortstop and third base. He's a below-average runner who lacks the range for shortstop. He may not be quick enough for second base, and some scouts question whether he has enough power and arm to profile at third base.

The Future: Chicago has yet to decide what level and what position Flaherty will play at in 2010. If he doesn't settle into one position, he could have value as a lefthanded-hitting version of Mark DeRosa.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Peoria (Lo A) .276 .344 .470 485 81 134 24 5 20 81 50 98 7
10.  D.J. LeMahieu, ss   Born: July 13, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-4Wt: 185
 Drafted: Louisiana State, 2009 (2nd round)Signed by: Steve Riha
D.J. LeMahieuBackground: LeMahieu starred in the Cape Cod League in the summer of 2008, but his play slipped last spring. He played his way off shortstop and hit just five homers for Louisiana State, though he led the Tigers in batting (.350) as they won the College World Series. The Cubs took him in the second round and signed him for a $508,000 bonus.

Strengths: LeMahieu may be the purest hitter in the system, staying inside the ball and drilling line drives to the opposite field. He could develop average power as he fills out and turns on more pitches, which he started to do after Peoria hitting coach Barbaro Garbey helped him reduce the front arm bar in his swing. As a defender, he has a solid arm and good hands.

Weaknesses: Though Chicago moved LeMahieu back to shortstop, he's doesn't have the range to stay there. Some scouts wonder if he'll have enough quickness for second base or provide enough offense to play regularly elsewhere. He's a fringe-average runner.

The Future: LeMahieu has some similarities to Ryan Flaherty, and the two could shift around the infield together in high Class A in 2010. The Cubs believe in LeMahieu's bat, and he could move quickly if he finds a position.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
AZL Cubs (R) .417 .429 .583 12 2 5 0 1 0 4 1 3 1
Peoria (Lo A) .316 .371 .368 152 19 48 4 2 0 30 12 22 2

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