Chicago Cubs: Top 10 Prospects Chat With Jim Callis

Chicago Cubs: Chat

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.

Jim Callis: I'm in the middle of a phone call right now, will be here to take questions shortly.

    Ben (Leland Grove): I find it interesting how you usually say AFL performances should basically be taken with a grain of salt, yet in Castro's case, you say his AFL numbers have further accelerated his timetable. Can you explain this for us? Thanks, Jim.

Jim Callis: Sorry about the delay, but I'll make it up on the back end. Those are two different statements. I personally take AFL performances with a grain of salt, but his AFL performance reinforces the Cubs' notion that he's not that far from the majors. They felt that way even before the AFL, so it's not like three weeks of hot play drastically changed their perception of Castro.

    Pete (Chicago, IL): With half the list comprised of shortstops this year, how many of them do you see sticking at that position, say, 3 years from now?

Jim Callis: Castro and Lee are legitimate shortstops and should stay there until they're both in Chicago and one needs to move to second base. Watkins has the athleticism to play there, but I'm not sure he's ever going to get much time at shortstop as he moves up along with Lee. Flaherty and LeMahieu aren't the athletes the other three guys are and will have to move off shortstop in the near future.

    JAYPERS (IL): How does Brett Jackson now compare to Felix Pie when he first began his career?

Jim Callis: Hmmm, hadn't really thought about that comparison before. They were both very good athletes with five-tool potential. The biggest difference is that Jackson's instincts and polish were far ahead of Pie's, though that's to be expected because Jackson was older and had faced tougher competition. They were comparable talents, maybe it was easier to dream on Pie because he was younger and had more projection remaining.

    Jim (Naperville, IL): Your thoughts on Chris Archer's excellent comeback year, and how close was he?

Jim Callis: As much as I don't think the Cubs should have traded Mark DeRosa, they did get three good arms back in Archer, John Gaub and Jeff Stevens. Archer just missed the top 10 and will fall in the 11-15 range in the Prospect Handbook. He has an electric arm and didn't allow a home run all year, and he'll take off as soon as he develops some command.

    Terrance (Baltimore): What are scouts telling you about Jose Valdez? Did he make the top 30?

Jim Callis: He's the fastest player in a system that has a few guys who can really run. He's a good defender in center field and handles the bat well. The Cubs' depth is improving, so Valdez will probably fall in the 31-40 range when I finalize the list for the Handbook.

    Mike (Chicago): Do you think a trade for Curtis Granderson is such a good idea since the cubs don't have the greatest farm system in the world, wouldn't you think that Starlin Castro would be an untouchable?

Jim Callis: I think the Cubs' front office is focused mainly on trying to win in 2010. Their system is improving and I could see them sacrificing some players to get Granderson, who would fill their huge hole in center field and also is an extremely marketable local product. I wouldn't want to trade Castro and in a perfect world they wouldn't, but they do have Hak-Ju Lee coming up behind him and are also very high on him. Josh Vitters' name came up a lot in Jake Peavy talks last offseason, and I could see them parting with Vitters if they're going all-in for 2010.

    Randall (Chatham IL): Could you analyze Brooks Raley for us, and did he get consideration?

Jim Callis: Raley is more of a 16-25 guy than a Top 10 guy at this point. He really competes and he commands three pitches well, but he doesn't have a true out pitch that can just neutralize hitters. I like him, but the Cubs have better and more proven arms at this point.

    Lorenzo (Chicago): How far did Dae-Eun Rhee fall since last year's list?

Jim Callis: Rhee barely pitched at all and the Cubs had a number of guys on the rise, so he fell out of the Top 10. But he has looked very good and the Cubs are encouraged that he'll be back to what he was, which was a guy with a low-90s fastball, solid curveball and nifty changeup. Once he gets on the mound and shows that in games next year, he'll rocket back up the list. For now, he's in the 11-15 range.

    JAYPERS (IL): How many of these guys would you nominate for BA's Top 100 Prospects list, and about where would you rank them?

Jim Callis: I'd consider the top six guys for the Top 100, though I haven't come close to trying to put a list together yet. Off the top of my head, Castro could fit in the first 25, Brett Jackson and Vitters in the middle of the list somewhere, and Cashner, Jay Jackson and Lee would be candidates for the bottom third of the list.

    Kyle (Phoenix): Who would be the biggest sleeper in this entire system?

Jim Callis: I'll give you five underappreciated players. One scout told me he thought Jon Gaub was the best lefthanded relief prospect in the entire minors. He's not flashy, but if I was a team in need of a regular shortstop, I'd try to acquire Darwin Barney. Righthander Trey McNutt, a 32nd-round pick who fell through the cracks in this year's draft, has ridiculous stuff. Righthander reliever David Cales and outfielder Jim Adduci get little attention, but both can help a major league club and will get there.

    Joe R (Newport News, VA): As a Cub fan, should I be happy or sad that the projected 2012 right fielder (Kyler Burke) isn't one of the top ten prospects?

Jim Callis: Much as I counsel people not to read too much into Arizona Fall League stats, I also would counsel them not to read too much into our projected future lineups. They're simply there to give an indication of how the in-house minor league talent compares to the in-house major league talent. Burke will rank No. 11 on our Top 30, so he's not a scrub. He's just not one of the system's 10 best prospects, but he'll be better than Kosuke Fukudome and Co. at that point.

    Travis (Seattle, WA): Did Wes Darvill make the top 30?

Jim Callis: I really wanted to include Darvill, but he's still raw physically and the Cubs have improved depth, so I haven't been able to find a way to squeeze him on there.

    Ian (Birmingham): You say that Lee may eventually push Castro to 2B. Is this the organization talking, or just your own prediction?

Jim Callis: My own prediction on that one. I've asked that question to people with the Cubs, and they don't know for sure either. Lee is more athletic than Castro, and Castro figures to lose a half-step if he grows to 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds as expected, so I'm guessing Lee.

    Billy (Champaign): How close were the top 4 guys on the list? And is it fair to say the top 4 are head and shoulders above the rest of the list?

Jim Callis: Castro was a clear No. 1 for me, but I could see Jackson, Vitters and Cashner in just about any order. I wouldn't say there's a huge gap after that, but there is a gap.

    Serge (El Nido): Where does Kyler Burke come in? And why are you guys so down on him? By your guys own reports he has the best strike zone judgement in the system, has good tools, and is age appropriate for his level. And on a pure production basis, he was the best player in the Cubs' system this year. Is the fact that this was his 3rd go around in the MWL that big of a deal?

Jim Callis: Well yes, repeating a league three times isn't great on a resume. He controls the zone well and has some power against righthanders, but it's more gap power than home run pop. He doesn't drive the ball against lefthanders as well, so he's probably more of a platoon guy than an everyday player. He has a great arm but he's a below-average runner. In short, he does some things well but also has some weaknesses. He just missed the Top 10, and I can see an argument for him over Flaherty and LeMahieu. I just give a slide edge to the two infielders.

    Miller (Vegas): What are your thoughts on Wellingtin Castillo? He really struggled this year, but ranked as a top 5 prospect last year. Does he have a future in Chicago?

Jim Callis: I'm not a big Castillo fan. He'll still make the Top 30, but I don't have him as the top-ranked catcher in the system. He's young and has a strong arm to go with some pop, but his body is going backward, he's very raw at the plate and he's not a very good receiver. I see him as more of a backup than a regular.

    Mat Germain (Halifax, NS): Why was Jeffry Antigua left off the top 10? Based on performance, I'd place him ahead of the 7-10 guys on this list.

Jim Callis: I think you're a little high on Antigua, but he is the best lefthanded starting pitching prospect in the system. The list isn't based just on performance, especially for players in the lower half of the minors. He has a chance for three average or better pitches, and he commands his fastball well for his age.

    Jon (Peoria): Since Logan Watkins doesn't project to hit for much power, was it the fact that he is a better athlete and a more natural shortstop that has him ranked ahead of Flaherty and LeMahieu? Also, I'm intrigued by Junior Lake as another shortstop prospect even though he's very raw. Is he in the top 30?

Jim Callis: I don't think Watkins is just going to be a slappy guy, but he needs to get stronger to have some gap power. He's a significantly better athlete than Flaherty and LeMahieu, and I think he could play shortstop or center field if given the chance. Flaherty and LeMahieu get mixed reviews from scouts. I like both, but if scouts were more universal in their praise for their bats, they might have ranked higher.

    Don (Rosemont, IL): What should we make of Tyler Colvin's resurgence at Tennessee? Can he still profile as an everyday corner outfielder?

Jim Callis: The Cubs believe he can, while scouts outside the organization aren't optimistic. He did have a solid year this year, and he's only 23. Call me wishy-washy, but I'll be in the middle of that debate. Wouldn't rule it out but want to see more before I believe it.

    Don (Rosemont, IL): Huseby was quite good in the MWL as a closer this year, though it seemed like he was able to get with pitchability than pure stuff. Do you think that he's going to get close to the stuff he had in high school? Do you think the Cubs will keep him in the bullpen or move him back into the rotation?

Jim Callis: There's some thought of trying him as a starter again, but no decisions have been made. Huseby couldn't throw strikes at all in 2008 and dialed down his stuff in 2009. When he was at his best in the middle of the season, he had an 89-93 mph fastball with a ton of life, and backed it up with a good slider. He is getting his high school stuff back and commanding it better.

    Navin ( I was pretty interested in Robert Hernandez when he made his Peoria debut as an 18-year old in Peoria and posted a sub-4.5 ERA. Two disappointing years and one PED suspension later, he had a strong season at Boise but what is his standing as a prospect?

Jim Callis: He won't make the Top 30 but his career is on the upswing again. He still has a good changeup, and he's pitching in the low 90s with his fastball .Developing a consistent slider is his priority right now.

    Jeff (Cali): It appears that the Cubs farm system has turned the corner in the last year or two and is heading in the right direction. For the first time in a long time, the top 10 is heavy with position players (over pitching)....does this speak to the talent of the postion players or lack of arms in the system (or both)? Also how do you feel the cubs top 4 prospects compare against most teams in MLB? top 10, middle of the pacak, or weak?

Jim Callis: I think more to the quality of the position players. Beyond the Top 10, 12 of the next 16 players I have ranked are pitchers. I really haven't stacked up organizations against each other yet. My guess is that the Cubs' top four would rank in the 10-15 range among all the clubs.

    Bubblesdachimp (DC): If Castro is our best defensive infielder, then why Lee at SS and Castro at second?

Jim Callis: Castro is much more polished at this point, which is why he's on the Best Tools list. Lee is more athletic and Castro figures to lose a half-step, hence Lee at shortstop in the future lineup.

    Jason Sellers (St. Louis): Hey Jim,thanks for the hard work. It seems Castro has an advanced effortless ability at the plate, seems special. Would you put him in the Heyward tier? Heyward, Ackley and Castro, 1, 2 and 3 among bats?

Jim Callis: I'm bullish on Castro, but not that bullish yet. I would not put him in the elite tier of position prospects.

    bubblesdachimp (DC): Ackley or Jackson in terms of power production? Also Keith Law is very far down on BJax do you think he will make enough contact?

Jim Callis: Jackson has significantly more raw power than Ackley, though Ackley is a better hitter. Scouts who saw Jackson after he signed thought he had toned down his approach, either because he wasn't worried about the draft any longer or he was more under control with less forgiving wood bats.

    Bill (Chicago): Has Tim Wilken lost some of his Toronto luster? The Cubs system has struggled to produce an impact player from the draft during his tenure or am I missing something here?

Jim Callis: I don't see it. His last three first-round picks (Vitters, Cashner and Jackson) all look very promising and the system is deeper than it has been in years. Comparing Wilken to his Toronto days is holding him to a high standard, because the Blue Jays had a scouting run that's about as good as it ever gets.

    Jon (Peoria): How concerning is the free-swinging approach that Vitters has? Aren't pitchers at higher levels going to exploit that with pitches out of the zone unless he learns better pitch selection?

Jim Callis: Oh, it's a concern. If you like Vitters, you think that he'll make some adjustments and with his natural ability, he'll do a lot of damage. If you don't like him, you think more advanced pitchers will exploit him.

    Jack (Toronto): I know the Cubs signed a couple more Korean amateurs this summer. Do any of them have Hak Ju Lee potential?

Jim Callis: I wouldn't go that far, because Lee is setting the bar pretty high, but the Cubs signed five interesting players from the Far East. From Korea, they got speedy center fielder Kyung-Min Na and corner outfielder Dong-Yeop Kim, who has power potential. From Taiwan, they got 6-foot-6 righthander Tzu-An Wang, who oozes projection and has a nasty splitter; speedy second baseman Pin-Chien Chen; and Yao-Lin Wang, a 5-foot-11 righthander who throws in the low 90s.

    Tim (Naperville, IL): I have been hearing Trey McNutt being compared to Andrew Cashner. What are the similarities and what kind of package does McNutt offer?

Jim Callis: At his best, McNutt throws 93-96 mph with a power breaking ball. He's more Cashner Lite than full-fledged Cashner, but that's still a terrific arm, especially for a 32nd-rounder.

    Justin (Nashville): What happened with Junior Lake this year? He was mentioned in the same breath as Starlin Castro coming into the year, but they obviously went in very different directions. Can Lake overcome his atrocious plate discipline (121 K's and 21 BB's in 463 AB)?

Jim Callis: I think Lake was overmatched playing in a low Class A league that's tough on hitters at age 19. He still has an impressive package of tools but needs time to catch up. How much time he'll get with Watkins and Lee ready for Peoria remains to be seen.

    Justin (Nashville): How does Casey Coleman stack up among some of his fellow 2008 draftees? He doesn't have Cashner's, Carpenter's, and Jackson's stuff, but it seems like a he's got a tough bulldog mentality. What does the future hold for him?

Jim Callis: That's exactly right. Coleman doesn't have overpowering stuff at all but he has tremendous feel for pitching, no shock for someone whose grandfather and father pitched in the majors. He has four close-to-average pitches, highlighted by his changeup, but really knows how to use him. I'm not sure he misses enough bats to be more than a back-of-the-rotation starter or a middle reliever, but I do think he will get the most out of his ability.

    Dale (Fay, AR): What are Blake Parker's chances of making it up to the Cubs next year?

Jim Callis: T think there's a very good chance that Parker joins the Chicago bullpen in 2010. He has made an amazingly quick and easy transaction from. He has a 91-95 mph fastball, a somewhat inconsistent slider and a very good changeup that he needs to use more. He's a tremendous competitor and won't be awed by the big leagues.

    Matt C (Ankeny, IA): How does the Cubs' farm system compare to the other teams in the NL Central?

Jim Callis: I think it's the best. Whenever someone writes a particular list, they often tend to think that club's talent is better than someone else might. But I see the Cubs as having more top-end talent and more depth than any of the NL Central farm systems.

    Jon (Peoria): I've seen where Rafael Dolis has looked good in instructional league. What is the scouting report on him and where does he rank? Is he a guy the Cubs would have to protect on the 40-man roster coming up?

Jim Callis: Dolis is solidly in the 11-15 range. He looked very good in instructional league, sitting in the mid-90s and touching 100 with his fastball, and flashing a quality slider and changeup. The Cubs will definitely protect him on their 40-man roster. If they don't, he'd be the No. 1 pick in the Rule 5 draft.

    Dan (Chicago): Wes Darvil and Blair Springfield; who is the better prospect and how are they similar/different?

Jim Callis: Darvill is the better prospect. He has a much better chance of staying in the infield. They're both similar in that they have projectable bats but are still raw physically.

    John (Oak Park, IL): A guy I've always liked is Robinson Chirinos. He seems to have a disciplined approach to the plate. He's been an IF'er in the past and I notice he has done a nice job taking to catching. He'll be 26 this year but is he a guy who can win a roster spot someday?

Jim Callis: Yes, he can. I like him more than Castillo and Steve Clevenger at this point. Though he only has been catching for two years, he's a better all-around defender than either and I think he'll hit. If something happens to Geovany Soto or Koyie Hill this year, Chirinos would likely get the call.

    Hodge Podge (Shelleyville SC): Where would Samardzija rank if eligible?

Jim Callis: Good question. I've always thought of him as more of a reliever than a starter, and I'm not sure he's ever going to command two quality pitches on a consistent basis. I'd probably rank him seventh, between Lee and Watkins, giving him some credit for performing in Triple-A and at times in Chicago.

    Justin (Nashville): I heard that Justin Bistrow really came on strong at the end of last year and was flashing some low to mid 90's stuff. Is he a guy who could figure into the Top 30 and maybe be a sleeper for next season?

Jim Callis: That is accurate. He's not on the Top 30 but could jump on there next year if he continues to progress.

    Mark (No Shows): Starlin Castro or Tim Beckham? Starlin Castro or Reid Brignac? Starlin Castro or Alcides Escobar?

Jim Callis: Castro over all those guys. Easily on the first two, tough call over Escobar.

    Patrick (Chicago, IL): Is there any reason to be concerned about Jay Jackson's demotion to Daytona for disciplinary reasons, or has that issue resolved itself?

Jim Callis: No reason for concern. He violated a team policy and paid the price. The Cubs were impressed with the way he took his medicine, which is why they rewarded him with a late promotion to Triple-A for one start.

    Anthony (Westchester, NY): Do you think Cashner has front of the rotation stuff?

Jim Callis: If he can harness it, yes. I'm still leaning toward him becoming a closer more than a frontline starter.

    Andy (Iowa City): What can you tell us about Ryan Searle? He turned 20 last year while playing the entire season in Daytona, and seemed to hold his own.

Jim Callis: He probably has more life on his two-seamer than anyone in the system. He's a sinker-slider guy who has a chance to be pretty good if he works harder.

    Justin (Nashville): I know Castro has shown some terrific things for a 19 year old making it all the way to Double-A, but one thing that I'm still always bothered about is how the Cubs develop their hitters. Walks are something of a problem with Castro (29 BB in 469 AB), and I almost think it's inexcuseable how we've let a talent like Vitters get away with his embarrassing rate (12 BB in 458 AB). Castro may be a terrific talent, but are we going to handle him any better than the other "next big things" we've had like Corey Patterson, Felix Pie, Hee Seop Choi, etc.?

Jim Callis: That is a concern. I don't think the Cubs are so much letting Vitters get away with it. They've talked about it with him, but he's still young and it will take some time. A lot of plate discipline is innate—I don't think you'll ever see him walk 100 times a year. But I also think they've learned from rushing guys in the past, and I don't think you'll see Vitters at third base in Chicago before he's addressed the concerns. He just may be one of those guys who hits .280 with power but not many walks. Castro has been pushed aggressively, I think he'll draw a decent number of walks in time.

    Rod (Chicago): Do you think Ryne Sandberg will be the next Cub manager?

Jim Callis: I think there's a very good chance of that. He has paid his dues in the minors and would be a very marketable successor to Lou Piniella.

    Hodge Podge (Shelleyville SC): Cashner or Samardzija next 5 years?

Jim Callis: Cashner.

    CubCorner (Philly, PA): Where does Marquez Smith stack up? Good glove, solid pop. Projects as a 3rd baseman if Vitters doesn't learn strike zone patience? Or is a shift to 2nd in his future where his average tools at 3rd play up a bit?

Jim Callis: I think he's more of an offensive utility guy than a regular, but I like Smith. Tried to squeeze him onto the end of the Top 30 but haven't figured out how to do so yet.

    Jake (Chicago): What does Jay Jackson's future hold? You have him listed as the #2 guy in the rotation, but is that his upside or just where he fits in within the organization?

Jim Callis: Some of each. He has a chance for three solid-or-better pitches.

    Rod (Chicago): What makes Chironos better than Chris Robinson?

Jim Callis: Better defender, better hitter. Robinson had a nice year in Triple-A, but I wouldn't expect him to hit .326 again either.

Jim Callis: Thanks for all the interest and all the good questions. I have to run now, but we'll be back with another Top 10 chat when J.J. Cooper breaks down the Reds on Wednesday.