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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. 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. 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.
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 was able to make an easy transition to pro ball, hitting .321/.331/.464 at the two lowest levels of the system. 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 beyond his years. He will need to develop more patience, however, 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 annual 20-homer power. As gifted as he is offensively, scouts rave even more about Almora's defense. He has incredible instincts, allowing his average speed to play up a grade on the bases and well above that in center field. He gets outstanding jumps and takes precise routes. He also has a strong, accurate arm. A quality teammate, he has helped Cuban defector Jorge Soler with his English. Almora profiles as a Gold Glove center fielder who could hit third in the batting order. He'll be part of a very talented lineup at Chicago's new low Class A Kane County affiliate in 2013, and he might only need two years in the minors.
The best prospect on Cuba's bronze-medal team at the 2010 World Junior Championships, 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 that includes a club-record $6 million bonus. Despite his long layoff, he easily handled low Class A pitching in his pro debut. 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 some 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. A prototypical right fielder, Soler has a ceiling that rivals Javier Baez's as the highest 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. He and Albert Almora may race through the system together.
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. 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, which is often the case with elbow reconstructions, the biggest question will be his future role. Chicago sees a potential No. 2 starter while detractors point to his injury track record, which indicates he won't hold up in a rotation even if his mechanics are fine. At worst, the Cubs think they have a closer. 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.
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 he 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. 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. 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.
Since 2001, Missouri State has had four pitchers selected in the first or sandwich round, and the Bears have sent seven arms to the big leagues. Their latest quality hurler 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. 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 nicely. Johnson is more about power than finesse, and his control and command are no better than average at this point. 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 almost as much as they do about Albert Almora's. 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.
The Cubs spent a franchise-record $12 million on the 2011 draft, highlighted by a pair of high schoolers with light-tower power in Javier Baez and Vogelbach. He barely played that summer 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. He 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 his walks and uses the entire field with an effortless swing. He can get pull-conscious at times but generally hits from gap to gap. He 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 purely as a DH, which wouldn't do a National League club any good. Vogelbach's build and background as a Florida prep product are similar to Billy Butler and Prince Fielder, and he too has the offensive upside to become an all-star one day. Vogelbach and Soler should put on some unreal shows in batting practice at Kane County this year.
Signed for $500,000 in 2010, Candelario 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. 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. 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.
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 a two-year deal that's worth $9.5 million and includes a vesting option for 2015. 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 Cubs are confident 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.
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. 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. 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.
It took three tries, but Paniagua finally found a home with a big league club when MLB approved his $1.5 million deal with the Cubs last August. He originally signed with the Diamondbacks for $17,000 in May 2009, using the name Juan Carlos Collado and an April 4, 1990 birthdate. He pitched parts of two seasons in the Dominican Summer League waiting for MLB approval that never came. MLB terminated that deal and declared him ineligible to sign for one year because of falsified paperwork. Afterward, he used the Paniagua surname and the same birthdate to sign with the Yankees for $1.1 million. Again, MLB rejected him and ruled him ineligible for year for using fraudulent documents. When he agreed to terms with the Cubs, MLB decided it couldn't determine his birthdate and let the team proceed as it wished. Even if he's older than his listed age of 22, Paniagua has a valuable right arm. Club officials saw his fastball sit at 94-98 mph and touch 100 in multiple-inning stints. His second-best pitch is his changeup, with his 82-84 mph slider more notable for its velocity than its break. Paniagua has a long, slinging arm action, leading many scouts to believe he's better suited for the bullpen. Chicago will audition him first as a starter and probably will send him to low Class A to open 2013.
Blocked by Adrian Beltre and Mike Olt in Texas, Villanueva's chances for future playing time improved dramatically when the Rangers dealt him and strike-throwing righthander Kyle Hendricks to the Cubs for Ryan Dempster. He still has to worry about Jeimer Candelario and perhaps Javier Baez (if he moves to third base), but Villanueva suddenly has a lot more upward mobility. On the 20-80 scouting scale, one Cubs official described him as having 80 makeup, 70 defense and questionable power. Villanueva's short stroke is conducive to line drives more than longballs, and he tends to inside-out quality fastballs and serve them to the opposite field. He has the potential for average power, but he'll have to get stronger and turn on more pitches to get there. He can hit for solid average and provide some doubles. He has fringy speed but has the instincts to steal bases if the defense doesn't pay attention to him. Defense is where Villanueva really shines. He has the first-step quickness, hands, arm strength and savvy to make tough plays look routine. Chicago added him to its 40-man roster and will send him to Double-A in 2013. He could get a big league audition sometime the following year.
Cabrera completed an arduous seven-year journey to the majors on Aug. 1, when he needed just 10 pitches to work a 1-2-3 inning against the Pirates. Along the way, he battled shoulder and elbow tenderness, not to mention control issues and inconsistency. He seemed to have turned a corner when he performed well in high Class A and earned a spot on the 40-man roster in 2010, but he recorded a 6.16 ERA as an encore the following season. That downturn convinced the new Cubs regime to make Cabrera a full-time reliever in 2012, a role change that allowed him to conquer the upper levels of the minors and get to Chicago. It's easy to dream on him as a starter because he'll show three plus pitches at times. His fastball ranges from 93-98 mph, his changeup features some sink and fade, and his power slider added some bite when he worked with big league pitching coach Chris Bosio. However, Cabrera's pitches tend to play down because he lacks control and command. His fastball is fairly straight and gets hit when he doesn't keep it down in the strike zone. He's better in shorter stints when he can go all out and not worry as much about trying to mix his pitches. Cabrera will compete for a big league bullpen job in spring training and has a ceiling as a set-up man.
The Cubs bought Szczur out of a potential football career, signing him for a $100,000 bonus in 2010 with the provision he could play his final football season at Villanova. When that ended, Chicago paid him an additional $1.4 million to concentrate on baseball full-time. Szczur is the best athlete and fastest player in the system, but he has yet to maximize his physical gifts on the diamond. He's strong enough to hit for average power, but he cuts off his swing and rolls over on a lot of fastballs. He has become a more selective hitter and focuses on getting on base to take advantage of his plus-plus speed. He has improved his bunting and his basestealing instincts, becoming more aggressive about picking spots to run. He has made himself into a solid center fielder with an average, accurate arm. Some scouts think he still can blossom into a quality everyday player; others see him as a second-division regular. Both sides agree he has stellar makeup and brings energy to the park everyday. A knee injury sustained on a bad slide right before his Double-A promotion hindered him down the stretch, but he played in the Arizona Fall League and will take another shot at Double-A in 2013.
While Lake's 2008 Rookie-level Arizona League teammate Starlin Castro raced through the minors and reached the big leagues to stay in May 2010, Lake still hasn't gotten to Triple-A. A stellar AFL performance in 2011 gave him momentum going into last season, but he hurt his back in spring training and missed a month. When he returned, it was the same old Lake: tantalizing tools and inconsistent performance. He has a big league body, one of the strongest infield arms in the minor leagues, raw power and solid speed. He never has developed patience at the plate and gets himself out by chasing breaking pitches. Staying at shortstop past his expiration date hasn't helped Lake's cause. He's too big and not quite quick enough for the position, and he might get more out of his bat if he played a less challenging spot. Scouts on other clubs see him as a third baseman or right fielder, and some would like to see him try pitching. Lake had a fine winter in the Dominican League and will try to build off that in Double-A this year.
The Cubs used seven of their first eight picks in the 2012 draft on arms, and Blackburn stands out as having the best feel for pitching among that group. The 56th overall pick, he turned down an Arizona State commitment to sign for $911,700. Blackburn works down in the strike zone and to both sides of the plate with a 90-92 mph fastball that peaks at 94. He hasn't filled out yet, so there could be more velocity in his future. He's athletic and repeats his smooth delivery well, which bodes well for the development of his secondary pitches and command. Chicago believes he'll eventually have a plus curveball, and his changeup has similar promise. He gets high marks for his mound presence. Blackburn has the ingredients necessary to become a No. 3 starter, and he's advanced enough to consider sending him to low Class A in his first full pro season.
Underwood was one of the more enigmatic players in the 2012 draft. On some days, he'd hit 98 mph with his fastball and flash first-round talent. On others, he couldn't command his heater and would dip into the upper 80s quickly, looking more like a fourth-rounder. The Cubs split the difference, drafting him in the second round and signing him away from a Georgia commitment for $1.05 million. He's very athletic for a pitcher and would have been a two-way player for the Bulldogs. Underwood generally pitches at 91-94 mph with his fastball but it varies from 88-98 and he doesn't always know where it's going. His curveball is similarly inconsistent. He'll show some feel for spinning the ball, but he'll also overthrow the curve and wind up with a soft, loopy offering that's begging to be crushed. He controls his changeup better than his other pitches, but he throws it too hard and doesn't get enough separation from his fastball. The Cubs worked to get Underwood to stop rushing his delivery in instructional league, and they were pleased with the results. They'll probably keep him in extended spring to start 2013 before sending him to short-season Boise in June.
Teams considered Maples virtually unsignable in 2011 because he was strongly committed to North Carolina, where he would have played baseball and kicked for the football team. The Cubs fell in love with his stuff, took him in the 14th round and got him away from the Tar Heels for $2.5 millionÃ³a maneuver that would have cost them two future first-round picks under new draft rules that went into effect in 2012. They have yet to see what they got with that investment because he has pitched just 10 pro innings. He signed too late to debut in 2011, then tweaked his elbow in spring training and didn't get on the mound again until June. Maples' main weapons are a heavy 91-96 mph fastball and a hard curveball. His non-athletic delivery and short arm action turn off a lot of scouts and could lead to health and control problems. Chicago won't give him a complete makeover but wants to simplify his mechanics to make it easier for him to throw strikes. He'll need to add a changeup as well. Maples will turn 21 early in the 2013 season, so the Cubs would like to get him to low Class A and, they hope, on the road to becoming a No. 2 starter.
The Cubs named Watkins their minor league player of the year and placed him on their 40-man roster after he led the Double-A Southern League with 93 runs and established career highs in most categories. Signed for $500,000 as a 21st-rounder in 2008, Watkins has an interesting package of tools and has the aptitude to get the most out of them. He has a contact approach at the plate, hitting the ball where it's pitched and spraying line drives all over the field. He draws walks and he's stronger than he looks, though his power goes mostly to the gaps. An all-star quarterback and defensive back in high school, he has above-average speed and exploits it by bunting for hits. His biggest needs offensively are to cut down a few more strikeouts and to attempt more steals. Watkins has spent most of his pro career at second base, where his average arm and solid range fit best. He also has seen extended time at shortstop and center field, and he's versatile enough to play almost anywhere on the diamond. Watkins' biggest backers project him as an everyday second baseman, and he may have a better collection of tools than Cubs incumbent Darwin Barney. Scouts outside the organization see him more as a utilityman. Watkins' bat ultimately will determine which group is correct. He'll move up to Triple-A in 2013.
It was Hernandez and not 2011 first-round pick Javier Baez who opened last season as Peoria's starting shortstop. Hernandez wasn't ready to make the jump from Rookie-ball to low Class A and didn't get his bat going until he went to Boise in June. While he can't match the tools of Baez or Arismendy Alcantara, Hernandez has no glaring weaknesses and a better chance to stay at shortstop in the long term. A switch-hitter, he has an easy swing from both sides of the plate and more pop as a lefty. His Midwest League performance aside, he makes reliable contact and should have solid gap power once he gets stronger. He'll have to improve his plate discipline and pitch recognition to handle better pitching. Hernandez has above-average speed but still is learning to make the most of it on the bases. He has the actions, quickness and solid arm required at shortstop, but he let the game speed up too much on him defensively in 2012, committing 32 errors in 105 games. He'll be better equipped to handle low Class A when he opens there in 2013.
Amaya starred alongside Marco Hernandez in the Rookie-level Arizona League during their 2011 U.S. debuts, and again at Boise last summer. Amaya can do a little bit of everything, but he stands out most for how easy he makes it all look. When the Cubs needed an emergency infielder in Triple-A in mid-May, they sent him to Iowa and he delivered a double in his lone at-bat. Amaya uses a short, quick swing that has produced a .333 batting average in two years in the United States. He's growing into some sneaky power and has plus speed, and he hinted at both with his Northwest League-leading 12 triples last summer. After alternating between second base and shortstop with Hernandez in the AZL, Amaya played exclusively at the keystone in 2012 with Boise. His range and arm strength weren't quite good enough at shortstop but are solid at second. He topped NWL second basemen with a .968 fielding percentage. Club officials love his makeup and how he's locked in to play every day. If Amaya keeps producing at the plate when he gets to full-season ball in 2013, he'll start to move quickly.
The Cubs drafted Zych out of a suburban Chicago high school in the 46th round of the 2008 draft, but he turned them down to attend Louisville. He emerged as one of the top college relief prospects for 2011 after starring in the Cape Cod League, yet the Cubs were able to get him in the fourth round thanks to mixed signals about his asking price. Signed for $400,000, he reached Double-A in his first full pro season. Zych has the same approach he had in high school. He rears back and throws as hard as he can from a funky, max-effort delivery. And he can throw plenty hard, working at 94-96 mph and reaching 99. The life on his fastball and the deception his mechanics provide make it seem even quicker. His delivery makes it difficult to maintain consistent break on his slider, which arrives in the mid-80s but can flatten out. His arm action and lack of a consistent second pitch leave most scouts hesitant to give him the closer stamp of approval, but he profiles as a seventh- or eighth-inning reliever in the big leagues. Zych could get there by the end of 2013.
The only player ever drafted out of SUNY Old Westbury, Whitenack was making a case for being the system's top pitching prospect during a breakout 2011 seasonÃ³until he blew out his elbow in June. Instead of getting consideration for a late-season callup, he had Tommy John surgery instead. Before he got hurt, Whitenack's fastball had jumped from the high-80s to 89-96 mph while keeping its hard sink. He scrapped a knuckle-curve for a more effective slider in the low-80s and had some success with his changeup. Whitenack's stuff didn't come all the way back in 2012, as his fastball resided around 90 mph and his slider lacked bite. The Cubs weren't concerned about his radar-gun readings or statistics. They just wanted to build his arm back up so he'd be at full strength in 2013, and they added him to the 40-man roster in November. If he can recover his 2011 form, he could develop into a No. 3 starter.
McNutt looked like a 32nd-round draft steal when he dealt two plus-plus pitches early in his first full year as a pro. But he hasn't shown the same stuff since and stalled since reaching Double-A at the end of 2010. The Cubs gave up on trying to make him a starter midway through 2012. Working in shorter stints gave a boost to McNutt's fastball, which now sits at 94-95 mph. He always has thrown both a curveball and a slider, each of which could be devastating at its best, but he focused more on the slider when coming out of the bullpen. He doesn't have to worry any longer about trying to develop his changeup. McNutt has had recurring blisters on the index finger of his pitching hand, which contribute to his subpar control and command. He has the mental toughness to work the late innings, but he'll be better suited for the sixth or seventh until he can throw more strikes. The Cubs saw enough in him to protect him on their 40-man roster after the season. McNutt's new role may be his ticket to Triple-A in 2013.
Vitters made his major league debut last August at age 22, but the Cubs expected more after drafting him third overall in 2007 and signing him for $3.2 million. He never has destroyed minor league pitching and was overmatched by big leaguers in a September callup. Chicago's third-base job was wide open but he failed to seize it, and the club re-signed veteran Ian Stewart in the offseason. Vitters still possesses the strength, bat speed, short stroke and feel for the barrel that made him an elite draft pick. There still are scouts inside and outside the organization who feel comfortable projecting him as a .275 hitter with 20 homers annually. Others think that he gets himself out too often because he's not selective enough--his 30 walks in 2012 represented a career high--and because he brings little intensity to the ballpark. He could be best suited for platoon duty because he destroys lefthanders, hitting .331/.377/.625 against them in Triple-A last year. Vitters doesn't help his cause with his defense at third base, which remains adequate at best. He has the arm strength for the hot corner but struggled with his throws in the majors, and his speed and range are below average. Vitters has a track record of performing much better in his second stint at a level, so maybe he'll handle big league pitching the next time he gets the chance. When the new Cubs regime will give him that opportunity remains to be seen.
The Diamondbacks selected Loux sixth overall in 2010, in part because he agreed to a below-slot $2 million bonus before the draft. Arizona revoked its offer, however, when it didn't like the wear and tear revealed on his shoulder and elbow during a postdraft physical. MLB declared Loux a free agent and he signed with the Rangers for $312,000, roughly third-round money, that November. He came to the Cubs in a trade in November. Chicago had traded Geovany Soto to Texas in July for righthander Jake Brigham and a player to be named. When concerns arose about Brigham's elbow, the Cubs sent him back to the Rangers for Loux and a player to be named. Loux has a simple, repeatable delivery and an idea of how to pitch. He works downhill and commands his 90-92 mph fastball to both sides of the plate, though neither his velocity nor his secondary pitches separate him from the pack. His average slider and curveball blend together, but most scouts like his changeup best, and he knows how and when to use it. Loux requires a long time to warm up prior to appearances, so his future is in the rotation, where he profiles as an innings-eating back-of-the-rotation starter. Chicago will deploy him in Triple-A to begin 2013 and he could make his big league debut later in the year.
Signed for $30,000 as a 23rd-round pick in 2010, Loosen broke out last year and made the Florida State League all-star team after pacing the circuit with 11 wins. Chicago has worked to smooth out Loosen's delivery, and he no longer throws across his body. His stuff has improved too, as he works his fastball from 89-95 mph and has a sharper curveball. His curve grades as a plus pitch at times, though he sometimes loses his feel for it. When that happens, he'll turn to his decent slider. Loosen's changeup has gotten better but still lacks consistency. While he's not excessively wild, his control and command could use some more fine-tuning. Headed to Double-A in 2013, Loosen has a No. 4 starter's ceiling.
Originally signed as a shortstop, Castillo hit .239 in three seasons of Rookie ball before the Phillies decided to make him a pitcher in 2010. When the Phillies left him off their 40-man roster, the Cubs plucked Castillo in the Rule 5 draft, and they retained his rights by keeping him on their big league roster for most of 2012. He only pitched 36 innings, however, a significant setback because he needs more experience to improve. Castillo is all about arm strength. His fastball ranges from 93-97 mph in short stints, and sat at 90-93 when he started in previous years. He can run his hard slider up to 86 mph but it doesn't feature much break and finds the strike zone more than his fastball. If Chicago wants to develop him as a starter, he'll probably open 2013 in high Class A. If they keep him in the bullpen, he'll proceed to Double-A.
The Cubs selected Hatley as an outfielder in the 39th round in 2006, and he made just two relief appearances as a Palomar freshman, but Chicago saw enough to sign him as a pitcher for $40,000. He didn't reach full-season ball until 2009, when he blew out his elbow and required Tommy John surgery. On the right night, Hatley uses his size and good delivery to fire 93-96 mph fastballs on a steep downhill plane. His mid-80s slider and upper-80s splitter flash plus ability, though his slider lacks consistent break. Hatley's control and command are scattershot and he lacks deception, so he gets knocked around more than someone with his stuff should. He failed his first shot at Triple-A. Hatley has both a high ceiling and a low floor, and Chicago will try to polish him up some more in 2013.
Martin flew under the scouting radar in the 2011 draft, but former big leaguer and first-year area scout Keith Lockhart found him for the Cubs. They signed him for $250,000 and have raved about his center-field defense ever since. He draws Devon White comparisons for his long, gliding strides and effortless range. He still can improve his jumps and reads, but he's also good enough to play center in Wrigley Field right now. He even adds a solid arm to his defensive package. Martin has interesting offensive potential as well with a projectable frame, good hand-eye coordination and long arms to create leverage giving him some power potential down the line. The downside to those long arms is that they add length to his swing and he can get tied up inside. He has well above-average speed but is still learning how to parlay it into stolen bases. Martin got a scare during instructional league, when he was hit in the face by a pitch. He required surgery to repair a broken cheekbone, but unless there are any setbacks, he'll be able to report to low Class A in 2013.
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