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Tom Clark coached at Lake City (Fla.) CC for more than 20 years and had a history of recruiting and coaching Puerto Rican players. When the school changed its name and dropped athletics, Clark latched on with the Cubs as an area scout, and his experience came in handy scouting Baez, who was born in Puerto Rico and moved to Florida when he was 12. Baez's aggressive style had boiled over at times in his amateur career, even prompting a near-brawl at a 2010 showcase in Jupiter, Fla., but Clark got to know Baez and his family. The Cubs were confident enough to draft him ninth overall in 2011, signing him for a $2.625 bonus. After ending 2012 with a broken left thumb, Baez showed no ill effects in 2013, with a torrid finish at Double-A Tennessee pushing him to 37 home runs, tied for second in the minors. He led all minor leaguers with 111 RBIs and 75 extra-base hits. Baez has special bat speed and produces top-of-the-scale power with an exceptionally aggressive approach and swing. He has tremendous plate coverage and really has no true holes in his swing, which takes a direct and violent path to the ball. Baez has work to do with pitch recognition and can drift at times thanks to his leg kick, but he hits the ball so hard, he doesn't have to square it up to hit it out of the park. His patience and pitch recognition improved against better competition, and some scouts see him as an above-average hitter despite his propensity to chase. Baez's defensive tools suit him for shortstop, while his aggressiveness does not. He has average speed and solid range to go with solid actions and a 70-grade arm, but he needs to slow the game down and consistently make the routine play. He committed 44 errors on the season. His baseball instincts suit him well at the plate and on the basepaths, and his competitiveness, which at times comes across as over-the-top swagger, has helped him rise to big moments, such as a walk-off homer against Japan's World Baseball Classic team during a spring training exhibition game. Baez hit 41 homers in 2013 between big league spring training and the regular season--plus 10 more in minor league camp--and his power should make Wrigley Field look small sooner than later. With Starlin Castro signed through 2019 but coming off a poor season, Baez presents the Cubs with a fascinating option. If his defense improves with maturity and experience--reasonable, given his tools--he could force Castro to second or third base. More likely, Baez shifts to second or third, causing a logjam with other Cubs prospects such as 2013 first-rounder Kris Bryant and Baez's Tennessee double-play partner Arismendy Alcantara. Spring training will help decide Baez's 2014 assignment and position, but he profiles as an all-star-caliber, 30-homer infielder wherever he lands.
Bryant was an 18th-round pick out of Las Vegas' Bonanza High in 2010 but attended San Diego instead. After hitting 23 home runs in his first two seasons, Bryant was BA's College Player of the Year as a junior, leading the nation in home runs (31), walks, total bases and slugging. The Cubs drafted him No. 2 overall, and he got the largest signing bonus in franchise history and in the 2013 draft, $6,708,400. He hit nine homers in his debut and helped high Class A Daytona win the Florida State League title. Tall, lean and athletic, Bryant has all-star tools. He adjusted as a junior by spreading out in the batter's box, lowering his head and eliminating pre-swing movement. He can still get a bit uphill with his swing but now punishes the low ball. He has the leverage and loft in his swing to produce 40 homers annually while being an above-average hitter. Bryant's easy arm strength fits well at third base, and he has solid infield actions, but he's tall for the position and some scouts consider him a better fit for right field. He played some right and even center field in college thanks to his average speed and long strides. Bryant's torrid Arizona Fall League tour indicates he is on the fast track to Wrigley Field. If he moves quickly, he likely will shift to an outfield corner.
Rangers area scout Chris Kemp found Edwards in a South Carolina adult league playing with other members of his baseball-steeped family. The Rangers waited until the 48th round to draft him and signed him for $50,000, then watched him emerge as the top prospect on their loaded 2013 low Class A Hickory team. He became the key piece in the package of prospects the Cubs received in the Matt Garza trade. Edwards misses barrels and bats, combining great stuff with tremendous work ethic and makeup. His thin frame evokes comparisons with Oil Can Boyd and prompts questions about his durability, but his stuff was at its best in September during the Florida State League playoffs. He locates his 93-95 mph fastball with excellent riding life and has allowed only one pro homer. His curveball gives him a second plus pitch, and he throws a hard slider that earns average grades. He uses his changeup sparingly but locked up lefthanded hitters anyway (.175, five extra-base hits in 166 at-bats). He needs more strength to maintain his stuff and keep his long arms and delivery on time. If he can hold up physically over the long term, Edwards has front-of-the-rotation potential. He's headed to Double-A for 2014.
USA Baseball turned to Almora frequently during his amateur career. He tied A.J. Hinch's record by playing on six national teams, though Hinch had the advantage of a four-year college career. The sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft signed for a $3.9 million bonus. His first full season was delayed until late May by a broken hamate in his left hand and ended in early August due to a groin pull. Almora has good tools and maximizes them with tremendous baseball instincts. His best tool is his bat, which scouts project as above-average or better. He has a loose swing, present strength and good hand-eye coordination. He uses the whole field, using what one club official calls a "no-ego approach" at the plate. Almora employs a leg kick and has to be on time but has good natural hitting rhythm, and had 24 multi-hit games in 61 Midwest League starts. He projects to have average or better home run power. Almora is just an average runner, if not a tick below, but he has premium range in center field thanks to his impeccable breaks on the ball, first-step reactions and passion for playing defense. He has a plus, accurate arm as well. A natural leader, the bilingual Almora bridges the cultural gap for Cubs farmhands from Jorge Soler to Kris Bryant. Almora has taken system-mate Jorge Soler under his wing, and they played together in the Arizona Fall League to make up for time lost to injuries. A healthy Almora should move quickly and settle in as a talented glue guy in a lineup with plenty of explosive bats such as Javier Baez, Bryant and Soler.
Soler burst on the scene in 2010 while playing for Cuba's national team in the World Junior Championship, with current Cubs farmhand Yasiel Balaguert as a teammate. He left the island in 2011, and the Cubs signed him in 2012 to a nine-year, $30 million deal that included a $6 million bonus. Soler missed games in the first half due to two suspensions, then played his last game on June 13, going down with a stress fracture in his left tibia. Soler is what a right fielder is supposed to look like. High Class A Daytona manager Dave Keller said he has never seen a hitter impart backspin to the ball like Soler does, and his swing, strength and sound plate approach give him top-shelf hitting ability and power. Some scouts give Soler 80 raw power on the 20-80 scale, and his arm earns 70 grades from some scouts. His defense is average. While Soler wasn't fully healthy all spring, he also didn't always give a full effort, and at times he appeared uninspired about playing in the minors. He charged the opposing dugout wielding a bat in an April 10 game against Clearwater that prompted a five-game suspension. The Cubs insist Soler is a good teammate who just needs maturity to handle the cultural adjustment and attention his contract brings. Heavier after his leg injury, Soler knocked off some rust in the Arizona Fall League, but his inactivity showed. A healthy, motivated Soler has special offensive potential, and he'll likely return to Daytona to team with Albert Almora to start 2014.
The lineage of lanky Colorado pitching products since Roy Halladay emerged in 1995 inspires confidence for Johnson. Big leaguers of recent vintage from the Rocky Mountain state include Brad Lidge, Scott Elarton, Luke Hochevar, Mark Melancon and Kevin Gausman. Johnson went from the Denver area to Missouri State, signing for $1.196 million as the 43rd overall pick in 2012. He finished his first full season in the high Class A Daytona playoff rotation. Blessed with a lean, athletic pitcher's frame, Johnson attacks hitters with two plus pitches. His fastball sits in the 90-94 mph range, touching 96. His breaking ball, a power curve in the low 80s, is one of the best in the system, and he has a feel for using it. The Cubs thought Johnson improved at using his inconsistent, but at times solid-average, changeup to both lefties and righties. He also excelled at locating his fastball to both sides of the plate. Johnson had health issues as an amateur but stayed healthy in 2013. Some scouts retain concern about his arm action, which may have contributed to forearm issues he had as a prep senior, but most scouts project him to have average to above-average control. Johnson and C.J. Edwards are the best pitching prospects in the Cubs system. They'll head to Double-A Tennessee in 2014 to see which one gets to Chicago first. Health likely will be the biggest factor in who wins the race.
Alcantara has the longest tenure in the organization of any of the system's Top 10 Prospects, and holdovers and newcomers alike admire his combination of aptitude and athleticism, which began to come together in 2012 and resulted in a 2013 Futures Game spot. Alcantara played shortstop in the first half for Double-A Tennessee, then moved to second base in deference to Javier Baez. He has a plus arm that plays at short but is a true weapon at second base, especially when it comes to turning the double play. His hands are a bit hard and fit better at second, where he has above-average potential. A plus runner with first-step quickness, Alcantara is an adept basestealer, and an improved approach at the plate helped him triple his walk rate, meaning more chances to steal. Deeper counts meant more strikeouts but also more hitter's counts, unleashing the solid-average power in Alcantara's short, compact swing. He ranked second in the Southern League in doubles and extra-base hits (55). With all the Cubs' infield options, Alcantara may be the most versatile piece. He'd fit as a super-utility player and has the tools to play center field well. He played second base for Licey in the Dominican League and heads to Triple-A for 2014 to consolidate the gains made last season.
The Cubs pushed Candelario in 2013 with an Opening Day assignment in the low Class A Midwest League as a 19-year-old. In his first full season since signing for $500,000 in 2010, he grinded out a productive season, leading Kane County in games and walks while ranking third in the MWL in doubles. Though as a switch-hitter he has to put in twice the work, Candelario has one of the more polished swings in the organization. He stays balanced in the box with a little knee tuck to get his swing started, then stays in the strike zone well with his line-drive swing plane. He started realizing his own hot zones as a hitter and hit eight of his 11 homers after July 1. Club officials project him to hit for above-average power, with average or slightly better hitting ability. He's a grinder defensively as well, with modest first-step quickness and below-average speed, but enough arm strength for third and solid hands. With added strength and continued defensive polish, Candelario can fit the third-base profile. If he doesn't stay at third, however, he'll be limited to first base, so the Cubs will give him time. He's headed to high Class A Daytona for 2014.
Vogelbach teamed with fellow meaty prospect Hudson Boyd in high school and faced Boyd (now with the Twins) in the low Class A Midwest League in 2013, twice hitting home runs against him. Since signing for $1.6 million in August 2011, Vogelbach has done what he was paid to do: hit. His polish helped him join Daytona late in the season as the DH for its playoff run. Thick and strong, Vogelbach cherishes the one-on-one competition with pitchers and comes out on top more often than not. He trusts his approach, works counts and has the strength to punish pitches he's looking for. He's consistent and doesn't give away at-bats. His strength and short swing give him plus power from left-center to the right-field pole. Until he changes his shape, however, he's going to contend with questions about his future role. He's a poor defender at first with minimal range, though his speed is merely below-average. He sought out his high school track coach to help him with running technique. Vogelbach's future may come down to his weight, and Cubs officials contend he is motivated to prove doubters wrong. If he can keep it under control, he can hit enough to overcome his defensive shortcomings. He'll go through a full high Class A Florida State League season, where the heat and humidity could help him.
A veteran prospect, Vizcaino ranked in the Yankees' Top 10 after the 2009 season, which was cut short by a muscle strain in his back. The Yankees traded him to the Braves in the Javier Vazquez deal, and after two years--including his big league debut in 2011--he joined the Cubs in a trade that sent Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson to Atlanta. He had Tommy John surgery in March 2012 and had a long recovery, including a setback in May (surgery to remove debris in his elbow) that essentially wiped out his 2013 season as well. Vizcaino returned to the mound in August and was slated to pick up innings in the Arizona Fall League but instead threw in instructional league, both in Arizona and in the Dominican Republic. The zip on his mid-90s fastball has returned, and Vizcaino hasn't lost the snap on his plus curveball either. Before his injury, he had average control, though his fastball command needs to improve. He has a fast arm and tremendous hand speed, and both his heater and curve can elicit swings and misses thanks to their power and late action. Vizcaino remains a wild card that the Cubs believe in, even though he has yet to throw an official pitch for the organization. Scouts say he can be an impact reliever if he ever stays healthy.
Hendricks came to the Cubs with third baseman Christian Villanueva in the 2012 Ryan Dempster trade. Hendricks' fastball touched 95 mph in his Ivy League days, but as a pro he's settled in as a command-oriented starter who relies on his feel for pitching, a good changeup and ability to locate his fastball. He mostly pitches in the 85-92 mph range, reading hitters' swings and disrupting their timing. Hendricks throws his changeup to all hitters and has shown the ability to pitch to the inside and outside corners and down with both his fastball and change. He limited righthanders to a .197 average while leading the organization in wins (13), innings (166) and ERA (2.00). He throws both a slider and a curve, both fringe-average, and most scouts prefer the curve, which he throws with some power in the upper 70s. Some scouts give Hendricks 70 control grades. He's not on the 40-man roster yet and should start 2014 at Triple-A Iowa.
Blackburn dominated high school competition at Heritage High in the East Bay area, posting a 0.95 ERA in three varsity seasons, then signing for $911,700 as a sandwich pick. The Cubs took it slow with Blackburn, sending him to short-season Boise in 2013, where he started the campaign with 17 innings without giving up an earned run. But his command faltered after that start, and he walked 27 in his final 31 innings, mostly as he struggled to locate his fastball. Blackburn has the stuff to start, with a three-pitch mix that includes increased fastball velocity. He touches 95 mph and sits in the 90-93 range, while his curveball has the proper spin and shape, and he flashes an above-average changeup as well. Despite his bouts of wildness, he pitches with poise and has mound presence to spare. A solid athlete, he has gained 35 pounds since signing and is still learning to tame his bigger frame. Blackburn's control issues surprised the Cubs, who see him as a pitchability guy with above-average stuff. He's headed for low Class A Kane County for his first shot at full-season ball in 2014.
Villanueva was acquired from Texas in the 2012 Ryan Dempster trade. He broke onto the prospect map in 2011 with low Class A Hickory and had a similar season with Double-A Tennessee in his first full Cubs campaign. He's an aggressive hitter with a somewhat stiff swing that he makes up for with solid bat-to-ball skills. Villanueva thrived in the second half, hitting 14 of his 19 home runs after he became less pull-conscious and used the whole field. He adopts a swing-first mentality when he's ahead in the count and could use a bit more selectivity, but he also has solid-average power that helped him lead the Southern League in doubles (41), total bases (230) extra-base hits (62). Defensively, Villanueva stands out at third with soft hands, good instincts and the agility and body control to make the play on slow rollers and throw on the move. He's a hard worker who loves to play and was getting more reps as an everyday player for Obregon in his native Mexico's Pacific League this winter. Villanueva is in a position crunch in the system but is on the 40-man roster and ought to have a chance to compete for the big league job in 2014, though a step up to Triple-A Iowa is much more likely.
Olt led the Double-A Texas League with 28 home runs in 2012, playing in the Futures Game and making his major league debut with Texas. Injuries had slowed him in the past, such as a broken collarbone in 2011 and plantar fasciitis in 2012. But none of that prepared Olt for 2013, which was an unmitigated disaster. In November 2012, Olt was hit in the head by a Francisco Samuel pitch while playing for Licey in the Dominican League. He missed a week with a concussion but returned to the field and participated in big league camp in 2013, then opened the season with Triple-A Round Rock. He went on the disabled list with blurred vision in late April but seemed to return to normal in June and July, hitting 10 home runs in a 45-game stretch prior to being traded to the Cubs in the Matt Garza deal. He struggled mightily after the move as his vision issues persisted. Olt has changed prescriptions on his eye drops, which the Cubs hope will solve the problem. Concussions and beanings have felled many players in baseball's history, and the Cubs hope Olt doesn't join their ranks. Even when he's at his best, his swing tends to get uphill, making some scouts believe he'll have trouble tapping into his plus power while being a below-average hitter for average. Olt has the actions, arm strength and agility to be an above-average defender at third. If the 2012 version of Olt shows up, he could seize the everyday job in Chicago.
Black was forced to transfer out of San Diego State and wound up at NAIA Faulkner (Ala.), where the Yankees drafted him in the fourth round in 2012 and signed him for $215,000. Black started his first full season at high Class A Tampa and lost six decisions in a row at one point before the Cubs acquired him in a trade for Alfonso Soriano. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said publicly he didn't want to give up Black, and the smallish but athletic righty made the Yankees regret it by beating Tampa in two of his five starts after being acquired by Daytona, running his fastball up to 96 mph in both starts, as well as in the playoffs. He also throws a curveball, changeup and slider, and his curve has made significant progress, going from a show-me pitch to a potential above-average offering. Black has a good feel for his solid-average changeup and limited lefthanders to a .164/.289/.212 line with no home runs in 173 plate appearances. His improved feel for pitching and power stuff helped him lead the Florida State League with 116 strikeouts. He's done a good job to this point of maintaining some plane on his fastball and staying tall in his delivery, essential at his height. It's easier to find scouts who believe Black has a chance to remain a starter now than it was a year ago, especially after he continued to show firm stuff in the FSL playoffs. He's headed for Double-A Tennessee in 2014.
Led by special assistant to the general manager Louie Eljaua, the Cubs were aggressive in the 2013 international signing period. They decided to blow past MLB's signing pool limit for 2013, spending more than $7.6 million for their five biggest signings when their entire pool allotment was just more than $5.5 million. The Cubs decided the penalties--taxes on the overage and a prohibition from signing any player for more than $250,000 in 2014--were worth incurring for players such as Jimenez, who was regarded as the top talent available on the international market (not counting Cuban professionals). He signed for $2.8 million in July and showed Cubs officials what they were paying for, displaying the potential to be a profile right fielder five years down the road. Jimenez had a strong instructional league, showing a balanced swing with a modest leg kick and good timing. He has at least above-average power with a long frame, perhaps gaining more as he fills out and learns to loft the baseball. His swing is geared more for line drives currently, and he shows the ability to use the whole field at an early age. His speed and arm earn above-average grades and he could play center field in the low minors, but as he slows he's expected to move to right. He has shown a strong desire to learn English and ought to make his pro debut in the U.S. in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2014.
Hannemann was drafted out of high school by the Royals (48th round) in 2010 and turned down pro ball to accept a two-sport scholarship to Brigham Young. He then took his two-year Mormon mission, which took him to exotic Little Rock, Ark., before returning to BYU. He redshirted in football as a cornerback in the fall of 2012 and got into shape, then exploded on the scene for the Cougars baseball team, being named West Coast Conference freshman of the year. Already 22, Hannemann gave up his football career when the Cubs signed him for $1 million in 2013. His pro debut started well before being cut short by a partially torn elbow ligament in his right (non-throwing) elbow, which didn't require surgery. Hannemann was one of the best athletes in the draft, strong and explosive with an overall tools package that reminds Cubs officials of Jacoby Ellsbury. He's not an experienced basestealer yet but is a plus runner who reaches top speed quickly, and he outruns his at-times ragged routes in center field. His arm strength is his weakest tool, earning some 20 grades. Hannemann's offensive game is strong. He's aggressive at the plate but repeats his simple, strong swing and has natural timing, giving him average power potential with plus raw power to his pull side. As long as his elbow doesn't interrupt him, Hannemann will get much-needed at-bats at low Class A Kane County in 2014.
The Cubs invested $2.5 million to lure Maples away from North Carolina, where he was expected to play football (as a placekicker) and baseball. He signed just before the mid-August deadline in 2011 and didn't make his pro debut until 2012. He made his full-season debut in 2013 at low Class A Kane County but had a disastrous stint, showing no ability to throw consistent strikes. His confidence flagging, Maples reported to short-season Boise for the second half and turned his season around with the help of pitching coach David Rosario, improving his delivery, particularly its tempo, and his consistency. While he still has a ways to go commanding his stuff, Maples threw two plus pitches while with the Hawks. His fastball reaches 97 mph and sits 92-95, and he has shown life down with his two-seamer and up in the zone with his four-seamer. Maples adds an upper-70s curveball, which has downer action and helps him change hitters' eye levels. The Cubs haven't done much with Maples' changeup yet, focusing on fastball command. Adding one will be an integral part of his spring to-do list as he works to earn a return trip to Kane County in 2014.
Skulina originally started his college career at Virginia but left after a semester, sat out 2011, then helped the Golden Flashes to a surprise College World Series run in 2012. He has a power arm and the best breaking ball in the Cubs' draft class, a hard slider that he uses for strikeouts and to get groundball outs. He throws the slider with power, up to 84 mph as an amateur. He has a good feel for using the pitch and has a strong body that allows him to hold the velocity on his 91-94 mph fastball, which peaks at 96. Skulina also throws a curveball and decent changeup, which is definitely his fourth-best pitch. He threw well in his pro debut before tiring after a promotion to low Class A Kane County. He'll head back there for 2014 to see if he can adjust to the five-day professional rotation while maintaining his power stuff.
Zastryzny could be the next Mizzou ace in the Max Scherzer/Aaron Crow/Kyle Gibson line to reach the majors. He enjoyed less success than his predecessors in college, going just 9-19, including 2-9 as a junior. Nevertheless, he was the first pitcher the Cubs drafted in 2013 and signed for $1.1 million as the 41st overall pick. Zastryzny had less velocity after signing than he showed as an amateur, but he was still able to pitch off his fastball anyway. It was effective in the 86-91 mph range because of his ability to locate it to all four quadrants of the plate and his willingness to use the pitch, as well as some deception. He was firmer in college, sitting at 91-92 mph and touching 94, and he gets swings and misses in the strike zone with his fastball, a must for a starting pitcher. He throws a curveball that has average potential and has some touch with his curve and slurvy slider. His above-average changeup is his best secondary offering. Zastryzny's delivery can get out of whack, causing him to lose the plane on his fastball and become homer-prone. He has the strength and fastball to be a mid-rotation power pitcher if it all comes together. Zastryzny will begin 2014 where he finished his pro debut, with low Class A Kane County.
Pineyro has had an eventful pro career already. He signed late for an international amateur, as he was 18 when the Nationals inked him in July 2010. A line drive that broke his jaw delayed his 2012 U.S. debut, but he recovered from the injury well enough to jump to short-season Auburn in late July. The Nats gave him his first taste of full-season ball in 2013, and he had just earned a promotion to high Class A when they traded him to the Cubs for platoon outfielder Scott Hairston. Pineyro finished the year in the high Class A Daytona rotation, tossing seven scoreless innings in one of the team's four playoff shutouts as it won the Florida State League title. Short but with long arms, Pineyro fills up the strike zone with a 90-93 mph fastball that touches 94. He held his velocity well in 2013 while surpassing 130 innings, including his playoff start. Pineyro uses his changeup as his top secondary pitch, an above-average offering at times that he trusts in any count. His curveball flashes average at 73-77 mph, though its break is fairly short. Pineyro and the rest of Daytona's Class of 2013 rotation are Chicago's best combination of upside and depth on the mound in the system. A potential No. 4 starter, Pineyro will ascend a level to Double-A Tennessee.
Fujikawa was one of Japan's top closers for the Hanshin Tigers from 2005-2012, and also pitched on Japan's 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic winners. He had to wait until he became a free agent to come to the U.S., signing with the Cubs on a two-year, $9.5 million contract in December 2012. He made the Opening Day roster in Chicago and saved a win against the Pirates in his big league debut. But Fujikawa missed a month with a strained right forearm, and after returning in May, he felt pain in his elbow in an outing against the Reds. A June exam with Dr. James Andrews revealed ligament damage in his elbow, and he had Tommy John surgery on June 11. Fujikawa was throwing off flat ground in Arizona in November, and the plan was for him to be game-ready in May 2014. When healthy, the veteran has a fastball that reached 95 mph and sat 91-94 with cut action. He relies on a split-finger fastball as his primary secondary pitch, so command of the fastball will be key if he wants to become the Cubs' closer in 2014.
The Cubs blew past the international bonus pool limit in part because they signed both the Nos. 1 and 2 prospects during the July 2 signing period. Dominican outfielder Eloy Jimenez ranked first, and Venezuelan shortstop Gleyber Torres ranked second and signed for $1.7 million. The Cubs had been linked to Torres for a while. He has a compact infielder's build and offers present strength and tools with less long-term projection. Cubs officials like Torres' swing from the right side. He has strength in his legs and could develop solid-average power as he learns his hot zones and adjusts to professional pitching. Scouts like his bat speed and hand-eye coordination, and he might hit enough to be a third baseman down the road. Other scouts like him better at second base, and some see him as a shortstop. Scouts like his infield actions, solid hands and above-average arm strength, but he doesn't have a prototypical fluid, athletic shortstop's body. He should be advanced enough to make his U.S. debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2014.
Beeler, whose brother Chase was an all-America center for Stanford's football team, didn't pitch after mid-May due to a torn tendon in his right middle finger. He made up for lost time by throwing well in the Arizona Fall League, earning a 40-man-roster spot. He admires Roy Halladay and has adopted the same knee-tuck mechanics and similar arm slot, working to make his 89-92 mph fastball sink, cut and run away from the middle of the plate. He can touch 94 mph with the fastball and has a slurvy slider as his main breaking ball, working to get early contact with both pitches. He uses both forkball-type of splitter that he can use in the strike zone and a more conventional split-finger pitch that he tries to bury out of the zone. Beeler added a cutter in the AFL to help him get inside on lefthanders, and it showed promise in the high 80s with late cut. His Fall League showing was that of a back-end starter--if he can stay healthy (he also had Tommy John surgery in 2009). He should graduate to Triple-A Iowa for the first time.
The Cubs have nine players who have left Cuba in recent years in their farm system, five more than any other farm system. Most of them haven't provided must production, most notably lefthander Gerardo Concepcion, who signed a $6 million major league contract and hardly lasted a year on the 40-man roster before being outrighted. Rivero and Concepcion were teammates for Industriales in Cuba's Serie Nacional, and Rivero signed with the Cubs in March 2013 for $3.1 million but had a problem getting a visa to get to the U.S. to make his pro debut. By the time he reported to Arizona it was extended spring training, and he didn't get into a game that counted until June 22, getting in a little extra work in the Arizona Fall League. Rivero has an athletic pitcher's body and quick arm that produces one of the system's best fastballs, sitting 94-97 mph at times. He has focused on a hard slider as his go-to secondary pitch, varying the release point by design. It's not a great pitch and needs to be tightened but can be effective with his varied looks and power in the mid-80s. He also throws split-changeup and attacks hitters fearlessly with all three pitches. A healthy Rivero ought to be able to reach Chicago in 2014 as long as he throws strikes, likely settling into a set-up role. Some scouts think he has the moxie to close.
Szczur's athleticism wowed the Cubs when he played football at Villanova, and they paid him $100,000 to sign and then $1.4 million to choose baseball over a possible football career. He remains a top athlete and speedster, but he also remains the owner of a somewhat ugly swing that makes it hard for scouts to project him as a regular. Szczur's swing simply doesn't stay in the strike zone long enough for him to drive the ball with any consistency. He has plus raw power but struggles when every pitch isn't straight. Szczur draws walks and grinds through a season without giving up too many at-bats, but he just doesn't have the offensive impact needed from a regular. His speed remains plus but his baserunning instincts lag behind. He's a strong defender in center field, a leader for the other outfielders, and has improved his throwing arm, earning solid-average grades. His energy, work ethic and grinder mentality will make managers want to have him in their clubhouse as a useful fourth outfielder, his likely ceiling now. He's headed to Triple-A Iowa in 2014.
Scouts have fingered Cates as a future reliever since he converted from catching to pitching at Northeast Texas CC in 2010. The Padres signed him for $765,000 that year and used him as a starter to get him experience, then sent him the Cubs as part of the 2012 trade highlighted by Andrew Cashner and Anthony Rizzo. Cates had an unsightly 0-9, 7.16 season in 2012 that included a trip back to extended spring training, and the Cubs sent him back to high Class A Daytona for 2013. He returned to the rotation for the bulk of the season but finally shifted to a relief role in August and thrived, as he no longer felt pressure to pace himself and was able to pitch more aggressively. His fastball sat at 92-95 mph as a starter and reached 97 as a reliever with good downhill plane that makes him tough to elevate. He has lost the feel for a changeup he threw with aplomb as an amateur and has focused on a slider, which sits in the low 80s, in the bullpen. He'll need to locate better to challenge lefthanders more effectively if he wants to be a closer. More likely, he has a chance to be an effective set-up man. Cates is headed to Double-A Tennessee for the first time in 2014.
Wells had a strong bounceback year in 2013, pitching as one of the most consistent starters for high Class A Daytona, which was honored as the BA Minor League Team of the Year. Signed out of an Arkansas high school for $530,000 in 2010, Wells had his progress interrupted by an elbow injury that limited him to 45 innings in 2012. He didn't need surgery, however, and returned to full duty in 2013 and led Daytona with 112 innings. That's even though the Cubs tapered his workload in the second half, using him for just four outings in August and shutting him down during the Florida State League playoffs. Wells had gotten his work in, focusing on fastball location and throwing his changeup at least 10 percent of the time. His fastball runs up to 91-93 mph at times, but he mostly pitched at 89-90 in 2013 with plus sink. He generated 2.3 groundouts for every out in the air, the ninth-best ratio among minor league ERA title qualifiers. Wells' fringe-average changeup has similar sinking action to his fastball, and his fringe-average slider also helps him get early-count soft contact. He has a big frame, though his arm action makes some scouts doubt his potential for durability. He has to monitor his conditioning and could develop more consistent low-90s velocity if he does. He will either be the fifth starter at Double-A Tennessee in 2014 or return to Daytona to anchor the FSL rotation.
The Cubs have become a haven for Cuban expatriates such as Silva, who has better tools than other Cuban outfielders in the system who merit Top 30 consideration such as Yasiel Balaguert. A former shortstop, Silva played on Cuba's 18-and-under national team with players such as Jose Iglesias and Adeiny Hechevarria, but they were better defensively, which forced Silva to the outfield. He left the island in 2010, and the Cubs signed him for $1 million in 2011. They gave him some reps at second base initially, but he's being groomed for a fourth outfielder role. Silva played virtually every day at Double-A Tennessee in 2013 and showed first-division tools, with a quick bat that helps him overcome a slight wrap in his swing and surprising, solid-average power. He's a plus runner when he smells a hit or needs to run a ball down in the outfield, and his solid-average arm helps him slide from center field to right when needed. He led the Southern League with 16 outfield assists. Silva appears allergic to walks with a hyper-aggressive approach, and he expands his zone even more with runners on base, hitting just .208 with runners in scoring position. He fits best as an extra outfielder if his makeup will allow it. He doesn't need to be on the 40-man roster until after the 2014 season and will move up to Triple-A Iowa.
Lockhart's father Keith is more than just his signing scout. He's also an ex-major leaguer who played nearly 1,000 games for three teams. The elder Lockhart didn't make his major league debut until he was 29 but still played parts of 10 seasons. Danny has gotten off to a faster start since signing for $395,000 as a 10th-rounder in 2011, but he has a similar overall profile to his father. He has a solid lefthanded bat with natural rhythm and feel for hitting. He lacks power presently but has consistent quality at-bats and competes at the plate. When Triple-A Iowa was on the road at Tacoma and Logan Watkins got a big league callup, the I-Cubs needed a middle infielder and looked to Lockhart, who was playing nearby with short-season Boise. Not only did the logistics work out, but Lockhart actually had to play and went 4-for-9 with a strikeout. His best tool besides his bat is his speed, which also is above-average. He's a reliable but not flashy defender at second base who also has enough arm strength to fill in at shortstop and third base. Lockhart ought to fit into the infield picture in 2014 at low Class A Kane County.
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