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The Cubs did plenty of due diligence on drafting Bryant out of high school in 2010, under their previous administration, scouting him heavily out of Las Vegas' Bonanza High. The price wasn't right, as it turned out, for any team, and Bryant bypassed the Blue Jays (who drafted him in the 18th round) to go to San Diego. A three-year starter who also played for USA Baseball's Collegiate National Team, Bryant turned a corner in 2013, leading the nation in home runs (31) as well as walks, total bases and slugging percentage while playing third base, right field and center field for the Toreros. The No. 2 overall pick in 2013 signed for a Cubs club-record $6,708,400, then hit nine homers in his pro debut and was MVP of the Arizona Fall League. All he did for an encore was become the second player to win the Baseball America College and Minor League Player of the Year awards in consecutive years'--the other being Alex Gordon in 2005- 06--leading the minors with 43 home runs, 78 extra-base hits, a .661 slugging percentage and 1.098 OPS while ranking second with a .438 on-base percentage. Bryant's biggest adjustment as an amateur was spreading out and simplifying his swing, and while he has some holes, as most tall sluggers do, his approach and pitch recognition make him an above-average hitter with lethal all-fields power. No one in the minor leagues gets to their raw power as much as Bryant, a baseball grinder whose father Mike played in the minors in the early 1980s and who works as a hitting coach in Las Vegas, having mentored Rangers No. 1 prospect Joey Gallo, among others. While Gallo, like last year's Cubs' top prospect Javier Baez, always seems to be seeing how far he can hit it, Bryant has an all-fields approach that belies his experience level. He works at his craft, soaking up coaches' information and applying it in ways that earns respect from coaches and teammates. Bryant's athleticism makes him an average defender at third base, where he's improved on balls in front of him, features an easy plus arm and ranges well to his left. He's not as good going to his right, and few tall, lanky players his size have stayed at the hot corner in the majors. His average speed--he's easy to grade because he runs virtually every ball out--would suit him well if he moves to the outfield, and he'd profile in right. Bryant's makeup earns nearly as many plaudits as his power, both for his work ethic and love of the game, which go hand in hand. The Cubs have a surplus of athletic infielders who can hit, and it's conceivable either big league shortstops Baez and Starlin Castro or Double-A shortstop Addison Russell could wind up at third base, with Bryant shifting to the outfield. Bryant also could stay at third, where Luis Valbuena is keeping the hot corner warm in Chicago. Barring a poor start back at Triple-A Iowa, Bryant should arrive on the North Side as soon as the Cubs deem it financially feasible. Bryant has the talent, confidence and makeup to be one of the game's biggest stars. All he's waiting for is the playing time.
The 12th overall pick in 2012, Russell signed for $2.625 million and became the Athletics' top prospect. He was teammates in the Arizona Fall League in 2013 with Cubs prospects Albert Almora, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler. His 2014 season got off to a slow start; he injured his hamstring on Opening Day and missed two months. When he returned, Russell was the key return for the Cubs when they traded Jeff Samardzija to the Athletics. He combines above-average athleticism with extremely quick hands and impressive strength to produce both plus hitting ability and power. He's nearly impossible to beat with a fastball when he's looking for it and stays back on offspeed stuff, trusting his fast hands and making plenty of highimpact contact. Defensively, Russell has the range and improved footwork to stay at shortstop. He has an average arm with a slight hitch in his throwing motion, but it's accurate and he has a good internal clock, so most scouts believe he can be an average defender. He's played some second base as well. He's an above-average runner but not a burner. Russell's bat will play anywhere. Chicago shortstop Starlin Castro will play as a 25-year-old in 2015, so Russell should open the season at Triple-A Iowa.
Soler defected from Cuba in 2011, officially signing for a $6 million bonus as part of a nine-year, $30 million contract months after he and the Cubs were first linked. He had trouble understanding why he was in the minor leagues with that contract and also had trouble staying on the field in 2013 and 2014, getting too bulky and straining both hamstrings early in the latter season. A looser Soler took off in the second half, including a tantalizing big league callup that included three home runs in his first four games. Kris Bryant hits more homers, but Soler's create more buzz. His vicious bat speed, top-of-the-scale raw power and impressive feel for hitting make him a terror to pitchers. When locked in, he generates scorching line drives to all fields; some just don't stop going until they're over the fence. He's coachable, takes quality at-bats and isn't fazed by hitting with two strikes. Soler runs average at this point in his career and has an easy plus arm, fitting the right-field profile well. His biggest issues are concentration, competing consistently and staying healthy, none of which he has done yet over a full pro season. Soler is the best outfielder and righthanded power hitter on the Cubs' big league roster. If he stays healthy, he has the ability to be an all-star right fielder soon.
As a sophomore, Schwarber led Indiana to the 2013 College World Series, leading the first Big Ten Conference team to Omaha since Barry Larkin's 1984 Michigan club. The Cubs drafted him fourth overall in 2014, signing him for a $3.125 million bonus that was nearly $1.5 million below slot, savings the Cubs passed on to pitchers. Then Schwarber destroyed pro pitching in his debut, hitting 19 home runs (counting the playoffs) over three levels. He has thick, strong legs and swings from the ground up, incorporating his powerful lower half to deliver plus power with a short, furious, lefthanded stroke. He keeps his hands back and has the strength to hit the ball out to any part of the park. He has some movement in his load, a timing mechanism that may cause him issues going forward, but he has the savvy to adjust and has a .300-hitting, 30-homer ceiling. A college catcher, Schwarber has leadership skills and solid-average arm strength, but his receiving was rudimentary as an amateur, and he frequently dropped to one knee to handle breaking balls. The Cubs worked him exclusively behind the plate in instructional league, where his competitiveness and energy--even at the end of a very long season--made him a clubhouse leader. He has the tools to be a capable left fielder, having shown instincts for the position. With his bat, Schwarber--an average runner underway--could move quickly as an outfielder. The Cubs intend to catch him, with some club officials giving him a 50/50 shot to stay there, while sources outside the system aren't as sanguine. The offseason plan is for Schwarber to open as the Double-A Tennessee catcher, but the plan could change in spring training.
Signed for $50,000 in the 48th round (which no longer exists) by the Rangers, Edwards broke out in 2013 in low Class A and was a key piece the Cubs received in trade that sent Matt Garza to Texas. Edwards missed most of 2014 with a right shoulder strain, making four April starts at Double-A Tennessee and six more after returning in August. He didn't need surgery. At his best, Edwards delivers three above-average to plus pitches, with excellent body control leading to an easy, rhythmic delivery and strike-throwing ability. He's very tough for hitters to square up due to late cutting action on his fastball, which generally sat 90-93 mph in August and in his Arizona Fall League stint. The late life on the pitch has helped him miss barrels, saw off bats and yield just two homers in 237 career pro innings. His curveball improved over his 2013 model, with more snap now in the upper 70s. The changeup flashes plus, playing off his fastball. His feel for pitching returned, though his command showed rust. Durability remains Edwards' biggest concern, and he raised more questions this year than he answered, but Cubs officials believe he learned a lesson in how to prepare for a full season. Chicago's best pitching prospect likely will start 2015 back at Double-A, with front-of-the-rotation stuff and doubts over how often he can go to the post.
The Cubs were stunned they were able to pry both Addison Russell and McKinney, the Athletics' top two prospects, away in the Jeff Samardzija/ Jason Hammel trade. Signed in 2013 for $1.8 million, McKinney jumped to high Class A Stockton for his first full season but hit better at Daytona in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League after the trade. It's all about the approach with McKinney, a polished hitter who is quiet in the box, with a balanced setup and good hands. He'll bar his swing at times but generally has as smooth path to the ball and isn't afraid to hit with two strikes, or to use the whole field. McKinney's pitch recognition and situational-hitting skills are other plusses, leading some evaluators to believe he may wind up with average or a tick above home run production. A sore shoulder limited McKinney to DH duty down the stretch in 2014, and his fringy arm strength limits him to left or center field anyway. He's an average runner. McKinney isn't a profile left fielder, but his Todd Hollandsworth/Rusty Greer skillset blends well with the rest of the Cubs' aggressive, powerful bats. He's headed to Double-A Tennessee as a 20-year-old in 2015.
Almora signed for $3.9 million as the sixth overall pick in 2012. Injuries interrupted his first pro season, and he reached Double-A Tennessee in 2014 but has yet to thrive He has yet to thrive, however, hitting into 21 double plays and searching for consistency. Almora has first-round tools, starting with a line-drive bat with present strength, fine hand-eye coordination, bat speed to catch up to good fastballs and average raw power. He makes contact so easily, he gets himself out often swinging at pitcher's pitches. He was pitched backwards much of the season and struggled to adjust. He still employs a big leg kick and can get streaky, as evidenced by a .377/.395/.649 finishing kick with high Class A Daytona before his promotion. A bit more patience would go a long way to making Almora a big league regular considering his defense, which remains advanced. He reads hitters' swings, has excellent range despite fringe-average speed and owns an accurate, strong arm. His bilingual skills come in handy in the clubhouse, and his makeup and work ethic remain strong positives. The Cubs don't need Almora to be a star--just a grinder who can hit and play plus defense at a premium position. Those goals are attainable if he becomes more flexible in his hitting approach. He's headed back to Double-A to begin 2015 but now has Arismendy Alcantara ahead of him as Chicago's incumbent center fielder.
The Cubs signed the two top-ranked players in the 2013 international signing class, Torres and outfielder Eloy Jimenez, who got more money but is much less polished. A $1.7 million signee, Torres finished his U.S. pro debut in 2014 by earning a promotion to short-season Boise before his 18th birthday. His maturity showed as he maintained his focus despite turmoil in his native Venezuela that prompted his family to move to the U.S. Torres is not the typical teen and draws comparisons with Cubs prospect Albert Almora for his baseball savvy and instincts. His hands, actions and aboveaverage arm fit him for shortstop, and his internal clock helps him make routine plays look routine. His range may fit better at second base, where his bat should carry him. He has an advanced approach for any age, with strength that allows him to drive mistakes to the gaps and fight off pitchers' pitches. He's willing to draw walks and has a chance to be an above-average hitter with fringe-average power down the line. He's an average runner and won't be a big basestealer. Torres is expected to advance to full-season ball with Chicago's new low Class A South Bend affiliate. He's a couple of years away from the system's upper-levels, middle-infield glut and could be trade bait sooner than later.
Arvada, Colo., was the high school home for Johnson as well as Roy Halladay and Mark Melancon. Johnson signed in 2012 for $1.196 million. He has a long history of forearm trouble from his amateur days, when he also had knee and hand injuries, but has never had arm surgery. When he was disabled in 2014, it was due to hamstring issues and not his arm. Johnson walked eight in his second Double-A Tennessee start in 2014 and took a while to find his confidence thereafter. When he throws strikes, his stuff has proved hard to square up; opponents have hit .227 against him as a pro. Johnson's 90-94 mph fastball can reach 96 and has late life up in the zone. His upright finish can make it difficult for him to locate down in the zone, a developmental focus going forward. He throws both a hard latebreaking curveball with depth and sluvy shape in the low 80s and a short, cutter-like slider. He's learned to use his fringy changeup more effectively with pro experience. If Johnson puts it all together, he profiles as a No. 2 or 3 starter with two plus pitches and potentially above-average control. Chicago's 2014 ace, Jake Arrieta, had a similar (albeit more durable) career path, and Johnson's stuff is worth the wait. He could pitch his way to Triple-A Iowa with a strong, healthy spring training.
Underwood was a potential first-round pick as a prep senior before an erratic spring in which he didn't hold his top-end velocity. The Cubs signed him for a $1.05 million bonus and he struggled in his first two seasons. But having dropped 25-30 pounds, Underwood broke out at low Class A Kane County in 2014. He took off when his preparation started to match his ability. He not only had a better body but a better, more professional mindset. His weight loss unlocked his athleticism, allowing him to better repeat his delivery and locate his plus fastball. He had the highest average velocity of any Cubs minor league starter, and his heater can sit in the 94-96 mph range. He's learning to finish off hitters with a hard curve that flashes plus as well, thanks to its depth and late action. He needs to locate both pitches better against more advanced hitters. His changeup continues to improve and also flashes plus because he throws it with good arm speed. Consistency with location and preparation continue to be his biggest weaknesses. No one took as big of a step forward for the organization in 2014 as Underwood, who has the system's most electric stuff. If he combines better control with more consistent displays of the best of his repertoire, he could move quickly. He'll start 2015 at Chicago's new high Class A Myrtle Beach affiliate.
With their hitters far ahead of their pitching depth, the Cubs signed Tseng out of Taiwan in 2013 for a $1.625 million bonus. He sent scouts mixed signals as an amateur, flashing 95 mph fastballs at times while pitching backwards with average velocity at other times, and he pitched poorly in the 2013 World Baseball Classic as a 17-year-old. That's in his past now after a strong debut season at low Class A Kane County in 2014. A consistent strike-thrower with the best control in the system, Tseng pitches at 87-92 mph with his fastball, reaching 94, and locates it all over the strike zone. He's the rare pitcher scouts project with potential plus command thanks to a compact, repeatable delivery. His changeup is his best pitch, a plus offering with tumble and good arm speed, and he has the confidence to double-up with it. His tight, mid-70s curveball plays solid-average, and he locates it well. Tseng gets more swings and misses with his secondary pitches than his fastball, profiling him toward the back of the rotation, but he's primed to move quickly with his durable frame and command. He'll start 2015 at high Class A Myrtle Beach.
The Cubs were stunned to get Stinnett with the 45th overall pick in 2014, considering how college seniors--especially those with actual tools and upside--speed up draft boards now. A California prep product, he went to Maryland as a third baseman but made 13 relief appearances as well in his first two seasons. He moved into the rotation as a junior, didn't sign as the Pirates' 29th-round pick in 2013 and blossomed in 2014, tossing 118 innings and ranking fifth in Division I with 132 strikeouts. He no-hit Massachusetts and struck out 14 in front of a bevy of scouts in a showdown with North Carolina State's Carlos Rodon in March, then led the Terrapins to their first regional (and first super regional) since 1971. Stinnett signed for $1 million and had his debut interrupted by a mishap during pitcher's fielding practice, having surgery to repair a damaged testicle. He's expected to be healthy for spring training, having regained most of the 15 pounds he lost convalescing from the injury, and could jump on the fast track thanks to his fine pitcher's frame, fairly fresh arm and big stuff. His heavy fastball peaks at 97 mph and can sit 92-95 mph, with bat-breaking armside run. His slider also earns plus grades, which features late three-quarters tilt in the 79-84 mph range. Stinnett's changeup is a clear third pitch and requires the most development. He has a pin in his elbow from a childhood injury, but so does Corey Kluber, and it hasn't hampered him as a pro. Stinnett likely will jump to high Class A Myrtle Beach in 2015.
A Puerto Rico Baseball Academy alumnus, Caratini attended Southern for a year with Dodgers farmhand Jose De Leon but was academically ineligible and transferred to Miami Dade JC. He played third base and catcher there and hit his way into the second round of the 2013 draft, signing for $800,000. The Braves drafted him as a catcher and put him there full-time in his first full pro season, then traded him to the Cubs for two big leaguers--Emilio Bonifacio and James Russell. Caratini is a surer bet to catch than 2014 Cubs draftees Kyle Schwarber and Mark Zagunis, though he's still learning the position, too, and wore down at the end of his first full season at the position. He's learning nuances of blocking and receiving, using his solid-average arm to throw out 32 percent of basestealers at low Class A in 2014. He's a switch-hitter whose lefthanded swing is far ahead of his right-side stroke, with a chance for average power from that side. He's balanced at the plate, uses the whole field and is learning which pitches he can drive without selling out for power--and when to sell out. The Cubs like Caratini's plate discipline, ability to spot and lay off breaking balls and physicality, which should lend durability. For now, he's slotted for high Class A Myrtle Beach in 2015, a level behind Schwarber and ahead of Zagunis.
Zastryzny was born in Edmonton, Alberta, but moved to Texas with his parents when he was 1 year old. Still, he was excited to be Trevor Gretzky's teammate in his pro debut in short-season Boise. Zastryzny jumped to high Class A for his first full season and struggled with the jump, with an 8.46 ERA at the end of April. He got better in at least one aspect every month, though, and was Daytona's Game One starter in the Florida State League playoffs, beating Dunedin. Zastryzny is neither a power pitcher nor a finesse lefty. He pitches off his 89-92 mph fastball that has heavy, late life and locates it up and down, in and out. He has to because he doesn't have a plus secondary pitch. He throws both a hard slider and loopier curveball, with the slider grading as fringe-average. Zastryzny nevertheless gets swings and misses with both the fastball and both breaking balls, for he hides the ball well in his cross-body delivery. His command is spottier than it needs to be at the major league level, and the Cubs believe improving his direction a bit will help him locate better, but they don't want to eliminate his deception, either. Zastryzny's improvement augurs well for his future as a potential back-end starter, with Double-A Tennessee his next stop.
The son of a high school assistant coach, Zagunis nevertheless is a college draftee more notable for his athletic ability than his polish. He's an above-average runner, not just for a catcher, though his baserunning instincts could use improvement. In his first two seasons at Virginia Tech, he played as much outfield as catcher, and while his arm strength rates above-average, he remains a raw receiver and overall defender who also has to be more assertive as an on-field leader as a pro. At the plate, though, Zagunis' advanced approach translated to pro ball, as he walked (42) as often as he struck out and hit for average, including a 12-for-28 run with two home runs in the low Class A Midwest League playoffs. That helped Kane County run the table for the league title, with Zagunis as the DH. He puts together quality at-bats as often as anyone in the organization, recognizes pitches early and knows what pitches he can drive. Zagunis gears his swing for line drives to the gaps. His bat profiles better behind the plate, and the Cubs are loaded with outfielders. He's slated to return to the Midwest League, with new affiliate South Bend, for 2015, when his defense will be tested regularly.
The Cubs acquired Black from the Yankees for Alfonso Soriano, whom New York released in 2014, ending his career. Club officials are ecstatic because while they acknowledge that Black may be a reliever, his arm is special and he could be a weapon as a setup man. Black's athleticism and four-pitch mix make starting still possible, though. He reached a career high in starts and innings at Double-A Tennessee in 2014, still pumping 92-96 mph fastballs with plus late life, earning some comparisons to a young Tim Hudson for his smallish body and life. Commanding his fastball is one of Black's biggest bugaboos and may push him to the bullpen. So could his high-adrenaline style of pitching. At times, he's his own worst enemy, mentally and in terms of throwing harder when he's in trouble. Black's straight changeup improved significantly and was one of the system's best in 2014, and he stymied lefthanders to a .157/.264/.268 clip. He throws both a curve and slider, hard of course. He has more feel for the slider and throws the curve with more depth. Black, who had Tommy John surgery in high school, saw his walk rate jump, so he could move to the bullpen as soon as 2015. He profiles as a fine setup man and perhaps a closer.
Hannemann's football background--he was a two-sport athlete at Brigham Young--and two missed years due to his Mormon mission have left him old for his experience level. The Cubs focus on his athleticism, a combination of strength and explosiveness that makes him unique in the system and earns Jacoby Ellsbury comparisons. Hannemann has plus speed that helps him outrun mistakes in the outfield and helped him steal 37 bases, most in the organization. He could steal more as he learns the nuances of reading pitchers and how and when to take aggressive leads. His offense evolved as the season progressed, by far the most baseball he's played in a year. He still has rigidity to his swing and actions befitting a football player, which also shows up in his below-average arm, but he displayed more looseness as the season progressed. He'll have to improve his pitch recognition and draw more walks to fit the Ellsbury comparison. He picked up a confidence boost by holding his own in the Arizona Fall League in 2014, more experience he needed to gain. Hannemann likely begins 2015 back at high Class A, where he finished 2014, but could jump to Double-A Tennessee if his bat shows signs of real progress.
Which is the real Blackburn? The command-and-control, pitchability righthander whose fastball generally sat in the 87-91 mph range during the 2014 regular season? Or the ace who dealt in the low Class A Midwest League playoffs, sitting 92-94 mph in a five-inning, one-hit, seven-strikeout shutout appearance? If that Blackburn shows up more regularly, the Cubs believe they'll have a No. 3 or 4 starter on their hands. He pitches off his sinking fastball, which he locates well. His best pitch at this point is his curveball, which has a chance to be plus because it has good shape and spin. Blackburn's changeup has potential to be average as well. He is a cerebral pitcher who keeps journals on opposing hitters and his own workout regimen, trying to learn what works and what doesn't. What he did in the playoffs worked, so the Cubs hope to see more of it at high Class A Myrtle Beach in 2015.
The Cubs popped three straight prep pitchers in rounds four, five and six of the 2014 draft, then signed all three for seven-figure bonuses. Steele starts off with the best profile. Pried away from Southern Mississippi with a $1 million bonus, he is a lean athlete who impressed the Cubs after signing with his competitiveness, love of practice and athleticism. His arm works well and he's shown some present control with his fastball, throwing plenty of strikes with it. Steele's stuff isn't consistent from start to start, so sometimes he tops out at 90 mph and at other times he throws as hard as 95. He throws downhill but must improve his ability to hold his velocity over longer outings. The Cubs have seen him spin a breaking ball and he's thrown a changeup, but neither secondary pitch stands out on a consistent basis. Steele may start 2015 in extended spring training and report to the Cubs' new short-season Eugene affiliate.
Jimenez was the top-rated player in the international signing class of 2013, thanks to profile right-field tools, and received the largest bonus at $2.8 million. He is still growing into his body, with his coordination catching up. Foot and shoulder injuries have slowed his progression as well, twice interrupting his 2014 debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League. He has impressed club officials with his intelligence, learning English quickly and returning to the Dominican to complete his high school diploma. He has basic fundamentals to improve, such as his throwing mechanics, which have gotten better but remain inconsistent. He has tremendous raw power with leverage in his swing and good natural balance. He must learn to use his legs more in his swing and incorporate his lower half better to make more contact and fly open with his hips less frequently. Jimenez likely will start 2015 in extended spring training and play at short-season Eugene.
Rademacher was a Cal State Fullerton recruit out of Anaheim's Canyon High, transferred to Orange Coast (Calif.) JC after a year and emerged as a draft prospect as both a hitter and pitcher. He signed for $100,000 as a hitter, and now has a chance to be an everyday corner outfielder. He has bat-to-ball skills and has started to tap into his raw power. He put on a longball display during the Florida State League home run derby in 2014, though he uses a different swing during games, focusing on bat control. Better pitch recognition and a more aggressive cut, sacrificing some contact for power, would help Rademacher tap into his plus raw power. He's a solid runner and athlete who can play either outfield corner well, though his arm has backed up to fringe-average. Double-A Tennessee offers Rademacher his next test in 2015
Jokisch is one of five Northwestern alumni who pitched in the majors in 2014 and will compete for the No. 5 starter's job in Chicago after reaching the big leagues for the first time. He ranked second in the Pacific Coast League in strikeouts (143) and fourth in WHIP in 2014. Jokisch pitches in the 86-90 mph range with his two- and four-seam fastballs, reaching 93 on occasion. He has to be fine with both, adding and subtracting to try to set up his changeup. It's his money pitch, earning above-average grades in the 76-80 mph range. He locates his short, firm slider and drops in a slow curve from time to time. He's been tremendously durable, averaging 159 innings the last three seasons. Jokisch is the classic crafty lefty, with the savvy to get through lineups multiple times in the minors. He'll have to turn his above-average control into true command to do it in the majors, and likely will start 2015 back at Triple-A Iowa.
Clifton was the only prep pitcher from Tennessee who signed out of the 2013 draft. He got a $375,000 bonus, even though he's the rawest arm among the state's top arms. The slender Clifton remains green, with obvious signs of progress. He has a quick arm, pumping his fastball in the 92-94 mph range and hitting 96 at his best. His inconsistency manifests itself in many ways, such as erratic fastball velocity. He's polished his mechanics but still has work to do, especially in honing his hard curveball and slider. He's flashed a changeup but all his secondary stuff has a ways to go. Clifton hasn't grown into his body yet, lacking coordination and "man strength." His mid-rotation starter ceiling ranks among the highest among the system's pitchers, though, with a big test coming in 2015 at low Class A South Bend.
Candelario ended 2014 repeating low Class A, though he did help Kane County win the Midwest League title with nine hits and nine walks in a 7-0 playoff run. His offensive approach regressed from patient to passive, as he took too many early-count fastballs and was constantly behind. He hit for more power after being sent down from high Class A, and scouts like his swing (particularly from the left side) and power potential from both sides of the plate. Club officials respected that he took accountability for his problems; he simply has to find a way to be more aggressive. He has average arm strength and range at third base with solid actions. A below-average runner, Candelario returns to high Class A at Myrtle Beach.
Vogelbach, who signed for $1.6 million out of the 2011 draft, grinded through a full season in the high Class A Florida State League in 2014 and led Daytona in home runs, doubles, RBIs and walks. He offers plus power, and he makes good contact for a slugger, has good bat control and identifies pitches well. He improved defensively, making seven errors (two in the playoffs) after racking up 11 in 2013, but remains a poor defender at first base. His lack of athleticism means his bat has to carry him, and so far it has been merely good, not great. He struggles against lefthanders (.212/.298/.340 last season) and his poor speed leaves him prone to hitting into double plays. Vogelbach moves up to Double-A Tennessee in 2015, but he fits better long-term for an American League club as a DH.
Sands signed for $1.1 million as part of the Cubs' prep pitching haul in 2014. Part of USA Baseball's 16U and 18U teams, he has continued to get better since, smoothing out his delivery and bumping up his velocity. Sands is a big-bodied lefthander who has touched 95 mph at times with downward plane to his fastball. He gets good armside action to his heater and throws strikes with it. His curveball and changeup have average potential, and the curve has improved its shape and consistency over the last two years. Sands' stuff was inconsistent after signing, and club officials were impressed with how he kept his composure when he struggled. His body has room to fill out, and he could wind up being a mid-rotation workhorse if it all comes together. He'll challenge for a full-season role in 2015.
Mitchell's frame, Midwest roots and basketball background earn him comparisons with Matt Kemp. He averaged 24.4 points per game as a senior and had to start the baseball season as a DH due to a broken hand. The Cubs signed him for an above-slot $200,000 bonus. Lean and athletic, Mitchell not only impresses with his raw ability but with his surprising hitting aptitude. He's shown no fear of hitting with two strikes, identifies spin and has the ability to use the whole field. Mitchell is an above-average runner who should be able to handle center field in the minors if not longer as a long-strider. He has average arm strength as well, and projecting his power and his future impact is where it gets tricky, as his flat swing path currently precludes loft power. Mitchell likely will be tested at low Class A South Bend in 2015.
Cease ranked just two spots ahead of fellow Cubs draftee James Norwood on Baseball America's Top 500 prospects list for the 2014 draft. To pry Cease away from a Vanderbilt commitment, however, the Cubs paid him $1.5 million, even though they knew he would need Tommy John surgery, which he had after the draft. Scouting directors voted him a Preseason High School All-American based off a strong junior high school season and showcase summer, as he ran his fastball up to 97 mph with easy velocity from a fluid delivery. Cease adds an inconsistent but at times above-average curveball that he used more in high school play than when he was on the showcase circuit. When healthy, he has a quick arm, good hand speed and even flashes an average changeup. He's a solid athlete who led Milton (Ga.) High to a state title in 2013. If Cease pitches in 2015, it will be in Rookie ball or instructional league, and the Cubs really won't know what their lottery ticket will be worth until 2016.
Norwood, who attended high school in the Bronx, wound up at the up-and-coming college program at Saint Louis, where last June he became the first Billiken drafted in the first 10 rounds since 1982. He lost crispness and velocity at the end of his first full year as a starter, and the Cubs took advantage, getting him in the seventh round and signing him for $175,000, when earlier in the spring he had appeared likely to go in the first three rounds. The Cubs took it easy with Norwood after signing him but expect to see him at full strength again in spring training. Norwood at times threw six pitches in college, and the Cubs will pare that repertoire significantly. His four-seam fastball has reached 98 mph, and the Cubs may ditch his two-seamer. They'd also like him to focus on one breaking ball, preferring his curveball to his cutter-type slider. He also throws a changeup. Norwood may wind up in the bullpen, but he will get a chance to start at low Class A South Bend in his first full season.
Signed for $25,000 as a 17-year-old in December 2010, Torrez finally reached full-season ball in 2014 and led low Class A Kane County in wins (11) and innings (131). He has not added much muscle to his skinny frame and may not have much projection left, but his fastball and pitchability may be enough. He works off a 91-92 mph fastball that reaches 95 with sink and average life, with above-average control and potential solid-average command. He pitches inside with it to neutralize lefthanders (.536 OPS). He's athletic and repeats his delivery, maintaining the quality of his stuff over six- and seven-inning outings. Torrez's consistency with his fastball contrasts with his inconsistent secondary stuff. His fringy slider helps him get groundballs, and he lacks conviction in his below-average changeup. Torrez does little things well such as holding runners and fielding his position. It adds up to a back-end starter profile and a step-at-atime progression through the minors. Next stop: high Class A Myrtle Beach.
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