[This is a guest post, written by friend of the program, Sean Carey. Few knew the Chicago Cubs' minor leagues better than Sean, so when he wants to talk about Cubs' prospects, I'm all too happy to oblige him, with but a few edits here and there.]
A friend recently requested that I put together a Cubs prospect All-Star team to get an overview of the better prospects in the system. I took the request with a lot of enthusiasm; I love to put together lists like these. It also seemed appropriate seeing as the MLB All-Star festivities are upon us.
My criteria were fairly simple. The players I looked at had to be prospects. Bryan LaHair does not belong on this list (no offense to him personally – he’s just not a prospect). I heavily weighted this season’s statistics in my selection process as well. After all, that is how All-Stars are supposed to be selected. No popularity contests here. Lastly, I looked at only players that have played in the majority of this season at A ball or higher. As much as I like Jeimer Candelario and look forward to see him progress through the system, it just doesn’t seem fair to put a guy that has only played 34 games (in the DSL) into this discussion. Plus, the talent he’s facing may not provide a great way of evaluating a prospect.
So, without further gibber jabber, here are the 2011 Cubs Prospect All-Stars.
C Welington Castillo (24 – AAA) – A legit prospect, Castillo has made people question the need for Geovany Soto. I personally have taken his .286/.353/.510 line with a grain of salt. The PCL has always been known as a hitter’s league, and this year it seems to be even more so. Still, he has shown good plate discipline, along with great hitting ability, and arm strength behind the dish.
1B Justin Bour (23 – High A) – A breakout season has given Bour a name within the organization. He is second in the Cubs organization in HRs with 17, and has produced a respectable .352 OBP. Still, he is a fringy prospect because of a lack of extended power production.
2B DJ LeMahieu (23 – AA/AAA) – A name many are familiar with because of his brief stint with the Cubs, the kid simply knows how to hit the ball. He is hitting .353 on the year in the minors and has started driving the ball. His slugging is up almost .100 points this year, and he has nearly matched his extra base hit total from last year in only half the season.
SS Marwin Gonzalez (22 – AA/AAA) – I have always made sure to check how Marwin Gonzalez did over the years that he has been with the Cubs. In 2007 in the Arizona Rookie League, he actually outperformed Starlin Castro’s 2008 numbers in the same league. Starlin promptly surpassed Marwin, who struggled for the better part of three years following his AZL domination. Still, he was always intriguing because of his solid defense at all infield positions, flashes of power, and the fact that the Cubs just kept promoting him no matter how he did. It seems he may have finally caught up with his promotions. He has a .328/.377/.459 slash line between Tennessee and Iowa. However, like Bour, Marwin is going to have to show this kind of production over an extended period.
3B Ryan Flaherty (24 – AA) – It seems ridiculous, but Ryan Flaherty has flown under the radar as a supplemental first round pick in the 2008 draft. He was a star shortstop at Vanderbilt, and his size and hitting ability showed promise. He’s had his share of struggles in the three years prior to this one, but has finally broken through with an outstanding 2011 season. He’s hit 14 home runs while fielding every position except centerfield and catcher. Many liken him to Mark DeRosa, but I think he has more potential.
OF Brett Jackson (22 – AA) – Not much to say about Jackson, as most should be familiar with him. He’s had a disappointing year, but still has an .826 OPS. His home run production is up this year, but average and OBP are down. He’s had to deal with a couple of injuries, but, now that he’s healed, I expect an even better second half from Jackson.
OF Matt Szczur (21 – A) – Szczur was recently featured in the 2011 Futures Game. He has speed to spare and is second to none in centerfield. What makes Szczur stand out from most other center fielding prospects is he has shown flashes of power, launching five home runs in a little less than 300 PAs. Most feel that, now that he is 100% concentrating on baseball after splitting time with football at Villanova, he will grow even more as a hitter.
OF Evan Crawford (22 – High A) – Crawford came over from the Giants in the mid-season Mike Fontenot trade last year. He has had an excellent 2011 so far with an .804 OPS. He has also shown off his speed stealing 21 of 26 bases this year. The big issue for Crawford is his plate discipline. He strikes out too much and doesn’t walk enough. He’s heavily relying on his average this year, and not many hitters can rely on hitting .321 every year.
SP Austin Kirk (21 – A) – There were two pitchers I had in mind for the starting pitcher’s spot. Austin Kirk and Nick Struck. Their numbers are fairly similar except for one stat: average against. Struck gives up way more hits than does Kirk. Struck’s average against this year is .290 compared to Kirk’s .194. It needs to be stated that Struck has had to face tougher competition. However, the .100 point differential in average against is too much to make up from.
CL Frank Batista (22 – High A) – Frank Batista is a name with which many are not familiar. However, he has pitched brilliantly this year, to the tune of 16 saves, 2.13 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 7.8 Ks/9. Frank has plenty of competition, though, with Rafael Dolis, who is having almost as good a season, and Aaron Kurcz, who was actually tested as a starter to begin the year.
Keep in mind, this list is mostly weighted on 2011 production. For example, there may be a better outfield prospect than Evan Crawford in the system, but, for this year, the kid earned it. Anyone with different opinions are welcome to state their case.