Now that “signing day” has come and passed, reshaping the Chicago Cubs’ farm system, it’s worth putting together our first Cubs prospect rankings. Sean Carey, with whom I’ve written many prospecting articles here, suggested the idea, and, given how well Sean knows Cubs prospects, I was all too happy to take him up on it.
Together, we came up with a consensus Top 10 Chicago Cubs Prospect List (“consensus” being the two of us). Feel free to dissect and criticize as you feel appropriate, but remember, anything with which you disagree was totally Sean.
1. CF Brett Jackson - 23 y/o (AA/AAA) .278/.379/.494
The Cubs’ consensus preseason number one Cubs prospect has done nothing but reinforce his status as not only the top prospect in the Cubs’ system, but a top prospect in all of baseball. And he’s done it despite two extended slumps and a hand injury this year.
2. SP Trey McNutt - 22 y/o (AA) 4.55 ERA, 58/31 K/BB (85 IP), 1.635 WHIP
McNutt has struggled with injuries this year as well; first, it was a blister issue, and then an on-field collision caused some chest maladies. Unlike Jackson, though, the injuries have had noticeably negative influence on his production. Most services will probably drop McNutt significantly after this season, but we felt, for now, it would be unwarranted.
3. 3B Javier Baez - 18 y/o (not currently placed)
It’s a tough call to put an 18-year-old with exactly zero plate appearances as a professional in the top five. However, with scouting reports touting a quick, powerful swing, and potential for 30 HR type power, it’s hard not to hype Baez up. Although he’s played mostly shortstop in high school, he is a player that is known for his defensive versatility. Given his larger frame and strong throwing arm, he is projected to make a permanent move to third base.
4. 3B Josh Vitters - 21 y/o (AA) .284/.321/.441
There are certainly parts of Josh Vitters’ game that we all worry about; namely, his defense and low on-base ability. Still, a 21-year-old holding his own at AA is something to be commended, and his potential is through the roof. He may not be a top three talent in the Cubs system anymore, but he’s still in our top 5.
5. CF Matt Szczur - 22 y/o (A/A+) .293/.339/.425 (23 SB / 5 CS)
In his first full season in professional baseball, Szczur has turned heads. He’s struggled since a promotion to Daytona, but his overall line is still impressive, and his defense and speed are legendary. The Cubs paid Szczur $1.5 million not to play football, so obviously they’re big fans.
6. SP Dillon Maples – 19 y/o (not currently placed)
Maples projects as a top of the rotation starter with a great fastball and had, by many accounts, the best slider in the draft. The Cubs paid him $2.5 million (almost as much as Baez) to sign, so they clearly believe he’s a top prospect.
7. 1B Dan Vogelbach – 18 y/o (AZL) .357/.400/.714 (3 games)
Three players in our top ten are teenage draftees. Some may find that telling of the top end talent in the Cubs system. We feel it speaks to the awesomeness of the Cubs’ 2011 draft thanks to the blank check Tom Ricketts handed Scouting Director Tim Wilken. Vogelbach is the type pure power hitter the Cubs system has lacked for quite some time. Reports indicate that the $1.6 million bonus the Cubs gave Vogelbach was an easy decision after he lost a dramatic amount of weight from his previously-portly 5’11 280lb+ body. He projects as a first baseman.
8. SP Robert Whitenack - 22 y/o (recovering from surgery after 11 starts this year at A+ and AA) 1.93 ERA, 47/14 K/BB, 0.94 WHIP
Whitenack’s experience is a microcosm of the Cubs minor league season this year. He was grabbing headlines and pitching a dominant season before being removed in the second inning of a start, and promptly undergoing Tommy John surgery. Eff. At only 22 years old, though, there’s plenty of time for him to bounce back. Whitenack projects as a mid rotation starter, which is something the Cubs don’t have much of at this time. Indeed, had he not gone under the knife, there’s a good chance we would have seen him with the big club already.
9. 2B/3B DJ LeMahieu - 23 y/o (AA/AAA) .319/.351/.420
LeMahieu, a big kid without much power, headed to Camp Colvin last off season to try and put some bulk on his frame. It’s had decent results, as his power numbers have improved. He is struggling currently at AAA, but has been on an uphill trajectory to the tune of an OPS over .800 in his last 12 games.
10. C Welington Castillo - 24 y/o (AAA) .287/.359/.522
Castillo, continuing with the theme (seriously, Lord, why?), has dealt with injuries this year. He’s endured, though, and has produced an extremely attractive line on the year (albeit while mostly hitting in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League). Some have used Castillo’s presence to suggest trading current Cubs catcher Geovany Soto for young pitching.
Just missed: UTL Ryan Flaherty (about which Sean has written more here), SP Nick Struck, SS Marco Hernandez, SS Gioskar Amaya, P Larry Suarez, P Aaron Kurcz, SP Chris Rusin, OF Jae Hoon Ha, RP Jeff Beliveau, and about a dozen others.