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Yesterday, sabermetric uber-site FanGraphs released its top 15 Chicago Cubs prospect list, entering 2012. The rankings come complete with a scouting report on the top 10, and a shorter writeup on the next five. As has been the case with prior rankings, FanGraphs says the Cubs’ system is deep when it comes to B and C-level prospects, but thin on superstar types.

The top 15, according to FanGraphs, ranked thusly:

1. Javier Baez, SS

2. Brett Jackson, OF

3. Matt Szczur, OF

4. Dillon Maples, RHP

5. Trey McNutt, RHP

6. Dan Vogelbach, 1B

7. Ben Wells, RHP

8. Jae-Hoon Ha, OF

9. Austin Kirk, LHP

10. Dae-Eun Rhee, RHP

11. Chris Carpenter, RHP

12. Josh Vitters, 3B

13. Tony Zych, RHP

14. Welington Castillo, C

15. Rafael Dolis, RHP

One thing I find interesting: FanGraphs was willing to put young, inexperienced, but high upside prospect Javier Baez in the top spot over the far more established, but perhaps lower ceiling, Brett Jackson. At the same time, though, the FanGraphs list omits young, super high upside prospects like Jeimer Candelario and Marco Hernandez (the latter of whom did get an honorable mention).

Another notable bit: young pitchers Ben Wells and Austin Kirk show up relatively high on the list, despite usually being in the “near-miss” type category on other lists. Once again, it’s indicative of the state of the Cubs’ farm system: a few obvious guys at the top, and then whole lot of tough-to-differentiate depth.

On Wells, FanGraphs says:

Wells has a big strong pitcher’s frame. He performed well in 2011 at short-season ball, posting a 3.51 FIP in 77.1 innings. He’s not a strikeout pitcher but he is an extreme ground-ball pitcher that puts a lot of balls in play and relies on the infield defense behind him. Wells has an 89-94 mph sinking fastball, slider, and has dabbled with both a splitter and a changeup.

And on Kirk:

The 21-year-old southpaw had a solid season in low-A ball in 2011 and is one of the more underrated prospects in the system. Kirk’s repertoire includes an 87-92 mph fastball, curveball, and changeup. He was selected in the third round of the 2009 draft out of the same Oklahoma high school that Orioles’ 2011 first rounder Dylan Bundy played for during his prep career.

You may remember Kirk as “that kid who threw a no-hitter and then had his performance completely fall off the map late in the season.” Hopefully he can bounce back next year.

FanGraphs adds a sleeper at the end of the list:

Pin-Chieh Chen, CF: A 20-year-old outfielder from Taiwan, Chen has the potential to develop into a starting center-fielder or a fourth outfielder at the MLB level. Speed and defense are his two best skills. He’s a slap hitter who uses the entire field. He hit .300 and stole 20 bases in 26 tries during his stint in short-season ball in 2011.

The Cubs have been working the Pacific Rim as aggressively as any organization over the past five years, so hopefully we’ll soon see the fruits of those efforts.

The FanGraphs piece has a ton of info on the above players, and is worth a read.

  • JulioZuleta

    Always nice to get another take, but this seems pretty off. I tend to question fangraph’s evaluation of minor league talent since they use sabermetrics to measure productivity and most of those numbers aren’t accessible for most minor leaguers. Not having Lake or Candelario makes it pretty questionable.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Lake, for what it’s worth, was the first honorable mention.

  • Cedlandrum

    Prospect lists are fun, but I couldn’t disagree more with Kirk being in the top 15 let alone 9. Austin Kirk might not be in my top 30 and I like Kirk a lot. There are a lot of arms that profile as well as his in this system.

    Also Baez at number 1 is strange. Some of the others are maybe a bit out of order, but really those will be different everywhere.

    • JB88

      Yeah, I thought Baez at 1 was a hoot, particularly where in the comment section, the writer explained that he omitted Candelario because he hadn’t seen him play enough, but Baez only played 5 games at rookie ball.

      How in the world can the writer have seen enough of Baez to rank him 1, but not enough of Candelario to even mention him in the article?!?!?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I didn’t want to say it that bluntly about Kirk, but … yeah.

  • JB88

    Any list where the site doesn’t spend significant time following the organization needs to be taken as a grain of salt. Calis is probably the only writer whose opinion, I think, really is justified. Everyone else is just using their own metrics or another person’s opinion based on a game or two viewing to formulate their opinion.

    Nonetheless, a nice read on a Wednesday morning.

  • Deez

    We’ve been working the Pacific rim, but it hasn’t equated to any MLB talent on our roster.

    • hansman1982

      It takes time, most of the foreign guys that you bring into the minors seem to be in the 16-18 year old range which means it could take close to 10 years for some of these guys to start showing up.

  • Cliffy

    Checking with

  • Cliffy

    Checking with my twitter friend in the dominican brings this junior lake update who has not played in 4 days

    QT @YOHANNA_NUNEZ: @Cliffy46405 Cubs are being careful with Lake. Now he needs a permission to keep playing with Estrellas.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      That’s ok with me – it was going to be a very long season for Lake anyway.

  • Kyle

    I have no problem with Baez at No. 1 and I have no problem with Candelario not on the list.

    The Candelario hype is getting way, way out of hand. He’s a nice 17 y/o DSL prospect, but that’s a description that could be applied to a few dozen guys in that league each year. He’s an interesting lottery ticket, with roughly the same odds of winning. A decent organization should be coming up with several Candelario’s per year.

    Half the guys like him will never make a successful transition to the states. He’ll need to jump that hurdle and have a strong showing in extended spring training just to make it to rookie ball. Then he’ll be six steps from the majors, and every step is a chance for him to fall apart.

    People have gotten way, way, way too hyped about his DSL stat line in 300 PAs. As Epstein put it, the further you get from the majors, the less that stats matters. In AAA and AA, you can start projecting a guy’s stats to the majors. In A ball, you start to learn useful things from peripherals. By the time you get to rookie ball, the stats don’t tell you much. The DSL is eight full steps removed from the majors. The stats are worthless.

    Candelario is a 17 y/o with an intriguing approach and a projectable body. That’s all. He appears to have a good approach for his age, but that can just as easily work against him as a prospect (a lot of inferior athletes wash out when they get to higher levels and their age peers catch up with them on approach). We don’t know if his apparent plate discipline will translate to the states (he’d hardly be the first free-swinger to fool people with DSL walk totals), we don’t know what position he can play, we don’t know if he’ll develop any power as he gets older. We don’t know if he can hit professional breaking stuff.

    He’s probably earned a top-30 spot on prospect lists, but that’s it, and even then he’d be borderline with as deep as our system is.

    When he puts in a full season of American ball and still shows promise, then we can talk top-15.

    • JulioZuleta

      I have to disagree. At 17 years old, the numbers he put up are not a dime a dozen. And I don’t think that each good system has a few guys like him in the DSL. I’m not saying he’s in the top 5, but he’s definitely knocking on the door of my top ten. He should have been a high school junior this past year based on age, and we know that age is legit since he’s American.

    • Bails17

      Kyle…and you are basing all this on stats?  You don’t have any idea what this kids other tools are like.  At that age…scouts are actually looking at bat speed and swing plane along with all his other tools he might posses.  Sure…I am confident that people are moving him up the ladder here because of his stats, but if he didn’t have a few other things going for him he wouldn’t be where he is.  He hits from both sides of the plate and runs pretty well for a third basemen.  He is 6’1 and 180 as a 17yr old, so it seems he projects out well.   I like what I see so far.

      • Kyle

        I’m basing my opinion of him on his scouting report, which is the only thing that’s worthwhile for a 17 y/o coming out of the DSL.

        He’s got a nice, projectable body and a good approach at the plate. At his age, that makes him an intriguing prospect, sure, but all 17 y/os are intriguing prospects in some way or another.

        The hype over him is coming from people who look at his stat line but only half understand it. It’s nice that people have gotten on board enough to look at things like BB/K ratio and OBP/SLG lines, but they still don’t fully understand them if they are drooling over them in the DSL.

    • Hrubes20

      I felt that way as well, until he continued his good showing as a 17 year old in Fall Instructs, which can be roughly equated to short season A ball. I can’t remember the exacts, but I believe in the month or so of games, he hit around .285/.350/.440 with a 1:1 K to BB ratio. If I recall, his ISO was about .150. That’s pretty terrific for a 17 year old, who is only going to get stronger. It is still a small sample size to base anything off of, but to say that Candelerio is merely an unknown with terrific DSL stats is a fallacy.

      • JulioZuleta

        No doubt that next year will be huge for him, he could start to flame out, or be firmly planted in the top ten. I tend to think the latter is more likely.

    • http://cubbiescrib.com Luke

      I’m with JulioZuleta and Bails17. There are other guys that came out of the Cubs DSL teams that fall into the “every good organization should be producing four or five of these guys” category. Candelario’s stat line clearly exceeds that category, and it does so in areas that we do not expect from a 17 year old. His OBP and his BB/K ratio are ridiculous for 17 year old playing professional baseball at any level.

      Yes, he could fall apart, but disclaimer goes with all prospects. If we were going to wait until a player hit “can’t miss” status, no one’s list would contain more than four or five players at the most. Even a guy a excelling at Triple A can fall apart when he hits the majors; it happens every year.

      And while I agree in principle that stats from the lower minors are less valuable in terms of player evaluation, the degree does depend on the stat. Some tools have a historic tendency to carry well throughout the minors. Plate discipline and patience tend to carry well, and those are the numbers that have me interested in Candelario. He also shows unusual power for a 17 year old, but that could be a ballpark artifact.

      In terms of ceiling, I’d say Candelario is in the upper echelon of Cub prospects, but there is not a whole lot of performance to back that up. Overall, I have him in the ballpark of the low teens right now. With a solid season in Peoria (I expect he will skip Rookie and Short-Season ball), he could vault into the Top 5 for the Cubs. I think the Cubs will put him on the same fast track they put Castro on until he proves he can’t handle it.

      • Kyle

        You are incorrect about your assumption that plate discipline typically carries over from the DSL to the rest of the low minors, or that Candelario’s BB totals are in any way unusual for the DSL.

        As for the rest of it, I’ll try to put this as nicely as possible: This is possibly the biggest overreaction to a prospect I have ever seen in the decade-plus I’ve been discussing baseball on the internet. Candelario will be lucky to *start* at rookie ball next year and not extended spring training. The idea that he’ll skip it is absurd. I don’t have a good adjective that goes beyond absurd to discuss the idea that he’ll be skipping two levels.

        • JulioZuleta

          He’ll start in Arizona, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be very young for the league. Also, I couldn’t disagree more with you’re statement that plate discipline doesn’t carry over; I would say that displine and speed are possibly the two most projectable traits across levels. If a guy can lay off the high fastball in the DSL, he can lay off it in A. I think he is a better prospect than Amaya (who I also like a lot), because his ceiling is considerably higher. Again, this past season should have been his junior year of high school. No one is saying he is going to be a stud for the Cubs in 2013, but there is no reason NOT to get excited about his future at this point.

        • http://cubbiescrib.com Luke

          You do realize that the rookie season starts after extended spring training, right? That if he starts in rookie ball he almost by definition starts in extended spring training?

          I’ll concede him starting in rookie out of caution, but I don’t think he’ll be there for long. The reports I’ve read on him coming out of the fall rookie league are positive enough I think there is every chance he can vault the league. I see Boise as being crowded at third (where I think the Cubs prefer to keep him), and I don’t think the jump from Boise to Peoria is so large as to preclude that as a possibility. Geiger is Peoria’s likely third baseman, but I don’t think he’s a nice enough of a prospect to block Candelario.

          Put it this way. Baez and Candelario will both likely be at third next season, along with Amaya (who could play second). I see Hernandez and Amaya moving up to Boise. One or both could jump to Peoria, but I doubt they will. Therefore, if the Cubs want significant time at third for both Baez and Candelario, one goes to Peoria and one goes to Arizona. I see Candelario as being more advanced than Baez, so I have him in Peoria.

          Feel free to use whatever adjective you like in describing that line of thinking. For the time being, and until we see how these guys compare to each other in spring training, I’m standing by it.

  • Kyle

    Again: DSL numbers just don’t matter. They really don’t. You can’t tell a thing about a prospect from them. The sample is too short, the competition too uneven, and at the age of these prospects, raw ability is more important than polish.

    Some recent Cubs DSL prospects:

    2008
    Jesus Morelli, 18, 317/432/487
    This is probably my favorite comp. Yes, he’s 18 instead of 17, but look at those eye-popping stats! The next year, he put up a .704 OPS in rookie ball, and two years later he’s an A-ball backup and washed up as a prospect.

    Albert Hernandez, 19, 324/405/459
    Too old, but dang those are some impressive stats. That line and his next season finally earned him a trip to rookie ball the next year, where he put up a .638 OPS. He is now out of baseball.

    2007
    Starlin Castro, 17, 299/371/371
    Just to hammer home the idea that stat don’t matter at this age, here are the rather pedestrian DSL stats of the best SS prospect to hit the NL in decades. The batting average is nothing special, he could show some more power, but at least he flashes a few walks, right?

    What makes Jeimer Candelario a better prospect than, for example, Gioskar Amaya?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I like Amaya, for what it’s worth. I tend to think I like Hernandez best of the three, given the possibility he could stick at short.

      • Kyle

        I think that’s a pretty reasonable way of looking at it. I like Amaya a bit more than Hernandez, whose hitting I’m still skeptical of, but I put them both slightly ahead of Candelario.

        These super-young infielders really are lottery tickets: You want to have a bunch of them because if you are very, very lucky you’ll get one Starlin Castro to balance out the dozens that flame out.

    • Cedlandrum

      nothing other then projection. They are different players though so it is a bit hard to compare Candelario and Gioskar or Hernandez for that matter. Candelario is projected to be a corner outfielder or first baseman if he grows out of his 3rd base body. He from accounts is a bit stiff at 3rd. Now Amaya and Marco are very athletic, potential up the middle bodies. Neither of them has the patience of Candelario. So it is based on projection of what people think. Truth is they are all so young that none of them could pan or all of them.

    • http://cubbiescrib.com Luke

      BB/K ratios for the players you mentioned.

      Morelli – 34/37 in 235 PAs.
      Hernandez – 18/24 in 174 PAs.
      Castro – 23/24 in 253 PAs.
      Candelario – 50/42 in 305 PAs.

      Hernandez was (a) too old and (b) really didn’t show that much plate discipline.
      Morelli was better in the discipline department, but is nothing special for the DSL His 37 Ks are too high for his PAs and that league, though.
      Casto combines patience with a very low strike out rate, and that package deserves some notice. Those numbers do not predict his breakout, but they do illustrate why he was talked about after his DSL season.
      Candelario easily tops all three in terms of plate discipline numbers. I don’t like his strikeout rate, but given that guady walk total and that he is just 17, I can live with it for now.

      I look at the numbers, and Candelario still stands out. I’ll have Amaya and Hernandez both ranked higher, but I don’t think either one of those guys has a higher ceiling than Candelario.

      • Kyle

        “I look at the numbers, and Candelario still stands out. I’ll have Amaya and Hernandez both ranked higher, but I don’t think either one of those guys has a higher ceiling than Candelario.”

        We’re on the same page here. But I’m not sure how Candelario can be third out of those three and still be considered a snub if he’s not in the top-15.

        • http://cubbiescrib.com Luke

          I can agree that a Top 15 listing is not a snub at this stage. Lake not being listed was ridiculous, but I can understand holding off on ranking anyone with no experience outside of the DSL. I just can’t dismiss his DSL numbers as being totally irrelevant because they are in the DSL.

  • R.I.P. Santo

    A little note about how good Tampa Bay rays farm system is ….Chris Archer didn’t even make the top 20 prospects He would be Our # 1 or #2 prospect THEY ARE STACKED and I am jealous

    • http://cubbiescrib.com Luke

      Archer had a horrible season (for someone as highly touted as he is). Callis said Archer would still be on top for the Cubs; I’d wouldn’t put him in the Top 10. He badly regressed in several areas playing in the exact same league he played in last year, and he had no injuries or illnesses to offset that decline.

      I’m not saying he’s a bust, not by any stretch, but I don’t think he’s a Top 10 guy in any farm system right now (except the White Sox, where Brett might be a Top 10 guy). There is absolutely no reason he should have regressed that badly while repeating the Southern League, and that is a major red flag for me. Hitters figuring him out? Did he get lazy and complacent? Run of bad luck? I don’t know, but until I see something that lets me overlook his 2011 season, Archer’s stock takes a hit in my book.

    • JulioZuleta

      Yeah, I’m kind of with Luke, but not quite as drastic. I think he’d fall in the 7-9 area now. He walked a lot of guys last year, and definitely took a big step back. He had a nice couple of starts at AAA to tend the year though, so we’ll see what happens. Anyone know where Hak-Ju Lee ranked for them?

  • Rudy Meoli’s Mullet

    Lets face it people, the Cubs have nothing in the system. If anyone comes a calling for our prospects, and wishes to trade us a decent player do it. 1% of these guys will pan out..

  • oswego chris

    I would say “nothing in the system” is harsh…most publications say the Cubs are very solid in young prospects…just not a lot of MLB ready guys…the White Sox have “nothing” in their system…

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