As prospects continue to take on increasing importance in the future of the Chicago Cubs, it’s nice to see a prospects rankings list for 2012 that comes after the Sean Marshall and Andrew Cashner/Anthony Rizzo trades. It is becoming clear that the Cubs are moving in the right direction.

From John Sickels, the Cubs’ 2012 top prospects rank thusly (with his comments for the first five, and the new acquisitions – he drops comments for each of the top 24, though, so head over to the link and check it out):

1.) Brett Jackson, OF, Grade B+: I love his broad range of skills…speed, power, patience, defense. Only problem is a high strikeout rate which could foretell adjustment issues and/or preclude a high batting average. A more complete player than newly-acquired Rizzo, so ranks ahead for me.

2.) Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Grade B+: Acquired today from Padres for Andrew Cashner. Nobody should panic about 128 at-bats. Although he’s not going to hit .300 in the majors, Rizzo should provide plenty of power and walks and I think he’ll make the needed adjustments. Maximum outcome: Ryan Howard. Worst-case: Chris Davis.

3.) Javier Baez, SS-3B, Grade B: 2011 first-round pick. Outstanding bat speed, should hit for average and power. Questions revolve around future position as well as volatile personality. Higher ceiling than Jackson or Rizzo but we need to clear these issues up first.

4.) Matt “Scrabble” Szczur, OF, Grade B-: Borderline B. Grade under review. Outstanding tools but still learning how to play baseball. Uses speed very well, skilled defensively, should develop more power but plate discipline slipped in High-A.

5.) Trey McNutt, RHP, Grade B-: Hampered by nagging injuries in Double-A and gets a partial mulligan, although stock is legitimately down a bit. I am concerned by low strikeout rate.

6.) Dillon Maples, RHP, Grade B-

7.) Dan Vogelbach, 1B, Grade B-

8.) Junior Lake, SS, Grade C+

9.) Welington Castillo, C, Grade C+

10.) Dae-Eun Rhee, RHP, Grade C+

11.) Josh Vitters, 3B-1B, Grade C+

12.) Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Grade C+

13.) Marco Hernandez, SS, Grade C+

14.) Chris Carpenter, RHP, Grade C+

15.) Rafael Dolis, RHP, Grade C+

16.) Zach Cates, RHP, Grade C+: Acquired in the Cashner/Rizzo trade. Often overlooked due to 4.78 ERA in Low-A, but he has a live arm and peripheral stats were much better. Breakthrough possible.

17.) Ben Wells, RHP, Grade C+

18.) Dave Sappelt, OF, Grade C+: Acquired in Sean Marshall deal. Perfect fourth outfielder with a broad balance of average tools/skills.

19.) Ronald Torreyes, 2B, Grade C+: Acquired in Sean Marshall deal from Reds. Excellent performance record, hits for average, very reliable with the glove, but undersized at 5-7, 150. Can he do what Jose Altuve did with the Astros?

20.) Reggie Golden, OF, Grade C+

21.) Gioskar Amaya, INF, Grade C+

22.) Tony Zych, RHP, Grade C+

23.) Shawon Dunston, Jr, OF, Grade C+

24.) Aaron Kurcz, RHP, Grade C+

OTHERS: Jeffry Antigua, LHP; Dallas Beeler, RHP; Jeff Beliveau, LHP; Jeff Bianchi, INF; Lendy Castillo, RHP; Pin-Chieh Chen, OF; Zeke DeVoss, 2B; Jae-Hoon Ha, OF (a lot of people really like him but he looks like a tweener to me); Jay Jackson, RHP; Eric Jokisch, LHP; Austin Kirk, LHP (season collapsed after he threw the no-hitter); Luis Liria, RHP; Kevin Rhoderick, RHP; Jose Rosario, RHP; Neftali Rosario, C; Hayden Simpson, RHP; Nick Struck, RHP; Yao-Ling Wang, RHP; Logan Watkins, 2B; Robert Whitenack, RHP.

If you’re wondering about the grading system, Sickels explains it before each of these rankings. A super-short description: A’s are expected to be very good MLB regulars with a high chance of becoming stars or superstars, B’s are expected to be regulars in MLB (with the chance to be a star), and C’s are good prospects with a few question marks or who are too far away from the bigs to get a higher grade. You can see why the Cubs have so many C+ prospects, which is actually a high compliment from Sickels.

In addition to the interesting comments on the new guys, overall, you get a sense that Sickels sees a huge number of breakout candidates in the Cubs’ system. That squares with my overall impression of how things stand: tons of young talent at the lower levels, not much talent at the upper levels. That hurts the Cubs in rankings (because there’s less reliability with younger, low-level players), but means the system could explode in as short as one year if many of these young kids play well in 2012. In sum, Sickels describes the Cubs’ system in terms with which we’ve become familiar: very deep, but lacking at the top.

Baseball America’s Jim Callis also recently addressed the Cubs’ system in the post-Marshall, post-Cashner trade era. Callis says that, if he were re-ranking the Cubs’ system now, Anthony Rizzo – his overall number 42 prospect – would be third in the Cubs’ system, behind Jackson (28) and Baez (31). Torreyes, Cates, and Sappelt – in that order – would show up somewhere in the latter half of the top 30.

Callis adds that, when the Cubs’ system was ranked earlier in the offseason, he had them at number 14 in baseball (which sounds about right). After the Marshall and Cashner moves, he says the Cubs would probably move up a spot or two. My sense is, a well-executed Matt Garza trade and a, for example, Jorge Soler signing, would push the Cubs well into the top 10. Maybe even bordering the top 5.

  • Deer

    Anyone know what Baez did to get the label as a “volatile personality”? I’ve seen that elsewhere too.

    • hogie

      From what I understand, he has a lazy attitude and has a sense of entitlement toward his place in the game, but that’s just what I’ve read if it helps.

      • Kansas Cubs Fan

        So basically Aramis Ramirez. Just great.

      • Luke

        I’ve seen him compared to Matt Garza and Carlos Zambrano as a guy who loves to play the game so much his emotions sometimes get the better of him on the field. I’ve not read anyone apply the ‘lazy’ or ‘entitled’ tag to him before.

  • Matt

    haha Junior Lake is Mr. Cool 8)

    • Brett

      Gotta love the auto-emoticon insertion. But he is, indeed, Mr. Cool.

  • Fishin Phil

    The plan is coming together.  Beware NL Central the sleeping giant stirs!

    • EQ76

      I love it when a plan comes together and I pitty the foo who doesn’t agree.

  • jandersonjr81 father of Caden

    I actually seen this a couple days back. I think seeing Big league projected talent at the top is exciting. However, I take issue with a few of these spot. Rizzo is the definition of a complete player, I don’t see how he ranks ahead of him. I like both though. Vitters, Dolis and Carpenter should all be top 10.

    Vogalbach and Lake are the most exciting to me. In 5 years, I can see a very good infield with either/or Rizzo/Vogelbach at 1st, Lake at 2nd, Baez at 3B and Castro at SS. A pretty good 2-5 in the order.

    Future looking bright.

  • ibcnu2222 (John)

    Can rizzo or vogelbach play anything other than first?

    • Matt

      yeah, DH

    • Brett

      Vogelbach, no, Rizzo, maybe, if it became absolutely necessary. But Vogelbach still has a long way to go before it becomes an issue.

    • CubFan Paul

      i’d like to know that too (if Rizzo can play another position). What if LaHair lights it up in spring training and then procedes to make NL central pitching his bitch in the 1st half of the season (rizzo will be ready by then) ..LaHair sucks in the outfield, he’s the vet, if he earns 1B, it should be his to lose

      • Cedlandrum

        If Lahair lights it up you trade him and see what you can get from him. If you are going young you don’t keep the 29 year old 1st baseman.

        • Troy

          I think LaHair can hit 285 and hit 25 to 30 hr. Depth never hurts at any position and I hope he can produce. It will just give more time for our younger guys to develop. I do agree with Cedlandrum if he puts up good numbers I would def. do some shopping.

          • CubFan Paul

            problem with shopping lahair is: he has no value til he plays a full season in the bigs, even if hit well out of the gate, no one would give up anything for him in july ..its a good problem to have (LaHair hitting/being legit)

      • art

        according to what i read, Rizzo is good at 1B, can he play LF? go with the better defense.

    • Andrew

      One of them could play first for another team when the Cubs turn things around and need to piece together a trade for the last one or two pieces.

      At least that’s my opinion.

  • Troy

    Rizzo probably could play outfield, but since he is a left it would limit him to anywhere else on the diamond. Vogelbach is a white version of Prince. I would probably say no, unless you want to see a 5’11 guy that weight 285 playing outfield. Both are going to be power players. I watched Vogelbachs youtube video of him hitting HR’s in Arizona (D-Backs Park) he can mash the ball and he hits lefty, but fields righty. Jed and Theo need to keep doing thier thing!

  • 100 Years of Tears

    Is Darwin Barney not as good as I think he is, or will be? I keep seeing people’s projections for the future and his name is usually left off completely. Maybe he’ll be a utility guy down the road?

    • jandersonjr81 father of Caden

      Darwin Barney is as good as he played this year. The problem is there isn’t much room for growth. I personally like the guy. But as future projections go, he doesn’t get much better then 2011.

    • Luke

      Barney is a valuable guy to have on your bench, but I don’t think he’s a major league starter long term. His glove will be ok at second or short with experience, but I’m not sure his bat will be enough to keep him in a starting role.

    • DocWimsey

      As others note, Barney is a utility guy. Barney is a classic contact hitter, which old-schoolers love, but that severely limits both his OBP and his power. A 0.280 singles hitter creates very few runs, and nobody fields so well as to turn that into a net-gain.

  • jandersonjr81 father of Caden

    Brett, Scott Swaim is saying the Garza to Tigers deal is done. Says its Turner, Oliver and 2 lower level prospects. He says Cubs will except it at any minute. Not the first time he has said this. Any truth to the rumor.

    • Kyle

      lol @Scott Swaim. I want to believe, but he’s been predicting it for three solid weeks. His MO seems to be to predict stuff that seems about to happen and then if it does he claims he had sources.

      • The Next Theo Epstein

        I don’t see him saying that?

      • jandersonjr81 father of Caden

        Personally, I’m not big on Oliver. He 23 with a 4 something ERA, and a 1.5 something whip. Jay Code intrigues me, however. He more MLB ready and from Illinois. He’s not as highly regarded, however.

        • jandersonjr81 father of Caden

          Sorry, Jay Voss, not Code. On my phone. Auto Correct. I hate it.

          TNTE, I was brousing the web before I left the house. Ran into it on another blog, not an actual acticle though. That why I ask Brett if he heard anything.

        • Ryan G

          I’m not big on Oliver. I’d hold out for Smyly has second piece. I think he’s widely underrated.

    • Brett

      I have heard only that today might be a busy day, but that was not in reference to anything in particular.

    • Brett

      I no longer see that tweet. Did he delete it?

      • jandersonjr81 father of Caden

        Someone else posted it on another blog. I didn’t see from from him, personally. Thast why I asked you. Unfortunately, I’m just a flight engineer from North Carolina, so I don’t have to many baseball, inside sources. You are my inside source.

  • Dustin S

    It would be interesting to see some stats on % of top prospects that play more than say 3 years in the majors. I’m optimistic, but it can be slippery to count on too many of them panning out.

    • Kyle

      It really depends on how advanced the prospect is.

      As a rough rule of thumb, 50% of first-round picks will play in the majors at some point (not necessarily stick long-term, just get a cup of coffee) and it goes down considerably for later rounds.

      Meanwhile, once a guy has performed well in AA and AAA (with good indicators beyond the superficial stats), he’s a very good bet to make the majors and do at least moderately well.

      So for top prospects like Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo, their major league careers are just a matter of “how good?” not “if?”

      But if the Cubs get one long-term major leaguer out of Baez, Vogelbach, Lake and Maples, that’s pretty good.

      • JulioZuleta

        Keep in mind, with a competent front office, they’ll know when to trade prospects when they think their value is as high as it will be. This isn’t the Hendry days where you let Pie, Hill, and Patterson fall on their faces. All three of those guys had enormous trade value at one point, but not one was dealt. We’re in good hands now; we’ll draft better and do a better job of knowing when to sell high on guys.

    • DocWimsey

      To follow up on what others wrote, baseball prospects are a classic case of “r-selection.” That is, if you want to get one to the next level, then you had better have several in hand. We all can name a lot of “can’t miss” prospects who missed big time.

      However, there is a general correlation: although most first-round draft picks never become regular players, a big proportion of All-Stars were first round draft picks. High round picks succeed more often than low round picks, but most picks do not succeed.

  • Rich G

    Boy, seems like every year I see one of these Vitters keeps dropping.

    • Brian

      Either he was overrated, or the Cubs prospects were just bad up to this point. Either way, the Cubs top 3rd bagger is now a kid with a label of having a bad attitude.

      • art

        is that “hot head” like Santo used to be?

      • DocWimsey

        Everything I’ve ever read about Vitters suggests that he’s a hard worker and has a great attitude. People are too prone to buy the myth that there is an association between attitude and success. There is not: the correlation is between talent and success. Vitters is failing because he lacks a key talent that cannot be developed via practice. It has nothing to do with his effort.

    • Kyle

      Every year that goes by, he gets further from his former “No. 3 overall pick” buzz and loses that aspect of his evaluation.

      If he was just some fifth-rounder who had started out in the 20s in organizational rankings, people would consider him an intriguing sleeper prospect on the rise. But he’s never going to live up to his draft status.

    • DocWimsey

      I suspect that is because more and more people are becoming more and more savvy to batting eye as a key tool. It was known from the start that Vitters had no batting eye; not only has it hindered his progress, but more and more people now hold that against him.

      (The Cubs history of producing MLB busts who flop because of lack-of-batting eye is pretty well-known, too.)

  • DRock

    Great report, Brett. Good to see our farm club is on the rise!

    What is the latest buzz concerning Garza? I hear the Tigers are holding on Turner, so Theo may stand pat. Perhaps we sign him to an extension?

  • Daniel Guerra

    One thing that’s clearly missing in the Cubs systems are…, Frontline Starters. This reaffirms my feeling that Garza is being shipped out of town for some young frontline starters. I’m at 91% on Garza being traded. There’s that 9% chance he stays cause he gets hurt during the season or that the front office becomes too stubborn to pull off an equal trade.

  • rbreeze

    Last night the fabulous Peter Gammons said on MLB Network that there will not be a deal with the Tigers for Garza.  The Tigers think Turner can maybe help as the fifth starter sometime this season.  But he’s been wrong before.

    • Jim

      So you’re saying it’s a lock that Turner is headed for the Cubs?

    • Brian

      So, the Tigers think that the Cubs top starter is worth less than a hopeful #5 starter sometime this year? Seems like some down playing of talent on their part or overhype from others. My head is spinning. Is Turner the real deal?, if not whats the fuss?

  • Luke

    I’m not sure about ranking Torreyes as high as #19. He’s a good defensive infielder who will have to hit for average to ever win a job – the Cubs are loaded with those guys, and many of them bring additional tools to the table. Ranking him above Zeke DeVoss and Pin-Chieh Chen who both play the same position (or in Chen’s case, did play the same position before he moved to the outfield) seems like stretch.

    Then again, it is A ball. The level of certainty when ranking A ball guys is abysmally low. Once you get into the middle teens of Cub rankings, I’m not sure there is a wrong order.

    • jandersonjr81 father of Caden

      Torreyes does nothing but hit for average. The guy has a great bat. Have you checked his stat. I bet his bat is better then his glove.

      • Luke

        He put up great offense numbers in the Midwest league, but that is a hitters league. He was young for it, though, a deserves credit for that.

        But look at his power and stolen base numbers. Both are low. At the plate, his average is about all he brings to the table. That’s not a bad thing, but it does mean that unless his average stays high, his future is limited. That’s why I have a hard time ranking him above guys like DeVoss, who bring a lot of speed to the table along with their bat.

        Torreyes is a good prospect, don’t get me wrong, but to me he looks a lot like a better version of Matt Cerda.

        • Kyle

          “Torreyes is a good prospect, don’t get me wrong, but to me he looks a lot like a better version of Matt Cerda.”

          Matt Cerda: 14.1% strikeout rate in rookie ball as an 18 year old

          Torreyes: 6.2% strikeout rate in mid-A ball as an 18 year old.

          He strike out under half as much at a level two steps higher than Cerda did.

          Obviously, there’s a question of how far an elite hit tool with nothing else can take a player. But the elite tool is there.

          • Luke

            Cerda also posted a .394 OBP in the Florida State League (league avg. .331). I think he sells out for power more than Torreyes does, thus the higher K rate. His BB/K ratio beats Torreyes (though both are excellent). Oddly, Cerda managed to improve his overall offense game going from the more hitter friendly Midwest league to the less hitter friendly FSL. Which is strange…

            I look forward to seeing what Torreyes can do in the FSL and the SL. He’s a good prospect, but in general if I have to choose between a bat+speed guy or pure bat guy, I’ll take bat+speed.

            • DocWimsey

              If your numbers are correct, then Cerda is another example of why K’s alone are a lousy indicator of how useful a batter is. It’s hard to get an OBP of nearly 0.4 without striking out a lot: you have to go deep into counts to get that many walks.

              The plus is that the BABIP for guys like Cerda is a LOT higher than it is for classic “contact” hitters; that leads to higher slugging and often comparable batting averages.

              • Kyle

                You keep quoting that “a lot higher BABIP” stuff, and it’s not really true. It’s actually the opposite of true. The entire *point* of BABIP is that it’s fairly consistent across hitting types.

                Just listing a a few high K, high BB, high power sluggers that I can off the top of my head:

                Barry Bonds had a career .285 BABIP
                Mark McGwire had a career .255 BABIP
                Jeff Bagwell had a career .317 BABIP
                Sammy Sosa had a career .310 BABIP
                Jim Thome had a career .321 BABIP

                Okay, now some of the slappiest contact hitters I can think of:

                Juan Pierre career .313 BABIP
                Willie Wilson career .329 BABIP
                Mickey Morandini career .310 BABIP

                I know what you are trying to think, but you’ve somehow gotten it mixed up in your head.

                There are two big mistakes you are making in your analysis:

                1) You keep conflating MLB value with minor-league projectivity. They are not the same thing. A high-K, high-BB hitter is very valuable in the major leagues. A similar hitter in the minors does not project well. Being a .250/350/500 guy in the majors is great. Being a .250/350/500 guy in the minors, especially the low minors, is usually a sign that attrition will knock the guy out before he makes the majors.

                2) This bizarre “High-K, high-power hitters have much higher BABIPs” theory that you’ve concocted. As noted above, it’s just not even close to true.

                • BetterNews

                  Kyle–You impress me! I sincerely mean that as a fan following the “thoroughness” in all your comments. It’s really good to see. I’m sure I’m not always gonna agree with ya, but thats what posts are about. I think that’s the way Brett meant it to be.

        • Hrubes20

          You have it backwards. The MWL is a pitcher’s league, which makes his success there at such a young age pretty impressive. I couldn’t find the updated one, but from 2007-2009, it was the 5th worst hitter’s league out of all the 20+ leagues in milb.

          For the Cubs, the leagues are:

          Iowa (Pacific Coast League) – Good hitter’s league
          Tennessee (Southern League) – Slighty favored for pitchers
          Daytona (Florida State League) – Good pitcher’s league
          Peoria (Midwest League) – Good pitcher’s league
          Boise (Northwest league) – Good hitter’s league

          • Luke

            You’re right. I was thinking of the MWL in comparison to the FSL (I do consider the FSL a stronger pitchers league), but the MWL is much more pitcher friendly than I give it credit for. That does make Torreyes production more impressive.

        • JulioZuleta

          Also, Devoss is 3 years older and played at Boise, a lower level than Torreyes played.

          • Luke

            DeVoss was just drafted out of college in 2011 and signed somewhat late. The good thing is that he played at all. Few draftees make it out of short-season ball in the year in which they are drafted, largely due to logistical reasons (available roster spots, etc.).

            One of the good features in the new CBA is that moves the signing deadline up a month, which should allow more players to play in the year in which they are drafted, and to play at higher levels.

            • JulioZuleta

              Yeah, I’m a fan of Devoss. I think a big factor will be if he is able to stick at 2B, where he was averaging more than an error per game in a small sample last year.

              It will be so nice not having to wait til Aug 15 this year.

              • Luke

                Same thing with Pin-Chieh Chen. I like them in center, but I’d rather have them at second if at all possible. Logan Watkins is another guy in that mold. He broke out in the second half at Daytona this year. If he keeps that up in Tennessee in 2012 and can stay at second, the Cubs may have found the replacement for Barney.

                • Hrubes20

                  Watkins will easily stay at 2B. His glove is very legit there. It’s just unknown whether the “power surge” in the second half is here to stay. He’s actually a lot more interesting to me than Barney, as Watkins can take a walk.

    • Brett

      Goldstein said he’d have Torreyes as high as 11.

    • Kyle

      His hit tool is off the charts. The Cubs do not have guys who make contact at the rate he does. I can only think of a couple of prospects in the last decade anywhere in baseball who made contact at the rate he did in the Midwest League.

      A lot of prospect guys aren’t going to fall in love with him because he doesn’t have a huge ceiling. But I think he’s about a good a bet as a non-elite A-ball prospect can be to make the majors someday.

  • Curt

    So sending woody packing is the cub way not sure I like tht 1st time I’m openly in disagreement guess new isn’t all peaches hmmm

  • B.J.

    What happened to Jay Jackson to account for his slip in the rankings? Seems like a couple of years ago he was held in much higher regard. Is he looking more like a bust, or is he just in a slump and expected to still show the promise and potential that he once had?

    • Brett

      Back-to-back crummy years as he advanced through the system is the short of it.

      • Luke

        There have been a few minor injuries in there too, but he generally just hasn’t delivered.

        Until late 2011, that is. He struggled in Iowa when he came back from tendinitis, but in the last month or so of the season he strung together some fairly good starts. If he is healthy and gets a chance in spring training, he could surprise some people. Competition for that fifth starter slot is going to be brutal, but he should be in the pack somewhere.

  • Eric

    Where would Jacob Turner slot?  1, 2, or 3?  I’d have to put him at atleast 2 probably.  Mine would probably be Rizzo 1, Turner 2, Jackson 3 simply because I think Rizzo and Turners ceilings are much higher than Jacksons.

    • JulioZuleta

      Turner is 1 by a long shot. He is in the 9-12 range in all of baseball.

    • Luke

      Turner would be on the top of the list. Jackson earns extra credit because good defensive center fielders who can hit are not exactly common, but very young starters with Turner’s stuff are even rarer.

      Turner would probably be the best pitching prospect the Cubs have had since Mark Prior.

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  • ferrets_bueller

    Personally, I’d rank Baez as #1, followed by Jackson and Rizzo, as he has them.

    After the “big three,” it drops off significantly, then drops off significantly again IMO after Szczur at #4.

    If the Cubs acquired Turner, he’d be #1.

    • Luke

      I might move Baez to number one once he gets some professional experience and some numbers I can dig into. I’ve got him ranked #4, and that’s about as high as I’m willing to list a guy based purely on scouting reports.

  • BleedBlueinWNeb

    Watched Moneyball last night and thoroughly enjoyed the show! Also got me pumped for 2012…not saying we’re gonna win 20 straight games or make the playoffs. but when you consider the Cubs have “smart guys” in charge now it’s really refreshing to think about the future.

    Excited to see that Wood is on his way back to the Cubs, at least according to mlbtr the deal is close to happening.

    just excited in general! love the story on our prospects and the possibility of moving up the list even more. Just an exciting time to be a Cubs fan. Thanks to Tom Ricketts for bringing these guys in. Can’t wait till late July when my family will travel to chicago for the cArds series…i don’t care where we’ll be in the standings. and it wouldn’t surprise me if we’re a better team this year regardless of roster with just the new attitude around the clubhouse, organization, and city. Should be fun!

    • MontelleW

      Can I get an Amen to that?!

  • Cubsin

    The Prior comparison is interesting. It points out the risks involved with any young pitcher, regardless of talent. Pitchers like Garza occasionally break down, but younger prospects are a much greater injury risk. That helps the Cubs’ argument that they need additional prospects along with Turner in any Garza trade.

  • njriv

    I know this is kinda late, but I came across this animation that talks about a Cubs fan’s perspective on the Cashner-Rizzo trade and i thought it was pretty funny.