The Cubs have some serious depth in the farm system. While some teams have twenty to thirty players who could realistically make it to the Major Leagues one day, the Cubs have twice that number. The system is still lacking in star power (although the 2011 Draft helped immensely), but it is bursting at the seams with Major League potential. All of that depth, while exciting, can make things difficult for fans trying to keep track of who is who and where he plays and when he might arrive in the majors and whether or not he’ll even have a job when he does.
Now, before the start of the 2012 Minor League season, is the perfect time to scan the farm system at each position and highlight some of the more promising talent, what we can expect from them, and when they might show up in Chicago. I am not trying to write a definitive guide here, but more of a introductory cast list for the 2012 Minor League season. By the time baseball gets underway, we will have gone through every position on the diamond.
To start with, let’s take a look at the Cubs’ corner outfield prospects.
Take everything I said about the Cubs’ enormous amount of depth, and forget about it. It does not apply to the corner outfield slots. The Cubs are badly starved for power hitting prospects in left and right field. If the front office is able to sign Jorge Soler, he would instantly become the best true slugging outfielder prospect in the system. This is one department in which the Cubs definitely need some help.
1 – Brett Jackson. Age: 23. Major League ETA: 2012.
Most commonly thought of as a center fielder, Jackson should ultimately (down the road) be pushed into right. His blend of defense, 20+ HR power, 20+ SB speed, and a patient approach at the plate should make him a fixture in the Wrigley outfield for years. He may never hit for a higher average than .270, but his OPS will be more than sufficient to keep him in the starting lineup. Jackson will begin 2012 in Iowa, but should be at Wrigley by mid-Summer.
2 – Reggie Golden. Age: 20. Major League ETA: 2016
Golden has the raw potential to be the best outfielder in the system, but, so far, he has been unable to harness his five-tool potential. At Boise in 2011, his 68 strikeouts in 265 plate appearances yielded a strikeout rate of roughly 26%. That is a little higher than I am comfortable seeing in a Short-Season A player. His final line of .242/.332/.420 was also not impressive. There is no reason to to give up on Golden, but there is no reason to be excited about him any time soon, either. He should start 2012 in Peoria.
3- Rebel Ridling. Age: 25. Major League ETA: 2013
Ridling is a big man with power to spare. Unfortunately, he’s also primarily a first baseman who has consistently been a little old for his league. Despite his age, I cannot argue with his numbers. In his first season in Double A, he posted an OPS of .887 in the pitching heavy Southern League. In 485 trips to the plate he struck out just 89 times while earning 43 walks, both good numbers. He did spend some time in left field for the Smokies, and I think he will spend a lot more time in left with Iowa this season. As the Cubs trend increasingly towards a lefty heavy lineup, right handed mashers like Ridling are going to be valuable. He has a chance to be a part of the Cubs bench for a long time.
4 – Michael Burgess. Age: 23. Major League ETA: 2014
Burgess has tremendous power, but he has trouble making consistent contact. We did see some welcome improvements in 2011. He cut back on his strikeouts a bit and earned a career high 60 walks. While he did hit 20 HR for Daytona, his season line was a discouraging .225/.323/.427. Despite spending parts of four seasons in High-A, he should reach Double-A in 2012 at the age of 23, which is reasonable. I think he will begin the season with the Tennessee Smokies.
5 – Nelson Perez. Age: 24. Major League ETA: 2014
Splitting time between High-A and Double-A, Perez hit .272/.330/.453 despite striking out 121 times in 370 plate appearances. He needs to significantly cut back on the strikeouts if he is going to move much higher in the farm system, but at age 24 he still has the opportunity to do that. He should return to Tennessee to start 2012. If he can improve his approach at the plate, he could make it to Iowa by the end of the season. [Brett: According to Arizona Phil over at TCR, Perez hasn't been visibly present at Minor League camp this year. No one's gotten word that he's been released or anything, but it's odd.]
Others To Watch
If Josh Vitters and Junior Lake are moved to the outfield full time, they would rank second and third on this list. Abner Abreu should not be forgotten about, but so far we have little reason to believe that he will transform himself from an exciting possibility into a noteworthy prospect.
The corner outfield slots are by far the most barren part of the Cubs farm system. Next time we’ll review an area where the Cubs are loaded – center field.