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There was a lot of talent on the lists for center field and second base, but even those positions are simply blown away by the depth and quality the Cubs have stacked on the left side of the infield. Many of these players are very young and very deep in the system, but they personify the promise of a much brighter future on the North Side.

Several of these players could play at short or third base, so rather than try to pick which player should go on which list, I just combined the two positions into a single list. Since the list covers both positions, I will be extending my Top Five to a Top Eight and giving preference to players that have Minor League data. It is very likely that some of the players I mention in ‘Others To Watch’ are better than some of the Top Eight, but without the data to back that up I opted to play it safe.

Top Eight

1 – Javier Baez. Age: 19. Major League ETA: 2014
As soon as the Cubs took Baez with their first round pick in 2011 the analysts began comparing him to Gary Sheffield and projecting a move to third base. Baseball America thought Baez had the best bat speed in the entire Draft and projected him to hit for both power and average. His bat will fit nicely in the middle of the order when he does make it to Chicago. His range and quickness are just adequate for shortstop right now, but there is a general consensus that he will have to learn a new position as he fills out. Third base is the most likely, but given the depth the Cubs have at third don’t be surprised if the Cubs consider him at second. Regardless of where he plays, he will likely move up the system as fast as his bat will let him. He should begin 2012 in Peoria.

2 – Josh Vitters. Age: 22. Major League ETA: 2012
Since he is blocked at first base and needs to improve his defense at third, we may ultimately see Vitters in left field more than we do on the infield. Ultimately, his position is the least of the Cubs’ worries. In order to enjoy long term success in the majors, Vitters simply needs to learn patience. The scouts tell us he has all the physical tools he needs to do that; he can hit nearly any pitch he swings at, he recognizes pitches well, and he can drive the ball to all fields. All his game is lacking is a more disciplined plan at the plate. Vitters will go to Iowa in 2012 with his career at a crossroads. The Cubs front office will be emphasizing the importance of plate discipline and getting on base throughout the farm system this season. That is a change from what Vitters is likely used to hearing. If he responds to the new coaching philosophy, he has a bright future as a quality major league starter with a middle of the order bat. If he doesn’t respond, his career could look more like Jeff Baker‘s. He is young for Triple-A, so there is no reason to give up on him. He should get his first taste of Major League pitching no later than September.

3 – Junior Lake. Age: 22. Major League ETA: 2013
Lake could easily have been listed second on this list, but was edged into third because Vitters is a little more advanced. Lake is an exciting prospect who has plenty of raw talent and five-tool potential but is badly in need of polish. He has a great combination of power and speed that any team would love, but is hampered by a severe lack of plate discipline. He has the quickness to play shortstop and easily has the arm to handle third base or right field, but given that he is at least 6’3″ and still growing it is hard to imagine him as a shortstop long term. He will return to Tennessee to start 2012. Like Vitters, there is reason to think his impatient plate approach could improve with the new focus implemented by the front office. When Lake finally puts things together, he could rocket into the majors very quickly. I am not sure what position he will ultimately play, but if he can establish the discipline to take advantage of his prolific tools he will have a nice career playing somewhere.

4 – Marco Hernandez. Age: 19. Major League ETA: 2015
Hernandez is the first player on this list who is likely to stick at shortstop. He also has a chance to be a very good defensive shortstop who hits for average and has the left handed power to hit more than his share of doubles. He has some work to do on his base running, but the potential is there for him to steal 20+ bags a year. In the Rookie League he totaled an OPS of .861 with 2 HR and 9 SB. If he can continue that level of production, he could be the best true shortstop prospect the Cubs have had since Starlin Castro reached the majors. Should he one day be forced out of short by Castro, Hernandez would have no trouble at second base. I’d like to see him jump straight to Peoria, but, as crowded as the Low-A infield is likely to be, I think he may open the year with Boise.

5 – Jeimer Candelario. Age: 18. Major League ETA: 2015
Projecting talent based on DSL numbers is an extremely risky game at best, but I can’t leave Candelario, a third baseman, off this list. In 2011 he had the best DSL season I’ve seen out of a Cub prospect in a long time. His line of .337/.443/.478 is nice, but the more impressive numbers are in his totals. In 305 trips to the plate he amassed 50 walks to go with just 42 strikeouts, hit five home runs and two triples, and swiped four bases. At worst, Candelario is a mobile switch hitter with plenty of power potential who is much more advanced at the plate than any typical seventeen year old prospect. Scouting reports praise his pitch recognition, bat speed, and willingness to use the whole field. In short, Candelario is a promising player well worth watching. Under the old front office I think he would have gone to Arizona or Boise, but, when Epstein was in Boston, the Red Sox did occasionally promote advanced hitters directly into a full season league (Xander Bogaerts, for example). Wherever he lands, he could reach as high as Peoria by the end of the season.

6. Wes Darvill. Age: 20. Major League ETA: 2014
In a system full of somewhat undersized middle infielders, Darvill is a relative giant at 6’2″. Like Hernandez, there is a good chance he can stay at shortstop as he moves up the system, and for that reason he slips into No. 6 on this list. Darvill should also report to Peoria at the start of the 2012 season, and given the crowded infield situation at that level he could be given every opportunity to play his way into a rapid promotion. In the deep Cubs’ system I think Darvill projects as a utility player, but I suspect there are other teams less rich in middle infielders who would consider him as a potential future starting shortstop.

7. Dustin Geiger. Age: 20. Major League ETA: 2014
Geiger came out of the middle rounds in the 2010 draft and has been creeping up the prospect charts ever since. He is a right handed third baseman who already shows signs of developing power, but needs to cut down on his strikeouts if he is going to enjoy long term success. He was unimpressive in a quick trip to Peoria late last season, but that experience should serve him well when he returns to that level this spring. He is definitely eclipsed by the top five names on this list, but he is a legitimate prospect in his own right. We will have a better idea what his ceiling might be after he gets a year of Low-A ball under his belt.

8. Elliot Soto. Age: 22. Major League ETA: 2013
There is not any one thing Soto excels at, but there is not really any holes in his game either. He is not especially fast, but I think he could steal 15 bases a season once he polishes that part of his game. At 5’9″ he will never have much power, but he doesn’t give many at bats away. I think he can hit enough to establish a future for himself as a defensive minded shortstop. His numbers improved significantly when he was promoted to Daytona late last season and the Cubs have apparently already decided that he will open the 2012 season with Tennessee. His ceiling is not high, but he is a true shortstop who has a chance to earn a job as a Major League backup in a year or two.

Others To Watch

In recent seasons the Cubs have devoted more money to signing players out of the Caribbean. Some of the best talent they have signed plays on the left side of the infield. Ricardo Marcano was highly touted as a third baseman when he signed with the Cubs last season. Shortstop Enrique Acosta was the bigger prize in 2011 and will join Marcano in the Dominican Summer League this year. Carlos Penalver was signed as a shortstop in 2010 and could spend this season in either the DSL or the Arizona Rookie League. Trevor Gretzky was drafted as a first baseman in 2011 but has apparently been moved to third. He is extremely raw but projects to have a good deal of power as he develops. He will likely begin his career in Arizona. Arismendy Alcantara is a toolsy infielder who had a moderate amount of success as a 19 year old in Peoria last season. He could open 2012 in Daytona.

That wraps up the position player prospects for the Cubs. We have two articles to go, though. Tomorrow I will cover the system’s left handed pitching.

  • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

    Jeimer Candelario will be one of my two or three favorites to keep tabs on this season.

    I’ve read a couple thoughts that Baez still has a small chance to stick at shortstop.

  • RoughRiider

    Luke, you’ve done a magnificient job of profiling the prospects. Hats off.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Thanks.

  • Webb

    I miss Hak-Ju Lee so much…

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      I was tempted to compare Marco Hernandez to Hak-Ju Lee.  If you miss Lee, keep an eye on Hernandez.  I’m not saying Hernandez will be that good… but I’m not saying he won’t be either.

      • Wilbur

        Luke, you must be a Jimmy Buffet fan … one of his better quotes is “Indecision may or may not be my problem.”

    • Webb

      By most accounts Lee has the tool set of Elvis Andrus – 80 range, great speed, little power – does Hernandez project to cover that kind of ground, or will he have just adequate range over the Baez’s and Lake’s in the system?

  • Crockett

    I just don’t see Junior Lake ever being anything. Too many holes in his swing and he seems very much like one of those football prospects who plays baseball for the contract…he doesn’t really belong.

    I know I’ll take heat, but I’ve seen him a few times and saw a really good athlete with a glove, not a baseball player.

    • Kyle

      I agree, and I’m not sure the two inches he grew this offseason will actually help him any.

      I like the idea of converting him to a pitcher.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

        I’ll give him another season with the bat, but at this point I strong suspect his future is either in right field (if he can learn to hit more consistently) or on the mound (if he can’t).

  • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

    I’ve never seen him, but based on what I’ve read, I agree…

  • funkster

    Keith Law said recently that Baez has some of the easiest power he’s ever seen.

  • Spriggs

    Luke, Any thoughts on Lockhart? I think he got a pretty significant signing bonus last year. SS right?

    PS… great work. Interesting stuff. Hope you’re right about Darvill. What I’ve seen is not at all positive.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Lockhart could easily have been in the “Other To Watch” category.  I don’t have enough data to say much about him yet, but he is one I’ll be keeping track of.

  • Crockett

    Way too early to make any kind of judgements or opinions on Lockhart.

    • Spriggs

      It’s way too early to have any thoughts or opinions on a guy they drafted last year…?? Why would that be?

      • Crockett

        Yes. Because he’s had very limited professional at-bats. Unless a player’s tools are off the charts (like Baez), you should reserve anything beyond surface judgements until a player has at least 500+ professional ABs.

        • Spriggs

          OK, thanks. I was mostly wondering what kind of tools he’s got and what the scouting reports might have said when he was drafted.

  • THEOlogical

    Luke (or anyone who has a thought) may chime in. How does the FO handle trades with their Minor leaguers? Let’s say theres a player in the bigs you want and the other team is interested in, say, a low level high upside player. How does the FO go about rating their Minor leaguers so they know what they have at every level? Or do they just talk to their Minor league directors to ask for advice on decision making?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      It’s a good question, and the best answer I can give is: All of the above.  Prospect analysis is a largely subjective process at any level, whether we’re talking about blog writers or professional scouts.  A whole mess of things go into the analysis, and the priority of those individual things compared to the whole varies from person to person and from organization to organization.

    • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

      When Kevin Goldstein did his top prospects, he shared this:

      1) Quite often, I go back and look at rankings from previous years. I look at what I was right about and, more importantly, what I was wrong about. “Wrong,” however, is a very charged word when it comes to rankings. When I rank a player, whether it be in his club’s farm system or as a Top 101 prospect, I approach it as if I were a major league club. What I’m sharing with you is what is known in the industry as a “pref list.” That is, if I were an MLB club trading for one these players, this is the order i which I would try to acquire them. Every team maintains such a list for all 30 clubs; this is mine.

      I would think every team has a list of every other teams prospects in some kind of order and then take a more in depth look when names are exchanged.

  • Mike S

    I like your analysis on Elliot Soto. Do you see any future for him at second base with the Cubs?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      He could handle the job, I think, but his future is most likely as a defensive minded utility player.  I don’t think he could pry the job away from Barney, for example.

  • Jay Anderson Jr

    Luke, if Baez’s bat goes as projected, would you be surprise to see him in September next year:

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      I’d be surprised if he was called up at all in 2013.

      The only time he might get such a promotion is in September (unless he proves to be much better than anyone anticipates), but there would be little real benefit to bringing him up then.  I think he’ll come up in early June of 2014 (if all goes well), similar to how we expect Brett Jackson to come up this year… and for similar reasons (Super Two status, arbitration clock, etc).

      Baez is coming out of high school, though, so don’t be surprised if he needs a year or two more than I’ve projected.

      • Jeremy

        Luke,
        Do you have any reports as to how Baez has done this spring? I haven’t heard that many reports from the MiL camp about him.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

          Information hardly ever leaks from minor league camps.  We won’t know much of anything for certain until the season starts.

          The few reports we have gotten say Baez looks good so far, but that doesn’t really mean very much by itself.

    • Jay Anderson Jr

      I agree. Was just curious. Everything I here about him, no matter where I go, says this guy.could shoot through The minors pretty quickly. Maybe similar to A.Rod. He is the most exciting prospect we have. (I don’t really consider BJax and Rizzo prospects anymore. I consider them both Major leaguers waiting for there time) I think Hendry finally found a gem here.

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