I had a reader send me a question on Twitter yesterday (you did know you can follow me on Twitter, right?) that I had to stop and think about for a bit. The question, from @dougwilsoncpa, was this: “In your opinion, who are the top 3 “upside” starters in the system?”.

The first two are easy: Dillon Maples and Trey McNutt. We can rank those two in either order, but they are going to be the top two upside starters in the farm system.

But what about the third guy? If I allowed draft picks, it would probably be Pierce Johnson. There are some concerns about his mechanics, but he has No 2 starter potential. He hasn’t signed yet, though, so he’s out.

The Cubs have a lot of potential No 3 or lower starters in the minors, and they come in all varieties. They have the crafty lefty in Chris Rusin, the nasty curve ball in Robert Whitenack, the durable workhorse in Dallas Beeler, the inconsistent strikeout artist in P.J. Francescon, and at least a half a dozen more besides. I could make a great case for Michael Jenson, or Dae-Eun Rhee, or even Austin Kirk. By the end of the season some of these guys will have separated themselves, but for now we are practically splitting hairs.

So, out of that pool, who has the most upside and joins Maples and McNutt in the top three? I’m going out on a limb a bit and taking Jose Rosario. He is raw, inconsistent, and has a lot of developing to do, but when he has it all together he can look brilliant. I think both his fastball and slider can be plus pitches; if he can polish off a decent change up he’ll have the arsenal he needs to be a legitimate No 2/3 starting pitching prospect.

Questions and comments about the farm system are always welcome, but be warned. You too could have your questions turned into the opening of a Minor League Daily Report. In addition to Twitter and the comments section below, you can always drop a line in the Minor Leagues and Prospects section of the Message Boards. If you’ve asked about something in the comments in the past and have not gotten a reply, post your question in Luke’s Corner so I’ll be sure to see it. Don’t have a Message Board account yet? This might be a good day to start one.

AAA – Iowa Cubs. 27 – 34
The Iowa Cubs split a doubleheader at home against Nashville on Friday. The bats showed up for their 5-4 win in the opener, but fell silent as the Cubs were shut out 6-0 in Game Two.

Rodrigo Lopez struck out six in his six innings of work in the opener, but it was Mike MacDougal who got the win for pitching a scoreless seventh. Ryan Rowland-Smith started Game Two and pitched well, but he only lasted four innings and took the loss. Michael Bowden, making his Iowa debut, took the brunt of the damage as he allowed three runs to score in just a third of an inning. Catcher Juan Apodaca pitched the final inning. Despite walking three, he only gave up one run. That’s not bad for a catcher.

Anthony Rizzo and Luis Valbuena both hit home runs in Game One of the twin bill. They also, along with Josh Vitters and Ty Wright, had two hits each. Vitters, Valbuena, and Wright all doubled for the Cubs who were a solid 4 for 10 with runners in scoring position.

Game Two did not go so well. Rowland-Smith helped his own cause with a double, but was left stranded. Dave Sappelt and Brett Jackson also doubled, Jackson as part of a two hit night.

AA – Tennesse Smokies. 29 – 33
Tennessee won their fifth straight game by a final of 4-3.

Nick Struck allowed three runs in the fifth, but otherwise he put up zeroes in his six innings of work. Marcus Hatley struck out three in two innings of relief, and Kevin Rhoderick did best Marmol impression with a three walk save.

Wellington Castillo, now rehabbing in Tennessee, started this game at first base. He went 2 for 3 with a two run homer. Logan Watkins also had two hits in the game, and stole two bases as well. He now has 11 steals this season.

High A – Daytona Cubs. 27 – 32
Daytona split a doubleheader of their own last night. The won Game One 3-2, but fell in the nightcap 4-3.

Robert Whtitenack pitched the first two innings of the first game and allowed one run on three hits. Hayden Simpson took over for another two innings and allowed another run on two hits for the win. A.J. Morris threw two perfect innings, and Tony Zych breezed through the seventh for his fifth save.

In Game Two, P.J. Francescon strick out six in five innings of work, but he also allowed three runs on eight hits. Jeffrey Lorick pitched the final two frames and took the loss.

Greg Rohan led all Cub hitters in Game One with both a double and a home run. Taylor Davis and Micah Gibbs (both sometimes catchers) each had a stolen base in the game. I have no idea why Daytona has suddenly decided to have their catchers stealing bases, but I like it.

In Game Two, Rohan again had two hits, as did Ronald Torreyes. Arismendy Alcantara added three hits of his own. Elieser Bonne stole his eleventh base of the season, and Alcantara stole his fifteenth.

Low A – Peoria Chiefs. 29 – 32
Not only did the Chiefs complete a sweep of Cedar Rapids, they did so while setting a franchise record for consecutive shutout innings. Peoria’s pitching gave up no runs in over 29 innings as they absolutely dominated this series. Including their 4-2 win on Friday, the Chiefs have surged to within three games of .500.

Jose Rosario was not quite as good in this start as he had been in his past two games, but two runs and four strikeouts over six innings is not a bad day on the mound. He won his fifth game of the season. Sheldon McDonald had another impressive performance, striking out three in two innings of relief, and Yao-Lin Wang nailed down the ninth for his seventh save.

Anthony Giansanti (in left field for this game) led the team with three hits. Pin-Chieh Chen and Yaniel Cabezas both had two hits each, including a double for Chen. Wes Darvil added a triple. Chen and Oliver Zapata both had a stolen base in the game; that make ten for Chen and eight for Zapata.

  • Fishin Phil

    Nice to see Castillo’s bat is working. Hope his knees allow him to catch soon.

    • djriz

      Does anyone know why he was taken out of the game in the 6th. Hope it was pre-planned instead of the dreaded ‘tweak’.

  • JungleDrew

    As far as high upside pitcher shouldn’t Gerardo Conception be a major part of the conversation? I mean he was part of the big three Cuban prospects talk all winter. The Cubs got him (and hopefully Soler too, just throwing that out there). He hasn’t been dominant or anything in Low A, but he is adjusting to a new country and pitching program. So, not including any recent draftees he has to have the most upside.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      When Concepcion signed, he was said to be a good No. 4/5 starter candidate.  He was considered a fairly safe bet to reach the majors, but he really wasn’t seen as having No 2 starter potential.

      He is definitely in the pack of mid-rotation of back of the rotations starting pitching prospects, though.  I just don’t think he has the upside of a lot of the others.

      • JungleDrew

        Well since there are so few High upside types, are there are position players in our system that have a good shot at becoming a pitcher… maybe a strong armed right fielder with a weak bat…

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          They already converted that guy … his name was Kyler Burke. :)

  • Jason “Thundermug”

    How would you rate Erik Jokish. He has been pretty good this season I would think he should be rising up the cubs rankings for pitchers

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      The story on him has always been (and it could change) he’s a solid pitcher who could be a back-end guy in the bigs, but doesn’t have a particularly high ceiling. He does keep pitching well, though, and the Cubs were very happy when they signed him out of Northwestern in 2010.

      You always have to be cautious about lefties who have success in the lower minors, but whom scouts don’t love. A lefty with control can have a lot of success in the low minors without great stuff. By the time they get to AAA, it starts to break down a bit, and in the bigs, suddenly they’re hoping to just hang on as a LOOGY.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

        I’d say Jokisch is definitely in the back of the rotation pack.  He’s already done some nice work in Double A, and I tend to think we’ll see him in the majors as a spot starter if nothing else in a year or two.

      • JulioZuleta

        Yeah, I usually try to avoid labelling guys, but it’s a natural thing to want to do. If you want an example of a lefty that scouts didn’t like at all…a guy that was always labeled as a future 4/5 guy, look no further than Cliff Lee. He was never supposed to amount to much. He’s kinda good now.

  • randy

    jefferey baez is he hurt or is there something wrong because he has not played in the outfield so far

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      I do not know.  News of that kind it tough to get from the Dominican Summer Leagues.  I would guess he’s nursing a minor injury and the team is being cautious, but I can’t prove that.

      • Nathan

        Luke, what are your thoughts on Kelvin Encarnacion? I know its just the DSL but I remember when the cubs signed him he had some hype. Does he have a ton of upside? Can he be called up to higher levels this season? Is he possibly a top 20 prospect in the Cubs system? He does seem a bit old for the DSL though

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

          There is a lot of potential there, but I would not get too excited just yet.  If he pitches well in the DSL this summer, the Cubs will likely bring him to Arizona for the instructional league in the fall; we might get better idea of his stuff then.  I would not expect to see him in any of the leagues in the U.S. until next season.

          • Nathan

            I thought he was a center fielder? Are we talking about two different guys?

  • http://Cubbie4life.weebly.com Tonycampanathebasethief

    I really like hunter cervenka(0.78ERA) and Kevin Roderick (0.73ERA) any chance either gets a promotion or moves up prospect lists

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Rhoderick, yes.  He could to to Iowa by the end of the year, and I would not be surprised if he cracks a few Top 25 lists in the 20-25 range.

      Cervenka has a history of struggling.  He has a little more to prove before I start buying into his turn around.

  • AB

    Any word with Ben Wells after he left his last start?? I probably put him ahead of all those guys at this point, but even that’s iffy.

    Maybe I’m pessimistic or wary of Fleita-prospect hype, but I want to see any potential 1-2-3’s at least dominate AA. Hopefully Jokisch can escape the bug and not see his numbers regress at AA like some of the others have. Nobody on that list is coming close to the levels of success and domination the last big three homegrown pitching prospects(Sean Marshall, Carlos Marmol, Sean Gallagher) enjoyed in the minors.

    I like Billy Beane’s rule, only 1/3 top pitching prospects will be be mainstays in the MLB. That puts the odds much lower for guys with less stuff.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      I haven’t heard anything new on Wells, but he is certainly in the mix.

  • R.E.S

    I saw the double header. Dolis looked good. Effortlessly in the 90’s, hit 97 at least once. Gave up a hit on an offspeed pitch to a hitter that couldn’t catch up to his fastball. Good to see.