June has ended, and that means it is time for another round of Minor League Honors. This month’s will be notable in that Anthony Rizzo is not going to win anything. After thoroughly overshadowing all other hitters in the farm system since the season started, the promising first baseman is finally starring in Chicago. Fortunately for Iowa, another young hitters is picking up where he left off.
Also this month, by popular demand, I am bringing you a mid-season list of the Cubs’ Top Ten Prospects. I have been talking on the Message Boards and in the comments for a week or two about starting a monthly ranking system based on a mix of empirical and subjective data, likely including the poll on the Message Boards. This list has nothing to do with that work. This list is based on nothing more than my own opinion.
But first, we have the June awards.
Hitter Of The Month
Here’s what we know about Josh Vitters: He can hit.
In June, the young third baseman was arguably the best hitter in Iowa. His month end line of .324/.387/.583 is dripping with good news no matter where you look. His six home runs were one behind his May total, but that is just about the only stat that did not improve month over month. Of particular interest, he raised his walks (to eight) and cut his strikeouts (to fifteen).
In a nutshell, Vitters has done just about everything we could have hoped for this season. He is showing more discipline at the plate, working deeper into counts, drawing more walks, and hitting for more power. His major league timetable is now likely to depend more on his progress at third than any additional improvements with this bat. If he can play at least league average defense at third base, he could be the starting third baseman when the Cubs’ break camp in 2013.
Pitcher of the Month
Thanks to the Florida State League All-Star break, Kirk only had four starts in June. He pitched at least six innings in all of those starts and finished the month with some very nice numbers. His 0.72 ERA is impressive enough, but when we factor in his opponents batting average of just .200, his 18 strikeouts versus seven walks, and the mere 18 hits he allowed in 25 total innings, he becomes an obvious choice for June’s Pitcher of the Month.
Long term, Kirk still projects more as a No 4 starter than a No 3, but he does have major league potential. The young lefty will likely stay in Daytona for the remainder of this season and move on to Tennessee next year.
After a slow start and a prolonged absence from a knee injury, Matt Szczur finally gave Cub fans plenty to be encouraged by. He appeared in nine games in June, all after his knee injury, but it may be the finest nine game stretch we’ve seen out of him as a professional. Szczur finished the month with a line of .394/.524/.576, eight walks, five strike outs, one home run, and seven steals in eight attempts.
This could just be an anomalous hot streak, but it could be the first sign this season that Szczur is learning to translate his prolific physical tools into baseball abilities. We’ll keep a close eye on him as we head into the hottest part of the summer.
I thought Candelario’s 2011 DSL numbers indicated a relatively advanced hitter, and so far that has proven to be the case. The Cubs jumped Candelario to Boise as an eighteen year old and he has had no trouble with it. In fact, he’s having less trouble than I would have expected, and I am as high on this guy as anyone. Through fifteen games the switch hitting third baseman has been hitting well from both sides of the plate and has very healthy percentages of walks (7.4%) and strikeouts (17.2%). If I had to nitpick, I would point to his home / road splits (1.445 OPS at home, 0.531 on the road), but that is not uncommon in young players and should not be a concern long term.
A New Top Ten
1. Javier Baez SS/3B – He has the potential to be a very good with both the bat and the glove.
2. Jorge Soler OF – He is said to have a ton of power. Now, how well can he make contact?
3. Albert Almora OF – He has not signed yet, but his defense could be the best in the system when he does.
4. Dillon Maples RHP – Even though he has not pitched, he’s still one of the few high ceiling starting pitching prospects in the system.
5. Josh Vitters 3B/1B – The questions about his bat have been answered for now. If his glove can make that same progress, the Cubs have a third baseman.
6. Pierce Johnson RHP – The best pitcher taken by the Cubs in the 2012 draft instantly becomes the second best pitching prospect in the system.
7. Brett Jackson OF – We talk a lot about his strikeouts, but that somewhat masks the fact that the rest of his game is probably major league ready right now.
8. Junior Lake SS/3B – He still has a lot of work to do, but his upside is nearly as high as any infielder in the system.
9. Jeimer Candelario 3B – Candelario is my ninth best prospect, but he is still only fourth among likely third baseman.
10. Robert Whitenack RHP – I rated Whitenack very high coming into the season, and even though his post surgery campaign has not gone smoothly, I see no reason to drop him down the list just yet.
Anthony Rizzo, had he not been promoted to Chicago, would have been on top of this list. Rafael Dolis would have been somewhere between eight and ten had he not been called up as well.
Every time I do a project like this I am reminded again just how incredibly deep the Cubs’ farm system is. While I am pretty set on my top seven players for now (although perhaps not on their order), there is a large number of prospects that could have slotted into the last two spots. I could have written a fifteen way tie for tenth place, but that felt too much like cheating. If you don’t see a name that you feel should be on the list, odds are probably good he was in the mix for those final two slots.