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Photo by Tim Sheridan, Boys of Spring

Prospects exist at all levels of the minors. In some cases they are so close to the major leagues that we already know what to expect from them in the future, and in other cases they are so low in the system that all we can do is recognize the existence of real potential. In this edition of Prospects’ Progress, we get one of each.

Prospects’ Progress is an article series that will consider many of the Cubs’ farm hands two at a time. Each article, covering one hitter and one pitcher, will focus on how those particular players progressed over the course of the 2012 season. This is not a prospect ranking or top prospects lists. Those articles will be coming later in the winter.

Today we take a look at outfielder Dave Sappelt and pitcher Yao-Lin Wang.

Dave Sappelt, OF

  • Pre-Season EvaluationDave Sappelt, 25, came from Cincinnati in the Sean Marshall trade. In 2011 he appeared in 38 games for the Reds, hit .243/.289/.318, stole one base, and generally looked like a potential fourth or fifth outfielder. Unfortunately for Sappelt, the Cubs outfield bench slots were filled by Tony Campana and Reed Johnson. Sappelt was sent to Iowa for much of the 2012 season looking to prove he deserved a permanent position in Chicago.

  • Post-Season VerdictWell, things could have gone better for Sappelt. The good news is that he torched Triple A left handed pitching to the tune of a .331/.365/.452 line. He stole 15 bases in 21 tries and finished his minor league campaign with four triples and seven home runs. Along the way he played quality defense in all three outfield positions.

    The bad news is that he only hit .236/.292/.341 against right handers. At 5’9″ he is unlikely to develop very much power, so his path to playing time depends on his ability to get on base, steal some bases, and his glove. That glove is not in question. Of the outfielders who finished the season in Chicago, Sappelt might be second only to Brett Jackson in the defense department. His bat remains a different story. A Triple A season OBP of .314 is not encouraging.

    On the other hand, he did put up some quality numbers during his call up in September. In 26 games he managed a .275/.351/.449 line thanks largely to his gaudy 1.237 OPS against left handed pitching. If the 2013 Cubs have a spot for a lefty crushing reserve outfielder, Dave Sappelt might be in good shape.

  • Future PrognosisFortunately for Sappelt, the Cubs have a young center fielder who managed an OPS of just .488 against left handed pitching. As the Cubs slowly bring Brett Jackson along I think there will be plenty of opportunities for Sappelt to find some at bats in center or as a defensive replacement in left.

    For Sappelt to make a lasting career with the Cubs, I think he needs to raise his OBP against right handed pitchers and become more aggressive on the base paths. In short, if he can emerge as a somewhat slower, better defending version of Tony Campana who can actually get on base on a fairly regular basis, he could find himself starting in the Cubs’ outfield for much of the 2013 season. At worst I see him having a valuable role off the bench as a pinch hitter and defensive replacement.

Yao-Lin Wang, RHP

  • Pre-Season EvaluationYao-Lin Wang is one of the most exciting and enigmatic pitchers in the Cubs’ system. He put himself squarely on our radar by leading the 2011 Northwest League in K/9 at 10.3. In 2012 we simply needed to see more of the same. If Wang could prove that he could continue to regularly strike hitters out while keeping runners off the bases, he would have a chance of appearing on a few Top 20 Prospects list in the off season.
  • Post-Season VerdictHe had a good year, but not quite a great one. His 9.5 K/9 finished 28th in the Midwest League, and his 3.04 BB/K was good for 54th. His 12 saves were just 12th in the league, but he did not spend the whole season as a closer. He finished the year by starting nine games for the Chiefs. His ERA as a starter was 4.57 versus 3.19 as a reliever. However, that number as a starter is badly skewed by a disastrous final start in which he gave up 7 earned runs in just four innings. His performance seems to be pretty even between the two roles. Naturally the Cubs would prefer him to make it as a starting pitcher, but at this point of his career I think he could go either way.
  • Future PrognosisWang, 21, remains an intriguing possibility, but he did not have the breakout season we wanted. He did confirm his status as a strikeout pitcher, one of the better ones in the Cubs’ system, and as a starter proved he could also force the ground ball out. If he can maintain his 2012 starter 1.76 GO/AO and continue to strike out roughly a batter per inning, he is going to be an effective starter one day. Those are two big ifs, but I like his chances. Look for Wang to get 110 innings or so for the Daytona Cubs in 2013. If he can put everything together he could emerge as a possible No 3 starter one day. If he can’t, he may still have a nice career as a middle reliever. He may not be a Top 20 guy yet, but he is definitely one to keep watching.

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