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One of the best parts of covering a minor league system is finding and highlighting breakout players as they are breaking out. Likewise, one of the toughest parts of the job is identifying those breakout players before that break out arrives. Every system has a few of those players every year, and all too often it is the players we aren’t expecting who put together that surprisingly good seasons. Still, there are things we can look for that indicate breakout candidates. For today’s Prospects’ Progress we will take a look at two players that are very high on my list of 2013 potentials.

The Top Prospects List season is underway, and mine is in the works. It is coming, but this isn’t it. This series does not rank anything; it takes a hard look at players in the system and how they improved (or didn’t) in the 2012 season.

This week we scrutinize Zeke DeVoss and Austin Reed.

Zeke DeVoss, 2B

Pre-Season Evaluation

The Cubs took DeVoss in the third round in 2011, and he did not disappoint in his professional debut. Assigned to Short-Season A Boise, the infielder spent nearly half his time on the bases as he put up the improbable line of .311/.458/.386. His 14 steals in 38 games were pretty good too. All he needed to do in 2012 was show that his 2011 was no fluke.

Post-Season Verdict

It is hard to call a .382 season OBP disappointing, but in the case of DeVoss it almost is. The problem isn’t the OBP, the problem is that OBP is his only standout statistic. His season line of .249/.382/.370 is more contradictory than strong, and it is a contradiction that extends through the rest of his numbers.

On the good side, he walked at the extremely impressive rate of 14.1%. He also struck out 20.3% of the time. That is just too high for a guy who slugged .370. He stole 35 bases, but he did it in 51 tries. That is not a great success rate. He showed a fair bit of pop by smacking six homers and seven triples, but again, he only slugged .370. We don’t expect a lot of power out of a second baseman, but when a guy like Logan Watkins, who is only 11 months older, is slugging .422 in Double A, I think it is fair to be unimpressed by DeVoss’s power.

That said, I’m not down on this guy. A 14.1% walk rate is impressive. This is a guy who clearly understands the strike zone and that is something a player can build on.

Future Prognosis

The ingredients are here for a breakout 2013 campaign. We know he can command the strike zone, has enough speed to take advantage of his time on the bases, and has just enough power to take advantage of his speed. This past August we got a glimpse of what DeVoss can do when he puts it altogether. Over 26 games in August he posted the line of .323/.446/.495 with three triples, two home runs, and six stolen bases. I don’t expect that kind of production over a full season, but I would not be surprised if he came closer to that performance than his 2012 season average.

Long term, DeVoss has his work cut out for him. He is a quality second base prospect, but he is only the fifth best at that position in the farm system (at best), and the major league job is held by a Gold Glove winner. Prospects don’t have a much tougher road to the majors than that. I think DeVoss could move into center field if it became necessary, but he would not exactly top the charts at that position either. Still, the combination of plate discipline and speed set him up nicely for some success. If he can build on those tools to fashion a break out 2013 first half, he could be an attractive sweetener in some mid-season trades.

Austin Reed, RHP

Pre-Season Evaluation

This is not the first time I’ve predicted a breakout season for Austin Reed. In February of 2012, as Reed was coming off a rough 2011 campaign that featured a 6.08 ERA and a SO/BB of 1.44 in Boise, I commented during a phone call with Brett that I thought Reed was going to have a very good 2012. My reasoning then, and my reasoning now, centers on his GO/AO of 2.33 with Boise in 2011. That’s fantastic. But could he keep it up?

Post-Season Verdict

The Cubs sent Reed to Peoria for the 2012 campaign, and they also moved him out of the rotation and converted him into a full time reliever. Reed responded with a 3.65 ERA, a 1.61 GO/AO, and a 2.04 K/BB. Those are good numbers, but they are not quite what I was expecting. On paper this guy looks like a very good ground ball pitcher who has the ability to reach back for a strikeout when he needs it. The repertoire needed to produce that result should put him well on his way to minor league dominance, and so far that has eluded him.

That said, he really did have a good 2012. He raised his K/9 to 7.2 from 5.1, cut his H/9 to 9.8 (still high for my taste) from 11.6, and pitched 11.2 innings in July without giving up a single earned run. Everywhere I look I see progress and potential and indications that this guy could surge up the charts Whitenack-style next season.

Future Prognosis

I very much hope that Reed is returned to the starting rotation. Ground ball pitchers are valuable anywhere, but a starter is typically more valuable than a reliever, and I think Reed has a ceiling that is worth maximizing. I would not put Reed on any Top Prospects list right now, but he definitely a name to watch closely throughout the 2013 campaign.

Despite my hopes, it is too early to say whether his eventual home lies in the rotation or in the bullpen. Regardless of his final job description, if Reed develops like I think he can, he will be in the majors one day.

  • Believe in 2015

    Hey Luke, I know you mentioned how deep the second base position was in the Cubs system. Which prospect has the highest ceiling out of the group? Which prospect is most likely to succeed in the majors?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Highest ceiling is a tossup between Amaya and Torreyes. Torreyes has one elite tool, but Amaya is a more complete player.

      Most likely to succeed in the majors is Watkins, without question. He’s already had success at Double A; that’s a decent indicator that he can the majors in some capacity.

  • terencemann

    I would bet a lot of money that if any 2nd base prospect showed he could have as good of a season as Barney (I mean the year-in-year-out Barney and not historically good defensive season Barney), then Barney wouldn’t be around very long.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      That may prove true by the end of the offseason.

      • CubFan Paul

        I think Barney is traded so hard (Happy Endings..) this offseason. all signs point to Theo&Co having Barney in the ‘short term asset’ bin & not the ‘long term/core” bin

    • fortyonenorth

      Hard to gauge “year-in-year-out” when the guy’s only been around a couple of years. Frankly, I don’t see Barney’s “historic” year being that much of an anomaly. He made some improvements during last offseason and the work paid-off. He may never again have an historic errorless streak like 2012, but that’s really immaterial. I think he’s matured into an excellent defensive second baseman and I wouldn’t expect that to change anytime soon.

      In terms of trading him…Barring any great deal that falls into our lap, I don’t see Theo and Co. making a move with him until next year. There’s no one challenging him immediately and I think they’d like to see if he can make improvements at the plate–the sort Dale said he is capable of.

      • CubFan Paul

        ‘I don’t see Theo and Co. making a move with him until next year’

        then they lose half his value, as in, Barney’s last pre arbitration year. a Gold Glover for $500K and three more cost controlled years is more valuable to other teams

        ‘There’s no one challenging him immediately’

        Valbuena and Watkins are, especially the latter. the athletic Valbuena would be a defensive updgrade in my opinion.

        ‘I think they’d like to see if he can make improvements at the plate’

        the only ‘improvements’ Barney can make at the plate is Slugging (.353 & .354 the last 2 years) and he tried that this year and tailed off physically.

        • Stevie B

          A defensive upgrade?
          If you upgrade from a Gold Glove then what do you have?? A platinum, gold, and diamond crusted glove?

          • David

            Are you of the opinion that it is impossible to field any better than Darwin Barney did last year?

            Is he the greatest (or was he this season) fielding 2B in the history of the game?

            Plus, using Gold Gloves as any sort of measuring stick is garbage. It just so happens they got it right on Barney this year.

            • terencemann

              I guess everybody is forgetting that Valbuena has played second base, too. That’s where he started for Cleveland.

              • CubFan Paul

                exactly. Sveum wasn’t giving those late season starts at 3B to Valbuena for just shits & giggles.

                • cheryl

                  But were the starts Sveum’s ideas or Theo and company’s. If Theo’s then Valbeuna is probably a trade candidate, especialy if he wants to try agin and upgrade third base. Valbuena and Lake are both probably being shopped.

            • Stevie B

              Not suggesting that. I just thought it funny, you know, upgrading defensively OVER a Gold Glove winner… that’s all.

  • CubFan Paul

    So DeVoss begins the year in AA/Smokies? it’ll be a telling season

  • Fastball

    I don’t see Barney being dealt this off season. There is no replacement close to being ready. If he improves as Sveum feels he will then he may be around for a while. You don’t have to go fixing what isn’t broken when there are many area’s that are. We have a few kids coming along but have a ways to go. I like Barney’s defense and I don’t care whether he evolves into a .290 hitter. He is a role player in the line up. This team needs to be stabilized and you don’t throw a Gold Glove winner out with the bath water. I am far from convinced that we have a Barney replacement in house. When you have a kid at AAA who is absolutely beating the door down then you consider options. We ain’t there or anywhere near there. If we do have a few assets in the minors we need to use them as part of deals to improve the pitching or 3B. The Minor League system is there to provide a steady flow of players at all positions and to facilitate trades for area’s of need.

  • Fastball

    If DeVoss starts at AA then we have a problem at AAA with Watkins and Torreyes. Do we platoon at AAA or let the better prospects play full time at AA and AAA. If DeVoss isn’t going to be pushing anyone out of his way then maybe he doesn’t fit in the organization which is deep at 2B at all. If he is an also ran then maybe he doesn’t get to stick around. I don’t see any reason to keep a kid around if he isn’t projecting forward and doesn’t have a higher ceiling that what’s ahead of him or a higher floor. To be blunt…. He has had his chances and has stayed flat. I cut him and focus on the better talent in the organization. Baseball is tough I know first hand.

    • npnovak

      what makes you think torreyes will be at AAA?

    • Noah

      DeVoss spent all of last year in Peoria, and did nothing to make me believe the Cubs would have him skip Daytona. You should be seeing Watkins at AAA, Torreyes in AA, DeVoss in Daytona, and either Amaya or Bruno (or a combo of both) in Kane County.

      Alcantara will probably continue to play shortstop in Tennessee until/unless Baez is ready for a promotion before Alcantara gets a call up to Iowa.

  • http://bleachernation.com lou brock lives

    AAA – 2B – Watkins
    AA – 2B – Alcantara
    A – 2B – Torreyes (Daytona)
    A – 2B – Bruno (Kane)
    DeVoss – utility – Daytona

    • chirogerg

      actually,
      A – 2B – Amaya…….faster and has more power than Bruno

      • King Jeff

        I think Amaya is going to start out in Boise, but who knows with the offseason and spring training still to go.

        I really like DeVoss, but I’ve been watching him play since his freshman year at Miami, so I might be jaded in my opinion. I really like his approach at the plate, he takes a ton of pitches. It leads to a more strikeouts than we’d like to see, but he walks a lot and doesn’t chase much. He has problems on defense though, he commits way too many errors to be an everyday 2nd baseman. I think his future is definitely in the outfield.

    • Serious Cubs Fan

      I say the cubs should convert Stephen Bruno to Catcher full time. His bat has more value there. Then it would allow for:

      AAA- Watkins
      AA- Alcantara
      High A- Torreyes (Daytona)
      Low A- DeVoss (kane)
      Start Stephen Bruno at Arizona learning to catch and call games and then midseason bring him up to Boise and then hopefully by the end of the season he reaches Kane County or Daytona depending on how he progresses. I know that is a very optimistic out look but his bat can carry him and develop while also learning how to call a game.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Alcantara will likely be in AA, but he will be playing short, not second. The second baseman in AA should be Torreyes.

      Watkins will go to Iowa, DeVoss to Daytona, and Amaya to Kane County.

  • chirogerg

    I think something that kind of slipped under the radar is DeVoss’ defensive ability. I mean, he made Sportscenter once this year, and he has all the tools to succeed at second base. If he can cut down the errors, DeVoss could be an outstanding defender. He is one of those players that will do the little things to help the team win. He was HBP 20 times last season, which is not a result of just wild pitching. He laid down 10 sac bunts, hit 4 sac flies, and was even intentionally walked 3 times (although the circumstances are unknown). This guy knows how to play.

    • Cubbie Blues

      Reed Johnson made Sports Center as well. That doesn’t mean that he is a good defender.

      • Jimmy james

        But he is/was good, not great but good

    • terencemann

      Let me show you an image about how well stats like HBP and sacrificing translate to being successful at higher levels

  • SRK

    Luke/Brett,

    If Watkins goes bananas in Mesa this spring, do you see a way he can play his way onto the team as a backup IF/OF. Since Watkins will be added to the 40 man prior to the R5, it’s not like the Cubs will have to open up a roster spot. Or, if Hoyer can’t get a deal done to adequately fill RF or CF on a full time basis, could he platoon in CF (as well as spelling Barney and/or Castro on occasion) while signing a Pagan or trading for someone like Bourjos? And if one of the scenarios were to happen and Watkins succeeds, does DeVoss start to fall out of favor with younger, more highly regarded prospects coming up behind him? Or is that already the case now?

    • Kyle

      Pretty much no chance of that happening. He’s enough of a prospect that he needs everyday at-bats, and he’s nowhere near ready getting those in the majors. He’ll get his year in AAA like everyone else.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      This front office seems less inclined to do that with youngsters than the former administration. If there’s an injury, he might get a look-see, but it’s hard to see him breaking camp on the big bench. He needs some time in AAA, and, ideally, he’d be starting every day.

  • HateDemp

    This may be a dumb question – regarding rule 5 protection issue, could you leave Soriano off your 40 man roster or any veteran for that matter? BTW – I still hate dempster.

    • MichiganGoat

      You could but then they’d be on the wavier wire and nobody is going to take Soriano’s contract so then you either have to put him back on the 40 man or release him (which means the Cubs pay his contract and he can sign with any team for league minimum. So it’s not really an option. More details can be found in the comments on the Rule 5/40 Man thread from yesterday.

  • HateDemp

    Thank you

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