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He’s been teasing at it for a few days now, but Minor League Ball’s John Sickels has finally released his top 20 (but it goes beyond that) Chicago Cubs prospect list for the post-2012 period. And it’s dripping with good news for Cubs fans.

First, and foremost, Sickels’ top 20 list, together with grades (which are, for now, preliminary):

1) Javier Baez, SS, Grade A

2) Albert Almora, OF, Grade B+

3) Jorge Soler, OF, Grade B+

4) Dan Vogelbach, 1B, Grade B

5) Arodys Vizcaino, RHP, Grade B-

6) Brett Jackson, OF, Grade B-

7) Dillon Maples, RHP, Grade B-

8) Christian Villanueva, 3B, Grade B-

9) Matt Szczur, OF, Grade B-

10) Pierce Johnson, RHP, Grade B-

11) Gioskar Amaya, 2B, Grade B-

12) Duane Underwood, RHP, Grade B-

13) Josh Vitters, 3B, Grade C+

14) Junior Lake, SS, Grade C+

15) Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Grade C+

16) Juan Carlos Paniagua, RHP, Grade C+

17) Paul Blackburn, RHP, Grade C+

18) Marco Hernandez, SS, Grade C+

19) Arismendy Alcantara, SS, Grade C+

20) Barret Loux, RHP, Grade C+

Sickels adds that the Cubs have nine additional C+ prospects: Michael Jensen, RHP; Kyle Hendricks, RHP; Trey McNutt, RHP; Ryan McNeil, RHP; Starling Peralta, RHP; Ronald Torreyes, 2B; Logan Watkins, 2B; Ben Wells, RHP; Tony Zych, RHP. Further, there are others who just missed inclusion: Jose Arias, RHP; Stephen Bruno, INF; Alberto Cabrera, RHP; Marcelo Carreno, RHP; Shawon Dunston, OF; Jae-Hoon Ha, OF; Trey Martin, OF; Brooks Raley, LHP; Jose Rosario, RHP; Tim Saunders, INF; Tayler Scott, RHP; Nick Struck, RHP, Robert Whitenack, RHP.

The article is well worth a read, as it is a very comprehensive take, and includes thoughts on each of the top 20.

Instant reactions: Paniagua seems low, surprised (but not disagreeing) to see Amaya so far ahead of Hernandez, nice to see newly-added Loux make the cut, and Sickels really likes Vogelbach and Baez.

Sickels also offered some thoughts on the state of the system, and it’s about what you’d expect after seeing a list like that:

I knew the Cubs system had improved a lot over the last year or two, but I don’t think I truly grasped the amount of depth they’ve developed (especially at the lower levels) until I got into the analysis.

At the top you have Baez, Soler, and Almora, all three with obvious star/superstar potential. Vogelbach’s bad body generates more skepticism, but the guy has got a good shot at being a devastating hitter. There is a lot of depth beyond the top group, much of it products of the Latin American operation, especially in the infield.

Sickels goes on from there to note the difficulties on the mound in the system, but says there’s a lot of raw talent there. Good read all around.

  • Kyle

    People are going to start listening now that this is a top-10 system.

    Farm systems are prone to rapid changes anyway. You turn over 20-25% of it every season.

    In the last 18 months or so:

    1) Committed more than $50 million to international prospects
    2) Traded half-a-dozen major leaguers for prospects
    3) Had a $12 million overdraft binge in 2011, and that class showed up well in the pros
    4) Had the No. 6 overall pick and two compensation picks in 2012

    I should darn well hope they’d have a top-10 system after that sort of resource commitment.

    • Myles

      You know what’s truly crazy, Kyle? We are only going to graduate 2, MAYBE 3 guys on that list next year. Jackson and Vitters will not be top 20 prospects next year, for good or ill. Vizcaino will maybe pitch enough this year to graduate. Other than that, you’ve got to go down to either Paniagua or Loux for people who might pitch for Chicago at all next year, and both of those are longshots (though Loux is actually pretty close IMO to contributing to a major league team as a swingman/5th starter type, if you wanted to be particularly aggresive).

      Our system is going to improve this year almost as much as it did last year.

      • Kyle

        Absolutely. This will be an easy top-3 system after the No. 2 pick in the draft slots

        Oh, and I forgot 5) We had a really nice crop of dominican teenagers graduate to the domestic leagues.

    • MichiganGoat

      Is this a praise of the Theo led organization? **Head Explodes** ;)

      • Kyle

        Same as always: Their ability isn’t the problem, their priorities are.

        But much of the foundation for the improvement in the farm system predates Epstein’s arrival.

        • http://www.casualcubsfan.com hansman1982

          I was going to write something but we’d just end up debating the definition of “much”.

          • Chris

            The prospects are roughly 50-50 split between Theo and Hendry. It might be closer to 60-40 in favor of Hendry, but to build up close to 50% of the top 30 or so prospects in one calendar year is pretty good, in my opinion. While I’m excited to watch the Kane County Cougars play next season, I’ll be more excited to see some of these names graduate to AA and perform well there. It’s too hard to predict which of these guys is actually going to make it from Low-A or Rookie League.

            • Cedlandrum

              It doesn’t matter who signed or drafted, the big thing with much is that when the Cubs opened up the coffers MUCH of the top 20 came from that spending.

              • http://www.casualcubsfan.com hansman1982

                yup, and now only time will tell what kind of record these prospects will have.

                Although, the amount of talent the farm system has received in the past 14 months is mind-boggling.

                • Kyle

                  And my point is that 14 months is the wrong starting point to be in awe of. Baez and Vogelbach out of the 2011 draft is where this started.

                  • Chris

                    Agreed. Baez is the best of the bunch, by far. Some of the other depth, like Shawon Jr. and Trey Martin are also fringy, but young enough to figure things out. Not for nothing, but Tim Wilken was involved in both drafts, so maybe he deserves more credit than he normally gets.

                  • http://www.casualcubsfan.com hansman1982

                    14 months is when Theo started…

                    • Kyle

                      And 20 months is closer to accurately describing when the farm system began to turn around.

                    • http://www.casualcubsfan.com hansman1982

                      Yes, 20 month’s ago we added 3 of the B- and better prospects in a fairly deep draft. From 14 months ago we added 6 of the remaining 9 plus Rizzo.

                      Not really sure, though, why you are trolling my post here other than maybe just to crap on Theo just to crap on Theo and not sure why you are in the draft/player development biz where he is one of the best in the business.

                      Don’t like his plan all you want but your obvious dislike of Theo/anything optimistic of the Cubs is getting fairly ridiculous.

  • MightyBear

    I was hoping Vizcaino, Maples or Johnson would be a B. I’m glad the pitchers were as high as they were but I was hoping for higher.

    • Myles

      Vizcaino is coming off of TJS. Sickels isn’t as bullish with post-TJ people as most people. The recovery rate is getting better all the time, but it’s still no sure thing. Maples and Johnson are very young and “projectable”, but they aren’t sure things either. I’m fine with all of their rankings.

      I think his only clear miss is on Logan Watkins, who is a definite top 20 guy. Then again, I defer to Sickels, who is very, very good.

      • CubFan Paul

        Watkins is a huge swing&miss. & mentioning Szczur as being close to the majors is a joke

  • Ryan

    Sucks that Gerardo Concepcion got 6 million and didn’t even show up in this article. Hope he gets it together next year.

    • terencemann

      I think committing money to young players with low ceilings but high-ish floors with the expectation that they will “move fast through the system” is as big of a risk (or bigger) than committing money to “toolsy” players without a lot of baseball skills yet.

      • Chris

        Concepcion was signed, in part, to help convince Soler to sign. Given at, I think it was a small price to pay, and anything they get out of Concepcion will be a bonus.

        • Kyle

          I don’t think anything involving Soler is a “small price.” He’s a nice prospect, but let’s face it: We paid an incredible premium for him.

  • MightyBear

    He’s young.

  • Brandon – AA Correspondent

    Ranking Szczur ahead of Watkins is down right unexplainable.

    Logan Watkins will be a solid contributing major leaguer beginning in 2014.

    Write it down.

    The kid has the tools and the WORK ETHIC which makes me feel very confident in predicting that.

    • Cedlandrum

      Brandon you are right on some levels. Watkins has tools and he has some good polish to his game. He will probably be in the bigs before Szczur. Now that said, ranking prospects is based on what you like about Watkins and project-ability. Watkins is a very good athlete and I am on record as to how good I think he is. Now Szczur has elite athletic ability without the polish that Watkins has. If Szczur polishes his game up he has a greater chance of being a star.

      Watkins is safer but Szczur is the better “prospect” I think in some eyes.

    • abe

      logan wont be the cubs stater for long. Amaya is going to be a star!!!

    • Kyle

      I hate to be in the position of defending Szczur’s prospect status, but it’s correct. Ceiling matters, not just ability to wow the fans at AA.

      • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

        Exactly, if you ask GM’s what they want, most would prefer the tools that Szczur has as a centerfielder than the tools that Watkins has as a 2B.

  • OCCubFab

    Cubs have 12 prospects graded A or B. What is typical for other teams? I notice Baltimore had 7 graded A or B, but couldn’t locate any other teams.

  • Patrick W.

    Has anybody else seen Vogelbach in person? I have, and the pictures do not do his body-type justice. They say the camera adds 20lbs, but most pictures I see they subtract 20lbs from him. He is a BIG dude. I think he should be very thankful for Prince Fielder. He also crushes the ball.

  • Colin

    There seem to be some pitchers that should rise or have very productive numbers. Paniagua feels like a safe bet to rise and I feel the same for Whitenack. If Rhee gets pretty stat lines he could jump a lot of people and be closer to the MLB than expected.

    We also have some guys that aren’t as sexy to make the lists with “lower” ceilings but if they stay productive it provides good depth and seem to be those trade pieces that help supplement deals. Hatley in the bullpen other guys like Kirk, Joksich, Beeler, Kyler Burke maybe. Those guys feel like the classic Wilken types to make the MLB in some form or another. Burke was in trade but regardless.

    Thoughts on Greg Rohan? Hes older but has produced should stay at Iowa and possible trip to the show next year when someone goes down. Can play OF/3b/1b If Blake Lalli can make it….

  • Spriggs

    I’m happy to see Amaya up so high. I am really excited about this guy’s future – especially with his good showing in the field at 2nd. Also pleased to see the deserving mention of Michael Jensen in Sickels comments.

    The thing I just haven’t seen is the “elite” athleticism of Szczur.

  • PiattCountyGuy

    Does anyone have any knowledge with respect to the development and status of Hayden Simpson? I haven’t heard much, if anything, since they drafted him.

  • http://bleachernation.com lou brock lives

    With all the position players in high esteem within the Cub organization it is imperative we take a starting pitcher with high expectations with our # 2 pick in this year’s ML draft. I suggest it be Manaea – LHP from Indiana State. We cannot afford another mistake like Hayden Simpson.
    Keep your eye on Alcantara who played SS at Daytona last year but looks like a better fit at 2B. This kid has speed, is a switch hitter, & has some gap power as well. He may surpass Watkins as the future second baseman in short order.

    • ssckelley

      I agree, the Cubs need pitching prospects that project to potential #1 starters instead of these middle to low end of the rotation prospects.

    • http://www.casualcubsfan.com hansman1982

      With the #2 pick you ALWAYS (well at least 99% of the time) take the best player available. If that player this year is a SS then by golly you draft a SS.

      I want to say that I have read that the most WAR from the draft has come from the #2 or #3 draft pick. I know I read that Theo is ridiculously good at drafting and developing.

      • Kyle

        In terms of historical WAR, the No. 1 pick kicks every other pick’s hind quarters to such a degree that it’s laughable.

        • DarthHater

          In terms of historical WAR

          Personally, I go for the Hundred Years War.

        • http://www.casualcubsfan.com hansman1982

          Correct, not sure where in the hell I got that from but here is an interesting article:

          http://baseballanalysts.com/archives/2009/06/the_draft_and_w.php

          Another thing – drafting a pitcher at the top of the draft typically leads you to giving up a few “first-6-years” WAR.

      • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

        I don’ tthink you need the restriction of “with the number 2 pick”.
        You should ALWAYS take best player available.

        • http://www.casualcubsfan.com hansman1982

          With the new CBA it gets skewed a little bit. Signability is also a concern once you get out of the first few rounds as you lose the pick altogether. In rounds 9-10 you may take a guy who is lesser than a guy you take in round 11 if you know you can free up some money for a higher pick that would allow you to take a better player then.

          Giant shell game.

  • Beer Baron

    A little disappointing to see that 3 of the 4 guys they had to add to the 40-man in advance of the Rule 5 draft (McNutt, Watkins, and Whitenack) couldn’t even crack our top 20. While its nice to have a deep system, that is an indication that the majority of the talent is still quite a long way from the majors. Also was surprised that Panniagua was that low but was pleasantly surprised that Loux made it to the top 20.

    • http://www.casualcubsfan.com hansman1982

      This is me spitballing here, but I want to say that if you end up eligible for the Rule-5 draft it *generally* means that you aren’t going to be a top prospect due to a few remaining flaws.

  • Mick

    Not even a mention for Reggie Golden?

    • Colin

      If he rakes when he comes back he still may not make the top 20 based on OF depth along with possible Soriano trade and early season trades and next years draft.

      He’s going have to absolutely crush to makeup for the lost year. Its sign of a better system.

      • Mick

        If Golden rakes when he comes back next year, he’ll be the 3rd best OF prospect in the Cubs system. Before his injury, scouts were comparing him to Ron Gant. I can understand a non-ranking due to his injury but not even a mention makes me think Sickels plain forgot.

  • Justin

    I am sure some of you are NIU fans, but what a joke with them taking Oklahoma’s spot in a BCS game. No one is going to watch this game and is embarrassing they are even considered for a BCS game. They are going to get stomped.

    • CycloneColin

      The only game that looks good is Oregon vs KSU otherwise the rest look way off balanced. I like the Oklahoma vs Texas AnM for non bcs play

    • ssckelley

      Yes it would have been much better to watch Oklahoma get stomped in this game than NIU.

    • cheryl

      You could be right since they just lost their coach but I’d like to see Jordan Lynch do well.

  • ruby2626

    I’m surprised that Maples is still listed so high. Has he even pitched a dozen innings since he was acquired? What’s the deal with him? Cabrera not being top 20 I completely disagree with, if he can find his control in the majors like he has in the minors then I think we have a potential stud. Kind of cool that 3 of our trades netted 3 guys in the top 20 including 2 in the top 10.

  • http://bleachernation.com someday…2015?

    I can’t argue with Sickels list much. Panigua maybe should be a bit higher and Cabrera should be at least top 20 IMO, but all in all it’s a good list. I find it interesting that Sickels rates Danny-V so high. Im guessing he sees it this way. If you ask someone to go around the minor leagues and find a player that is reminiscent of Prince Fielder Vogelbach may be the first guy you bring back. Also V’s contact/power numbers last year were unbelievable so he definitely deserves praise and a high ranking.

  • Frank

    I began following the minors closely around 2004-2005. I know it was around the time that Angel Guzman was the big deal. Anyway, this is by far the most exciting crop we’ve had since I’ve been following, although I narrowly missed Prior/Zambrano/Cruz/ChoiIAs prospects. I was aware of their existence, but I didn’t follow minor league stats, just that they were really good and not too far away. I think that what’s his face with the “Outlaw Curve” was also around at the time.

    Anyway, the fact that 9 of the 20 were acquired by Epstein and the new Regime, in addition to Rizzo was was our previous top prospect is a pretty good indication that like it or not, they’re doing a damn good job implementing stage one of their plan.

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