Welcome to the nineteenth and final edition of Prospects’ Progress. Even though I’ve already covered thirty four prospects (and the Rule 5 draft) over the past three months, there is still a lot of talent left in the system that hasn’t been discussed. The Cubs really do have a very deep farm system; writing a series like this just drives that point home again. That depth allowed me to save two of the Cubs’ best and brightest prospects for this finale. I think most Cub fans have heard of Javier Baez and Arodys Vizcaino, arguably the best hitting and pitching prospects in the farm system. These two will certainly have an impact on the future of the Cubs, one way or another.

But first, some housekeeping notes. Baring some wackiness on the trade market, this will probably be my final article in 2012 (Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!). I travel back to the Midwest in a few days, and will not return until January. When I do return, I am planning to take a hard look at the Cubs’ history in the draft over the past few seasons. Once the draft series is complete, probably in early February, it will prospect ranking season at Bleacher Nation. We’ll kick things off with my first top prospects list since signing on with Brett, and continue with an exploration of the farm system position by position, just like we did last spring. All in all, it should be a great way to fill the cold and lonely weeks before baseball finally returns with the dawn of Spring Training. [Brett – a big thanks to Luke for a great year on the prospecting side here at BN.]

But first we have two potentially elite prospects to talk about. The future can be very bright for these two. The upside is tremendous. So is the risk.

Javier Baez, INF

Pre-Season Evaluation

Javier Baez had the fastest bat in the 2011 draft, and there were some very good hitters in that draft. He has the tools to possibly stick at shortstop, promises enough power to play third or in left, and has the kind of bat speed that leaves scouts pinching themselves. Baez has as high a ceiling as anyone in the farm system. He has the potential to not only be an impact player, but a true star. It is easy to love his potential.

The Cubs held him in extended spring training in 2012, and then sent him to Peoria.

Post-Season Verdict

His line from Peoria is impressive. In 57 games and 237 plate appearances, the young shortstop hit .333/.383/.596. For a nineteen year old infielder in the Midwest League, those are impressive numbers. Scouts traveled to the Midwest to watch him play and came back with stories about his great bat speed, his defensive potential, and his already impressive power (12 home runs, 5 triples). But they also mentioned his tendency to swing away, to attack pitches too aggressively, and to give away at bats.

And then Arismendy Alcantara, the regular shortstop in Daytona (and a good prospect in his own right), was injured. The Cubs decided to challenge Baez with a promotion to High A, and it did not go well. In 23 games (interspersed among a number of rain outs and doubleheaders), Baez limped to a final line of .188/.244/.400. He did draw 5 walks in 86 plate appearances (compared to just 9 in three times as many chances in Peoria), but struck out 21 times. His bat speed and aggressive approach hid a lack of selectivity in Peoria, and the more advanced pitching in Daytona appeared to exploit that flaw with reckless abandon.

Then the Cubs sent him to the Arizona Fall League, and in 60 trips to the plate over 14 games he managed a line of just .211/.250/.456. His BB% was just 3.3%, and his K% clocked in at 23.3%. Chicago, we have a problem.

Future Prognosis

Because he was just nineteen and was young for both Peoria and Daytona, and because it was his first taste of full season league baseball, and because his total package of tools is completely off the charts, and because he was promoted too aggressively, Baez gets a pass from me for his worrisome ending to the 2012 season. When my top prospects list comes out, Baez will be somewhere in the top three (baring any very unexpected trades, that is). I am still just about as high on Baez as I am on anyone in the system.

But I’ve seen too many very promising prospects be wrecked by a lack of plate discipline to ignore his numbers altogether. I need to see improvement at the plate in 2013, even if it comes at the cost of some power. Baez will likely be sent back to Daytona, and it will be there that we find out what he is made of. If Baez immediately goes to work making adjustments, changing his approach, working deeper into counts, and generally acting like a hitter rather than a swinger, then it will be tempting to bump his ceiling up a notch. That is exactly what we want to see out of young, potentially elite prospects when they are first challenged. If, on the other hand, he continues with the same approach that led to his struggles, then his future will look much less bright.

And if he manages to convince the Cubs that he will not make adjustments, he may not be in the farm system August 1. Theo Epstein has a track record of trading high draft picks when they are near the peak of their value. Baez, right now, is one of the best shortstop prospects in the game. He has quite a bit of trade value. Should the Cubs become convinced he will not make the necessary adjustments at the plate, I think they will deal him before that value starts to fall.

Fair or not, 2013 is a critical year for Baez. I don’t think we need to see big numbers, but we do need to see progress at the plate. He has the tools be immensely successful, but he also has the potential to never make it past Double A. A year from now we’ll have a much better idea of his ability to take advantage of those tools and convert them into sustained success.

If he fixes his flaws, his long term home is probably at third base. Offensively, he could be the Cubs number three hitter in the not too distant future. Until I see some adjustments I hesitate to project his major league ETA any earlier than late 2015, but it may ultimately be up to Baez. I would not be surprised if he beats my estimate.

Arodys Vizcaino, RHP

Pre-Season Evaluation

When the 2012 season began, Vizcaino was one of the most heralded pitchers in the stacked Atlanta Braves farm system. He ranked ahead of absolutely everyone but Julio Teheran; that is quite the compliment for a Braves’ prospect. Unfortunately, he also had arm issues that resulted in the dreaded surgery.

And then he was traded to the Cubs for Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson in a deal that could go down as one of the biggest steals in decades. When healthy, Vizcaino is a legitimate No 2 starter or closer candidate. He is easily the best high level pitching prospect in the Cubs farm system, and there are only a few arms in the low minors that project as high as Vizcaino. This is a guy who reached the major league at the age of 20 and who did not turn 22 until November of this year. Landing him might be the single best move the new Cubs front office has made so far.

Post-Season Evaluation

Yes, he had elbow surgery. That is not much of a problem. The sheer volume of pitchers in baseball who have undergone that procedure is startling. It has a very high success rate these days, and many pitchers actually come back from it throwing harder than they did before they went under the knife. That is not to say that there is no risk here … there very clearly is plenty of risk … but this is not a one-in-a-million, lottery-ticket type risk. This is a more like a buying-into-a-Fortune-500-company-stock risk. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that this investment can pay off, and pay off in a big way.

Vizcaino has a fastball that sits comfortably in the low to mid 90s, but that has been routinely clocked as high as 97. His location on the fastball can be a bit of an issue, but there are few questions about his plus curve. He also has a very nice change up. That three pitch arsenal should set him up for success in the rotation or the bullpen, depending on need and his own durability.

Future Prognosis

The Cubs need an ace. Vizcaino has a ceiling that is very close to that territory. His critics like to point out that he has never pitched as many as 100 innings in any season in his entire career, and therefore cannot be counted on as a starter. After all, the argument goes, even the Braves were moving him to the pen.

Personally, I’m not sure either of those points hold water. The Braves have a mountain of pitching depth; they did not need Vizcaino as a starter. The Cubs do. And any questions about his durability ultimately come down to his surgically repaired arm. There are plenty of major league starting pitchers who have enjoyed plenty of success, have exhibited plenty of durability, and who went under the knife for the very same operation. The Cubs will take their time in letting Vizcaino recover from surgery and will likely start him out in the bullpen, but that should not be his final home. Look for Vizcaino to get at least one shot at a major league starting rotation slot in Chicago sometime in the next year or so.

And if Vizcaino does come back healthy and finds a home in the starting rotation for the 2014 season, the Cubs could find themselves in possession of a very good starting five that year. Vizcaino is not the key to the Cubs competing, but he could be a very big piece of the puzzle. I’d rather have seven or eight guys like him in the upper minors, just to be safe, but by himself this is still the best pitching prospect the Cubs have had since the days of Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano.

Ultimately he will decide his own future on the mound. If he proves he can start, he’ll be a No 2 starter in a good rotation. He proves to be better suited to the pen, he’ll take the ball from the likes of Tony Zych and Rafael Dolis as the Cubs new closer. Either way, if he stays healthy and can translate his stuff into major league success, he could be one of the young stars who lead the Cubs back to the top of the division.

  • Fishin Phil

    Thanks for a great year of write ups Luke. I’ve never felt more informed about the Cubs farm system than I have this year.

    • baldtaxguy


      Quality info, thanks.

    • CatCub

      Thirded. Hope to see more prospects progress in future years.

    • Vince


      Great series Luke, thanks.

    • bluekoolaidaholic

      I don’t know that I have ever been this informed about the Cubs farm system,( or realized the importance of it either)
      Thanks like above Luke, you do a great job.

  • ETS

    Anyone know off the top of their head big, touted high draft picks that Epstein traded?

    • hansman1982

      Anthony Rizzo

    • NyN

      Casey kelly

  • MikeL

    Hanley Ramirez

    • ETS


    • Scotti

      Hanley Ramirez was Jed Hoyer after Theo briefly left the Red Sox…

  • Corey Costello

    Dream 5 pitchers

    1. Vizcaino
    2. Garza
    3. Shark
    4. Jackson
    5. Villanueva (spell?)

    • BD

      1) Vizcaino
      2) Garza
      3) Shark
      4) Jackson
      5) P. Johnson

      Only a minor change

  • Corey Costello

    Dream starting lineup (using players we currently have)

    1. Dejesus (t
    2. Castro
    3. Baez
    4. Rizzo
    5. Soler
    6. Almora
    7. Barney
    8. Valbuena
    9. P

    • BD

      1) DeVoss
      2) Almora
      3) Baez
      4) Rizzo
      5) Soler
      6) Castro
      7) Jackson
      8) Castillo

    • Mike W

      Dejesus wouldnt be on the team anymore by the time Baez, Soler and Almora are ready for the pros. This lineup has 5 infielders btw and no Catcher. This is also a very poor lineup no power and no speed. Soler, Almora, and Baez havent proved themselves close to being called up. This lineup might be good in about 3 to 4 years. But 2 to 3 guys wont be on the team anymore. (Barney, Dejesus and Valbuena).

      • truthhurts

        Gotta disagree with one part of your argument, Mike. Yes, this line-up is a few years down the road, but as written it does have power. No’s 2 thru 8 each have a minumum of 20 HR potential….with Baez, Rizzo and Soler having 30 HR potential. Trade Lake or Amaya for DeVoss, and all 8 would have the potential to hit 20 HR’s.

        Pipe Dream? Maybe. The key to all this is the word ‘potential’.

        • davey

          I don’t think Amaya has anywhere near 20 hr potential. He’s still young and may develop some power but he looks more like a gap hitter right now.

      • Corey

        I meant Castillo, idk why I typed Valbuena haha. I put it as players that I think will be ready. I don’t think Barney’s going anywhere, dejesus and castillo yes, but i wrote this as players who we have now, and who I think will make it to the big leagues.

  • Miggy80

    Keep up the good work Luke! Really liked the Prospects progress reports.

    • Goldencub

      I agree. Thanks for all the great information and insights Luke.

  • FFP

    Thanks, Luke. Merry Christmas.

  • jt

    great series!

  • Jeff

    I don’t know why more cubs fans at least haven’t bought in on the Shark, Mid-90’s to upper FB. Great and vastly improving off-speed and control. And last but not least that every ACE needs, Stamina. He’s got what it takes. Future rotation. 1 Shark, 2 Viszcaino, 3/4 Garza/EJax/Trade, 5 Maples.

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

      I agree 100% on Shark. People also forget he showed be could touch 96, 97 into the 9th last year. Like you said, stamina. He definitely has what it takes, and I can’t wait for him to prove it

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

    Thank you for the hard work all year Luke! Great ending to a great series.

    I do have one idea for your future prospect write-ups. It would be cool if you could give us your opinion on what each prospects trade value is and what that prospect would/could net in a trade. I think the trade value of each prospect becomes more important to know as we get closer to contention.

    Can’t wait to see the next series! Thanks again.

  • d-seg

    Barring…not baring, just sayin’

  • MightyBear

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you Luke. Thanks for everything, you did a super job this year.

    Brett, thanks for adding Luke. BN was great before you got Luke to do the minor league reporting but it’s even better now. Happy Holidays.

  • ChicagoMike702

    Vizcaino threw 114.1 in ’11 between the minors and MLB.

  • Blbo161

    Thanks Luke. Did you say this is the last of the series? I really enjoyed the entire series. Would love to see more if you would consider extending it further into the system.

  • davey

    One factor on Baez’s drop off at Daytona this year that I haven’t seen mentioned so far is that Daytona is not far from where he went to high school. From what I have read, he doesn’t seem like the kind of kid to feel pressure to perform in front of family and friends but seems more like the kind of kid who might want to show off and become too agressive.

    • Marc N.

      If it’s a factor at all it is a very small one.

  • StevenF

    Hope it makes you feel good to read the kind remarks. You deserve it. The last in the series was indeed my favorite.

  • http://401klogic.net Westbound Willie

    Lets be frank here. 95 percent of all minor leaguers flame out. That’s just a fact. The cubs haven’t had a guy that was drafted and made an impact at the MLB level since mark grace. That was 25 years ago.

    As far as farm systems goes I was listening to an interview with Rick Hahn a couple months back and he mentioned that the white sox in 2002 had 5 of the top ranked 100 prospects at the time and only one of them ever did anything in the majors and that was crede and he only lasted a couple of years.

    Looking at prospects and trying to project future MLB players is like looking at a group of second grade students and predicting who is going to Harvard. It’s a silly process at best.

    Epstein has no more of an idea of what to do than any other gm does. There are also 29 other teams out there that are constantly trying to improve like the cubs are trying to do. No other team is going to say” hey let’s let the cubs get better” . The prospect of turning a 101 loss team around is daunting. Bringing in a bunch of garbage from the waiver wire does nothing.

    Everyone should just sit back for 4-5 years and stop this trolling about the cubs farm system.

    • Timothy Scarbrough

      There were a bit more guys than just Mark Grace over the past 25 years.

      • Vince

        Agreed. As bad as the Cubs have been at developing talent at the major league level at times, there have been quite a few players since Grace that have made significant impact.

        • Nate

          Starlin Castro anyone?

    • Cub2014

      Willie 95 percent is probably pretty accurate. That’s why you must have multiple prospects so when the time comes and you are ready to challenge you can unload 2 or 3 for a proven commodity that can help now. Look at 3b-ss-2b the cubs have many top prospects one maybe at Castro type a couple as good as Barney maybe a utility player or 2. So you use them for starters. Lake,Villanueva,Baez,candelario,Amaya,torreyes,Watkins,Bruno,Saunders,Hernandez,
      Alcantrra all these guys did well this year but only a few will see big leagues.
      So when you are ready to compete you use them to trade. That’s why these flip signings are great to build future assets.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        Willie 95 percent is probably pretty accurate.

        Actually, it’s errant nonsense. Most first round draft picks make MLB. A much higher proportion of 2nd round picks make it than 3rd+ round picks. Flip-flopping the issue, the single most common round in which All Stars were drafted is the first round. So, even at the most basic level of ranking prospects, you see nothing like one in twenty succeeding.

        The failure of the Cubs’ system has had to do with the Cubs using irrelevant traits such as athleticism and character when ranking prospects and ignoring fundamental tools like batting eye and control. Add to this the Tribune’s corporate mentality of not spending money on unproven quantities, and you get a system full of “toolsy,” “gutsy” “never seen an All-Star Ballot with his name on it” kind of guys….

        • Cub2014

          I think that is the key STARS one in 20 top prospects might reach that level.
          So anyone else that makes it and becomes a regular out their can be signed on the cheap. I.E. Darwin barney .255 hitter great defender. could be replaced on the cheap Watkins theriot lots of players out there. The difference makers are few and far between those.

          • Marc N.

            Darwin Barney is a much, much, much better player than Logan Watkins and will not be easily replaced by him.

            • King Jeff

              I don’t agree. Replacing Barney’s bat in the lineup would not be a difficult task at all. While Watkins isn’t on Barney’s level of consistency at second yet, he’s got the athleticism and ability to get to that level. I love me some Darwin Barney, but he’s not a “special” player by any means.

              • Marc N.

                Replacing a multiple time 2 WAR player, even if it’s merely 2 WAR, is not as easy as plugging in some guy who looked decent in AA if you ignore that he can’t hit minor league left handed pitching.

                Being special has little to nothing to do with it. Not every player on the Cubs will be “special” come time to win a championship.

                • http://thecubcontrarian.blogspot.com Kyle

                  This. The Logan Watkins hype is way, way out of control.

                  • King Jeff

                    I am from the school of thought that thinks that the Darwin Barney hype is way out of control. I may have overstated my faith in Watkins, I just don’t think it would be all that difficult for the Cubs to replace Barney.

                    • Turn Two

                      Darwin Barney is the cub that gets the least mention as a future starter. I have heard people calling for double a backups to start over him. I am curious as to what hype you are talking about? He is a great defensive player,a great baserunner and an average hitter. We are doing worse all over the diamond, lets lay off him.

                    • http://thecubcontrarian.blogspot.com Kyle

                      I don’t think it would be difficult either.

                      It just can’t be a priority when you’ve got bigger holes. Going into this offseason, SP, RP, 3b and OF were all ahead of 2b in the “needs to be upgraded” line.

                      I’m hopeful that there will be an offseason in the near future that a merely fringe-average starter at 2b is one of our biggest problems and can have resources thrown at it.

                    • Marc N.

                      It won’t be easy and you’re probably paying at least 10x what Barney will be making to do it.

                      Who even hypes Darwin Barney? Everyone looks at his batting average and OBP from 2012 and assumes that’s what he has always and will always do, therefore he can be replaced by someone like Logan Watkins. This comes with ignoring that his BB% increase by almost a full 2%, his IsoSLG was a career high, and he more than tripled his HR output in that time…Get that BABIP back up for his age 27 season, keep the walk and power gains, and you’ve got a .275/.320/.380/.700 2B with GG caliber defense making less than a million dollars. That’s a bargain, and a very useful player for the time being. I just don’t see the desperation most Cubs fans have for trading Barney (and on another completely different note – Garza).

                      It’s not just you overstating Logan Watkins, sorry if I left that impression. For some reason it’s become popular amongst many Cubs fans to slot him right in as a starter come Barney being traded, which should happen ASAP because he’s not special.

                    • Marc N.

                      Turn Two and Kyle put it in much more succinct terms.

                • King Jeff

                  I don’t really want the Cubs to replace Barney. I was thinking that if a team was in love with him and wanted to give the Cubs some decent pieces in return, I don’t think there would be a huge problem in finding someone to step in capably. I don’t know if Watkins is that guy, but he does seem to have the tools, even if he’s not ready yet. I see no point in dumping Barney, even when the Cubs are a contending team. I was implying that if the Cubs needed to include Barney on a deal, I don’t believe it would be too hard to replace him, and our fondness for him shouldn’t hinder that thought.

                  Turn Two, I’m not saying either Marc or Kyle over-hype Barney, but if you’ve been around this site for a while, it’s definitely there.

              • Marc N.

                Also replacing his D would be quite difficult, and right now infield defense is about only sure strength on this roster.

                The other potential strength is pitching depth from rotation to pen…which would greatly benefit from pitching in front of a strong D.

                Finally, Logan Watkins is massively overrated by Cubs fans.

                • Jeff1969

                  How about we wait until the Cubs actually have the problem of Watkins or somebody else pushing Barney out before we do. Let’s see Watkins at AAA & then decide. Torreyes too. His average dropped like a hundred points from season to season so just chill, unless we get somebody obviously better in a trade or something.

  • Jeff1969

    I think the numbers on 1st & 2nd round picks is something like 66% for 1st rounders, and 44% of second rounders make it. Not stars, not even regulars, but play in the majors at some point in their careers.

    • Nate

      Yeah, but you never know which players will be in that 66 percent. Look at the 2007 draft, Luke Hochevar was taken first, while Evan Longoria was #3 and Clayton Kershaw at #7. It’s a pretty sketchy business trying to project high school/college players.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        That is a ridiculous conclusion. At the college and high school level, scouts can reduce kids to a pool where 50% make it to MLB; heck, they can reduce it to a pool where 2/3rds make it to MLB. They realize that the remaining pool has much much less than a 50% chance of making MLB.

        Very, very few endeavors have that good of an ability to project future worth. It is a very non-random system!

  • Scotti

    …but by himself this is still the best pitching prospect the Cubs have had since the days of Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano.

    Maybe the best since Angel Guzman. Guzman had, when healthy, a plus FB, curve, change and control. Guzman was rated 26th by BA in 2004.

    In reality, Samardzija never got the love he deserved (still doesn’t). Adrodys Vizcaino could reach his potential and still fall short of topping Samardzija.

  • Marc N.

    I know I am the only proponent of this on the internet so far, but I imagine Baez’s second location to be second base and not third base after he is moved off of SS.

    Nothing made me happier when Epstein said they think he can play anywhere on the diamond, including second, in an August interview with that CBS radio show.

    • CityCub

      I’ve always heard 3B as a possibility for him after SS

      • Marc N.

        Yea, and since one guy said it it’s been parroted far and wide. I want to promote the parroting of 2B, which is just as real a possibility.

  • Scotti

    Depends on his tools. If he is quicker than fast then 3B is a better fit for him. If he is faster than quick then 2B is the best fit. My reading of his toolbox is quicker than fast.

  • the sandman

    Vogelbach may turn out to be the best of all of them, if he can find a defensive position. Ive seen VBach in AZ and his power IS off the charts.

    • nkniacc13

      Vogelbach has 1 possiable postion and its 1st. His bat will carry him as far as he’s going to go. I think he gets traded in couple of years to an AL team unless the NL puts in the DH

  • Marc

    Another candidate to turn out the best of them all is Candelario. His bat could be awesome, he switch hits, he’s even younger than most of the rest of the 2012 Boise roster….

    I’ve been quietly nominating him as a late decade 1B option for the Cubs in the part of my head that overrates prospects.