Today, Baseball America’s Jim Callis entered the 2012/2013 prospect ranking season with his top ten Chicago Cubs prospects. The list, at this point in the year, is more of a pre-2013 list than a post-2012 list, but, ah, they’re all the same.
There are only a couple surprises in Callis’ entry, which generally solidifies the guys at the front end of the Cubs’ system. First, the list:
1. Javier Baez, ss
2. Albert Almora, of
3. Jorge Soler, of
4. Arodys Vizcaino, rhp
5. Brett Jackson, of
6. Pierce Johnson, rhp
7. Dan Vogelbach, 1b
8. Jeimer Candelario, 3b
9. Kyuji Fujikawa, rhp
10. Arismendy Alcantara, ss
The top four are pretty consistent, in that order, throughout most publications at this point, and I think it’s fair. You also regularly see Vogelbach in the top seven or so, with Candelario, Jackson, and Johnson all frequently in the top ten as well. All in all, it’s a fairly expected list.
Until you get to the last two spots, that is. Now, I’m not going to criticize Callis for including Fujikawa – I certainly understand why he did – but I’m not crazy about seeing 32-year-old, 10-year-veterans on a Cubs prospect list. Mostly that’s just a selfish thing: I want to know which other actual Cubs prospect Callis would have included in the top ten. As for Alcantara, he’s been mentioned as a sleeper prospect for the better part of a year now, and is in the top 25 on most lists, but this is a pretty lofty ranking for the less-heralded shortstop prospect in the Cubs’ system.
Ultimately, I can’t really argue with any of the inclusions, though I continue to suspect that, by this time next year, we will all be convinced that Juan Carlos Paniagua probably should have been a consensus top ten prospect at this time. You’ll also note that Matt Szczur does not feature, just a year after being a top 100 overall prospect to Callis. The fact that he didn’t have a disastrous 2012 season (and, instead, simply didn’t have a break-out) suggests that the top 100 ranking was pretty much all projection.
The Baseball America rankings also come with a narrative, and some bonus ranking material. The narrative pretty much covers what you would expect it to (new front office, lots of organizational change, added prospects, etc.), but it is not nearly as glowing as others have been, with respect to the improvement of the system. I wonder if that will be reflected in the organizational rankings, which we’ll see in a little while.
As for the bonus ranking material, it’s always pretty fun. BA ranks things like “best arm,” “best hitter for average,” “best curveball,” etc. Among the ones that stuck out to me (though you should check them all): best fastball AND best curveball went to Arodys Vizcaino. Best athlete went to Matt Szczur. And best defensive infielder went to …
… wait for it …
Javier Baez. Wrap your head around the possibilities there for a moment. Callis was subsequently asked about that incredible ranking on Twitter, and he responded, “Tremendous instincts, better than expected. Probably winds up at 3B.” I don’t take that as a knock, either. Instead, I take it as a supplement to the “best defensive infielder” thing, which suggests Baez has Gold Glove upside at third base.
And that’s assuming he doesn’t stick at short, though it’s becoming increasingly possible that he could stick at short. Kid is a stud.
One last notable bit: Callis has Vizcaino in the future rotation, and Paniagua in the future bullpen. Those are obviously just way-far-out guesses, but that’s the reverse of what the general, collective wisdom has been about those two.
UPDATE: Luke was able to offer up his thoughts below …
- 1,2,3: No surprise here. These three will continue to be the top three on virtually every Cubs Top Prospects list all winter. The order may vary, but Baez, Almora, and Soler will continue to be the headliners. All three are very solid contenders to rank among the league’s Top 100.
- 4: Another Top 100 contender. If Vizcaino comes back healthy and as a starter, you can make a case that he should top this list.
- 5: Yes, he struggled in the majors and struck out at a sickening pace while in Iowa last year. He also has maintains a high OBP to go with above average speed and a good enough arm to play anywhere in the outfield. At worst I think he’s a fourth outfielder in the majors, but I have not given up on him as a league average starter in center field.
- 6: This is high praise for Johnson, and that’s a good sign. It will be interesting to see how polished he is next season.
- 7: Vogelbach is best known and earns this rank for his bat, but it is too early to give up on his glove. First is the only position he can handle and he’ll never be as good as Rizzo, but I think he has a chance to be around average. Regardless, he’ll go has high as his bat can take him.
- 8: Very high praise for Candelario, and it appears BA thinks he can stay at third. That is also a good sign. Switch hitters with both patience and power are a nice asset to have, and that is exactly what the Cubs appear to have in Candelario.
- 9: Fujikawa is a safe bet to open the season as the major league set up man, and could finish the year as the closer. And he is only ninth on this list. That should leave you feeling very good about the state of the farm system.
- 10: Bit of a surprise here. Alcantara no doubt gets a boost because he is a true shortstop, but even so this feels a touch high to me. Baseball America has a bit of a tendency to fall in love with raw, toolsy guys sometimes, and I suspect that may be the case here. I like Alcantara a lot, but not quite this much.
- Projected 2016 Lineup: Baez will not push Castro to second. If anyone is going to second, it would be Baez. Castro has a much, much higher defensive ceiling at short. Barring a major injury, I don’t see him leaving that position for any prospect currently in baseball.
- The real story here is the projection of Candelario at third. That is a tremendous vote of confidence in his ability to handle the position defensively.