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baez almora soler[The final installment of the top 40 Chicago Cubs prospects for 2013. In case you missed the first three installments, they are herehere, and here.]

At long last we come to the cream of the crop – the Cubs’ Top 10 prospects. And let’s not kid ourselves, everyone knew who the top four names would be. The only source of suspense, if we can call it that, is the question of who sits at number one.

That was an easy question for me. I settled on my Number One about four months ago and nothing I have seen or read sense then gives me any inclination to change that choice. When grading on the combination of Projection and Risk I discussed at the beginning of this series, one name separated from the pack.

Before introducing Bleacher Nation’s Top Prospects for 2013, I want thank all of you for reading and contributing to the minor league coverage on this website. I joined Bleacher Nation about a year ago in part because of the amazing community here, and I still believe that community to be one of the best on the Internet. It is my pleasure to bring you another season of Minor League Daily Reports, prospect analysis, amateur draft coverage, and other features that focus on the farm system side of the game. You make writing for Bleacher Nation a lot fun; thank you all for being generally awesome. [ed. - and we thank you, Luke, for likewise being awesome.]

Ok, enough with the stalling. We have a Number One Prospect to name.

But first, we have nine more talented players to discuss before we can get to the top slot. Let’s get started with Number Ten.

10. Juan Carlos Paniagua, RHP
Where to watch him: Tennessee?
Wrigley Field ETA: 2013
Projects as: Tough to say – reports place him anywhere from a number two starter to a quality middle reliever

Paniagua is likely the biggest unknown factor on this list. We know he has a fastball that can touch 100 MPH and consistently stays in the upper 90s. We know he pairs that with a good changeup and a slider that may be a work in progress. And we don’t know much else.

If the fastball has good movement, he can consistently locate the change, and his slider is at least an average pitch, then we are talking about a No. 2 or 3 starter and a key member of what could be a good young Cubs’ rotation next season. On the other hand, if his fastball is about all he has and the supporting pitches are less than average, he’s likely a plus middle reliever or a setup man. Either way he has value and I suspect the Cubs would like him to be in Chicago as soon as possible. He could start the year almost anywhere, but it won’t be until he hits Tennessee or Iowa that we will really get an idea what the Cubs have in this guy.

9. Gioskar Amaya, 2B
Where to watch him: Kane County
Wrigley Field ETA: 2015
Projects as: Above average all around second baseman

I like hitters who can spray line drives to all fields at a young age, and that is a good description of Amaya. As a 19 year old in the Northwest League he put together his best professional season to date, highlighted by a walk rate of 10.4% and an OPS of 0.877. He doesn’t have slugger power, but he has a mix of gap power and speed that resulted in 12 triples, 8 homers, and 15 stolen bases. Defensively, he is already advanced for his age; there is little question about his ability to remain at second base, and he has a very good chance at being a plus defender at the position. Should he continue to pepper the field with line drives in Kane County, and I strongly suspect he will, he would likely see a promotion to Daytona by the end of the season. Keep an eye on this guy. He could be appearing in some league-wide Top 100 lists in a year or two.

8. Dillon Maples, RHP
Where to watch him: Kane County
Wrigley Field ETA: 2016
Projects as: Number two starter

Maples was one of the gems of the Cubs’ loaded 2011 draft, but so far he has pitched just ten innings as a professional. A mixture of late signing dates and some minor injuries kept him mostly out of games in 2011 and 2012. If the Cubs can finally get him completely healthy and on the mound for an extended period, they hope to see his plus fastball and curve combo develop into the primary weapons of a front of the rotation starter. The lack of experience makes him a little hard to project, but Maples may have the highest upside of any pitcher in the organization.

I don’t expect Maples to pitch more than 60 or so innings this year, so look for him to split time between the rotation and the bullpen. A year from now we will hopefully have seen enough of Maples to have a better idea where his future lies and just how fast he might reach it.

7. Pierce Johnson, RHP
Where to watch him: Kane County / Daytona
Wrigley Field ETA: Late 2014
Projects as: Number two or three starter

The Cubs loaded up on starting pitching talent in the 2012 draft, and Pierce Johnson is probably the closest to the majors of that group. The college starter would likely have been a mid-first round pick had it not been for a forearm strain. That injury allowed the Cubs to scoop him up in the supplemental rounds, and from all accounts they were very happy Johnson fell to them. If he can stay healthy, both his fastball and his curve are nasty enough to be strikeout pitches. Once he adds a quality offspeed offering he will have all the makings of a number three starter at worst. Look for Johnson to pitch his way into Daytona this season.

6. Junior Lake, INF/OF
Where to watch him: Iowa
Wrigley Field ETA: Late 2013
Projects as: Anything from a Double-A flame out to an All-Star potential infielder

Junior Lake is one of the most frustrating players in the minor leagues. One inning he looks like a young Vlad Guerrero at the plate, and the next he’s a future Joe Mather. I’ve seen him take swings that would embarrass even Matt Garza, and I’ve seen him fight through tough at bats with the patience, quick bat, adjustments, and tenacity that would make any hitting coach drool. When he is focused on the game, he a tough out with plus power and speed at the plate and rangy defender with a stunningly great arm in the field. At other times he is an easy out that can be eaten alive by breaking pitches low and away. Right now I would project him as super-utility guy, and I can easily imagine him posting a WAR in the 2-4 range in that capacity. However, I can easily imagine him making All-Star appearances as a right fielder or third baseman. And I can just as easily imagine him heading to Japan. Lake has almost as much potential as anyone in the system, if only he can find a way to unlock it consistently.

5. Brett Jackson, OF
Where to watch him: Iowa and Chicago
Wrigley Field ETA: 2013
Projects as: Above average regular outfielder

Lost among the understandable concerns that erupt from Jackson’s high strikeout performance in Iowa and Chicago last year is that he put up an Iowa OPS of .817 despite those frightening strikeout totals, and he did so at the age of 23. If he can improve on that one aspect of his game … and the mess that was his swing last year strongly suggests he can … the rest of what he brings to the table really starts to shine. Even if he can bring the Ks down to the something reasonable, though, I don’t see Jackson as a perennial All-Star contender. I do see him as a reliable and somewhat above average part of the outfield picture. Look for Jackson to pleasantly surprise a lot of Chicago fans this season.

4. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
Where to watch him: Iowa and Chicago
Wrigley Field ETA: 2013
Projects as: All-Star potential reliever or number two starter

If I honestly believed that Vizcaino would return to the starting rotation after having surgery, I would have listed him behind only Soler. He has the makings of a solid number two starter, but the safer prediction places Vizcaino at the back end of the bullpen. Either way, his very hard stuff should make him a very valuable part of the Cubs starting later this season.

He will probably start the season in Iowa (though the Cubs may wait for the weather to warm up before sending him north), and I expect he will be working out of the rotation. The first season after Tommy John surgery is sometimes a rough one, so it may be the second half of the year before we get a clear picture of how good Vizcaino can be.

3. Albert Almora, OF
Where to watch him: Kane County
Wrigley Field ETA: 2015
Projects as: All-Star potential center fielder

Almora wins rave reviews for his attitude, character, and approach to the game. Scouts seem to think that these attributes, when combined with his solid to plus across the board tools, will enable him to move up the farm system quickly. That’s good to hear, but we are not seeing that at the plate quite yet.

He has the ceiling of a 25 HR / 25 SB Gold Glove center fielder, but that won’t happen so long as he is only walking once a month. If he can find some patience in Kane County, then he should see some time in Daytona later in the year. A late 2014 Wrigley arrival is not out of the question according to some scouts, but I need to see some progress at the plate before I become that optimistic.

2. Javier Baez, SS
Where to watch him: Daytona
Wrigley Field ETA: 2014
Projects as: All-Star potential infielder

Baez might be the best offensive shortstop prospect in the minors, but his future increasingly looks like that of a third baseman. He has the bat speed and power to excel at the plate no matter where he plays, but so far he has lacked patience and a willingness to attack pitches selectively. Scouts often compare him to a young Gary Sheffield, but his early lack of discipline could bring to mind images of Josh Vitters.

If he can unlearn his bad habits at the plate, he is a potentially potent middle of the order bat in the making. Defensively, he’ll be fine no matter where he plays. Should he make the needed adjustments at the plate in Daytona this year (and I like his chances of doing so) he could move to Tennessee by the end of the season. If he does not make those changes, I look for him to be dealt while his trade value is near the peak. Regardless of his performance, though, do not look for him in Wrigley this season. He isn’t on the 40 man roster and the Cubs gain absolutely nothing by adding him just for a few September at bats.

1. Jorge Soler, OF
Where to watch him: Daytona / Tennessee
Wrigley Field ETA: Late 2013
Projects as: All-Star potential right fielder

When I began working on this list back in December, the choice of who to rank Number One took me all of twenty seconds. No one in the farm system has the combination of ceiling, success, and experience that Soler brings to the organization. Not only does his quick bat, patient approach, and plus power promise a bright future at the plate, he has all the makings of an above average defender in right field as well. His Cuban and international baseball experience should help him move quickly up the ladder, and since he is already on the 40 man roster I see no reason to think he will not make an appearance in Wrigley this September. Add it all up and Soler looks like the best offensive outfielder the Cubs have had in quite some time, and he could be coming to Chicago to stay a lot sooner than we may think.

  • DarthHater

    Thank god, it’s posted. Now we can stop with the Wrigley BS and read about baseball!

  • ETS

    Luke, I agree with your respective rankings of Amaya and Watkins, but can you contrast the two as far as the type of player they are?

    I ask, because throughout last minor league season, I always, sort of, kind of, got the impression you were much higher on Watkins than, well, almost anyone else ranking Cub’s prospects. Any additional thoughts you might have on how the two compare or where their respective ceilings lie would be appreciated.

    Thanks. And as always, great job!

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Watkins looks like a good defender with a good mix of speed and the ability to get on base, not to mention more power than he is usually given credit for.

      Amaya, while he is more raw still yet, looks like a better overall hitter than Watkins. I think Amaya is probably going to wind up with more power and by some accounts their speed is close.

      Both have the potential to be starting second basemen in the majors eventually, but I think Watkins is more likely to settle into super-sub range than Amaya.

  • ETS

    Wait, Vogelbach isn’t #1… wtf?

    • DarthHater

      Quit it ! :-P

  • JulioZuleta

    Good stuff. I think Amaya is almost universally overlooked by scouts for some reason. I’d have him top ten for sure. Paniagua too. Also, that description of Lake hit the nail on the head. He’s incredibly frustrating.

  • http://worldseriesdreaming.com Jackson Scofield

    Disagree with a lot of your list, that said, a unique take is always interesting and I appreciate the hell out of this work.

  • ETS

    I love your Lake description by the way. Pretty excited to watch him this year.

  • Tommy

    Thanks for the top 40, Luke. That was some of the most enjoyable reading yet! Great stuff, and appreciate the time and effort you no doubt put into gathering all that info.

  • ETS

    “If I honestly believed that Vizcaino would return to the starting rotation after having surgery, I would have listed him behind only Soler.”

    SPOILER ALERT!

    • Diamondrock

      Yeah, I was kind of bummed when I read that. I kind of guessed it would be Soler (he would have been my choice), but I do love surprises. Gotta get the Cubs joy where you can find it these days…

    • cubchymyst

      When I saw that it was clear that Soler was number 1.

      • cubchymyst

        sorry to anyone who sees this on the side.

  • MightyBear

    Awesome. Well worth the wait. Thank you Luke. Not only was your list great but you seem to answer questions about the minors promptly and thoughtfully. We appreciate your hard work. It will be even better to see these players in a Cub uniform having followed them through your analysis. Thanks again.

  • Seth

    I totally agree with Soler as numero uno. He just looks like a star in the making. I can’t to see him in that Cubs uniform at Wrigley.

  • Kukini

    Good to see Soler at #1 (not a knock on Baez). I’m surprised that many, or all, other lists haven’t followed suit. Lack of exposure I guess?

  • hansman1982

    With Almora, remember that his no-walking time in Boise also included 0 strikeouts looking.

  • Andrew

    this definitely is a unique list but the idea that Soler will see time with the big club this year, or that Paniagua will be in the rotation next year is really far fetched to me. If Paniagua had a legitimate shot at the rotation next year, he would have to be ranked much higher in my opinion

    • ETS

      I think the Luke is talking mostly about sept call up type situations. If we aren’t in contention and Soler hasn’t performed terrible then there’s no way Soler doesn’t get a cup of coffee. He is already on the 40 man.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

        Exactly. Most of my 2013 ETAs are either September call ups or candidates for injury fill ins. Soler is the former and Paniagua could be either.

        • Edwin

          Does the potential Arbitration clock issue factor into it at all?

          • hansman1982

            After June 1, probably not. Especially if they think, I think, that Soler would be better served becoming the Opening Day 2014 RF for the Cubs with a September Call-up.

            • hansman1982

              Although, after I typed that, I see no way that Soler is the Opening Day 2014 RF. The Cubs will want to push him back to avoid Super-Two…unless he proves to just be that awesome.

              • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                If he starts right out in 2014 (which, yes, seems fast), Super Two wouldn’t be an issue, because he’d just be eligible for arb in three years, like a normal prospect. It’s only if they were hemming and hawing in May about whether or not to call him up. If that happens, then you might see them wait until mid/late June.

                Which is all to say, you’re right – there are always financial considerations, even with Soler’s unique contract.

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

            Eh, not really – unless it would be totally worthless, experience-wise, to get him some time in the bigs. It’s just a few weeks of service time, which wouldn’t really be a problem to “correct” the next year.

            For probable big-timers like Soler, I think that September experience can be very valuable.

            • Edwin

              Cool. I just know that sometimes there seem to be situations in which a call up is delayed due to starting the arb clock.

  • DarthHater

    Can’t wait ’til Baez sends Brett & Luke an angry tweet! ;-)

  • http://thenewenthusiast.com dw8

    Whoa, Junior Lake! Aggressive.

  • mak

    Also agree that Soler is the #1 prospect. Baez has some question marks about his approach and that should give everyone concern (for now).

    You’re a bit high on Lake, but if he can become a bit more sound defensively at 3b, then I think his absolute floor is a platoon/bench guy. So the #6 is defensible.

  • AA Correspondent

    Great work Luke.

    Looks like TN could have a nice 1st half with some returning players and an infusion of talent in the 2nd half.

    Looking forward to seeing Baez in the 2nd half and would be very happy if Soler joins him.

    What are your thoughts on Justin Bour? He had a very productive AA season and have not seen much written about him.

    Brandon

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      I like Bour, but not as Top 40 material. He is a quality hitter who I could see coming off the bench for a few seasons in the majors. I’m not sure he makes consistent enough contact to take an starting job, though.

    • ETS

      ooo good call on bour. how about Bruno, Saunders or Krist? All new, but all seemed to handle the level they were at last year.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

        I like all three, and in roughly that order. None of them made the list this year, but I’d not be surprised if all three break into this list next year.

  • cubchymyst

    With the infield depth behind Barney, his future with the team is definitely going to depend on how he bats this year. I hope Barney has shown improvement at the plate because I’d rather have a guy that has shown to be a capable MLB starter than take a chance on someone who might be a capable MLB starter.

  • Bilbo161

    Great list Luke, Thanks!

    I’m curious what value you placed on versatility, in terms of playing multiple positions. There are a few guys doing pretty well but they seem to be losing in the rankings because they are “perceived” to have no position. Bruno, Saunders, and Andreoli come to mind here.

  • Edwin

    Now if we can only avoid a massive Mono outbreak our farm system should really be able to take off!

    • Bilbo161

      :-)

  • When the Music’s Over

    Given the extreme risk factor and a year+ already marred by injuries (I would not consider missing 1.5 years as filled with “minor injuries” and a late signing date) I don’t completely understand why Maples appears to get judged on his ceiling while others, such as Golden, don’t. I’m not a Golden fan by any means, but they appear to be inconsistently treated. Don’t get me wrong. I really, really hope Maples succeeds and remains healthy, but he’s 100% in the prove it first camp for me, which means he’d likely appear somewhere in the low teens at best, regardless of how beastly his stuff may be.

    Also, Maples will turn 21 shortly (this May). Assuming he spends time in Arizona and then heads to Boise when that season kicks off, he’ll be roughly the same age as most college juniors drafted in 2013, yet will only have 10 IP outside of high school. If he doesn’t move fast because of ineffectiveness or injury, he may find himself very old for his league very soon. In other words, his developmental curve doesn’t have a ton of wiggle room at this point.

    Again, I really hope he succeeds.

    • Stevie B

      Dillon Maples will be a collegiate punter in 2 years…

      I got a sawbuck on this…any takers?

  • Jono

    So, Soler is like 25 years old, right?

    • BWA

      He’s only 21

  • Frank

    Until now, I thought I was the only one who had Soler above Baez. Granted, Baez’ a premium position with a very high ceiling bat is what gives him the edge but the sheer insanity of Soler’s offensive upside puts him ahead for me.

  • StevenF

    This was a good read. I just believe that the “Wrigley Field ETAs” were too optimistic, and all of them were about 1-year too soon.

  • another JP

    Great job on the list Luke, but I’m not sold on Maples being a top ten prospect for the same reason I can’t be on board with Whitenack being #13… just hasn’t shown results in several years to indicate he’s worth more than Vogelbach et. al. For my money I think Nick Struck or Tony Zych will have better careers given what they’ve shown to date.

    Soler being #1 is entirely justified given his contract and what he’s accomplished in a short time without playing for almost two years. But after seeing Baez in Mesa I’ve totally bought into the hype on him- he’ll wind up being a star player IMO. Much has been made about his approach but he seems to have been quite selective at the plate in ST, and his defense at short is pretty damn good- I was surprised at how well he handled himself in the games I saw. Watkins and Lake have been impressive also but none of their success has necessarily come against top of the rotation starters yet. By September I wouldn’t mind seeing the following line-up on the field for the Cubs: Sori LF, Jackson CF, Schierholtz RF, Lake 3B, Castro SS, Watkins 2B, Rizzo 1B, Castillo C with a rotation of Shark, EJax, Baker, Wood, Struck. In 2014 substitute Soler for Schierholtz and Vizcaino for Wood or Struck.

  • a_mazz_ing

    Luke, awesome stuff. Really enjoyed reading all 4 posts. The Soler stuff just makes me giddy. This kid is grinding ABs right now in ST and it’s gorgeous. We’ve also seen how he can crush a ball. I think our top 4 will be on this team and big contributors when we eventually win it all.

  • Hack Wilson

    Outstanding report. It might be unfortunate, but I am drooling to follow all of out minor leaguers again this summer. Right now the Cubs are such a work in progress, that the actual progress has me more interested. It will be interesting to see how much change there will be over the next 7-8 months.

  • Hack Wilson

    BTW, thanks to Brett, Luke, and all. This site really rocks.

  • Blublud

    I will say that this list has more thought to it then any other list I have read, but I have to say I disagree with a whole lot on this list. Baez is, in my opinion, is a top 10 prospect in all of baseball, so how is he not # 1. I agree Soler will definitely get a september call up, but as I have stated before, I think Baez has a chance to get a call up also. I’m not as confident in that as I was, but I still think if he performs to max levels, he’ll get that call up. I think Baez and Soler will be in the Majors in 2014 to stay either way.

    If the Cubs have no reason to call Baez up this year because “He isn’t on the 40 man roster and the Cubs gain absolutely nothing by adding him just for a few September at bats.” then why would they do the same thing for Almora who is a year behind Baez in 2014. He will be in the same exact situation as Baez is in this year, so shouldn’t the same rule apply, and that’s not even considering Baez is the better player by far.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      I have Almora down for an ETA of 2015.

      • blublud

        Yeah, I wasn’t meaning you. I was commenting about what the scouts were saying. I don’t see why Almora can’t make a debut in 2014 if he is ready, no less then I see a reason why Baez can make his debut this year. I don’t think 40 man and service clock matters to much, because once he’s here,other then his initial trip back down for service clock reasons, he’s here to stay, and with the absolute trash, such as Valbuena, Dolis and Schierholz, all of whom I’m sure we’ll be looking to dump at some point, plus the probable trades of Soriano and Dejesus, an possible trades of Garza and at least one of Feldman or Baker, we’ll have plenty of room come Sept 1 on that 40 man. .

        Also, let me clear something up. I don’t dislike Almora. However much I doubt that it will happen, I hope Almora turns into the best CF in baseball. I have no less hope for him than I have for Baez, Soler, Vogs or any other Cubs prospect. I think people mistake my thinking he’s overrated with me disliking him. In fact, I don’t like Vogs any more than him, and I wish him nothing but success and for the sake of the Cubs, plenty of it. It’s just my opinion that Vogs is and will be a better baseball player. It’s no different then every organization having Baez number 1 on the Cubs list and you having Soler as your clear number 1. It your opinion. Opinions may be are like assholes, and my may smell worse the yours, but we all have them, unless you have some weird malformity, for which I’ll apologize.

        Hopefully every prospect on this list regardless of what order any of us have them in have plenty of success and may the Big League club capitolize off of all that success.

    • hansman1982

      Last week I thought you had Soler as a better prospect than Baez?

      • blublud

        No, I never said once that Soler was the better prospect. Go back and look at my words. I said Soler may be more mature and more developed at this point, but that Baez was definitely the better player with more upside. You have a way of trying to twist my words.

    • another JP

      I really like Baez but top 10 prospect in all of baseball? That’s a real stretch IMO- maybe next year he’ll be but fellow SS Jurickson Profar and Xander Boegarts currently have Baez beat and he’s already ranked in the top nine of all position players. In fact, Baez, Soler, and Almora are all ranked in the top twenty of position players according to composite rankings of all the rating services, so no matter what these guys are highly regarded. Better yet, Vizcaino, Jackson, and Vogelbach are ranked in the top 111 of all players, which is one reason why Keith Law prolly has us as a top 5 farm system right now.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        Baez’s lack of a batting eye is why he’s not one of the Top 10 prospects in baseball. His other tools are really good and often better than those of guys ranked ahead of him: but MLB pitchers usually make mincemeat of guys with bad pitch recognition.

  • Morken

    I believe Junior Lake is going to make a real impact next season, at 3B.

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