Let’s start by recapping the farm system so far. Catcher is definitely the problem area in the organization, but the Cubs appear to be in good shape around the infield. They are particularly strong straight up the middle, and that trend continues into the outfield.
The Cubs have a lot of outfield prospects, but not lot of slugging corner outfielder types. Most of the talent in the outfield is the very athletic center fielder type of player, who does his damage more with speed than power.
Most is not all, though, and one of the exceptions happens to be one of the best slugging outfield prospects in the game of baseball. Ladies and Gentlemen, start your terrible puns. Jorge Soler has the kind of last name that will have broadcasters sitting up at 3 AM trying to find that perfect one liner, and a good enough bat to make sure that those broadcasters use every wince inducing paronomasia they can imagine.
Reggie Golden, a potential five tool guy plagued by injuries, is no slouch in the slugging department himself. If he can stay healthy all season for Kane County, I can easily imagine him launching 25-30 long balls. Rock Shoulders has an easier path through the system as a left fielder than a first baseman, and his game will certainly be built on power.
The bulk of the outfield depth look like potential center fielders, though, and the headliner of that list is Albert Almora. Even though he’s young, Almora is already said to be fairly polished for his age. His defense is probably his best tool, but he should more than hold his own at the plate. (Once he returns from having the hamate bone in his wrist removed, that is.)
At the other end of the farm system, don’t give up on Brett Jackson. This guy has everything you want in a starting center fielder except the ability to make consistent contact. If his new swing can bring his K% back to something palatable during his time with Iowa, the Cubs might find that they have a nice starting outfielder for quite some time.
But Jackson isn’t the only outfield prospect with major league potential who will be in Iowa this season. Jae-Hoon Ha, quite possibly the best defensive center fielder in the organization, should open the season in Triple A, and converted football player Matt Szczur will likely reach Iowa around mid season. Szczur still has the potential to emerge as a starting center fielder with lead off hitter potential, but it will take a break out season to keep those hopes alive. Ha projects as a fourth outfielder with an excellent glove, but don’t be surprised if he posts better than expected offensive numbers in Iowa this year.
And then we have the stolen base gang. It would take a foot race to decide if Shawon Dunston Jr. is faster than Szczur, but he should have little trouble swiping bags in A ball this year regardless. I’m not sure he can steal at a faster rate than John Andreoli, though. Andreoli nearly had a 60 steal season for Daytona in 2012, and with fewer rain outs in Tennessee, I like his chances to break that plateau in 2013. Daytona fans should still get to see plenty of speed, though, thanks to Pin-Chieh Chen, Taiwan Easterling, and probably Evan Crawford in his injury recovery season.
Kane County fans will get a good look at Trey Martin, the talented but raw outfield prospect who is starting to sneak his way onto some top prospect lists. We are a long way from knowing what the Cubs have in this guy, but he is definitely one to watch.
And no article of this type would be complete without mentioning that both Junior Lake and Josh Vitters should see some time in the outfield with Iowa this year. Lake has the higher ceiling of the two, but either could hit enough in the majors to hold down a regular job in left field.
Bijan Rademacher and Rashad Crawford have both made some noise recently; either could be a breakout candidate this season. And at the very lowest levels of the farm system we find players like Jeffrey Baez and Ricardo Marcano. Baez should be in Arizona or Boise this year; Marcano is still a year or so away.
This is not as deep or as talented a group as we have seen on the infield, but it is by no means a weakness. The elite talent is there in Soler and Almora, but after those two and Jackson we find more fringey type players than potential impact guys until we reach the recent draft classes in the lower levels of the system.
There is depth here, though, and when we add in the possibility of another high ceiling outfielder with this year’s Number Two pick in the draft, I think this department is going to evolve into a real area of strength for the Cubs over the next year or two.