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chris rusin cubs[The final installment in a series looking at the depth within the Chicago Cubs’ farm system. Luke previously looked at catcher and first base here, shortstop and third base here, second base here, and outfield here.]

To greatly over summarize the rest of this series: when it comes to hitters, the Cubs are in pretty decent shape.

The same cannot be said about their organizational depth at pitching… yet. But I think that tide is definitely turning.

There is only one high ceiling pitcher in the upper levels of the system: Arodys Vizcaino. If he comes off his arm surgery at full strength, the Cubs might have a No. 2 starter. Should he continue to lack durability in his post-surgery career, the Cubs have an excellent candidate to lock down the back of the bullpen. Either way, Vizcaino is likely to provide the Cubs with a quality pitcher in a key role as soon as later this season.

But the next best group of arms are in A ball. Pierce Johnson, Duane Underwood, Dillon Maples, and Paul Blackburn all have the potential to emerge as No. 2 or 3 starters one day, but with the exception of Johnson (who could start the season in Daytona) they all project to begin 2013 in Arizona, Boise, or Kane County. Juan Carlos Paniagua could begin his Cubs career in Daytona or Tennessee, but first he has to get into the country. He may yet emerge as a potential impact starting pitcher, but his late start to spring training means it will be some time yet before we know just what his potential is.

There are some very nice relievers in the upper levels of the system. Rafael Dolis has the stuff to be a closer, if he can learn to harness it. Trey McNutt features two plus pitches and has had success out of the bullpen. With a deceptive deliver and plenty of late inning experience, Tony Zych might be one of the best candidates to emerge as a future closer for the Cubs. If he can harness his control issues, Kevin Rhoderick looks like a quality middle reliever in the making, as does Lendy Castillo (although Castillo is quite a bit further away). Frank Batista, despite a lack of superior stuff, has enjoyed success as a closer at near every stop he has made in the minors. All of these pitchers are likely to be in Double A or Triple A this year, and any of them could be called to the majors if the Cubs need someone to fill in for a few weeks.

While the farm system lacks potential front of the rotation starters in the upper parts of the farm system, there are some solid candidates to fill in the middle and back end of a starting five. Eric Jokisch, still one of the better lefty starters in the farm system, should be in Iowa this year. He could be joined by some combination of Alberto Cabrera, Barret Loux, Nick Struck, Chris Rusin, and Brooks Raley (there are a handful of other candidates as well). A little lower in the system we should find Ben Wells, Matt Loosen, Austin Reed, Austin Kirk, Dallas Beeler, Michael Jensen, and Robert Whitenack (who has been suffering from a troubling lack of velocity since his elbow surgery). That should be more than sufficient depth to produce a good crop of quality fourth and fifth starter candidates for the Cubs. The rotation battles next spring could be pretty interesting.

Depth on the mound really is not a problem if we look at the entire system. There is a severe lack of elite pitching, but, on the whole, there are a lot of players who have a chance to make a positive impact in the majors. I’ve already dropped a lot of names in this article, and I haven’t gotten to Tayler Scott, Anthony Prieto, P.J. Francescon, Frank del Valle, Starling PeraltaJeffry Antigua, or Ryan McNeil. All of these guys have shown at least flashes of potential in the low minors, and some of them quite a bit more than flashes.

With this many pitching prospects, I honestly think a few will break out and elevate themselves from potential No. 4/5 starters to No. 3s, or maybe even No. 2s. The Cubs are doing everything they can to help that happen; signing Derek Johnson away from Vanderbilt might turn out to be the best move the team made this winter.

And that’s the farm system. There is some great talent and depth around the infield, great talent and promising athletes in the outfield, some potential and a lot of decent depth on the mound, and not much of anything behind the plate. On the whole, this system is moving up. After another round of deadline trades and another draft that is likely to be heavy on pitching, I suspect we’ll find an overall deeper system with fewer weaknesses next year.

  • Chad

    To couple this with the draft article, I would love the cubs to find that arm that can move up the system and be a #1/2 kind of guy, but as we have seen (just look back to drafting of Simpson in the first round who is not even mentioned in this article) pitching is tough to draft. I like Gray the best out of Appel, Gray, and manae. Appel is the most proven, but I’m not sure he is “the guy” and who knows if his arm will stay in tact for the long haul. Gray is new and if reports of only 2 quality pitches is true then it will take him a while to develop that third and especially a fourth pitch. Even if he can do that he won’t be up to Chicago for while. With Manae, I just want it to work. Who doesn’t want a 6’5″ lefty as their future stud, but if he is falling down he draft charts at Indiana State, that scares me. I think it is obvious the cubs need to find pitching prospects due the change in FA markets, but I think it might be better done through trade acquisitions to recieve prospects or get a guy like David Price. Please please get David Price.

  • itzscott

    Am I correct in assuming that projectable #1 pitching prospects aren’t very prevalent for any organization and they tend develop into #1’s as they learn to pitch?

    It would be interesting to see how many teams have projectable #1 starters in their upper level minor league systems right now.

    • Rebuilding

      Miami – Fernandez
      Pittsburgh – Cole and Taillon
      Baltimore – Bundy
      Atlanta – maybe Teheran
      Seattle – Walker

      Guys like Hultzen, Shelby Miller, Wheeler, Skaggs, Bauer, Bradley, Sanchez, Harvey and Zimmer probably project more as #2s

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

        I’d probably add Miller, Hultzen, Bauer, and Bradley to the potential No 1 list.

        • Rebuilding

          Fair enough. They are right on that dividing line. Forgot about Bauer

        • Marc N.

          Yeah, I was going to say that if I could have a young SP prospect to develop it might be Archie Bradley.

        • Hansman1982

          I LOVE me some Bauer.

  • Rebuilding

    Price lines up for us perfectly given our competitive timeline. Obviously he’s going to be in high demand, but if you look at the usual suspects we might have an advantage. I doubt that the Rays would want to trade him in the division and we should have more pieces to offer than the Dodgers and Angels. Texas might be our biggest competition given that they can offer Andrus in any package with Profar ready. I just hope that Vogelbach, Candelario and one of the young arms breaks out so we don’t have to include Baez, Almora or Soler

  • Tommy

    I have a couple questions for Luke or Brett:

    1) Would you say that the Cubs compare favorably to the rest of the league as far as pitchers with a potential to make the majors in their farm system?
    2) I see pitchers referred to as potential #1, #2, etc. Just curious if you have any idea what kind of criteria they use to determine this? Is it just a guess, or it there an actual method behind it. If there is a method, is there generally consensus on this, as well? I ask this because I’m curious. It does seem like everything I’ve read about Viscaino says he has a ceiling of a #2. I really am just trying to understand what differentiates him from someone who would have a ceiling of a #1 or a #3.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      1) Not really. Middle of the pack at best. That could change when some of the better young arms start getting into Double A.

      2) Depends a little on who you talk to. In broad strokes, though, it goes something like this.

      Potential Ace / No 1 starter
      – Three or more pitches that grade as plus, one or more of which grade at or near plus-plus.
      – Very good command and control.
      – Very good understanding of how to use their pitchers to get hitters out in most situations.
      – Very good mound presence. Not someone who is likely to get rattled or frustrated often.

      No 2 starter
      – Three pitches that grade as plus.
      – Good to very good command and control.
      – Good understanding of how to attack hitters.
      – Good to very good mound presence.

      No 3 starter
      – Two pitches that grade at plus, plus at least one that grades as average or better.
      – Good to very good command and control.
      – At least average understanding of how to attack hitters.
      – At least average mound presence.

      No 4 starter
      – One plus pitch, and two or more average or better pitches.
      – At least average command and control.
      – Average understanding of how to attack hitters.
      – Average mound presence.

      No 5 starter
      – Two or three pitches that grade average or better.
      – Adequate command and control.
      – Adequate understanding of how to attack hitters.
      – Adequate mound presence.

      But as you can tell, that’s still pretty vague. What happens if you have a guy with four pitches that grade Average to Average-Plus (but none of them quite Plus), has excellent command, and understands pitching better than anyone in the game? Is he still a No 5 because he has no plus pitch? Probably not. That guy is probably a No 3, and maybe even a No 2.

      And what about a guy with one pitch that is Plus-Plus, one that is Plus, and one that is Average. If you go by the chart, he’s a No 3. In reality, he’s probably No 2 with Ace potential.

      I also did not include durability into this. That comes into play as well.

      So it is fairly vague, but not entirely so. There are guidelines that we can look for as well, and I imagine you can find other people’s standards that differ from what I listed here without much trouble, but this gives you a pretty general idea.

      • Tommy

        Thanks Luke.

  • Marc N.

    I have high hopes for Duane Underwood. After Almora probably my favorite player they drafted last year.

    Some hopes for Tayler Scott to one day turn into a Jason Marquis type useful BOR arm. Intuitively I just liked the very little I’ve seen of him more than everyone else in the system when he was drafted.

    Austin Reed is a breakout candidate for me. Not sure if he’s a future reliever or starter, but alot of tools and size for either role. Came out of HS with a good changeup, throws very hard, and is the brother of one of the best young relievers out there.

    ABTY on PSD said that a scout told him Paniagua was the first/best blue chip arm in the system since Prior. I hope this is true. Facially he looks like someone I won’t name because it’s irrelevant anyway.

    • Marc N.

      Oh I expect to be able to build a strong bullpen internally.

      Johnson – Really reminds me of Scott Williams and possibly David Robertson of the Yankees with his breaking ball.
      Cabera
      McNutt
      Zych
      Dolis
      Paniagua
      Reed
      Peralta
      Castillo
      Rhoderick
      Hatley
      etc

      • Marc N.

        Scott Williamson*

        • http://JUICEDMOTORSPORTS.COM JUICED1

          Scott Williamson. Haven’t heard that name in a while. Doesn’t Dusty Baker owe him an arm?

  • pete

    I probably think too highly of him because he is a lefty and went to Northwestern but could Jokisch actually have numbers somewhat similar to his minors stats and be a #2? I know he does not have the traditional pitching talents/tools but I think of a John Tudor.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      He doesn’t doesn’t have the stuff to be a two. Three might even be a little on the generous side.

  • ibcnu2222 (John)

    Do you see Concepcion ever making the bigs and having a eaningful contribution?

    • Tommy

      John – I’m no scout, but I did see a lot of his games live last year in Peoria, and I can tell you from my perspective, that guy has a looonnnnggggg way to go. He had terrible control, and even when he got outs, it was usually a hard hit ball. He wasn’t fooling anybody with his stuff last year.

      Let’s just hope that it was hangover from his mono. This year will be a good indicator.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      I don’t have enough data on Concepcion yet. Despite his terrible season last year I haven’t given up on him yet, but I’m not holding my breath, either.

  • ibcnu2222 (John)

    or a meaningful one?

  • Rebuilding

    Luckily for us one of the top 3 starters in baseball will have to be moved in the next two years, the Braves gave us a young pitcher with huge potential for Paul Maholm, and we were bad enough last year to get the #2 pick. If some guys step up on the farm this year, Vizcaino’s arm stays attached and we get Appel (lots of ifs there) we would have far and away the best rotation in baseball

  • Rebuilding

    An article on Appel regarding the changes he has made this year: http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/blog_article/mark-appel-what-the-heck-happened/

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      This is encouraging. Very encouraging.

      I really need to take another look at him.

  • Scarey

    There are a lot of fans of Johnson out there. I know Jim Callis thinks he could be an ace in the making.

  • Rebuilding

    I guess Gray had a perfect game sometime into the 7th last night. Here is what Sickels had to say: “I’m seeing a first-class power pitcher tonight. Definitely early first round pick, top five, top two candidate. Unusual combination of velocity, movement, command with this one.”

    Here is Sickels full breakdown: http://www.minorleagueball.com/2013/3/28/4148614/2013-mlb-draft-profile-jonathan-gray-rhp-oklahoma

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Nice find.

    • http://thecubcontrarian.blogspot.com Mr. Know It All (Kyle)

      Wow, that report gave me a huge prospect boner.

      “It’s an 80 pitch.”

      As usual, all the weak class stuff was bunkum once people had a chance to develop. There’s no Harper, but there’s plenty for the teams with the top picks to be excited about.

      • Hansman1982

        Ack, if I had a dollar for every draft class that was weak before the draft and then deep after but certainly not like the last draft. I’d have 3 dollars (been loosely following drafts since 2010).

        Also, been hearing that there won’t be any decent free agents in the future for a while. So we need to sign them while we can.

        • Kyle

          The FA part has been true. 2011>2012>2013 in free agent classes.

          • Hansman1982

            Ehhh, the 2011 class wasn’t anything too much more special than this last class. Lee matches up with Greinke, Werth with Hamilton. There wasn’t an IF to match up with Beltre but the 2011 class didn’t have someone to match up with Bourne.

            Heck, even the 2012 class wasn’t too far off a normal class outside of Pujols and Fielder.

            • Kyle

              Sorry, I wasn’t precise. I meant 2011-12>12-13>13-14

              • hansman1982

                It’s somewhat early to declare the 14 FA season (FA seasons are usually listed for the season immediately following them) worse than last year’s. If Lincecum, Johnson and Garza can return to form this season, that would put 3 TOR SP on the block.

                Cano might just make it (not holding my breath) as the Albert Pujols of 2B, If Ellsbury stays healthy and Pence comes back this year you will have 2 good OF.

                A lot of IFs but we have a whole season of baseball to play. This could be on par with the 2011 and 2013 FA classes or be a step below them. I still want to get some time to do a study of the last 10 years worth of type A and B FA and see how they performed after signing the contract.

                Not long ago Brett lauded the Nationals for signing Werth when they did. Since Werth was signed you could have gotten

                Beltran, Cespedes (I won’t count him against them since he wasn’t proven (and still just has 1 good season under his belt) at the time of his FA) and Reyes (I know he’s not an OF but he is a damn good SS) to help for last year. Bourn, Hamilton, Upton. if they wanted someone this year.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      This is not to poop on the report whatsoever, but it isn’t Sickels – it’s Matt Garrioch, whose work I don’t yet know.

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