javier baez aflAs you probably already know, Javier Baez is now a Tennessee Smokie.For Baez this is a well deserved promotion that he earned not just by beating up on High-A pitching, but by making the changes that significantly improved his plate approach from the beginning of the season to now.

This is a significant promotion.  His performance so far has been nice, but none of that matters now that he is in Double A.

The simple fact is that Baez was supposed to dominate A ball. That is what very good prospects with great bat speed do – they dominate the lower levels of the minors. As great as Baez had been over the past few weeks in Daytona (and they were some pretty great weeks), he was only performing up to expectations. Very high draft picks and very good prospects should perform that way at that level. Baez gets credit for meeting expectations, but that’s about it.

Double A is a completely different story. This is the level where major league talent separates itself from the prospect pool. The jump to Double is generally considered the most difficult jump of them all, greater than first turning pro, greater even than the final jump to the majors [Brett: I think I’ve heard that the leap to the Majors is the tougher one, but we’re in the ballpark.]. It is generally the most prospect heavy level. It is a level populated by players who are one phone call away from the majors, and who know it. Triple A has more players with major league experience, but some will tell you that Double A has a higher overall talent level. Succeeding here is not easy for anyone, no matter the skill set.

That said, I expect Baez will succeed in time. He may need to make some more adjustments first (many do), and that process may take half a season or more. In the end, though, I think Baez will handle this challenge just fine.

But this promotion also raises another question. Since the season started, I have been referring to the Kane County infield as the most talent rich in the Cubs’ organization. The only infield that really came close to Kane County was … Tennessee. Now that Baez is in Tennessee, who has the most-prospecty infield bragging rights?

We’ll figure that out after our weekly survey of the organization.

Iowa Cubs : 45-45

Iowa is back down to .500, but they are still in first place with a two game lead over the Redbirds. I’m not sure what the best part of that is – in first place or ahead of the Cardinals Triple A team. Either is good, both are great, and if they can keep this up the rest of the season I’ll be one happy fan.

Tennessee Smokies : 10-6

The Smokies are in first place with a two game lead over the Birmingham (White Sox) Barons. And with the addition of Baez, even if he does need time to make adjustments, their lineup just went from good to scary. Factor in some pitching that has been consistenly getting better as the season wears on and it is easy to imagine Tennessee simply running away with the division in the second half. The Smokies added a familiar face this week: infielder Nate Samson, 25, who had been playing independent ball. Until this year, Samson had been a member of the Cubs’ organization since he was 18, spending parts of four seasons from 2009 to 2012 with Tennessee.

Daytona Cubs : 10-4

Daytona is also in first place by two games, but Tennessee’s gain is their loss. Daytona had already lost Jorge Soler to a stress fracture, and now they lose Baez to promotion. It will be tough for Daytona to keep up the scoring with those two enormous bats out of the lineup. There is still a lot of talent here, but if the Cubs are going to make it into the postseason the pitching may have to be the stars of the show.

Kane County Cougars : 4-12

The good news is that they are still only eight games back of first place and do not quite have the worst record in the league. The bad news is that they have just four second half wins. Most of those losses are on the road, though. They have played fairly well at home. If this team can finally get going during a home stand and keep that momentum up on the road, anything is possible. Unlikely, but possible.

Boise Hawks : 11-12

Boise is proving to be a bit of a streaky team this year. Right now they are on the downside of one of those streaks and it has left them in second place, five games out. The season halves in short-season ball are very brief, so the Hawks only have a few weeks to close that gap. One really good winning streak at the right time could make it happen.

Arizona AZL Cubs : 7-7

.500 is not a bad record, and in the case of the AZL Cubs it is good for third place, 4.5 games out. There are no halves at this level of the minors.  It is just one short season with a post-season at the end, so the AZL Cubs have plenty of time to make up ground.

Infield Throwdown

Who has the best infield talent in the organization, Kane County or Tennessee? There is one only way to settle this. Let’s run down the positions one by one and see how they stack up.

First Base
Dan Vogelbach vs Justin Bour

This is without a doubt the easiest win for Kane County. One of these guys is fringe league Top 100 guy, and the other is, well, Justin Bour. Bour is a nice guy to have in the system, but his ceiling is probably that of a major league backup. He reminds me more of Bryan LaHair than Anthony Rizzo.

Vogelbach, on the other hand, has one of the best swings and some of the most usable power in the organization. He has a long to go, but his ceiling is sky high.

Score one for the Courgars. KC 1, Tennessee 0.

Second Base
Gioskar Amaya vs Arismendy Alcantara

Both of these guys are quality prospects in their own right. I ranked Amaya over Alcantara at the beginning of the season, but since then Alcantara has erupted into one of the best stories of in the minors this year. Suddenly Alcantara looks like a potential impact guy in his own right, one who is a candidate to make some league Top 100 lists this winter. Even so, had Amaya performed consistently this year it would have been a close battle between the two.

But he hasn’t, and it isn’t. While Amaya has gone hot and cold in Kane County, Alcantara has wandered between more and less hot with Smokies. This is a clear win for Double A squad.

And so we’re back to even. KC 1, Tennessee 1.

Marco Hernandez vs Javier Baez

Baez, and it isn’t particularly close. Marco Hernandez is another quality prospect – arguably the best prospect likely to stay at shortstop in the organization since Baez is still often seen as a third baseman in waiting – but Baez is candidate for league Top 10. Not 100, 10. Don’t sleep on Hernandez, by any means, but there is just no comparison here. Until Baez moves off short we will continue count him there, and that means he wins this round for Tennessee with ease.

Tennessee takes the lead. KC 1, Tennessee 2.

Third Base
Jeimer Candelario vs Christian Villanueva

This battle is all kinds of interesting. Villanueva entered the season projected as a very good defender with questions about his bat. Candelario entered the season a bat-first prospect with questions about his glove.

Villanueva has responded by hitting 11 home runs to date and posting a season OPS of .768. Candelario, on the other hand, has played very well at third base (surprisingly well for some observers). His OPS is only .673, but he’s doing that in a full season league at the age of 19.

I honestly do not know in what order I will rank these two when I redo my Top 40. Villanueva has really impressed me this season. But for now I can’t overlook the ceiling offered by Candelario’s bat. By the thinnest of margins I’m awarding this one to the teenager in the Midwest League.

And we’re back to even, again. KC 2, Tennessee 2.

I guess we need a tiebreaker. Catchers aren’t really infielders in the usual sense, but they’ll due for this purpose.

Willson Contreras vs Rafael Lopez

Catcher is not a position of strength in the Cubs’ system, and it shows here. Contreras, even though he has the most starts behind the plate for Kane County, is not the most impressive catching prospect on his team (take a bow Carlos Escobar). Contreras is a decent prospect in his own right, though, and one who is worth following as he works his way through the system. His numbers this season are not impressive, but catchers often develop their offensive game at a slower rate than other positions. At worst we would consider Contreras a very solid sleeper for the Cubs, and the same can be said of Escobar (even if I like Escobar’s ceiling more).

Lopez, a Southern League All-Star, has outperformed them both with an OPS of .764. But does he count as a prospect? This guy turns 26 in October. It is just his third season a professional, though, and his wOBA for the Smokies is the highest he has posted with any full season league team. And there is that All-Star award to consider as well.

I’m counting him in the prospect column, and even though I think Contreras may have the higher ceiling, I’m awarding this battle to the Double A All Star.

And it seems we have a winner. KC 2, Tennessee 3.

Pass the torch Kane County. The best collection of infield prospects in the farm system now resides in Kodak, Tennessee. That is a notable shift from the situation at the start of the season, and that in turn is good news for Cub fans.

Maybe, just maybe, help is not as far away as some of you may think.

  • X the Cubs Fan

    AA is only one step away from the majors.

  • Deacon

    Luke, where do you think Villanueva ends up? Reserve infielder in the major unless they trade Castro and Baez stays at short? In that scenario, do you think Villanueva would get the job over Valbuena?

    • Jp3

      Battle of the Vs, how interesting. I like Villenueva has 11 HRs right now for a guy who didn’t project many.

    • Austin

      I said when he was traded to the Cubs that he would end up at 2B but after this year I could see him going to 3rd if Baez or Castro was traded (still think people are insane for throwing Castro out already). But if say Baez was at 3rd then I think Villanueva and Alcantara and any other 2B who is ready will compete for the starting 2B job and then whoever loses is a Utility guy. But Villanueva would be a better Utility over Alcantara.

    • http://cubsdailyrecaps.blogspot.com Jason P

      I posted this in a comment yesterday, but Luis Valbuena would be one hell of a utility infielder with his combination of defense, patience and sneaky power. Maybe he doesn’t have the bat to start there long term, but every world-series-caliber team has players like him.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Villanueva’s bat is showing much better this year than I anticipated. I strongly suspect he could put up near league average production at third for Chicago Cubs in another year or two, and somewhat above league average numbers at second. A future as a utility guy is still possible, but I wouldn’t drop that on him yet. I think he does have starter potential.

      Now, how long he would be able to maintain a starting job with the Cubs giving who else is in the system remains to be seen, but keep in mind that flame outs do happen. Not all of the Cubs infield talent will reach the majors.

      And that goes for Villanueva as well. He is a possibility, perhaps a probability, but not a certainty.

    • arta

      i’d give the edge to K. Bryant.

  • http://cubsdailyrecaps.blogspot.com Jason P

    I’d take Contreras over Lopez. At least Contreras has upside.

  • Die hard

    If you called up the comparison winners in September would generate fan interest so would avoid 5000 per game attendance and would give them all a taste that will stay with them next yr in minors that will savor and motivate for more

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      And wreck their arbitration clocks, put the Cubs in a profound roster crunch, and ultimately do more harm than good.

  • Blublud

    AA clearly has the most talent in the minors, and IMO, prospects should be promoted to the majors from this level. AAA is more for journeymen trying to hold on or get a job or for young players who have to return to the minors to work on some things.

    Baez, Alcantara, Szczur and the rest of the legit prospect’s next bump should be MLB, but for some crazy reason, this FO feels the need to make prospects waste an extra year at an inferior level. I really dont understand it.

    • X the Cubs Fan

      It’s not wasting think of how good Brett Jackson was as a prospect before he got completely exposed in AAA. Every single one of those prospects has something to work on, that’s why AAAs a good idea.

      • http://a-rodminorsavg.324hr/yr7 cub2014

        Brett Jackson has hit .260 the last 4 years at
        AA & AAA that translates to a .230 hitter in bigs
        at best. not much of a prospect. but then again
        who knows what any of these kids will do.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      This is way too dismissive of Triple A. The talent level may be a little lower than Double A, but the experience is tremendously higher. Triple A is without question a tougher league to play in.

      Remember that in the minors experience often has more to do with team success than talent. That young super-prospect in Double A is still waving at pitches that the canny AAAA non-prospect in Triple A is ignoring as he waits for the pitch he can drive that he knows is coming. And the equivalent applies for pitchers as well.

      Many players are able to graduate directly from the college of Double A to the majors, but an extra year of grad school in Triple A in nearly every case will only help them.

  • David

    My guess/ hope is to Baez and Alcantara play together for the rest of this year & beginning of next year in AA. Then get both goto AAA in Aug 2014, then come to the show in Sept 2014. Hopefully they’ll be together from now until 2022!!! I believe Castro gets traded in July 2014 for an established/ young pitcher.

    • X the Cubs Fan

      Why would you hope for that? Alcantra can be in triple A by August this season.

      • willis

        Yeah if it takes those two until August of next season to get to AAA we’ll be watching quite the slide of two high level prospects. I can see Alcantara beginning next season in AAA. Baez at TN with a call up around the trade deadline.

        • http://a-rodminorsavg.324hr/yr7 cub2014

          remember castro had only 200AB at Tennessee.
          granted he hit .370 in the last 100AB. but these
          guys could be up by september especially if barney
          and ransom are gone.

          • King Jeff

            Different front office, different player development preferences.

            • willis

              Hell I think both could be ready for the bigs by next spring, but I’m trying to temper that and look at the track record of the FO with my predictions.

  • X the Cubs Fan

    And you rather have Alcantra in the infield than Castro? You’re out of your damn mind.

  • Die hard

    If the Cubs don’t field team second half that fans want to see a Jumbotron approval will be least of worries …. They won’t be able to make debt payments given lack of gate receipts… Foreclosure would be imminent and no Kevin Costner.. That’s why need to forget trying to reach .500 and instead call up the kids —-they and fans can dream together — would be a Wrigley Field of Dreams

  • http://Bleachernation Jay

    Good to hear that Nate Samson got the call to come back to the Cubs. Great thing happening to a great guy!

  • Serious Cubs Fan

    Is it just me or do you think J Baez’s promotion was to soon. He still hasn’t shown the ability to patient at the plate (in my opinion). His OBP is solid at .337 but he has 11 hit by pitches and only 22 walks. That really drops that .337 significantly if take that into consideration. Yeah he can really crush the ball, WHEN he makes contact, but lets not kid ourselves by using this last month as a justification of patience. It was only one month. Very small sample size. I hope the kid continues with the patience at the plate that he has shown over the last month but i don’t know if its legit or not. I just thought it was a little aggressive.

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

      The rainouts in the FSL were probably a factor.

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

        big factor.*

        • Serious Cubs Fan

          Yeah, thats a really great point. Didn’t think about the rainouts. I just really hope the FO doesn’t rush the kid, and makes sure the plate discipline and patience is established before they bring him up to Iowa (if it ever exists and learns it). I have this bad gut feeling he’ll never really become a big OBP/plate discipline guy. I think it may improve to but never be there, but with his special bat and power, it doesn’t necessarily need to be there. I actually think Baez gets traded for a guy like Giancarlo Stanton or David Price (if ever regains form), just because Baez doesn’t fit the Theo/Jed Cubs hitter mold, and they’ll sell high on him while people still think he can play shortstop

    • MichiganGoat

      He was showing some strong improvements with his K/BB issues and I think the FO wanted to continue to challenge him. There is also the trade factor to consider- if he continues to show improvements and increase patience in AA the remainder of this year his stock greatly increases and makes him more valuable as a centerpiece in a winter trade.

      • Serious Cubs Fan

        Michigangoat: Completely agree with you. Especially the Baez trade value portion. I personally think Baez gets traded for a guy like Giancarlo Stanton or David Price. They are going to want to sell high on him. But it would be tough to trade a kid with his talent and ability. I just don’t think he’ll be able to stay a shortstop longterm and I don’t think he’ll ever develop the OBP skills that Theo/Jed want in their players and they’ll trade him when his value is at its highest.

        • MichiganGoat

          I think it was Stark (and I think it was through BN(and that’s a lot of guess)) that said he expects Baez to be traded because he isn’t a Theo pick and he will trade him in the next year.

          • Hansman1982

            You’re thinking of Parks in the interview Bert did.

          • wvcubsfan

            I think (to pile on with the guessing) that to many talking heads and fans put too much stock into players being “their guys” and “other GM’s guys”. I would imagine that if Theo/Jed/Jason think that a player can help their team now and in the future it wouldn’t matter who drafted/signed/traded for/printed with a 3D printer the guy they’d like to have them on the field.

        • Bric

          I would think Baez is the most valuable among Soler, Almora, and Baez (and I say this just based on talent- the recent injuries to Soler and Almora are temporary). So you’d think he’s the player other teams are going to target first in any trades (similar to everyone wanting Archer over McNutt, which has proven itself). But although the injuries to Soler and Almora are seemingly minor I don’t see any of them getting considered tradable until at least beginning next year.

          • Serious Cubs Fan

            Baez also plays a much more premium position at SS, for a guy who has the potential power and hit tool he has. That is what makes him have more trade value then Soler and Almora

  • Blublud

    Once again, Baez will not even be considered by this FO in a trade. If Stanton is available, sure, even I would trade him. That is the only chance he gets traded, and even then, I’m willing to bet Almora is gone with him. This FO would be complete idiots to trade Baez for anyone else before the whole core is ready to take the field.

    Its like this. The Core is Baez, Bryant, Soler, Alcantara and Almora from the field. Vizcaino, Johnson and Blackburn in the rotation/bullpen. Add in Rizzo, castillo and Castro from the big club. All these guys will be filtered into the Bigs over the next 2-3 years. As they turn the corner and show that they are getting close to winning, guys like Vogs, Geiger, Underwood, and several of the guys drafted last year, this year and next year will be used to accelerate the process and pickup other MLB ready talent and at that point, all this team may be lacking is a starting pitcher or 2. Now if Stanton or Price is available, this plan changes. But they are the only 2 players available currently that will cause Theo and comp to trade any of our prospects.

    I’m willing to bet my neck that Theo doesn’t give 2 craps about who drafted Baez or anybody else on this team. Baez and the rest of the guys are the type of players Theo and comp are looking to acquire, not trade away.

    • Serious Cubs Fan

      I think the front office would blink twice if the right deal came around to trade Baez. No one is untouchable, that includes Baez. Yes you have to be getting a stud major leaguer in return for Baez but nobody is suggesting trade him for lesser player. Baez is still a prospect and not a sure thing. Even though he is immensely talented, doesn’t mean he can’t be traded.

      Miami would not just trade Stanton for Baez. You’d need to give up Vogelbach or alcantara and probably a lot more to land him in a trade. Don’t over value Baez. He’s great but he’s not untouchable

      • Serious Cubs Fan

        Wouldn’t blink twice*

      • Blublud

        Serious Cubs Fan, did you not read the whole post. I said that Almora and probably a lot more with him to land Stanton. Price and Stanton are the only franchise changing players currently available. If we want either, Baez and any other prospect is available. But to separate Baez from any of the other prospect, just because Theo didn’t draft him, is plain stupid.

        I didn’t say that Baez was untouchable, just that he will not be traded to acquire a more proven player (unless Stanton or Price) because he is part of the first wave of prospects that will reach the Majors, and they won’t be acquiring any players through trades until the first wave is in place. It would be counterproductive to do it any other way.

        Baez can be traded, but not because Theo didn’t draft him. I guarantee Theo doesn’t look at him, or Vogs, McNutt, Alcantara or any prospect that was already here any different then the prospects they signed/drafted. My opinion has nothing to do with Baez and more to do with the people who keeps singling him out for trade because he’s not Theo’s player.

        • Serious Cubs Fan

          Blublud: My apologizies. Sorry I miss read.

          But I do agree with your point that Theo doesn’t care who drafted Baez. I still believe he’s not a Theo type player because of the lack of on base skills and plate discipline though. There are exceptions to players though. Not everyone has to be big on base guys. Theo and comp. signed Scott Harriston to a contract this offseason and he hardly ever walks, but his extra base power makes up for his lack of obp. I do think Theo may look at Vogs and Alcantara differently because they grind out at bats and have obp skills. I don’t think he cares about who drafted them like you said, but what does matter their plate approach and that they take walks unlike Baez. They are naturally more patient hitters and I think they are more Theo’s type players.