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big four almora baez bryant’s prospect coverage, now led by a combination of Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis (formerly of Baseball America), has really stepped up its game over the past 12 months. Perhaps sensing a great market for consumers – we love our prospect stuff, man – or perhaps simply recognizing that the emergence of prospects means more and more at the big league level in the current era, is doing some really good prospect-related stuff at That’s just a general, unsolicited plug, I guess.

Against that backdrop, Jim Callis has updated the Cubs’ top 20 prospect list heading into 2014, and then he tacked on another five over at his blog. Each read comes with a whole lot of commentary and depth, so give them a look for a little more info on your favorite prospects.

The list:

  1. Javier Baez
  2. Kris Bryant
  3. Albert Almora
  4. C.J. Edwards
  5. Jorge Soler
  6. Arismendy Alcantara
  7. Pierce Johnson
  8. Arodys Vizcaino
  9. Jeimer Candelario
  10. Dan Vogelbach
  11. Christian Villanueva
  12. Eloy Jimenez
  13. Neil Ramirez
  14. Mike Olt
  15. Paul Blackburn
  16. Kyle Hendricks
  17. Corey Black
  18. Jacob Hannemann
  19. Tyler Skulina
  20. Gleyber Torres
  21. Duane Underwood
  22. Rob Zastryzny
  23. Dillon Maples
  24. Zac Rosscup
  25. Alberto Cabrera

Among the interesting things that jump out at you: Edwards is ahead of Soler and Alcantara, Jimenez and Torres are already up there in the rankings, Hannemann is very well-liked by Callis (sub-note: Callis was high on Matt Szczur back in the day, and there are some similarities there), and the 8, 9, 10, 11 range of prospects is really looking similar on most lists.

Callis adds infielder Daniel Lockhart as his favorite deep sleeper in the system.

A snippet from Callis on one of the best possible “risers” in the Cubs’ system going into 2014, Paul Blackburn:

Blackburn has one of the best combinations of stuff and feel among the system’s mound prospects. Though his control wavered after he opened 2013 with three scoreless starts, he still projects as a potential No. 3 starter with command of three average or better pitches.

Blackburn’s best pitch is a 90-93 mph fastball with the sink to generate plenty of groundouts. He spins a nice curveball, too, and already has an effective changeup. Blackburn is already starting to add strength and has the athleticism to repeat his delivery on a regular basis.

If Blackburn pops up as a Johnson/Edwards type next year? The Cubs’ pitching situation will look a whole lot better, especially if the recent helium attached to Jen-Ho Tseng has merit.

Similarly, I’m digging the write-up on Ramirez. Here’s a bit:

While Ramirez lacks consistency and had a tender arm down the stretch in 2013, he has four solid or better pitches when he’s on and when he’s healthy. He can dial his low-90s fastball up to 96 mph and has improved its sink the last two years, getting more groundouts than before. Ramirez’s changeup can be extremely deceptive, and both his curveball and slider can be effective.

Ramirez’s delivery features little effort, yet he struggles at times with throwing strikes and keeping the ball down in the zone. At his best, he looks like a possible No. 2 starter. If Ramirez doesn’t prove to be a reliable starter, he could be a late-inning relief weapon.

To my untrained eye, Ramirez really looked the part in Spring Training, and I can’t wait to see if he can take another step forward now that he’s in the Cubs’ system.

I could go on and on with the interesting snippets on each of the players, but you’ll want to check them all out for yourself.

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