Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

cubs prospect top 40[Welcome to part three of the ongoing reveal of BN’s top 40 Cubs prospects for 2014. If you missed either of the first two installments, each of which also includes some explanation on how these rankings work, check them out here and here. And if you’re free this evening, stop by the site at 7:30pm CT (8:30pm ET) for a live stream of Brett and Luke discussing these rankings, the coming season, and anything else you shout at us.]

There is a lot that goes into ranking prospects, but in some cases no amount of analysis makes the decision easy. To see a little of what I mean, let’s try an experiment. Rank these three outfielders just compared to each other: Billy McKinney, Mark Zagunis, Eloy Jimenez. Use whatever criteria you like. Got it?

Now let’s take a quick look at these three and see if your initial reaction holds up.

McKinney has a nice left-handed bat, but there questions about his ability to play in center field and his bat doesn’t really profile as well in the corner outfield slots.

Zagunis offers more defensive flexibility, with his ability to fill in behind the plate, and has a great approach with the bat, but he hasn’t been tested at as high of a level as McKinney, and may not have as much power.

Jimenez has the most power of the three by a wide margin, and almost certainly has the highest overall ceiling, but he is also the furthest away from the majors and comes with a lot of unanswered questions.

With those factors in mind, do you still like your original ordering of the three? Odds are good, I think, that some of you are at least thinking about changing up your initial order. Regardless of you set up your list, though, I can guarantee that some well respected experts disagree with you.

That’s because a survey of the major ranking sites won’t give you a clear answer. Baseball America and FanGraphs, for example, differ not only on the order in which they rank those three, but also vary wildly on where some of the individual names are placed compared to the rest of the system. The same three players, when compared using varying criteria, can appear very different.

So, which way did you go? The safer bat with defensive questions, the potential dual position threat, or the young guy with the best tools?

To find out how I ranked those three you will have to come back for a later edition (or editions) of the Top 40; all three came in higher than number 17. There is an interesting outfielder on today’s list, though, and he is coming up soon. But first we have to talk about No 24.

24. Dallas Beeler, RHP
Acquired: Beeler was drafted in the 41st round in 2010.
ETA: Any time he’s needed, so long as he’s healthy.
Notable because: If the Cubs need a starter for a few weeks, he could be an option.
2015: Iowa, Chicago, and hopefully not the disabled list.

There is not as much upside with Beeler, but if you’re looking for a guy who can come out of Triple A to pitch half a double header or to fill in for a starter who just hit the DL, Beeler is your guy. He relies in large part on a fastball/cutter combination that results in a lot of ground balls, but does not amass large strikeout totals. It is an approach that has allowed to him avoid the long ball, though, and he hasn’t posted an HR/9 higher 0.58 since 2012.

With the Cubs’ rotation looking mostly established and another wave of potential starting pitching prospects on the way, I had wondered if the Cubs might try Beeler in a bullpen assignment as a long man this spring. Unfortunately, shoulder issues have limited his spring thus far and it is tough to say what the plan might have been otherwise.

If he can come back healthy, though, I think there is no doubt that we will see Beeler on the mound in Wrigley a time or two. If he can cut back on the walks a little this season, he could also be a contender for a fifth starter assignment when the Cubs go to camp next spring.

23. Jacob Hannemann, OF
Acquired: Hannemann was drafted in the 3rd round in 2013.
ETA: Possibly late 2016.
Notable because: He had (ridiculous) Ellsbury comparisons dropped on him after the draft.
2015: Myrtle Beach and Tennessee.

The skeptic’s view of Hannemann starts with his age; at 23, he was definitely on the old side for a prospect in A ball. The numbers he posted there weren’t bad, but they weren’t great either. With the exception of stolen bases, of which he already has 41 in his short career, there really isn’t anything to get excited about.

The problem is that the usual rules don’t necessarily apply to Hannemann. Not only was he a two-sport guy in college, he was a two-sport guy who took two years off before college, played only one year of baseball in college, and then very little as a professional after being drafted in 2013. In other words, Hannemann’s 2014 campaign, developmentally speaking, was little more than him shaking the rust off. That makes his numbers from the Arizona Fall League at the tail end of 2014 arguably the most representative, and they are intriguing. In 17 games (sample size alert) Hannemann posted a walk rate of 7.5%, a strikeout rate of 17.9%, and finished with a line of .279/.328/.410. That’s not bad.

This is the year when we will find out what the Cubs actually have in Hannemann. The range of possibilities stretches from potential starting center fielder and lead off hitter, to quality fourth outfielder or left-handed side of a platoon, to a guy without much of a major league future. His progress, especially once he gets to Double A, could be well worth following.

22. Trevor Clifton, RHP
Acquired: Clifton was drafted in the 12th round in 2013.
ETA: 2018+
Notable because: He was very unpolished when drafted, but has shown glimpses of a ton of upside over since.
2015: South Bend

Clifton is probably the highest risk player to appear on this list so far, and it is testament to his upside that he ranks this high despite that. Right now Clifton is a tall, slightly built (6’4″, 170 lbs) right-hander with one of the best fastballs in the system and a ton of control problems. At his best, he can use his velocity to generate plenty of strikeouts, but when the control wanders, Clifton can walk himself right out of an inning. All the reports agree that he made notable progress over the course of the 2014 season, though, and his late-season starts do seem to bear that out (although the usual sample size cautions do apply).

There is certainly room to develop more muscle on Clifton’s frame, and it is possible that with a little more muscle will come a bit of additional velocity. That said, the biggest source of his improvement is likely to come from the work the Cubs have done to clean up his mechanics and to help him find consistency. That work should continue through 2015.

He is so rough that it can be hard to see the diamond at times, but there are definitely some signs of sparkle here. His possible futures include that of a major league number two or three starter, but also that of a Double A flame out. If the progress he seemed to show late last year continues, though, his Midwest League starts could become must see MiLB.TV.

21. Eric Jokisch, LHP
Acquired: The Cubs took Jokisch in the 11th round in 2010.
ETA: He’s ready when the Cubs are.
Notable because: Jokisch is a legitimate back of the rotation option who is ready now.
2015: Iowa and Chicago.

This left-hander will likely spend much of his summer in Iowa, but if the need arises, he can ably fill a rotation slot in Chicago for an extended period. Jokisch isn’t just a spot starter or potential long relief guy, he is quality option at fifth starter.

And that’s a good thing, because I don’t there is a whole lot of development left here. Jokisch has four or five pitches in his arsenal and the command to work all parts of the strike zone as the need demands. He is lacking in the velocity department, though, and typically throws his fastball in the upper eighties. That means he is unlikely to get away with many mistakes, an observation that is supported by his 1.88 HR/9 in a short stint in the majors last summer, and some knocking around this spring.

So long as he can vary his pitches and keep hitters guessing, I think he has a good chance of a having a fairly long career as a back end starter, sometimes reliever, and generally useful pitcher to have in the system. He isn’t the best pitcher in the system, but Jokisch might just be the type who could be pitching profitably into his forties.

20. Dan Vogelbach, 1B
Acquired: Vogelbach was drafted in the 2nd round in 2011.
ETA: 2016
Notable because: Vogelbach is a good pure hitter with the ability to hit plenty of long balls.
2015: Tennessee

Vogelbach puts together some very nice looking stat lines. In the Florida State League last summer, he walked at a rate of 11.8%, struck out at just a 16.3% clip, and amassed a line of .268/.357/.429 with 16 home runs and a lot of hard hit balls sprayed to all fields. If we are considering just the bat, his potential ranks not far from the best hitters in the farm system … and in the Cubs’ system that is quite a statement.

But I can’t just consider the bat. Vogelbach is part of an NL organization, and the NL (at least until the end of this Collective Bargaining Agreement) requires that hitters put on the glove and do something on the diamond for half of every inning, and that is where Vogelbach runs into problems. Reports consistently say that his defense has significantly improved at first base since he was drafted, and that he probably still has no business playing first base on a regular basis in the majors. I think it is fair to ask just how much better we can realistically expect his glove to get. And before you ask, left field is not an option. Vogelbach’s potential positions are first base or DH. And it is starting to look like we can rule out first base.

If the DH came to the NL tomorrow I would probably move Vogelbach up this list. He is one of the few prospects whose value is truly harmed by playing in the wrong league, and by the fact that only 50% of baseball can employ him as a DH. So, then, as part of a trade, he could have significant value for Cubs as soon as this summer. And unless the front office is convinced that the DH is coming to the National League after the 2016 season, I think that if Vogelbach gets off to a strong start in Double A, he will be dealt before the first of August.

19. Carson Sands, LHP
Acquired: The Cubs drafted Sands in the 4th round in 2014.
ETA: 2018
Notable because: One of the best pitchers the Cubs took in the 2014 draft.
2015: He should start in South Bend, but will hopefully finish in Myrtle Beach.

Reports on Sands range from high upside starter with future number two potential to more of a possible innings-eater, who slots a little further back in the rotation. He has the frame to handle a starter’s workload and his low nineties fastball gives him a solid basis around which to build his arsenal. The supporting pitches are works in progress (although some reports on his breaking stuff are very good), but that’s to be expected from a high school draftee.

For the time being I view Sands with fairly cautious optimism. We know he can strike batters out (9.5 K/9 in Arizona) and that his control needs polish (3.3 BB/9), but not a lot else. He has all the raw materials to become a very effective lefty starter, and that makes his 2015 progress a story line to watch fairly closely.

18. Victor Caratini, C
Acquired: The Cubs traded for Caratini in 2014.
ETA: Late 2017
Notable because: Caratini is a switch hitting catcher who could provide some real value with the bat.
2015: Myrtle Beach

Caratini could be exactly the kind of player Joe Maddon would love to have on his bench. Not only is he a switch hitter, he is also flexible enough defensively to handle third and (probably) first if needed. The Cubs will develop him primarily as a catcher, and so far the reports are positive on his abilities behind the plate. At the plate he walks a lot, avoids strikeouts, and has shown the capacity to hit for moderate power. His bat certainly profiles well enough to emerge as a back-up catcher one day.

It is the versatility both at the plate and, potentially, in the field that I like the most, though. Switch hitters who are quality hitters from both sides of the plate are not common, and if Caratini develops even a little more power, he could profile as above average as both a left and a right-handed swinger. He should be the primary catcher for Myrtle Beach to start the year, and I would not quite rule out a late-season promotion to Tennessee if things go well for him.

17. Jeimer Candelario, 3B
Acquired: The Cubs signed Candelario as an International Free Agent in time for the 2011 season.
ETA: 2018
Notable because: Candelario is a switch hitter with both power and a patient approach.
2015: Myrtle Beach

The Cubs challenged a 20-year-old Candelario with a promotion to Daytona to open the 2014 season, and, at first glance it did not go well. After struggling to a line of .193/.275/.326 after 62 games, he went back down to Kane County for the rest of the season. Encouragingly, though, both his walk rate (9.4%) and his strikeout rate (18%) with Daytona were quite good. Now that he has had some more time to further refine his swing, he will head back to High A (albeit a different league), and try to build on that solid foundation.

The upside with Candelario is a switch hitting third baseman who pairs plenty of walks and solid power with a league average glove at third. Questions about his defense have come up in the past, but have mostly faded. He doesn’t have the Gold Glove potential of a Mike Olt, but there is no reason to think he can’t stay there long term.

First, though, he has to solve High A pitching. It isn’t common to see a slash line that bad with peripherals that good, and those peripherals are a big reason why I remain optimistic on his future. I strongly suspect he will have a much easier time of things with Myrtle Beach this summer, and I would not be surprised to see the Cubs challenge him again with a late season promotion to Tennessee.

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