There is quite a bit to like about Chicago Cubs prospect Jason Vosler. In 2015, his first full season as a professional, Vosler piled up a lot walks, a high ISO, only a reasonable amount of strikeouts, and finished the season as one of the best hitters on a championship-caliber Myrtle Beach team. He was starting to get some helium, given the production at High A (145 wRC+) in his first full professional season.
In 2016, though, he did not fare as well. Vosler’s ten total 2015 homers dropped to just three a year later, and the ISO was nearly cut in half. That loss of power appears to have hurt his stock. A good left-handed hitting corner infielder with power is an asset to any organization. That same guy without power is more likely a minor league veteran type.
Looking into 2017, then, how do we rank Vosler? In the 2016 pre-season Top 40 he came in at Number 35, but he fell off the mid-season list altogether. FanGraphs notes him as a player with some positives, but doesn’t rank him. Baseball America doesn’t even mention him. Neither does MLB Pipeline. Or Baseball Prospectus. That means he’s not worth ranking… right?
First off, Vosler did not turn 23 until September of last season, and by that time, he was already in Double A. Being promoted to Double A at age 22 isn’t a bad thing, nor is being promoted to Double A barely two years after being drafted. The Cubs have been pushing Vosler up the system fairly rapidly, and that isn’t something they would necessarily do with a prospect they did not find at least somewhat promising.
Second, even though Vosler’s power numbers were down last year, he held a very stead walk rate between Myrtle Beach and Tennessee. A BB% of 8.7% in the Carolina League is nothing to ignore, but putting up a near identical 8.6% in the Southern League is notable. His strikeout rate of 24.8% in Double A is unquestionably high, but it was already trending downwards before the season ended. Players struggling upon promotion to a new league is completely normal. With a 26-game sample, it is possible (and the trend lines hint at this being the case) that Vosler was making or had already made adjustments, and that his strikeout rate was coming down to something closer to his career norm.
In fact, the Steamer projections have Vosler, should he make the majors in 2017, at a 6.2% walk rate and just a 19.8% strikeout rate. Those aren’t bad projected numbers for a rookie with no experience above Double A.
His prospect ranking, then, really comes down to his power projection. The .197 ISO he showed in 2015 in Myrtle Beach is his career high, but he didn’t come close to that at either stop in 2016, or really even before 2015. His second highest ISO came in Double A… at just .109. Other than a short DL stint at the end of his 2016 stay in Myrtle Beach, he was apparently healthy all of last season (although there certainly could have been a minor injury that was enough to impact his swing and yet went unmentioned – that sort of thing happens surprisingly often in the minors).
Without knowing for sure just how much power he really has, it is becomes very difficult to rank Vosler. Defensively he appears viable long term at third, could move to first, and should the bat warrant it could probably manage well enough in left. In this case, the glove really just defines the position – his value will almost certainly be in the bat.
Right now Vosler looks like a long-shot to make the Top 40. A corner infielder with a light bat is facing an uphill climb to get onto any prospect ranking list, and Vosler without stronger power numbers seems likely to be squeezed out when the final list is cut.
But with a return to a .400+ SLG in the first half in Tennessee, he could climb back into the lower ranks. If he holds that power into Triple A, Vosler would emerge as a decent corner infield depth option to have stashed in Iowa. Right now the Cubs have all the depth they need in that department, but that sort of situation rarely lasts long in baseball. With more regular hard contact, Vosler could be a bench candidate by the time Cubs might need him in 2018 or 2019.