The Bleacher Nation Top 40: The Top Ten

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The Bleacher Nation Top 40: The Top Ten

Chicago Cubs

baez almora soler[The final installment of the top 40 Chicago Cubs prospects for 2013. In case you missed the first three installments, they are herehere, and here.]

At long last we come to the cream of the crop – the Cubs’ Top 10 prospects. And let’s not kid ourselves, everyone knew who the top four names would be. The only source of suspense, if we can call it that, is the question of who sits at number one.

That was an easy question for me. I settled on my Number One about four months ago and nothing I have seen or read sense then gives me any inclination to change that choice. When grading on the combination of Projection and Risk I discussed at the beginning of this series, one name separated from the pack.

Before introducing Bleacher Nation’s Top Prospects for 2013, I want thank all of you for reading and contributing to the minor league coverage on this website. I joined Bleacher Nation about a year ago in part because of the amazing community here, and I still believe that community to be one of the best on the Internet. It is my pleasure to bring you another season of Minor League Daily Reports, prospect analysis, amateur draft coverage, and other features that focus on the farm system side of the game. You make writing for Bleacher Nation a lot fun; thank you all for being generally awesome. [ed. – and we thank you, Luke, for likewise being awesome.]

Ok, enough with the stalling. We have a Number One Prospect to name.

But first, we have nine more talented players to discuss before we can get to the top slot. Let’s get started with Number Ten.

10. Juan Carlos Paniagua, RHP
Where to watch him: Tennessee?
Wrigley Field ETA: 2013
Projects as: Tough to say – reports place him anywhere from a number two starter to a quality middle reliever

Paniagua is likely the biggest unknown factor on this list. We know he has a fastball that can touch 100 MPH and consistently stays in the upper 90s. We know he pairs that with a good changeup and a slider that may be a work in progress. And we don’t know much else.

If the fastball has good movement, he can consistently locate the change, and his slider is at least an average pitch, then we are talking about a No. 2 or 3 starter and a key member of what could be a good young Cubs’ rotation next season. On the other hand, if his fastball is about all he has and the supporting pitches are less than average, he’s likely a plus middle reliever or a setup man. Either way he has value and I suspect the Cubs would like him to be in Chicago as soon as possible. He could start the year almost anywhere, but it won’t be until he hits Tennessee or Iowa that we will really get an idea what the Cubs have in this guy.

9. Gioskar Amaya, 2B
Where to watch him: Kane County
Wrigley Field ETA: 2015
Projects as: Above average all around second baseman

I like hitters who can spray line drives to all fields at a young age, and that is a good description of Amaya. As a 19 year old in the Northwest League he put together his best professional season to date, highlighted by a walk rate of 10.4% and an OPS of 0.877. He doesn’t have slugger power, but he has a mix of gap power and speed that resulted in 12 triples, 8 homers, and 15 stolen bases. Defensively, he is already advanced for his age; there is little question about his ability to remain at second base, and he has a very good chance at being a plus defender at the position. Should he continue to pepper the field with line drives in Kane County, and I strongly suspect he will, he would likely see a promotion to Daytona by the end of the season. Keep an eye on this guy. He could be appearing in some league-wide Top 100 lists in a year or two.

8. Dillon Maples, RHP
Where to watch him: Kane County
Wrigley Field ETA: 2016
Projects as: Number two starter

Maples was one of the gems of the Cubs’ loaded 2011 draft, but so far he has pitched just ten innings as a professional. A mixture of late signing dates and some minor injuries kept him mostly out of games in 2011 and 2012. If the Cubs can finally get him completely healthy and on the mound for an extended period, they hope to see his plus fastball and curve combo develop into the primary weapons of a front of the rotation starter. The lack of experience makes him a little hard to project, but Maples may have the highest upside of any pitcher in the organization.

I don’t expect Maples to pitch more than 60 or so innings this year, so look for him to split time between the rotation and the bullpen. A year from now we will hopefully have seen enough of Maples to have a better idea where his future lies and just how fast he might reach it.

7. Pierce Johnson, RHP
Where to watch him: Kane County / Daytona
Wrigley Field ETA: Late 2014
Projects as: Number two or three starter

The Cubs loaded up on starting pitching talent in the 2012 draft, and Pierce Johnson is probably the closest to the majors of that group. The college starter would likely have been a mid-first round pick had it not been for a forearm strain. That injury allowed the Cubs to scoop him up in the supplemental rounds, and from all accounts they were very happy Johnson fell to them. If he can stay healthy, both his fastball and his curve are nasty enough to be strikeout pitches. Once he adds a quality offspeed offering he will have all the makings of a number three starter at worst. Look for Johnson to pitch his way into Daytona this season.

6. Junior Lake, INF/OF
Where to watch him: Iowa
Wrigley Field ETA: Late 2013
Projects as: Anything from a Double-A flame out to an All-Star potential infielder

Junior Lake is one of the most frustrating players in the minor leagues. One inning he looks like a young Vlad Guerrero at the plate, and the next he’s a future Joe Mather. I’ve seen him take swings that would embarrass even Matt Garza, and I’ve seen him fight through tough at bats with the patience, quick bat, adjustments, and tenacity that would make any hitting coach drool. When he is focused on the game, he a tough out with plus power and speed at the plate and rangy defender with a stunningly great arm in the field. At other times he is an easy out that can be eaten alive by breaking pitches low and away. Right now I would project him as super-utility guy, and I can easily imagine him posting a WAR in the 2-4 range in that capacity. However, I can easily imagine him making All-Star appearances as a right fielder or third baseman. And I can just as easily imagine him heading to Japan. Lake has almost as much potential as anyone in the system, if only he can find a way to unlock it consistently.

5. Brett Jackson, OF
Where to watch him: Iowa and Chicago
Wrigley Field ETA: 2013
Projects as: Above average regular outfielder

Lost among the understandable concerns that erupt from Jackson’s high strikeout performance in Iowa and Chicago last year is that he put up an Iowa OPS of .817 despite those frightening strikeout totals, and he did so at the age of 23. If he can improve on that one aspect of his game … and the mess that was his swing last year strongly suggests he can … the rest of what he brings to the table really starts to shine. Even if he can bring the Ks down to the something reasonable, though, I don’t see Jackson as a perennial All-Star contender. I do see him as a reliable and somewhat above average part of the outfield picture. Look for Jackson to pleasantly surprise a lot of Chicago fans this season.

4. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
Where to watch him: Iowa and Chicago
Wrigley Field ETA: 2013
Projects as: All-Star potential reliever or number two starter

If I honestly believed that Vizcaino would return to the starting rotation after having surgery, I would have listed him behind only Soler. He has the makings of a solid number two starter, but the safer prediction places Vizcaino at the back end of the bullpen. Either way, his very hard stuff should make him a very valuable part of the Cubs starting later this season.

He will probably start the season in Iowa (though the Cubs may wait for the weather to warm up before sending him north), and I expect he will be working out of the rotation. The first season after Tommy John surgery is sometimes a rough one, so it may be the second half of the year before we get a clear picture of how good Vizcaino can be.

3. Albert Almora, OF
Where to watch him: Kane County
Wrigley Field ETA: 2015
Projects as: All-Star potential center fielder

Almora wins rave reviews for his attitude, character, and approach to the game. Scouts seem to think that these attributes, when combined with his solid to plus across the board tools, will enable him to move up the farm system quickly. That’s good to hear, but we are not seeing that at the plate quite yet.

He has the ceiling of a 25 HR / 25 SB Gold Glove center fielder, but that won’t happen so long as he is only walking once a month. If he can find some patience in Kane County, then he should see some time in Daytona later in the year. A late 2014 Wrigley arrival is not out of the question according to some scouts, but I need to see some progress at the plate before I become that optimistic.

2. Javier Baez, SS
Where to watch him: Daytona
Wrigley Field ETA: 2014
Projects as: All-Star potential infielder

Baez might be the best offensive shortstop prospect in the minors, but his future increasingly looks like that of a third baseman. He has the bat speed and power to excel at the plate no matter where he plays, but so far he has lacked patience and a willingness to attack pitches selectively. Scouts often compare him to a young Gary Sheffield, but his early lack of discipline could bring to mind images of Josh Vitters.

If he can unlearn his bad habits at the plate, he is a potentially potent middle of the order bat in the making. Defensively, he’ll be fine no matter where he plays. Should he make the needed adjustments at the plate in Daytona this year (and I like his chances of doing so) he could move to Tennessee by the end of the season. If he does not make those changes, I look for him to be dealt while his trade value is near the peak. Regardless of his performance, though, do not look for him in Wrigley this season. He isn’t on the 40 man roster and the Cubs gain absolutely nothing by adding him just for a few September at bats.

1. Jorge Soler, OF
Where to watch him: Daytona / Tennessee
Wrigley Field ETA: Late 2013
Projects as: All-Star potential right fielder

When I began working on this list back in December, the choice of who to rank Number One took me all of twenty seconds. No one in the farm system has the combination of ceiling, success, and experience that Soler brings to the organization. Not only does his quick bat, patient approach, and plus power promise a bright future at the plate, he has all the makings of an above average defender in right field as well. His Cuban and international baseball experience should help him move quickly up the ladder, and since he is already on the 40 man roster I see no reason to think he will not make an appearance in Wrigley this September. Add it all up and Soler looks like the best offensive outfielder the Cubs have had in quite some time, and he could be coming to Chicago to stay a lot sooner than we may think.

Author: Luke Blaize

Luke Blaize is the Minor League Editor at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @ltblaize.