I haven't been posting a whole lot on here the last couple of years, but I figured this was something that could generate good conversation for a number of reasons. This is John Sickels' top 20 prospects for the Cubs, complete with his grades for each prospect. I'll post the article, link it, and then make my comments.
My views:Chicago Cubs Top 20 Prospects for 2013
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2013 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders. Order early and order often!
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:
Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a reasonable chance of becoming stars or superstars. Almost all Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Some end up as role players or bench guys. Many don't make it at all.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise, and some C+ prospects (especially at lower levels) turn out very well indeed.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
ALL GRADES ARE PRELIMINARY AND SUBJECT TO CHANGE. No grade is final until January 5th, 2013
1) Javier Baez, SS, Grade A: Borderline A-. Has some rough edges with the strike zone and plays a bit recklessly at times, but his bat speed is so good he gets away with an overaggressive approach. Should produce plenty of power and batting average, and I expect the discipline will improve. Even his defense was better than expected. Gary Sheffield comps may prove quite valid.
2) Albert Almora, OF, Grade B+: Solid or better tools in all categories, excellent makeup. Was supposed to have good plate discipline but he only walked twice in 145 plate appearances, which is unacceptably low. However he kept his strikeouts under control and scouts believe he will adjust.
3) Jorge Soler, OF, Grade B+: Highly impressive power/speed combo from the Cuban defector. Main advantage Almora has at this point is a better birthday, but I love Soler. Another Sammy Sosa?
4) Dan Vogelbach, 1B, Grade B: Borderline B+. I'm having the courage of my convictions with this one. This guy is not just a masher, he's got excellent pure hitting skills too, and he's worked hard to get himself into better shape. Could end up as a Prince Fielderish run producer if everything maxes out.
5) Arodys Vizcaino, RHP, Grade B-: Rating is cautious until we see how rapidly he bounces back from Tommy John surgery.
6) Brett Jackson, OF, Grade B-: Tough ranking. All the tools are here, love the power/speed combination and he'll take a walk, but his strikeout problem could destroy his career if he doesn't make some adjustments.
7) Dillon Maples, RHP, Grade B-: Could develop into a number two starter due to promising fastball/curveball combination, but we need more data from higher levels to see if his command improves and if his mechanics (which some scouts don't like) become an issue.
8) Christian Villanueva, 3B, Grade B-: Nice pickup from the Rangers. Outstanding glove at third base, gap power, superior makeup. Needs to tighten up the strike zone but I think he can.
9) Matt Szczur, OF, Grade B-: I don't like him as much as some people do, but the tools are obvious. At worst he should be a good reserve outfielder with speed and defense, but it is still an open question if he hits enough to play regularly.
10) Pierce Johnson, RHP, Grade B-: Solid all-around, good fastball and strong curve, throws strikes, main worry is history of forearm troubles. Mid-rotation starter if his arm holds up.
11) Gioskar Amaya, 2B, Grade B-: I think he will take a huge step forward in 2013. Defense at second base is better than it was at shortstop. He's got pop, can steal bases, and has a good swing.
12) Duane Underwood, RHP, Grade B-: Borderline C+: One of my favorite players from the 2012 draft. He's erratic but was also one of the youngest guys in the entire draft class. When right, he's got upper-90s velocity and promising secondary pitches. Needs more consistency in all respects, as his velocity varies and his command is problematic.
13) Josh Vitters, 3B, Grade C+: Borderline B-. Maybe I'm underestimating him and this is just psychological prospect fatigue. I can see a B- case and ranking him as high as 11th. But after watching him many times over the years, I remain unimpressed with the glove, and if he ends up at first base the pressure on the bat will grow all the stronger.
14) Junior Lake, SS, Grade C+: Borderline B-: As with Vitters, I can see ranking him ahead of Underwood due to his proximity to the majors. Lake's tools are tremendous but he is still a very raw and frustrating player. He could turn into Nelson Cruz, or Angel Berroa.
15) Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Grade C+: Although his power production sagged in the Northwest League, he's young for the level and scouts still think he'll hit for average and power as he moves up. Poor defense will likely result in a positional switch at some point. Could be much higher next year.
16) Juan Carlos Paniagua, RHP, Grade C+: Scouting reports about his power arm are certainly intriguing, but let's see how it pans out. Could be much higher once we get some objective data.
17) Paul Blackburn, RHP, Grade C+: Doesn't have Underwood or Paniagua's upside, but he's quite polished and has strong pitchability and makeup.
18) Marco Hernandez, SS, Grade C+: Defense gets strong reviews and he's got a chance to hit, too. Hernandez/Candelario/Amaya is a hell of an infield for Low-A in '13.
19) Arismendy Alcantara, SS, Grade C+: In the middle of a strong age 20 breakout season (.302/.339/.447 with 25 steals) in High-A when he got injured, but healthy now and back in action in the Dominican Winter League.
20) Barret Loux, RHP, Grade C+: Could be a useful fourth starter, and soon, assuming that he stays healthy. Medical record is long, but he hasn't had issues since getting into pro ball.
OTHER GRADE C+ PROSPECTS: Michael Jensen, RHP; Kyle Hendricks, RHP; Trey McNutt, RHP; Ryan McNeil, RHP; Starling Peralta, RHP; Ronald Torreyes, 2B; Logan Watkins, 2B; Ben Wells, RHP; Tony Zych, RHP
OTHERS: Jose Arias, RHP; Stephen Bruno, INF; Alberto Cabrera, RHP; Marcelo Carreno, RHP; Shawon Dunston, OF; Jae-Hoon Ha, OF; Trey Martin, OF; Brooks Raley, LHP; Jose Rosario, RHP; Tim Saunders, INF; Tayler Scott, RHP; Nick Struck, RHP, Robert Whitenack, RHP.
I knew the Cubs system had improved a lot over the last year or two, but I don't think I truly grasped the amount of depth they've developed (especially at the lower levels) until I got into the analysis.
At the top you have Baez, Soler, and Almora, all three with obvious star/superstar potential. Vogelbach's bad body generates more skepticism, but the guy has got a good shot at being a devastating hitter. There is a lot of depth beyond the top group, much of it products of the Latin American operation, especially in the infield.
The guys closest to the majors (Jackson, Vitters, Lake, Szczur) all have very significant questions and may end up as just role players. But even if they don't pan out, the star-quality talents and deep depth coming up behind them is exciting, and I don't use that word lightly.
The pitching is another story. We need to see if Vizcaino fully recovers his command and stuff from Tommy John, and what role will he pitch in? Maples has a great ceiling, but he's a long way off and scouts worry that his mechanics will result in injury, though the Cubs don't seem to agree. Pierce Johnson could be quite good and top the list a year from now. There are a lot of intriguing live arms at the lower levels (Underwood, Paniagua, Peralta in particular) but they need innings and development time. Are they pitchers or throwers? We don't know yet. Keep an eye on Michael Jensen, who has received little notice as yet.
It sucks when you're team is losing, but Cubs fans have every reason to be optimistic about the future everyday lineup, and there's raw material for the mound as well.
1. Javier Baez - I can see why he's borderline A-, but I can also see why he comes in with an A as well. I'm really excited to see him take the next steps these next couple of years. His bat speed is out of this world, and he's pretty athletic. I'm personally all for them seeing what he can do at 3rd base, maybe even in the outfield (a future outfield with Soler, Almora, and Baez could look nice), but I just hope that the Cubs make sure that he comes up as a Cub.
2. Albert Almora - I'm thinking that the B+, which is a great grade by the way, also takes into account how low he currently is in the system. He'll probably start at Kane County next season, so it will be interesting to see how things change as he works his way up. I'm thinking he could easily wind up in Daytona by the end of the season.
3. Jorge Soler - Same thoughts about the grade as with Almora, although I believe Soler is another year older and finished last season in Peoria (low A, like Kane County will be next season). I'm thinking he starts in Kane County and moves up by mid season to Daytona, depending on how he plays at each level, we can see him end the season in Tennessee.
4. Dan Vogelbach - I'm a huge fan of this guy's bat. B is right where I thought he'd be. He's got the potential to be an offensive beast, but due to his body he'll likely only be able to play first base, which is a position the Cubs probably have locked up for at least a decade. However, as he works his way up he can become a huge trade asset if they're unable to put him or Rizzo anywhere else (not saying they should try to move either guy's position). He's another guy who's low right now in the system, I think he finished last season in Boise after tearing Arizona to pieces, and then did the same to Boise. I'd like to see him start the season in Kane County as well.
5. Arodys Vizcaino - I still can't believe the Cubs were able to get him for Johnson and Maholm rentals. Given there is some question as to how he will recover from TJ surgery, but anymore those questions are not huge ones. If he was assured to be what he was before, he would be possibly as high as an A- (probably B+, but it would be borderline). Either way, I think he starts the season at AAA, partly to make sure he recovers well from the surgery, and from there I can easily see him on the 25 man roster in the bullpen, possibly starting by the end of the season depending on how everything goes.
6. Brett Jackson - I want to see how they work on changing his swing this offseason. Right now his hitting reminds me of Adam Dunn without the power (he has some, just not close to Dunn). His defense did look good from what I saw, but the strikeouts are a huge problem, and his career will not be able to take off unless he's able to significantly cut down on those. I think he'll still be able to stick around as a defensive sub or even 4th outfielder, but that's the best he'll be if he doesn't cut down on those.
7. Dillon Maples - I admit I don't know too much about him. Did some research and he seems to have that fastball/curveball combo that is mentioned in the article. That can be very good if it materializes. I just want to know if he has any other good pitches. Either way, for a 14th round pick, I think Hendry did nicely on that one. He's only played in Arizona in the rookie league, so I'm assuming that the B- currently has something to do with how far down in the system he is.
8. Christian Villanueva - Another player I was surprised to see the Cubs get for what I thought wasn't a whole lot. He came in the Soto trade, and he plays a position that the Cubs are currently thin at. Of course, if Baez works out at 3rd or Vitters figures things out there, then he'll fall back, but he's got a very nice set of skills. His numbers in the minors so far have been very solid. Nothing mind-blowing, but very solid. He finished last season at high A, so I can't say that his grade is lowered based on him being low in the system.
9. Matt Szczur - I'm with Sickels here, I'm not terribly high on him. He seems to be a fast player with a good glove. I hoped he'd develop some power, but he's 23 now and hit 4 home runs in 510 at bats last season. The year before he was a bit better with 10 in 447 at bats, but that's still not much. He does get his walks (.360 OBP on a .267 average last season, 61 walks), although not a whole lot of them, still a respectable amount, and he can steal bases. At 23 and AA ball last season, it's time for him to really put up. He'll probably start next season at AAA, so if he performs well it will be his chance to really show something. Still, I'm not expecting him to be anything more than a 4th outfielder. Maybe a Campana type with a bit less speed, but a better ability to get on base.
10. Pierce Johnson - I was excited when the Cubs drafted him. He was taken in the supplemental 1st round, pick 43. Outside of the injury problems (mentioned in the article), I thought he was as dependable looking of a pitcher as there was in the draft. He doesn't have the highest ceiling, but he's a guy who looks like a safe middle rotation starter, possibly a #2 guy. I have a feeling that once he moves up (moved to Boise once the Arizona rookie league ended its season) to high A or AA he will be a solid B if not a B+.
11. Gioskar Amaya - He's another guy who I don't know a whole lot about despite being in the system since 2010, but just looking at the leagues he's played in on the way up (finished 2011 in the Arizona rookie league, played almost all of last season in Boise, but had one at bat in AAA for Iowa), he's probably going to start in Kane County next season. He looks like he's got a solid bat, and at least not a terrible glove. He can wind up being a very solid 2B in the future, but it's still too early to commit too much enthusiasm towards him.
12. Duane Underwood - To be honest, I was almost as happy about the Cubs drafting him in 2012 as I was about Johnson or Blackburn. He's got a very high ceiling, but also a very low floor. He only got 8.2 innings last season in Arizona, so it's impossible to tell what he will be. Learning to control his pitches will be the biggest factor in how he turns out.
13. Josh Vitters - I have to say that I have more faith in Vitters than Jackson to become a regular starter in the bigs. The biggest reason for this is that Vitters always would start a next level horribly on his way up. This slowed down his development quite a bit, but at the same time, I feel confident that he can become a .280 hitter with 20+ home run power within a couple of years. It's his glove that I'm more worried about. However, 3rd base is not a premium defensive position, although you still want to have a good glove there. I think his time in Chicago last season knocked him down a bit. Still, just look at his numbers with respect to how he does one year at a certain level to how well he plays there the next throughout his career and tell that isn't even a bit comical: http://www.baseball-reference.com/mi...d=vitter002jos The one thing I think he needs to do better at the plate is draw walks...other than, you know doing what he's done throughout his career after adjusting to a new level.
14. Junior Lake - I think this has a lot to do with some of the frustration that seems to go with him. I read an article recently that described him as Starlin Castro, but with greater extremes for both better and worse. They say he has more raw power, just as much speed, and the potential to be just as good at the plate as Castro, but has just as much, if not more mental lapses than Castro. He's a guy with a huge ceiling, and a low floor. Seeing as how he's played the last year and a half at AA, I thought he'd be a bit higher, I thought he was a solid B due to his potential, but Sickels knows more than I do. He'll turn 23 at the start of next season (almost the exact same age as Castro), and will probably start at AAA with a chance to make it to the show by the end of the season. We'll see then what he can do.
15. Jeimer Candelario - He just turned 19, so he's still incredibly young, and just finished the season at Boise. He'll probably start next year there as well, but will likely move up to Kane County fairly quickly. He's a very nice 3B prospect. From what I understand he's a potential 20+ home run prospect who can hit around .300 and draw walks. Supposedly he's very advanced for his age. He's someone who can quickly move up and be even as high as a B+/A- within a couple of years.
16. Juan Carlos Paniagua - This is one of the hardest guys to pin down. He's 22 and only pitched in Arizona last season, so he's WAY behind the curve (no pun intended), but a lot of that has had to do with falsified documents and suspensions based on them, less to do with his actual ability. He threw 3.2 scoreless innings in Arizona last season, so it's impossible to see where he actually is. Hopefully they start him in Boise next season to give him some sort of a challenge, but supposedly his stuff has looked really good during workouts recently. Seeing him as a very good reliever by the time he's 25 or 26 isn't even close to being out of the question. I have no idea as to if he'll ever be a starter though, probably not, but I don't know enough about him to say for sure.
17. Paul Blackburn - The second pitcher the Cubs drafted in 2012 (ahead of Underwood and behind Johnson). He turns 19 today (depending on where you are right now), so he's still very young, and this is another case of where the grade may be lower due to age. However, he's not a very high ceiling guy, but he could easily turn into a good middle rotation starter. In 20.2 innings in Arizona last season he put up an ERA of 3.48. He'll probably still start next season at Arizona, but he can quickly get to Boise. Who knows, he might start at Boise and finish the season in Kane County. However, he's young enough that it would be foolish to rush anything. It wouldn't take anything too far beyond expectations to see him move up to a B+ in a year. Moving to a B- if he only barely meets expectations.
18. Marco Hernandez - He was at Peoria at age 19, and will likely start at the same level (Kane County) next season after putting up weak numbers there in 157 at bats. However, he's right on schedule as far as age is concerned. He supposedly is a very good defender. As a shortstop that at very least gives him a lot of value, as it is a position where defense is the main thing most teams look for. While I'm not going to say he's the next Omar Vizquel yet, if he is indeed a good defensive shortstop, in a few years he may be able to bring back serious value to the Cubs in a trade when they're ready to actually try to compete. That's, of course, assuming things go well on his way up. Supposedly he can hit, and he has at every level until he was sent to Peoria.
19. Arismendy Alcantara - He just turned 21 at the end of October and is probably on his way to AA ball next season. His fairly low ceiling is probably a major reason for his grade being a C+ as well as the injury that the article mentions. However, if he continues to progress as he was, he can easily become a utility infielder at the major league level.
20. Barret Loux - He just finished AA ball at age 23, so he's not behind the curve or anything. He's pitched well in the minors so far, but doesn't really project anywhere as much more than a back of the rotation starter.
The other C+ guys: Michael Jensen turns 22 and just pitched a nice season in Peoria, look for him in Daytona next season. Kyle Hendricks is 22 and pitched well in A+ ball, and will probably start next season in Tennessee. Trey McNutt was the top pitching prospect in the Cubs system before this season, but he's fallen far. Since being put in the bullpen he has pitched much better. He'll probably start next season in Iowa as a reliever. Ryan McNeil turns 19 in February, and pitched well in Arizona last season. He'll probably start next season there, but if he keeps up with what he started with we can see him in Boise rather quickly. He was the 3rd round pick for the Cubs in the 2012 draft. Starlin Peralta pitched well as far as peripherals went last season, and overall pretty well in Peoria. He just turned 22, so he's not too far behind the curve, although you'd want him to be a level or two higher. Ronald Torreyes just turned 20 in September. If I remember right he came to the Cubs in the Sean Marshall trade. He'll probably start at Daytona next season, but if he can play well he can wind up in Tennesse pretty quickly. Logan Watkins was just the position player of the year in the Cubs system. He's a defensively sound 2B who can wind up being a solid offensive player as well. He finished last season at AA, so he's not far off, and will likely start next season at AAA. Ben Wells turned 20 in September and finished the season in Peoria with reasonable numbers. Not sure if he's a starter or reliever at this point, but he seems to have very good control. I don't see it with Robert Whitenack. He had poor numbers in A+ ball last year, and just turned 24 last month. Unless he's able to put something special together soon, I don't see him really making it anywhere. He had a very good 2011, but due to age and a horrible 2012, I just don't see it.
The thing that was the biggest to me throughout all of this was the numbers as far as grades go. 1 A guy, 11 B guys, and 17 C+ guys. That's VERY good. It goes to show just how much the system has grown over the past year or so. To give an idea, in 2011 the White Sox had 0 A, 2 B, and 9 C+ guys. Given, at that point the White Sox were seen as having by far the worst minor league system in all of baseball, but it's more to give you a vantage point. The Cubs are not the best system by any means, but considering where they were about a year ago when they had 7 B, and 17 C+ guys.
Also, I would like to throw in that with Austin Meadows or Ryne Stanek most likely coming in with this next draft (assuming the Astros pick Appel), the Cubs will only see these rankings go up.