Minor League Keeper Thoughts: Chicago Cubs

Tasos Katopodis

Craig Goldstein takes a look at a few of the more relevant fantasy prospects from the Chicago Cubs organization.

Over the coming weeks, Jason and I will be taking a look at some of the more relevant prospects in each of the 30 MLB organizations. We won't be looking at each prospect in every organization, but rather to provide brief profiles of players that are either expected to make an impact as soon as next season, or are worth watching in dynasty and keeper formats. In general, they will be sorted in the order of when they are anticipated to be in the Majors, even though it is no guarantee that they will get there.

Our goal is to speak more to each prospect's fantasy value, so while we do look at a player's defense, it is really only in the context of where they will end up when they get to the Majors, and how that may affect their long term outlook. We will be going roughly in alphabetical order, and planning to have the series completed by the end of the year.

Previous Reviews

NL East: Atlanta

NL West: Arizona

AL East: Baltimore, Boston

System Overview

Entering 2012 with designs on a full blown rebuild, the Cubs acquired a master architect in Theo Epstein for the other Chris Carpenter. Epstein quickly stole former colleagues Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod from the San Diego Padre front office and reunited with them in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. The Cubs didn't just pilfer upper management from San Diego as they also raided the upper levels of their minor leagues in the rare challenge trade that sent Andrew Cashner to the Padres in return for Anthony Rizzo, who seems destined to go wherever Hoyer/McLeod go. Beyond Rizzo, new management has overseen an influx of talent into the system, with Javier Baez leading the charge. The core of this talent resides in the lower minors, so it will be a few years before the Cubs can put it all together, but things are looking up.

Graduates in 2012

Anthony Rizzo (1B), Dave Sappelt (OF), Welington Castillo (C), Steve Clevenger (C)

AAA or Higher in 2012

These are prospects who either reached AAA Iowa or the Majors during the 2012 season. Generally they are expected to see the Majors in 2013, potentially for a significant amount of time.

Brett Jackson (BBref Statistics)

Jackson began 2012 as a bit of a controversy. He was indeed a flawed prospect with a predilection for the whiff but a good eye at the plate as well. He started the year in Triple-A, and struggled to replicate the success he saw there at the tail end of the 2011 season, perhaps because he wasn't able to repeat his .402 BABIP. Undeterred, the Cubs called upon Jackson in early August to figure out what they had. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that mission was accomplished, though if it was, the Cubs are almost certainly unhappy with the answer. Jackson struck out in over 41% of his plate appearances and looked bad doing it. I would expect improvement from Jackson in the upcoming season, although that's not saying much. He has the tools to post double-digit home runs and stolen bases, though he could be an average killer in the early going. The Cubs have nowhere else to turn in centerfield so are likely to return Jackson to the position to begin 2013. He should see a full complement of at-bats this season as the Cubs determine if he's part of their core going forward, though he may not be playable as a fantasy option in the early going. Jackson was a bit overrated as a fantasy prospect, but that doesn't mean he won't have value in the long run. He could be a solid buy-low candidate in deeper leagues if you have the bench room to ride out his learning curve.

Josh Vitters (BBref Statistics)

Vitters was the third overall pick in the 2007 draft and is oft stated to have one of the prettiest right handed swings you'll ever see. Unfortunately his plate discipline is more analogous to the descriptions you get of recent July 2 signees, which is to say: non-existent as Vitters set consecutive career highs in walks in 2011 and 2012 with 22 and 30 respectively. For all of Vitters struggles with walking, the kid sure can hit. And he did so in 2012, taking advantage of the friendly home environment in Iowa and earning his way to an August call up. Perhaps predictably, Vitters struggled to adjust to the advanced stuff he saw in his brief time in the big leagues, despite an effort to play him against lefties more than righties. Vitters defense, or struggles there are relevant to his fantasy value in that there's a good chance he ends up across the diamond at first base, which would relegate him to JAG (just another guy) status. The biggest reason to pay attention to Vitters as is, is that he can provide a plus average and decent pop at a position of scarcity. Vitters isn't someone to draft outside of dynasty leagues heading into the 2013 season, but if he improves his plate discipline or gets on a hot streak, he could be someone to stream. He has very real talent, the question is whether he can get out of his way enough to tap into it.

AA in 2012

These are prospects who reached AA during the 2012 season, playing for the Cubs' Southern League affiliate in Tennessee. These players could see time in Chicago in 2013, but generally will be more likely to appear in 2014.

Junior Lake (BBref Statistics)

The most interesting thing about Lake is that his middle name is Osvaldo. No, that's not quite right. What's interesting about Lake is that amount of attention he's received despite only having one really nice stretch of play in his whole career, and posting a 2.8 BB% during that time no less. Lake is yet another hacker in a system full of them. He's never recorded a K% under 22.1 at any level and has also never broken double digits in BB%. More than anything, his better season lines are buoyed by extreme BABIP rates (.360+) and while he shows some ability to repeat above-average BABIPs, those types of numbers are just not sustainable. Lake is currently a shortstop where his bat would play much better, but there's a good chance he outgrows the position and has to move to third base, where his numbers become more pedestrian, though still playable. He's a good athlete and has swiped double digit bags in every season beginning in 2008. Lake's 2012 season in Double-A was unremarkable, though he did see his walk rate match his career high of 7.8%. If he can continue making that type of improvement, he'll certainly be a name to know, but until then he's deep league fodder only.

Matt Szczur (BBref Statistics, Profile)

Pronounced "Caesar", Szczur made a bit of noise on the prospect scene after the Cubs anted up another $1.4M to convince him to give up football. He followed that with an impressive full season debut in Lo-A, recording a .314/.366/.431 slash line. Despite coming from a football background, there's not much power to Szczur's game, as evidenced by his four total home runs in 2012. He has a bit of a slappy swing, and unless he alters his mechanics, the power isn't going to come. Speed is essential part of Szczur's game and a big reason why he makes this list. He isn't a burner exactly but he does have plus speed and stole 42 bases between two levels in 2012, though he was caught 14 times. Some view Szczur as a 4th outfielder at best while others see a starting centerfielder. I err on the side of 4th outfielder, though if he receives a full complement of at-bats, he would run his way into having fantasy value. He's the type of name I'd look into trading before he proves he's more of a part time player than a starter.

High-A in 2012

These are prospects who reached the Cubs' Florida State League affiliate in Daytona. These players are most likely at least 2 full seasons from reaching the Majors.

Javier Baez (BBref Statistics, Profile)

The most interesting thing about Javier Baez is that his first name is Ednel. No, that's not quite right. The most interesting thing about Javier Baez is that he's everything Junior Lake wants to be. We've written about Baez quite extensively here at FakeTeams, but let's take a quick review: He's got insane batspeed, leading to excellent pop and good bat on balls skills. He's yet another hacker in this system, having not achieved better than a 5:1 K:BB rate in any of his three stops in the system. Speaking of those three stops, Baez began the year late, perhaps due to the cold weather in Peoria in early springtime. Despite the late season debut, Baez earned a promotion to Hi-A on the strength of a 979 OPS in Lo-A Midwest League. Baez struggled as a 19 year-old in Hi-A, though that kind of comes with the territory.

Baez is the most fantasy relevant prospect in the system despite being further away from the majors than those listed above. He has had 60s and 70s thrown on his hit and power tools, and if that comes to fruition, you're talking about one of the best hitters in the game. He is currently playing shortstop, and while his reaction times aren't anything to write home about, he has a non-zero chance of sticking at the position. If his bat is what we think it is and he plays shortstop, you're talking about a first round fantasy pick. If he has to slide to third base...he still might be a first rounder. I've been a huge fan of Baez since the draft, and while his plate discipline isn't pretty and plays with a bit of a brash style, he's only 19 years old, giving both attributes time to mature.

Low-A in 2012

These are prospects who finished their season with the Cubs' Midwest League affiliate in Peoria. These players could be at least 3 full seasons from reaching the Majors.

Jorge Soler (BBref Statistics)

Signed for 9 years and $30 million by the Cubs, Soler reached Lo-A Peoria in his debut season stateside. The 20-year old Cuban generated a lot of buzz with his ability to hit for average and power, as well as his prototypical right fielder's build. Soler didn't disappoint, recorder a .338/.398/.513 slash line in a meager sample size of 88 plate-appearances at Peoria. Soler impressed box score junkies and scouts alike with his 2012 performance, and I'd expect reasonably similar production next year. It's likely that the Cubs return Soler to Lo-A to begin 2013 with an eye on a mid-season promotion to Daytona. Of the Cubs prospects for fantasy, I'd put Soler squarely at number two behind Javier Baez. He could be an impact bat in right field for years to come.

Short Season Ball

The prospects in this group reached one of the short season leagues as their final stop of the season. For the Cubs, this could mean the Arizona League or Northwest League.

Albert Almora (BBref Statistics)

The most interesting thing about Almora is that his first name is Reinaldo. I'm pretty sure that is right. Why aren't any of these guys going by their kickass names? Anyway, Almora was the sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft, and signed for $3.9 million. Almora isn't known for one dominant tool, but for having above-average tools across the board, including an incredible work ethic (his workouts in Florida are legendary). He is a polished hitter for a prep schooler, as evidenced by his combined .321/.331/.464 slash line across two levels in 2012. Having already played in the Northwest League, we could see the Cubs push Almora to Lo-A ball to begin 2013, though it's possible they follow the same path they did with previous first round pick, Javier Baez. Almora is a ways away from the majors, but profiles as a useful fantasy asset thanks to his contributions across the board. He might be even better for those leagues with minor league systems to stash and then deal later on as his stock improves. He is unlikely to be a true impact fantasy player.

Jeimer Candelario (BBref Statistics)

The most interesting thing about Candelario is...well did you look at his name!?! No, that's not quite right. Definitely the most interesting thing about Candelario is that he inspired our very own Bret Sayre to write this sonnet:

Signed at sixteen, now a Chicago Cub.
A switch-hitting teen from good 'ol D.R.
Was born in New York, a cultural hub.
Avoided the draft. Free market? Har har.
His offensive tools did make grown men yell,
So Hendry gave him a half of a mill.
Debuted last season in the DSL --
More walks than K's and box scores he would fill.
Trumpets blared as he touched down in Boise.
An eighteen year old 'mong college-aged men.
Four bombs in ten games will get crowds quite noisy.
Total bases? Yes. One hundred and ten!
If Jeimer rolls on, the dream will come true:
Plus-hit, plus-power third baseman in blue.

I'd like to tell you more, but the kid inspired a guy to write a sonnet. I think that kind of covers it all.

Juan Carlos Paniagua (BBref Statistics)

Just a very brief note here. Paniagua is going to 23 and didn't appear in a league above rookie ball...so why is he on this list, you're asking? Well, reports from scouts have his arm as electric and his stuff as good as advertised. I'd expect the Cubs to be aggressive with this type of talent, given his age, and accordingly I would expect him to be a name that gets people buzzing early in the year. Get in while the gettin' is good. And yes, his name is also fantastic.


Others of Note

Dan Vogelbach (BBref Statistics)

Vogelbach is beefy. Although he's lost some weight since turning pro, he's always going to be a big guy. He's limited to first base defensively, and that might be charitable as he's more suited to a DH role. He can really hit though. His ability to hit for average might have been underrated entering the draft, but his calling card is his prodigious power. He's going to have to straight up mash to compensate for his lack of position, but he just might have the tools to do it. Vogelbach reached Short Season Ball in his debut.

Arismendy Alcantara (BBref Statistics)

Alcantara reached Hi-A and I really wanted to put him on the list of players above, but I'm just not sure he merited the selection, so I stuck him here. Alcantara amassed 331 at-bats at Hi-A and posted a 786 OPS from the shortstop position at age 21. He's got some nice tools to build upon and is someone to keep on an eye on even though he doesn't get the buzz of Baez or have the sonnet inducing capabilities of Candelario. Also...Arismendy!? I need to know where they're finding these guys. They're the best.

Christian Villanueva (BBref Statistics)

Villanueva headlined the Ryan Dempster deadline deal. He reached Hi-A Daytona and formed the left side of the infield there along with Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara at different times. Villanueva doesn't have more than average power and doesn't have plus hit tool either, but he is solid across the board and can play third base more than adequately. I think he's a solid major leaguer, but more of a hold-over guy in fantasy than anything else.

Gerardo Concepcion (BBref Statistics)

I'm addressing him here merely because he is a big name and I didn't people to think I inadvertently left him off. He appears to be more of a 5th starter type to me, with limited stuff but decent polish. The price tag will draw some attention but that was more about market forces than it was his talent relative to his peers. I'd trade him or ignore him as soon as possible. In fact I'm ignoring him right now.

Lastly, there's a player in the Cubs system named Rock Shoulders. Dang that's an awesome system (of names). Leave any Q's (questions) in the C's (comments).

Statistics from Baseball Reference and Fangraphs

You can follow me on Twitter @cdgoldstein, where I also obsess about names

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