2014 Minor League Keeper Thoughts: Chicago Cubs

Jonathan Daniel

The prospect staff at Fake Teams continues their fantasy prospect rankings and system reviews with an in-depth look at the Chicago Cubs.

The prospect staff here at Fake Teams will be taking an in-depth look at each major league organization, including our top 10 fantasy prospects, an overview of the organization's minor league system as a whole and potential opportunities for playing time in 2014. Our goal is to provide you with more information as you prepare for minor league drafts for dynasty and keeper leagues, as well as look at players that could potentially be worth watching during the spring, as they could be in line to potentially help your fantasy team. We will be reviewing two teams per week until we are through all 30 teams, and you can see the schedule of when your favorite team will be reviewed below.

System Schedule

AL East

AL Central

AL West

NL East

NL Central

NL West

Baltimore

Chicago

Houston

Atlanta

Chicago
(Today)

Arizona
(1/9)

Boston

Cleveland

Los Angeles

Miami

Cincinnati
(12/26)

Colorado
(1/13)

New York

Detroit

Oakland

New York

Milwaukee
(12/30)

Los Angeles
(1/16)

Tampa Bay

Kansas City

Seattle

Philadelphia

Pittsburgh
(1/2)

San Diego
(1/20)

Toronto

Minnesota

Texas

Washington

St. Louis
(1/6)

San Francisco
(1/23)

Organizational Overview
By Brian Creagh(@briancreagh)

The pressure is starting to mount for Theo Epstein and the entire Chicago Cubs organization. I hate to start off on such a sour note, but the procurement of talent in the minor league level has been well documented and the conversation for the Cubs front office is beginning to shift. For the first time since the beginning of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer's joint tenure, their dedication to the process is about to truly be tested. 4 straight seasons of a 5th place finish in the NL Central and regression of their two most important pieces at the major league level in Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, have started some whispers about the front office's ability to develop the talent they are so clearly skilled in acquiring. They showed they are aware of the problem with the departure of Dale Sveum and hiring of Rick Renteria. Renteria is being sold for his bilingual capabilities and ability to relate with the young, Latin American talent ready to break into the major league lineup.

Meanwhile, the farm system continues to accumulate talent at an impressive pace. The Cubs are now looking at two upcoming waves of talent, one in the upper minors ready to contribute in '14 and '15 and another wave in the lower minors who should be ready in 4-5 years or used as trade bait to supplement the first wave once they begin to compete. The first group is headlined by Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, and Javier Baez and could form one of the most potent lineups in the National League. The only ingredient missing from a fantasy perspective is the presence of elite speed. Starlin Castro has slowed down as he's aged, and Almora figures to be the next best option with the ceiling of SBs somewhere in the mid-teens. The second wave is led by recent J-2 signings Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres, recent trade acquisition C.J. Edwards, and likely future trade chip Dan Vogelbach. The stockpile of talent is almost laughable, and besides a glut at 3B/SS, it is very well spread out across the diamond. The decision for Theo & Co. is now which prospects to let matriculate to the everyday lineup and which to flip for pieces that can help compete now.

Cubs fans are probably sleeping well these days knowing an influx of talent is on the way and will be cost controlled for next 6 years allowing them to spend big on free agents to fill in any remaining holes. I'm not ready to hop on board. My heart has been broken too many times by this organization. The biggest reason I'm not sleeping comfortably at night is because despite Theo's success in Boston, he is building this team in an entirely different manner. The Red Sox 2004 starting lineup did not have a single home-grown player in the batting order, Kevin Youkilis played a key role behind Bill Mueller but he represented the only main player developed by the Boston organization. The same can be said for the starting rotation as guys like Schilling, Pedro, Derek Lowe, and Bronson Arroyo were drafted by other teams and developed elsewhere before coming to Boston. 2007 wasn't much different as Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon represent the majority of the home-grown talent on that roster. Big Papi, Josh Beckett, Manny Ramirez, and Mike Lowell all came over from other organizations. My point is that player development - from draft to maturation - is something a Theo Epstein organization has not proven to be successful at doing.

So if Epstein plans to take a similar approach and a trade of these top prospects is in the cards, then the organization still has a long way to go before it's ready to contend. Multiple trades would need to be "won" and key FA signings need to be undertaken to get this team ready for a championship run. If the plan is to let these young guys develop and become the cornerstones of the franchise, then Epstein is going to need to reverse the trend and prove he can take a top prospect through the entire development process and turn them into a star. Again, he's clearly one of the best in the business at acquiring top talent, but he's had a tendency of dealing that talent and watching them find success elsewhere i.e. Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Brandon Moss, Jed Lowrie, Justin Masterson, Josh Reddick. I have no problem if Theo decides to flip the Cubs top prospects for proven talent in its prime, but I worry that the acquisition of the talent is only half the battle and more growing pains could be in the way if the front office misfires one of their bullets.

2013 Graduates

The following players have surpassed their rookie maximums of 130 AB, 50 IP, or 45 days of service time prior to September 1st of this year.

Junior Lake (at bats), Cole Gillespie (at bats), Blake Parker (innings), Chris Rusin (innings), Hector Rondon (innings), Eduardo Sanchez (innings)

Major League Opportunities in 2014
By Brian Creagh(@briancreagh)

As you would expect a team coming off a 66-96 record, there isn't a ton of talent on the field that is guaranteed playing time. 1B and SS are locked up with Castro and Rizzo and the rotation is sure to be anchored by Edwin Jackson, Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood, unless a trade dictates otherwise. Besides that, the rest of the field is wide open for a prospect or free agent to make a move. Nate Schiertholz and Justin Ruggiano should find consistent playing time in the OF, but both are best suited for platoon roles. Ryan Sweeney and possibly Brett Jackson should compete for the CF job. Third base could see Mike Olt break camp there, but Christian Villanueva is a superb defender and is close to being ready. Darwin Barney is whispered in trade rumors to the Yankees, but until a deal is completed, he remains the de facto second baseman. Welington Castillo has a firm grip on the catcher's job, but a solid backup in George Kattaras was just acquired and should receive a healthy amount of AB's. The backend of the bullpen was bolstered with the recent acquisitions of Jose Veras and Wesley Wright, and hopefully Arodys Vizcaino can step up and fill a high-leverage relief role this season. There are also a lot of interesting possibilities in Liam Hendriks, Justin Grimm and Jake Arrieta for the back-end of the rotation.

All-in-all, there is a ton of opportunity for playing time on this roster and a lot of question marks to be sorted out in Spring Training. The upper minors is flush with interesting names that could make a fantasy impact if they receive an early opportunity. Mike Olt, Junior Lake, and Jake Arrieta are my favorite fantasy sleepers in this organization and all appear primed to see a major role early on in the 2014 season. Still, even with all this young talent about to come up, the most intriguing fantasy baseball aspect of the 2014 season is what happens to Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. If they can take big steps forward, it will calm a lot of my fears mentioned in the prior paragraphs, and give the Cubs the possibility of two elite performers in the fantasy world for years to come.

Top 10 Fantasy Prospects
By Andrew Ball(@andrew_ball)

Editor's Note: This is actually Andrew's last post here with Fake Teams, as he has accepted an internship with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Our top 10 fantasy prospect rankings are based upon standard 5x5 fantasy baseball leagues, with a balancing of ceiling and present value. While we are having discussions regarding these lists as a collective group, the top 10 fantasy prospect rankings are finalized by the writer listed above. Players are no longer considered prospects once they exceed either 130 at bats, 50 innings pitched, or 45 days of service time in the Majors prior to September 1st.

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Photo Credit: Jake Roth - USA Today Sports

#1 Javier Baez (SS)

FANTASY STATISTICS (ALL LEVELS)

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

0.282

98

37

111

20

SECONDARY STATISTICS

PA

OBP%

SLG%

BB%

K%

577

0.341

0.578

6.9%

25.5%

OTHER INFORMATION

AGE ON 1/1/2014

B/T

ROSTER STATUS

LEVELS

21

R/R

Not On 40 Man Roster (Protect After 2015 Offseason)

A+, AA

In a system that boasts four of the best position-player prospects in the game, Javier Baez still manages to stick out as an exceptionally special talent. Drafted 9th overall in the 2011 draft that is shaping up to be one of the best classes in the last 25 years, Baez offers elite offensive potential from a premium defensive position, a combination that is more commonly referred to as "the dream".

Already considered one of the top minor league hitters entering 2013, Baez looked to be a man on a mission this past season, blasting 37 home runs and topping all minor league hitters with 75 extra base hits. The 20-year-old started the season in Hi-A Daytona, but he truly blossomed after a mid-season promotion to Double-A, closing out the season with a .294/.346/.638 line against older competition. If you watch Baez hit, in person or on video, the first thing you'll see is tremendous bat speed. While bat speed is often one of the most difficult things to grade, barrels that move like Javier Baez's does are rare enough for anyone to see the difference. Add that to an overly-aggressive approach and Baez has some of the best power around, possibly a future 70 or 80-grade tool (on the 20-80 scouting scale) depending on how much contact he makes in the big leagues. His future contact rate and hit tool are real subjects for debate, and ultimately the end results will determine his future. Baez likes to swing and often he comes up empty with his cuts, striking out 147 times this year against just 40 walks. His swing itself doesn't have a real hole -- despite his aggressiveness he covers all quadrants of the plate -- but his recognition skills need improvement especially as he continues to see more and more quality offspeed stuff. Still, some scouts think he'll be an above average hitter because his barrel seems to find the ball more often than not and he improved his walk rate slightly with the move to Double-A.

Defensively, he has the tools to play short, but the consistency is lacking. Last season he made 44 errors, an unacceptable total for any player. If he has to move, he has the arm to play third and the athleticism to slide to second, so there are options. More than likely, he might be forced to move simply because of the Cubs logjam of infielders. Currently the big league team has Starlin Castro manning short, Mike Olt and Kris Bryant as third base prospects, and Arismendy Alcantara as another middle infield prospect in the upper minors. Undoubtedly not all of those players will develop, but Baez might lose some fantasy value if he does have to shift to third or elsewhere.

We talk so frequently about the importance of ceiling with fantasy prospects and Javier Baez's upside is arguably the highest of any minor league player. If the pitch recognition clicks, the approach settles down a bit, and he sticks at shortstop, Chicago might have a .280, 45-50 home run hitter in the middle of the diamond. Look across the minors right now and you'll see a plethora of quality shortstops -- Xander Bogaerts, Addison Russell, Carlos Correa, Franciso Lindor -- and Baez might be better than all of them. He also might flame out because of his aggressiveness in the box and the clubhouse. It's a wide range of possibilities, but there's plenty to like with Baez. He'll start 2014 back in Double-A and depending on how aggressive the Cubs are feeling, he could see some time at Wrigley this year.

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Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas - USA Today Sports

#2 Kris Bryant (3B)

FANTASY STATISTICS (ALL LEVELS)

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

0.336

22

9

32

1

SECONDARY STATISTICS

PA

OBP%

SLG%

BB%

K%

146

0.390

0.688

7.5%

24.0%

OTHER INFORMATION

AGE ON 1/1/2014

B/T

ROSTER STATUS

LEVELS

21

R/R

Not On 40 Man Roster (Protect After 2016 Season)

Rk, A-, A+

In his final season at the University of San Diego, Bryant smacked a Division I best 31 home runs and he also led the nation in walks, total bases, and slugging percentage. That performance prompted the Cubs to use the second overall pick in the 2013 draft on the third baseman. Signed quickly for more than $6 million, Bryant followed up a stellar professional debut by winnings MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League with a .364/.457/.727 line in 20 games for the Mesa Solar Sox.

If Javier Baez doesn't have the best power in the minor leagues, Kris Bryant very well could be the name he ranks behind. His is a more conventional sort of power, beginning with the much more prototypical 6-foot-5, 215 pound frame that Bryant has. He's very quiet and calculated at the plate, setting up wide and staying balanced through his swing with good loft and leverage. He has plus-plus raw power and Bryant has had little trouble translating that into games, hitting moon shots to left field and driving the ball out of the park the opposite way on many occasions. The simplicity of his swing leads many to project him as an average or better hitter in the future, an outcome that gives him star potential with the bat.

Past his power, Bryant's arm strength is his best tool. His arm will be a weapon at the hot corner if he sticks there or in right field if he's forced to move because of his size and the overall logjam we mentioned previously. For his size, Bryant is extremely athletic and his actions are clean at third, but at his size he just looks a bit awkward out there. He's an average runner helped by his long strides and he could certainly develop into a quality corner outfielder if a move becomes necessary. The speed might also help him steal a handful of bases a year, which would be an extra little treat for fantasy owners.

As a polished college hitter, Bryant isn't going to spend much time toiling in the minor leagues. I could easily see Bryant starting the year alongside Baez in Double-A and making the leap to Chicago at some point as well, if the team is feeling aggressive. His value gets dinged a bit because he won't play third in the big leagues -- between Olt, Baez, etc. it won't happen -- but the power will play at any position and the optimism regarding his hit tool makes Bryant the top fantasy hitting prospect from the 2013 draft class.

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Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas - USA Today Sports

#3 Albert Almora (OF)

FANTASY STATISTICS (ALL LEVELS)

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

0.329

39

3

23

4

SECONDARY STATISTICS

PA

OBP%

SLG%

BB%

K%

272

0.376

0.466

6.3%

11.0%

OTHER INFORMATION

AGE ON 1/1/2014

B/T

ROSTER STATUS

LEVELS

19

R/R

Not On 40 Man Roster (Protect After 2016 Season)

A

It's been a long time since the Cubs have been good hasn't it? One benefit to the prolonged losing is picking in the top-10 of the draft every year and Almora is a product of that, going sixth overall in the 2012 draft. Injuries delayed the start of his season and then cut it short as well, but in between the 19-year old outfielder hit .329/.376/.466 for Lo-A Kane County.

Almora isn't quite the toolshed that the other prospects in the system are, missing any real standout tool and instead ranking this high because of the sum of the parts and makeup and instincts that help the overall package play up. He's a good hitter, with a loose, easy swing, and quiet hands that seem to always find the ball. Extremely balanced, Almora never sells out for power and he uses the entire field well, all signs that point to high future batting averages. The power is still developing, and while he'll never challenge for any home run records, 15-20 bombs is more than attainable. For a centerfielder, Almora isn't much of a runner, gleaning his defensive abilities from positioning, instincts, and reads rather than pure speed. Don't expect more than a handful of steals once he gets to the majors despite the fact that he does run the bases quite well.

So in a system this loaded, why does Almora rank third if it sounds like he's just a good hitting outfielder with little speed and average power? For starters, his makeup, maturity, and work ethic all draw high marks which help in projecting a 19-year-old to have future success. Those traits also give him a higher floor than someone who has issues with their emotions or maturity. Also, the hit tool might be better than I'm giving it credit for here. Projecting someone that's in Lo-A to be a future 70 hitter is hard to do. Strike that, it's nearly impossible to do, because so much of hitting is about making adjustments. But I'll tell you, I wouldn't be shocked if Almora hit over .300 over a long big league career; he has an approach and bat to ball skills that aren't often seen in the lower minors. Barring any further health setbacks, expect him to follow Baez's development plan and start the year in Daytona with a late season promotion to Tennessee if he plays well.

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Photo Credit: Jake Roth - USA Today Sports

#4 Jorge Soler (OF)

FANTASY STATISTICS (ALL LEVELS)

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

0.281

38

8

35

5

SECONDARY STATISTICS

PA

OBP%

SLG%

BB%

K%

237

0.343

0.467

8.9%

16.0%

OTHER INFORMATION

AGE ON 1/1/2014

B/T

ROSTER STATUS

LEVELS

21

R/R

On 40 Man Roster (2 Options Remaining)

A+

After starring for Team Cuba in international competitions, Soler defected from the island and signed a nine-year, $30 million deal with Chicago in 2011. Like Almora, injuries limited him a bit last season, but he was able to turn in a .281/.343/.467 line in Daytona.

If you watch Soler for any amount of time, you'll immediate recognize that he oozes talent. Streamlined and muscular, the 20-year-old looks rather dashing in a uniform and just looks the part of a top prospect. Luckily, he also has the raw tools to support the notion. Although it hasn't translated to games just yet, Soler has immense raw power with some scouts going as far to throw an 80 on it. When he squares a pitch up it comes off of his bat with ferocious backspin, giving the appearance that it's still rising as it disappears beyond the outfield wall. It's unfortunate that hitF/X data isn't publicly available because I'd love to get some radar readings of the speed of Soler's bat -- it's that impressive. His approach is solid, and the early indication is that Soler can be an above-average hitter with big-time pop. In the outfield, his routes need considerable work, but he's got a strong arm and enough athleticism that he'll be fine in a corner with some more seasoning.

The major concerns regarding Soler's future prospects actually aren't rooted in his physical tools or abilities -- they lie with his effort and maturity. At times it looks like he just doesn't care to be playing minor league baseball he gives far too many at bats away. He also was suspended for five games last year after an incident in which he charged the opposing bench with a bat in his hand. On the positive side (if you believe in these kind of things), a few outlets reported that Albert Almora was taking Soler under his wing in the AFL which could be terrific for his development.

Given the recent success of Aroldis Chapman, Yoenis Cespedes, and Yasiel Puig, there will be unfair and unwarranted expectations for Soler once he reaches the big leagues. The thing is, the talent is there for him to be the best of the group, but there's also a real possibility he falls well short. He'll likely join Baez and Bryant on one of the more star studded teams in the minors to open the season.

#5 CJ Edwards (RHP)

FANTASY STATISTICS (ALL LEVELS)

W

SV

ERA

WHIP

K

8

0

1.86

1.01

155

SECONDARY STATISTICS

IP

HR/9

GO/AO

BB%

K%

116.1

0.08

1.41

8.8%

33.1%

OTHER INFORMATION

AGE ON 1/1/2014

B/T

ROSTER STATUS

LEVELS

22

R/R

Not On 40 Man Roster (Protect After 2015 Season)

A, A+

Considering the number of top draft picks and bonus babies in the system, it's a bit surprising to find a 48th round draft pick smack in the middle of our list. Heck, the draft doesn't even have 48 rounds anymore. But that's where the Rangers selected Edwards, a lightly scouted, lightly used high school arm from South Carolina. After signing the team had to take him back to basics, teaching him to long-toss, repeat his delivery, and field his position. The investment seems to have paid off thus far, as Edwards has developed into one of the better pitching prospects in the minors and he was the key piece in last year's Matt Garza deal.

Edwards' minor league numbers are eye-popping, registering a 1.72 ERA and 240 strikeouts in 183.1 professional innings. The 21-year-old is extremely thin, carrying just 155 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame, and questions of durability will follow him up the ladder. That said, he's got tremendous makeup and the high quality stuff to miss bats at the highest level. His arm is fast and loose, generating easy velocity in the mid-90's with good life. His curve is a second potential plus offering, an upper-70's yellow hammer that disappears in the bottom of the zone. Often he relies on those two pitches, but he does also feature a slider and a changeup that both could end up as average as he throws them more frequently. Normally a pitcher of his stature might have troubles keeping the ball in the park, yet Edwards has given up only one home run in his first two seasons. And despite the presence of a changeup right now, he hasn't shown any platoon split to this point. Of course he's only thrown 23 innings above Lo-A, but Edwards certainly looks the part of a starter on paper. The real question will be whether or not he can hold up to the strenuous nature of taking the ball every fifth day, especially as the competition challenges him more within each individual inning. If he can't hold up in the rotation, Edwards has the stuff to be a very nice back end piece. For now he'll stay in the rotation and head back to Daytona to begin 2014.

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Photo Credit: Brad Penner - USA Today Sports

#6 Arismendy Alcantara (2B/SS)

FANTASY STATISTICS (ALL LEVELS)

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

0.271

69

15

69

31

SECONDARY STATISTICS

PA

OBP%

SLG%

BB%

K%

571

0.352

0.451

10.9%

21.9%

OTHER INFORMATION

AGE ON 1/1/2014

B/T

ROSTER STATUS

LEVELS

22

S/R

On 40 Man Roster (3 Options Remaining)

AA

A personal favorite of former Fake Teams writer Craig Goldstein, Alcantara is the longest tenured Cubbie on this list having signed with Chicago as an international free agent in 2008. Over his first four minor league seasons, Alcantara saw marginal improvements in his offensive performance before a breakout season this past year. He he hit .271/.352/.451 with 15 home runs, 31 steals, and he ranked second in the Southern League in both doubles and extra base hits.

Alcantara split the season between shortstop and second base, sliding over during the second half of the season after Javier Baez's promotion. While he has plenty of arm to stick at short, the presence of Castro and Baez make it highly doubtful that he plays short in Chicago. At the plate, Alcaantara has overhauled his entire approach over the last year. He now grinds out at bats, seeing a lot more pitches than he has in the past, and tripling his walk rate in the process. The approach also led to a career high in strikeouts, but overall it's a positive move for his development. Alcantara has the pop to hit 15 home runs a season and he's a good runner with a chance to steal bases in bunches.

Alcantara is essentially ready to get a taste of the big leagues. He ultimately might end up a bit of a tweener who never finds a true home, but those that like him think he can be a well above average middle infielder. He'll begin the season in Triple-A Iowa looking to build off the success he had last year.

#7 Pierce Johnson (RHP)

FANTASY STATISTICS (ALL LEVELS)

W

SV

ERA

WHIP

K

11

0

2.74

1.29

124

SECONDARY STATISTICS

IP

HR/9

GO/AO

BB%

K%

118.1

0.38

1.02

8.7%

25.2%

OTHER INFORMATION

AGE ON 1/1/2014

B/T

ROSTER STATUS

LEVELS

22

R/R

Not On 40 Man Roster (Protect After 2015 Season)

A, A+

Prior to the acquisition of C.J. Edwards from Texas, Pierce Johnson was far and away the top arm in the Cubs system. Drafted in the supplemental first round in 2012, Johnson signed late and only threw 11 innings in his professional debut. This year, he made 21 starts between Kane County and Daytona pitching to a 2.74 ERA and striking out more than a batter per inning.

Johnson is a power pitcher, one that can ride his arsenal all the way to the rotation in Chicago. He works with a crisp 90-94 mph fastball and a hard overhand curveball that is the best breaking pitch in the system. He's confident in the deuce, throwing it to hitters from both sides and when he's down in the count. Johnson also adds a cutter and a changeup that he went to me with more regularity as the 2013 season wore on. Personally what I really like about him is that he pitches off his fastball, attacking hitters with the heater to both sides of the plate. Although his arm action isn't picture perfect and he had some arm troubles as a prep, most industry evaluators see Johnson sticking as a quality mid-rotation arm.

Johnson still has yet to prove his merit in the upper minors, but the overall package is one that appears ready to take big steps forward this coming year. The stuff isn't quite as good as Edwards is, yet the frame and pitchability give him the higher probability of starting long-term. That said, if he is forced to the bullpen, the stuff would play up in bursts and he'd be a weapon in the late innings.

20130621_kkt_bk2_050.0
Photo Credit: David Kohl - USA Today Sports

#8 Dan Vogelbach (1B)

FANTASY STATISTICS (ALL LEVELS)

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

0.284

68

19

76

5

SECONDARY STATISTICS

PA

OBP%

SLG%

BB%

K%

568

0.375

0.449

12.9%

15.7%

OTHER INFORMATION

AGE ON 1/1/2014

B/T

ROSTER STATUS

LEVELS

21

L/R

Not On 40 Man Roster (Protect After 2015 Season)

AA

The most portly of Cubs prospects, Vogelbach is every bit of the 260 pounds he's listed at on his player card. Despite the weight, he's had little trouble doing exactly what the Cubs want him to -- hit the baseball. Since being drafted in 2011, the 20-year-old has mashed his way to a .297/.386/.515 line.

Vogelbach can make the field look small at times, using his strength and a short compact swing to generate plus power to all fields. For a young player, the power utility already shows too -- he has an advanced approach and he treats every at bat with the utmost importance. Pitchers need to tread carefully with Vogelbach because he does a great job of zoning up a pitch and not missing when he gets it. He's handled velocity well so far and he does a good job staying on breaking balls, giving credence to the likelihood that he can hit for average in the future as well.

Unfortunately, literally all of his value will have to come with the bat because he's a 20 defender who would be better suited for a DH role and he's a poor runner to boot. Conditioning and maintaining his weight will always be a challenge, though it hasn't appeared to slow him or cause any missed time just yet. The first base rule applies here -- he's got to hit a ton to have any value -- and it's a big reason that Vogelbach doesn't rank higher on this list, but for now it looks like his bat might be up to that task. He'll face his first real test starting the season in the Florida State League with a promotion to Double-A a possibility if he continues to hit.

Editor's Note: Oh yeah, and he's done this in the past as well:

Vogelbux_medium
(GIF courtesy of the guys over at Cespedes Family Barbecue (@cespedesBBQ)

20130221_mjr_su5_112.0
Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas - USA Today Sports

#9 Mike Olt (3B)

FANTASY STATISTICS (ALL LEVELS)

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

0.201

49

15

42

0

SECONDARY STATISTICS

PA

OBP%

SLG%

BB%

K%

432

0.303

0.381

12.7%

30.6%

OTHER INFORMATION

AGE ON 1/1/2014

B/T

ROSTER STATUS

LEVELS

25

R/R

On 40 Man Roster (2 Options Remaining)

AA, AAA

Following the 2012 season, it sure looked like all that stood between Olt and a long productive career at third base was Adrian Beltre. The hulking UConn product made short work of Double-A pitching during the year, hitting .288/.398/.579 with 28 home runs in 95 games and making a short cameo in Arlington. 2013 couldn't have gone worse for Olt however, as he struggled mightily in Triple-A Round Rock before being shipped to Chicago as part of the return for Matt Garza.

As it goes with prospects, Olt is still very much the same player that was universailly loved heading into last season. He's still got solid above average over the fence power, but it comes largely from his strength. Olt's has a bit of a late trigger and a long swing, plus his bat speed is just average. The swing leaves him susceptible to hard stuff on the inner half, a track that pitchers have used over and over again to get him out during the last calendar year. Pitchers with poor command still struggle with Olt because he will work the count and punish mistakes over the plate, but he's still going to have to close up that hole to really have success at the plate. As a third baseman, Olt draws high marks on his hands, action, and arm, especially for his accuracy, though again the grades have fallen a bit as minor injuries have taken some of his range away.

We say it often, but to reiterate development is hardly linear and just because Olt struggled last year it does not mean he should be written off completely. In fact, every player must overcome adversity, and if he can regain his confidence and get back to his strengths, it shows that he can make the necessary adjustments to be a big leaguer. His ceiling has lowered and none of us view Olt as a future star, but he's got a chance to be a very useful piece especially if he's the one that claims the Cubs' third base job this spring. A better bet is that he heads back to Triple-A to refine his swing and get a little swagger back before taking on the Windy City.

#10 Jeimer Candelario (3B)

FANTASY STATISTICS (ALL LEVELS)

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

0.256

71

11

57

1

SECONDARY STATISTICS

PA

OBP%

SLG%

BB%

K%

572

0.346

0.396

11.9%

15.4%

OTHER INFORMATION

AGE ON 1/1/2014

B/T

ROSTER STATUS

LEVELS

20

B/R

Not on 40 Man Roster (Protect After 2014 Season)

A

Yet another corner infield prospect, Candelario signed with the Cubs out of the Dominican in 2010 for $500,000. This past year he went to full season Kane County as a 19-year-old, showing flashes of star level potential at times.

A switch-hitter, Candelario has a very fluid easy swing from both sides of the plate and a solid feel for hitting. He's also very balanced in his swing, a good sign for future success. The power has yet to really materialize, though Candelario is strong and he did blast 8 of 11 home runs during the second half of the season last year. Many project him to have average power with solid batting averages a couple years down the line. At third, he's fluid in his fielding with solid arm strength. There is some cause for concern because he's got a thick neck and face, leading me to believe his lower half might thicken and slow down as he ages, but for now he's more than able to stay at third. Again, like many players in the system the bigger question will just come from how the rest of the players develop and things shake out. If he has to move to first he'll have to deal with Anthony Rizzo, Vogelbach at the very least.

Candelario is much farther from reaching the big leagues than the hitters ahead of him, and the Cubs have little incentive to rush him at this point. Expect him to go a level per year and he'll play third base until he proves he's no longer a viable option at the position.

Other Interesting Prospects
By Andrew Ball (@andrew_ball)

Carlos Villanueva, 3B - With Bryant, Olt, Candelario, and even Baez all rated above him as potential long-term options at the hot corner, Villanueva's opportunity might have to come in another organization. Still, he's got a little thump in his bat, and despite poor plate discipline he's going to hit for power someday in the big leagues.

Neil Ramirez, RHP - Another piece acquired in July's Matt Garza swap, Ramirez adds some much needed pitching depth to Chicago's system. After a strong Triple-A season last there is some optimism that he'll be a starter for the near future, but Ramirez probably slots in as a bullpen arm with a solid fastball-breaking ball combo.


About the Authors

Jason Hunt is a contributing writer for Fake Teams, specializing in the minor leagues and prospects.
Follow him on Twitter

Andrew Ball is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score and Fake Teams, specializing in fantasy baseball and the minor leagues.
Follow him on Twitter

Brian Creagh is a contributing writer for Fake Teams, specializing in fantasy baseball and the minor leagues.
Follow him on Twitter

Matt Mattingly is a contributing writer for Fake Teams, specializing in fantasy baseball and the minor leagues.
Follow him on Twitter

Sources

Baseball America
Baseball Prospectus
Baseball Reference
Fangraphs
Bleed Cubbie Blue
Cespedes Family Barbecue
Vimeo
Youtube

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