So far, we've looked at 5 of the systems in the Majors, and seen some good and some not-so-good. The goal with each team I look at is to discuss a few players who are likely to have an impact in the Majors in 2012, a few who could be ready by the start of 2014, and a few more who are a long ways away, but could be interesting as well. You can find links to the previous teams below:
Keeper Thoughts - Houston Astros
Keeper Thoughts - Minnesota Twins
Keeper Thoughts - Seattle Mariners
Keeper Thoughts - Baltimore Orioles
Keeper Thoughts - Kansas City Royals
Next up for review is the Chicago Cubs system, which should hopefully start to improve with new team president Theo Epstein and new general manager Jed Hoyer running the show.
The system was emptied quite a bit last offseason with the acquisition of Matt Garza, but there are a few players of interest still in the Cubs' system.
Ready in 2012
Jackson came into the 2011 season widely viewed as the top prospect in the Cubs' system, and did nothing to dissuade that ranking last year. He finished the season at AAA, showing power and speed. Here's what Nathaniel Stoltz of Seedlings to Stars had to say about him:
Jackson has significant skills that make him a very intriguing, and if he could find a way to solve his strikeout problems and/or add a ton of power, he could be a star. The most likely outcome, however, is that he’ll be an average starting outfielder–a three-win player, basically. He’s close to that level already, but he still needs to prove he can make some reasonable level of contact against top pitchers to avoid being a Corey Patterson-style bust.
The strikeouts remain a huge problem, as he struck out 138 times last year, and 126 times in 2010. However, I like the comp that Nathaniel gave in the same post: Chris Young of the Diamondbacks. Jackson profiles to be a useful outfielder for fantasy purposes, although the batting average may be a downside from him. I am of the opinion that he will start 2012 in AAA, but could be in Chicago by midseason depending on how he performs.
Every year, it seems like Vitters has the potential to move forward and really emerge as the player that was drafted #3 overall. And every year it seems like he just doesn't quite reach the expectation of him. He posted solid numbers in AA last year, hitting 14 home runs with a .283 batting average. Here's what Ray had to say as a part of his review of Vitters for Minor League Ball back in August:
At this point in his minor league career, Vitters has walked an unfathomable 65 times in almost 1,500 at bats. Needless to say, he is never going to be an on-base guy. But, the power has not developed either. His career slugging percentage is just .438, and he has just 45 HRs, an for a third baseman, that is not going to cut it.
It's hard to get too down on Vitters performance to date, because even though he has been in the minors for parts of 5 seasons now, he is still just 22 years old. That said, he will need to produce with the bat to make it long term as a 3B, and I agree with Ray that he will need a pretty good year in AAA to show he can do that.
McNutt burst onto the scene in 2010, where he struck out 132 in 116 innings across 3 levels. However, 2011 was a lost year, between the performance he showed and the injuries he suffered. John Sickels made mention of this in his review of his top 50 pitching prospects:
20) Trey McNutt, RHP, Chicago Cubs, Grade B+: 4.55 ERA with 65/39 K/BB in 95 Double-A innings, 120 hits. Hampered by blisters and rib injury, was not 100% for most of the season.
I believe that McNutt will return to AA to start out the 2012 season, and could potentially move up after a few starts if he can show some of the skills he did in 2010. I don't think he will likely be up during the 2012 season, unless he gets a September callup. That said, I think that if the injuries are behind him, he could be a fast mover and we could see him on the North Side by the start of 2013.
Could be Ready by 2014
In case anyone was wondering, it is pronounced "Caesar". Szczur was a 2010 draftee who played in full season ball for the first time in 2011, and his performance shows a potentially high-level talent. However, Szczur will likely need to start moving up the system relatively quickly to keep up with the expected age for the league. He finished last season in High-A as a 21 year old, which is about right. He'll likely start the year there, and could be promoted to AA by the All-Star break. Here's what Al Skorupa of Bullpen Banter had to say about Szczur as a part of their top 15 Cubs' prospects:
Matt Szczur is a speedy, max effort centerfelder. I question how much power he'll hit for as he doesn't incorporate his lower half in his swing well. Like Jackson, he's probably more of a good MLB starter than a regular All Star.
Overall, Szczur could vault toward the top of overall prospect rankings if he can repeat his 2011 season. We could be looking at a potential 20-20 candidate at his peak.
Long-Term Prospects (Won't Be Ready Until at Least 2015)
Baez was the Cubs' top pick in the 2011 draft, and while he was drafted as a shortstop, it sounds like he will have to move as he continues to grow. Here's what Kevin Goldstein had to say about Baez as a part of his top 11 for the Cubs:
The Good: Baez can flat-out rake. He has blinding bat speed, excellent hand-eye coordination, and projects for average to plus power as he learns how to drive balls. He has solid defensive fundamentals for his age, and his arm is more than enough for the left side of the infield.
The Bad: Baez is not the kind of athlete one normally sees at shortstop. He's an average runner at best and not especially quick, leaving most to believe he'll move to third base early in his development. Some describe his play as "out of control," and he'll need to develop a big-league approach at the plate. One scout noted that he rarely took pitches—even bad ones—in high school.
Overall, I believe he will end up at 3B long term, but he probably won't be in Chicago for another 5 years at the soonest. If the team is looking to challenge him, they might send him to a Low-A full-season affiliate to start out, but I think more likely he will be in one of the short-season leagues.
Vogelbach was the Cubs' 2nd round selection this year, signing an overslot deal of $1.6 million. He did make his debut in the Arizona Rookie League, appearing in 6 games and hitting 1 homer in that time. Vogelbach was drafted out of high school and his calling card appears to be his power. Here's what Matt Garrioch over at MLB Bonus Baby had to say about Vogelbach back in January:
Power is an asset for Vogelbach and he presented it last week at Chase Field in Arizona at the 5th Annual Power Showcase. You may have heard of a kid named Bryce Harper who hit a 502 FT home run in the 2009 power showcase at Tropicana Field. Well, Vogelbach hit a ball 508' at Chase Field to set a new Power Showcase record. He hit 30 in total.
His power does come pretty easily, or so it looks, with a well balanced powerful swing from the left side. He has lightning fast wrists to generate enormous power. He's not a one trick pony though. When I saw him run a 60 yard dash, I was shocked. He has average speed, plus for his size, and is a better athlete than you would expect. His defense at 1B is adequate and could get better with some work.
I would imagine that Vogelbach will start the 2012 season in one of the Cubs' short season affiliates, as he will be 19 years old for the entire 2012 season. Down the line, he could have the potential to be a top-tier home run threat, but that is probably years away still. He could vault up prospect rankings if he translates that power during the season.
Candelario spent the entire 2011 season in the Dominican Summer League, but posted some excellent numbers while there. I love seeing that many walks from a player that young, but the key to remember here is that he has yet to debut in the States. Here's what Kevin Goldsterin of Baseball Prosepctus had to say about him:
The Good: Candelario has significant offensive potential. He earns raves for his highly-polished approach, and is a switch-hitter with power potential to all fields and a knack for consistent hard contact. He's a solid runner with the tools to become an average first baseman.
The Bad: Candelario's swing works much better from the left side; his power is reduced greatly with his contact-based swing against lefties. He's still messy defensively, and there are worries that he could be forced to first base or left field should he fill out and slow down.
At this point, Candelario is only a play in extremely deep leagues, as he is still extremely far away. It concerns me that he's already at 3B, and could be forced from there as well. If he is, he will have to provide nearly all of his value with the bat.