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Chicago Cubs 2015 Top Fantasy Prospects

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

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Just like last year, 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 2015. 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. if we have already reviewed the team, a link to the post, along with the team's top prospect is noted.

System Schedule

AL East

AL Central

AL West

NL East

NL Central

NL West

Baltimore
(3/11)

Chicago
(2/11)

Houston
(1/14)

Atlanta
(12/10)

Chicago
(Today)

Arizona
(Bradley)

Boston
(3/14)

Cleveland
(2/14)

Los Angeles
(1/17)

Miami
(12/13)

Cincinnati
(11/15)

Colorado
(Gray)

New York
(3/18)

Detroit
(2/18)

Oakland
(1/21)

New York
(12/17)

Milwaukee
(11/19)

Los Angeles
(Pederson)

Tampa Bay
(3/21)

Kansas City
(2/21)

Seattle
(1/24)

Philadelphia
(12/20)

Pittsburgh
(11/22)

San Diego
(Renfroe)

Toronto
(3/25)

Minnesota
(2/25)

Texas
(1/28)

Washington
(12/24)

St. Louis
(11/26)

San Francisco
(Crick)

Organizational Overview
by David Spracale

For years, Cubs fans have been told that next year could be the year the 100+ years of losing would finally result in a World Series championship. And each year that hope and promise would get dashed by the reality of the on-field product falling short. Sure, there were some positive results but never that elusive championship. Finally, the latest owner, Tom Ricketts, made the decision that a total tear down of the organization was necessary and hired Theo Epstein to oversee that process. The last four seasons under Epstein's leadership have yielded a 271-377 record for a winning percentage of .418, which is the worst in any four season stretch in franchise history. The losing was done mostly by design as Theo and Co. tore down the existing organizational structure and depleted farm system in an effort to rebuild the organization for sustained success and not the occasional one off competitive season or two.

This past season, Cubs fans were treated to a rebound by Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, though I would argue that Rizzo solid in 2013 but was victimized by awful BABIP luck, which hurt his counting stats. In 2014, Rizzo emerged as an elite fantasy and reality first baseman and actually ended up leading the position in fWAR at 5.6. Castro was absolutely dreadful in 2013, and many questioned if he would ever make it back to the level he achieved in his first three seasons and he came pretty close. Castro slashed .292/.339/.438 which were good enough for first, second and third respectively among shortstops. I would like to see Castro hit for just a little more power going forward because he doesn't walk much, but even if he maintains this level he's a top-5 fantasy shortstop. Outside of those two players, there wasn't much to watch among the hitters in Chicago. However, Luis Valbuena was a sneaky awesome player with multiple position eligibility, and he slashed .249/.341/.435 with 16 homers, so keep an eye on him and his role on the team going forward.

Pitching is the area where the consensus of experts agree the Cubs are weakest, both at the Major League level and down on the farm. For example Edwin Jackson is terrible and should never be allowed near a pitcher's mound in any type of meaningful game ever. The $52 million contract given to Jackson by Theo and Co. is easily the biggest black mark on their Chicago record. The Cubs have been excellent at finding reclamation projects like Scott Feldman and Jason Hammel who they've been able to flip at the trade deadline. Feldman was the key piece that brought the Cubs their best pitcher, Jake Arrieta. Arrieta was a top prospect in the Orioles system for what seemed like forever, and he seems to have finally reached that potential under pitching coach Chris Bosio. Arrieta posted the 11th highest fWAR (4.9) among pitchers with 150 innings pitched, and the second best FIP in baseball (2.26), so while we hear the Cubs need to sign an ace, Arrieta undoubtedly posted ace-like numbers in 2014. Travis Wood struggled mightily in 2014 and regressed back towards his career peripheral numbers, but should start the season in the starting rotation, but I don't expect much out of him going forward.

Arrieta and Wood will be joined by Kyle Hendricks, who makes up for his lack of swing and miss stuff with outstanding control and an ability to change speeds with an excellent change-up. Jacob Turner, who like Arrieta, was a regular in the top half of annual prospect lists and has continually underperformed those peripheral stats like FIP and BABIP. Turner is a definite sleeper for a breakout season, his numbers are very similar to what Arrieta posted with Baltimore, before the Marlins soured on him and designated him for assignment. Tsuyoshi Wada was also solid in his brief time with the big club, but he will be 34 next season and he will get a chance at the final spot in the rotation.

There is a definite talent gap in the rotation after Arrieta and Hendricks and I believe the Cubs will be linked to every big free agent pitcher on the market during this hot stove season and probably the next one as well. If the Cubs can manage to sign Jon Lester, which is more likely than Max Scherzer because Lester isn't attached to any draft pick compensation, it would significantly upgrade the top of the rotation looking to improve on their numbers from 2014 where they finished 6th in baseball as a rotation in fWAR. Of course those numbers included strong first halves from Samardzija and Hammel, but to most fans I am guessing it's still a bit surprising.

The Chicago Cubs made a major move by scooping up unexpected free agent manager, Joe Maddon after he opted out of his contract with the Tampa Bay Rays. Some have criticized the move as underhanded because the Cubs had Rick Renteria under contract for two more years, but everyone will forget that if Maddon helps to usher in a new era of winning baseball. Major League Baseball appears to be investigating a potential tampering charge against the Cubs organization, but that could be difficult to prove. With all that aside, Maddon will be joining an organization lead by president Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and scouting director Jason McLeod as well as a loaded farm system primed with big bats ready to make a splash in the Major Leagues soon.

As far as position prospects go, this is the deepest system in baseball and it really isn't all that close, so bear with me if this paragraph gets a bit long. Javier Baez graduated from the prospect ranks, but I want to bring him up anyway. Baez still has elite power and potential and he flashed that power during his rookie year, but he will need to mature as a hitter in order to cut down on his astronomical 41.5% strike out rate. We've seen Baez make adjustments after initial struggles at every level, so I would bet on that number coming down a bit but he will always strike out at a worse than average rate. Jorge Soler did not graduate from the prospect ranks and in very limited time, 97 plate appearances, he appeared to be everything the Cubs could have hoped for and more by displaying a patient approach and some huge power that lead to homers and extra base hits. Kris Bryant will be first or second on everyone's prospect list moving forward. Rankings shouldn't really matter in about mid-April as Bryant should be up for good as he has nothing left to prove in the minor leaues. Bryant should be a monster in the Show with 40 homer potential and good plate discipline, but more on him later. You can never have too many shortstop prospects, and the Cubs proved they believe that by acquiring Addison Russell in the deal for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel with Oakland in July. Speaking of that trade, keep an eye on Billy McKinney because if he continues to hit like he did last year he will be up in mid-season top-100 lists. The Cubs also have 2011 first round pick, centerfielder Albert Almora. Almora has struggled with some injuries that have limited his power development but he's the ability to be an elite glove, but will have to show more offense to maintain his top-50 status. Finally, 2014 first round pick, Kyle Schwarber. Schwarber showed his advanced bat and cruised through the lower minors, and it was announced he will be staying at catcher after an impressive showing at instructs, which makes his fantasy value jump if he can actually stick there. Also within the organization are 1B/DH Dan Vogelbach, OF Eloy Jimenez, and SS Gleyber Torres, all intriguing prospects in their own right. Most of these guys would be in the top four or five prospects for most organizations, but it goes to show the glut of talent the Cubs have acquired. It will be fun to watch everyone in the lineup at Wrigley Field in the very near future.

On the farm, the Cubs have some high-upside arms like Carson Sands, Dylan Cease and Duane Underwood, but young high-upside arms have huge bust potential, more than any other type of prospect. The only two established starting pitching prospects are C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson. Edwards has the stuff to be anywhere from a number two to number 4 starter, but concerns about injury due his slight frame will always come up until he can prove he can handle a Major League workload, but he may prove to be the best piece the Cubs received in the 2013 Matt Garza trade with the Rangers. Johnson profiles as a solid rotation piece but is still at least a year away and probably more likely a late call-up in 2016.

Overall, it's a very exciting time to be a Cubs fan and should be for the foreseeable future. The organization has easily the best collection of offensive prospects in the game, and even if they all don't make it, the Cubs will have a ton of offensive punch for the next decade. If they do happen to all get near their ceilings, then the Cubs will simply tear through the National League and they will be in contention to end that World Series drought on an annual basis. This offseason is going to say a lot about where the front office feels the rebuild of the organization stands and they've already made the first bold move in announcing their intentions to finally compete by bringing Joe Maddon into the fold. Now that the Wrigley Field renovations are underway, the organization should have the financial flexibility to add a couple of big time arms over the next two offseasons. After 100+ years of disappointment when Theo and Co. took over the awful records over the last four years seem like a small price to pay for what is seemingly on the horizon for the Chicago Cubs.


2014 Graduates

The following players have surpassed their rookie maximums of 130 AB, 50 IP, or 45 days of service time.

Javier Baez (AB), Arismendy Alcantara (AB), Mike Olt (AB), Chris Valaika (AB), Kyle Hendricks (IP), Tsuyoshi Wada (IP), Brian Schlitter (IP), Neil Ramirez (IP)

Major League Opportunities in 2015
by Dave Spracale

Arismendy Alcantara came into 2014 ranked as Baseball America's 100th best prospect and 83rd by Baseball Prospectus after a solid 2013 spent at Double-A Tennessee. He started 2014 in Triple-A, and after a strong performance there in 89 games at Iowa, was promoted to Chicago.  Upon his call up Alcantara was put in centerfield despite only playing 11 games there in the minor leagues. Alcantara's biggest offensive issue is strikeouts, which continued to hamper him in the big leagues. However, he did hit 10 home runs, so we know the power translated well. As a fantasy player in 2015, Alcantara's biggest asset will be positional versatility, as he should qualify for outfield, second base and shortstop positions. If he can cut down a little on the K-rate, which was 31% at the Major League level, and improve a little on his walk rate, I could see Alcantara slashing .260/.320/.400 with 15 or so home runs with 20 steals and some room to grow into a super utility player a la Ben Zobrist.

Javier Baez had been a top prospect since he was taken by the previous Cubs' regime with the 9th pick in the 2011 draft. Baez has unquestioned 80 grade raw power due to his elite bat speed which translated into 80 minor league homers in two and a half seasons. There has always been considerable bust concern around the middle-infielder because of his approach and inability to identify breaking pitches, but the power is so rare these days that he will get every chance to prove himself at the Major League level.

Throughout his minor league career, Baez always started off extremely slow at a new level, which intensified the doubts, but would then figure it out and go on offensive tears where opposing pitchers couldn't pitch to him. When Baez first came up to Chicago in 2014, he started with a bang as he homered in his first game, but also struck out three times, a bit of a preview of what we would see the rest of the season. Baez showed flashes of the crazy power he possesses, and while he continued to strike out at a ridiculous rate, his walk rate steadily improved, which was a positive sign.

For 2015, Baez will continue to strike out, but that power is so incredibly rare that he could still be a nice fantasy piece due to being eligible at both middle infield positions. This will be especially true if fantasy players are scared off by the aforementioned issues and you can steal him in later rounds or get him cheaply in auctions. If Baez improves like he did in the minors he will be a nightmare for opposing pitchers for years, but I expect that process to take time and I see him slashing along the lines of .240/.310/.480 with 20 to 30 homers in the coming season, which is still incredibly valuable for a middle infielder regardless of format.

Jorge Soler is just the most recent of the Cuban imports that have exploded onto the scene early in their big league careers, and he happens to be my favorite of the Cubs prospects due to, what I believe, to be the highest probability to reach his ceiling. Soler struggled with some injuries and some maturity issues after signing a nine year Major League contract as a 20 year old, which limited him to only 171 minor league games and 711 plate appearances in parts of three seasons.

Soler scorched three different levels of the minor leagues in 2014 and was called up to the Cubs big league roster at the end of August. Soler promptly homered in his first at bat in Cincinnati and it seemed folks that overlooked him the last few seasons realized they might have made a mistake. When I scouted Soler in the minors I saw an athletic body, quick yet loose hands at the plate, a mature approach, power to all fields and the ability to play above average defense in right field.

Out of all of the Cubs prospects Soler will get on base at the best rate throughout his career, of that I have very little doubt, and I could see him eclipsing a 12% walk rate during his prime. As for 2015, I expect more of the same of what we saw since his debut. I think the one factor that will hold him back next season is the Cubs' caution with over extending his playing time to save the hamstrings that caused him so much trouble in his young career. If Soler stays healthy he will be the everyday right fielder in Chicago and I would expect nothing less than a .270/.330/.450 slash line with 20 homers and plenty of doubles mixed in as well. I am admittedly high on Soler compared to others, but I have been a believer in his tools for a few years now.

With Kris Bryant, the question is not if he will be called up, but a matter of when in 2015. I would doubt he breaks camp with the Major League club, but the Cubs are ready to compete, so he may not be held back by the Super-2 deadline which delays the call ups of many top prospects throughout baseball to save on their extra year of arbitration. However, Kris Bryant is a client of super-agent Scott Boras, so the Cubs will undoubtedly want to gain an extra year of control by delaying Bryant's call-up until around the third week of the regular season. This will mean the Cubs sacrifice 2-3 weeks of Bryant's services in 2015 in order to have him under team control through 2021 instead of 2020, which would be the case if he broke camp with the big club.

In 2015 I expect some really good numbers out of Bryant. I don't think we'll see the crazy rookie numbers that Mike Trout put up, because Bryant's hit tool is not his biggest strength. I expect Bryant to still strikeout about 25% of the time, and a lot of that can be attributed to his patient approach at the plate. That same patience will result in a solid walk rate in the neighborhood of 10% as well. The power is undeniable and it's still developing, but it will show up in his rookie season. I expect a slash line in the area .240/.330/.500 with 20-30 home runs depending on his exact call up date. The last real question the Cubs will need to answer is where Bryant will play as a Major Leaguer. Scouting reports are mixed, but in watching him in college, on TV and very briefly in person, he is athletic enough to stick at third, but his lanky body my eventually force him to the outfield. It will be nice to get at least a couple years out of his bat at third base in fantasy, as third base continues to be a black hole of offense at the Major League level.

Kyle Hendricks has always been pushed out of prospects list his entire career because he does not possess electric stuff that produces big strikeout numbers. Hendricks instead relies on plus command, movement and changing speeds to produce results. In 2014, Hendricks posted a 2.46 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 81.1 innings pitched at the big league level. I love FIP as a statistic because it can really help to show where guys could reasonably project to statistically and in Hendricks' case his 3.32 FIP in those same Major League innings, so it would be reasonable to expect a bit of regression in his numbers in 2015. I believe that we will see Hendricks regress back towards his FIP but he will also always be someone that out pitches his peripheral statistics. Hendricks' 2014 home run to fly ball percentage of 4.9% should move more towards the league average of 10% but due to his heavy sink and excellent change up should see him keep it at a better than league average rate. In the end, I think Hendricks is a classic case of a better real life pitcher than a fantasy pitcher, but in deeper leagues I could see him being useful.

Armando Rivero is another Cuban defector that the Cubs signed before the 2013 season. Rivero was solid in 2013 but he took a huge step forward in 2014. Rivero saw an increase in velocity up from 92-93 to 95-98 with a slider that has flashed the ability to be a real out pitch as soon as 2015. Rivero will be a reliever only with no real shot at starting, but I have a feeling he could end up in the Cubs bullpen on opening day after progressing through Double-A and Triple-A in 2014 where he struck out 100 batters in 65 innings on the season. With the new velocity, a plus slider and a developing change-up I really like his fantasy prospects in 2015. New Cubs manager, Joe Maddon understands that the save statistic is one of, if not the most, useless statistic in the game and he won't manage his bullpen using someone as a "closer" if the leverage doesn't justify it. With that said the save and hold are still used in many formats and Rivero could be a candidate to capture a few of each in 2015.

Most scouts figured Addison Russell would be ready for the Major Leagues by the end of 2014, but the trade and hamstring injury prevented that from happening. I fully expect the Cubs to start Russell off at Triple-A Iowa but some questions will need to be answered before we can project him for 2015. Personally, I would like to see Russell stick at shortstop if he continues to show the ability to play average defense, but that will mean the Cubs would have to move incumbent Starlin Castro off the position. There are many other questions to be answered with other players as well. Can Bryant stick at third base? Will Baez be able to hit enough to be an everyday player? Would the Cubs consider trading Castro while on a very team friendly deal? If Russell continues to show the progress he has throughout his career then the questions will be answered sooner rather than later and he will be up and playing at some point in 2015.

Vizcaino was part of the 2012 trade that sent Paul Maholm to the Braves at the deadline. At the time he was considered a high upside arm but he was recovering from Tommy John Surgery when the deal was struck but the elbow injuries forced him to miss all of 2012 and 2013 which has caused his stock to fall pretty hard. With that said, he will no longer be able to start despite starter stuff, but he still has the ability to be a high leverage reliever. Vizcaino still sits at 94-96 occasionally touching 98 and a curveball that has the potential to be a plus strikeout pitch, which is why he will still get a shot at the Major League level. If Vizcaino is healthy and he shows some semblance of command then I expect him to have a shot at high leverage situations in Chicago in 2015 at some point. Those are a lot of "ifs" but he still flashes the stuff that you should keep an eye on for another year.


Top 10 Fantasy Prospects
by Brian Creagh

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

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1. Kris Bryant (3B)

Photo Credit: Rick Scuteri - USA Today Sports
2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
AVG R HR RBI SB
0.325 118 43 110 15
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
PA OBP% SLG% BB% K%
594 0.438 0.661 14.48% 27.27%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
22 R R AA-AAA
Roster Status: Protect after 2016 Season
ETA to Majors: 2015

My slam dunk #1 fantasy prospect in all of the minor leagues, I'm running out of superlatives to use in describing Kris Bryant. Selected 2nd overall in the 2013 draft ahead of guys like Jon Gray and Kohl Stewart who were arguably better fits for a pitching-depleted Cubs farm system, Kris Bryant to this point appears to have been the right pick. A 3B out of San Diego University, Bryant is almost 23 years old and poised to get his first shot at the majors in 2015. At 6'5" 215 lbs. Bryant looks every part the slugger we are expecting to see at the highest level.

Since signing with the Cubs, Kris Bryant has done nothing but crush baseballs. His 2014 season split time between AA and AAA and neither level provided much of a challenge. A combined .325/.438/.661 line with 43 HRs and 15 SBs. The only negative part of his stat line is the 85/43 K/BB ratio in only 70 games at AAA. That's a lot of swing and miss, and something that will need to be cleaned up for Bryant to reach his full potential. The beautiful thing with Bryant is that even if the strikeouts continue to be a hinderance, he's a league-average corner infielder with big power numbers, and a starter in any format. If he can find a way to remedy the strikeouts, he's a perennial all-star and 1st round selection for fantasy owners.

The interesting aspect to Bryant's fantasy value is how re-draft owners should consider Bryant heading into 2015 drafts. The latest from Theo Epstein suggests Addison Russell and Kris Bryant will start the year back in AAA, but he's also been quoted as saying Bryant will spend the "vast majority" of 2015 in the big leagues. I'm probably staying away from Bryant in re-draft leagues since there's a high probability he sits on your bench until May/June, but his value will be quite volatile as news comes out so if you're a gambler, buy some stock and ride the waves.

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2. Addison Russell (SS)

Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas - USA Today Sports
2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
AVG R HR RBI SB
0.295 39 13 45 6
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
PA OBP% SLG% BB% K%
280 0.350 0.508 6.79% 17.50%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
20 R R AA-A+
Roster Status: Protect after 2016 Season
ETA to Majors: Late 2015

Acquired in the blockbuster Jeff Samardzjia deal, Russell is another ultra-talented middle infielder in the Cubs organization. A consensus Top-10 prospect, Russell is a dual-threat player who grades out above-average on offense and defense. The defensive rating means more to Russell than it might for other fantasy SS since it gives him the long-term edge in a competition amongst other top players. Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, and Arismendy Alcantara are all viable options at SS for the Chicago Cubs, but due to his superior defensive abilities the favorite has to be Russell to hold the job in the long run - a huge boon to his fantasy value.

Russell flashes more than just the leather, and is a top offensive threat at the position. With a mature approach at the plate, and a plus hit-tool, Addison Russell will slot near the top of any professional lineup, even a potentially crowded Cubs lineup. In AA after his trade to Chicago, Russell batted .294/.332/.536 in 50 games with 12 HRs and 2 SBs. Russell's all-around game gives him a solid floor to build fantasy value off of, and with the potential impact power tool, he has the upside of Round 1 draft pick.

Theo has come out and said Russell will start 2015 in AAA, but that is assuming Starlin Castro is still on the roster come opening day. Russell's 2014 was cut short due to injury, and he certainly needs more time at the high levels of the major leagues, but he's not far off from an MLB debut. 2016 is a more realistic ETA, but the dominoes that appear ready to fall in Chicago, his timeline could move up.

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3. Jorge Soler (OF)

Photo Credit: Rick Scuteri - USA Today Sports
2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
AVG R HR RBI SB
0.325 53 20 77 1
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
PA OBP% SLG% BB% K%
333 0.402 0.661 11.71% 21.62%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
22 R R Rk-AA-AAA-MLB
Roster Status: On 40-man roster (1 Option Left)
ETA to Majors: 2015

The least celebrated prospect in Chicago's monster class (Baez, Bryant, Russell, Almora), Jorge Soler had a huge MLB debut in 2014 and could end up being the best of this group. Signed out of Cuba in 2012, Jorge Soler is a corner outfielder slugger with the big arm that can fill in RF. There were some maturity and development hurdles that had to be overcome during his time in the minors, like charging the opposing dugout with a bat in hand, but Soler has done well to put those struggles behind him. A 24 game appearance for the Cubs at the end of the year, has fans and fantasy players alike wondering what the future can hold. Soler hit .292/.330/.573 and 5 HRs in his 24 games, which is slightly misleading. 3 of those HRs came in his first 4 games and Soler hit only .229/.273/.400 in the final 19 games.

The talent he demonstrated was undeniable, and despite the struggles Soler will develop into a solid middle-of-the-order bat who routinely hits 20+ HRs. Where his value can drastically change is in the AVG department, where Soler's strikeout numbers keep his value suppressed. You can't read too much into his statistics though, since Soler has never been at one level for more than 55 games. The scouting reports on Soler indicate he has quality pitch-recognition skills and doesn't chase many pitches out of the zone, and his strikeout numbers are more a result of over aggressiveness. This is a positive sign for his potential, as it is much easier to alter a player's approach at the plate, then to improve his innate ability to put bat-to-ball.

I expect there to continue to be a transitional period for Soler well into 2015, and Cubs fans should not be deterred if the numbers aren't as impressive as some are projecting. The power is legit and will play in-game and the rest of Soler's offensive game is moving in the right direction. At only 23 years old next season, he still has some development ahead of him. His prime years could be something special.

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4. Kyle Schwarber (C)

Photo Credit: Dave Weaver - USA Today Sports
2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
AVG R HR RBI SB
0.344 55 18 53 5
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
PA OBP% SLG% BB% K%
311 0.428 0.634 12.54% 18.33%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
21 L R A+-A-A-
Roster Status: Protect after 2017 Season
ETA to Majors: 2017

Similar to Kris Bryant, the Cubs spurned a pitcher with their top pick in favor of a power college bat. Like Bryant, Schwarber has also done nothing but mash since playing professional baseball. He finished his first season in Hi-A and hit .302/.393/.560 in 44 games with 10 HRs and an excellent 38/26 K/BB ratio. At 21 years old, and with his college background, the numbers aren't as impressive at Hi-A and the AA level will be a better gauge of how good Schwarber's bat can be.

What we know now, is Schwarber has plus power, a great approach, and quality bat-to-ball skills. The upside isn't nearly the same as Bryant, Soler, Baez, but he's a high-floor guy who might sneak in a few years of C eligibility for fantasy owners. There's a lot of questions about where Schwarber ends up, and the consensus seems to be that catcher is not the long-term answer, but could be a temporary home early in his career. I like the Carlos Santana comps I've heard, not from a skill perspective, but merely how he's handled behind the plate.

Schwarber is going to be a starter in most formats, and a must-own if he gets C eligibility for a few years. His developmental timeline is also tied to his defensive value, because his bat is less than a year away from being MLB-ready, but the defense behind the plate is still a few years out. I expect him to break into Chicago as a LF, while playing C sparingly.

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5. Albert Almora (OF)

Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas - USA Today Sports
2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
AVG R HR RBI SB
0.270 75 9 60 6
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
PA OBP% SLG% BB% K%
529 0.291 0.392 2.65% 13.04%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
20 R R A+-AA
Roster Status: Protect after 2016 Season
ETA to Majors: 2016

A now seemingly forgotten prospect in the Cubs minor league system, Albert Almora did not have the statistical success as his teammates but he is still fantasy relevant. Almora was rated 36th, 18th, and 25th by Baseball America, MLB.com, and Baseball Prospectus respectively heading into 2014. He did little this season to warrant similar rankings going into 2015 and his stock is deservedly very down for fantasy owners. I expect Almora to find his way on to a few Top 100 lists next season, but it is more likely a result of his CF defense, high-motor and leadership qualities - assets that matter little in our world.

Drafted 6th overall by the Cubs in 2012, Almora was viewed as a defense-first player who had a great chance to develop some pop and hit for a high average. He's always shown the innate bat-to-ball ability' and at 6'2" 180 lbs with quick, loose hands the tools are in place for him to still make the progress many have expected to this point. Holding Almora back is his aggressive approach at the plate and unwillingness to work deep into counts. In 125 games last year across Hi-A and AA, Almora walked only 14 times! He did only strike out 69 times - proof of his knack for getting the barrel on any pitch. The in-game power has yet to manifest itself either, but Almora has always shown the raw power of a double digit HR threat. The power should closely follow the much needed change in approach.

There are still quite a few points working in Almora's favor: he's still very young - he'll be 21 years old and likely headed back to AA, his raw tools have not diminished to this point, he was relatively healthy last year, and the opportunity is still there for him at the highest level. Arismendy Alcantara, while an intriguing fantasy option in his own right, is not the Cubs CF of the future, and Almora is still the favorite as the long-term option. I would not be surprised if 2015 is the year it all starts to come together and Almora climbes to #1 or #2 on this list next year.

6. C.J. Edwards (RHP)

2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
1 0 2.35 1.06 54
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
IP HR/9 GO/AO BB% K%
53.2 0.20 1.19 11.63% 25.12%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
22 R R AA-Rk
Roster Status: Protect after 2015 Season
ETA to Majors: 2016

Injury troubles shortened C.J. Edwards season to only 52 innings, but when he was on the field Edwards was very impressive. The majority of his was was done in AA and with great results: 8.6 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, 2.44 ERA, and only 1 HR allowed. The only negative to Edwards' 2014 season are the questions his injuries bring into play. Edwards is a lanky, twig and if he's already experiencing arm problems there is a higher likelihood he ends up as a reliever.

C.J. Edwards throws a fastball, changeup, and curveball with the fastball/curveball combo projected to be plus pitches. His fastball sits 91-95 mph with some wiggle and average command. Edwards' curveball is a legit hammer and should pile up strikeouts in whatever role he ultimately fills. The changeup lags behind the others but he has a feel for the pitch and it should serve him well if he can make it as a starter. The profile looks a lot like a late-innings reliever and when paired with his physical attributes, it would seem like a great fit. Chicago will keep trotting Edwards out there as a starter in 2015, and a full 120+ IP season would go a long way in cementing his near-future as a starter. The eternally optimistic Cubs fan in me sees Edwards filling a late-season innings role in 2015 and never relinquishing the role in subsequent seasons. The unbiased view is a risky arm who is going to get every opportunity start and should hold his own when the time comes. A quality #3 arm if it all clicks.

7. Duane Underwood (RHP)

2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
6 0 2.50 1.20 84
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
IP HR/9 GO/AO BB% K%
100.2 0.90 1.30 8.72% 20.34%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
19 R R A
Roster Status: Protect after 2015 Season
ETA to Majors: 2018

Underwood is an athletic, well-built right-handed pitcher who established himself as potential mid-rotation starter. Drafted in the 2nd round in 2012, Underwood went under the radar in 2013 off-season coverage garnering little attention from major publications. He has the body and the stuff to be a quality rotation piece and more than a streamable fantasy option.

Underwood is a fastball, curveball, changeup pitcher and all pitchers are advanced considering his status as a Low-A pitcher. The fastball is an easy plus pitch sitting 94-97 mph and it took a big tick up in velocity this season - a possible red flag to look out for in 2015. His curveball and changeup are both inconsistent, but if you get a scouts report when the pitch was "on" that day, they draw rave reviews. There's a lot of pieces still to come together with Underwood so he's a risky prospect to be sure, but if he builds on his 2014 season and keeps his velocity up on the fastball, he will be the Cubs #1 pitching prospect and an easy Top 4 in the system this time next year.

20120602_kdl_bm1_182.0

8. Pierce Johnson (RHP)

Photo Credit: Robert Mayer - US Presswire
2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
5 0 2.54 1.179 99
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
IP HR/9 GO/AO BB% K%
102.2 0.80 1.21 13.83% 24.03%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
23 R R AA-A
Roster Status: Protect after 2015 Season
ETA to Majors: Late 2016

Another Cubs pitching prospect with a big year, Pierce Johnson landed in a few Top 100 lists heading into 2014 and validated those rankings with a stellar season. Pitching 91 innings in AA, Johnson maintained a 2.55 ERA, 8.9 K/9, and a scary 5.3 BB/9. Command issues have always been apart of the profile, and while you would've liked to see that number closer to 4, the upside is still a #3 starter.

Johnson has a fastball, changeup, curveball repertoire and the stuff is just a step below that of Underwood and Edwards. All pitches project to average or above-average, but the present lack of command for any of them hurts his overall ranking. His fastball sits 91-95 mph, and the curveball and changeup flash plus but aren't thrown with enough consistency. Reports also mention a loss of zip on pitches as he gets later into the game. Johnson has the big body you look for in a starter, so I wonder if it's just an endurance thing and something he can build up. Johnson will likely repeat AA in 2015 and depending on his performance could find his way to AAA by the end of the season.

9. Billy McKinney (OF)

2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
AVG R HR RBI SB
0.264 72 11 69 6
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
PA OBP% SLG% BB% K%
543 0.354 0.412 11.23% 18.42%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
19 L L A+
Roster Status: Protect after 2017 Season
ETA to Majors: Mid-2016

The other piece landed in the Samardzjia/Hammel trade, Billy McKinney was a great acquisition for the Cubs. Drafted in the first round of the 2013 draft by the A's, McKinney doesn't have loud tools, but instead has a little bit of everything. He doesn't have much of an arm, and only average speed in the field and so will likely end up at LF. He doesn't project for much power or to hit for a great average, but he'll hold his own in each category.

The profile is a tweener - could be a 2nd division LF or a 4th OF type and much of it will depend on the team he's on. With Chicago, the OF is up in the air with Soler, Almora, Alcantara, and possibly Kris Bryant, so the opportunity may present itself for McKinney to start in LF. McKinney doesn't strike out much and knows how to take a walk, and looks like a quality #2 hitter. Odds are he ends up as a #7 or #8 hitter for the Cubs. McKinney will get the AA test in 2015, and could find himself in Wrigley in 2016. The profile isn't sexy, but he's a starter that won't kill you in any category.

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10. Dan Vogelbach (1B)

Photo Credit: David Kohl - USA Today Sports
2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
AVG R HR RBI SB
0.268 71 16 76 4
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
PA OBP% SLG% BB% K%
560 0.357 0.429 11.79% 16.25%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
21 L L A+
Roster Status: Protect after 2015 Season
ETA to Majors: 2016

I'm a proponent of evaluating a prospect without the context of his future role in the current organization, but there is no way to avoid that obstacle when it comes to Dan Vogelbach. A below-average 1B, with a legit stick, Vogelbach has DH written all of him with his only out being a part-time 1B. Well I'll state the obvious here that the Cubs don't have a DH position to use, and nobody is moving Anthony Rizzo from 1B for the foreseeable future. To Vogelbach's credit he has done some incredible work getting into better shape and while it hasn't resulted in better defense, it has opened up the potential for him being a full-time 1B for another franchise. A prophecy that might come true sooner rather than later.

In 2014, Vogelbach spent the entire season at 2014 and continued mashing with a .268/.357/.429 with 16 HRs in 132 games. There's going to be a lot of pressure on Vogelbach's bat as he reaches AA next season, but he has the ability to handle it. He has easy plus power, and a loose swing capable of making consistent contact. The question will all come down to whether a suitor feels he can handle a full-time job at 1B at the MLB level. It's difficult to imagine his stock being much higher at this point, and maybe Vogelbach is a guy who gets flipped for a much needed starting pitcher? AA should give Vogelbach a good litmus test on his hit tool. Still not sure if he's a .250-.260 type or the .270-.280 guy. The power is coming regardless, it's a matter of finding ABs.


Other Interesting Prospects
by Brian Creagh

Gleyber Torres - One of the Cubs' top acquisitions during their July 2nd spending spree in 2013, Gleyber Torres has an across-the-board tools package. He's a shortstop with a high probability of sticking there and has shown enough competence on offense to get excited about him from a fantasy perspective. Torres had a very brief  7 game appearance in Low-A last season, spending the beginning of the year in Rookie ball. Across 50 total games he hit .297/.386/.440 with 2 HRs and 10 SBs.

The power and speed are only average tools for Torres and don't project to sustain big numbers, but his hit tool is above-average and could support a high batting average in the majors. A starting shortstop who pitches in at every category and isn't an AVG sinkhole is a starter in any format. Torres is forever away and probably doesn't have the upside to justify hanging on to him for the next 5 years until he reaches the majors. There's some brand name value with him due to his $1.7 million signing bonus and being the top prospect on many July 2 rankings lists two years ago.

Eloy Jimenez - The other big July 2nd signing for the Cubs in 2013, Eloy Jimenez is an OF prospect who is raw and dripping with tools. He's 6'4" and 205 lbs and projects to be a slugging RF prospect. He made his stateside debut in 2014 and while the tools would indicate a higher ranking on a fantasy list, he's so far away and the Cubs system is so loaded that he's a speculative play at this point in any dynasty league. The stats weren't great in Rookie ball, but he's going to need time to grow into his body so don't read much into the numbers.

Jen Ho Tseng - A very polished product early in his career, Tseng has the look of a #4 starter. He just completed a full-season in Low-A and is just 19 years old, but he could be a quick mover through the system. Not going to overpower major league hitters and probably isn't more than a streaming option in standard leagues, but he has a great shot to become a starter.

Mark Malave - I would not be shocked if Malave develops into the Cubs starting catcher and becomes a fantasy starter in every league. He's still a long ways away, so he doesn't quite deserve a Top 10 spot, but with the athleticism to stick behind the plate, and a power bat that could develop into something more, Malave is worth a flyer in the deepest of leagues.

About the Authors

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