Monday, February 1, 2010

TEAM #6 – Chicago Cubs

Castro enhanced his fast rising reputation with a solid AZFL performance

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We never know how things are going to come out when we start these rankings, but our biggest surprise has to be the Chicago Cubs coming in at #6. It’s not that the Cubs don’t have some talented players, it’s just that they graduated five players to the Majors in 2009—from an already weak system, and if you had evaluated the team in early June their prospect hopes looked pretty dim. Then Starlin Castro put together one of the most ‘helium’ filled seasons in the Minors, Brett Jackson was drafted and surprised most everyone with his play, Andrew Cashner located his missing command, Kyler Burke finally had the breakout season everyone had been waiting for, John Gaub became one of the Minors’ best relief prospects and they had a huge haul of young prospects from the Pacific Rim. Suddenly it is like an entirely different organization. The strength of the organization lies in its depth, as only our top three organizations have a longer list of ‘C’ or higher prospects. There also is a good balance between high-ceiling and high-floor players. Additionally, likely no organization in baseball works the Pacific Rim harder than the Cubs, and it looks like they are about to reap some of the fruits of their efforts…but everything isn’t roses for the Cubs, as once you get past the top nine prospects, pitchers make up all but eight of the next twenty-five spots. Perhaps more importantly, few of the Cubs’ prospects will be ready to contribute before late 2011 or 2012, so it will likely be another couple of years before the impact of the rebounded farm system is felt at the Big League level.

Grade A

1) Starling Castro, SS (2009 Performance Scores – Power 36; First Base Rate 57; Discipline 76; Speed 67)

After back-to-back #5 Performance Score finishes in the DSL in 2007 and the AZL in 2008, Castro’s breakout performance in 2009 shouldn’t quite come as the shock that it apparently did, but the 19yo burst onto the scene in a big way last season. Skipping the MWL and starting the year in the FSL, Castro posted the #6 Performance Score in that circuit, before ending the season with the #6 Performance Score in the SOL. Then to put an exclamation point on the season, in the Fall, he posted the Top Performance Score by a position player in the AZFL. Castro is highly projectable, highly athletic player, with a solid work ethic and good baseball instincts. Although he has above average speed and solid defensive skills, it his precocious ability to make contact that is his best skill. While not a tremendous power hitter currently, he should become at least average for the middle infield. The biggest drawback to Castro is that he just needs experience. With only 111 AA ABs, expect Castro to return to West Tennessee to open the season. But make no mistake, Castro is on the fast track and has an all-star caliber ceiling.

2) Josh Vitters, 3B (2009 – Power 69; First Base Rate 30; Discipline 73; Speed 44)

Vitters was the best all-around prep position player in California in 2007, when the Cubs selected him with the #3 overall pick, but he struggled in 2007 and then again in 2008. But in 2009, Vitters put together an amazing hot streak at the end of May on his way to posting the #2 Performance Score in the MWL. While a second half promotion to the FSL didn’t go quite as well, he still finished with a Top 20 score in that circuit. While there remain some questions about Vitters’ long-term ability to stay at the hot corner, he appears to have the arm strength to at least make a go at it at the next level. Vitters has an aggressive approach at the plate that has produced only 28 walks in over 800 PAs. Still he makes exceptional contact (16% strikeout rate) for a hitter with plus power potential. Vitters has the ceiling of an all-star caliber third baseman, and will likely begin 2010 at AA—as a 20yo.

Grade A-

3) Brett Jackson, CF (2009 – Power 72; First Base Rate 76; Discipline 41; Speed 62)

Over the course of the Spring, Jackson fell a bit in our estimation, with significant problems making contact and diminished power, as we at one time considered him a mid-first round draft pick. On draft day, we had him rated at #42, and we were actually a bit surprised that the Cubs tabbed him toward the end of the first round. That said, no collegian position player drafted last June impressed us more in their debut, as Jackson finished with the #3 Performance Score in the MWL. We would like to see him continue his performance at higher levels in 2010, before we will be totally convinced, but he is rising in our estimation. A tremendous athlete, Jackson possesses above average power and speed, coupled with plus on-base skills. While he showed significantly better strike zone management skills in the pros than he did in college, he still whiffed in 23% of his PAs. Expect Jackson to begin 2010 in the FSL, but he could see AA before mid-season.

4) Andrew Cashner, RHP (2009 – Dominance 46; Stamina 59; HRrate 75; Control 45)

The Cubs’ first round pick in 2008 was abysmal in his debut, but was markedly better in 2009. Originally drafted as a closer, a position we expect him to return to in the Majors, the Cubs continue to develop him as a starter. With a mid-90s fastball, and an above average slider, Cashner has two-thirds of a required repertoire…unfortunately, the change is still a below average offering. However his command, which has vacillated between fringy and awful, is his biggest weakness. At 6’6”, 210lbs, Cashner can be an intimidating presence and he possesses the upside of a potential front of the rotation starter, with the floor of a likely dominating back of the bullpen guy. Expect him to begin 2010 in AA, and we should have a much clearer picture of his future by this time next season.

Grade B+

5) Hak-Ju Lee, SS (2009 – Power 40; First Base Rate 76; Discipline 63; Speed 79)

One of the Cubs more promising Pacific Rim signings, the 20yo Lee made his professional debut in 2009, by posting the #2 Performance Score in the NWL. While not an offensive slouch, defense is his greatest asset, as Lee has good lateral motion, a strong arm, soft-hands, and tremendous baseball instincts. Offensively he possesses plus speed, plus contact skills and above average plate discipline. His only real negative is a slight, 6’2”, 170lb frame that produces below average power. Lee has the potential to be an average everyday Major League shortstop, with gold glove caliber defensive skills. He’ll get his first taste of full-season A-ball in 2010, and could eventually push Castro to secondbase.

6) Kyler Burke, RF (2009 – Power 78; First Base Rate 72; Discipline 56; Speed 76)

The Padres selected Burke in the sandwich round of the 2006, and he had posted 3 dreadful seasons before a breakout 2009, where he finished with the #5 Performance score in the MWL. It was a return trip to that circuit, so we are still somewhat cautious about the results, but he did make significant strike zone management improvements going from a 25% strikeout rate in 2008 to an 18% in 2009. Burke possesses above average power potential and contact skills. While he isn’t tremendously fast, he uses excellent base-running instincts to produce above average results. Defensively he is a plus defender with an exceptional arm. Burke has the ceiling of an average, everyday, Major League right-fielder. Even if he comes up short, he should see plenty of left-handed At Bats as a 4th OF platoon type. Still only 21yo, Burke will likely begin 2010 in AA.

7) Jay Jackson, RHP
(2009 – Dominance 74; Stamina 70; HRrate 41; Control 62)

2009 was an odd season for Jackson, as he started by dominating SOL hitters (Top 10 Performance Score), before the team demoted him, for what remains uncertain reasons, to the FSL (#4 Performance Score), before finishing up the year with a solid start in AAA. With a four-pitch repertoire, that is centered on a low- to mid-90s fastball and features three potentially plus pitches, Jackson has an attacking style, that sometimes causes battles with control. Jackson has the potential to be a front of the rotation force. He is likely to begin 2010 in AA, before spending most of the year in AAA. He could appear in Chicago before the end of the season, but a 2011 date is more likely.

Grade B

8) Logan Watkins, 2B (2009 – Power 31; First Base Rate 74; Discipline 77; Speed 68)

The Cubs drafted Watkins in the 21st round of the 2008 draft, and paid him 3rd round money to keep him from honoring his college commitment. Now in two seasons he has recorded a Top 10 score in the AZL in his debut, and the #5 Performance Score in the NWL in 2009. Watkins is an excellent athlete with plus contact, plate discipline, and speed skills. Currently the Cubs have him playing second base alongside Hak-Ju Lee, but we feel that he profiles best in center field. On the downside, Watkins is homerless in his first 359 professional At Bats. While we believe he will add power as he matures, he is unlikely to ever hit more than 10-15 home runs per year. What Watkins needs most of all at the moment is experience. Look for the 20yo to get his first taste of full-season ball in 2010 in the MWL.

9) D.J. LeMahieu, 2B (2009 – Power 25; First Base Rate 78; Discipline 73; Speed 35)

LeMahieu had predominantly played shortstop prior to 2009, but in anticipation of a professional career, shifted to second base at LSU this past spring, before becoming the Cubs’ second round pick in June. LeMahieu’s contact and plate discipline skills rate as plus—especially for the middle infield, and he projects to have at least average power. The negatives are that, even at second, LeMahieu doesn’t possess tremendous quickness or speed. If he can’t hold down that position on a regular basis, he is likely destined for a utlity role. Expect to see LeMahieu open 2010 in the FSL.

10) John Gaub, RP (2009 – Dominance 75; Stamina 25; HRrate 48; Control 38)

Acquired in the same deal that netted the Cubs Chris Archer, Gaub had a breakout 2009, that lasted all of the way through the AZFL season, and squarely placed him on the prospect radar screen. While Gaub possesses a fastball that is a mid-90s offering, his best pitch is his plus slider that devastates left-handed hitters. Unfortunately, there isn’t much in the way of off-speed offerings, and Gaub still issues way too many free passes. While Gaub’s ceiling is that of a solid Major League back of the bullpen guy, the plus that he provides is a solid floor at that of an above average ‘LOOGY’. Gaub still needs a bit more seasoning, so expect him to open the season in AAA, but the Cubs are planning on using him in Chicago by the second-half.

Grade B-

11) Chris Archer, RHP (2009 – Dominance 65; Stamina 61; HRrate 77; Control 25)

Over the last 18 months, the Cubs have made a number of deals where they have acquired ‘fringy’ Minor League pitching prospects for Major League veterans with expiring contracts. The Cubs acquired Archer after the 2008 season in just such a deal, and Archer has paid off as well as any of them, as the 21yo posted a Top 15 Performance Score in the MWL in 2009. As evidenced by his HRrate score, Archer keeps the ball down and in the park as well as most anyone. He possesses a low-90s fastball and a potentially plus curve. The downside is that his change remains an underdeveloped pitch and fights battles with his control. Archer’s upside is that of a mid-rotation starter, but unless he improves his change and his control, he may not develop into more than a solid bullpen arm. He will open the 2010 season in the FSL.

12) Dae-Eun Rhee, RHP -

Rhee was putting together a monster season in the MWL in 2008, before an elbow injury, and subsequent Tommy John surgery, ended his year and cost him most of 2009. When healthy, Rhee possesses three potentially plus pitches, highlighted by a low-90s fastball. Still only 20yo, if Rhee returns to form, he has the ‘stuff’ of a Major League #2 rotation-type. While he still needs seasoning, he grades high in pitchability and is advanced for his years. The Cubs are likely to send him to the FSL to begin 2010.

13) Jeff Antigua, LHP (2009 – Dominance 66; Stamina 72; HRrate 30; Control 63)

Antigua gets ‘dinged’ by the scouting community for lacking an overpowering fastball, and having a frame that portends only modest projection. We, on the other hand, look at as his 90mph fastball as playable, and focus on a precocious lefty, with above average command of three pitches, including one of the Minors’ better Changes. Only 19yo, Antigua posted the Top Performance score in the NWL, before posting the #7 Performance Score in the MWL after his promotion. His ceiling is that of a solid Major League #3/#4. Expect Antigua to begin 2010 with a return trip to the MWL.

14) Chris Carpenter, RHP (2009 – Dominance 68; Stamina 67; HRrate 66; Control 51)

The Cubs 2008 third round pick had a breakout 2009, as he logged time at three different levels. He has three potential Major League offerings, highlighted by a low- to mid-90s ‘heavy’ fastball that keeps the ball in the park. The downside is that he experiences occasional bouts of control with his breaking pitches, and has already undergone two arm surgeries. Carpenter has the upside of a mid-rotation innings eater, however, at 24yo he will open 2010 with a return to AA. We would like to see him in AAA by mid-season if he is going to be taken serious as a legitimate prospect.

15) Rafael Dolis, RHP (2009 – Dominance 43; Stamina 52; HRrate 62; Control 27)

After missing the 2008 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, the converted shortstop returned to the mound in 2009 with a solid season in the FSL. Dolis’ marquee offering is his mid-90s fastball, however he compliments it nicely with two quality secondary offerings. Still more thrower than pitcher at this stage, Dolis struggles with command—an issue that existed pre-surgery. Having just turned 22yo, Dolis will open the 2010 season in AA. Whether he ultimately ends up in the rotation or the bullpen is dependent on his command that he will have to work on before he advances.

16) Trey McNutt, RHP (2009 – Dominance 68; Stamina 48; HRrate 62; Control 37)

One of the better late round signings from the 2009 draft, McNutt destroyed short season hitters in his debut. Possessing a large 6’4”, 205lb frame that still has projection, McNutt features a low-90s fastball that has the potential to be a mid-90s offering. Additionally, his curve and change have the potential to both be plus pitches. On the downside, McNutt struggles with control at times and will have to work on that if he is to reach his potential of a front part of the rotation starter. Still significantly raw, and will only be 20yo for the 2010 season, McNutt will likely open in the MWL, but should see the FSL before the season is out.

17) Brooks Raley, LHP -

Raley entered the 2009 collegiate season as a potential first round , two-way player. But it was a disappointing campaign for him, and by draft day we had him sliding down to the third round,and many thought that the draft-eligible sophomore would return to Texas A&M for his junior season. The Cubs selected him in the 6th round, and paid him early second-round money. Raley has an advanced five-pitch repertoire, that is highlighted by a plus slider. His fastball has only fringy velocity, so there is considerable debate as to his upside. While we expect Raley to begin the season in the MWL, we won’t get a real read on the 21yos potential until he at least begins facing Hi-A or AA hitters.

18) Matt Spencer, LF (2009 – Power 76; First Base Rate 35; Discipline 62; Speed 39)

Acquired from the A’s in the December deal that sent Jake Fox to Oakland, Spencer has fought ‘what he isn’t’ his entire career. What he is, however, is a very capable bat from the left-side of the plate that should be able to find a home in the Majors as a 4th OF/platoon type player. Spencer has above average power and plate discipline skills, but lacks the speed and arm to play anywhere but LF/1B. While he has solid offensive potential, it likely falls short of an everyday job at those positions. Look for Spencer to open 2010 in AAA and see Chicago at some time before the season is out.

19) Ryan Flaherty, 2B (2009 – Power 77; First Base Rate 54; Discipline 59; Speed 42)

We aren’t as high on Flaherty, as are some, despite the fact that he has 28 Homeruns in his first 700 ABs—from a middle infield position. Why? Let me count the reasons: 1) Flaherty has been one-two years ‘old’ for his level during his first two seasons; 2) Defensively he lacks the lateral movement for SS, the arm strength for 3B, the speed for CF, and may not even stick at 2B; and 3) He lacks the speed to be a top of the order threat, the contact/plate discipline skills to bat in the #2 hole, and the raw offensive prowess to bat #4-#6 . Essentially what you are looking at is a guy who is a below average starter on a second division team or an utlity guy on a contender—batting at the bottom of the lineup. At 23yo, Flaherty has yet to see an AB above low-A. Look for him to open up 2010 in Hi-A, and be in AA before mid-season. From our perspective, he will need to show much more for us to consider him higher.

20) Blake Parker, RP (2009 – Dominance 78; Stamina 26; HRrate 49; Control 42)

As the Cubs are wanton to do as much as anyone, Parker was converted to a pitcher shortly after the Cubs drafted him in the 16th round in 2006. With three pitches that could potentially be Major League quality, there is raw stuff here. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear to have the breadth of a starter, or the true dominance of a quality late inning guy, so Parker looks best suited for a solid middle relief role. Parker will compete for a bullpen job this spring, but will likely begin 2010 in AAA before making his Chicago debut at some point this season.

Grade C+ Prospects –

21) Marwin Gonzelz, 2B; 22) Ryan Searle, RHP; 23) Chris Huseby, RP; 24) Casey Coleman, RHP; 25) Esmailin Caridad,RP; 26) Darwin Barney, SS; 27) Jae-Hoon Ha, RF; 28) Wellington Castillo, C; 29) Jeff Stevens, RP; 30) Tony Thomas, 2B; 31) Tyler Colvin, RF; 32) Mitch Atkins, RHP; 33) Robert Hernandez, RHP; 34) Chris Rusin, LHP; 35) James Adducci, CF; 36) Marquez Smith, 3B; 37) Arismendy Alcantara, SS; 38) Dong-Yub Kim, OF.

Grade C Prospects –

Jeff Beliveay; Justin Bour; Justin Bristow; Sergio Burrel; Alberto Cabrera; David Cales; Hung-Wen Chen; Pin-Chie Chen; Robinson Chirinos; Steve Clevenger; Wes Darvill; Sam Fuld; Brandon Guyer; Austin Kirk; Junior Lake; Oswaldo Martinez; Marcos Mateo; Dan McDaniel; Ronny Morla; Kyung-Min Na; Mike Parisi; Rebel Ridling; Jovan Rosa; James Russell; Nate Samson; Aaron Shafer; Nate Spears; Blair Springfield; Jose Valdez; Tzu-An Wang; Robert Whitenack.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season. For additional information on our rankings methodology, see our recent Mailbag article here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions.

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