In desperate need of a complete rebuild the Cubs have started to do just that by adding plenty of high-end talent through the draft. This year’s Top 15 list is littered with players that were either nowhere to be found last year or had just been signed out of Latin America. The Cubs have a lot of building to do but this list of raw, high-ceiling players puts them on the road to doing just that.
1. Javier Baez – SS (Last Year’s Rank: 2)
Baez represents one of the most impressive raw offensive talents in the minor leagues. While his game requires refinement and maturity, Baez could have plus-plus grades for both his hitting ability and power. His approach will have to catch up with his raw talent, but his offensive ceiling is undeniable. Scouts question his ability to stick at shortstop long term and his bat could progress fast enough that his move down the defensive spectrum – likely to third base – could come quickly.
2. Jorge Soler – OF (NR)
Once Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes signed with the A’s, the next big Cuban domino to fall was Jorge Soler. The Cubs were rumored to be in the mix very early on and they ended up inking to a massive deal. Soler profiles as power-hitting middle of the order threat that fits squarely in right field. The Cubs could get aggressive with him and send him to High-A in 2013, but don’t expect him to fly through the system.
3. Albert Almora – OF (NR)
This may seem low for the Cubs top pick last June, but it is more a testament to the impressive talent ahead of him. Almora has the potential to become a first-division player in center field and he has a chance to move much quicker than the two players above him on this list. While he lacks the individual standout tools of Soler and Baez, his wealth of solid-average to plus tools makes him a relatively safe bet to reach his ceiling.
4. Arodys Vizcaino – RHP (NR)
The Cubs received Vizcaino as part of the package that sent Reed Johnson and Paul Maholm to the Braves. After missing the 2012 season with injury, Vizcaino will have a chance to take on a major role in the Cubs bullpen in 2013. With a power fastball that can get into the mid-90s with ease and a quality breaking ball, health is the only thing holding Vizcaino back from being an impact big-leaguer.
5. Christian Villanueva – 3B (NR)
Villanueva will never be mistaken for a star but you also have a difficult time finding a scout that doesn’t view him as a big leaguer. An excellent defender, Villanueva has the profile to stick at third base and be an asset while there. Villanueva’s bat doesn’t carry the same profile but he has enough hitting ability and pop to hit sixth or seventh in a lineup, making him a solid regular.
6. Dan Vogelbach – 1B (9)
I openly admit a general dislike for first-base prospects. With a first-base only profile, there is almost no margin for error in the development of the offensive skill set. Vogelbach has the type of offensive tools – in approach, hitting ability and legitimate power – but that set of skills has to fully mature for him to be an impact player at an offense-oriented position. I like Vogelbach’s bat, but my predisposition against first base prospects pushes him down in my rankings.
7. Brett Jackson – OF (1)
The drop from #1 to #7 isn’t as extreme as it may seem. The drop speaks to the infusion of talent into the system over the last year and also represents an acknowledgement of the warts in Jackson’s game. Jackson has average defensive potential in center field and he has some pop in his bat, but the swing and miss issues are very real, limiting his ultimate offensive ceiling. Jackson will contribute in the big leagues but he lacks the star power of many of the prospects ahead of him on this list.
8. Pierce Johnson – RHP (NR)
Johnson was a first-round pick in June and he could slot in the middle of a future Cubs rotation. Johnson’s physicality has come into question, particularly as he misses more time with injuries. When healthy, he shows a solid-average fastball and curveball, along with a cut-fastball and change-up that are at least useable. If he can stay healthy, Johnson has the raw stuff and feel for pitching to slot in the number three slot of a big league rotation.
9. Arismendy Alcantara – SS (NR)
Alcantara doesn’t always get the love he deserves, at least in part because he missed time with a broken foot over the summer. A 21-year old switch hitter, Alcantara is a very natural hitter with plus-plus hitting potential and the ability to spray line drives to all fields. He has some pop in his bat and could be a dynamic offensive option at a premium defensive position. His actions fit at shortstop and he just needs to settle down and let the game come to him more.
10. Dillon Maples – RHP (3)
Injuries held Maples back in 2012 and he pitched only 10 1/3 innings for the year. When healthy he can run his fastball up to 96 mph with tons of late life and his curveball has plus potential. Even before the actual injuries in 2012, there were concerns about Maples durability because he has effort in his delivery and his arm doesn’t always keep up with the rest of his body. Maples has an enormous ceiling but comes with enormous risk as well, and without health, he may fit better in relief.
11. Duane Underwood – RHP (NR)
I was very high on Underwood entering the 2012 draft, and to be quite honest, I’m surprised by my own ranking of him. He very well could show up as a mistake in my Accountability Check next year, but this is where he seems to fit for me. With a fastball that can reach 97 mph when he needs it, Underwood has tremendous velocity and surprising feel for both his curveball and change-up. For all his raw gifts, Underwood is far more thrower than pitcher at this time and he will require a lot of development to reach his considerable ceiling.
12. Junior Lake – SS (10)
Lake forces a great divide among some scouts, showing incredible raw tools but precious little ability to translate them to game action. He is a supreme athlete but doesn’t seem natural at shortstop, leaving him as a man likely destined to move down the defensive spectrum. He has some hitting ability, mitigated by an aggressive approach, and some pop in his bat as well, but it never seems to consistently play in game situations. Despite his extensive minor league experience, Lake remains a boom or bust prospect.
13. Jeimer Candelario – 3B (15)
Candelario draws attention for his offensive potential. His approach is highly refined for a player his age and allows his natural hitting ability to shine through. He can hit a variety of pitches to all fields and can also drive those pitches with power. Though he is listed as a third baseman now, Candelario does not project to stick at the position and lacks the athleticism for an outfield corner, making him a first baseman and putting a ton of pressure on the bat.
14. Luis Acosta – SS (NR)
Acosta represents a bit of a long shot on this list but his tools are hard to ignore, particularly for someone like me with an affection for loud tools. He can already drive the ball to fall fields with hard line drives where the ball explodes off his bat. With that ability at such a young age, Acosta has outstanding offensive upside. Defensively, he is likely destined for an outfield spot long term, but if his bat matures as projected, that won’t matter.
15. Marco Hernandez – SS (14)
Hernandez has the defensive tools to play on both sides of the infield with at least average ability. His shortstop defense is solid, if unspectacular, and he can make all the necessary plays. He is a bit of a hacker at the plate but has the easy contact ability to make it work. With added strength he could develop gap power, making him a quality utility player and possibly a second-division starter.