This past two weeks saw the release of several top prospect lists around baseball. Baseball Prospectus, MLB, Keith Law, and Baseball America released their top prospect lists for the Cubs. The lists are pretty similar with some minor variations. Javy Baez topped every list followed by Kris Bryant and then Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, CJ Edwards, Arismendy Alcantara, and Pierce Johnson in different sequences. The similarities end there. Other top ten names include Dan Vogelbach, Jeimer Candelario, and Arodys Vizcaino on Baseball America’s list while Baseball Prospectus put down Vogelbach, Christian Villanueva, and Jeimer Candelario. Keith Law varied his last three with Jeimer Candelario, pitcher Corey Black, and Arodys Vazcaino.
Over the course of the next two years, most of the prospects listed above will make their major league debut and stick with the Cubs. They might be considered the core parts of the rebuild. By January of 2016, they will be the everyday players and anchors of the rotation. If one were to make a top prospect list for the Cubs in 2016, it is more than simply moving up prospects 11-20 to 1-10. A lot can happen to a prospect in two years. Between two more drafts, injuries, trades, breakouts, development (and lack of), and redundancies in the Cubs system, the quality and number of prospects could change greatly especially if the Cubs contend in 2015.
The hardest part of making this list was projecting where the players would be in two years. With the large number of international signings that have yet to play an inning in the United States, those prospects were evaluated more off of scouting reports and video instead of statistics. In addition, most of the prospects on this new list are currently at High A or lower. The current top ten prospects at AA and AAA should make it to Wrigley by the spring of 2016 with a few exceptions. Pitchers were given more weight as that will be the more urgent need over the next few years for the organization.
The hardest aspect of creating this list is so many of the Cubs minor league pitchers at the lower levels have not had that full season of work. Some, who may be starters now, may turn into relievers, and some current relievers may develop into starters. In addition, throw in the draft picks for the first four rounds of 2015 and 2016 and you have a list that any Cub fan could make a case for a completely different top ten list.
Most of the current top ten prospects are assumed to make it to the big leagues except for Dan Vogelbach and Christian Villanueva; both of whom are trade candidates because of redundancy at their positions. If it was up to me, Vogelbach has the bat to make it in the majors as a Cub, but his glove needs some work. In fact, I am of the opinion that Vogelbach should replace Anthony Rizzo unless Rizzo learns to hit the low and inside pitch and with men on base culminating in an average above .260. However, that might be wishful thinking. For me, though, I have seen Vogelbach several times and the man knows how to handle the bat and uses all parts of the field. If the NL accepts the DH, for 2016, the Cubs and Vogelbach are ready to go.
Back to the list, here are some honorable mention names that were in the running for the top ten 2016 prospect but did not make the cut into the top ten: 16 year old Erling Moreno, RHP Scott Frazier, SP Ivan Pinyero, SP Ben Wells, Trey Masek, C Tyler Alamo, Shawon Dunston, Jr., Dillon Maples, James Pugliese, Kevin Encarnacion, Michael Wagner, Duane Underwood, and Rob Zastryzny. Another name I that could have made the top ten was Wladimir Galindo. The 6’3” 3B has not officially signed, but if he did, I would have placed him in the top 7.
If I knew whether Zastryzny was going to be a starter or a reliever, it would have changed the list. I really wanted to put him on, but his uncertain position forbids it. Duane Underwood, on the other hand, has all the potential to land in the top ten by 2016. However, he has not shown control on his cannon arm to warrant such an inclusion. Dunston and Encarnacion, both stars of last year’s Boise team, need to show what they can do against more advanced competition as they both have struggled when moving up one level and the same is true of other position players.
What I like about this list of players is that they are all what I like to call impact players. They are athletic and if the list was made for the middle of 2016, 3-4 names would be absent as they would be playing in Wrigley.
#10 – Tie – Jefferseon Mejia/Jen Ho-Tseng – Pitchers
As the summer of 2014 rolls, both of these imports should be plying their trade in the US. Mejia likely will be at Boise, and Tseng could be at Kane County because of his experience. In an organization so bereft of pitching, these two young arms signal a new wave of international talent the Cubs scouting department has been scouring the globe. Over the next two years, these arms will tell the job that the scouting department has done. The key to the future for these two will be development of their separate arsenals. Tseng, who has some experience on the international stage, is only 18 and pitched in the World Baseball Classic. Carrie Muskat stated that Tseng has an:
“…above average fastball, ranging from 89-96 mph, a real good slider in the mid to upper 80s. He also has an above average changeup, which is unique for a high school kid, and a very good curveball.”
Mejia is a little more mysterious. Like Tseng, Mejia is also 18. But at 6’7, and now 220 pounds, he is still growing into his frame. Ben Badler of Baseball America claims that Mejia has a
“90-93 mph fastball, a swing-and-miss changeup along with a solid curveball in the mid-70s. His athleticism also improved along with his strength, which helped him get in better sync with his delivery.”
While Mejia is better suited to starting with his body being able to handle the workload. Tseng, at 6’0”, might be bound for the bullpen where he could focus on two pitches to just dominate. For Cub fans, Mejia could the #1 type starter for which they have been looking for many years. If Mejia develops around that giant frame, he could shoot up this list very quickly.
#9 – Tyler Skulina – Pitcher
Tyler Skulina is a big boy. At almost 6’6”, his delivery seems almost effortless. He throws from a high plane. If he extended a little more with his left leg, his delivery and follow through would be almost perfect. He reminds me how effortlessly Mark Prior threw but with a more over the top delivery. What is perfect is his wicked slider/curve. Combined with a low to mid 90s fastball, Skulina still needs to develop a third pitch. In his brief tenure in the Cubs system, Skulina has done well at Arizona, Boise, and in fall instructs. His two weeks and 4 starts at Kane County were not productive. I hope that he starts out 2014 at Kane County this spring, but the odds are he will be anchoring the staff in Daytona.
#8 – Jacob Hannemann – Outfielder
Just on pure athleticism, Hannemann made the list but he does project, and projects well. What I think most people are missing about this 6’1” speedy outfielder is that he does have the potential to hit for power. After spending two years on a Mormon mission, Hannemann came back, played Division 1 football, one season of baseball, and then was drafted in the third round. TWO YEARS he was gone!!! Imagine what he can do when he does this every day, every year!
In a brief stay at Boise, Hannemann hit .290 over 14 games. With his speed, and age, he has the ability to rise to quickly through the system. Getting to Wrigley in 2 years might be pushing it with the bodies in front of him. He reminds me of a young pre-injury Jacoby Ellsbury. That is a good thing.
#7 – Tyler Beede (2014 MLB Draft Pick) – Pitcher
Tyler Beede is not yet a Cub but he could be this summer. The 6’4” 215 pound pitcher out of Vanderbilt could be sitting there at #4 when the Cubs pick this summer in the MLB draft. However, his spring performance will determine whether the Marlins or White Sox take him ahead of the Cubs. In four months, this name could be Jeff Hoffman or even Tyler Kolek (but I doubt the Cubs take a HS arm in the first round). But if it is Beede, the already former first round pick projects well if he can get his command down. He can be flat out filthy or wickedly wild. As a #2 or #3 projectable starter, his arsenal includes a fastball in the 92-94 range with some giddy-up to 97. He throws curveball between 80-83 with that 12-6 drop pitching coaches dream of and hitters fear. The change comes in around 80-82 MPH range and great movement and is considered his best pitch at times. The problem for Beede is he has trouble finding the strike zone and walks 5-6 batters every nine innings. He might not yet be the #1 type pitcher the Cubs are dreaming of drafting and developing, but his stuff has the capability.
#6– Jeimer Candelario – Third Baseman
John Arguello of Cubs Den would be extremely disappointed to see Jeimer Candelario sitting at #6 on this list. John would probably have Candelario at #1. However, once he thinks about who is in front of Candelario, he will get very excited. Like many scouts, Mr. Arguello values Jeimer’s switch hitting capabilities along with his solid glovework and arm. At 19, Candelario held his own in the Midwest League where hit .256 with 11 HRs and a .346 OBP. At 20 in 2014, he will be located at Daytona. With people blocking his path at third base, Candelario will not be rushed to the big leagues. And when he gets there, he will be fully developed. I think the biggest thing that Candelario can do in the next few years is to add some weight/muscle on to his frame. If he does that, his power potential grows exponentially.
#5– Daz Cameron – Outfielder
For the 2015 MLB Draft, the Cubs will more than likely have a top ten pick, maybe even top five. One of the players that could be sitting there is Georgia prepster Daz Cameron. The kid is the latest in a long line of Georgia outfielders. Where Jason Heyward had incredible size, Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier had hit tools, Daz Cameron has speed, an arm, a glove, a bat, and growing power. The only thing keeping him from being a five tool player is power and that could come over time. When I watch video of Cameron, I think of Albert Almora speeded up.
Here he is, ironically, at Wrigley hitting home runs in batting practice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5b-AkwUYABM
If the name sounds familiar, it does. His father is long time MLB outfielder Mike Cameron. With his pedigree and tools, Cameron will skyrocket up the Cubs and MLB prospect lists.
#4 – Corey Black – Pitcher
At 5’11”, Corey Black does not have the build of a major starter. On the other hand when the ball comes out of his hand, all doubts are erased. Already at High Class A, Black has shown in his short term with the Cubs that if you can throw a fastball at 100 mph, you can throw a fastball at 100 mph. As a starter, he regularly throws 92-95 with ease. Add in a nice changeup and Black has the makings of relief pitcher immediately. Over the next two years at Tennessee and Iowa, Black should be developing his breaking balls more. If he can do that, he leaps over several prospects to the top of the list just on his capability to be a starter. Out of all the players on this list, Black is the one most likely to make it to the big leagues first.
#3 – Paul Blackburn – Pitcher
You can put me near the top of the Paul Blackburn fan club. I love his makeup, his ability to adjust, and his filthy stuff. With a fastball ranging from 90-94, the just turned 20 year old will likely be starting 2014 out at Kane County. His arm is still fresh as he has not thrown a lot of innings in either of his two big league season. This year I would like to see him get close to 100 innings and then 130-140 innings in 2015. In addition, Blackburn is still working on his command. As last season at Boise showed, he is coachable and willing to make adjustments. The last month of season and into the playoffs he was near dominant. What he also did between 2012 and 2013 was to add muscle to his 6’2 frame. Once he learns to harness those muscles, the fast ball will increase a few ticks taking him from #2-3 type starter to #1 with what will hopefully be increased command. This summer should be fun for a little while watching him pitch before he goes to Daytona.
#2 – Gleyber Torres
A slick fielding shortstop is the pitcher’s best friend. And that is why Gleyber Torres gets the number two slot. Already, many scouts and analysts, including Keith Law, love what Torres is already capable of doing. His athletic skills and already high floor have many of them drooling. This past summer, he was ranked as the second best international prospect behind Eloy Jimenez. He is not a sexy pick to be number two in two years, but he is a solid pick based on his current baseball skills. When he is compared to a young Adrian Beltre, your head turns a lot.
There has been talk of bringing the young Venezuelan to Boise this summer at the young age of 17. If Torres can gobble up grounders, I don’t care about his hit tools (which are impressive), his speed (which is good), or his arm (above average), I know that defense is what is going to help the Cubs win. With Torres, it is pretty ballsy to select a player who hasn’t played one inning of professional baseball to be number two, but when 2016 rolls around, he will only be 19 and likely he will already be at Daytona or AA Tennessee.
Here is a nice video of Gleyber at MLB.com.
#1– Eloy Jimenez
The #1 ranked international prospect of 2013 comes in at #1 on this list simply because of his tools, workouts, age, and immense size. At 6’4”, he reminds me of a bigger, more muscular Jorge Soler and a much taller Sammy Sosa. Jimenez has a great build with which to add on weight and increase his power even more. Mr. Jimenez is also Mr. Potential. Game action is where it will be determined as to whether he can fulfill his potential. His arm and fielding are plus tools, but we really have not seen whether he can do in a game. At this point, for an organization with great track records for scouting and development, you have to trust that Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Jason MacLeod made the right call in handing this young man millions of dollars. If he pans out, he would be the next great thing since … Javy Baez to hit Wrigley Field. Out of all the prospects on this list, he has the highest ceiling. In fact, I don’t think he has one.
This year, Jimenez will likely start out playing for the Cubs in the Dominican. He should spend the whole year there. Still raw, I would expect he would arrive in the states next year at Arizona for Rookie League Ball or even Short Season A ball at Boise while still being 18. Since he is so young, and the system is deep at this point, there will be no rush to bring him stateside until he is ready physically, mentally, and culturally. When he does come, the comparisons between Jimenez and his idol, Sammy Sosa, will be inevitable.
Here is a report video on Jimenez.
Wrapping It Up
It is best to temper expectations at this point. A lot can happen in two years. Just ask Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson. Players that play well in the minor leagues are not automatically destined for stardom. Some may attain fame and glory as a Cub and some may not. We would all like to think and hope that they will. Right now that’s all Cub fans have is hope. But if this list is close, then that will only benefit the Cubs as it is a mixture of pitching and position players. Right now, the Cubs prospect list is heavy on the position players. If Mejia, Beede, and Blackburn can join CJ Edwards and Pierce Johnson in the rotation, and Torres and Jimenez and Cameron can join Almora, Soler, and Bryant, then that is a pretty deep and talented team that will be together for several years, at least until the end of the decade and into the next. That is a scary thought for other teams.