The Cubs’ farm system has shown a lot of improvement over the last two seasons. After being ranked as high as tenth in the game in 2005, the Cubs system slipped to 18 in 2008 and plummeted to 27 in 2009. With a couple of solid drafts, free-agent amateur signings and players performing at, or near, expectations, the Cubs system ranked in the middle of the pact (15) prior to last season.
The Cubs saw two former first round picks, Tyler Colvin and Andrew Cashner, turn out productive rookie seasons in 2010 and Starlin Castro put together a tremendous first year at the age of 20.
Grant Jones, along with a little help from Aaron, ranked the Cubs top 15 prospects for the CCO. After Brett Jackson and Chris Archer, how did the other top prospects in the system rank?
#1 – Brett Jackson, OF
B-Jax has moved through the Cubs system swiftly since being the Cubs first round pick in the 2009 draft. He has done well at each level, and was at Double-A Tennessee by mid season in 2010.
Jackson batted .276 during his time at Tennessee, with a .366 OBP. His minor league BA is .297 with a .395 OBP, great numbers that should transition to a star at the Major League level.
Brett received a non-roster invite to big league camp last spring. He has shown great potential; played in the 2010 Futures Game during All-Star weekend, participated in the Pan-Am qualify tournament and played a little in the Arizona Fall League before cellulitis with an abscess in his shin, which is similar to a staph infection, ended his first full year in pro ball. The setback is not expected to slow his preparation for the 2011 season.
Brett Jackson has a shot to make the Cubs Major League squad out of Spring Training but Jackson’s likely path to the majors is the one Starlin Castro had a year ago.
#2 – Chris Archer, RHP
The scouting reports on Chris Archer look very good … low 90s fastball, an above average slider and a good change-up to go along with plus arm strength. Archer’s command has improved quite a bit from recent years. That is good news for the Cubs as Archer is the only player from the unpopular Mark DeRosa trade in the 2008-2009 off-season to show signs of being a legitimate prospect.
Archer made it as high as the Tennessee Smokies this past year, the Double-A team for the Cubs. He was awarded with the Cubs 2010 Minor League Pitcher of the year and shows great promise. Archer was a combined 15-3 with a 2.34 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP in 28 games, 27 starts, between the Daytona Cubs (15 games, 14 starts) and Tennessee Smokies (13 starts).
Chris Archer will be in big league camp this spring and should start out the year at Iowa. Archer could possibly make his MLB debut sometime in 2011.
#3 – Hak-Ju Lee, SS
There is no doubt what kind of player Hak-Ju Lee is …a lead-off man who gets on base however he can and uses his plus-plus speed on the base paths to cause havoc.
Lee is mainly a singles and doubles hitter. His glove is close to MLB ready now; the errors are from the range he has, and from being in the low minors currently. When he gets up to the Cubs, IF his bat can progress to become the Ichiro-Type player everyone is hoping for, the thought is he will move current Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro to second base.
Lee looks to be starting at Daytona next year but some reports have indicated he could begin the year at Double-A. He could be up with the Cubs as early as 2012 if he excels at Daytona and Tennessee with his bat.
#4 – Trey McNutt, RHP
After being picked in the 32nd round of the 2009 draft, the season Kenneth Trey McNutt had was unexpected. Trey started last year at Low Class-A Peoria, at midseason he was promoted to the High Class-A Daytona Cubs. At Peoria, McNutt posted a 6-0 record (in 13 starts) with a 1.51 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP (70 strikeouts and 24 walks in 59 2/3 innings); at Daytona, McNutt was 4-0 (in nine starts) with a 2.63 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP (49 strikeouts and nine walks in 41 innings).
McNutt was promoted for the second time in 2010 to Double-A Tennessee, where he struggled in his first start but settled in after that … despite not posting a win (0-1 in three starts with a 5.74 ERA and a 1.60 WHIP, 13 strikeouts and four walks in 15 2/3 innings).
In his first full pro season, he went 10-1 with a 2.48 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP (132 strikeouts and 37 walks in 116 1/3 innings) … he was a strong candidate for Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
Trey turned 21 on August 2 and is already one of the Cubs’ top prospects. He should start 2011 out at Tennessee next year and should receive a promotion to Triple-A if he keeps progressing the way he has.
If this past season is any indicator of when he’ll be to the Cubs it could be as early as the second half of 2011, but the safe bet is for sometime in the 2012 campaign.
#5 – Brandon Guyer, OF
Guyer has the build of a linebacker; he’s a hard-nosed, all-out type player with good tools. Guyer has plus speed, an above average arm and a sharp batting eye.
Guyer hit only three home runs in 2009, but the power picked up last season.
Guyer’s line in 2010: 344/.398/.588/.986 with 76 runs, 127 hits, 39 doubles, six triples, 13 home runs, 58 RBI, 30 stolen bases (caught three times) and 27 walks with only 51 strikeouts.
Injuries limited Guyer to only 36 games in 2007 and 88 games in 2008 because of his all out approach. Guyer put together a full season in 2009, 130 games, before earning the Cubs 2010 Player of the Year honor.
Look for Brandon Guyer to battle for a the fourth spot in the outfield in big league camp this spring.
#6 – Jay Jackson, RHP
Last off-season the thinking was that Jay Jackson could be up with the Cubs at some point during the 2010 campaign … and it looked like that might happen, after the Cubs moved him to the Iowa bullpen for a short period. The Cubs made the move and switched Jackson for Andrew Cashner in the I-Cubs pen and the result ended up being Cashner getting the call, with Jackson staying in Ryne Sandberg’s rotation for the remainder of the season.
This past season Iowa, Jackson had his ups and downs playing for Ryne Sandberg. Jackson made 32 appearances at Triple-A … 25 starts, seven out of the pen and he finished three games. Jackson finished with a 4.63 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP in 157 1/3 innings.
Jackson’s K rate went down from his career strikeout rate of 8.6 per nine innings (which was never below 8.4 during any previous season) and dipped to just 6.8 K/9 this year. This could be a product of him working on his control or his secondary pitches, or the more advanced hitters in the PCL … a league that is known as hitter-friendly.
Jay Jackson could get a shot at starting for the Cubs next year with a strong Spring Training … but whether it is in the pen or the rotation, Jackson looks to make it to the big league team at some point in 2011.
#7 – Josh Vitters, 3B/1B
Josh Vitters was the Cubs first selection (3rd overall) in the 2007 draft and the 21-year old’s pro career has been slowed by injuries. Vitters played 65 games in 2008 (Boise and Peoria),120 games in 2009 (Peoria and Daytona) and only 91 last season (Daytona and Tennessee).
Vitters’ minor league stops have seemed to start very slow before he heats up.
After being promoted to Double-A Tennessee this past season, he started very slowly and then after a few very good games, was hit by a pitch and broke his middle finger taking him out for the season.
Vitters has above average raw power, and he seems to adjust well upon promotions, it just takes him about half a season to do so … which isn’t all that bad, considering his age. Vitters is injury prone and has to fill out physically, so adding muscle would help tremendously. With that in mind, the Cubs have scheduled Vitters to train in Mesa this off-season with Tim Buss in what is being dubbed “Camp Colvin”.
Vitters played in the AFL Rising Stars game and is hitting .253/.308/.398/.705 with six doubles and two home runs in 20 games for the Mesa Solar Sox.
Josh Vitters should receive his second consecutive non-roster invitation to big league camp but look for him to start 2011 at Tennessee.
#8 – D.J. LeMahieu, SS/2B
After being drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft, LeMahieu impressed in his two stops at Peoria and Daytona (along with a short stint at Double-A Tennessee during the post-season) last season … his first full year of pro ball.
In 2009 LeMahieu hit .323 with a .376 OBP, very solid numbers for the short time (38 games) in Peoria. Last year he exploded to bat .314 (with a .346 OBP and a .386 SLG) over a long and hot summer in a pitchers-league, the Florida State League (FSL). Last season, coupled with his strong 2009 season, earned him this spot as one of the Cubs top 10 prospects.
D.J. LeMahieu should start 2011 in Double-A with the Smokies.
#9 – Chris Carpenter, RHP
No not the Cardinals pitcher, but the Chicago Cubs’ third round pick in the 2008 draft.
Chris Carpenter has a strong arm and has thrown in the high 90s and even hit triple digits in the AFL out of the bullpen. He was regarded as a starter before his AFL stint, but right now it looks like his future might be in the bullpen … and with a history of injuries it seems like a logical choice.
Carpenter played at Tennessee and Iowa this past season, all as a starter. Carpenter was 8-6 in 26 starts with a 3.41 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP (112 strikeouts and 57 walks in 134 2/3 innings).
One can assume Chris Carpenter will see a lot of time as a reliever due to his newfound success … and according to recent reports, he could be in the mix come spring for a spot in the Cubs’ bullpen.
#10 – Jae-Hoon Ha, OF
Not everyone is as high on Jae-Hoon Ha as I am. I saw him around 15 times this past season in Peoria, and I can tell you I am very impressed. Ha showed everything you need in an outfielder … decent range and a strong arm. His bat is what impressed me the most.
Ha’s line in 2010 was .317/.334/.468/.802 with 15 doubles and seven homers in 77 games for the Chiefs while playing RF. He has a plus-arm and plus-bat speed with home run power, above-average speed and is a good base stealer. Jea-Hoon plays an athletic outfield with absolutely no fear. One area of concern with Ha is that he is a “hacker” (a hyper-aggressive hitter who rarely walks).
Jae-Hoon Ha figures to start 2011 at Daytona and hit in the middle of the D-Cubs order.
#11 – Reggie Golden, OF
Reggie Golden has tremendous raw power and athletic ability that peaked a lot of teams interest in last summer’s draft. The Cubs took him in the second round, the 65th overall pick in the 2010 draft.
Golden’s main issue is making consistent contact, but he’s still very young. The Cubs drafted Golden out of high school and he just turned 19 on October 10. Golden’s future is very bright if he can learn plate discipline, cut down on strikeouts and use his athletic ability to his advantage.
Golden hurt his hamstring in rookie ball shortly after he joined the team and played in just four games (3-for15 with a double, three runs scored and a stolen base, .333/.412/.400/.812).
Reggie Golden did very well during well during the organization’s annual fall instructional league. I would look for him to start at Peoria next year, due to the very good depth of outfielders in the Cubs system.
#12 – Ryan Flaherty, IF/OF
Ryan Flaherty was considered one of the Cubs top prospects last year (Baseball America Ranked Flaherty the ninth best prospect in the Cubs system prior to the 2010 season) before he laid an egg at Tennessee (.183/.286/.254/.539 in 23 games) and was demoted to Daytona.
Flaherty performed much better at Daytona (.286/.348/.445/.793 with 34 doubles, three triples and nine home runs in 108 games) and revived some of his stock.
Flaherty hit .268 with a .362 OBP in the Arizona Fall League for the Mesa Solar Sox. Flaherty has shown off his versatility this fall and has logged time at second base, shortstop, third base and left field for the Solar Sox.
Flaherty, a Vanderbilt grad and sandwich pick of the Cubs in the 2008 draft, could turn out to be the lefty version of Mark DeRosa, especially with his power potential, and that’s probably what the Cubs are hoping for.
I would look for Ryan Flaherty to start 2011 at Tennessee.
#13- Rafael Dolis, RHP
Rafael Dolis throws exceptionally hard, once touching 100 mph, which resulted in him being added to the Cubs 40-man roster last winter to prevent selection in the Rule 5. Dolis is another former position player (shortstop) the Cubs turned into a pitcher.
The Cubs converted Dolis to starter to help improve his secondary pitches. He struggles with command (93 strikeouts and 57 walks in 126 1/3 innings for Daytona and Tennessee last season), so it’ll be interesting to see how the Cubs use him going forward; the right-hander is only 22 years old.
Dolis reminds some of a much heavier version of Juan Cruz. Cruz and Carlos Zambrano were expected to be part of the Cubs rotation for years to come, but Cruz just couldn’t improve his control issues and they gave up on him, which is likely to happen with Dolis if he doesn’t step up next year in a big way.
Rafael Dolis throws a filthy slider, so he could make the big league team as a reliever next year. Dolis should start 2011 in Double-A with a promotion to Iowa with a good beginning of the season.
#14 – Justin Bour, 1B
Justin Bour had a breakout season this past year at Peoria that resulted in being named the Chiefs MVP.
Stat wise he lead Peoria in every offensive category. Bour hit for a .291 average with a .375 OBP, slugged .436 and hit 12 home runs while driving in 87. He was the Chiefs biggest threat in the lineup. In 2009 he had a solid season for the Boise Hawks (his first pro season) hitting .258 with a .338 OBP.
Bour cannot only hit but provides a solid glove at first. Bour owns a career fielding percentage of .988 and that takes into account that minor league fields are not nearly as well kept as big league parks. He is the Cubs only legitimate first base prospect right now, with the possible exception of Brandon May.
Justin Bour should begin 2011 with the Peoria Chiefs and if he keeps performing well, a promotion to Daytona or Tennessee should soon follow.
#15 – Junior Lake, SS
Junior Lake has been an intriguing prospect to say the least.
Lake had a solid season in 2008 in the Arizona Rookie League (.286/.335/.417/.752 with four doubles, six triples and two home runs in 47 games). In 2008, Lake and Starlin Castro were viewed as being on the same level.
In 2009, Starlin Castro took a big step forward at Daytona while Lake took a step back at Peoria.
Lake hit just .248 (.277 OBP) with 138 SO in 463 at bats for a 29% strikeout rate and it was reported he was having trouble with off-speed pitches. For the first half of the 2010 season in Daytona, it looked like he was going again in the wrong direction … Lake hit just .209 through April and May.
After the poor start, Lake turned it on and finished with a .264 BA and a .333 OBP. Defensively his glove is shaky, as he’s had 120 career errors while mainly playing shortstop, second base and third base. Some feel Lake’s future might be as a centerfielder.
Lake has an absolute cannon for an arm and possesses decent power, so 2011 will definitely be an interesting year for Junior Lake. With Hak-Ju Lee, D.J. LeMahieu and other top shortstop and second base prospects in the Cubs system, the pressure is on.
Look for Junior Lake to start next year at Tennessee.
The Cubs system is much deeper than in previous years. Here is a list of other players down on the farm to keep an eye on:
- Pierre LePage
- Matt Cerda
- Logan Watkins
- Larry Suarez
- Rebel Ridling
- Marquez Smith
- Hayden Simpson
- Austin Kirk
- Brooks Raley
- Aaron Kurcz
- Charles Thomas (now a pitcher)
- Matt Szczur
- Micah Gibbs
- Tony Thomas
- Nelson Perez
- Tony Campana
- Matt Spencer
- Robinson Chirinos
- Nick Struck
- Dae-Eun Rhee
- Robinson Lopez
- Chris Rusin