Another View of the Cubs Minor League System

Keith Law of ESPN.com and Scouts, Inc. released his annual prospect lists and organizational rankings earlier in the week, as well as his list of the Top 100 prospects in all of baseball.

Law was rather complimentary of the Cubs’ system in the wake of dealing two of the top prospects in the organization for Matt Garza. Law is a big fan of Chris Archer and Hak-Ju Lee and his ranking of both players in his top 100 proved the point.

Trey McNutt made Law’s list of the top 100, and four of the Cubs’ top prospects just missed Brett Jackson, Jay Jackson, Josh Vitters and Chris Carpenter.

Law ranked the Cubs’ system 20th in the game and said the Cubs were a top 10 system before the Garza deal. Law pointed out that the Cubs system is “loaded with high-floor players who have the potential to be above average or better big leaguers but aren’t there yet. Considering all the picks they’ve given up to sign free agents, it’s remarkable how strong the system still is after the giant trade with Tampa Bay.”

Keith Law’s Top 10 Cubs Prospects
1. Trey McNutt, RHP
2. Brett Jackson, OF
3. Chris Carpenter, RHP
4. Josh Vitters, 3B
5. Jay Jackson, RHP
6. Hayden Simpson, RHP
7. Robinson Lopez, RHP
8. Brooks Raley, LHP
9. Reggie Golden, OF
10. Matt Szczur, OF

Trey McNutt checked in at number 66 in Law’s list of the top 100 prospects in the game, the only Cubs’ farm hand to crack the top 100. Law is very high on McNutt and feels he has a promising future. Law mentioned on XM Radio that McNutt could end up in the top 20 next year if he’s not already in the big leagues by the end of the 2011 season.

Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Chris Carpenter and Jay Jackson were four of the 10 players that just missed Law’s list of the top 100 prospects. Jackson would have been number 101 if Law’s list went deeper.

According to Keith Law, Brett Jackson projects “as an average big leaguer at this point, solid across the board but lacking a plus tool.” Law thinks he will be a big leaguer at some point.

MLB.com ranked Brett Jackson the 46th best prospect in the game during their prospects show on the MLB Network last Tuesday.

Law saw Josh Vitters in the Arizona Fall League and he complimented Vitters’ defense (said it was the best he’d seen Vitters play third). Vitters still has the beautiful swing but still swings at every pitch he likes.

Chris Carpenter could be a starter or a reliever. Law pointed out the impressive AFL (Arizona Fall League) season Carpenter had as a reliever. Carpenter has a four-pitch mix with an above average slider. Carpenter could have an impact out of the pen this season according to the report.

Law was high on Jay Jackson before 2010. Jackson’s velocity dropped last season at the end of the summer … and that seemed to sour Law on Jackson’s future.

As for Chris Archer and Hak-Ju Lee, Archer checked in as the fourth best prospect in the Rays system and Lee came in at number five. As for the top 100, Archer made the list as the 40th best prospect in the game and Lee was ranked 49th.

It is always interesting to read the varying opinions on the same system. While some of the names might change, one constant this off-season has been the Cubs system might lack impact talent but they have several players that project to be successful big leaguers.

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  • Vivid_Reality

    Keith Law is out of his mind.

  • jey518

    It really irritates me that people keep ranking Simpson so high, the guy hasn’t thrown pitch one professionally yet, and many feel he was drafted out of order. I hate how politics automatically make him a top ten prospect, because he was a first rounder. He may be I don’t know, but make him prove himself first.

    • roughriider

      But Simpson really handled the Mono well.

    • Tony_Hall

      I completely agree, if he had pitched last year, ok, what he hasn’t thrown for the Cubs system yet. But that is what makes prospects lists so hard to figure out.

      It could be a sign of respect for Tim Wilken’s taking this kid with his 1st round pick.

  • Tony_Hall

    I like Keith Law’s viewpoints, and believe he has a very realistic view of the Cubs system. No major impact All-Stars, but lots future major leaguers. Jackson being called an average major leaguer is pretty good. I know we want to be told that all of the players are future All-Stars, but very few players can be projected that way in the minors.

    As far as how high he ranks Archer and Lee, Archer being 40th and McNutt 66, yet they were very closely ranked in our system, just shows how many prospects are close to becoming major leaguers in the next year or two. Hak Ju Lee will be the starting SS for the Rays in a few years.

    But this list of Keith Law’s, ranks higher-ceiling guys, higher than high-floor players, due to potential. So he will have more players on his list that fail, versus a list that ranks based on their floor level. In other words Brett Jackson has a much better chance of being an average major league OF, than many of the OF’s listed above him, but the OF’s above him have a better chance of being All-Star OF’s than Jackson.

    I also wonder if anyone close to Vitters, reads the scouting reports to him. If he would just learn to take a pitch, and work the counts, he has the skills, that are obvious to all scouts. This is a good example of a high-ceiling guy. IF he can learn to work the count and not swing at every pitch he can put his bat on, he could be great. But, if he doesn’t he will never be even an average major leaguer.

    • paulcatanese

      Tony,that is true on Vitters,once at a high level and he continues to swing at what he can put his bat on the highr level pitchers will have him swinging at their pitches. The control of Major League pitchers is such that Vitters will have little chance for more than a ground ball or pop up.

      • Tony_Hall

        Let’s hope someone can get to him, to make him realize that he may struggle for awhile as he gets comfortable, taking pitches, but for him to reach his potential, he needs to learn to do it.

        I hope he does, as everyone talks about his swing, and guys like that need to make it to the big leagues.

  • Tony_Hall

    One more thing to note, we have been known as a organization that has arms and middle infielders in our sytem. This Top 10 has 6 arms, 1 – 3B and 3 OF’s. ZERO middle infielders. Now we know we have some guys up the middle, that have been behind Castro and Lee for hype in our system, but with Castro at Wrigley and Lee in Tampa, we should get a better idea of the athletes we have up the middle.

    I like having 3 OF’s – Jackson, Golden, and Szczur to go with a young Colvin. Makes me think we can fill the OF positions, internally, as we turn over our veteran OF of Soriano, Byrd and Fukudome.

    • http://twitter.com/JasonPenrod Jason Penrod

      If we “fill the OF positions, internally” with average players, you better not expect any playoff appearances in the next 5-10 years. I don’t see any of those prospects turning out to be solid Major Leaguers-

      • Tony_Hall

        Well Keith Law and others do. Brett Jackson is projected to be a solid major leaguer. Golden and Szczur are a little raw, but extremely talented.

        If you have read my thoughts, you know that I want to fill as many spots internally as possible, so that you only need to spend the big dollars on true difference makers in free agency. If a true difference maker was available in the OF, I would want to sign him. But an OF of Jackson, Colvin, and one of Szczur or Golden, or 2 of these guys and a FA difference maker, would be a nice OF.

      • The Maven

        That’s kind of bold to say. In baseball, championships usually revolve around pitching, which the Cubs’ organization seems to have a good supply. Another aspect is a team concept. Teams will All-Statrs at every position usually end up falling short. Teams that have players that complement each other tend to do better. I’d rather have an organization that has a bunch of very good ballplayers that one that has one or two superstars and the rest stink. Given how organizations such as Minnesota, Tampa, and Texas have performed recently, this seems like the way to go.

        • paulcatanese

          I happen to agree with you. Many teams with a good number of players on the All Star team have failed to make it to the World Series. I think they are too busy worrying about individual accomplisments and not the team concept. I would much rather have people that can move a runner up,bunt someone over or just plain give themselves up for the team effort. As you state these are the teams that win,,,,With average good TEAM players,something I believe these kids will get done when they get here.

  • Tom U

    Traditionally, outside evaluaters will focus on offensive players and pitcher, simply because they can analyze the numbers without seeing the prospects. This favors outfielders and corner infielders over middle infielders and catchers, who are more likely to be offensive players. Unless you have an outstanding overall talent, such as Alex Rodriguez or Hanley Ramirez, evaluaters will tend to overlook middle infielders.

  • Tony_Hall
    • studio179

      Actually, I guessed it would come down to Moreland or Otto. From there, I have no idea who gets it. I will guess Otto only because he and Hughes seemed to kid around with each other a bit more. Though Hughes and Moreland sounded very good together, too. Pat is easy to work with, professional and one of those radio voices that no matter who sits next to him, it will go well and get better with time. I have no problem which one gets the job.

  • paulcatanese

    Just to change the venue here for a moment. I glanced at Bleacher Report yesterday. They illustrated the best third baseman ever for each team in te Majors. It was without a doubt that they named on Santo as the best ever for the Cubs. But what I wanted to interject the naming of George Kell from Detroit as their best third baseman ever. One little known fact about Kell,when he gripped his bat it was identical to the Ty Cobb held his bat,hands held slightly apart thrughout the swing. It worked for him.Just an observation and part of my study of the swing.

  • Tony_Hall

    Good article from ESPN Insider on Why Prospects Fail.

    http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/hotstove10/insider/columns/story?id=6067960

    Here are their 5 warning signs. (Casey Coleman is an example for #4)

    Five Red Flags for Prospects
    1. Strikeout Rates
    Alarming strikeout rates in the minors do not bode well for a transition to the big leagues, especially if they are not accompanied by well-above-average walk rates, as they suggest potentially prohibitive problems hitting for average, directly impacting on-base skills.
    Current example: Jordan Danks, OF, CHW; Anthony Gose, OF, TOR

    2. Batting average
    While not a reliable indicator of performance and value on its own, a prospect who isn’t hitting for satisfactory average in the minors doesn’t project to do so in the big leagues. It can be a problem with the swing or the overall approach, and curbs the most valuable skill a hitter can have — getting on base.
    Current example: Tim Wheeler, OF, COL; Matt Dominguez, 3B, FLA

    3. High ground ball rates
    Aside from getting on base, hitting for extra-base power is the most valuable thing a hitter can do, and swings that produce a lot of ground balls will limit the number of doubles and home runs produced, particularly in The Show. Cleveland catching prospect Lou Marson comes to mind. Wood’s line drive and fly ball rates were generally solid.
    Current example: Carlos Triunfel, SS, SEA; Tim Beckham, SS, TAM

    4. Lack of bats missed for pitchers
    While strikeouts aren’t the end-all, they eliminate the luck and randomness from balls being put in play against a pitcher. A prospect without the ability to miss bats in the minors generally profiles as a reliever or back-end starting pitcher at best.
    Current example: Maikel Cleto, RHP, STL; Casey Coleman, RHP, CHC

    5. Splits
    This goes for pitchers and hitters. Bats, especially left-handed hitters, have to hold their own versus pitchers of the same hand or they can be pigeonholed as platoon players, despite plus plate skills and power. Pitchers without some consistent success against hitters of the other hand generally lack a pitch to get them out — a changeup, a two-seam fastball or an effective breaking ball — which could prevent them from challenging for a spot in the big league rotation when their time comes.
    Current example: Casey Kelly, RHP, SDG; Michael Pineda, RHP, SEA

    • Patrick_Schaefer

      Marquez Smith, Brad Snyder, Bryan LaHair, Junior Lake all are example number one. They all have horrible strikeout rates in the minors. A lot of AAAA guys do but they show some power and put up a good batting average in the MINORS, but against much better pitching in the Majors their weaknesses are completely exposed and they fail.
      Think Micah Hoffpauir, he came up and hit .342 in 33 games and people were like this guy is awesome, but if you look at his strikeouts, he struck out 24 times in 80 AB’s. You know the rest. Jake Fox, came up and was tearing it up they found his weaknesses and he failed miserably after that.

    • Patrick_Schaefer

      I should also note though that Junior Lake showed improvement last year his walk rate doubled to 7.8% not spectacular but it’s improvement. His K rate dropped 4.7% to 25.1% still bad but improving, and his batting average went up. Also unlike the rest of the guys I listed he is still very young, he will only be 21 years old this year.