Baseball America’s Top 10 Cubs Prospects for 2012

Baseball America released their list of the top 10 prospects in the Cubs’ system last week. To no surprise, Brett Jackson topped the list, with Javier Baez and Matt Szczur rounding out the top three of the best prospects in the organization. The Cubs had several prospects take a positive step forward last season … and unfortunately some that took a step back as well.

Of the players Baseball America thinks are among the top 10 in the system, half made the list for the second year in a row and three were selected in last year’s draft.

Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod along with Oneri Fleita and Tim Wilken have a lot of work ahead of them. The Cubs’ system has a lot of depth in the lower levels but is missing an impact prospect.

Here’s how Baseball America thinks the Cubs’ system stacks up …

Baseball America’s Top 10 Cubs Prospects for 2012

1. Brett Jackson, OF (2)
2. Javier Baez, SS (NR)
3. Matt Szczur, OF (7)
4. Trey McNutt, RHP (3)
5. Dillon Maples, RHP (NR)
6. Welington Castillo, C (17)
7. Rafael Dolis, RHP (9)
8. Junior Lake, SS (27)
9. Josh Vitters, 1B/3B (5)
10. Dan Vogelbach, 1B (NR)
(2011 BA Ranking in Parenthesis)

Best Tools in the Cubs System
D.J. LeMahieu – Best Hitter for Average
Dan Vogelbach – Best Power Hitter
Matt Cerda – Best Strike-Zone Discipline
Matt Szczur – Fastest Baserunner
Matt Szczur – Best Athlete
Rafael Dolis – Best Fastball
Trey McNutt – Best Curveball
Kevin Rhoderick – Best Slider
Dae-Eun Rhee – Best Changeup
Dallas Beeler – Best Control
Welington Castillo – Best Defensive Catcher
Elliott Soto – Best Defensive Infielder
Junior Lake – Best Infield Arm
Jae-Hoon Ha – Best Defensive Outfielder
Anthony Giansanti – Best Outfield Arm

Scouting Reports on Cubs Top 10 Prospects
The scouting information provided by Baseball America is by subscription only. Here are a few of the highlights, and low-lights, for each of the Cubs top 10 prospects.

1. Brett Jackson, OF
Baseball America described Brett Jackson’ tools as above-average across the board and they feel he is a potential All-Star. Jackson’s power stands out the most and he possesses the bat speed, loft and strength to hit home runs to all fields.

Brett Jackson has shown a lot of improvement on pitch recognition since his college days and is willing to take walks. Jackson’s swing is described as “compact” and he doesn’t get himself out by chasing bad pitches. The concern is when his swing gets to mechanical and his strikeout rate goes up when he starts pulling off every pitch.

Jackson has plus-speed on the bases and in the outfield. Defensively, Jackson takes good routes to balls and gets good jumps. Jackson has played all three outfield spots in the minors and if he was to be moved to right field, he has enough arm to handle the position.

Brett Jackson is the Cubs only position player prospect that is ready to play in the majors. Due to roster constraints (Alfonso Soriano and Marlon Byrd), Jackson could start the year in Iowa.

BA thinks Brett Jackson has the upside of Jim Edmonds at the plate and possibly the same Gold Glove caliber play in centerfield.

2. Javier Baez, SS
The Cubs selected Javier Baez with the first pick in last June’s draft. Baez had the best bat speed in the draft drawing comparisons to Gary Sheffield and Hanley Ramirez. The Cubs project Baez as a 70 hitter with 65 power (based on the 20-80 scouting scales).

Baez could end up at third base. He has a very good arm (described as a third well-above average tool) that could allow him to stay at short but he will likely out-grow the position.

Javier Baez has the highest ceiling of any player in the Cubs’ system but he needs to mature on the field and learn how to control his emotions.

3. Matt Szczur, OF
Matt Szczur has plus-plus speed which will help him hit for average and makes him a basestealing threat … plus it allows him to track down balls from gap to gap in the outfield.

Szczur has a short, quick swing and strength in his hands that could allow him to develop power. Szczur’s biggest issue is patience at the plate.

As for defensively, Szczur has worked on his arm strength and has shown improvement … from below-average to solid.

BA thinks Matt Szczur will begin 2012 at the Double-A level and could be in the big leagues by 2013. Szczur has the ability to move Brett Jackson from center to right.

4. Trey McNutt, RHP
Trey McNutt can hit the upper 90s with his fastball but when he does he losses control. He gets more life and can locate it better when he throws his fastball in the low 90s. McNutt has a power breaking ball that breaks like a curve but has slider velocity. McNutt’s changeup is a work in progress and he needs to work on keeping the ball down instead of throwing it by hitters.

Trey McNutt should start 2012 back in Double-A but could reach the big leagues by the end of the season. McNutt has the ability to be a number two starter in a big league rotation.

5. Dillon Maples, RHP
Dillon Maples was considered the most talented high school pitcher as well as the most unsignable entering last year’s draft. Maples fell to the 14th round and the Cubs paid him $2.5 million to start his pro career.

Maples features two-plus pitches, a heavy 92-96 mph fastball and a hard curveball. The question with Maples is not his arm but his mechanics … which could lead to command problems and stress on his shoulder.

Dillon Maples did not pitch professionally last season and figures to start 2012 in low Class-A. Maples does have the stuff to be a number two starter at the big league level.

6. Welington Castillo, C
The Cubs have always liked Welington Castillo but a questionable work ethic has delayed his progress and injuries hurt Castillo’s development in 2011.

Castillo’s draws his power from strength not bat speed and does not give away many at bats. His impatience at the plate will keep him from hitting for a high average. As for defensively, Castillo has a well above-average arm and a quick release. Castillo’s biggest issue has been his game-calling ability, which has shown improvement.

Welington Castillo should be with the Cubs in some capacity in 2012 … likely as a backup to Geovany Soto. As BA stated, Soto is getting expensive and is inconsistent. The Cubs could view Castillo as a cheaper alternative.

7. Rafael Dolis, RHP
Another former position player the Cubs turned into a pitcher. When the Cubs signed Rafael Dolis he was a shortstop but the Cubs turned him into a pitcher prior to 2006. Tommy John Surgery (2008) has slowed his progress as he missed a majority of two seasons.

Rafael Dolis has been compared to Carlos Marmol and those comparisons became even more so when Dolis was made a full-time reliever last season.

Dolis can blow a hitter away, when he can command his pitches. Dolis throws a heavy-sinking fastball that ranges from 93-100 mph and a slider in the mid 80s that has a hard bite. The Cubs had Dolis focus on his command last season and that is the reason for a drop in his strikeouts per nine innings. Dolis learned how to pound the bottom of the strike zone, which caused more groundballs than swings and misses.

Rafael Dolis projects as a future closer if he can improve his command.

8. Junior Lake, SS
Junior Lake is three days younger than Starlin Castro and the Cubs are hoping his performance in the AFL is the beginning of things clicking for Lake.

Lake has some of the flashiest tools in the system and arguably the best arm in the minors … not just in the Cubs’ organization. Lake’s range improved at short but he may be too big for the position. Lake has good hands that might translate to third base or right field.

At the plate, Lake’s bat speed and strength give him above-average raw power to all fields but his lack of patience and poor pitch recognition can hurt him.

Junior Lake will likely start off 2012 at the Double-A level. If he can hit there and build on his performance in the Arizona Fall League he might end up in the majors next season.

9. Josh Vitters, 1B/3B
The former third overall pick in the 2007 draft has not developed as quickly as the Cubs had hoped. Josh Vitters is still only 22 and had a solid 2011 season.

Vitters still has the bat speed, strength and ability to put the barrel of the bat on the ball. Vitters has very good pitch recognition, makes consistent contact and uses the whole field. Vitters still has not developed much patience at the plate and is coming off a career-high 22 walks in 2011.

Vitters work ethic has been questioned but he made strides in that area as well last season. Vitters has also worked hard in the field to improve his defense. Vitters has good range, solid arm and his quick but still committed more errors (21) in 100 games than any other third baseman in the Southern League.

Josh Vitters figures to begin 2012 at the Triple-A level and could still end up as the Cubs’ third baseman … but so could several other players in the Cubs’ system. BA projected Vitters as the Cubs’ starting left fielder in 2015.

10. Dan Vogelbach, 1B
Dan Vogelbach has power and tons of it to all fields and he generates it with a very loose, effortless swing. Vogelbach can also recognize pitches and has the patience that would allow him to hit for average as well.

Vogelbach is a big man (6-foot, 250 pounds) that takes pride in his defense and is working on his footwork around the bag. Vogelbach projects as an average defender.

Dan Vogelbach had just 24 at bats in Rookie Ball last season but could begin 2012 with the Chiefs in low A ball.
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Last year’s draft was a step in the right direction … now they have to develop the players. With new leadership and hopefully a new direction, the Cubs system will be more focused starting in 2012. One of the knocks on the Cubs has been the lack of consistency in the system, especially on the defensive side. The Cubs have moved players from position to position instead of having them learn how to play one before determining how versatile they may or may not be.

A strong farm system is the key to sustained success, the Cubs have the pieces now it’s a matter of turning them into fundamentally sound baseball players.

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