FanGraphs Top 15 Cubs Prospects for 2012

Prior to the Winter Meetings, FanGraphs released their list of the top 15 prospects in the Cubs’ system. Unlike Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs ranked Javier Baez the top prospect in the Cubs’ organization with Brett Jackson, Matt Szczur, Dillon Maples and Trey McNutt rounding out the top five.

FanGraphs stated the Cubs’ system was tough to rank because outside of the top two prospects the Cubs have about 20-25 players that could have been ranked in the top 15. FanGraphs, like most of the publications, thinks the Cubs system is “loaded with intriguing B-and C-level prospects that could either explode in 2012 or completely fall of the radar.

Here’s how the Cubs’ system stacks up according to FanGraphs

FanGraphs Top 15 Cubs Prospects

1. Javier Baez, SS (NA)
2. Brett Jackson, CF (1)
3. Matt Szczur, OF (NR)
4. Dillon Maples, RHP (NA)
5. Trey McNutt, RHP (2)
6. Dan Vogelbach, 1B (NA)
7. Ben Wells, RHP (NR)
8. Jae-Hoon Ha, OF (NR)
9. Austin Kirk, LHP (NR)
10. Dae-Eun Rhee, RHP (NR)
11. Chris Carpenter, RHP (3)
12. Josh Vitters, 3B (4)
13. Tony Zych, RHP (NR)
14. Welington Castillo, C (NR)
15. Rafael Dolis, RHP (6)
Sleeper – Pin-Chieh Chen, OF (NA)

2011 FanGraphs Ranking in Parenthesis – (NA – not available; NR – not ranked)

Some of the players that just missed FanGraphs list are Junior Lake, Aaron Kurcz, Shawon Dunston, Jr., Zeke DeVoss, Marco Hernandez and Dallas Beeler.

Here are a few of the highlights from FanGraphs’ report of the top 15 Cubs Prospects:

Javier Baez – SS
Baez turned 19 on December 1 and has all of the ingredients to become a top flight MLB shortstop or third baseman according to FanGraphs. Baez needs to make a few tweaks to his approach but could end up as a middle of the order hitter in the big leagues.

Brett Jackson – CF
Jackson could end up beginning 2012 in Triple-A, but what moves the Cubs make over the next two months will have an impact on where Jackson begins the season. As FanGraphs pointed out, Marlon Byrd should not be a roadblock for Jackson if he’s ready to start his big league career after Spring Training.

Jackson played all three outfield spots and projects better as a centerfielder with Gold Glove potential and depending on his development could put up 20-20 seasons offensively.

Matt Szczur – OF
The opinions on Szczur vary quite a bit. He has a lot of raw ability but right now his best tool is his speed. Szczur has the potential to develop into an above-average hitter with just above average power.

Szczur has the chance to develop into at least an average everyday player in the majors and could be ready at some point in 2013.

Dillon Maples – RHP
The 19-year old right hander has a ton of upside but has yet to throw a pitch in pro ball. Maples could begin next season in extended spring training according to FanGraphs then start his pro career in rookie ball in June. Maples has the potential to be a two or three in a big league rotation but is viewed as a long-term project.

Trey McNutt – RHP
McNutt had some fluke injury issues in 2011 but has a number two starter potential if he can round out his repertoire. McNutt should begin the year at Triple-A and could even see time in the majors, possibly as a reliever, next season.

Dan Vogelbach – 1B
Vogelbach has the power potential to develop into a slugging first baseman with and average to below average batting average. The Cubs have to watch his conditioning but with his massive power and limited success in pro ball last year, he could begin the year in Low-A ball.

Ben Wells – RHP
The big right-hander performed well at Short-Season Boise last year and while he’s not a strikeout pitcher, he keeps the ball down and receives a lot of groundball outs. Wells needs a good defense behind him in order to be successful.

Depending on how he starts off next season, the Cubs could move him quickly through the system. Wells could end up as a three or four in a big league rotation.

Jae-Hoon Ha – OF
Ha has consistently hit for average and can play all three outfield positions but does not have the range to play center on a daily basis. Ha has an above-average arm and profiles well as a right fielder but he probably will not hit with enough power to play a corner outfield spot in the majors. Ha likely projects better a fourth outfielder.

FanGraphs thinks Ha could end up in the majors before the end of the 2012 season.

Austin Kirk – LHP
The 21-year old lefty had a solid season and is one of the more underrated prospects in the Cubs’ system. Kirk throws an 87-92 mph fastball, curveball and changeup. Kirk showed outstanding control with a walk rate of 2.26 BB/9.

Kirk has the makings of a number three or four starter depending on the development of his secondary pitches.

Dae-Eun Rhee – RHP
Rhee lost his 2009 season due to Tommy John surgery and after a decent bounce-back in 2010 he returned pretty close to pre-surgery levels last season. Rhee’s strikeout rate went up from 5.51 to 8.25 K/9 and pitched better in the second half of the season.

Rhee has the makings of a number three starter and should be ready for the majors at some point in 2013.

Chris Carpenter – RHP
Carpenter struggled with his command and control last season despite making his big league debut. If he can harness his stuff he could dominate as a high-leverage reliever.

Josh Vitters – 3B/1B
Vitters continues to struggle with pitch recognition and cannot lay off pitcher’s pitches.

Tony Zych – RHP
The Cubs selected Zych in the fourth round of last summer’s draft and is already looking like a steal. Zych throws a low to high 90s fastball and an inconsistent slider. Once he improves his breaking ball he could end up as a high-leverage reliever. A late-2013 big league debut is not out of the question.

Welington Castillo – C
Castillo offers a solid all-around game, both offensively and defensively. There is a good chance Castillo could back-up Geovany Soto in 2012 or could be dealt to a team that views him as an everyday catcher.

Rafael Dolis – RHP
Dolis is another reliever in the Cubs system with high-leverage potential. Dolis throws a mid-to-high 90s fastball and a breaking ball that can look like a slider one day and a curveball the next. Dolis needs to work on his control.

Pin-Chieh Chen – CF
Chen has the potential to develop into a starting centerfielder or a fourth outfielder at the big league level. Speed and defense are his best skills. Chen is a slap hitter who uses the entire field. He hit .300 and was 20-for-26 in stolen base attempts last season in short-season A-ball.

FanGraphs Top 15 Prospects: Chicago Cubs

In the coming weeks, the CCO will take a look back at last season’s top prospect list and release our list of the top prospects in the Cubs’ organization for 2012.

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