A Look Back at the CCO’s Top Cubs Prospects of 2011

Before looking ahead to the upcoming season, it is time to take a look back at the CCO’s Top Cubs Prospects prior to the 2011 season.

The Cubs’ system had its ups and downs a year ago mainly due to injuries to several of the Cubs’ top prospects, especially on the pitching side.

Brett Jackson, Trey McNutt and Chris Carpenter topped the CCO’s list of the top prospects in the Cubs system last February … let’s see how the top names down on the farm performed in 2011.

Players with extensive time at the big league level were not included on the CCO’s top prospect list, as well as players that had yet to play professional baseball.

The CCO’s 2011 Pre-Season Top Cubs Prospects
1. Brett Jackson, OF
2. Trey McNutt, RHP
3. Chris Carpenter, RHP
4. Jay Jackson, RHP
5. Josh Vitters, 3B/1B
6. Matt Szczur, OF
7. D.J. LeMahieu, IF
8. Reggie Golden, OF
9. Rafael Dolis, RHP
10. Jae-Hoon Ha, OF
11. Michael Burgess, OF
12. Ryan Flaherty, IF/OF
13. Alberto Cabrera, RHP
14. Justin Bour, 1B
15. Junior Lake, IF
16. Welington Castillo, C
17. Aaron Kurcz, RHP
18. Brooks Raley, LHP
19. Logan Watkins, 2B/SS/OF
20. Marwin Gonzalez, IF/OF

Click on the player’s name to go to their page on Baseball-Reference

#1 – Brett Jackson, OF
Brett Jackson would have made his big league debut this year if he did not hurt his pinkie sliding back into the second base bag back in May. Jackson ended up on the DL around the same time Marlon Byrd was hit in Boston. Once Jackson returned, he could not get back to where he was in time and ended up finishing the year with the I-Cubs.

Brett Jackson put together an excellent season and performed well with Team USA in the PanAm Games.

After compiling a .256/.373/.443/.816 line in 67 games with the Tennessee Smokies (Double-A), Jackson finished with a .297/.388/.551/.939 line in 48 Triple-A games after a slow start. Jackson seemed to flourish in the hitter’s league and hit more doubles (13) and just as many homers (10) as he did in nearly 20 fewer games at the lower level (10 doubles, 10 homers). Jackson compiled 102 total bases in 48 games with the I-Cubs compared to 109 in 67 games with the Smokies.

In 115 total games last season, Jackson hit .274/.379/.490/.869 with 23 doubles, five triples and 20 home runs. Jackson also stole 21 bases and was caught seven times. A 20-20-20 season … not bad for the 23-year old outfielder in just his second full season of pro ball.

One of Jackson’s underrated assets is his defense. Along with several other players, Jackson helped raise the defensive level of the Iowa Cubs to tops in the PCL. Opposing Triple-A managers ran on Jackson early and often until his eight outfield assists deterred them.

Many felt Jackson deserved a September call-up but with the organization in flux, it made sense to leave him off the 40-man roster and use the spot for one of the many players the Cubs need to protect this winter. Jackson will receive a big league invite to Spring Training but will likely begin the year as the starting centerfielder for the Iowa Cubs.

#2 – Trey McNutt, RHP
When last season began the feeling was that Trey McNutt would see time in the show before the year ended. Like so many pitchers up and down the Cubs’ system, McNutt dealt with one injury after the other. Early in the season it was a blister issue but soon after he was able to get that under control, he dealt with a rib injury after a collision on the base paths.

McNutt was 5-6 in only 23 games, 22 starts, this season with a 4.55 ERA and a 1.67 WHIP. McNutt struck out only 65 batters in 95 innings while walking 39 batters and giving up 120 hits. McNutt finished the year healthy and made up a little the time he missed in the Arizona Fall League.

McNutt was 0-2 in seven starts for the Mesa Solar Sox with a 5.00 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP. McNutt surrendered 22 hits, seven walks and four home runs to go along with eight strikeouts in 18 innings.

Trey McNutt turned 22 in August and has shown he has big league stuff. McNutt could still figure into the Cubs’ plans in 2012 but he will need a huge Spring Training to keep from starting the year back in Double-A with the Smokies.

#3 – Chris Carpenter, RHP
Chris Carpenter had a big year that ended on the DL. Carpenter started the season in Iowa and struggled. He was sent to Double-A to build his confidence and it worked. Carpenter was added to the Cubs 40-man roster and received a call to the show.

Carpenter showed a lot of promise in a short time in Chicago before returning to Iowa. Carpenter was a combined (Double-A and Triple-A) 3-4 in 32 minor league games with a 5.91 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP … with the Cubs, no record in 10 games with a 2.79 ERA and a 1.97 WHIP.

The hard-throwing right-hander must work on his control (27 walks in 42 2/3 innings with 34 strikeouts) in order to be an effective big league reliever.

Chris Carpenter turned heads in the AFL in the fall of 2010 and was 1-1 in 11 games last fall with the Mesa Solar Sox. Carpenter struck out 18 batters, walked two and gave up 15 hits in 13 2/3 innings (3.29 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP). Carpenter figures to be in the picture for a spot in the Cubs’ this season … especially with the departure of Andrew Cashner.

#4 – Jay Jackson, RHP
Like Trey McNutt, Rob Whitenack, Chris Carpenter, Hayden Simpson and the list goes on and on, Jay Jackson dealt with injuries all season and was never able to get on track.

Jay Jackson posted an 8-14 record in 26 starts with a 5.34 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP after beginning the season on the DL. Jackson struggled with consistency and like Brett Jackson, will all of the injuries at the big league level if he would have been healthy (and effective) enough he would have been in the big league rotation … instead of spending the entire year at the Triple-A level.

This spring will be a big one for the Cubs former ninth round pick (2008).

Jay Jackson turned 24 years old last October (October 27, 1987) and still has plenty of time to get back on track … and end up in the Major Leagues.

#5 – Josh Vitters, 3B/1B
Josh Vitters had a rough start to the season but finished strong … and for the first time in his pro career, he stayed healthy. Vitters played in a career-high 129 games for the Smokies this season (plus the post season).

Vitters put together a .283/.322/.448/.770 line with 28 doubles, three triples and 14 home runs in 129 games at the Double-A level in 2011.

The free-swinging Josh Vitters also learned how to take a pitch or two and ended up walking a career-high 22 times. Vitters makes contact (54 strikeouts in 488 plate appearances), which is good … and bad all at the same time.

After promotions took away many of the clubhouse leaders for the Smokies, Vitters really stepped up his game. While trying to lead the team to a second half championship, Vitters always seemed to come up with a clutch hit as the team fell just 2.5 games short of their goal.

The feeling is Josh Vitters will end up at a position other than third base. Vitters continued to struggle at third base defensively last season and spent time at first base. The Cubs sent him to the AFL where he spent a little time in left field … and first base. The Cubs have said he will begin the season as a third baseman but if improvements are not made early on, look for him to be moved around the field.

While in the AFL, Vitters hit the cover off the ball … .360/.383/.540/.923 in 24 games (100 at bats) with 36 hits, six doubles, four home runs and four walks.

Josh Vitters was added to the Cubs 40-man roster this winter … but figures to be at least a year away from making his big league debut.

#6 – Matt Szczur, OF
Matt Szczur put together a good first full season of pro ball and was even named to the XM Futures Game. Szczur hit a combined .293/.335/.423/.758 with 22 doubles, three triples and 10 home runs in 109 games with the Peoria Chiefs (Low-A ball) and Daytona Cubs (High-A ball). Szczur excelled while with the Chiefs (.314/.366/.431/.796 with 15 doubles, a triple and five home runs in 66 games) but struggled after he was promoted to the D-Cubs (.260/.283/.410/.694 with seven doubles, two triples and five home runs in 43 games).

The main concern with Szczur offensively is his lack of patience at the plate. In 480 plate appearances last season, Szczur walked 26 times. Scouts rave about his speed but until he learns how to take a pitch, and a walk, he will not be a successful big league ball player.

Matt Szczur is applauded for his work ethic and character … and the upcoming season is an important one for the 22-year old outfielder (July 20, 1989). Some scouts are rating Szczur as one of the organization’s best defensive outfielders.

#7 – D.J. LeMahieu, 3B/2B/SS
D.J. LeMahieu made his big league debut last season but did not survive the Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer house cleaning. At the minor league level, LeMahieu hit a combined .319/.354/.423/.777 in 108 games with the Smokies and I-Cubs. LeMahieu hit 22 doubles, three triples and five home runs … but only 25 walks in 449 plate appearances.

If LeMahieu can develop a little power he could end up having a good Major League career.

D.J. LeMahieu, along with Tyler Colvin, was traded to the Rockies on December 8 for Ian Stewart and Casey Weathers.

#8 – Reggie Golden, OF
Reggie Golden had a rough 2011 season and like many players in the Cubs’ system, the upcoming season is very important for his career. Golden showed up to Spring Training out of shape, ended up staying in Extended Spring Training and playing only in Short-Season A-Ball in Boise.

Once he began playing with the Hawks, he struggled to the tune of a .242/.332/.420/.752 line with 10 doubles, five triples and seven home runs in 64 games (265 plate appearances). Golden walked 28 times to go along with 68 strikeouts. However, Golden’s numbers really improved in the final ten games of the season. Golden hit .305 with five home runs and 12 RBI, good for Player-of-the-Week honors for the season’s final week.

Reggie Golden has the tools to be a very good ballplayer and projects to hit with power … maybe this spring he will show up ready to play.

#9 – Rafael Dolis, RHP
Rafael Dolis began the season in the Smokies’ rotation but soon moved to the pen and flourished. Dolis was 8-5 in 51 games, four starts, with a 3.22 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP. Dolis saved 17 games for the Smokies before receiving a call-up to the Show in September.

Dolis has a power arm but struggles with his command from time to time (35 walks and 48 strikeouts in 51 innings). If he can harness his fastball and slider, the Cubs could end up with another impressive late-inning reliever.

#10 – Jae-Hoon Ha, OF
Jae-Hoon Ha spent last season going between the Daytona Cubs and Tennessee Smokies. After beginning the year in High-A ball, Ha was promoted to Double-A when Brett Jackson went to the DL. When Jackson returned, Ha was demoted … then promoted again when Jackson went to Iowa.

Ha put together a .279/.315/.413/.728 line in 132 combined games in his first full season of pro ball. Ha hit 31 doubles, three triples and 11 home runs while being successful in 17 of 30 stolen base attempts. At the Double-A level (61 games), Ha hit .283/.320/.403/.722 with 16 doubles, a triple and three home runs while hitting at the top of the line-up for most of his stay. Not bad for someone who turned 21 at the end of October. After being signed by the organization as a catcher, Ha was rated by Baseball America as the system’s best defensive outfielder with only three years of experience at the position.

#11 – Michael Burgess, OF
Michael Burgess came to the organization from the Nationals in the Tom Gorzelanny deal last January. Burgess struck out 111 times in 122 games last season with the D-Cubs and managed just a .225/.323/.427/.750 line with 24 doubles, one triple and 20 home runs. The numbers reflect Burgess’ raw power, having a combined 45 extra base hits but only one stolen base.

Burgess is only 23 years old (October 20, 1988) and he needs to take the next step in his development.

#12 – Ryan Flaherty, IF/OF
Ryan Flaherty had a big year with the Smokies (.305/.384/.523/.907 with 20 doubles, two triples and 14 home runs in 83 games) before receiving a promotion to Triple-A. Flaherty struggled again with a promotion. One of the knocks on Flaherty has been his inability to adjust and the numbers he put up with the I-Cubs proved the point (.237/.277/.399/.676 with 11 doubles, a triple and five home runs in 49 games).

As a whole, 2011 was a very good year for Ryan Flaherty (.280/.347/.478/.824 with 31 doubles, three triples and 19 home runs) and it earned him a chance with another organization.

The Baltimore Orioles selected Ryan Flaherty in the Rule 5 draft and he will compete for a spot on their 25-man roster this spring. If Flaherty cannot adjust to big league pitching, he will be offered back to the Cubs.

#13 – Alberto Cabrera, RHP
The 23-year old right-hander (played last season at 22 years old), had a rough year splitting time with the Tennessee Smokies and Iowa Cubs. Cabrera was 6-2 in nine starts at the Double-A level with a 5.36 ERA and a 1.66 WHIP and was 3-6 with the I-Cubs in 19 games, 17 starts. Cabrera posted a 6.60 ERA and a 1.93 WHIP in 88 2/3 innings at the Triple-A level (67 strikeouts, 53 walks and 118 hits).

Cabrera is another player on a long list that needs a bounce back season in 2012. Cabrera was added to the 40-man roster prior to the 2011 season … and his options clock is clicking.

#14 – Justin Bour, 1B
Justin Bour played a career-high 133 games last season and put together a .277/.335/.478/.813 line with 30 doubles, a triple and 23 home runs in 558 plate appearances. Bour, like a majority of the Cubs’ system, showed little patience at the plate and managed only 46 walks to go along with 105 strikeouts.

Bour did not adjust well to playing an entire season in the hitter friendly Florida State League after a .291/.375/.436/.811 line the year before at Peoria.

#15 – Junior Lake, SS
After a great start with the Daytona Cubs (.315/.336/.498/.834 line with 11 doubles, four triples and six home runs), Junior Lake struggled at the Double-A level and had some thinking the Cubs would try to put the 21-year old on the mound. Lake hit just .248/.300/.380/.680 in 67 games with the Smokies (10 doubles, two triples and six home runs) and still refused to take a walk (six walks in 216 plate appearances with the D-Cubs, 13 walks in 262 plate appearances with the Smokies). Lake really struggled when placed near the top of the batting order, but seemed more comfortable at the lower end. Lake stole a combined 38 bags last year.

Junior Lake truly struggled with his defense. Lake committed a combined 34 errors last season and that was down from a combined 41 errors in 2010 and a combined 42 errors in 2009. Lake continued to have problems defensively in the AFL, committing another five errors, both fielding and throwing.

Lake had a very good AFL season and turned a lot of heads (.296/.352/.548/.900 with eight doubles, three triples, five home runs and 18 stolen bases in 28 games). The Cubs added Lake to the 40-man roster and are hoping his fall league performance is a sign of good things on the horizon.

The Cubs are very high on the 21-year old (March 27, 1990) Junior Lake.

#16 – Welington Castillo, C
Welington Castillo dealt with one injury after the other last season and managed only 75 games at three levels of the minors last year. Castillo hurt his hamstring in Spring Training last year and was not able to get back to 100 percent all year.

In just 61 games with the I-Cubs, Castillo showed improvement at the plate and in the field. The 24 year old catcher hit .286/.351/.524/.875 with nine doubles and 15 home runs.

The Cubs have always like Welington Castillo and he improved his stock last season in limited action. Castillo is expected to compete for a back-up job this spring.

#17 – Aaron Kurcz, RHP
The Cubs’ 11th round pick in the 2010 draft had a very good first full season in pro ball. Aaron Kurcz was 5-4 with a 3.28 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP in 32 games, 12 starts, with the D-Cubs. Kurcz walked 34 and struck out 91 in 82 1/3 innings. Kurcz appeared to perform better as a reliever. In 20 appearances he had a 2.72 ERA with a better than 4:1 strikeout to walk ratio (49 strikeouts, 12 walks) while holding opposing hitters to a .169 average.

Kurcz throws his fastball consistently in the low to mid 90s and showed improvement with his slider.

Aaron Kurcz should begin the season at the Double-A level and if he keeps performing like he did last year, he could reach the big leagues before his 23rd birthday (August 8, 1990).

#18 – Brooks Raley, LHP
The 23-year old southpaw (June 29, 1988) had a good year at the Double-A level and helped lead the Smokies to a first place finish in the Southern League. Raley was 8-10 in 26 games, 25 starts, with a 4.22 ERA and a 1.58 WHIP (80 strikeouts, 45 walks and 170 hits surrendered in 136 1/3 innings).

#19 – Logan Watkins, 2B/SS/OF
Logan Watkins bounced back from a poor showing in 2010 and put together a solid season in a career-high 125 games in 2011. Watkins hit .281/.352/.404/.756 with 15 doubles, 12 triples and five home runs with the Daytona Cubs. Watkins walked 44 times in 502 plate appearances to go along with 97 strikeouts. Watkins stole 21 bases, good for third in the minor league system behind Junior Lake (a combined 38 steals) and teammate Evan Crawford (32 steals)

Watkins also showed off his versatility by playing all three outfield spots (one in right, three in center, eight in left) and three of the four infield positions (45 at short, one at third and 72 at second base).

Logan Watkins improved his stock last year in his second full season of pro ball.

#20 – Marwin Gonzalez, IF/OF
Like Ryan Flaherty, Marwin Gonzalez’s very good season earned him a shot with another organization. Gonzalez hit a combined .288/.343/.400/.742 in 124 games between the Smokies and I-Cubs last year. Gonzalez helped lead the first place Smokies in the first half (.301/.359/.421/.780 in 64 games) and helped the I-Cubs play better ball in the second half (.274/.326/.376/.701 in 60 games).

The Red Sox selected Gonzalez in the Rule 5 Draft and traded him to the Houston Astros. Gonzalez has a real shot of sticking on the Astros’ 25-man roster throughout the entire 2012 season.

Coming Soon: The CCO’s Top Cubs Prospect List for 2012

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