The CCO’s Top 20 Cubs Prospects for 2012

The CCO’s off-season look at the Cubs’ farm system continues with our list of the top 20 prospects in the Cubs’ system.

The Cubs’ minor league system is coming off a good and bad season. Like the big league team, several of the top prospects down on the farm dealt with injuries … and those injuries might have kept players like Brett Jackson, Trey McNutt and Rob Whitenack from getting a call to the Show.

The Cubs’ system has a much different look than a year ago. The commitment made to the draft added quality players to what was already considered a deep system. The big knock on the organization is the lack of impact talent, both on the mound and in the field.

For the second year in a row, Brett Jackson tops the CCO’s list of the top prospects in the Cubs’ system with Anthony Rizzo, Trey McNutt, Matt Szczur and Josh Vitters rounding out the top five.

The CCO’s 2012 Pre-Season Top Cubs Prospects
(2011 Ranking in Parenthesis)

1. Brett Jackson, OF (1)
2. Anthony Rizzo, 1B (NA)
3. Trey McNutt, RHP (2)
4. Matt Szczur, OF (6)
5. Josh Vitters, 3B/1B (5)
6. Jae-Hoon Ha, OF (10)
7. Jeimer Candelario, 3B (NA)
8. Ronald Torreyes, 2B (NA)
9. Javier Baez, SS (NA)
10. Jeff Beliveau, LHP (NR)
11. Junior Lake, SS/3B (15)
12. Rafael Dolis, RHP (9)
13. Welington Castillo, C (16)
14. Dae-Eun Rhee, RHP (NR)
15. Dan Vogelbach, 1B (NA)
16. Ben Wells, RHP (NR)
17. Marco Hernandez, SS/2B (NR)
18. Chris Carpenter, RHP (3)
19. Chris Rusin, LHP (NR)
20. Tony Zych, RHP (NA)

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

#1 – Brett Jackson, OF
Brett Jackson is likely the next prospect in line to make his big league debut. Jackson is coming off a very good year in only his second full season of pro ball.

The former first round pick of the Cubs in 2009 (31st overall pick) will not turn 24 until August (August 2, 1988) … and while player comps are typically dangerous, the comparison, both offensively and defensively, to Jim Edmonds is intriguing.

Brett Jackson would have made his big league debut last season if not for an injury that put him on the DL at the same time Marlon Byrd was on the shelf. Jackson hurt his pinkie sliding back into second base in May and ended up on the disabled list. Once Jackson returned, the Cubs decided to leave him in the minors to finish the year instead of adding him to the 40-man roster … and it was the right move.

Jackson was slated to play in the Arizona Fall League but opted to represent his country in the Pan Am Games.

After putting together a good first full year of pro ball in 2010, Jackson excelled last season and put together a 20-20 season between the time spent in Double-A and Triple-A. Jackson was good with the Smokies but appeared to take his game to the next level with the I-Cubs.

Jackson posted a .256/.373/.443/.816 line in 67 games with the Smokies and hit 10 doubles, three triples and 10 home runs. In 48 games with the I-Cubs, Jackson put together a .297/.388/.551/.939 line with 13 doubles, two triples and 10 home runs.

Brett Jackson will be in his third straight big league camp and will likely begin the season as the starting centerfielder for the Iowa Cubs. Jackson has grown up in a short amount of time and his talents should be on display at Wrigley in the very near future.

#2 – Anthony Rizzo, 1B
In a high profile deal, the Cubs acquired the left-handed hitting Anthony Rizzo from the San Diego Padres this winter for former number one draft pick Andrew Cashner. Rizzo has been a highly sought player by the Cubs’ new management team, drafted by them while they were with the Red Sox in the sixth round in 2007 and acquired as part of the Adrian Gonzalez trade in 2010 (check).

Rizzo has made progress since being drafted as a 17-year old. After successfully dealing with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2008, he spent his first full minor league season in 2009 split between Single-A Greenville and Advanced-A Salem. Between them, he hit .297 with 12 home runs and 66 RBI in 119 games. He split his season again in 2010, appearing at Salem and Double-A Portland. While his average suffered, hitting .260 overall, his power increased to 25 homers and 100 RBI.

With his future somewhat blocked in the Red Sox organization by prospect Lars Anderson, Rizzo was made part of the deal that brought Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to Boston. Placed at San Diego’s Triple-A team in Tucson, Rizzo tore up the Pacific Coast League, slugging his way to a .365 average, 16 home runs, 53 RBI, and an OPS of 1.159 in 52 games. He was then brought up to the big leagues in June, where he went 3-for-7 in his first three games, with a double, triple, and home run. However, he was demoted back to Tucson a month later after batting .143 with 36 strikeouts in 98 at bats.

In acquiring Rizzo, Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Jason McLeod have made a plan to ease him slowly back to the majors. They retained first baseman Bryan LaHair, and it appears Rizzo will begin the season at Triple-A Iowa. He’ll have some things to improve on, as he hit only .172 against left-handed pitching. Exclusively playing first base, he only has a career fielding percentage of .989 with 27 errors over the past two seasons. However, his .951 range factor is better than LaHair’s (.876).

At only 22 years-old, Rizzo brings a big bat and a high ceiling to the North Side. How soon he gets there will be determined by how he improves his game.

#3 – Trey McNutt, RHP
After opening a lot of eyes in 2010, the injury bug bit Kenneth Trey McNutt in 2011. McNutt spent a majority of the spring in big league camp and never really got on track. McNutt struggled with blister issues in the spring and at the start of the season. Once he seemed to put the blister problem behind him, he was injured during a collision on the base paths and dealt with the rib injury for the rest of the year.

Trey McNutt struggled with his command when he was on the mound but when he was on, McNutt showed why he was the top pitching prospect in the organization.

McNutt was 5-6 in only 23 games, 22 starts, last year with a 4.55 ERA and a 1.67 WHIP. McNutt struck out 65 batters in 95 innings, while walking 39 and surrendering 120 hits … a big difference from the 10-1 record in 25 starts in three stops (Peoria, Daytona and Tennessee) in 2010 (with 132 strikeouts, 37 walks and 83 hits in 116 1/3 innings).

McNutt can hit 98 MPH on his fastball but seems to control it better when he sits in the 92-94 MPH range. The young right-hander has a very good breaking ball (most think the best in the system) that has the velocity of a slider but the break of a traditional curveball. McNutt’s change-up is still a work in progress.

The former 32nd round pick in the 2009 draft will not turn 23 until August (August 2, 1989) and he needs to put together a bounce-back season and show the new regime that 2010 was not a fluke.

Trey McNutt received an invite to big league camp for the second spring in a row and could make his Major League debut at some point during the upcoming season.

#4 – Matt Szczur, OF
Following the 2010 season, Matt Szczur was faced with a difficult choice. A wide receiver at Division I-AA Villanova, he was rated as a possible high round draft choice by respected expert Mel Kiper Jr. However, Szczur (pronounced Caesar) torched Northwest League pitching, hitting .397 in 18 games for the Boise Hawks. Szczur would end with a .347 average in 25 games over three levels of competition before returning to Villanova to complete his senior season. A high ankle sprain limited him to only four games, and his NFL draft stock dropped.

Szczur accepted a $1.4 million bonus to play baseball exclusively prior to the 2011 season and was assigned to Single-A Peoria. He tore up Midwest League pitching to the tune of .314 with five home runs, 27 RBI, and 17 stolen bases, mostly from the lead-off position. Szczur was also named the league’s best defensive outfielder.

After 66 games with the Chiefs, Szczur was promoted to Advanced-A Daytona, where he floundered a bit in the pitching -rich Florida State League. Szczur ended up hitting only .260 for the D-Cubs, but seemed to come around toward the end of the season. In the playoffs for the eventual champions, Szczur hit .368. He demonstrated good pitch selection at Peoria, walking 21 times while only striking out 28 times in 274 at bats. He was also able to lay down several bunt hits.

With his sub-4.50 speed in the forty yard dash, Szczur would probably become the fastest player in the majors when he arrives. If he keeps on improving, his arrival could happen faster than his forty-time.

#5 – Josh Vitters, 3B/1B
Perhaps no other minor leaguer in the Cubs’ system grew as much as a player last season as Josh Vitters. It seems as though many Cubs fans have been waiting “forever” for the 2007 first round draft pick to develop, but the now 22-year old appears to have turned the corner.

Coming into the 2011 season, there were some observers who felt that Vitters was only starting at Double-A Tennessee due to his lofty draft status. The previous season, Vitters hit only .223 in 63 games with the Smokies while coming back from a broken hand. However, Tennessee was an offensive powerhouse in the Southern League in 2011, with a team batting average over .300 for the first two months of the season. As the Smokies’ best players were winnowed away through promotions, Vitters stepped into the leadership void in clubhouse.

While it doesn’t show up in the cold, hard statistics, Vitters always seemed to be delivering a clutch hit in a key situation for the first -half champions, as they fell just 2.5 games short of a second half crown. For the year, Vitters’ 14 home runs tied him for 15th in the league, while his team-leading 81 RBI were good for eighth, as he ended up hitting .283. Vitters followed that up with a sizzling Arizona Fall League. Playing the majority of his time as the Solar Sox’s DH (Vitters also played at first base and in the outfield), he wound up seventh in hitting at .360, out-producing high-profile prospects such as Bryce Harper and Mike Olt.

Defensively, Vitters is blessed with a powerful arm, but has yet to develop as a third baseman. He committed 21 errors in 100 games at third in 2011, the most at any single stop in his career. His .903 fielding average mirrored his career average of .906.

As he looks to start 2012 at Triple-A Iowa, will Vitters defense improve enough for him to be considered at third by the parent club? Or will Vitters go the way of many defensively challenged third basemen and shift to first base or the outfield? One thing is for sure, you can’t teach clutch hitting.

#6 – Jae-Hoon Ha, OF
Perhaps no other top prospect in the Cubs’ system is more overlooked than Jae-Hoon Ha. In fact, his numbers and pace of development rivals that of some of the top prospects in the game. The only thing seeming to hold him back in many scout’s eyes is the lack of one overall outstanding tool.

Ha was an international signing out of Jin Ju City in the Republic of Korea in 2009 as a catcher. Ha spent the entire 2009 season at Short Season-A Boise, where he was converted to outfield and hit an uninspired .242 in 65 games. He was held back in extended spring training in 2010, but summoned to Peoria when prized infield prospect Hak-Ju Lee got off to a slow start. Ha was supposed to help settle Lee down, which he ended up doing. However, Ha surprised minor league officials by batting .317 with seven home runs and 46 RBI in 77 games, while displaying some previously unknown speed and athleticism.

Ha was promoted to Advanced-A Daytona to start the 2011 season and placed under some extra pressure. He was asked to play centerfield for the first time in his career, and was miscast as a run-producing fourth and fifth place hitter. Ha struggled some with the higher quality pitching, but still managed to hit .311 with six home runs and 26 RBI in 151 at bats. He was then brought to Double-A Tennessee to replace an injured Brett Jackson. In 12 games, Ha hit .267 with a homer and seven RBI. He returned to Daytona where he slumped, ending up with a .276 average, eight home runs, and 47 RBI.

Ha was brought up to Tennessee for good in mid-July as Jackson was promoted. Installed as the team’s number two hitter, Ha went on to hit .287 with two home runs, 17 RBI and six stolen bases in the second half. More importantly, Ha was seen as a positive influence in the clubhouse, endearing himself to his teammates with his enthusiasm and style of play. Ha was clearly the Smokies’ best hitter in the playoffs, hitting .313 with two homers and five RBI.

Ha turned just 21-years old at the end of October. Baseball America rated him the system’s best defensive outfielder. Ha still has some aspects of his game he needs to improve, as his 13 stolen bases in 30 attempts can attest. His 6-foot-1, 185 pound frame looks as if it can hold another thirty plus pounds. He is expected to start at Tennessee, with a promotion to Triple-A Iowa looming as others are promoted.

#7 – Jeimer Candelario, 3B
If any prospect embodies the plate discipline/grind-it-out approach of the new Cubs’ management, 18-year old switch-hitter Jeimer Candelario fits the bill. Signed to the Dominican Academy in 2011, Candelario took the Dominican Summer League by storm. He ended up the league’s fifth best hitter with a .337 average, and his 53 RBI were good for second place. In a league not conducive to home runs, Candelario still popped five round-trippers. However, it’s his patience and batting eye that set him apart. Candelario drew 50 walks, far more than any other hitter in the top ten, while only striking out 42 times in 249 at bats.

As far as his defense, Candelario committed 17 errors in 195 chances on the sun baked fields of the DR, where temperatures normally exceeded 100 degrees. One should also keep in mind that Candelario just turned 18 at the end of November, and still has a lot of growing to do. It appears that he will at least be at Short Season-A Boise for the 2012 season, if not Single-A Peoria.

#8 – Ronald Torreyes, 2B
Acquired in the Sean Marshall trade with the Cincinnati Reds, Ronald Torreyes may end up being the “jewel in the crown” of that deal. Signed by the Reds in 2010, Torreyes set the Venezuelan Summer League on fire by hitting .390 with 33 RBI and 23 stolen bases in 67 games. He went to Arizona to finish the season with the Reds’ rookie team, and hit .349 with 11 RBI in 18 games. Torreyes then spent six games with Single-A Dayton, batting .240 in 25 plate appearances.

Back in Dayton in 2011, Torreyes slashed his way to a .356 average with 41 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 67 games. He finally settled into the second base position, where he fielded .989 in 263 chances.

Despite his clear offensive ability, there are some question marks going into the 2012 season. Although there was no mention of injury, Torreyes played in only half of Dayton’s games. His 5-foot-9, 140 pound frame will need some extra muscle to stand up to a full season. His size also limits him to strictly a middle infield role. And his only 60% success rate may mean he is limited as a base stealer. However, considering the fact that like Jeimer Candelario, he is very young and had a high level of success early in his career, his future may be bright.

#9 – Javier Baez, SS
The glare of the spotlight will be directly on Javier Baez in 2012, the Cubs’ first round draft pick in 2011. Baez comes to the organization with the reputation of having a big bat that the ball jumps off of. His reported excellent bat speed has scouts believing that he will hit for power. He is also reported to have a strong arm and quick hands on defense. However, Baez comes with a number of red flags.

While Baez played shortstop, his lack of range was evident in his six errors in only 27 chances. Some scouts feel that he will eventually move to third base, but his 6-foot, 180 pound build isn’t prototypical for the position. That’s why, with his compact frame, some are predicting a possible move to the catcher position. Baez is also an ultra-aggressive hitter, who lacks plate discipline. He is also rumored to have a cocky attitude.

Baez should get a healthy dose of maturity from Boise manager and former major-leaguer Mark Johnson and respected Peoria manager Casey Kopitzke, where he is expected to play this summer. If Baez learns his lessons well, the Cubs could have a very explosive offensive player in their future.

#10 – Jeff Beliveau, LHP
Perhaps the most decorated pitcher in the Cubs’ system, Jeffrey Beliveau started out as an unassuming 18th round draft pick in 2008. Since then, he has been named Organizational Pitcher-of-the-Year, a member of the World Cup/Pam-Am team, and been invited to the Arizona Fall League. Not bad for a player some would call a mere set-up man.

Beliveau saw time as both a starter and reliever in his first two seasons, with ERA’s of 2.80 in 2008 and 3.54 in 2009 while playing for the Peoria Chiefs. It wasn’t until 2010 that the decision was made to use Beliveau strictly in relief, and his career took off from there. Beliveau had a 1.59 ERA and struck out 23 batters in six games at Peoria and was quickly promoted to Advanced-A Daytona. There, Beliveau was 4-2 with a 2.89 ERA in 40 appearances. He struck out 74 and walked 23 while picking up two saves.

In 2011, Beliveau was back in Daytona to start the season. But a microscopic ERA of 0.52 and 20 strikeouts against six walks in 12 outings had him quickly packing for eastern Tennessee. With the Double-A Smokies, Beliveau became the main cog in a bullpen that consistently slammed the door on opponents. He was 6-1 with a 1.89 ERA in 57 innings. He struck out 69 and walked only 13 batters for a WHIP of 0.877. Beliveau followed that up by going 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA in four appearances during the Baseball World Cup. He also pitched a scoreless inning as the USA took the silver medal in the Pan-Am games. Then it was off to Arizona where he was practically unhittable for his first three appearances, before giving up three runs in his final game.

Beliveau sports a fastball in the 87 mph range, along with a curve and a change-up. However, he relies on better than average movement on his pitches to keep hitter off-guard and induce ground balls. Beliveau is reported to have a great pick-off move that keeps runners in check. He is expected to compete for the left-handed spot in the Cubs bullpen vacated by the trade of Sean Marshall.

#11 – Junior Lake, SS/3B
Junior Lake is one of the most intriguing prospects in the Cubs’ system. Lake could end up being a difference maker, a pitcher or one of the thousands of players that never make it out of the minors.

Lake is very young (March 27, 1990), in fact three days younger than Starlin Castro, and has shown in spurts that he has the tools to be a successful big league ballplayer.

The 6-foot-3, 215 pound shortstop could be in for a position change … either a move to third or to right field.

Lake was very good with the D-Cubs last season (.315/.336/.498/.834 with 11 doubles, four triples and six home runs in 49 games) but struggled after he was promoted to Double-A Tennessee (.248/.300/.380/.680 with 10 doubles, two triples and six home runs in 67 games). Lake is extremely aggressive at the plate, like a majority of the Cubs system, and has not figured out that taking a walk and using his speed on the bases is a good thing. Lake walked only 19 times in 478 plate appearances last year.

The Cubs are hoping his performance in the AFL (.296/.352/.548/.900 with eight doubles, three triples, five home runs and 18-for-18 in stolen bases in 28 games) is a sign that Lake is starting to figure things out.

Lake has a tremendous arm (80 on the 20-80 scouting scale) and could have the best arm in the minors … just not in the Cubs’ system.

Junior Lake was added to the Cubs’ 40-man roster this winter and will participate in his first big league camp. Lake will likely begin the year in Double-A, but if he can prove his performance in the AFL was not a fluke, Triple-A and maybe even the big leagues could be in his near future.

#12 – Rafael Dolis, RHP
Rafael Dolis is another former position player the Cubs have converted into a pitcher. The Cubs signed Dolis as a shortstop in 2004 (Jose Serra) but prior to coming to the states they put him on a mound. Dolis hurt is elbow in 2007 and spent the entire 2008 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Dolis began last season in the Smokies’ rotation before moving to the pen. Dolis excelled as a reliever despite the occasional command issues that made some of his late inning performances more dramatic than necessary. Dolis finished last season 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 being called up to the Show in September.

The 22-year old, 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-hander has been compared to Carlos Marmol, because when he is on he can make hitters look bad at the plate. Dolis throws a fastball in the 93-100 MPH range with heavy sink and a slider in the mid-80s with a sharp bite.

Dolis focused on keeping the ball down and command last season which accounted for his strikeout rate dropping but his groundball rate increasing.

Rafael Dolis will compete for a spot in the Cubs’ pen this spring but he figures to get his first experience at the Triple-A level to begin the year.

#13 – Welington Castillo, C
Oneri Fleita has compared Welington Castillo to Yadier Molina for years and the upcoming season will be a big one for the soon-to-be 25-year old catcher (April 24, 1987). Castillo has shown flashes both offensively and defensively that he has the tools to be a big league catcher … but he has yet to put both parts of his game together in the same season.

Castillo has the arm and quick release to limit a team’s running game. Defensively the questions have been his ability to call a game and handle a pitching staff.

Welington Castillo dealt with injuries last season that began in the spring (thumb and hamstring) and ended up limiting him to just 75 minor league games. Castillo hit .286/.351/.524/.875 with nine doubles and 15 home runs in 61 games for the Iowa Cubs.

Castillo should have received more playing time in the majors but between his own health issues and Mike Quade trying to save his job, Castillo played in only four games for the Cubs last season.

Welington Castillo will complete for the back-up catcher’s job this spring along with Steve Clevenger. Instead of sitting on a bench in the big leagues, Castillo would be better off learning and playing at the Triple-A level.

#14 – Dae-Eun Rhee, RHP
Dae-Eun Rhee is healthy and is primed for a big season. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2009 and working to get back in 2010, the soon-to-be 23-year old (March 23, 1989) is coming off a good season with the Daytona Cubs.

Rhee posted an 8-7 record in 25 games, 17 starts, with four complete games. Rhee allowed 68 runs, 57 earned (4.02 ERA) in 127 2/3 innings with 117 strikeouts and just 43 walks (1.36 WHIP). Rhee showed improvement as the season wore on and posted a 3-0 record in six games, three starts, in August with a 2.84 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. In his last 38 innings of the year, Rhee struck out 40, allowed 33 hits and walked only 10 batters.

After throwing in the upper-80s to low-90s for a majority of the season, Rhee added a little velocity over the last month which turned his 88-92 MPH fastball into a 90-94 MPH fastball. Rhee is also considered to have the best change-up in the system.

Some have projected Rhee as a middle of the rotation starter at the big league level and he will have a chance to show the new regime what he can do this spring … Rhee received a non-roster invite to big league camp. As for the upcoming season, Oneri Fleita said during the convention Dae-Eun Rhee will begin the year in the Smokies’ rotation.

#15 – Dan Vogelbach, 1B
It will be hard to miss 2011second round draft pick Dan Vogelbach at 6-foot, 250 pounds in training camp. After a protracted negotiation, the 19-year old left-handed hitter signed in time to play six games in the rookie league. Vogelbach hit .292 with a home run and six RBI, and then went on to have a solid performance in the Fall Instructional League.

Vogelbach comes with the scouting report of having plus-plus power, power to all fields, quick wrists, and good bat speed. In viewing footage of Vogelbach, he appears to have a fluid swing and good footwork around first base. However, his body did seem to have the “shakes”, and he can use plenty of work in the off-season to improve his strength and conditioning. Vogelbach is considered to be a hard worker, and should be given credit for losing 40 pounds prior to the draft. listed Vogelbach as the tenth best first base prospect in the minor leagues. If he keeps himself in shape, the Northwest League record of 17 home runs set last year by Cubs’ prospect Paul Hoilman may be in jeopardy.

#16 – Ben Wells, RHP
The Cubs selected Ben Wells in the seventh round of the 2010 draft and the 19-year old (September 10, 1992) had a decent first year in pro ball. Wells spent last season in Short-Season A-ball and posted a 4-4 record in 16 games, 15 starts, with a 4.66 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP with the Boise Hawks. Wells struck out 53 and walked 19 in 77 1/3 innings.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound right hander throws a heavy sinker in the low to mid 90s (velocity improved as the season progressed last year) and a hard slider that could end up being his out pitch. Wells repeats his delivery well and reportedly is very composed on the mound for a teenager.

Ben Wells should spend his second year as a professional in Peoria … and how he handles a true full season of starts as one of the youngest players at that level will give the Cubs’ brass a better idea of what the future may hold for the young righty.

#17 – Marco Hernandez, SS/2B
There seems to be some healthy debates as to where Marco Hernandez will be able to play on the diamond. However there seems to be no doubt that he will be able to produce offensively.

The 19-year old left-handed hitter was signed in 2010 to the Dominican Academy, and saw action with both the C-1 and C-2 teams. He hit .286 overall with 22 stolen bases, but .294 with the more powerful C-1 team. Hernandez lined up mostly at shortstop, where he fielded .946 with 14 errors.

Hernandez then spent the entire 2011 season in the Arizona Rookie League, where he battled teammate Gioskar Amaya as the team’s offensive leader. Hernandez ended up hitting .333 while his 42 RBI were good for fourth in the league, despite hitting only two home runs. He also had a good on-base percentage of .375, coaxing 16 walks against 29 strikeouts.

Hernandez’s sturdy 6-foot, 170 pound frame and hitting ability remind some of fellow Dominican Starlin Castro. However, his final position will be determined by his debated arm strength. Some scouts feel Hernandez has a good enough arm to remain at short, while close observers report that he’ll need to move to the other side of the diamond. With a crowded middle infield situation in the lower minors, it’s hard to determine where Hernandez will end up. Wherever he will be, Hernandez will probably keep hitting.

#18 – Chris Carpenter, RHP
Chris Carpenter is coming off a big year but one that unfortunately ended on the disabled list. Carpenter began 2011 in Triple-A, struggled, and was demoted to Double-A Tennessee to build his confidence … and it worked.

Carpenter opened a lot of eyes the fall before in the AFL. The one-time starter turned into a flame throwing reliever but he had little to no command in Iowa. Once he regained his confidence in Double-A, he was soon added to the 40-man roster and made his big league debut.

The former third round pick of the Cubs (2008 draft) ended up showing what he was capable of in 10 relief appearances for the Cubs. Carpenter posted a 2.79 ERA in 9 2/3 innings but the hits (12) and walks allowed (seven) ran up his WHIP (1.97) to an alarming number for any pitcher, much less a reliever.

Carpenter pitched in the AFL for the second season in a row … and pretty much dominated again. Carpenter posted a 1-1 record with a 3.29 ERA but walked only two batters to go along with 18 strikeouts. In 11 games (13 2/3 innings), Carpenter allowed 15 hits and finished with a 1.24 WHIP. Carpenter says he is healthy and ready to start Spring Training.

Chris Carpenter could begin the year in Dale Sveum’s pen or end up back in Iowa. Most think his ceiling at the Major League level is that of a setup man, but with the ability to consistently sit in the upper 90s with his fastball and touch triple digits from time-to-time, Carpenter’s future is a bright one … if he can control it.

#19 – Chris Rusin, LHP
The Cubs selected Chris Rusin in the fourth round of the 2009 draft. The 25-year old southpaw (October 22, 1986) has put together two straight solid seasons and owns a 14-12 mark in 60 career games, 54 starts, with a 3.51 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP in a short time.

Rusin has pitched at every level in the minors. In two stops in 2010 (Daytona and Tennessee), Rusin was 6-4 in 24 games, 21 starts, with a 3.11 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. Rusin struck out 99 batters with only 19 walks in 110 innings.

Last season, Rusin was a combined 8-4 in 26 games, 24 starts, with the Smokies and I-Cubs. Rusin’s combined ERA was 3.96 with a 1.30 WHIP and in 138 2/3 innings he struck out 95 while issuing 30 walks … slightly better than a 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio. After receiving a promotion to Iowa, Rusin excelled at throwing strikes and posted a 5-2 record in 11 games, nine starts, with a 4.02 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. In 62 2/3 innings with the I-Cubs, Rusin struck out 46 and walked only 14 batters.

Chris Rusin received a non-roster invite to big league camp and if he picks up where he’s left off the past two years, don’t be surprised to see him throw his first pitch in the majors during the upcoming season.

#20 – Tony Zych, RHP
Tony Zych could end up being the first member of the Cubs’ 2011 Draft Class (fourth round) to make his Major League debut. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound right-hander was good in limited action after signing with the Cubs. The Cubs actually drafted the Monee native three years earlier in the 46 round.

The polished 21-year old (August 7, 1990) was voted as the top prospect by scouts of the 2010 Cape Cod League. The former college reliever sits consistently in the mid to high 90s with his fastball and has touched 99 MPH. Zych’s funky delivery gives him deception and adds life to his fastball.

Zych has a lot of development to do, especially with his slider … a pitch that Zych throws in the low 80s but has a tendency to flatten out.

Zych appeared in four games in two stops last season (Rookie Ball in Arizona and Short-Season Boise) and posted a combined 2.25 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP (two hits, two walks and five strikeouts in four innings).

Tony Zych will likely start the year in Peoria but could make quick work of the minors on his way to the Show.

Here is a list of other players down on the farm to keep an eye on during the upcoming season: Gioskar Amaya (INF), Jeff Antigua (LHP), Jeffrey Baez (OF), Dallas Beeler (RHP), Justin Bour (1B), Zach Cates (RHP), Matt Cerda (INF), Pin-Cheih Chen (OF), Steve Clevenger (C), Zeke DeVoss (2B), Shawon Dunston, Jr. (OF), Taiwan Easterling (OF), Anthony Giansanti (INF/OF), Reggie Golden (OF), Jay Jackson (RHP), Eric Jokisch (LHP), Austin Kirk (LHP), Aaron Kurcz (RHP), Dillon Maples (RHP), Carlos Penalver (INF), Brooks Raley (LHP), Kevin Rhoderick (RHP), Rebel Ridling (1B/OF), Jose Rosario (RHP), Dave Sappelt (OF), Alexander Santana (RHP), Rock Shoulders (1B), Hayden Simpson (RHP), Nick Struck (RHP), Yao-Lin Wang (RHP), Logan Watkins (INF/OF) and Rob Whitenack (RHP)

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  • CROW

    Candelario at 7? WOW… I enjoyed the write-ups on all of the players and thanks for doing it…. Candelario is a great young talent and someone I can’t wait to see progress. The walks for someone his age and being from the Swing first DR are even more impressive… But 7 WOW!!!!  But considering I’m thinking your rankings of Baez, Vogelbach and Maples are based on limited to no pro experience, that 7 blows my mind.  Once again thanks for the list can’t wait to see everyone eles’s thoughts.

  • Tony_Hall

    Great list.  Someone asked yesterday which list is the best, this is it. 



    The CCO’s list was the only one that didn’t automatically put Hayden Simpson on it, last year, just because he was a #1 pick.  This year, players not in the Top 20, D Maples and H Simpson, shows that draft position is not the reason for the rankings.I think this is going to be a fun season, to follow the minor league system and see the players placements and movements during the year, with a new regime.

    • Jim

      True, but where are Simpson and Maples in the development process?

      • jiba11

        I know after Simpson was drafted in 2010 he had some health issues (mononucleosis). I also thought he had some arm problems in 2011 and surgery was talked about but I don’t know if it happened.

        2012 is definitely going to be a telling year of what kind of prospect he’s going to be.

  • Agustinrexach

    Very Nice, I like the fact that Vitters and Candelario are ranked higher by the CCO than with traditional lists for unconventional reasons. Refreshing list of top prospect and scary at the same time because it shows we are starving in the pitching department.

  • Meoli

    Happy Groundhog’s Day to everyone at the CCO!

  • Binyow

    I think Maples should be in this list and probably Austin kirk as well. Javier Baez 9th? Hey you never know. Dae eun rhee was going to be a very good prospect before his surgery yet he isnt the same now.I probably wouldnt have put him on my top 25 even. Another one I would drop i Ben Wells. ONe guy Icouldnt agree more is Ja HUn Ha.He’s a good one.

  • Redlarczykg

    Great job!   However, I think lefty Jeff Antigua is a better prospect than Chris Rusin.  I’m hoping he keeps his newly found control and does well at AA Tenn this year.

  • Zonk

    Interesting list…..a couple points:

    –VITTERS:  You are more optimistic on Vitters than others; nobody has given up on him, but not many think he has a high cieling anymore
    –JAY JACKSON:  Amazing how far he fell in one year…..
    –DAVE SAPPELT:  Surprised he is not in top-20.  Sappelt isn’t an all-star, but he appears to have enough to stick as a 4th or 5th OFer for awhile in the majors.  Most project Jae Hoon Ha’s cieling to be not that much higher than Sappelt’s, and Sappelt is further along.

    • Jeff in Az

      I agree on Sappelt. Was he left off because he has more mlb experience then say rizzo?

  • Jeff in Az

    It’s cool how the rebuilding project has gotten so many fans interested in the farm system. I think this will build even more loyalty to the team (if that is possible) in the long run.

    Of course we are all desperate for a world series win, but it will be even sweeter when it happens with a mix of homegrown talent and free agent signings.

    Great work Neil and staff on this piece. One of my favorite articles in recent memory.

  • KevininSandiego

    Interesting piece, I disagree with most of it. I dont think Vitter should be in the top 10 and there is not way he could be in the top 5. He has never in my opinion shown to be the player that he was sold to be. He will be at best an average ML player.

    I also have a problem with the Ranking of Candelario. DR League is inbetween Travel Ball and College ball, so I dont take his stat to seriously. I think you swap him and Vogelbache.

    I have a big problem with Baez rank and write up. Baez on raw talent allow should be in the top 5, he as plus bat speed and is considered to have soft hands and a plus arm. My problem with the write up was one sentence the 6’0 180lbs is not prototypicial for a 3B. Where are you getting your information David Wright is 6’0 200, Ron Soto was 6’0 190, Adrain Beltre is 5’11 220lbs and Mike Moustakas is 5’11 230lbs. Baez will full out he is 18 and will gain muscle.

    • Dorasaga

      Ron SANTO would not be proud, a skinny wizard on the field, great plate discipline, all very different from Ba3z. Santo would want to see a third baseman better than him to come up from the Cubs system.

      • KevininSandiego

        Are you agreeing with me or arguing with me. I also wanted to add Baez walked 32 times in 117 PA in HS, so he can be too overly aggressive.

        • KevininSandiego

          Vitters had 14 walks in around 90 PA his senior year of HS. Just saying.

        • Dorasaga

          Neither. Why we must think a forum is a place to always debate right or wrong? But if I may point out the obvious; i.e. Restate my points above: First, It’s not “Ron Soto.” You misspelled.

          Second, Baez has not shown any talent as common as Santo. There are few equals like the Hall of Famer, with a plate discipline PLUS a glove.

          Third, Baez is not the answer for third-base. Ron might not like him as much as the ranking–well, Ron likes EVERY CUBBIE–the matter is to what degree.

          I have no case, this is pure rambling.

  • cubs1967

    So Edwin Jackson signs for 1 yr and team Theo does zilch! Really, he has better stuff than all the SP excep Garza & Demp. For all the talk of acquiring assets, the only asset is Rizzo. T wood, Maholm, rejects, all the wild things crappy class A RPs, all junk!
    Enjoy the 100 losses fans….. At least tix prices are lower……er not!!!!!!
    Thanks Tommyboy, U joke of an owner.

    • daverj

      Yes, Jackson is better than all of the Cubs SP’s other than Garza (and maybe Demp).   That said, why waste $10 million when the Cubs aren’t going to compete for the NL central title this year.  I really don’t care if the team wins 81 games and finishes 3rd in the division or wins 65 games and finishes 5th. I want a World Series.  If cutting the budget now means we can spend more a few years down the road or spend more on minor league development today, I’m all for it.

      • Skeldor

        We could have flipped him at the all-star break for more prospects.

        • gary3411

           that would then essentially be like paying 7 million for a prospect, still not worth it. And it won’t even be a top prospect unless Jackson has his best year yet.

          • John_CC


            But then again, most fans are smarter than MLB upper management…

    • Cory

      Sounds like you wish Hendry was still GM

      • cubs1967

        cuz maholm and dejesus for 9.5M is soooooo much better than jackson at 10M right??…and jackson is under 30 so still could improve where the other 2 are both over 30 so that proves what??

        sounds like you want ed lynch as GM again.

    • Scott

      Man, it isn’t often that I agree with you cubs1967.  We DEFINITELY should have paid ~10M to Jackson to pitch for us in 2012.  I mean, there is actually zero doubt that the man has tremendous stuff – as you mentioned.  And he has turned that into a career ERA of 4.46 with a 1.476 WHIP.  Definitely the stuff of an ace.  It sucks we will have to watch Maholm (career 4.36 ERA and 1.424 WHIP), Volstad (career 4.59 ERA and 1.409 WHIP) and T. Wood (career 4.18 ERA and 1.289 WHIP) pitch for a combined 7.385M.

      • cubs1967

        well……1st of all Maholm got 4.75M, Volstad at 2.5M and T Wood at 500K equals 7.75M; not 7.385M.

        2nd, we could of had Cashner for 500K, Smardz for 2.5M and Wells for 2.5M for 5.5M; better than the 7.75M trio and much better stuff than those 3; so no 7.75M trio is NOT that impressive nor the cheapest path with the most upside.

        3rd, we could of have E Jackson for 10M, plus Cashner and BJax for 500K plus Smardz for 2.5M for a total of 13M OR we do have the 7.75M trio plus DeJesus for 4,75M (includes buyout avg) for 12.5M…..hmmmm the 13M 4some have much more upside than the 12.5M four. (and BJax is in there becuz dejesus plus team theo’s  lack of trading byrd makes a problem to where does bjax go….when saffelt or capana or signing J Gomes for 1M could play RF………..Dejesus is NOT an asset nor on this team in 3 yrs so what was the point?

        just saying……

        • Scott

          I had found a site listing the 2012 salaries of Maholm, Volstad and Wood.  I’m not going to argue over less than 400K.  Wow.

          Don’t we still have Wells and Smardz?  So they are still there.  Volstad and Wood have options, so they could be at AAA while Wells and Smardz start (since they have so much better stuff).  So we save the 10M on a wildly inconsistent pitcher in Jackson and still have the cheapest path with the most upside.

          Did you really just say that they should sign Gomes and you would rather have him playing right field over DeJesus?  Please clarify that before you get destroyed over that point needlessly….  All I will say right now is that if DeJesus is NOT an asset, Gomes is NOT even in the ballpark of being an asset.

          When BJax is ready, he will be up and playing.  Are you 100% sure that he is ready right now?  I would rather him stay down a little too long (especially if it buys the Cubs another year before he hits arbitration) and let the DeJesus’s, Campana’s and Saffelt’s play.

          And what’s with turning the whole post around?  I show you that your “dream pitcher” Jackson isn’t any better than the “7.75M trio” and you turn it into why you don’t like DeJesus?  Wow…again.  Just saying…. 

          • cubs1967

            you completely missed the point.
            and i’m done wasting time on it.
            safe to say……your clueless.

          • Scott

            I think it was you that completely missed the point to begin with.  Jackson is, and always has been, wildly inconsistent.  He has tremendous stuff but has no idea how to use it.  That is why he has average (at best) career numbers.  The Cubs have wasted enough money over the years on overpriced free agents.  I just don’t see how Jackson is worth 10M.  There is a reason that NO team in baseball was willing to commit muliple years to a 28 year old pitcher with great stuff.  There is a reason that the Nationals will be his 7th team in 10 years (and 6th team in 5 years).  Maybe there is something that the Rays, Tigers, Diamondbacks, Cardinals, Dodgers and even the White Sox know that you don’t.  Maybe they have a clue why they don’t want him on their team.  Which means that since you want him on your team, doesn’t that make you clueless? 

    • RynoTiger

      cubs1967…you stop with the negativity and’s going to give you a heartattack or an ulcer.  don’t do that to yourself.

      like I’ve mentioned before, go on vacation, take up something nice and easy for the spring, summer, and fall…maybe chess, shuffle board, catching fireflies, coloring, or perfecting the art of sitting in a rocking chair.

      no need to keep up these stressful postings for something you don’t believe in.  just take it easy.  if you want, maybe Neil can send you an email when the season is over and you can join us again to discuss hopes and wishes for a productive off-season.

      • cubs1967

        sticks and stones make break my bones….but –well you know the rest, right?

  • paulcatanese

    Great article Neil. I would make a comment on Rizzo. Between him and LaHair Rizzo is the more athletic of the two, but it’s LaHairs job to lose over at 1b.

    If LaHair continues to hit its his. Rizzo,on the other hand needs to correct his uppercut swing. By comparison, who could have more than an uppercut swing than Prince Fielder? Fielder is one of the few that can uppercut a pitch that is eye level, and he hasn’t done too bad with it.

    With Rizzo I think it’s more of him picking a better zone of pitches to swing at. I think he can do that.

    Bottom line, its a good situation for the Cubs to have these two fighting it out for the first base job. And guess what , it sure doesen’t hurt to have Voglebach in the wings as within two more years may push both off the bag at first.

  • Skeldor

    Nats are looking to deal John Lannan and are looking for a position player, wonder if they would take Bryd for him?

  • daverj

    I know I’m likely in the minority on the CCO boards, but I think Baez, Maples and Vogelbach should be much higher even though they have limited (or zero) minor league experience.

    There are lots of ways to view rankings of prospects, but I look at it as follows.  If the Cubs could only keep 1 prospect in their organization, who would it be? … that guy should be #1.  Then I ask the question again with that player off the board … the answer to that question gets ranked #2.  Then I keep asking that question as I go down the ranks. 

    I don’t see how Baez can be anywhere other than Top 3.  I’d rank them:

    1. Rizzo
    2. Jackson
    3. Baez

    but I can see juggling those guys around in the Top 3.

    For the next 5, I’d go:

    4.  Szczur
    5.  McNutt
    6.  Maples
    7.  Vitters
    8.  Vogelbach

    It’s a crapshoot after that and I could see about 15 guys as good candidates for next on the list, but I’d go with:

    9.  Lake
    10.  Rhee
    11.  Candelario
    12.  Ha
    13.  Torreyes
    14.  Castillo
    15.  Dolis
    16.  Carpenter
    17.  Cates
    18.  Hernandez
    19.  Zych
    20.  Simpson

    • Anthony

      your concept is fine, but the high school kids basically have, high school experience, not even any college experience, so I couldn’t rank any player that hasn’t experienced any baseball higher than high school, nor would I use scouting reports, because sometimes, tools don’t always equal results.

      let the kids experience the Grind and see what happens

  • Devin

    Heard a report that Cubs signed Gerado Concepcion. Interesting move

  • Tony_Hall
    • Neil

      Once I confirm the report I will post the signing.

      • Neil


  • Neil

    Cubs have signed pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith to a minor-league contract.

    • cubs1967

      yeah……another washed up LH to take time away from Gaub or Russell or Beleivau……….just like trevor miller……..

      geez…………what’s the point??….

      • Dorasaga

        Roster filler and competitive nature to enrich other minor league prospects.

  • SuzyS

    I really expect the Cubs to sign both Concepcion and Soler…They are no brainers….and will make the farm system deeper.
    Cespedes, to ME, is a question mark at age 27. But then, I am just an informed fan…NOT a decision-maker.

    • brent carmona

      Agreed suzy, we need an impact bat in the minors and I feel like we will sign either spleen or cespedes. We only had one lhp in the top twenty prospects list(baseball Americas I believe) and it was a reliever, Jeff beliveau. I like the signing!

      • brent carmona

        Wow auto correct, soler* not spleen

  • Gary J

    Wonder where Concepcion would fall on this list :-)

    • SuzyS

      On the next thread….Neil said Baseball Prospectus said No. 6