Minor League Ball’s Top Cubs Prospects for 2013

The CCO’s look at the Cubs’ farm system this off-season continues with Minor League Ball’s ranking of the top prospects in the organization.

John Sickels released his ranking of the top players in the Cubs’ system just prior to the Winter Meetings. Sickels said he was surprised how much the Cubs system had improved over the last year or two, especially in the lower levels. After he had a chance to look deeper into the Cubs’ organization, Sickels thinks Cubs’ fans have reasons to be optimistic about the future of the team.

At the top of the Cubs’ system are Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora. All three have star/superstar potential and there is quite a bit of depth beyond the top group of players.

John Sickels correctly pointed out that the players closest to the big leagues have several questions and could end up being role players, not starters. To say Josh Vitters, Brett Jackson, Matt Szczur and Junior Lake need to take the next step in their development would be an understatement. The position players in the lower levels have a lot of upside and their development will be interesting to track next season.

Minor League Ball’s Top 20 Cubs Prospects

2012 Minor League Ball’s Ranking in Parenthesis – (NA- not available, NR – not ranked)

  1. Javier Baez, SS – A (3)
  2. Albert Almora, OF – B+ (NA)
  3. Jorge Soler, OF – B+ (NA)
  4. Dan Vogelbach, 1B – B (7)
  5. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP – B- (NA)
  6. Brett Jackson, OF – B- (1)
  7. Dillon Maples, RHP – B- (6)
  8. Christian Villanueva, 3B – B- (NA)
  9. Matt Szczur, OF – B- (4)
  10. Pierce Johnson, RHP – B- (NA)
  11. Gioskar Amaya, 2B – B- (21)
  12. Duane Underwood, RHP – B- (NA)
  13. Josh Vitters, 3B – C+ (11)
  14. Junior Lake, INF/OF – C+ (8)
  15. Jeimer Candelario, 3B – C+ (12)
  16. Juan Carlos Paniagua, RHP – C+ (NA)
  17. Paul Blackburn, RHP – C+ (NA)
  18. Marco Hernandez, SS – C+ (13)
  19. Arismendy Alcantara, SS – C+ (NR)
  20. Barret Loux, RHP – C+ (NA)

Other Grade C+ Prospects

  • Michael Jensen, RHP
  • Kyle Hendricks, RHP
  • Trey McNutt, RHP
  • Ryan McNeil, RHP
  • Ronald Torreyes, 2B
  • Logan Watkins, 2B
  • Ben Wells, RHP
  • Tony Zych, RHP

Others: Jose Arias, RHP; Stephen Bruno, INF; Alberto Cabrera, RHP; Marcelo Carreno, RHP; Shawon Dunston Jr., OF; Jae-Hoon Ha, OF; Trey Martin, OF; Brooks Raley, LHP; Jose Rosario, RHP; Tim Saunders, INF; Tayler Scott, RHP; Nick Struck, RHP; Robert Whitenack, RHP

The lack of quality pitching, especially starters, is a concern. There is quite a bit of depth in the lower levels but those projections are difficult to make right now due to the small sample sizes. Duane Underwood, Juan Carlos Paniagua and Pierce Johnson are three intriguing arms in the system according to Sickels and the pitching depth in the system could look a lot better if Arodys Vizcaino and Dillon Maples have a good year.

Baseball America’s ranking of the top prospects in the Cubs’ system is due to publish just after the first of the year and we will post our list of the top prospects in the organization after the convention.

Follow ChicagoCubsOnline on Twitter: @TheCCO

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  • Agustín

    MIA is Odd #1 Pick: Hayden Simpson. Will we ever see him play in the MLB?

    • scott

      It’s funny, I was thinking the same thing. Guy is totally off the radar anymore. At this point looks like a really bad first round pick.

    • mutantbeast

      His case of mono really set him back, and hes not a very big kid to begin with. Right now, hew should be a release candidate if he doesn’t show progress, and a lot of it.

    • Ripsnorter1

      No.

    • Brp921

      Looking back, does anybody remember the particular reason Simpson was drafted so high? He doesn’t have the prototypical body size for a starting pitcher. I don’t think he has blazing speed. The only thing that really stood out was his control. I think most people on here gave him a pass for awhile because of the mono his first year, but you would think he’d be way past that by now. It’s looking like the posters who were against the choosing of him in the first round were right. Especially when a few guys behind him have worked out pretty well.

      • Vivid_Reality

        They really liked him and felt like another team was closing in on taking him. Basically they didn’t think he would be around in the second round so they reached to get “their guy”.

        • Tom U

          To add to that, Simpson was reported to have four pitches that he could throw for strikes, and that he could be Major League ready in a short time.

          Physical problems have set him back, and he has had a drop in velocity. I have seen him pitch, and when he is on, he can be quite impressive, In a 3 or 4 inning stint (I forget which) with Boise last season, he struck out 8 and came very close to striking out everyone he faced. But I’ve also seen him get absolutely hammered when his velocity or pitch location are off.

          • Brp921

            Thanks Tom. Do you know or have you heard anything as to whether or not the organization feels he will develope into a major league pitcher?

          • Tom U

            No word on that, but I do know that he is on the roster of the Boise Hawks.

        • Brp921

          Thanks V. You never know about prospects once you get through the top five or ten picks, and you can always look back a couple years later and say we should have picked this guy or that guy. Hopefully we can start winning on some picks.

          • Brp921

            Just for laughs I looked up the 2010 draft again and found that had we not picked Simpson, we could have picked either Jesse Biddle, Zach Lee, Noah Syndergaard, Taijuan Walker, Nick Castellanos or Mike Olt. Then in the second round if Simpson was gone we could have picked Drew Smiley who was picked a couple spots lower than our second round choice Reggie Golden.

          • Aaron

            Fun to think of….or sad, depending….

            Anyway, that’s why Hendry and company are pretty much gone. They had so many misses, while other teams hit. YOu just can’t have that for a big market team. Most of their impact players were international free agents, and that’s great and all, but even those were few and far between. I just wondered what took so long to get rid of him and his “yes men”. You simply cannot miss on that many players and not be scrutinized.

            With the team that Epstein has assembled, it would be shocking if they didn’t get some impact talent.

            The really good scouting happens after the 10th round. I’d be looking for the Tim Saunders type of players to contribute. That range is when you really find some gems. Last year, they might have found gems in the afforementioned Saunders, Carhart, and Rogers after the 10th round.

            Hendry couldn’t even get it right in the “money rounds” early on, and that’s why they’re in the position they’re in right now.

            Something tells me that Team Theo wouldn’t have touched Simpson with a 10 foot pole, and likely would’ve gone after Biddle Syndergaard, or Lee, as they tend to like the pitchers with size.

          • SuzyS

            Hey Aaron, it’s pretty simple why Hendry lasted so long….There was not one other baseball man in the organization for ALL the years the Cubs were up for sale.

            By rights, JH should have gone the way of the HMS Bounty when McPhail left. But the Trib was in transition on it’s way to Zell.

    • daverj

      Terrible pick. I can’t recall anyone writing that it was a good pick at the time. I think that pick and the Milton Bradley signing were the two egregious mistakes made by Jim Hendry that were obvious even at the time made. The Soriano signing ranks up there too, but as I understand it, it was the front office and not Hendry that pushed for the Soriano deal.

  • GaryLeeT

    I don’t have time to research it, and as far as I know Baez may be playing 2nd or 3rd in winter ball, but has anybody in Cub’s management mentioned what the plan was to accommodate both Castro & Baez?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Raymond-Robert-Koenig/1295439291 Raymond Robert Koenig

      Baez has to become a Major League player first.

      • GaryLeeT

        So no need to plan ahead?

        • http://chicagocubsonline.com/ Neil

          Gary, the organization’s plan with Baez is for him to play shortstop during the upcoming season. That could obviously change, but that is the plan right now. From the way I understand it, they would rather him develop both physically and mentally first, then look at a possible position switch down the road … either for him or another player.

          • Tom U

            Just to second that, that go along with everything I have heard.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Raymond-Robert-Koenig/1295439291 Raymond Robert Koenig

        No sense wondering where Baez is going to play in the bigs if he’s not in the bigs.

  • ND Nation

    Not a single catcher listed. Sure hope the three guys on the 40 man are major league quality for years to come. It takes a little while to develop those guys and you should always have a few in the pipeline.

    • Ray Ray

      Hey. A 38 year old relief pitcher was signed today, and it wasn’t by the Cubs! Shocker!

      • paulcatanese

        There is no doubt in my mind that the Cubs could be a serious contender in 2013. All they had to do was open up the checkbook and spend more than the Dodgers.

        There were many very good free agents signed

        right now , and still a few more ready to be picked.

        I post that with toungue in cheek, as the Cubs would have had to spend more than the National Debt, and give up their top ten prospects as well to achomplish that.

        So in essance the Cubs are stuck in the mud for at least two more years untill the prospects are ready. The problem is will they be?

        As an observer, and leaving the fact that I am a fan out of the equation, I think they will be in contention when a few of them mature. Don’t care for the wait to see it happen, but in reality, its the only chance that they have to move forward.
        They have no-one to trade,too risky to give away any of the kids, and stupid to just go out and spend the world.
        If they were to try it now, spend,trade prospects, for just one or two, they would sink themselves so far in the hole that it surely would take another 100 years to get anywhere near the World Series.

    • Tom U

      Not on the radar just yet, but keep these names in mind for the future at catcher: Justin Marra, Neftali Rosario, Wilfredo Petit, Steven De La Cruz, and Erick Castillo.

      In the mean time Rafael Lopez, Chadd Krist and Willson Contreras can be decent hold-overs until some of the younger catchers emerge.

      • Dorasaga

        Interesting, I quickly looked at their numbers, and saw a bunch of average Joes, but wow! Justin Marra, he was a monster. Any chance that he got an arm and be tried at third base? Some pressure on J.Baez, perhaps?

        Wilfredo Petit should be released.

        • Tom U

          Here’s a link on Justin Marra for you

          http://www.perfectgame.org/players/playerprofile.aspx?ID=239269

          The organization is really high on the abilities of Wil Petit as a receiver. At 19 years old, they may be patient with him.

          Neftali Rosario is considered a Welington Castillo clone, and may take as long to develop,

          De La Cruz and Erick Castillo have a lot offensive potential, and may switch to other positions. There has also been considerable talk of moving the “Baby Bull”, Mark Malave, back to catcher.

          A deep, deep sleeper is Alberto Mineo, an 18 year old from the Italian League.

          • Dorasaga

            Always informative, Tom, good job. That report added to more good things coming from Marra.

            Wilfredo has been in the Cubs system for three years. And he still can’t hit a ball (.180/.252/.242 in 433 PA, never shown sign of improvement). It doesn’t matter how good he receives, because that will be a “Koyie Hill” kind of reputation. Maybe it’s true for Wilfrey, but you know, we expect better things from the Cubs. I’m assuming the system needs to be filled with talents who can actually contribute on the Major League level. A good receiver adds to a fractional, marginal win.

            I’m surprised you named Mineo a “deep sleeper.” You sounded like Baseball America calling Baez the best prospect in the Cubs system without even playing pro-ball.

          • Tom U

            It just remains to be seen Dorasaga. Players come and go at that level with frequency.

          • Dorasaga

            Not at all. I thought we looove BA? :-))

            I’m always skeptical when it comes to teen talents who haven’t played enough pro-ball. There’s nothing to show, nothing to prove. Unlike you, who understands the Cubs system by actually going to the games and check their track record, BA overrated teens just graduated from highschool based on whatever scouting report(s) they got.

            I wonder how competitive is the Italian League? Compared to the German clubs? The Australian League? Mind you, the Aussie got four levels in their club-oriented league. It’s more leisure, communal, and “sports” to its core as in clubs around Europe, when clubs were meant to be clubs, like what students do after class. But people practice their ass off regularly in a long season. It gets more competitive every level up, I read, as they near the four big clubs that played for money.

  • Ripsnorter1

    Hayden Simpson….2012 edition.

    Well….in A ball he tore it up. His ERA was 6.18, and his WHIP was 1.672. So this earned him a promotion to A+ ball in Daytona. Here, he enjoyed the Florida sun, and his ERA was a fashionable 6.98, and his WHIP a svelte 2.069.

    Perhaps he will start the season in AA, and after a few starts, make the move to AAA, and by August make it to the Cubs rotation in Chicago.

    If losing 101+ is your goal, he’s your man.

    • Tom U

      Rip, I’ll have to go back in the logs to be sure, but I believe that Tim Wilken said on a Tennessee Smokie broadcast that Simpson had some structural damage in his shoulder/rotator cuff.

  • Ripsnorter1

    Do you think we won the Paul Maholm/Reed Johnson trade to Atlanta for Jaye Chapman and
    Arodys Vizcaíno? I think we got skunked, and here’s why.

    Jaye Chapman is not going to be a ML pitcher. So sorry about that, but let’s be realistic. He’s not going to make it.

    Reed Johnson was/is a pretty decent 4th OF.
    Maholm is a competent starter who can win 13 games, like he did last year.

    So here’s my question: will Arodys Vizcaino win more than 13 games a year? And will he do it at an affordable cost? Paul Maholm was inexpensive. And we need a starter now.

    Vizcaino is coming off Tommy John surgery and probably won’t pitch all that much in 2013. And yes, he’s young at age 22.

    So the Maholm trade won’t much benefit the Cubs in 2013. It did not benefit us in 2012 either, unless the goal was to lose more games. If that was the case, we won that trade because Maholm’s departure helped us see the likes of Germano and Berkan.

    No doubt Vizcaino has an arm–when healthy. But will he win 13+ games for us? I doubt it. And to break even on this trade, he’s have to supersede that to compensate for Reed Johnson’s loss.

    • http://theboardridersuite.wordpress.com/ Theboardrider

      We won’t know the result of this trade for a few years. It wasn’t made with the goal to win more games in 2012 or 2013 in my opinion. He’s part of the master plan which starts in 2014 at the earliest.

    • Rational Logic

      I think if Vizcaino is a decent pitcher we win. We would have to pay Maholm a good chunk of money and extend him 3-4 years past his prime when the deal comes to the table.

      Vizcaino is young and we control him for some time. If he can develop into a #3 starter we can control and is super inexpensive, we win. That’s always the goal with these deals. Won’t know until we know who Vizcaino is.

    • daverj

      The question is not whether Vizcaino will win 13 games in 2013, but which is more valuable (A) 1 year of Paul Maholm or (B) 6 years of Vizcaino.

      We won’t know the answer for a few years, but given the state of the Cubs, it seems to me that the upside of 6 years of Vizcaino is a much better bet than 1 year of Maholm. As a rebuilding team, I’d make deal like that every day of the week. If the Cubs were a contender like the Braves, then it’s a different analysis.

  • DWalker

    Ok, so at this stage of the game, with 6 months til the draft, whats the draft field look like? Appel is still favored by some, others not so much it seems? Stanek looks to be the other big college arm. Do the cubs go with one of those two? It would make sense to draft a college arm considering the state of cubs pitching and there don’t seem to be any clear and away better players in HS or for bats so best player available is very debatable. Still, Meadows, Frazier and Manaea all bring interesting things to the table.

    So, is Appel in a position now where a team taking him is in a position to offer him significantly less than slot? If thats the case, it seems like Appel is the top slot even with Boras and what seems like a bad attitude?

    • Ray Ray

      Best starting pitching prospect availaible (college or high school)

  • paulcatanese

    Swisher has a standing offer from the Indians,IMO let him go there.
    I know some have advocated bringing him to the Cubs, that would be a mistake.
    After watching him for a long time, I believe his defense lacks a lot. And I don’t know for sure, but I also believe when he hits from the right side, he is only half the threat
    than he is from the left side.
    Just don’t get the fascination that people have for him, hope the Cubs pass.

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  • Vivid_Reality

    Apparently the Tigers are taking offers on Drew Smyly. Acquiring him should be the Cubs number one priority moving forward. Someone reported we weren’t a match with the Tigers on Porcello so I’m not sure where that leaves us. I would see if they would like Marmol or Soriano plus one or two of Jackson, Lake, Szczur, Hernandez, Torreyes, Watkins, Ha, or Alcantara. I truly believe Smyly is the real deal and will become a staple of our rotation for the next 5 years, we need to get this done.

    We also might want to kick the tires on Johan Santana from the Mets. He is owed 50m over the next two years and could be a nice rebound candidate for this season. He could probably had for salary relief and a C prospect. They might ask for Clevenger to replenish their catching depth, though this would deplete ours. Risky move but it could pay off big if he returns to a mix of 08-10 and 2012.

  • J Daniel

    Amazing how a year makes a difference but to have 3 guys mentioned as STAR/SUPERSTAR status, well that bodes well. I especially like that 2 of them our outfielders with the possibility of Vogelbach moving to the outfield or dealt in a package to get some pitching.

    I believe, and have posted, that Castro will be moved as soon as or right before Baez is ready. SS is an easy position to stop gap until Baez is ready. He should be and he should net a good return. This is what the good teams do. Although you don’t necessarily want to deal good players they will be dealing from a strength which is what is needed. Castro will be easy to move because he is locked up and will be an easy contract to take on.

    Throw in another strong draft this year!

  • GaryLeeT

    Wow, is there another organization this bereft of quality pitching talent?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Raymond-Robert-Koenig/1295439291 Raymond Robert Koenig

    Thank Hendry.

  • daverj

    It’s pretty bad, but forgetting major leaguers and just looking at pitching prospects, I’d put us ahead of at least the Tigers, Twins and White Sox. I’m sure there are a few more that I’m missing. That said, there is decent shot that a couple pitchers from the group of Johnson, Blackburn, Underwood, Paniagua, and Maples take a big step forward this year and end up highly rated going into 2014.

  • daverj

    I like Smyly too, but I think it takes a lot more than in terms of either current major league talent or higher quality prospects than the players you proposed. The Cubs don’t have anything the Tigers really need which so the Cubs don’t match up well for a deal with the Tigers. If Smyly is dealt, it is likely for a closer better than Marmol (perhaps Hanrahan) and an outfielder that is considered to play solid defense.

  • paulcatanese

    That’s kind of “catch 22″ situation with Baez and Castro. Castro does not have quite the power to

    move him to third base, Baez does, but seems to be a sticking point with Baez.

    The ideal situation would be to have Baez at third and Castro remain at SS, as his bat (amount of hits)

    would dictate keeping him and not trading him away.

    Baez definatly qualifies with the bat for third, but for one reason or another does not do well there.

    The catch here is trading Castro ( don’t think he would be on the block very long) and bringing Baez,when ready up to play SS. Then that brings into a situation of growing with Baez at SS, who right now generates a lot of errors and the patience required to let him grow as was done with Castro.

    Would the Cubs be willing to do that?

    I think the trading of Castro in that situation would have to bring back a good hitter for second base and still leave the opening for third as well. It may be too much to try and do and be competitive, as when they start bringing those kids up, fans may have a really difficult time being asked for a “few” more years of patience, tough call, no matter which way the Cubs go.

  • Vivid_Reality

    They need help in the outfield and will need a 2b/ss in the near future. Jackson is still a legitimate prospect though he had a rough debut in the majors. Someone can fix him but I don’t think it will be the Cubs. Jackson’s debut was actually better than Rizzo’s with the Padres albeit with a higher K rate. A trade of Fonzi at 2/10 with Jackson and Lake/Hernandez is a solid offer. Fonzi slots into left immediately giving Jackson a year to work on shortening his swing in the minors. Lake/Hernandez have at least a year to develop until Infante/Peralta leave. Next year when V-Mart walks, you slide Fonzi to DH and call up Jackson to play left. Its definitely a quantity over quality offer but I think they would at least consider it.

  • daverj

    I suppose we can agree to disagree then. I don’t think the Tigers would consider a deal like that because I think they’ll have multiple better offers from other teams for a guy like Smyly who could be a solid number 3 starter.