For those who are concerned about the successes of the so called “Core Four” of OF Albert Almora, INF Javier Baez, INF Kris Bryant, and OF Jorge Soler, consider this stat courtesy of Baseball Reference. On the individual player pages, it lists the age differential between the player and their current league averages. At this time, Almora is 2.7 years younger than league average, Baez 5.7 years younger, with Bryant and Soler both 2.6 years younger. While this can explain some of the struggles, it is not the entire answer. Consider that INF Arismendy Alcantara, currently hitting .271, is 4.7 years younger than average; while INF Stephen Bruno is batting .317 and is 1.6 years younger than average. Furthermore, OF John Andreoli, C Rafael Lopez, OF Bijan Rademacher, and C Will Remillard are all at or above league average age and excelling, but are getting little to no attention.
During the past couple of weeks, it seems as if a game plan has emerged for infielder Logan Watkins. The 2012 Minor League Player of the Year has seen more playing time in the outfield this season than in the past, and has even made an appearance at third base. Watkins also seems to be the go-to pinch-hitter when on the bench. Watkins is 3-for-3 with a double and three RBI in that department this month. A lefty, Watkins’ future as a pinch-hitter, pinch-runner, multi-position defensive replacement, and occasional starter appears to be in the cards.
Javier Baez isn’t the only Cubs’ Top 20 prospect experiencing frustration so far this season. Daytona 3B Jeimer Candelario is hitting only .169 with three home runs and 15 RBI in 34 games. On Wednesday, Candelario was pulled in mid-game after failing to run out a grounder that resulted in a double play, and has not been back in the lineup since then. At 20 years old, a demotion to Kane County is not out of the question to get Candelario back on track. However, no one at Kane County other than C Will Remillard seems ready for a promotion.
A player that has been performing well in the shadow of bigger stars such as Kris Bryant, Stephen Bruno, and Rafael Lopez for the Smokies has been outfielder Rubi Silva. Hitting .378 over the last ten games, he has increased his season average to .262 with four home runs, 24 RBI, and three stolen bases. Silva has cut down on his strikeouts and increased his walks this season, and remains an elite outfielder. While he will always be a free swinger and may not ever be a top prospect, he has moved into the category of complementary starter/fourth outfielder role, in a similar vein as former Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome.
At 4-1 with a 2.76 ERA, 0.996 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in 42.1 innings, Kane County RHP Paul Blackburn is on a similar and slightly better developmental arc than RHP Pierce Johnson was last season. The trouble is that the 20-year old Blackburn is two years younger than Johnson, so the Cubs may not be as aggressive when it comes to promotion. That said, a mid-season promotion for Blackburn and 20-year old RHP Daury Torrez (4-1/2.88/1.03/23 strikeouts in 40.2 innings) is probably not out of the question if they continue on the same path.