In November the CCO published a list of the top 15 prospects in the Cubs’ system. With the two trades last month, the Cubs minor league system took on a different look.
With pitchers and catchers reporting to Fitch Park in just three days, it is time to revisit the CCO’s list of the top prospects down on the farm. Grant Jones and Aaron helped put together the original ranking … and Grant had input on the new list as well. The CCO’s original top 15 Cubs prospects going into the 2011 season featured Chris Archer (2), Hak-Ju Lee (3) and Brandon Guyer (5). With all three going to Tampa in the Matt Garza trade, it only made sense to re-evaluate and re-rank the top 15 prospects in the Cubs’ system … most of the player profiles are from the original article posted on November 19, 2010. With revisiting the top 15 prospects, the CCO included five more players that just missed the original list.
The CCO’s 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, SS/3B
The Additional Five
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
B-Jax has moved through the Cubs system swiftly since being the Cubs first round pick in the 2009 draft. He has done well at each level, and was at Double-A Tennessee by mid season in 2010.
Jackson batted .276 during his time at Tennessee, with a .366 OBP. His minor league BA is .297 with a .395 OBP, great numbers that should transition to a star at the Major League level.
Brett received a non-roster invite to big league camp last spring. He has shown great potential; played in the 2010 Futures Game during All-Star weekend, participated in the Pan-Am qualify tournament and played a little in the Arizona Fall League before cellulitis with an abscess in his shin, which is similar to a staph infection, ended his first full year in pro ball. The setback is not expected to slow his preparation for the 2011 season.
Brett Jackson has a shot to make the Cubs Major League squad out of Spring Training but Jackson’s likely path to the majors is the one Starlin Castro had a year ago.
Brett Jackson received a non-roster invite to big league camp … but will likely begin his 2011 campaign back in Double-A with the Smokies.
#2 – Trey McNutt, RHP
After being picked in the 32nd round of the 2009 draft, the season Kenneth Trey McNutt had was unexpected. Trey started last year at Low Class-A Peoria, at midseason he was promoted to the High Class-A Daytona Cubs. At Peoria, McNutt posted a 6-0 record (in 13 starts) with a 1.51 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP (70 strikeouts and 24 walks in 59 2/3 innings); at Daytona, McNutt was 4-0 (in nine starts) with a 2.63 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP (49 strikeouts and nine walks in 41 innings).
McNutt was promoted for the second time in 2010 to Double-A Tennessee, where he struggled in his first start but settled in after that … despite not posting a win (0-1 in three starts with a 5.74 ERA and a 1.60 WHIP, 13 strikeouts and four walks in 15 2/3 innings).
In his first pro season, he went 10-1 with a 2.48 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP (132 strikeouts and 37 walks in 116 1/3 innings) … he was a strong candidate for Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
Trey turned 21 on August 2 and is already one of the Cubs’ top prospects. He should start 2011 out at Tennessee and should receive a promotion to Triple-A if he keeps progressing the way he has.
If this past season is any indicator of when he’ll be to the Cubs it could be as early as the second half of 2011, but the safe bet is for sometime in the 2012 campaign.
#3 – Chris Carpenter, RHP
No not the Cardinals pitcher, but the Chicago Cubs’ third round pick in the 2008 draft.
Chris Carpenter has a strong arm and has thrown in the high 90s and even hit triple digits in the AFL out of the bullpen. He was regarded as a starter before his AFL stint, but right now it looks like his future might be in the bullpen … and with a history of injuries it seems like a logical choice.
Carpenter played at Tennessee and Iowa this past season, all as a starter. Carpenter was 8-6 in 26 starts with a 3.41 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP (112 strikeouts and 57 walks in 134 2/3 innings).
One can assume Chris Carpenter will see a lot of time as a reliever due to his newfound success … and according to recent reports, he could be in the mix come spring for a spot in the Cubs’ bullpen. Carpenter will be in big league camp starting Sunday.
#4 – Jay Jackson, RHP
Last off-season the thinking was that Jay Jackson could be up with the Cubs at some point during the year … and it looked like that might happen, after the Cubs moved him to the Iowa bullpen for a short period. The Cubs made the move and switched Jackson for Andrew Cashner in the I-Cubs pen and the result ended up being Cashner getting the call, with Jackson staying in Ryne Sandberg’s rotation for the remainder of the season.
Jackson had his ups and downs last season. Jackson made 32 appearances at Triple-A … 25 starts, seven out of the pen, and he finished three games. Jackson ended up with a 4.63 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP in 157 1/3 innings.
Jackson’s strikeout rate went down from his career mark of 8.6 per nine innings (which was never below 8.4 during any previous season) and dipped to just 6.8 K/9 last year. This could be a product of him working on his control or his secondary pitches, or the more advanced hitters in the PCL … a league that is known as hitter-friendly.
Jay Jackson will get a shot to break camp with the Cubs but a lot would have to go good (and bad) for him not to begin the year in Triple-A. Whether it is in the pen or the rotation, Jackson looks to make it to the big league team at some point in 2011.
#5 – Josh Vitters, 3B/1B
Josh Vitters was the Cubs first selection (3rd overall) in the 2007 draft and the 21-year old’s pro career has been slowed by injuries. Vitters played 65 games in 2008 (Boise and Peoria), 120 games in 2009 (Peoria and Daytona) and only 91 last season (Daytona and Tennessee).
Vitters’ minor league stops have seemed to start very slow before he heats up.
After being promoted to Double-A Tennessee this past season, he started slowly and then after a few very good games, was hit by a pitch and broke his middle finger taking him out for the season.
Vitters has above average raw power, and he seems to adjust well upon promotions, it just takes him about half a season to do so … which isn’t all that bad, considering his age. Vitters is injury prone and has to fill out physically, so adding muscle would help tremendously. With that in mind, the Cubs had Vitters train in Mesa this off-season with Tim Buss in “Camp Colvin”.
Josh Vitters received his second consecutive non-roster invitation to big league camp but look for him to start 2011 at Tennessee.
#6 – Matt Szczur, OF
The Cubs selected Matt Szczur in the fifth round of last June’s draft. They gave him a $100,000 and he responded with an impressive 25 games.
Szczur began his pro career with a 21-game hitting streak and finished with a .347/.414/465/.879 line with 10 doubles, a triple and two stolen bases. Szczur returned to Villanova in the fall and finished his college football career.
It appeared that Szczur would enter the NFL draft but he decided against it in January. After a meeting with Jim Hendry, Szczur signed with the Cubs for an additional $1.4 million (total amount of signing bonus $1.5 million).
Szczur has a ton of speed (some scouts rate his speed as high as 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale) and he showed a lot of improvement defensively in limited time last year. Szczur has a plus-range with what has been graded as an average arm.
Matt Szczur figures to begin 2011 in Peoria with a promotion to Daytona soon after if he keeps hitting.
#7 – D. J. LeMahieu, 3B/2B/SS
After being drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft, LeMahieu impressed in his two stops at Peoria and Daytona (along with a short stint at Double-A Tennessee during the post-season) last season … his first full year of pro ball.
In 2009 LeMahieu hit .323 with a .376 OBP, very solid numbers for the short time (38 games) in Peoria. Last year he exploded and hit .314 (with a .346 OBP and a .386 SLG) over a long and hot summer in a pitchers-league, the Florida State League (FSL). Last season, coupled with his strong 2009 season, earned him this spot as one of the Cubs top 10 prospects.
D.J. LeMahieu should start 2011 in Double-A with the Smokies.
#8 – Reggie Golden, OF
Reggie Golden has tremendous raw power and athletic ability that peaked a lot of teams interest in last summer’s draft. The Cubs took him in the second round, the 65th overall pick in the 2010 draft.
Golden’s main issue is making consistent contact, but he’s still very young. The Cubs drafted Golden out of high school and he just turned 19 on October 10. Golden’s future is very bright if he can learn plate discipline, cut down on strikeouts and use his athletic ability to his advantage.
Golden hurt his hamstring in rookie ball shortly after he joined the team and played in just four games (3-for15 with a double, three runs scored and a stolen base, .333/.412/.400/.812).
Reggie Golden did very well during well during the organization’s annual fall instructional league. I would look for him to start at Peoria next year, due to the very good depth of outfielders in the Cubs system.
#9- Rafael Dolis, RHP
Rafael Dolis throws exceptionally hard, once touching 100 mph, which resulted in him being added to the Cubs 40-man roster in 2009 to prevent selection in the Rule 5. Dolis is another former position player (shortstop) the Cubs turned into a pitcher.
The Cubs converted Dolis to starter to help improve his secondary pitches. He struggles with command (93 strikeouts and 57 walks in 126 1/3 innings for Daytona and Tennessee last season), so it’ll be interesting to see how the Cubs use him going forward; the right-hander is only 22 years old.
Dolis reminds some of a much heavier version of Juan Cruz. Cruz and Carlos Zambrano were expected to be part of the Cubs rotation for years to come, but Cruz just couldn’t improve his control issues and they gave up on him, which is likely to happen with Dolis if he doesn’t step up this year in a big way.
Rafael Dolis throws a filthy slider, so he could make the big league team as a reliever out of the spring, but that would be highly unlikely. Dolis should start 2011 in Double-A with a promotion to Iowa with a good beginning of the season.
#10 – Jae-Hoon Ha, OF
Not everyone is as high on Jae-Hoon Ha as I am. I saw him around 15 times this past season in Peoria, and I can tell you I am very impressed. Ha showed everything you need in an outfielder … decent range and a strong arm. His bat is what impressed me the most.
Ha’s line in 2010 was .317/.334/.468/.802 with 15 doubles and seven homers in 77 games for the Chiefs while playing RF. He has a plus-arm and plus-bat speed with home run power, above-average speed and is a good base stealer. Jae-Hoon plays an athletic outfield with absolutely no fear. One area of concern with Ha is that he is a “hacker” (a hyper-aggressive hitter who rarely walks).
Jae-Hoon Ha figures to start 2011 at Daytona and hit in the middle of the D-Cubs order.
#11 – Michael Burgess, OF
The Cubs acquired Michael Burgess in the deal that sent Tom Gorzelanny to the Nationals. Burgess was the supplemental first round pick of the Nationals back in 2007 … and he has a huge bat and a huge arm.
The 22-year old left-handed outfielder spent 2010 in High A and Double-A. Burgess compiled a .265/.357/465 line in 122 games with 26 doubles, six triples and eight home runs. Burgess seemed to excel after his promotion to Double-A. In just 21 games, Burgess hit .284 with a .391 OBP, .649 SLG and impressive OPS of 1.039 (five doubles, two triples and six home runs).
Defensively, Burgess is a plus-defender in right field with a plus-arm that is not only very strong but is accurate as well.
Burgess’ downfall is his strikeout numbers. He may have huge power but he also has big holes in his swing. The Nationals tried to get him to change his approach, cut down on his swing and use the entire field. It’s up to the Cubs to try to get him to fulfill his potential.
Look for Burgess to begin the year with the Smokies in Double-A.
#12 – Ryan Flaherty, IF/OF
Ryan Flaherty was considered one of the Cubs top prospects last year (Baseball America Ranked Flaherty the ninth best prospect in the Cubs system prior to the 2010 season) before he laid an egg at Tennessee (.183/.286/.254/.539 in 23 games) and was demoted to Daytona.
Flaherty performed much better at Daytona (.286/.348/.445/.793 with 34 doubles, three triples and nine home runs in 108 games) and revived some of his stock.
Flaherty performed well in the Arizona Fall League and was able to show off some of his versatility while playing for the Mesa Solar Sox. Flaherty logged time at second base, shortstop, third base and left field for the Solar Sox.
Flaherty, a Vanderbilt grad and supplemental first round pick of the Cubs in the 2008 draft, could turn out to be the lefty version of Mark DeRosa, especially with his power potential, and that’s probably what the Cubs are hoping for.
Look for Ryan Flaherty to start 2011 at Tennessee.
#13 – Alberto Cabrera, RHP
Alberto Cabrera is another in the long line of hard throwing right-handed pitchers in the Cubs’ system. The 22-year old (October 25, 1988) battled shoulder and elbow problems prior to last season. Cabrera posted a 7-9 record with a 4.24 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP in 28 games, 26 starts, for the D-Cubs and Tennessee Smokies. Cabrera’s performance earned him a spot on the Cubs’ 40-man roster and he’ll have a chance to show off his arm in big league camp this spring.
Cabrera posted impressive strikeout numbers (125) in what should be considered his first full year of pro ball. Cabrera walked 50 and surrendered 149 hits in 136 innings.
Baseball America said Cabrera has one of the best arms in the Cubs’ system. Cabrera’s fastball sits in the 92-97 range with good tailing and running life. Cabrera was able to main his velocity deep into games, which will be key. Cabrera can also freeze hitters with his slider and he throws a good changeup that features some fade.
Cabrera may end up in the back end of a Major League bullpen but with a good spring he should be a part of the Smokies’ rotation.
#14 – Justin Bour, 1B
Justin Bour had a breakout season last year at Peoria that resulted in being named the Chiefs MVP.
Stat wise he lead Peoria in every offensive category. Bour hit for a .291 average with a .375 OBP, slugged .436 and hit 12 home runs while driving in 87. He was the Chiefs biggest threat in the lineup. In 2009 he had a solid season for the Boise Hawks (his first pro season) hitting .258 with a .338 OBP.
Bour cannot only hit but provides a solid glove at first. Bour owns a career fielding percentage of .988 and that takes into account that minor league fields are not nearly as well kept as big league parks. He is the Cubs only legitimate first base prospect right now, with the possible exception of Brandon May.
Justin Bour should begin 2011 with the Peoria Chiefs and if he keeps performing well, a promotion to Daytona or Tennessee should soon follow.
#15 – Junior Lake, SS
Junior Lake has been an intriguing prospect to say the least.
Lake had a solid season in 2008 in the Arizona Rookie League (.286/.335/.417/.752 with four doubles, six triples and two home runs in 47 games). In 2008, Lake and Starlin Castro were viewed as being on the same level.
In 2009, Starlin Castro took a big step forward at Daytona while Lake took a step back at Peoria.
Lake hit just .248 (.277 OBP) with 138 SO in 463 at bats for a 29% strikeout rate and it was reported he was having trouble with off-speed pitches. For the first half of the 2010 season in Daytona, it looked like he was going again in the wrong direction … Lake hit just .209 through April and May.
After the poor start, Lake turned it on and finished with a .264 BA and a .333 OBP. Defensively his glove is shaky, as he’s had 120 career errors while mainly playing shortstop, second base and third base. Some feel Lake’s future might be as a centerfielder.
Lake has an absolute cannon for an arm and possesses decent power, so 2011 will definitely be an interesting year for Junior Lake.
Look for Junior Lake to start next year at Tennessee.
The Additional Five
#16 – Welington Castillo, C – .255/.317/.498/.815 with 17 doubles and 13 home runs in 69 games with the I-Cubs in 2010. Castillo is on the Cubs’ 40-man roster and will be in big league camp. Castillo figures to be the first catcher called up if Geovany Soto or Koyie Hill hit the DL in 2011. Castillo’s defense is Major League ready, but his bat still needs work. Look for Castillo to be the starting catcher for the I-Cubs out of Spring Training.
#17 – Aaron Kurcz, RHP – The Cubs 10th round pick in 2010 put together a great start to his professional career. Kurcz was a combined 2-1 in 26 games with the Mesa Cubs and Boise Hawks last season. Kurcz saved nine games and posted a 1.98 ERA with a 0.95 WHIP. In 27 innings he walked 11 batters and struck out 48.
#18 – Brooks Raley, LHP – Raley is the definition of a crafty lefty and some feel he could end up in the backend of a Major League rotation. Raley made strides in his first full year in pro ball. The former two-way college player (Raley played centerfield for Texas A&M) posted an 8-6 record with a 3.50 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP in 27 starts. Raley repeats his delivery well and keeps the ball down with a good sinker (nine home runs allowed in 136 1/3 innings). Raley worked on his changeup in 2010 to go along with a fastball and a good curve. Raley should begin the year in Double-A.
#19 – Logan Watkins, 2B/SS/OF – Watkins made strides in the second half of last year … his first full season in pro ball. Watkins hit .261/.351/.339/.689 with 15 doubles, eight triples and one home run. Watkins is very athletic and only 21 years old. He showed off his versatility last year by spending time at shortstop and centerfield. Watkins’ continued playing solid defense at the new positions and looked like a natural at all three positions.
#20 – Marwin Gonzalez, IF/OF – The soon-to-be 22-year old (March 14, 1989) switch-hitter turned heads in winter ball after showing improvement last season in High A and Double-A. Gonzalez posted a .251/.295/.333/.628 line in 109 games for the D-Cubs and Smokies with 14 doubles, three triples and four home runs. Gonzalez is one of several big athletic players down on the farm (6’1″, 186 lb) and played six different positions (third base, first base, second base, shortstop, centerfield and left field) with a majority of his games at shortstop (84). Gonzalez needs to work on his plate discipline and should begin the year in Double-A.
One notable omission from the CCO’s top prospects list is Hayden Simpson. Due to a bad case of mononucleotides, Simpson did not throw one pitch in pro ball last season. While Simpson has the potential, based on his college numbers, it is hard to rank a player that has yet to appear in a professional game.
While the system took a hit with the Matt Garza trade, the additions of southpaws Zach Rosscup and Graham Hicks added some much-needed depth in the left-handed pitching department. Plus Michael Burgess and A.J. Morris (the other two players in the Tom Gorzelanny trade) added more potential to an improving system.
The Cubs system is much deeper than in previous years. Here is a list of other players down on the farm to keep an eye on: Hayden Simpson, A.J. Morris, Pierre LePage, Ben Wells, Matt Cerda, Larry Suarez, Rebel Ridling, Marquez Smith, Austin Kirk, Charles Thomas (now a pitcher), Micah Gibbs, Tony Thomas, Nelson Perez, Tony Campana, Matt Spencer, Nick Struck, Dae-Eun Rhee, Robinson Lopez and Chris Rusin.
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