Minor League Predictions – Part Two
With a brand new season on the horizon, it’s time to gaze into the crystal ball once again and see what may be in store for several of the Cubs’ prospects. Part one took a look at the first possible call-up, a minor league player that could have a major impact and a player that could receive a surprise call-up to the show.
Part two will focus on fast risers, bounce-back players and a possible player and pitcher of the year in the system.
All of that and more in a midweek addition of the Cubs Down on the Farm Report … Fastest Risers: Hayden Simpson – RHP and Matt Szczur – OF
Hayden Simpson hasn’t thrown one pitch in professional baseball, yet he’s already considered one of the top ten prospects in the system. His four-pitch repertoire includes a slider, curveball, change-up, and a fastball that tops out at 93 MPH. If Simpson displays the control he did in college, he could enjoy a Mark Prior-like rise through the system.
Former college wide receiver Matt Szczur has clocked 40-yard dash time of 4.50 seconds and less. This would make Szczur not only the fastest player in the Cubs’ system, but one of the fastest players in the majors when he arrives. In 21 games at Short Season-A Boise and Class-A Peoria, Szczur batted .347 with an on-base percentage of .414 and a slugging percentage of .465. If he continues that trend, Szczur can go through the system faster than his 40-time.
The Cubs are banking on Szczur moving rapidly through the system. The contract they signed him to in the off-season kicked in a provision in which he will have to be added to the 40-man roster in the off-season (or risk him being exposed in the Rule 5 Draft). Once added, Szczur will have three minor league options to show he’s the impact player the Cubs project him to be.
Look for Szczur to be promoted early and often if he excels like he did last summer.
Bounce-Back Players: Kyler Burke – OF/1B and Logan Watkins – 2B
Kyler Burke was the Cubs’ Minor League Player of the Year in 2009 after posting a .303 batting average with 15 home runs and 89 RBI at Single-A Peoria. Promoted to High-A Daytona in 2010, Burke slumped to a .212 average with seven home runs and 60 RBI. The second time around in the pitching dominant Florida State League may be all that Burke needs to get back on track. With the number of outfield prospects in the minors, the 6’3″, 205 lbs. left hander might want to consider a move to first, a relative weakness in the system.
Like Kyler Burke, Logan Watkins had a great 2009, hitting .326 with a .389 on-base percentage and 14 stolen bases at Short Season-A Boise. At Single-A Peoria, his 2010 season saw his batting average decrease to .261; his stolen base percentage also dropped, while his strikeout rate increased. However, he did form a slick fielding combination with the since traded Hak-Ju Lee. Watkins has the tools to be successful, but has to put it together in a hurry, as infielders Arismendy Alcantara, Pin-Chieh Chen, Wes Darvill, Pierre LePage, and Elliot Soto are coming up fast.
Worth the Wait: Austin Reed – RHP and Reggie Golden – OF
At 6’3″, 200 lbs., 12th round pick Austin Reed is “slowly gaining recognition as a steal”, according to Fangraphs. The 19-year old sports a fastball, change-up, and slider. According to reports, Reed has good control, but needs to work on velocity and a consistent release point. With young right-handers such as Andrew Cashner, Alberto Cabrera, Rafael Dolis, Robinson Lopez, Trey McNutt, and Hayden Simpson, there isn’t any need for Reed to be rushed. If the Cubs allow him time to develop, the cream will rise to the top.
Power hitters often garner plenty of attention, and 19-year old Reggie Golden fits the bill. The 5’10”, 210 lbs. second round pick has a lot of raw skills. He has a quick bat that should generate natural power and considered to have a right fielder’s arm. Golden needs some work with a professional hitting coach in order to overcome his tendency to pull the ball. Long-term contracts to Alfonso Soriano and Marlon Byrd will sew up two outfield spots for a few years. That and the presence of outfielders Tyler Colvin, Brett Jackson, Michael Burgess, Matt Szczur, and Jae-Hoon Ha should give Golden plenty of time to polish his skills.
Minor League Pitcher of the Year: Hayden Simpson – RHP
The Cubs’ organization will have numerous candidates for this honor, but it is my opinion that Hayden Simpson will come out ahead. Depending on the fortunes of the parent club, Trey McNutt and Alberto Cabrera may not spend the whole season in the minors. Insiders are already likening Simpson to Tim Lincecum and Greg Maddux. If he performs anywhere close to that level, his future will be very bright.
Minor League Player of the Year: D.J. LeMahieu – IF
While smart money might pick Brett Jackson for this honor, D.J. LeMahieu has the look of a winner. As in the case with pitcher of the year, Jackson appears destined for a big league call-up sometime this season. LeMahieu will need some seismic upheaval at the Major League level in order to make to The Show this season.
That will mean that the sweet swinging LeMahieu will pile up the offensive numbers, while the organization decides whether to play him at second, third, first, or the outfield … some reports have suggested the Cubs see LeMahieu as their future at second base. His consistency gives him the ability to outperform bigger name prospects such as Josh Vitters, Junior Lake, or Ryan Flaherty. For those looking for a true dark horse candidate, keep an eye on infielder Marwin Gonzalez.
Attention CCO Readers
This will be the last week to post the names of the minor league players you would like the Down on the Farm Report to follow this season. I will track the progress of ten players throughout the entire season. I would like a representative sample of positions and levels of play, and I’d prefer to track at least one player acquired by the Cubs in the off-season. You can name as many players as you like, but remember, only ten will be chosen. The winners will be revealed in next week’s Down on the Farm Report.