Armed with an impressive group of hitting prospects, the Cubs organization has done an about face since the 2011 draft and is widely considered the top farm system in the game. The Cubs have added impact talent through the draft, trades and international signings.
Kris Bryant and Addison Russell are two of the top five prospects in the baseball and headline an organization that possesses projectable impact talent throughout the farm system. Behind players such as Bryant, Russell, Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber, the next wave of talent includes the likes of Albert Almora, Billy McKinney, Bijan Rademacher, Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez, Jacob Hannemann and Kevonte Mitchell.
And the organization known more for bats than arms has more talent in the pitching department than is recognized.
C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson lead the group of pitchers that project as starters in the big leagues. Duane Underwood might have the best stuff in the system and Jen-Ho Tseng had quite the debut on his way to being named the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the year. Daury Torrez, Paul Blackburn, Jake Stinnett, Jonatan Martinez, Carson Sands, Justin Steele and Trevor Clifton are just a few of the arms in the lower levels of the organization that are poised for a good season.
When the current regime took over in October 2011 the goal was to add young players to the system in order to create depth and waves talent that would filter up through the organization to the Major League team.
The shift in the organization began last year with the big league debuts of Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, Kyle Hendricks, Neil Ramirez, Jorge Soler, Matt Szczur, Rafael Lopez, Dallas Beeler and Eric Jokisch. And while the fan base’s main focus will be on the Major League team this season, the front office will continue to focus on adding talent to the system and player development.
The CCO’s Pre-Season Top 21 Cubs Prospects for 2015
2014 CCO Ranking in Parenthesis (NA – Not Available, NR – Not Ranked)
- Kris Bryant, 3B (2)
- Addison Russell, SS (NA)
- Jorge Soler, OF (6)
- Kyle Schwarber, C (NA)
- C.J. Edwards, RHP (4)
- Albert Almora, OF (3)
- Billy McKinney, OF (NA)
- Pierce Johnson, RHP (5)
- Gleyber Torres, SS (NR)
- Duane Underwood, RHP (14)
- Jen-Ho Tseng, RHP (NR)
- Carson Sands, LHP (NA)
- Victor Caratini, C (NA)
- Eloy Jimenez, OF (NR)
- Cory Black, RHP (16)
- Armando Rivero, RHP (NR)
- Paul Blackburn, RHP (17)
- Jake Stinnett, RHP (NA)
- Bijan Rademacher, OF (NR)
- Jeimer Candelario, 3B (8)
- Dan Vogelbach, 1B (9)
Click on the player’s name to go to their page on Baseball-Reference
Kris Bryant was the best player in the minor leagues in 2014 and he has all of the post-season hardware to prove it. Every major publication named Bryant its minor league player of the year. Bryant put together a season at the plate seldom seen in the minors all while working hard on his defense so he would be able to stick at third base. By now, everyone has read the video game-like numbers he put up a year ago.
In 68 games with Double-A Tennessee, Kris Bryant put together a .355/.458/.702 slash line with 20 doubles, 22 home runs, 58 RBI and a 1.160 OPS. And in 70 games with Iowa, Bryant hit .295/.418/.619 with 14 doubles, one triple, 21 home runs and 52 RBI for a 1.036 OPS.
In 138 games between Tennessee and Iowa, Kris Bryant finished the year with a .325/.438/.661 slash line that included 34 doubles, one triple and 43 home runs with 110 RBI for a 1.098 OPS. Bryant led the minor leagues in home runs (43), extra basehits (78), total bases (324), slugging percentage (.661) and OPS (1.098).
Bryant has the power potential that is rare in today’s game and consistently receives 70-80 grades for his raw power. Bryant uses all fields and has just as much pop up the middle and to the right side as he does to the pull side. Bryant does not put on a show in batting practice. He waits until game time when balls that go over the wall actually count.
And Kris Bryant receives higher grades for his makeup, both on and off the field, from coached and teammates.
There are concerns about the swing and miss in his game, but unlike several of his teammates, Bryant works the count and has good pitch recognition. When he misses a pitch and strikes out, it’s usually not because the pitcher fooled him. He simply just missed the baseball and he’s been working on attacking pitches in the zone this winter.
Bryant wants to stay at third base and will have a chance to show his future skipper this spring if he has what it takes to be the Cubs third baseman for at least the next six-plus seasons.
Kris Bryant enters the season with a lot of expectations and he should be able to handle playing in the fish bowl that is Wrigley Field. It’s how he adjusts to Major League pitching that will be the big question once he’s called up to The Show.
If a prospect can ever be considered a “no-doubter,” Addison Russell would be that prospect.
Selected 11th overall in 2012 draft out of Pace High School in Pensacola, FL by the Oakland Athletics, Russell was a smash from the beginning. Signing fairly quickly, Russell was assigned to the Arizona Rookie League where he flat out destroyed the competition as an 18-year old, batting .415/.488/.717/1.205 with four doubles, five triples, six home runs, 29 RBI, and nine stolen bases in 26 games. The scene was the same both at Short Season-A Vermont and Low-A Burlington, where Russell hit .340 and .319 respectively. For his first taste of professional baseball, Russell was a combined .369/.432/.594/1.027 with 10 doubles, nine triples, seven home runs, 45 RBI, and 16 stolen bases in 55 games while fielding a respectable .951 at short.
In his first full professional season in 2013, Russell needed to make some adjustments, but showed that he was up to the task as he opened with High-A Stockton. Russell took several games off in mid-season, but played in 107 games and batted .275/.377/.508/.885 with 29 doubles, 10 triples, 17 home runs, 60 RBI, and 21 stolen bases while improving to .968 fielding as a shortstop. Oakland named Russell one of their representatives to the Arizona Fall League. After hitting .282 with a home run, five RBI, and five stolen bases in 21 games for the Mesa Solar Sox, Russell was named the best prospect in the league.
The 2014 season started with lurch for Russell, as he was shelved for two months after the second game of the season with a leg injury. Russell did a five game stint with Stockton in early June before resuming play at Double-A Midland, where he batted .333 with a home run, eight RBI, and three stolen bases in 13 games. But on the Fourth of July, Russell’s fortunes changed abruptly as he was traded along with RHP Dan Straily and OF Billy McKinney to the Chicago Cubs.
Acquired in the deal that sent RHP Jeff Samardzija and RHP Jason Hammel to Oakland, Russell took the Southern League by storm. After appearing in only 18 games as a member of the Athletics organization, Russell played in 50 contests for the Tennessee Smokies and batted .294/.332/.536/.868 with 11 doubles, 12 home runs, 36 RBI, and two stolen bases. The 20-year old also had a sparkling fielding percentage of .990, practically unheard of for a shortstop. Russell was asked to take part in the Arizona Fall League in order to make up for some of the time lost in 2014. Playing in only 11 games and batting .196 with two home runs and 10 RBI, Russell was then shut down in order to prepare for 2015.
Russell is expected to open as Triple-A Iowa’s shortstop. Just how long he stays with the I-Cubs is uncertain. But judging by his track record, it probably won’t be for very long.
With Kris Bryant and Addison Russell getting most of the attention, Jorge Soler has been making some noise himself ranking in the top 20 on lists by Baseball America, FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus, MLB Pipeline and Keith Law. Cubs’ fans won’t have to wait very long for Soler to arrive as he is currently slated to start the season as the right fielder thanks to a solid season that saw him bat .325/.402/.661 with 31 doubles, 20 home runs and 77 RBI spread across four levels.
Despite the quality numbers, Soler’s season got off to a rocky star as he suffered a left hamstring injury during Spring Training and missed a month and another injury to his right hamstring at the start of his season at Double A Tennessee. He rehabbed the hamstrings at the Arizona rookie league and in eight games nabbed 10 hits in 25 at bats with four walks, three doubles, one home run and six RBI. Once healthy, Soler returned to Tennessee and picked up where he left off and slashed to a .415 average with nine doubles, six home runs and 22 RBI in just 22 games. This earned Soler a promotion to Triple-A Iowa in mid-July and he kept hitting. And he was named the Cubs Minor League Player of the Month for July.
As August came, Soler cooled off some, but he still posted strong numbers hitting .282/.378/.618 with 11 doubles, eight home runs and 29 RBI in 32 games. On August 27, Soler received his call-up to the majors and did not disappoint. He had no problems taking the offense on his shoulders thanks to injuries to top hitters Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro and hit .292/.330/.573 with eight doubles, five home runs and 20 RBI.
The real test for Soler this year will be how he adjusts to Major League pitching over the course of a season and if he can stay healthy the whole year. With just 640 professional at bats across the minors, Soler does not have quite the experience that most players gain before a call-up to the majors. He’s held his own at every level, shown plate discipline and good pitch recognition.
Scouts have suggested that his athleticism would make it possible for him to play center in a pinch, but Soler’s injury history coupled with his strong arm profile make him a much better fit for right field. The Cubs will likely give him plenty of rest as the season wears on to keep him fresh and healthy, but 130 plus games is not out of the realm of possibility for the coming season.
When it comes to Kyle Schwarber, there seems to be little doubt that he’s going to hit in the majors. Based on his college career, not many think he will be able to stick behind the plate. But Schwarber is committed to being the Cubs catcher in the not-so-distant future and the front office is committed to him being a catcher.
Jason McLeod went outside the box last June when he selected Kyle Schwarber with the fourth overall pick in the draft. Schwarber signed quickly, an under-slot bonus that allowed the Cubs to use the extra money for LHP Justin Steele, LHP Carson Sands and RHP Dylan Cease, and started his pro career.
Kyle Schwarber crushed the baseball over three levels of the system. In 72 games in Boise, Kane County and Daytona, Schwarber batted .344/.428/.634 with 18 doubles, two triples, 18 home runs, 39 walks and 57 strikeouts for a 1.061 OPS. Schwarber played more games in left field (36) than behind the plate (20).
After a short break, Schwarber spent the fall in Arizona and made strides with his defense working with Tim Cossins and Mark Johnson. And the improvements he made in a short amount of time convinced the front office that his future is at catcher and if he is able to catch, when combined with the bat, Schwarber has a chance to be a very special player.
Kyle Schwarber has a big year in front of him that could start at the Double-A level as the Smokies everyday catcher.
C.J. Edwards has faced doubters before. But for the first time in 2015, Edwards will be coming back from an injury. Many believe that this will be recurring problem with Edwards due to his slight build. However, Edwards has answered those doubters in the past.
As young player, Edwards already weathered some pressure situations. There have been several documented tales of the 15-year old Edwards facing grown men and striking them out it the sandlot baseball played in his hometown of Prosperity, South Carolina. Spotted by a scout from the Texas Rangers a few years later, the team thought enough of the 145-pound Edwards to select him in the 48th round of the 2011 draft as a high school player. However, Edwards waited until December to sign, after the death of a close friend helped him decide to turn pro over going to college.
Edwards was almost an instant hit after stepping on the field for the AZL Rangers in 2012, going 3-0 with a 0.00 ERA, 0.60 WHIP, and 25 strikeouts in 20 innings. Edwards was quickly advanced to Short-Season A Spokane where he ran into some slight resistance, posting a 2-3 record with 60 strikeouts in 47 innings, a 2.11 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP. For the 2013 season, Edwards was bumped up to Low-A Hickory, where he was dominant again. Edwards started 18 games and was 8-2 with a 1.83 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP that included an amazing 122 strikeouts in 93.1 innings. It was then that the Rangers completed a trade for pitcher Matt Garza, which brought Mike Olt, Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez, and Edwards to the Cubs. Edwards was assigned to High-A Daytona, where he had no record in six starts, but a 1.96 ERA, a 0.91 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in 23 innings.
For the 2014 season, Edwards began with Double-A Tennessee and pitched well, with a 2.61 ERA and 20 strikeouts in his first four starts. But Edwards went on the disabled list with shoulder discomfort and would not take the mound again until July 23 for a two game tune-up in the rookie league. Returning to the Smokies in the beginning of August, Edwards started another six games to finish the season at 1-2 with a 2.44 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP that included 48 strikeouts in 48 innings. To make up for the lost time, Edwards was assigned to the Arizona Fall League. Getting another six starts, Edwards went 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP (13 strikeouts in 15 innings) while also tossing a shut out inning in the Future Stars Game.
For now, it appears that Edwards will return to Tennessee to start the 2015 season in order to gain more experience. Listed at 6-foot-3, 165 pounds, the 23-year old still needs to get stronger in order to withstand the rigors of being a starting pitcher. But with a mid-90s fastball, a plus curveball, and a change-up, Edwards may not be in Double-A for long if he continues to post impressive numbers.
Once considered part of the “core-four,” the 2012 sixth overall pick’s star has fallen some in the organization thanks to a trying year where he hit .270/.291/.392 with 27 doubles, nine home runs, 60 RBI and six stolen bases. Albert Almora has been overshadowed by guys like Bryant, Russell, Soler and Schwarber, but he is still on many major publications radar with Baseball Prospectus being most generous with a No. 38 ranking overall.
The young center fielder started his season in High-A Daytona and produced decent results hitting .283/.306/.406 with 20 doubles, two triples, seven home runs, 50 RBI and six stolen bases in 89 games. His biggest highlight of his time in Daytona came on July 14 when he went 5-for-7 at the plate, drove in five runs, scored four and hit for the cycle. A week later, he was promoted to Double-A Tennessee, but did not fare as well slashing just .234/.250/.355 with seven doubles, two triples, two home runs and 10 RBI in 36 games.
Almora is projected as the prototypical five tool player, but so far has only shown hitting for average, arm strength and excellent defense. He hasn’t displayed the 15-20 home run power he’s projected for and hasn’t even cracked double digits in a single season. He’s shown his speed on defense, but needs work as a runner as he owns just 15 stolen bases in his three professional seasons. Almora’s plate discipline needs a lot of work and he needs to learn which pitches to turn on to use his skills at the plate. Reports have suggested his power issues may have been related to a hamate bone injury from the previous year. This is an important season in the development path for Albert Almora.
With so much attention being paid to Addison Russell, the other prospect the Cubs received in the deal with the A’s last summer for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel is often overlooked. Billy McKinney was Oakland’s first round pick in the 2013 draft and he doesn’t turn 21 until August.
Billy McKinney had a good first full season in pro ball. After somewhat struggling with High-A Stockton in Oakland’s system (.241/.330/.400), McKinney excelled at the plate with the Daytona Cubs and reached base close to 40 percent of the time. McKinney batted .301/.390/.432 with 12 doubles, four triples and one home run for a .822 OPS in 51 games. McKinney walked 25 times in 210 plate appearances with 42 strikeouts.
McKinney is a polished hitter, especially for a 20-year old, with plus pitch recognition and he understands how to play the game. And the lefty hitting outfielder helps balance out the aggressive hitters in the Cubs’ system. McKinney profiles as a left or center fielder due to his arm and may provide average power as he matures.
Billy McKinney should begin the season in the same outfield at Double-A Tennessee as Albert Almora.
Pierce Johnson has been somewhat of a forgotten man when it comes to discussions about the top Cubs prospects, but the lanky 6-foot-3 right hander has been arguably the most consistent pitching prospects in the organization since he was drafted 43rd overall in 2012.
In a season split between Low-A Kane County and Double-A Tennessee Johnson pitched to a 5-5 record in 19 starts, 99 strikeouts in 102.2 innings with a 2.54 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. A calf and hamstring injuries shortened his season somewhat, but it did not stop him from earning Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Month for August by allowing just six runs in six starts to a 1.72 ERA.
Johnson’s fastball averages 91-93 mph and he can dominate hitters with it. Scouts laud his slurve that can fool right- and left-handed batters in different ways and tops out at 82 mph. Reports say he still needs work on his changeup as well as his command that wavers from time to time. Projections put Johnson as a No. 3 starter or as a closer if he’s unable to crack a big league rotation. He will likely start out in Tennessee again, with a promotion to Iowa not long after the seasons begins.
While it is still very early in his career, the future looks very bright for infielder Gleyber Torres. Signed by the Cubs in 2013, the 17-year old shortstop (18 on December 13) was thought to possibly start his professional career in the Dominican Summer League. However, during the 2013 Fall Instructional League and 2014 Spring Training, Torres displayed a mature approach. It was decided to keep Torres stateside for extended Spring Training and to see how he would handle his first professional experience in the rookie league. Torres surpassed all expectations, batting .279 with a home run and 29 RBI in 43 games for the AZL Cubs, earning a late promotion to Short-Season A Boise.
With the Hawks, Torres wasn’t in awe of playing with men three to five years older than him, hitting .393 with a home run and four RBI in seven games, as well as starting in the playoffs. For the season, Torres was a combined .297/.386/.440/.826 with eight doubles, six triples, two home runs, 33 RBI, and 10 stolen bases in 50 games. His fielding at short is a work in progress, as he was a combined .922 with 19 errors.
While the current management has emphasized steady development, it might be hard to hold Torres back if he has a similar spring in 2015. The shortstop position at Low-A South Bend is something that is not set in stone, so the possibility of Torres opening there may be very real. However, if management opts not to place Torres with the South Bend Cubs, he almost certainly with be starting for Short Season-A Eugene following extended Spring Training.
Duane Underwood took several steps, if not leaps, forward in his development last year. Underwood matured on and off the field. And one has to look no further than the numbers he produced for proof that Underwood put his career on the right track.
Underwood was part of Kane County’s very good pitching staff and as a 19-year old he posted a 6-4 record in 22 games, 21 starts, with a 2.50 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. In a career-high 100.2 innings, Underwood gave up 85 hits with 36 walks and 84 strikeouts. And after the break, Underwood was 5-2 in 12 games, 11 starts, with a 2.64 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP. Underwood struck out 56 batters with only 18 walks in 58 innings.
The Cubs are very high on Underwood and Jason McLeod has said on several occasions he could have the best stuff in the system.
Underwood’s fastball sits in the 94-96 mph range, the highest average velocity of any starter in the system. Underwood throws a hard curveball that flashes as a plus pitch due to its depth and late action. Underwood made strides with his changeup last season that also flashed as a plus pitch due to his arm speed.
Duane Underwood needs to build on last season and continue to work on being more consistent on the mound and with his preparation. Underwood should begin the year with High-A Myrtle Beach.
Heading up the rotation for High-A Myrtle Beach most likely will Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year, and The CCO Minor League Co-Pitcher of the Year, Jen-Ho Tseng.
In early July 2013, the Cubs signed international free agent Tseng out of Taiwan. Just 19 years old at the start of the 2014 season, Tseng was impressive enough last spring to bypass both the rookie and Short-Season leagues to begin his professional career with Low-A Kane County. After the first two months of the season, Tseng missed about four weeks as a sore shoulder placed him on the disabled list. The missed time essentially took Tseng out of the running for qualifying among the league leaders, but he became one of the most feared pitchers in the Midwest League.
Tseng had a 0.87 WHIP and 85 strikeouts against 15 walks in 105 innings. Tseng posted a 6-1 record and a 2.40 ERA. In an exclusive interview with the CCO at the end of last season, Tseng said that language was his biggest adjustment in his first season in America. Tseng also said that it was a big jump in competition for him, as he was only pitching at high school level in Taiwan. Tseng expressed his biggest regret is that he could no longer pitch for his national team.
As for his stuff, Tseng has a fastball that sits in the low- to mid-90s range, with a deep release point that makes it look even faster. Tseng also has a curve that he needs to command better and possibly the best change-up in the system.
Carson Sands was drafted in the fourth round last June and signed over-slot in an effort by the front office to further infuse the Cubs system with young, high-end pitching prospects.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound left hander signed early enough to pitch nine games in the Arizona Rookie League, and he impressed. Sands posted a 3-1 record, struck out 20 batters in 19 innings with a 1.89 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP.
Sands has three above average pitches, a fastball, a change-up and a curve. Scouts say the fastball tops out in the low-90s, the upper-70s change-up shows late fade and the mid-70s curve shows movement and Sands sometimes uses it as a chase pitch.
At 19 years old, Carson Sands has a long way to go, but will likely spend some time in short season Low-A Eugene.
There are some mixed opinions about the skill set of Victor Caratini, but all agree that he has an opportunity to be one of the Cubs’ top prospects. If he can develop his raw skills, there will be a lot that fans will like about Caratini.
A second round draft pick by the Braves in 2013, Caratini was tried as third base after he signed. But after 47 games in the rookie Appalachian League and 10 games for Single-A Rome, the decision was made to shift the 21-year old behind the plate. Caratini took to the position change well, fielding .992 and catching 32% of all base stealers in 79 games at the position.
The Cubs acquired Caratini from Atlanta in exchange for INF/OF Emilio Bonifacio and LHP James Russell at midseason last year. Caratini was listed as the Braves’ eighth best prospect at the time of the trade. Offensively, the switch-hitter shows future power potential with 22 doubles, five triples, and five home runs in 101 games while batting .277/.346/.402/.748 with 55 RBI. Scouts like Caratini’s power to all fields and feel that will be the part of his game that carries him to higher levels. However, some feel that Caratini’s stroke is a little longer right handed, and as a consequence may struggle more on that side of the plate as he advances.
Scouts are also split on Caratini’s defensive ability. Baseball America was impressed enough with his defensive statistics to name Caratini the Cubs’ best defensive catcher in the minors. But Baseball Prospectus feels that while Caratini possesses the tools to develop behind the plate, he has a slow release, with his throws tending to die before reaching second base.
While Caratini displays the gap power and receiving skills you would like in a catcher, he has a long way to go to develop his full game. With four candidates for catcher at High-A Myrtle Beach, Caratini is the most likely held back in Low-A due to his lack of experience, if that decision is made.
Eloy Jimenez has the tools to be a very good big leaguer, but he needs to grow into his body first. Jimenez turned 18 in November and is 6-foot-4, 205 pounds and he’s had issues with coordination while flashing the tools that made him a top International prospect before the Cubs signed him in 2013.
Jimenez played in 42 games with the AZL Cubs last year as a 17-year old and posted a .227/.268/.367 line with eight doubles, two triples and three home runs in 164 plate appearances.
The Cubs have been impressed with Jimenez on and off the field. Jimenez has learned English quickly and according to Baseball America, he returned to the Dominican Republic to complete his high school education and earned his diploma.
Eloy Jimenez has huge raw power and simply needs time to develop. Jimenez could finish his season with Short-Season Eugene if everything goes well in Arizona during extended Spring Training.
To most Cubs fans, Corey Black’s claim to fame so far has been the player received in a trade with the Yankees for Alfonso Soriano. Since his acquisition, the right hander has quietly been ascending the ranks as a quality pitching prospect in the organization.
Last season, Corey Black spent the entire year at Double-A Tennessee starting 25 games to a 6-7 record with a 3.47 ERA and 1.37 WHIP (119 strikeouts in 124.1 innings).
At just 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, Black shows exciting velocity on his fastball averaging 92-96 mph, but his velocity dips as he racks up the innings. He also throws an average slider, a fringy change-up and struggles with his command and effort level at times. Scouts have suggested that Black projects better as a reliever or a spot starter due to concerns about his size. It will be interesting to see what the Cubs think, but he’ll probably end up in Iowa at some point this year with a role still to be determined.
Armando Rivero is in big league camp for the second straight spring. And while it’s a longshot for him to make the Opening Day roster, Rivero should make his Major League debut at some point this season.
The Cubs signed the hard-throwing Cuban right-hander in 2013. After a not-so-good stateside debut in 2013, Rivero began last year with Double-A Tennessee and was lights out.
Armando Rivero was 2-1 in 26 appearances for the Smokies that included 10 saves in the 23 games he finished. Rivero struck out 54 batters with only 16 walks and 18 hits allowed in 34.2 innings (1.56 ERA, 0.98 WHIP).
The 27-year old right hander was promoted to Iowa and surrendered 25 hits with 12 walks and 46 strikeouts in 30.1 innings (2.97 ERA, 1.22 WHIP) and ended up with a combined 5-1 record in 49 appearances (11 saves, 32 games finished) with a 2.22 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. Rivero struck out 100 batters with only 28 walks in 65 innings.
Armando Rivero throws his fastball in the 94-97 mph range and features a hard-slider in the mid-80s and a changeup.
Most feel Armando Rivero could fit nicely in the backend of a Major League bullpen. The closer’s role for Triple-A Iowa is where he should begin the season.
The Cubs have been very careful with Paul Blackburn letting him take his time to develop and grow as a pitcher. He was drafted 56th overall back in 2012 more on the strength of his intelligence and projection than overall velocity.
In his first two seasons, Blackburn struggled with his command, but it clicked at Low-A Kane County last year. In 24 starts, Johnson went 9-4 with a 3.23 ERA and 1.18 WHIP that included 75 strikeouts in 117 innings.
Blackburn has mostly average stuff, but his fastball can touch 94 mph on occasion. Some scouts have compared him to Kyle Hendricks as Johnson may have the best feel for pitching in the system and he can induce ground balls. Johnson will likely continue his slow pace and spend the season at High-A Myrtle Beach.
As a second round pick for the Cubs in 2014, right-hander Jake Stinnett comes with a lot of high expectations. A high school player for Rancho Buena Vista in Vista, CA, Stinnett was first team all-league and scholar-athlete, graduating with a 4.47 GPA. His freshman season with the Maryland baseball team, Stinnett was a third baseman, leading the team with five home runs and second with 24 RBI. Stinnett saw time at first base and in the outfield as a sophomore, while getting looks as a pitcher in both of his first two seasons. In his junior year, Stinnett was a full-time pitcher and was selected an academic All-ACC performer, posting a 2.83 ERA in 16 appearances. Stinnett followed that with a solid senior season, going 8-6 with a 2.67 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and his 132 strikeouts ranked third nationally. And on March 1 of last year, Stinnett threw a no-hitter.
Upon signing with the Cubs, Stinnett was treated gingerly by the Cubs after helping the Terrapins reach the Super Regionals in the NCAA Division I baseball tournament. Stinnett did not see his first action until the beginning of August. After three appearances and 4.2 innings in the rookie league, Stinnett made two starts for Short Season-A Boise where he had a 2.84 ERA that included seven strikeouts in 6.1 innings. Jason McLeod recently indicated Stinnett had surgery last year after signing with the Cubs following an injury that occurred during PFP drills. It’s unclear how much the injury and subsequent surgery impacted the rest of his year, but he has already created quite a buzz in camp this spring.
The 22-year old is reported to have a mid-90s fastball that has been clocked as high as 97 mph. Stinnett throws both a four-seam and two-seam fastball, along with a slider and a change-up that needs further development. According to Baseball America, Stinnett already has the best slider in the Cubs’ minor league organization. With success, it can be expected for Stinnett to show the same time of developmental arc as Pierce Johnson, starting at Low-A with a mid-season promotion to High-A Myrtle Beach.
Bijan Rademacher is arguably the best prospect in the Cubs loaded system that receives the least amount of coverage. Rademacher is coming off a good year with High-A Daytona that he punctuated with an excellent fall in Arizona.
In 111 games for the now defunct D-Cubs, Rademacher batted .281/.363/.448 with 22 doubles, six triples and 10 home runs for a .811 OPS. Rademacher basically split his time between left field (58 games) and right field (45 games) last year and has played all three outfield spots in his career.
Bijan Rademacher played in only 11 games in the Arizona Fall League because he was on the taxi squad (limited to Wednesday and Saturday) and he put together a rather impressive .350/.404/.525 line with two doubles, a triple and a home run for a .929 OPS (14-for-40)
The former pitcher has a very good arm and projects as a corner outfielder. He’s yet to feature the same plus raw power during games that he’s showed in batting practice. Rademacher has good pitch recognition and bat control.
The 23-year old is ticketed for Double-A Tennessee and should be in the same outfield with Billy McKinney and Albert Almora. Bijan Rademacher is a player few talk about but one that the fan base should be asking how to correctly pronounce his last name this season.
Resiliency is supposed to be one of the advantages of youth, and the Cubs are hoping to see that out of Jeimer Candelario this season.
Signed by the Cubs in 2011, Candelario played that season in the Dominican Summer League. At only 17 years old, the switch hitter was fifth in the league with a .337 average, and his 53 RBI were second in the league. He also had a .443 on-base percentage, a slugging percentage of .478, and a .921 OPS to go along with 50 walks against 42 strikeouts. For 2012, the Cubs took an unusual direction and placed Candelario at Short Season-A Boise, bypassing the rookie league. Candelario was up for the challenge and hit .281/.345/.396/ with a .741 OPS in 71 games. He also had six home runs and was fourth in the Northwest League with 47 RBI.
Advancing to Low-A Kane County in 2013, Candelario experienced some of the growing pains that come with a player’s first professional full season. Candelario batted .256/.346/.396/.742 with 11 home runs and 57 RBI. Candelario showed his trademark plate discipline, walking 68 times with only 88 strikeouts in 500 at bats. While he is still a work in progress, his defense improved to a .925 fielding percentage.
It was somewhat a surprise that the Cubs allowed a 20-year old with modest statistics in Low-A to be promoted for the 2014 season. Candelario began last season as the starting third baseman for High-A Daytona. More than two and a half years younger than the league average, Candelario struggled out of the gate, batting .193 with five home runs and 26 RBI in 62 games. A dejected Candelario was sent back down to the Cougars where he regrouped a little, hitting .250 with six home runs and 37 RBI in 63 games. The season totals for Candelario were .223/.288/.379/.667 with 29 doubles, five triples, 11 home runs, and 63 RBI. Once again, Candelario displayed plate discipline with 41 walks against 89 strikeouts, and improving in the field with a .957 average.
At just 21 years old, there are still enough encouraging signs in Candelario’s game. A bounce back year at High-A Myrtle Beach would go a long way to re-establishing Candelario as one of the Cubs’ most promising players. After that, Candelario’s production will have to match his promise.
There are varying opinions on Dan Vogelbach across the major publications as well as the writers of this site. Some praise his power and feel for hitting while others contend that his size may limit him to DH at some point.
Either way, Vogelbach is an intriguing player who the Cubs can afford to be patient with due to the presence of Anthony Rizzo currently blocking him at first base. Vogelbach spent last season at High-A Daytona and finished his year in the Arizona Fall League. He batted .267/.363/.416 with 32 doubles, 16 home runs and 84 RBI. His home runs were a career low and not enough for a player with his size and strength. On the surface, he improved his defense to a career high .995 fielding percentage, but routinely gave away outs not being able to catch up to foul balls.
Dan Vogelbach has shown to be a very hard worker though focusing very hard every off-season to improve his conditioning, fielding and plate discipline. This year is a very important one for him as he’ll likely start at Tennessee and face much better talent than he’s seen in the past. If he can break out, he might be some very intriguing trade bait around the deadline.