The depth in the Cubs system has been well documented. And over the last four years, the prospects in the organization became more well-known the players on the big league team.
The hard work and player development that has been done by the front office, minor league staffs and coordinators since June 2011 have started paying dividends in the majors this season. When Theo Epstein took over baseball operations in October 2011 his goal was to build an organization with sustained success. And The Plan was put in place to have waves of talent in the minor league system to keep a steady flow of players to the big league team.
The Cubs no longer have the top farm system in baseball with the graduation of Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler, Kyle Schwarber and Carl Edwards Jr. to the majors this season. The Cubs still have one of the deepest systems in baseball and a top 10 organization. Beyond the prospect rankings, several players had very good years and took steps forward with their development.
As part of the individual development plans, players are asked to learn at least one other position in order to increase their versatility in the field. But if the Cubs were asked to field an All-Prospect Team, what might that 25-man roster look like based on the recently completed minor league season?
This two-part series highlights the players that had the best season at their position, in the rotation and as a reliever in the Cubs’ system regardless of prospect status or future projection.
First up, the starting eight and back-up roles.
1B – Dan Vogelbach
2B – Chesny Young
3B – Jeimer Candelario
SS – Gleyber Torres
LF – Billy McKinney
CF – Ian Happ
RF – Eloy Jimenez
Albert Almora, OF
Christian Villanueva, INF
Mark Zagunis, OF
David Bote, Utility
Jeffrey Baez, OF
1B Dan Vogelbach
Dan Vogelbach was slowed by injuries (hamstring, oblique) after putting up solid numbers before the All-Star break. Vogelbach started the year by hitting .362/.470/.594 with seven doubles and three home runs for a 1.064 OPS in April. Vogelbach played in only 22 games over the last three months of the year and hit .235/.409/.426/.836 with four doubles and three home runs.
Vogelbach has an excellent eye and knows how to get on base. Where Vogelbach can play in the field remains a question as well as if he will hit for enough power by the time he reaches the majors. Vogelbach turns 23 in December, so there is still time. Next year will be an important season for Vogelbach at the Triple-A level.
2B Chesny Young
Chesny Young had a sensational season, his first full year in pro ball. Young started the year with Low-A South Bend and ended it with High-A Myrtle Beach helping the Pelicans win the Carolina League Championship. Young won a batting title while playing multiple positions over two levels in the Cubs’ system. Young hit a combined .320/.392/.386 with 23 doubles, four triples and a home run for a .778 OPS.
Young is a strong defender at multiple positions and a student of the game with a solid work ethic.
3B Jeimer Candelario
The switch-hitting, 21-year old Jeimer Candelario bounced back from a poor 2014 season and outside of Willson Contreras arguably made the most significant improvement than any other player in the system this season. Candelario excelled with Double-A Tennessee after his promotion from Myrtle Beach on July 21. Candelario put up solid numbers at the plate for the Pelicans while providing excellent defense at third base. Candelario slashed .270/.318/.415 in 82 games in High-A with 25 doubles, four triples and 10 home runs for a .733 OPS. And he took his game to the next level with Tennessee.
In 46 games for the Smokies, Candelario batted .291/.379/.462 with 10 doubles, a triple, five home runs and a .841 OPS. Candelario walked (22) more times than he struck out (21) in 158 at bats.
Candelario turns 22 in November (Nov. 24) and put his career back on track this season after hitting a combined .277/.339/.431 with 35 doubles, four triples and 10 home runs for a .770 OPS while playing outstanding defense.
SS Gleyber Torres
Gleyber Torres is the top prospect in the Cubs’ system and one of the best shortstop prospects in the game. The 18-year old created quite the buzz this year in his first year in full-season ball. Torres batted .293/.353/.386 in 119 with Low-A South Bend. Torres hit 24 doubles, five triples and three home runs for a .739 OPS. Torres was bumped up to High-A Myrtle Beach with a little over a week to go in the minor league season. Torres helped the Pelicans complete the championship season.
Torres has work to do defensively and needs to learn when to just put the ball in his back pocket. Torres seemed to run out of gas toward the end of the season, which is to be expected playing a full season for the first time.
Torres ended the season with a combined .287/.346/.376 slash line that included 24 doubles, five triples and three home runs for a .722 OPS. Torres has an incredibly bright future.
LF Billy McKinney
It was rather surprising when Billy McKinney started the season with High-A Myrtle Beach. McKinney had work to do with his defense before he earned his promotion to Double-A Tennessee. McKinney thrived at the plate in 29 games for the Pelicans and batted .340/.432/.544 with five doubles, two triples and four home runs for a .976 OPS. McKinney was sent to Double-A Tennessee on May 14.
With the Smokies, McKinney put together a .285/.346/.420 slash line with 26 doubles, one triple, three home runs and a .766 OPS.
McKinney turned 21 in August and profiles as a corner outfielder in the big leagues with a better fit in left due to his arm strength. The lefty hitting McKinney walked 44 times with 60 strikeouts in 106 games between Myrtle Beach and Tennessee. McKinney is as much of a natural hitter as Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber.
CF Ian Happ
Cubs’ first round pick will focus on second base during fall instructs, the switch-hitting Ian Happ performed well after signing in the outfield. Happ had solid numbers with Short-Season Eugene (.283/.408/.491/.898, eight doubles, one triple, four home runs) before he was promoted to Low-A South Bend. Happ batted .241/.315/.448 with nine doubles, three triples and five home runs for a .763 OPS.
Ian Happ finished his first 67 games in pro ball with a .259/.356/.466 line that included 17 doubles, four triples and nine home runs for a .822 OPS.
RF Eloy Jimenez
Eloy Jimenez made a lot of progress this season from what some viewed as a disappointing 2014 season in the Arizona Rookie League. The 18-year old Jimenez hit .284/.328/.418/.746 in 57 games for Short-Season Eugene. Jimenez had 10 doubles and seven home runs in 232 at bats. Defensively, Jimenez has a way to go but the tools are there. Jimenez could be the top prospect in the system by the break next season if he continues on the same development path.
C Willson Contreras
Willson Contreras had the breakout season of all breakout seasons. Contreras played his way from a relative unknown in the Cubs system to a top 10 prospect and one of the top catchers in minor league baseball.
Contreras’ offensive caught up with his defense this year. While he still has a lot of work to do, Contreras is in the conversation for as the Cubs’ catcher of the future. Contreras was the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year and won the Southern League Batting Title. Contreras hit .333/.413/.478 with 34 doubles, four triples, eight home runs and a .891 OPS in 126 games.
Contreras has an intense personality that will not allow his teammates to slack off, which bodes well for a player that projects as a big league catcher.
Victor Caratini, C
Victor Caratini was the MVP of the Mills Cup Championship Series. Caratini spent the year with Myrtle Beach and put up solid numbers at the plate. Caratini hit .257/.342/.372 with 31 doubles, a triple and four home runs for a .714 OPS. The switch-hitting catcher turned 22 in August and caught 86 of the 112 games he played in while also seeing time at first base (12 games).
Caratini does an excellent job of handling a pitching staff and is the best overall defensive catcher in the system.
Albert Almora, OF
Albert Almora had an excellent August (.352/.413/.504) that led to solid second half numbers. Almora batted .301/.370/.464 in his final 51 games of the season with 18 doubles, a triple and four home runs for a .834 OPS. Almora ended up hitting .272/.327/.400 in 106 games with 26 doubles, four triples and six home runs for a .727 OPS.
Defensively, Almora turned in highlight reel after highlight reel play in the field. And Almora played all three outfield spots for the first time in his pro career. Almora lined up in center field for 69 games with 18 in left and 14 in right.
Almora turns 22 in April and will be in big league camp on a non-roster invite preparing for what will be an important season in Iowa.
Christian Villanueva, INF
Christian Villanueva is only 24 years old and is at a turning point in his career. Villanueva improved his value by playing first base and second base for Iowa this year to go along with third base, where he spent a majority of his time. Villanueva made positive steps forward this season before really cooling off at the plate in the last two months of the year.
Villanueva’s glove is good enough to make him a reserve in the majors; questions remain if he will hit enough, especially for average, to take a roster spot.
In 123 games for Triple-A Iowa, Villanueva batted .259/.313/.437 with 23 doubles, two triples, 18 home runs and a .751 OPS. Villanueva drove in 85 runs between Iowa and Tennessee, tops in the Cubs’ system.
Mark Zagunis, OF
Mark Zagunis made a smooth transition to full-time outfielder in his first full-year of pro ball. Zagunis slowed down in July and his final numbers do not indicate how well he performed at the plate this season. Zagunis finished the year with a .271/.406/.412 line. In 115 games, Zagunis had 24 doubles, five triples and eight home runs for a .818 OPS. Due to his plate discipline, Zagunis could find a niche as an unconventional leadoff man, similar to David DeJesus.
Zagunis played all three outfield spots (80 in right field, 13 in left and seven in center field) and could soon have Albert Almora and Jacob Hannemann looking over their shoulder.
David Bote, Utility
David Bote is the definition of a utility player. Bote played four different positions (second base, third base, first base and left field) for South Bend this year and pitched in relief in four games. Bote has played every position, with the exception of catcher, in his minor league career.
Bote batted .251/.328/.384/.712 with 20 doubles, two triples and six home runs in 98 games for Low-A South Bend.
David Bote seemed to be putting things together this season, South Bend play-by-play man Darin Pritchett said Bote showed a solid work ethic with excellent leadership skills and was one of the team’s MVPs this year.
Jeffrey Baez, OF
Hard work is always rewarded and Jeffrey Baez is a perfect example of what a player can accomplish in one season. Baez had a horrible first half with the South Bend Cubs in which he hit .190/.262/.268 with only six extra basehits. Baez turned his season around in July, was the Cubs Minor League Player of the Month, had an excellent August and was part of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans post-season run in September.
Baez batted .348/.369/.536 in his last 53 games with Low-A South Bend that included 12 doubles, three triples and eight home runs for a .905 OPS. Baez swiped 25 bags and was caught nine times.
In 106 games between Low-A South Bend and High-A Myrtle Beach, Baez hit .280/.321/.422 with 17 doubles, six triples and nine home runs for a .743 OPS.
Jeffrey Baez has the tools to be a 30-30 player down the line and is probably has the best overall defensive skills of any outfielder in the system.
• Check Back for The CCO’s All-Prospect Team – Pitchers