On Wednesday, the CCO’s very own Tom U gave the second of a five-week series of interviews talking minor league prospects with South Bend Cubs play-by-play man Darin Pritchett and Rick Carter on WSBT in South Bend’s Sportsbeat program. This past Wednesday’s program addressed the first and third base prospects in the Cubs’ system. Here are some excerpts from that interview.
Darin Pritchett: South Bend Cubs baseball, April 7, Opening Day at Four Winds Field, we will take on the West Michigan Whitecaps, the defending Midwest League Champions and Tigers’ affiliate. And today is part two of our series, looking at some of the top prospect in the Chicago Cubs’ organization. Tom Usiak, Minor League Correspondent for ChicagoCubsOnline.com rejoins us as we focus today on first base and third base. And Tom, one of the names that stands out at the first base position is Dan Vogelbach. It seems like, he’s a guy you hear a lot about that, he might eventually be an American League player, because he fits, possibly, the role of designated hitter better that anything else. Your thoughts on Vogelbach and the possibilities he stays at first base?
Tom Usiak: Dan Vogelbach has been a top prospect for a while. One of the things that’s very concerning about Vogelbach is his size and his limited athletic ability. Dan is generously listed at 250 pounds. He doesn’t move around very well, and that affects him offensively and defensively. I’ve talked to people who have been close observes of Dan at some of his stops, in Daytona for example and Tennessee. They believe that unless he just absolutely murders the ball, you can forget about any extra base hits with him, because he’s simply a station-to-station player once he gets on the base paths. That doesn’t set up your offense very well.
That lack of speed and athleticism also translates defensively. He puts up, usually, pretty good numbers as a stay-at-home first baseman. But he doesn’t move very well on the field. He doesn’t make the plays that you would expect out of some other first baseman. A lot of times, foul balls don’t end up getting caught and things like that. So, as far as Vogelbach staying at first base, he has a lot of work to do. He’s a young man at only 23 years old, and he can still possibly get there. But, the probability of him moving on to the American League is very high.
Rick Carter: Do they project him as a Major League caliber hitter, so that, if he did go to the American League, he would be considered as a DH? Because that would make him trade bait if that’s the case.
TU: I believe that he can. The one thing that has been concerning with Vogelbach is that, for a big man who supposedly has very good bat speed, he hasn’t hit a lot of home runs and hasn’t driven in a lot of runs throughout his minor league career. He’s never had season where he’s hit over 20 home runs, never had a season where he has driven in over 80 RBI. He’s going to have to step his game an awful lot to be able to show that he can be that big power and run producing kind of player. He does have the innate hitting ability to make it in the Major Leagues, but he has to translate that into production, and we just haven’t seen that out of Vogelbach so far.
DP: This is a great story, and I say that because he’s a 40th round pick in 2012. Jacob Rogers continues to battle, as he spent some time in Myrtle Beach and Tennessee last year. He was part of that 2014 Midwest League Championship team in Kane County. He’s had double digit home runs each the last two years; strikeouts totals high, is there a chance that Rogers can continue to keep pushing up the Cubs’ chain?
TU: In a team that has an All-Star first baseman up at the Major League level, and there’s other prospects such as Vogelbach at the position, it’s very easy to overlook Jacob Rogers, especially when you look solely at a lot of his numbers. But one of the things Jacob brings to the table is intangibles. Jacob is a natural leader. He’s very well respected in the clubhouse. He’s been the team leader on two straight league championship teams. He’s also outstanding defensively. He would give Anthony Rizzo a run for his money as the best defense first baseman in the entire Cubs’ organization.
He does all of that, and like you said, he is very consistent with his numbers. He’s around .260 every year, he’s double digit home runs, he’s always driving in somewhere between 70 and 80 runs. Jacob Rogers is the type of player that you’re not going to look at as somebody who is going to be ‘wowing’ you as you go up the chain. But, if he gets into the right opportunity, this is guy that can play in the majors for a long period time. A player that he reminds me of from the past is a player named Sid Bream, who came up with the Dodgers and played in Pittsburgh and played in Atlanta; wasn’t the greatest numbers guy, but he was just the glue that held those teams together. And that’s the same kind of player that Jacob Rogers is.
RC: Who’s going to be at first base in South Bend, do you think?
TU: I believe you guys got a glimpse of him last year towards the end of the season when Matt Rose came up. Matt Rose was a draft pick by the Cubs this past year. He was taken out of Georgia State. He started in Eugene and played 31 games with them, but then he was brought up to South Bend towards the end of the year. There are a lot of scouts out there who believe he has a very good power profile. He only hit four home runs last year, but they think that he has the ability to hit a lot more than that. The question that we have about Matt Rose is that he was a pitcher in college. He played some third base too. There was a little bit arm trouble, and they played him mainly at first base last year. So, is he going to be moved around from first base to third base? Is he going to be a first baseman fully? We don’t know that right now. But he does have very good offensive potential, and he has fielded very well around the bag there. I believe he will be the one that will start at South Bend. He may not finish the year at South Bend. He has the ability to be able to move up the chain a little bit more.
DP: Not as exciting at third base with Kris Bryant now in the majors, but there is an interesting prospect that I want you to talk about, Tom. I think its Jeimer Candelario, what can you tell us about him?
TU: I’ve known Jeimer since he was down in Single-A when the affiliate was in Kane County. I got to meet him, and he is a very intense and very hard working player. Jeimer started last year at Myrtle Beach. There were some concerns because the year before, he had a real rough time starting the year out at Advanced-A, and had to be demoted back to Single-A ball. So they were concerned about whether he was going to be able to handle the talent level at Advanced-A.
Well, Jeimer went out and did a very good job, especially defensively. Jeimer has improved himself on the defensive side to where some people consider him a possible Gold Glove candidate at third base. On top of that, you have a switch-hitting 22-year old that, the number one thing about him is that he’s got very good strike zone discipline. He can take walks. He can wait on his pitch and drive it. He got only 10 home runs last year, but as he progressed and went up through Tennessee, he got an invite to the Arizona Fall League, in which he produced so well he was runner-up as Most Valuable Player. He batted .329 with five home runs and 15 RBI.
You are right with Kris Bryant there at third base, that there is going to be some concerns as to where Jeimer Candelario fits? But when you look at Kris Bryant, and what an athlete he is too, where there are different places he can play on the field. If you’ve got somebody who can come in and be a Gold Glove caliber fielder at the position, you find a way to get him on the field.
RC: There is a guy that I have followed in the organization for a long time in Christian Villanueva, who has done some good things, but he’s out of options. So if he doesn’t make the Major League team, they have to do something with him. What do you think the prospects are of him doing that? Or what do they do with him because he has shown some good signs over the years?
TU: Christian I like an awful lot. Again, he is one of these players that are very good defensively. He is considered to be among the best defensive third basemen that the Cubs have. The good thing about Christian Villanueva is that he has prepared himself for this point. He’s gone out in the minor leagues and not only played third base, he’s gone out and played first base, he’s played a little bit of second base, he’s played some outfield in the Winter Leagues and things like that. So, he’s improved his versatility so that whether it is with the Cubs, he’s going to training camp with this year, or with some other team, he can make that 24th or 25th man on the roster and be able to fill in at a number of places. On top of that, for a guy who is only 5-foot-11, he has got one heck of a wallop as far as offensively. He can easily hit 20-plus home runs in the Major Leagues.
DP: Tom, we’ve got about two minutes, your thoughts on the South Bend Cubs and the possible third basemen that could see time here?
TU: The player that I really think that is going to start the season with South Bend is a player named P.J. Higgins, taken in the 12th round this past year. P.J. has made some of the scouting reports as a player to watch. He batted a total of .299 last year with two home runs and 15 RBI in 36 games between the Rookie League and Eugene. At 22 years old, he would be able to provide some of that maturity and leadership that the South Bend team may need. With that though, like Matt Rose, he may move up a little bit. So the player that you are going to have to look for is a player by the name of Wladimir Galindo.
Wladimir, two years ago, when he was in Venezuela, came very close to winning the Venezuelan Triple Crown. Last year, he had his first year stateside with the Rookie League. He only got to play 19 games because he had a wrist injury. But he showed that he was there as far as offensively, he batted .358. So, Galindo is a player that could be on the come. I consider Galindo a player that would have been probably on the Top 20 list for the Cubs five years ago, when they didn’t have as many prospects. So, he is that good of a player. The only drawback with him is that he is a definite work in progress at third base.
Next week: Middle Infield Prospects