Phase 4 of the Rebuild: Talent evaluation and Addition Through Subtraction
Having covered the big 6 guys in the system that everyone is itching to see and covering some guys whose stock has fallen, it is time to look into depth. The best way to do this is by highlighting players of note throughout the rest of the system, level by level. I’m sure that I missed some worthy guys in this section so don’t jump down my neck. If there’s an obvious player you want to be added, let me know somehow. I will happily add him in.
There are some really good players in the Cubs farm that rank in the 10-30 range on in house prospect lists. These are the guys that build depth and some of them very well could become trade bait in the future to land that vaunted pitching staff the North Side so desperately needs. Depth can never be overstated as prospects are not a guarantee. Who knows if the guys in the upper minors will pan out? That is why a team needs to treat its scouting and development as paramount. Drafting is the best way to obtain cost controllable talent.
There are a lot more high upside pitching prospects in the lower levels of the farm system and let’s not forget the 2013 international signing period that saw the Cubs blow past their draft allotment and land 2 of the top 3 players available as well a few more of the top 20.
If you don’t know how that process works, all you need to know is kids from Central and South America can sign as young as 16. Those kids are then put into Baseball Academies before heading to the minor leagues. When considering that part of player development It’s important to remember that Tampa Bay traded David Price for Nick Franklin, Drew Smyly,and Wily Adames. Wily Adames being a 19 year old shortstop in low A-ball.
As you’ll soon see, the Cubs have a treasure trove of projectable young talent that other teams are going to be looking at. It’s safe to assume 2 things:
1) The Cubs are going to spend money to add talent over the next couple years before they start trading prospects. There is no need to subtract talent until they’ve added payroll. Some of these so called ‘depth’ level prospects would be top 5-10 guys in other farm systems.
2) As time goes on and some prospects pan out and others don’t, the Cubs will have a better idea of who is untouchable in the system and begin to make some serious trades. Dealing from areas of strength to build up areas of weakness.
AAA – Iowa Cubs
Dan Straily, RHSP – 25 Years Old
Dan Straily is a good example of the Cubs MO on pitchers. He’s a big guy that has a good four pitch mix and has had success across all levels of the minors. He’s been in the big leagues and shown that he can strike guys out and eat innings. Given the current state of pitching on the North Side it’s a safe bet to assume Straily will break camp with the team next season. The Cubs have a track record of recent success in figuring out mechanical flaws and helping pitchers get back on track. The fact that Straily strikes a lot of guys out also bodes well for his on field results to improve.
Matt Szczur, CF – 24 Years Old
While his last name might look weird it’s easy to remember once you learn that it’s pronounced as Caesar. The number one thing you need to know about Szczur is that he is a great athlete with easy speed. He was a two sport athlete at Villanova, playing CF for the baseball team and played wide receiver and returned punts for the football team. He actually accrued 270 all purpose yards and scored two touchdowns in the FCS National Championship Game.
Since beginning his big league career Szczur has had success across all levels. Hitting for average and holding his own in the field and on the base paths. Once considered the #65 prospect in all of baseball his stock has gone down a bit since his promotion to AAA in 2014. The one real drawback of Matt is the fact that he has little to no power. In 486 career minor league games he has only hit 18 home runs. If he can manage to build up some more extra base power Szczur projects as highly as an everyday lead off hitter with a floor of a back up outfielder or defensive replacement.
Szczur could end up playing for the Cubs as early as next season but has flown under the radar due to the high impact talent throughout the system. I would go onto say that he is the #2 outfielder in the system when it comes to Major League readiness.
AA – Tennesee Smokies
C.J Edwards, RHSP – 22 Years Old
Ranked as the #1 pitching prospect in the Cubs system after a breakout 2013 campaign that saw him 8-2 with a 1.86 ERA in 116.1 Innings with 155 K’s. He only gave up one home run the entire year. That’s a heck of a season. Utterly dominating.
Edwards was one of the key components in the Matt Garza trade. It’s a trade that could turn out incredibly for the Cubs considering the fact that Justin Grimm was the player to be named later in that trade and has posted a sub 2 ERA out of the bullpen this season.
Edwards has a slight frame that scares some scouts off. They question his long time durability as a starter. He’s so small that the ball flies out of his hand faster than you’d expect and he kind of reminds me of Pedro Martinez. Don’t take that comparison to heart. Just an observation. The fact of the matter with Edwards is this, he has the stuff to be a front line starter. He features a high 90’s fastball with late life and 12-6 Curveball that makes minor league hitters look silly at times. Change up is coming along as well and should be able to become serviceable.
His durability is the main question. We could be seeing him make his debut as early as 2015 and if his body isn’t cut out for starting it actually raises his ceiling. With his fastball and secondary offerings he would have what it takes to be a late inning reliever.
Corey Black, RHSP – 22 Years Old
When the Cubs traded Alfonso Soriano to the Yankees I was completely surprised that we received black as compensation. It was documented that Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman was not in favor of the trade as Black has an electric arm, capable of reaching 100 MPH and easily pitching in the mid to high 90’s in games.
Just like Edwards, some scouts project Corey Black as a future reliever due to his small stature. Similarly to Edwards again he has the stuff to stay in the rotation. His secondary pitches include a wipe-out slider, a curve that is a work in progress, and a Changeup that has some fade that could become a an average offering.
Pierce Johnson, RHSP – 23 Years Old
More polished than most of the other pitchers in the system, Johnson gets high praise for his pitch-ability. His fastballs is low 90’s but he features a hard Curveball that is his out pitch. His Changeup is more advanced than most minor leaguers as he’s had to use it with lower fast ball velocity.Projecting as a middle of the rotation option don’t be surprised to see him make it to the big leagues in 2015 or 16.
Christian Villanueva, 3B – 23 Years Old
Villanueva was sent to the Cubs in the Ryan Dempster trade of 2012. At the time he was the number 2 3B prospect in their system behind Mike Olt. Somehow we ended up with both of them.
In another farm system Villanueva would have a better shot at getting to the big leagues. He is an above average defender at the hot corner and will hit for some decent power. Making it to AAA at 23 years old, he has hit some roadblocks with his progression. His batting average and slugging have dropped dramatically. I would look for him to rebound next season as most players struggle adjusting to a new level of competition.
Having hit as many as 41 doubles in AA before it’s easy to understand why Villanueva could be a valuable trade chip down the road. He’s already blocked by Olt and Bryant and the emergence of another 3B later down this list, it makes sense for him to be shipped off.
High A – Advanced Daytona Cubs
Juan Paniagua, RHSP – 24 Years Old
Paniagua has been an enigma. Coming out of the Dominican Republic he has actually signed 3 major league contracts. The first two times questions about his age and name were brought up and he wasn’t allowed to get a Visa. Baseball America had him listed as Juan Collado for quite some time as Paniagua had forged documents to enter the United States.
With all of that aside, he is Cubs property now and has a fastball that sits in the mid nineties. Originally considered a dissapointment after a rough 2013 campaign he has gone on to win the Cubs’ minor league pitcher of the month for June.
He is posting respectable numbers in A ball as a 24 year old and is either going to progress through the system soon or sit in developmental purgatory. Paniagua has a 4 pitch mix which makes it tempting to keep him as a starter but his shaky track record might necessitate a move to the bullpen where his fastball can play in the high 90’s.
Tyler Skulina, RHSP – 22 Years Old
Taken in the 4th round of the 2013 draft out of Kent State University the first thing you need to know about Skulina is that he is a large man. Standing 6-6 and weighing in around 240 he is the prototypical power pitcher.
His Fastball isn’t overwhelming as it sits in the low to mid 90’s but he can reach back and hit 95-96 when necessary. He features a change up that is a work in progress but his greatest asset is a Curveball. His Curveball might be major league average already.
Like most Cubs pitching prospects Skulina doesn’t project to become a staff ace. He does project to have the repetoire necessary to stay a starter and could be a number 3 type major leaguer in the not too distant future. He’s in high A ball in his second professional season so it is not unlikely to think he might start next year in AA.
Rob Zastryzny, LHSP – 22 Years Old
Taken in the 2nd round of the 2013 Draft Zastryzny is a highly projectable left handed pitcher. His fastball sits in the low 90’s and he has decent secondary offerings. The number one thing I’ve read about him is that people praise his advanced pitch-ability. He can add and subtract velocity beyond his years.
Similarly to Skulina, Zastryzny projects to a middle of the order type. If he can truly harness his command and further develop his secondary offerings his ceiling becomes higher. There’s always going to be a need for left handers who can throw strikes and eat innings. At 22 it’s safe to assume an ETA of no earlier than late 2016.
Gioskar Amaya, 2B – 21 years Old
An international signing out of Venezuela, Gioskar Amaya is another prospect that’s buried by sexier players in the system. Amaya has some decent pop from the 2B position and has plus speed. He’s never going to challenge for a batting title but he very well could develop into a sold regular. He’s capable of playing short in a pinch which adds to his value.I don’t think he’ll ever play for the Cubs but don’t be surprised if he’s packaged in a trade or ends up a serviceable 2B for another team.
Dan Voglebach, 1B/DH – 21 Years Old
Dan Voglebach is going to do one thing and one thing only, hit for power. Coming out of HS his power was lauded as “light tower” and rightfully so. He has power that plays to all fields and has been successful at all levels he’s faced in the minor’s.
That’s the good parts. Now to the downside. Voglebach is one biscuit short of 280 pounds and his fielding tool is rate at 20 which is so low that it basically confines him to a defensive liability at 1st base or a DH.
Luckily for him and for the Cubs he has take care of his weight better since becoming a pro and there are all sorts of American League teams looking for bodies that can hit for power for the left side. Considering the fact that Anthony Rizzo is planted at 1st base for the foreseeable future I would expect to see Voglebach traded at one time or another.
Jacob Hanneman, CF – 23 Years Old
Hanneman is an interesting case. He took two years off from baseball to go on a Mormon Mission and then came home and attended Brigham Young University and had enough tools to warrant being selected in the 3rd round of the 2013 draft.
Hanneman still has a long way to go before we can really get a read on what kind of player he’ll be. He’s in Class A Advanced at 23 and is holding his own. He strikes me as the kind of player who is either going to move quickly through the system or sit in purgatory. He’s never going to hit 30 home runs but he might develope on base skills and gap power. His athleticism and work ethic are his greatest assets. Time will tell what he’s capable of.
Billy McKinney, RF – 19 Years Old
A left handed outfielder with some pop that was sent over in the Smardzija deal, Billy McKinney has been raking since arriving at high class A Daytona. He’s hitting .327 and taking his fair share of walks. His hit tool grades as a 60 which is well above average and he’s only 19. The A’s selected him 24th overall in 2013 and he’s hit wherever he’s been since. Considered the best HS hitter in the 2013 draft I would say that his acquisition has gone under the radar considering we got Addisson Russel but it shouldn’t.
McKinney is a top teir prospect in his own right and a 1st round talent. Behind the big 6 hitters covered before, McKinney is the Cubs best shot at a legitimate star.
A – Full Season – Kane County Cougars
Paul Blackburn, RHSP – 21 Years Old
Taken in the 5th round of the 2012 draft, Blackburn has made some real strides. He’s another one of the Cubs middle of the rotation type starters. He’s got a fastball in the 92 MPH range with decent sink and is one of the few minor leaguers in our system with a passable Changeup already. He has put up good numbers so far in his minor league career and doesn’t seem to be overwhelmed by more polished hitters. If things keep going well he could be in AA by the end of next season.
Dillon Maples, RHSP – 22 Years Old
One thing defines Maples and that is upside. He features a high nineties fastball and an unhittable curve. They type of stuff that if harnessed could make him a top of the rotation starter or late inning relief option. The results however have not translated to games. With Maples on the mound games can quickly descend into chaos. He simply doesn’t throw enough strikes. This would essentially be his Senior Year of college ball so he has a few more years to figure it out and if he does hitters need to watch out.
Jen-Ho Tseng, RHSP – 19 Years Old
Jen-Ho Tseng has shown good promise since signing as an international free agent in 2013 at 18 years old. He has had experience similar to Alber Almora in the sense that from a very young age he faced the best competition available. Tseng pitched dominated in the under 18 world championship and went on to pitch for Taiwan as an 18 year old in the World Baseball classic.
He has a low nineties fastball and a decent curve. He also possesses a good change up that is advanced for his age. Tseng has a penchant for finding the strike zone with all 3 of his pitches and was advanced enough that the Cubs sent him directly to Class A and he has responded well.
Duane Underwood, RHSP – 20 Years Old
Underwood can easily be summed up as toolsy. Drafted out of high school he started his professional career at 17 and is already in his 3rd year in the minors. He has the tools necessary to compete at this level and after really struggling to find control and consistency with his pitches in his first two years is starting to turn the corner a bit. His production in games has gone up to a respectable level and his secondary offerings have made progress but he is a long way from being a Major League pitcher. If he can build off of his 2014 campaign he very well could reach AA in 2015 which is a big step in any HS draftees career.
Victor Caratini – C/3B – 20 Years Old
In shipping off James Russel and Emilio Bonifacio to the Braves the Cubs very well could have made their last deadline deal as sellers. In return the Cubs received the Braves 2013 second round pick, switch hitting Catcher, Victor Caratini. The Cubs system was severely lacking in catching depth and Caratini provides just that.
He has potential in his own right to hit well beyond league average for the position. It’s debatable how much home run power Caratini will inevitably have but one thing is for certain. He is going to hit. He shows a knack for making solid contact and it is likely that his power will manifest itself in doubles rather than home runs.
Still a long way from the big leagues Caratini is all specualtion and projection. His talent is obvious and he’s handled himself well as one of the younger players in A ball. Given his body type It appears that Caratini has a better chance at remaining behind the plate than Kyle Schwarber which is a major plus for Caratini’s chances at reaching the big leagues.
He’s athletic enough to play in the field and his backup position is 3rd base. WIth the current logjam of 3B prospects it’s in Caratini’s best interest to work on his catching game.
Jeimer Candelario , 3B – 20 Years Old
A switch hitting 3rd basemen, Candelario has thrust himself up prospect lists by crushing low A pitching at 19 years old. When getting promoted to high class A in 2014 Candelario struggled but was able to rebound and currently has 25 doubles and 10 home runs. Some scouts think he has the skills to eventually become a .280 hitter in the big leagues with 20 or more home runs.
One thing he has going for him is a good approach at the plate. Most young hitters get anxious in the box and tend to want to kill every pitch they see. Candelario is a bit more polished than your average 20 year old, and if he can keep that skill-set trending in the right direction it will improve his maneuverability within the system immensely. The Cubs are an organization that values patience and situational hitting.
Mark Zagunis, C/LF -21 Years Old
Zagunis was the Cubs 3rd round pick in 2014 and started playing in short season Boise right after he signed. I included him here in the list because he’s the only prospect on the short season roster that I wanted to cover. So far Zagunis has played up in A ball. He came out of Virgina Tech a little more polished than your average HS player and it has shows as he’s taken 29 walks vs 31 K’s. That’s a promising statistic for a young player.
Zagunis is highly athletic for a catcher and has surprising speed wich allows him to easily transfer to LF if necessary. The Cubs would like him to stick at catcher and it appears that he has the tools he would need to stick. It’s going to take some work and require innings but Zagunis projects to be a league average defender. Perhaps better than that. Next season will be the big test for him as he enters his first full season of pro ball.
Rookie Ball – Dominican Summer League Cubs
I don’t really know too much about the Dominican Summer League’s roster. It appears that international signings play baseball outside the US until they turn 18. Nobody on the team has much information available about them but it shows that the Cubs take it seriously as the team has a record of 38 and 22. The home of the Cubs Dominican Baseball Academy, this is where the stars of tomorrow get their shot. For every flop that might come through the doors there is always the potential for a Vladimir Guerrero to emerge.
Rookie Ball- Arizona League Cubs
Jake Stinnett, RHSP – 22 Years Old
Taken in the 2nd round of the 2014 draft as a college Senior, Jake Stinnett is a projectable college pitcher that the Cubs love. He’s a fastball – slider guy that has a change up that needs to be worked on. Stinnett hasn’t been pitching for that many years and will require quite a few innings in the minors to develop. He has good potential and a decent floor which projects him to either be a middle of the rotation type or a high leverage releiver.
Gleyber Torress, SS – 17 years old
Coming into the International Signing Period in 2013 Torres was ranked as the number 3 prospect and the best Shortstop available. toolsy and coach-able. The Cubs blew past their financial allotments to grab Torres and number one ranked player available in outfielder Eloy Jimenez. It was a shocking move and a strange strategy that saw the Cubs give up their applicable money in the 2014 signing period to grab high-upside talent in a class of players the organization saw as deeper than most signing periods. The strategy appears to have payed off.
His best tool is his hitting ability and he doesn’t project to have much home run power. Given his baseball IQ and the fact he’ll be professionally coached from the age of 16 I would wager that Torres has a good shot at becoming a valuable contributor, especially if he can become an above average defender at short.
It will be a long time before we know what happens with Torres but I do have a point to bring up. Remember the David Price Trade? The Rays received 19 year old SS Wily Adames in a package to bring him to Detroit. Torres has the potential to become that kind of prospect.
Eloy Jimenez, RF – 17 Years Old
Insert everything I said about Torres and it goes to cover Jimenez as well. The key difference between the two players is power potential. Some scouts say that Jimenez reminds them of a young Yasiel Puig. Jimenez profiles as a prototypical RF with plus-plus power and a plus arm.