Around this time last year the Cubs fan base was extremely low on Jorge Soler, what happened by the end of the season? Now Cubs fans believe that Jorge Soler is the Cubs RF/LF option for the next decade, how quickly an opinion of a player can change. This years prime example is Javier Baez who has been the second coming, at least until he struggled in the Majors last season, and OMG the strikeouts! I caution you, don’t underestimate Javier Baez.
We here at the blog have followed Baez closely through his minor league career, as I’m sure all of you have, and the one thing that has been a constant besides the strikeouts is that Baez struggles when he reaches a new level. I don’t mean scuffle, I mean full-blown struggle, as if he has forgotten how to hit a baseball. The other constant is Baez overcomes, and reaches cult status with his video game numbers once he figures it out, and I expect something similar this year. The whole point of Baez being called up last season was to experience major league pitching during a season that really didn’t mean much, why you ask? Because the organization wants those video game numbers to be on display once he figures it out during a season where the Cubs can actually make some noise, kind of like 2015, or 2016.
In the video above new Cubs skipper Joe Maddon talks about the type of overall player that Baez is, and can be. He mentions that his baseball acumen is very high, and that he knows how to run the bases, plays solid defense, these are the things that are important to Maddon, but he does also mention that Baez is here to hit. The main thing that Maddon stresses is that Baez is young, and that fans need to understand that, and be patient with his development. Maddon also says that it is up to him and the coaching staff to help Baez with the development, better at bats, more patient approach, when to shorten up the swing, etc.
Baez is going to strikeout, but it’s about when those strikeouts come and when Javier can make the adjustment to help the team in the given situation. I think the bottom line is that Baez tried to do way too much when he came up last year, just like all the times he was promoted to a new level, it’s only natural. The other thing that is natural is the power that Baez displays, it rivals that of fellow prospect Kris Bryant, it’s scary. Another thing that I really like about Baez is his desire to want the spotlight, to want to be the guy when it matters most, to prove people wrong or to just impress people. A solid off-season of winter ball in Puerto Rico, and a strict workout program that saw Baez lose twenty-five pounds have him primed to be in a position to not only be in the opening day lineup but to impress everyone, and I think he will.
It’s finally here, 2015 Spring Training, ignore the negative twenty-five wind chills outside, it’s baseball season. The talk over the last few years heading into spring training has been how good the Cubs prospects are, and eventually the Cubs will compete with said prospects. This year publications still love the Cubs when it comes to prospects (Kris Bryant was just named the number one prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America), but the major league team is finally ready to take the next step. But before we get too far into that I want to talk about a Cubs prospect that is one of my personal favorites, but doesn’t get too much pub yet, Paul Blackburn.
Blackburn is in the group that I would consider the second wave of prospects, which means one of two things. He either steps onto a Cubs team that is already competing (2017), or he is traded in a package to improve an already competitive team anywhere from this season through the 2016 off-season. Either way I think that Blackburn can, and will be an effective major league starter, I just hope it’s with the Cubs.
The Cubs drafted Blackburn in the 1st round (supplemental round) of the 2012 amateur draft, number 56 overall out of Heritage High School in Brentwood, CA. Wasting no time, the Cubs and Blackburn struck a deal, and Pauly was pitching in Arizona for the Cubs AZL team. It was the end of a long calendar year, but Blackburn handled himself quite well in an offensively heavy league. Blackburn tossed 20.2 innings, and finished the season with an ERA of 3.48, and a FIP of 5.39, obviously that last number is a little high. The following season with Boise was trying for Blackburn as his innings were limited, and his command disappeared. My guess is he was trying to miss too many bats, probably due to the fact that his BABIP was .313 in 2012, bad luck, so he tried to limit contact, just my opinion. On one hand the strikeouts escalated from 5.66 K/9 in 2012 to 7.43 K/9, but so did the walks, which was uncharacteristic. In 2012 Blackburn had a BB/9 rate of 3.05, that went all the way up to 5.67 BB/9 in his 46 innings of work in 2013. With all that happening his advanced stats got better, the BABIP went down to .288, and his FIP went down to 4.47, more strikeouts, more walks, but less long balls.
With only 65+ professional innings under his belt Blackburn took his talents to Kane County for the 2014 season, and broke out. Blackburn was a key cog in one of the best minor league teams that I’ve ever seen, as well as one of the best rotations. The command came roaring back, Blackburn could put the ball where he wanted without hesitation again. The strikeouts went back to 2012 levels, but the walk rate plummeted to 2.38 per nine innings, the FIP followed suit, dropping to 3.84, a career best. The most impressive thing about Blackburn was his ability to bounce back from a year in which he probably learned a lot about himself as a pitcher. As Jonathan Mayo points out in his 2015 prospect rankings (Blackburn 15th in Cubs system), Blackburn probably has the best combo of stuff and feel in the system. He knows how to pitch, kind of like Kyle Hendricks, and has the same type of ground ball stuff but with a little more consistent velocity. Expect Blackburn to get time at High-A Myrtle Beach this year, and possibly Double-A Tennessee. I’m excited about the type of pitcher, and person that Pauly is, you should be too.
Jim Callis, formerly of Baseball America, and currently of MLB.com appeared on the David Kaplan Show on Tuesday night (Listen to the whole interview here) and couldn’t say more good things about the Cubs system, specifically their bats. During the interview, Callis said that he can’t remember a minor league system having four high level position players all at once. Callis has been around a long time, and is an expert when it comes to minor league baseball, and Major League baseball prospects, so hearing that should get a lot of people excited.
Many Cubs fans have this notion that Javier Baez is the best all around player in the history of ever, while I like that enthusiasm, he is just as bad defensively as Castro. Fans thinking Baez will supplant Castro at short could be mistaken and Callis touched on that as well. He thinks Baez can be an okay short-stop but a great third baseman. The same thought was shared in regards to Bryant he can be an okay third baseman, or a great right fielder. Bottom line, guys are going switch positions and most likely play wherever allows their bat to get in the lineup.
When asked which Cubs prospect would be the one that Callis trades for pitching he responded with Jorge Soler. Some scouts feel that Soler has not given 100% effort during his time in the minor leagues. I think I can agree, but I can also see why they could be saying tha. Soler is being paid like a major league ballplayer, and wouldn’t be surprised if he’s becoming disinterested with the Minor League lifestyle, competition, etc. I don’t think that Soler is lazy but I understand what Callis is saying, the effort supposedly isn’t there and could translate to different levels so the Cubs could trade him for arms.
Finally, Kaplan asked Callis about when the Cubs will contend, and when will we stop hearing about the Cubs prospects and hear more about winning at the Major League level? Callis agreed that this upcoming season could be pretty ugly, but you never know when you have a young team. The middle to end of 2014 is when we will start seeing some of these prized prospects hit the North Side and by 2016 he feels the Cubs can become legit contenders. He doesn’t rule out 2015 necessarily and he thinks the 2015 team is when the Cubs start becoming an “interesting” ball club, that’s usually a good thing. Spring training can’t get here soon enough.
Last night MLB Network aired a special to unveil the MLB.com top 100 prospects for 2014, and the Cubs were all over that list. It was fun listening to the likes of Jim Callis, and Jonathan Mayo gush about how many good, young players the Cubs have waiting in the wings. A total of seven players graced the list, here is a breakdown of each player, and some analysis.
** Players are graded on a 20-80 scale for future tools — 20-30 is well below average, 40 is below average, 50 is average, 60 is above average and 70-80 is well above average (MLB.com/Prospects rating scale)
#100 – Right handed pitcher, Pierce Johnson (22 years old)
Scouting Grades: Fastball: 60 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 55 | Overall: 55
Johnson was drafted in the supplemental round of the 2012 MLB Draft, 43rd overall by the Cubs. 2013 was Johnson’s first full professional season, and it was impressive. Johnson pitched over two levels and actually found more success with Daytona which was the higher level. Overall for 2013 Johnson went 11-6 with a 2.74 ERA while starting 21 games and appearing in 23. In 118.1 innings Johnson only allowed 109 hits, 5 home runs (5!), while walking 43 and striking out 124. I mentioned more success at Daytona, with the D-Cubs, Johnson worked 48.2 innings allowing only one home run with a sparkling 2.22 ERA.
#89 – 2B/SS, Arismendy Alcantara (22 years old)
Scouting Grades: Hit: 55 | Power: 45 | Run: 60 | Arm: 60 | Field: 50 | Overall: 55
Alcantara seemingly came out of nowhere in 2013 but in reality the talent has always been there it was just a matter of everything coming together at once. With a brilliant 2013 season Alcantara cemented his status as the Cubs second baseman of the future, and will probably be seen on the North Side this upcoming season. Alcantara played all of 2013 with the Smokies at the double A level and really showcased his all around game. In just under 500 at bats Alcantara hit .271 with a .352 on base percentage and a .451 slugging percentage which was good for an .804 OPS. Couple those on base numbers with the 31 stolen bases he had and he becomes a legitimate threat at the top of the order. Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus says that Alcantara reminds him of Jose Reyes-lite, well, that works.
#49 – OF, Jorge Soler (21 years old)
Scouting Grades: Hit: 55 | Power: 65 | Run: 50 | Arm: 65 | Field: 55 | Overall: 60
Now we start getting into the meat and potatoes of the Cubs prospects, first up Jorge Soler. I’ve seen Soler play in person a number of times, and he is an impressive specimen. He looks more like a football player than a baseball player, but he makes it work. Injuries derailed his 2013 season as he was only able to get 210 at bats with the Daytona Cubs. Soler produced for the Minor League team of the year as he cracked 8 home runs, and had 35 RBI’s. Those numbers are down a bit, again he is still adjusting to the professional game, and is only 21. Jason Parks chimed in on Soler as well saying that his is slow to adjust, is the most likely of Cubs prospects to “miss” which I think makes sense given his raw ability, still a high ceiling though.
#42 – RHP, C.J. Edwards (22 years old)
Scouting Grades: Fastball: 65 | Curveball: 60 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 55 | Overall: 60
Oh, hello CJ Edwards. That’s right, after an amazing 2013 season, Edwards has vaulted past Jorge Soler on this list. Baseball Prospectus also had Edwards ranked as the #3 player in the Cubs organization, ahead of Soler, and Albert Almora. Edwards wasn’t even with the Cubs at this time last year, he was one of four, yes four players acquired from Texas in the Matt Garza deal. The 2013 season saw Edwards give up one home run, one, just one…. take that Pierce Johnson. For 2013 Edwards tossed 116.1 innings combined at the high A level for Texas and Chicago, he only gave up 76 hits. He finished with a 8-2 record and a 1.86 ERA while walking 41 and striking out 155, goodnight! Jason Parks doesn’t see Edwards with a huge ceiling but Jim Callis said that Edwards could be the top of the rotation guy the Cubs need.
#18 – OF, Albert Almora (19 years old)
Scouting Grades: Hit: 65 | Power: 55 | Run: 50 | Arm: 65 | Field: 75 | Overall: 60
When it’s all said and done Albert Almora might the favorite player of a lot of fans. While Almora doesn’t have any tools that jump off the page at you (except for his glove I guess) he plays well above them, that’s exactly what Jim Callis said last night. Almora is a baseball player, run through the wall, do whatever it takes to win, baseball player. Because of his 100% all the time playing style he suffered a number of injuries in 2013 which kind of disjointed his season. Almora spent all of 2013 at Kane County but only got 249 at bats due to said injuries, but he made the most of them. He hit .329 with 17 doubles, four triples, three homers, and 23 RBI’s. His slash numbers were even more impressive, he had a .379 on base percentage, and a .466 slugging percentage which was good for an .842 OPS. I think Almora will become more patient at the plate as he gets older but right now he’s fine, he walked 17 times last year and only struck out 30 times, expect to see Almora on the North Side in 2016.
#9 – 3B, Kris Bryant (22 years old)
Scouting Grades: Hit: 55 | Power: 70 | Run: 40 | Arm: 60 | Field: 50 | Overall: 65
Kris Bryant seems to be on the fast track, one reason is that he is far more advanced than the other Cubs prospects on this list, the other is he mashes the baseball. Bryant made it to three different levels in just 36 games, that’s ridiculous, he also hit at every level. Then he went on to the Arizona Fall League and destroyed the ball in earning accolades such as the MVP award. Bryant had 128 at bats in 2013 not counting the Arizona Fall League and his a combined .336 with 9 home runs, and 32 RBI’s, extrapolate that, good Lord. Walking is something that Bryant hasn’t done a lot of right now, but it’s hard to argue with the .390 on base percentage, .719 slugging percentage and 1.106 OPS. The numbers are eye-popping, and the Cubs aren’t shy about moving Bryant wherever he deserves to go, and many believe that could be as early as 2015. Given Bryant’s defensive ability and bat it’s not out of the question that he moves to right field to keep 3B open for Baez, either way the Cubs will find a spot for that bat.
#7 – SS, Javier Baez (21 years old)
Scouting Grades: Hit: 60 | Power: 70 | Run: 50 | Arm: 65 | Field: 50 | Overall: 65
If you’re not excited about Javier Baez, first off, where have you been, secondly, it’s about time you are. Baez destroy minor league baseball last year at both high A and double A. There wasn’t a more feared hitter in baseball, in 517 at bats Baez crushed 37 home runs, and had 111 RBI’s with a total of 75 extra-base hits. He has been burdened with high expectations and all he has done is create new ones which are even higher. Surveying the top prospect lists for 2014 the number seven ranking is going to be the “worst” for Baez. Jason Parks slots him at number four but said there really isn’t a good reason why he shouldn’t be number one, that’s in all of baseball. Many people are expecting Baez to make his Cubs debut this upcoming season, the plan right now is for him to start in triple A as Iowa’s shortstop. Moving forward, given Baez’s defensive issues he might move to 3B but again, that really has a lot to do with how other players develop as well.
Prospects are just that, a young player that has expectation or is projected to have some sort of impact at the Major League level. There really is no such thing as a sure thing in this game, and that goes for Cubs prospects as well. As good as these players are there is no guarantee that any or all of them will make it to the Cubs, and be an impact player like they are projected. That said, Cubs fans have had little to get excited about recently and this is definitely a list that you can not only get excited about but truly believe that there is some hope in the near future.
It’s not the end of the World, but it’s never good to report news of an injury to a top prospect. Javier Baez was removed from Saturday’s AFL game, and reports are that he will miss the remainder of the AFL season now with a possible broken left thumb, the tip of the thumb specifically. It’s been a long 2012 for Baez as he destroyed MWL pitching with the Peoria Chiefs, then struggled with the transition to the Daytona Cubs, then produced at a ridiculous rate for the Solar Sox in the AFL but saw his average drop off. In the grand scheme of things Baez will not miss much baseball, the only thing he will miss out on is some development time with the Solar Sox in Mesa. He should be all set to go in 2013, odds are that he will start the 2013 campaign with the Daytona Cubs.
Thanks for reading,
Thanks for reading,
– George w/ Mark’s Recap & Outlook
Congrats to both Logan Watkins and Nicholas Struck as they have been named Minor League Players of the Year for the Cubs organization. Logan is the actual “player” of the year, and Struck is the pitcher of the year, both guys had great seasons, and did so rather quietly. They should be known by now as they have some hardware backing their name now, he is more on their season via Carrie Muskat of Cubs.com.
Infielder Logan Watkins and right-handed pitcher Nick Struck were named the Cubs’ Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year, respectively. The two will be honored Monday at Wrigley Field. Watkins, 23, hit .281 with 93 runs scored, 20 doubles, 11 triples, nine home runs and 52 RBIs in 133 games for Double-A Tennessee. He led the Southern League in runs scored, was second in triples and walks (76) and was fourth in on-base percentage (.383). Originally selected in the 21st round of the 2008 Draft, Watkins owns a .285 batting average in 475 career Minor League games.
Struck, 22, went 14-10 with a 3.18 ERA in 28 games (26 starts) for Tennessee. He led the Southern League in victories, ranked third with 155 2/3 innings pitched and fourth in ERA. He led the club with 123 strikeouts, walked 44, and limited opposing hitters to a .238 batting average. From May 29 through the end of the season, Struck went 10-5 with a 2.29 ERA in 18 games (16 starts). All told, Struck allowed three or fewer earned runs in 20 of his 26 starts while he issued two or fewer walks in 21 starts. Chicago’s 39th round selection in the 2009 Draft, Struck is 32-27 with a 3.50 ERA in 84 career Minor League games, including 73 starts. He has struck out 330 batters while walking 134, and has surrendered 28 home runs in 431 2/3 innings pitched
I just completed Logan Watkins’ player card, just after he won the award, so I guess I will have to edit that. Nicholas Struck should be up soon, congrats to both guys, great season!
Thanks for reading,