The minor league season has ended for most, if not all, players, so it’s time to look at each of the Cubs’ prospects and figure out where they should start next season and what to expect. Brett Jackson is not on this list because, while still technically a rookie, he will most certainly lose rookie eligibility for next season, as he has 100 of the 150 PAs needed to do so. I only wrote up the Top 10, as some of the later guys are harder to figure out.
1. Javier Baez, SS/3B
2. Jorge Soler, RF
3. Albert Almora, CF
4. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
5. Jeimer Candelario, 3B
6. Josh Vitters, 3B/OF
7. Christian Villanueva, 3B
8. Junior Lake, SS/3B
9. Arismendy Alcantara, SS
10. Daniel Vogelbach, 1B/DH
11. Jae-Hoon Ha, CF
12. Dillon Maples, RHP
13. Gioskar Amaya, 2B
14. Pierce Johnson, RHP
15. Matt Szczur, CF
16. Paul Blackburn, RHP
17. Duane Underwood, RHP
18. Robert Whitenack, RHP
19. Ben Wells, RHP
20. Alberto Cabrera, RHP
Javier Baez Finish 2012: High A Daytona / Start 2013: High A Daytona SS/3B
Baez had a fantastic season and should probably be the Cubs’ minor league player of the year. He trounced A-ball pitching and earned a promotion to High-A after Arismendy Alcantara went out for the season with an injury. Baez struggled in Daytona, which is why he should return there for his first full season assignment to start 2013. In Baez makes the adjustments and starts seeing breaking pitches better, he could finish the season in Double-A, meaning a call up to the Major Leagues could happen at any time. But that probably wouldn’t happen until 2014 at the earliest (if all goes well).
Why he’s better than Soler: Slightly bigger track record, near-elite hit and power tools, excellent and sustained performance in A.
Jorge Soler Class A Peoria / High A Daytona RF
Soler got his feet wet in Rookie ball and was swiftly assigned to A-ball, where he hit .338/.398/.513 with 3 HRs and 4 SB in 80 PAs. A promotion to High A might seem a little quick, but Soler will be 21 next season and seemed to handle Peoria pretty well in his short time there. He will probably spend most of the season in Daytona, but could earn a late promotion to Double-A. 2014 is probably wishful thinking for a Cubs debut, but it’s not out of reach.
Why he’s better than Almora: Better statistical season, older, better power potential.
Albert Almora Short Season Boise / Class A Peoria CF
Almora has had an interesting pro debut, walking twice in 140 at bats while hitting .321/.331/.464 between Short Season and Rookie ball. This is especially confusing since Almora was supposed to have a polished approach at the plate. It’s not time to panic just yet, since it is a small sample and his first pro “season,” but it is now on the radar. Almora should head to A-ball next year unless the Cubs want to ease him into pro ball and cut his season short. He could also go the Javier Baez route and start in A-ball late, but don’t be surprised if he starts in Short Season next year.
Why he’s better than Vizcaino: Elite prospect at premium position, healthier.
Arodys Vizcaino Major League DL / Triple A Iowa RHP
Vizcaino is a major league-ready reliever, but may need to start the season in Triple-A if the Cubs want to use him as a starter, which is what I suspect. They can manage his innings there and ease him into the role while he completes his come back from Tommy John surgery. He’s got big stuff, but there is no reason to rush him the major leagues.
Why he’s better than Candelario: Closer to the majors, possibly better ceiling.
Jeimer Candelario Short Season Boise / Class A Peoria 3B
Candelario made his stateside debut this year and did more than survive in Short Season ball, hitting .281/.345/.396 as an 18-year-old. Next year will be a big year for Candelario, whose performance in Peoria will set the tone as to what kind of prospect he is long-term. If the defense is solid and the power starts showing up more, he’ll keep his status near the top of the list, otherwise he may start sliding down a bit.
Why he’s better than Vitters: Younger, more development time, success at a young age, better plate discipline.
Josh Vitters Chicago Cubs / Triple A Iowa 3B
Vitters has been brutal in the Major Leagues thus far, hitting .081/.121/.161 in 66 PAs, but that hasn’t soured me on him. He’s still a former third-overall pick with a pretty swing and tools to work with, and his struggles seem to be more mental than physical. Doug Padilla of ESPN Chicago wrote about this, and it makes sense. Vitters will probably ride the bench the rest of the way, but will head back to Iowa next season and work on his game there. He could see a promotion back to the majors due to injury or if he forces the issue. He should be in a similar boat Anthony Rizzo was in this season.
Why he’s better than Villanueva: Closer to the majors, better hit and power tool.
Christian Villanueva High A Daytona / Double A Tennesseee 3B
Villanueva is a nice prospect with a solid glove and nice hitting ability, posting a .279/.353/.427 line with 14 HRs in 459 PAs. The power probably won’t increase too much and the glove may not be anything above average, but the player he is now would be more than acceptable at third. He’ll probably head to Double-A next season, where the baseball world will find out if he is for real or not. It’s hard to say what will happen with him, as the Cubs are loaded with possible third basemen.
Why he’s better than Lake: More polished player, better defense right now.
Junior Lake Double A Tennessee / Triple A Iowa SS/3B
Lake came into the season needing to take a big step and become more than a toolsy guy, and he’s done exactly that by hitting .279/.341/.432 and supposedly all-around offensive improvement. Even so, Lake will need to take another step forward next season at Triple A, as the standard of offense needed at third or an outfield corner is much higher than at short. If he can add to the power while keeping the average and OBP up, he should get a look with the Cubs by the end of the season. Defense is still a concern.
Why he’s better than Alcantara: Higher probability, closer to the majors, better overall tools.
Arismendy Alcantara High A Daytona / Double A Tennessee SS
Alcantara had a strong season for a shortstop, posting a .302/.339/.447 line before he got injured, which ended his season in mid-July. Even so, 331 at bats should be enough, and Baez will need to play short at High A, so Alcantara getting promoted to Double-A, where Junior Lake was playing short, makes sense. If he posts a strong line in Tennessee, he becomes a much more interesting prospect.
Why he’s better than Vogelbach: Plays at a premium position.
Dan Vogelbach Short Season A / Class A Peoria 1B/DH
Vogelbach is a big kid with big power and has done nothing but hit since starting in professional baseball. He has no secondary skills, and most scouts would probably write him up as a DH, so the bat is everything for Vogelbach. He hit .332/.410/.641 between stints at Rookie Ball and Short Season A and should start the season at A-ball, but don’t be surprised if he starts next season at High-A.
Why he’s better than Ha: Better hit and power tools which could be elite.