On the Farm: Position Players - KMOV.com

On the Farm: Position Players

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(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) By Christian Petersen (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) By Christian Petersen

 ST. LOUIS, Mo. (Cubs Tracker)-- Well, we've waited a long time for this.  For those of you who haven't already jumped off a building, the seeds have been planted, and the Boys of Summer are coming.  It's just a matter of when.  The names below do not even count Javier Baez and Jorge Soler who have already arrived.  And names like Schwarber, Russell, Bryant, McKinney and Almora easily put the Cubs farm system among baseball's best right now.  Some will make it to the bigs.  Some will be traded.  Others will inevitably fall by the wayside.  But if hope springs eternal, and it always does for Cub fans, no system in baseball has as many high ceiling position prospects on the cusp as the Cubs do right now.  Here is a position by position breakdown of the players who can someday soon make a big difference in the lives of Cub fans.

1.  Kyle Schwarber. 21, 6-1, and a whopping 235 of serious baseball mashing.  In what was supposed to be a three player draft last year, the Cubs had the 4th pick.  They may have knocked it out of the park with Schwarber.  Simply, he is already a tremendous hitter, especially for average.  In a half season last year, Schwarber hit .344, clubbed 18 homers, knocked in 53 and scored 55 more.  Oh, and he has major on-base skills, coming in at a .430 OBP as a rookie.  There is much debate about whether he projects as a catcher or outfielder.  The bat will get him to the majors quicker, and that means the outfield.  He will need time to develop as a catcher.  But a catcher that hits like this projects as an all-star, especially as a left handed bat.  He is easily a top 3 catching prospect in all of baseball right now.  Two time first team All-American at Indiana, his path flew thru Boise, Kane County and Daytona last year, pounding the ball at every stop.  He should hit AA and AAA this year, and if he continues to rake, should be poised for a shot at Wrigley in 2016. The Cubs would certainly prefer him behind the plate, but if his bat is major league ready before his glove, he'll be playing left field in Wrigley, and he will be batting in the middle of the lineup joining Rizzo,on the left side, with Soler and Bryant on the right. (please let me live long enough ot see this.)  But Schwarber is touted as an extremely hard worker, so I would not sell him short at a catcher, even if it pushes him back to 2017.  Hell, we've already waited 107 years.
2.  Victor Caratini.  21, 6-0, 195, from Puerto Rico.  Braves 2nd round pick in 2013, came over in the James Russell deal at the deadline.  The Cubs liked him in the draft.  Switch hitter, he was easily a Braves top 10 prospect.  Played mostly third base in college, and like Schwarber, is still learning behind the plate.  Unlike Schwaber, his bat won't rush any decision.  He shows gap power with a good eye for the strike zone.  He profiles as a guy with 15 homer potential, and probably starts the year at Kane County.  The Cubs went from having no catching prospects in the system to two solid prospects in a month.  He gives the Cubs a defensive option as Chicago awaits the development and position for Schwarber. Learning the catcher position in the minors is a long haul, and Caratini figures to need at least two more years in the minors before he's on the Cubs radar.
1. Dan Vogelbach.  22. 6-0, 250.  that's right.....250.  Think Prince Fielder.  Vogelbach has tremendous power, and for a big man, he doesn't strike out much.  He's stuck behind Rizzo, so he projects right now as a trade piece, and a possible DH.  Short, compact swing, with a good eye for the zone.  But he's not an all or nothing power hitter, as he puts the ball in play.  Not a quick defensive player, and clearly he needs to keep the weight down.  But as offense continues to decline in baseball, Vogelbach has a chance to be a premiere left handed bat in the middle of the lineup.  Hard-nosed, aggressive  player, he's made points with the organization with his daily approach.  Projects as both plus contact and plus power in the bigs.  OBP last year was .375.  He had a better year in 2013 than 2014, but he also went thru weight loss issues last year.  Everybody thinks Vogelbach will hit.  The problem is finding a team that needs a first baseman, because Rizzo isn't going anywhere, and Vogelbach will not be running around in the outfield anytime soon.  But make no mistake, he's a top 10 minor league first baseman.  He will get a shot somewhere.  He will likely start in AA, and projects to be a big leaguer in 2017.
1.  Gioskar Amaya.  22, 5-11, 175.  I think Amaya is the longest shot on this list to make the majors.  From Venezuela.  It would have been great to hear Harry Caray pronounce Gioskar.  Amaya can play all over the infield with a little pop, and swipe a few bags.  Like Vogelbach, his path to Wrigley is blocked by both Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara.  He would appear to be another trade chip for Theo at the deadline.  Should start the year at Tennessee.  Amaya has well rounded skills, but nothing that stands out.  He projects as a big league utility player at this point.  But those paths to the majors don't take long, and every team needs one.  He's probably two or three years away from getting a chance somewhere.
1.  Addison Russell.  21, 6-0, 195.  11th overall pick in 2012 out of high school in Florida.  By every account, a top 10 prospect in all of baseball.  You add in his age, and his position, and it puts Russell in any discussion at the top of the prospect list.  Leg injury in 2014 stopped his running game, but he did everything else.  Tremendous contact hitter with a fast, lively bat and a great eye.  Defensively, great range at short with a plus arm.  He made only two errors last year.  Simply, Russell is an impact player playing a premium position. His ceiling is a middle of the order, all-star shortstop.  Most scouts consider him a better defensive player than both Starlin Castro and Javier Baez who stand in front of him.  This is a player that can be a franchise changer, and every team will ask for him first in any trade the Cubs try to make in July.  He will start the season in Iowa, and anything is possible from there.  Along with Kris Bryant, Russell gives the Cubs two of the game’s most dynamic minor league prospects.  Russell's timetable is a little blurry.  He needs to prove himself at AAA, and there is a log jam of young talent blocking his path to Wrigley.  Russell can force the issue, and make things really interesting for Theo.  Best guess?  When he's ready he's the Cubs shortstop going forward.
2.  Gleyber Torres. 18, 6-1, 175, from Venezuela.  Signed by the Cubs two years ago in the international pool at 16, Torres was considered the best young player in Venezuela.  He's very polished for a teenager, and has a chance to cover five tools, without huge upside anywhere.  Because of all the shortstop talent in front of him, Torres will get time at both second and third base.  International young players are a long way from the majors, and Torres probably projects somewhere around 2018 at best.  Even then, he would only be 21.  He's another athletic player in the middle of the field for the Cubs.  Described by everyone who has seen him as a natural athlete, he's always played with older kids.  The Cubs were committed to making a splash in the international market in 2013, and they put their big money on Torres.  We just won't know for a long time, but he seems to have a big chance.
1.  Kris Bryant, 23, 6-5, 215, the end all to all Cubs prospects.  2013 1st round pick is a monster masher that is as good a prospect as there is in baseball.  Has absolutely destroyed every level he's played at, to the tune of .327/.428/52/142 over 172 minor league games, with an incredible 1.095 minor league OPS.  Oh, and he can also run.  He projects as a 30 homer, 20 base guy off the bat.  How many of those are on the planet?  None.  Not a single major leaguer accomplished that last year.  His time is right now, but to avoid super two status, Bryant probably won't not see Wrigley on opening day, but should be up by mid-April.  The minute he steps on the field, he projects to be a top 5 MLB third baseman.  We're talking about elite raw power.  If there is any issue with Bryant, it's strikeouts.  But he hits the ball to all fields, and adjusts quickly from slumps.  There has been a question of whether he can handle the hot corner.  But the Cubs corner outfield will get crowded if Schwarber heads to left.  Of course, Schwarber could catch, Bryant could move to left, Castro could move to third, and Russell could play short.  Hmmmmm.......... 
2.  Billy McKinney.  20, 6-1, 195, first round pick by the A's in 2013 out of high school, where he was considered the top high school hitter in the country.  Playing center now, but probably projects as a corner outfielder.  Very smooth swinging lefty.  He's not going to hit for a lot of power, but can cover 5 categories.  He projects to hit for both average and power, but with below-average speed and an average arm.  McKinney is not flashy, but he can really hit, with a very good batting eye, and a high on base profile  He should be one of the youngest players in AA this year.  Earliest estimated arrival would be three years out.  He projects as an outfielder than can play center or corners, maybe a 15-15 guy, pushing .300, with solid defense.  That's plenty good enough for the majors.
3. Albert Almora.  20, 6-2, 180.  Theo's first pick in 2012 out of high school in Florida.  He's the best defensive player in the system, and does it without lightning speed.  Draws raves from scouts for his patrolling of centerfield.  Almora has already advanced to AA, having been one of the youngest players in his league at every stop.  It would not be a surprise to see him on the fast track to Iowa later this summer.  He's still not an accomplished hitter, witness a low OPS in the minors, and there's a question of what his offensive upside will be.  Right now, he's a contact hitter who doesn't walk much.  It's likely he makes a lot of contact to hit at the top of the order, with stellar defense his calling card.  If he does make the bump to AAA this year, he will be on the radar in 2016, but 2017 is more likely. 
Finally, if the Cubs look to add pitchers to their major league roster at the deadline this year, the names above will surely be what other teams are asking.  Schwarber, Russell and Bryant won't be going anywhere, even with Russell's path to the majors blocked. But teams will ask.  Most likely, the Cubs will steer the conversation to McKinney and Almora, with the assumption that either Schwarber or Bryant wind up in left field.  After years of trading major league pieces in July for prospects, the shoe is now on the other foot for the Cubs.     
About the author......Bob Cyphers has 35 years experience as a journalist in newspaper, radio and television.  Sadly, he has even more experience as a die-hard, heartbroken, beaten down Cub fan. And although he promises that his beloved Cubs, as Ernie Banks predicted, would be "Surpreme in 2015," deep down Bob understands that life, and the Cubbies, offers no guarantees.

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