Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Top Prospects

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Maestri in the news

Quick Links: Cubs Top Prospects #20 Alex Maestri
Hardball - Keep an Eye on Maestri

Alex Maestri is in the news, and while I normally wouldn't give too much consideration to something written by Phil Rogers (who I am convinced will say stupid things rather than say nothing at all), I thought I'd mention it here too.

Maestri was our #20 Prospect back in December.  I'm more convinced that he's rated that highly by us - and 29th overall in the Cubs organization by Baseball America - not because he's a bullet headed toward the big leagues, but instead because the Cubs farm system is extremely thin right now.

Anyway, Maestri pitched again for Italy against Venezuela recently, where he did extremely well, sitting down big leaguers like Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez, Jose Guillen, Cesar Izturis, and Endy Chavez between issuing a couple of walks.  Chances remain against him that Maestri will ever pitch completely enough to reach Chicago, especially since the Cubs appear intent on using him in relief this year (and we all know how hard it is for relievers to make the Major Leagues), but Rogers speculates that one great season might get Alex Maestri on Jim Hendry's promotional short list.  Maybe it's improbable, but it's not impossible. 

The Top 20 Cubs Prospects - #1 Jeff Samardzija

#1 Jeff Samardzija

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Prospect #1 Jeff Samardzija

I'm actually in the minority here, but I find it hard to contest Smardz being the top prospect in the organization, if only because he's been to the Majors where he enjoyed undeniable success.

The long-haired rock star-looking pitcher is perhaps the most celebrated 5th round selection ever.  I can't remember the last time a team held a press conference for a 5th round pick, but Samardzija got the coverage for two reasons: a) he's really good and b) he only fell that far because he made it pretty damned clear that he'd only play baseball for the Cubs.

In fact, Smardz signed what is essentially a 7-year, 16.5 million contract with the Cubs with a no-trade clause.  Maybe that's why they hurried him up through the system despite lukewarm success.  In fact, he has a career minor league ERA of 4.26, which some attribute to a lack of focus which he hasn't suffered from since his prolongued cup of coffee at the major league level this past season.

Scouting Report

The Shark brings the following to the table:

  • Throws a 2-seam fastball, 4-seam fastball, splitter, mixed in with a slider and a changeup.
  • Good K-rating at the ML level, but only average control
  • Heater goes up to 99mph, changeup falls in at 85ish.

Summary

Will he succeed?  Will he flop miserably?  It's hard to say.  But after 27.2 innings in which he had an ERA of 2.28 at the ML level, it seems likely that Smardz will be showcasing his talent in Chicago in 2009.  Personally, I'd like to see him start at Iowa until there's room for him to start in Chicago, but just maybe his fate is to be a talented setup man of the Farnsworth mold.  Time will tell, but so far, he's been good.

Rating: A
Odds of reaching the Majors =
...well, he's already there
Odds of becoming a successful player at the Major League Level = The Cubs win the World Series in 2009

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The Top 20 Cubs Prospects - #2 Josh Vitters

#2 Josh Vitters

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Prospect #2 Josh Vitters

Vitters is yet another Cubs prospect who was recently drafted with a ton of potential.  He was chosen 3rd in the 2007 draft, at the age of 17.  As a 17-year-old, Vitters played 14 games in Rookie and Low A ball, and he must've been feeling overwhelmed because his numbers were just the opposite - underwhelming.  then, in 2008, the youngster batted .328 at Boise, hitting 5 homeruns in 259 at bats.  He also had a small taste of Peoria, which is his likely starting point in 2009.

In terms of what he brings to the table, although he's yet to show it he has tremendous power potential.  He's also a hard worker - he started out defensively shaky at third, but in one full year he's worked hard enough to correct those problems and he should remain there throughout his development.  Like a lot of Cubs prospects, he doesn't draw a ton of walks, but contrary to what some might say players can learn discipline and there's time for him to be taught.

Scouting Report

  • Plus power potential.  Scouts compare his power ability with Aramis Ramirez, the Guy He Would Replace.
  • Good contact potential.  If he develops the way he should, he could be a .300 hitter at the major league level someday.  He doesn't strike out much.
  • Poor plate discipline.  Vitters needs to learn how to take more pitches.
  • Acceptable defensive skills at third.

Summary

At the age of 18, the Cubs have a lot of time to work with Vitters.  A lot of people rate him as the top prospect in the Cubs system, but for me he is too far away and too much can happen for him to be top ranked.  That said, 2011 or 2012 might be a fun season for Cub fans if he reaches his potential quickly.

Rating: A
Odds of reaching the Majors =
Winning at Roulette
Odds of becoming a successful player at the Major League Level = If he gets there, probably on par with the odds of the next Batman movie kicking some serious ass

This article brought to you by The Best Team Ever: A Novel About the 1907 Chicago Cubs.  Buy the book here and save $4

The Top 20 Cubs Prospects - #3 Welington Castillo

#3 Welington Castillo

Brought to you by The Best Team Ever: A Novel of America, Chicago, and the 1907 Chicago Cubs (read Kurt's review here, read Rob's review here, and buy the book for somebody for Christmas!)

Prospect #3 Welington Castillo

Let me see if I get this straight.  For the better part of 60 years, the Cubs were high and dry looking for a catcher.  They had a few blips here and there in Randy Hundley, Jody Davis, and Michael Barrett, but the reality of it is that the Cubs have had temporary solutions to the catcher's position for a long, long time.

Then, Geovany Soto rolls in and takes baseball by storm.  We're talking a guy who may be The Next Big Thing at catcher, not just on the Cubs but in baseball.  And what do the Cubs do in response?  They develop Welington Castillo - another catcher with great potential who falls in as the 3rd best prospect in the team's system right now.

Unlike Soto, Castillo doesn't drive the ball, but he is immensely gifted defensively, and he has a great reputation with his pitchers.  He threw out 37% of runners last year, and while he had his first taste of Iowa, he spent most of the year at AA where he batted .298 with an OBP of .362 while hitting 4 homers and driving in 24 RBI.

Scouting Report

More details about what Welly brings to the game:

  • Average power.  He hit 11 homeruns in 2007, but in 673 minor league at bats he only has 15.
  • Average contact.  Will never win a batting title in the Majors.
  • Minus discipline.  Only 43 walks in his 673 career at bats, but again, not a biggie as a catcher.
  • Plus defense.  Can handle the ball and the pitcher while behind the plate.

Summary

I'm pretty sure that Castillo is the guy that Colin cited as being a potential replacement for Henry Blanco as backup catcher.  It's not a bad idea, although it's probably a little too soon.  However, realistically Castillo's best value might be via the trade - if he becomes a capable major leaguer, he might have a lot of value somewhere.

Regardless, don't be shocked to see the 21-year-old make his debut with the Cubs toward the tail-end of 2009.  He's yet to prove himself at Iowa, but considering that defense reigns supreme for catchers anyway, Welington Castillo may be a solid lock to play in the Majors.

Rating: A-
Odds of reaching the Majors =
Me nicknaming him "Welly" and calling him that until it sticks
Odds of becoming a successful player at the Major League Level = Carlos Zambrano manages not to break a bat over his knee all year long

This article brought to you by The Best Team Ever: A Novel About the 1907 Chicago Cubs.  Buy the book here and save $4

The Top 20 Cubs Prospects - #4 Andrew Cashner

#4 Andrew Cashner

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Prospect #4 Andrew Cashner

A word describes Cashner's stuff: nasty.  A second word adds depth and detail: wild.  Cashner was the 19th overall pick in the 2008 draft, and he proceeded to take Nuke LaLoosh-like stuff with him to the minors.  I bet he even pulled up in a nice convertible.

In his first 20 minor league innings pitched, Cashner struck out 19, walked 23, and had an overall ERA of 5.85.  Pretty ugly.  And yet more than one expert agrees - he's got phenomenal stuff.  The question is, will the Cubs try him as a starter or reliever?  And can he overcome his wildness?

Scouting Report

Cashner's tools:

  • Plus plus slider.  Once he masters the control, it'll be a tremendous out pitch.
  • Should have a good K-Rating.
  • No control.  He's missing so much control that he is thinking about penning a book called "Dude, Where's My Control?"

Summary

Indications are that he will be fast-tracked to the Cubs as a reliever.  He almost certainly won't be ready to pitch in the Majors this year, but 2010 might be his landing date at Wrigley Field.  Oh - and he's another example of how the Cubs only minor league hopes right now come from newly drafted players.

Rating: A-
Odds of reaching the Majors =
Flip a coin
Odds of becoming a successful player at the Major League Level = Assuming he gets there ... on par with the likelihood of Blago being convicted for corruption

This article brought to you by The Best Team Ever: A Novel About the 1907 Chicago Cubs.  Buy the book here and save $4

The Top 20 Cubs Prospects - #5 Jay Jackson

#5 Jay Jackson

Brought to you by The Best Team Ever: A Novel of America, Chicago, and the 1907 Chicago Cubs (read Kurt's review here, read Rob's review here, and buy the book for somebody for Christmas!)

Prospect #5 Jay Jackson

Jackson is another example of a continuing trend which ultimately exemplifies how entirely crappy the Cubs farm system is.  Like Flaherty before him, Jackson was a product of the 2008 draft, albiet the 9th round.  On one hand it's great that the Cubs have so many fresh prospects in their system with tremendous potential, on the other hand it's probably not a good thing that the system depth is in fact very shallow, especially at the upper levels.

Anyway, Jackson came to Chicago from Furman University, where apparently a major is Awesome Pitching.  He shot through the Cubs system like a rocket in 2008, advancing up 3 levels in just a few months.  Overall, he pitched in 13 games, 5 started, and he went 4-2 with a 2.88 ERA.  In 50 innings of work, he struck out 72, walked 13, and he apparently battled 3 Kryptonian villains to a standstill before tricking them into sacrificing their powers.  Then he threw them down a pit.  I'm just saying - this guy is awesome.

Scouting Report

Jackson, incidentally, not only tosses the baseball with intensity and efficiency; he also carries a mighty club.  He hasn't hit for the Cubs since being drafted, but in 513 career college at bats, he's batting .304 with 23 homeruns, 115 RBI, and he's even got 39 BB and 26 steals.  But tools-wise, he brings to the table the following:

  • As a batter: plus power and speed, but minus contact and patience.  Jackson is right where he belongs on the pitcher's mound, but if he reaches Chicago as we have to think he will, then he may challenge Carlos for most dangerous pitcher with a baseball bat
  • Push control.  He doesn't throw too many walks at this point, but he will probably see his totals worsen with promotion.
  • Plus K-Rating.  A lot of talented pitchers strike out a lot of batters in the lower levels, but Jackson projects to have good k-ratings into the Majors.
  • Plus efficiency.  He gits 'er done.

Summary

Jackson is very likely to at least taste the Majors in the next 2 years.  He's a good pitcher with great stuff, oh and he was a Philosophy Major in college.  Chances are, he'll be starting the year in High A ball, and he's got a decent chance of finishing it in Iowa.  He's an exciting prospect in the system.

Rating: A-
Odds of reaching the Majors =
Terry Pratchett publishes another book before he is no longer capable of doing so.
Odds of becoming a successful player at the Major League Level = Andre Dawson becomes a Hall of Famer in 2009

This article brought to you by The Best Team Ever: A Novel About the 1907 Chicago Cubs.  Buy the book here and save $4

The Top 20 Cubs Prospects - #6 Ryan Flaherty

#6 Ryan Flaherty

Brought to you by The Best Team Ever: A Novel of America, Chicago, and the 1907 Chicago Cubs (read Kurt's review here, read Rob's review here, and buy the book for somebody for Christmas!)

Prospect #6 Ryan Flaherty

Flaherty was the Cubs top choice in the 2008 draft.  He responded to his first year at Boise by batting .297 in 219 at bats while hitting 8 homeruns, walking 24 times, and managing an OPS of .880.  Not bad.

Defensively, he's not as good, though.  Flaherty played shortstop for the Cubs this year, but it seems likely-if-not-inevitable that he will eventually move on over to another position.

The sad thing about the Cubs minor league system is that Flaherty appears to be the first "can't miss" prospect on the list.  Not in the sense that he's bound to be a superstar, but in the sense that barring some fluke loss of skill, he'll get to the majors and stay there for at least a little while.

Let's look at why ...

Scouting Report

Flaherty is as close to "can't miss" as any Cubs prospect comes because...

  • Plus power.  He should be capable of hitting 20+ homers a year someday.
  • Slightly above average speed.  10-15 steals might be reasonable for Flaherty.
  • Good contact.  It shouldn't be out of reach for Flaherty to hit the ball effectively at the major league level.
  • Plus patience.  This might be the first Cubs top selection to draw walks in our lifetimes.  And realizing that, we must now weep a mixture of sorrowful and joyful tears.

Summary

Mark 2011 on your calendars.  That will be the first time we see Flaherty play in a Cubs uniform, if only for 10-30 games.  Then, in 2012, the Flahertyolution will begin.  Hey, who knows, maybe we'll try to lock him up for an interview this year on GROTA, if only to bestow him with ridiculous amounts of non-gay man-love.

Rating: A-
Odds of reaching the Majors =
You making it to work/class/whatever on time the next time you go
Odds of becoming a successful player at the Major League Level = New J.D. Salinger material is someday published

This article brought to you by The Best Team Ever: A Novel About the 1907 Chicago Cubs.  Buy the book here and save $4

The Top 20 Cubs Prospects - #7 Tyler Covin

#7 Tyler Colvin

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Prospect #7 Tyler Colvin

Make or break describes Colvin effectively.  Another first round Cubs pick who is questionable at best, he'll be 23 most of next season, and it will take some persuasion to get him started in Iowa rather than Tennessee.  Colvin has now been a part of the Cubs system since 2006, and in that time his success level has been very hit and miss.

He's demonstrated good power - he averaged a homerun for every 28 at bats his first 3 stops in the minors, and in the process he also had a great batting average.  He batted .306 at Daytona last year and .291 in Tennessee.  The only problem was that he couldn't draw walks.

The weird thing is, the Cubs seemed to focus on getting his discipline improved, and he actually seemed to listen to them.  Colvin drew 15 walks in 492 at bats before this past season - he came close to tripling that total in 540 at bats in '08.  The only problem in 08 was that he lost his contact ability and dropped his power totals.

In his 540 at bats, Colvin batted .256 and averaged a homerun every 39 at bats.  It'll be interesting to see if he finally puts it together in '09.

Scouting Report

Should he put it all together, Colvin brings the following tools to the table:

  • Plus power, in theory.  The Cubs are hoping Colvin could turn into a 20-30 homerun hitter someday.
  • Plus speed.  Colvin hit 11 triples last year, and can steal bases when given the opportunity.
  • Push contact.  He'll need to get his stroke back while knowing when to let 'em pass in 09.
  • Diminutive discipline.  He worked to improve his plate discipline last year - but at what cost!!? - and he'll never make it in the show if he can't improve his ability to draw walks.

Summary

Colvin reminds me a lot of Corey Patterson, for many good reasons.  A first round pick with power and speed who walks about as often as Captain Pike after The Accident.

Colvin probably will play in Iowa this year.  It'll be interesting to see what happens - will he surge his way toward a Chicago appearance?  Will he fail and be another first round Cubs bust?  Oh, the questions!  The worry!

Rating: B+
Odds of reaching the Majors =
The same odds of Corey Patterson reaching the majors back before the start of the 2000 season.
Odds of becoming a successful player at the Major League Level = Whatever the odds are of Colvin no longer being perplexed by the apparent contradiction of walking and hitting at the same time!

This article brought to you by The Best Team Ever: A Novel About the 1907 Chicago Cubs.  Buy the book here and save $4

The Top 20 Cubs Prospects - #8 Dae-Eun Rhee

#8 Dae-Eun Rhee

Brought to you by The Best Team Ever: A Novel of America, Chicago, and the 1907 Chicago Cubs (read Kurt's review here, read Rob's review here, and buy the book for somebody for Christmas!)

Prospect #8 Dae-Eun Rhee

Can you imagine what it must be like to meet Dae-Eun Rhee?

You: Hi there, what's your name?
Him: Dae-Eun Rhee!
You: ...huh?

People must assume he's bitten off a chunk of his tongue or something.  Like our #9 prospect, Rhee is a Korean prospect.  But unlike Lee, Rhee has actually played some in the Cubs system.  The 19-year-old started 10 games for Sandberg's Peoria Chiefs last year, and he went 4-1 in 40 innings of work with 33 SO's, 16 BB's, and most impressively a 1.80 ERA.

In fact, there's nothing not to like about Rhee.  Except, erm, well, he had Tommy John this year.

Scouting Report

Rhee's bag includes the following goodies:

  • Mid 90's fastball, which theoretically will improve with his newly built Bionic Arm.
  • Plus curve which he has great control with.
  • Questionable mechanics.  Usually arm injuries stem from throwing the ball wrong.
  • Overall good control.

Summary

I find it concerning that such a young player would need surgery, but it shouldn't affect his development too badly.  Rhee will likely pitch in '09, and once he's back on track in 2010 he may even find himself at Wrigley Field.  Long-term, he may need to figure out something different regarding his mechanics, but the next 5 years should be very, very interesting for this poor tongue-bit elbow-surgeoned golden-armed bastard.

Rating: B+
Odds of reaching the Majors =
The Stanley Cup spends time in a strip club next year
Odds of becoming a successful player at the Major League Level = Kerry Wood one day pitches for the Cubs again.  ...sigh...

This article brought to you by The Best Team Ever: A Novel About the 1907 Chicago Cubs.  Buy the book here and save $4

The Top 20 Cubs Prospects - #9 Hak-Ju Lee

#9 Hak-Ju Lee

Brought to you by The Best Team Ever: A Novel of America, Chicago, and the 1907 Chicago Cubs (read Kurt's review here, read Rob's review here, and buy the book for somebody for Christmas!)

Prospect #9 Hak-Ju Lee

It's been a very long time since the Cubs had a "Hak" on their team.  The last one left quite a beer-swilling, woman-screwing, ball-crushing legacy.  Based on his photo, I'm not sure Lee will fill Hack Wilson's shoes, although he is reportedly taller and heavier than his reported 6'0 170 Ibs, and he's still a teenager.

The keyword here is "reportedly," because Lee hasn't really been seen much.  The Cubs found him in Korea, and they apparently believe he would've been a 1st round draft pick in the States.

Although the Cubs signed Lil' Hack - or would it be Big Hak, since he is taller than the Wilson of lore - back in the spring, they sent him to a baseball camp in Australia with the intent of assigning him to either a rookie league or Peoria.

Scouting Report

It's all very, very much guesswork at this point, but he apparently brings the following to the table:

  • Major League defensive skills in the body of a teenager.   He has a great arm at shortstop and good range.
  • Blazing speed.  He was clocked from home to first in 4 seconds last year.
  • That's all I got, but there is hope that as his frame fills, he'll develop into a slugger.

Rating: ???
Odds of reaching the Majors =
It's a mystery
Odds of becoming a successful player at the Major League Level = I SAID IT WAS A MYSTERY, ALREADY!  SHEESH!

This article brought to you by The Best Team Ever: A Novel About the 1907 Chicago Cubs.  Buy the book here and save $4

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