Here it is, my take on the Cubs top-ten prospects at mid-season. Stuff in my personal life has delayed this by a few weeks, but I hope to have the time to do a ranking of the next ten sometime over the weekend, although that may end up as just a list with short commentary as part of a regular minor league wrap.
There's been a lot of talk about how down the Cubs Farm System is right now and I can't really disagree with that. There isn't a lot of depth there right now. But that doesn't mean that there is nothing to get excited about. I do like the top eight listed here quite a bit and after that, there are a lot of guys who could end up being good but that the odds are against them. And certainly there has been a great influx of talent into the Cubs system from the Pacific Rim that could turn around our system pretty quickly.
1. Josh Vitters 3B- 19 years old.: Peoria 70G.316/.351/.535 15 HR. Daytona 18G .225/.247/.310
The top prospect in the Cubs system has been awfully streaky this season. He went on a tear for Peoria in May in which for about two weeks he seemed to be going 3 for 4 with a home run every night. Then the league adjusted and Vitters cooled off for about three weeks before he was able to adjust and started hitting again and was promoted to Daytona. He’s struggling a bit in High-A, although his numbers there looked better before last night’s 0 for 6.
Vitters progress has been slower than we might have hoped, but he’s still very young and has demonstrated all the skills the Cubs thought they were getting when they made him the #3 pick in the draft. He remains the only blue-chip prospect in the system.
2. Starlin Castro SS 19 years old. Daytona .307/.339/.408 3HR. 19 SB
Castro is seven months younger than Josh Vitters, so it was a bit of a surprise when he was jumped over Boise and Peoria all the way to Daytona to start the season. He was the youngest player in the Florida State League at the start of the year, but he hasn’t been overmatched at all. He needs work on developing consistency defensively, especially with his throws, and could end up at 2B one day. He’ll also need to learn to draw some walks if he wants to be a major league leadoff hitter. Otherwise, the potential is there for Castro to be an all-star in the major leagues.
3. Andrew Cashner RHP 22 years old. Daytona 0-0 1.50 ERA 42 IP 15 BB 34 K. Tennessee 0-1 1.37 ERA 19.2 IP 5 BB 17K
The transition of Cashner from reliever to starter has been a slow one, but I have to admit that I might have been wrong thinking that his long-term future would be in the pen. Cashner spent the first half of the season recovering from off-season tendonitis and is still on an 80 pitch count, but he’s been dominating since his promotion to AA. Another very positive sign on Cashner is that he’s only given up one HR so far this season and only one last season as well. When he’s not striking opponents out, he’s keeping the ball on the ground. It is certainly possible to that Cashner will be starting games at Wrigley by the time the ivy blooms next summer.
4. Jay Jackson RHP 21 years old. Tennessee 5-4 3.38 ERA 80 IP 35K 75K
Jackson may not have quite as good stuff as Cashner, but his stuff is plenty good enough and he’s far more savvy on the mound that you would expect from someone who has only been pitching full-time for two years now. He combines a 90-92 fastball with a slider that can be completely nasty at times. He missed some time after getting hit in the leg with a comebacker, and he’s apparently been battling some personal issues in the past two weeks. He’s a bulldog on the mound in the mold of Carlos Zambrano (without the meltdowns) and should be a huge fan favorite if he has any success on the major league level.
5. Brett Jackson OF 20 years old. Boise 18G .333/.487/.433 1 HR 1 SB.
So far, the Cubs first round pick this season has been, well, different that what we were led to believe. His problem with plate discipline in college has been completely absent so far in Boise, as has his power. But it’s way too early to get a good handle on what type of player Jackson is going to be yet.
6. Jeff Samardzija RHP 24 years old. Iowa 5-3 3.72 ERA 67.2 IP 53K 20BB. Cubs 0-1 5.79 ERA 14IP 7BB 11K.
There’s not a lot I can say about Samardzija that you don’t already know from seeing him pitch in the majors. I believe the Cubs are hurting his development by shuttling him between the majors and the minors, the bullpen and the rotation. The Cubs need to decide what they are going to do with the Shark and stick with it.
7. Hak-Ju Lee SS 18 years old. Boise 30G .322/.388/.407 0 HR 13 SB.
So far, so good on Lee. He’s an exciting young prospect with blazing speed, a fantastic glove and the ability to hit to all fields and draw a walk at the plate. He needs to develop more consistency on the accuracy of his throws. He had Tommy John surgery last season, so that might still be bothering him. The only thing negative I can think of to say about him is that he’s young and a long way from the majors. A lot of things could still go wrong on him, but he’s got more potential than anyone in the system other than Vitters.
8. Chris Carpenter RHP 23 years old. Peoria 4-3 2.44 ERA 73.2 IP 33 BB 60K Daytona 2-1 1.71 ERA 21 IP 8BB 30K.
Carpenter is a type of pitcher the Cubs haven’t had a lot of luck with: a guy with first-round stuff but a sketchy injury history. Coming out of Kent State, Carpenter had already had Tommy John surgery and a second follow-up procedure the next season, which dropped him to the Cubs in the third round of the 2008 Draft. But so far, he’s been healthy and very good since turning pro. His health is still the biggest obstacle to him becoming a #2/#3 starter in the majors.
How cool would it be for him to face off against the Cardinals and the "other" Chris Carpenter?
9. Steve Clevenger C 23 years old. Tennessee 26G .364/443/532. I HR. Iowa 41G .269/.305/.331
For a guy who has only been catching for two season, Clevenger has taken to the "tools of ignorance" like a natural. He might never be a gold glover, but he’s apparently solid behind the plate with a good arm. He’s not likely to have the power that you want for a staring catcher, but he can hit for average and draw a walk. He should be a very good major league backup, but being a decent starter is not out of the question.
10. Dae-Eun Rhee RHP 20 years old. Has not pitched.
This is where the system falls off a cliff. I’m not saying that there aren’t guys I’ve ranked below here that can’t end up being quality major leaguers, I just think that after the top eight, everyone left has major question marks. So much so that I’m ranking Rhee at #10 despite the fact that he had Tommy John surgery last season and still hasn’t returned to the mound. But he was very good last season before going under the knife. He has three great pitches, a fastball, curve and splitter and was on the way to developing a nasty slider last year as well.
The Cubs have been pretty tightlipped about Rhee, preferring to let the young Korean phenom rehab out of the spotlight. All they will say is that his rehab is on-track and that he is likely to pitch sometime this season.