There are only two games today in the Cubs system, so I'm taking this opportunity to give you my complete top 30 prospects list. I've included a write-up for every player that I didn't cover in my review of the full season minor league teams. They're listed after the jump after the Smokies writeup.
Two come from behind wins today.
Behind Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo, the Iowa Cubs erased a 5-1 deficit in the sixth inning and rolled the Round Rock Express (Rangers), 6-5.
Starting pitcher Jay Jackson was strong through four innings, but the wheels came off in the fifth inning when he allowed four runs, all after two were out. Jackson's final line was 4.2 innings pitched with four runs on four hits. Three of the runs were earned. Jackson walked three, hit a batter and struck out two.
Jeff Beliveau tossed two solid innings of middle relief, allowing just one single. He struck out four.
Scott Maine pitched a perfect top of the ninth inning for the win. Maine did not have a strikeout.
Center fielder Brett Jackson ended the game with an RBI double in the bottom of the ninth inning that scored Matt Tolbert with the winning run. Jackson was 2 for 5 and also scored once.
Jackson's double probably would have meant nothing if not for the three-run home run in the eighth inning by first baseman Anthony Rizzo. It was Iowa's first home run this season. Rizzo was 1 for 4.
Left fielder Tony Campana went 3 for 4 with a double and a stolen base. He scored twice. Shortstop Luis Valbuena was 2 for 3 with a sac fly. He also scored once.
DH Adrian Cardenas had two doubles in a 2 for 4 afternoon.
The Tennessee Smokies choked the Chattanooga Lookouts (Dodgers), 7-4 to go 3-1 on the young season.
Both starting pitchers had a no-hitter going through four and a half innings, but Smokies starter Dae-Eun Rhee ran into trouble in the bottom of the fifth inning allowing one run and then three more in the sixth. Rhee's final line was 5.2 innings, allowing four runs on six hits. One of the four runs was unearned. He walked two and struck out five.
Ryan Searle blew the save when he allowed an inherited runner to score, but then pitched well and picked up the win. Searle had 2.1 innings of shutout baseball, allowing only one hit and one walk. He fanned two.
Kevin Rhoderick pitched a perfect ninth inning and got his first save of the season and second of his career. He did not have a strikeout.
The Smokies held without a hit for five innings by Lookouts starter Matt Magill, but Magill was pulled after five innings and the Smokies teed off on the Lookouts bullpen, scoring four in the sixth and three in the seventh. The big blow in the four-run sixth was a two-run triple by third baseman Matt Cerda. Cerda was 1 for 5 and scored once.
First baseman Justin Bour was 2 for 4 with a walk and two RBI. He also scored once. Second baseman Nate Samson was 2 for 3 with a walk and a run scored.
Both the Daytona Cubs and the Peoria Chiefs had the Easter holiday off.
My Top 30 Prospects:
1. Brett Jackson
2. Anthony Rizzo
3. Javier Baez
4. Matthew Szczur
5. Trey McNutt
6. Rafael Dolis
7. Marco Hernandez
8. Josh Vitters
9. Dillon Maples
10. Jae-Hoon Ha
11. Dae-Eun Rhee
12. Dan Vogelbach
13. Steve Clevenger
14. Dallas Beeler
15. Junior Lake
16. Welington Castillo
17. Ronald Torreyes
18. Jeimer Candelario
19. Logan Watkins
20. Zeke DeVoss
Prospects 21-30 in alphabetical order: Jeff Beliveau, Matthew Cerda, Geraldo Concepcion, Taiwan Easterling, Reggie Golden, Jose Rosario, Nick Struck, Ben Wells, Robert Whitenack and Tony Zych.
Javier Baez was the Cubs first round pick last season and was the best high school hitter in the draft. For now he's a shortstop, but most people expect that he'll have to move to second or third base as he moves up the minors. He certainly has the arm for third base. When he was drafted, I wrote a piece comparing him to Aramis Ramirez. Others haven't been as restrained as I have been and compared him to Hanley Ramirez or Gary Sheffield. Anyway, Baez barely played last season so everything I wrote in the piece linked to above still applies. Without question, Baez has more upside than any other player in the system. He was expected to start the season in Peoria, but he's still in extended spring training. Whether the Cubs are waiting for the weather to warm up in Peoria or they're just waiting until Boise starts, I couldn't say.
Rafael Dolis is up with the Cubs and many of you are already calling for him to take a bigger role in Cubs bullpen. Dolis throws hard, but his sinking fastball doesn't get a lot of swing and miss and he's more of a ground ball pitcher. He's had control problems which has held him back, but if he solves that he's a potential closer.
Dillon Maples fell to the Cubs in the 14th round last season because of concerns about his commitment to North Carolina, but the Cubs offered him $2.5 million and signed him. His fastball can hit as high as 96 mph and he's got a hammer curveball, but his mechanics scared off a lot of teams. The Cubs don't seem to be worried and he'll probably play in Boise this summer. He has top of the rotation upside if he can develop a changeup.
Dan Vogelbach was the Cubs second round pick last year and there's little doubt that he has light-tower power. He's drawn comparisons to Prince Fielder, both for his left-handed power and his massive size. The Cubs would like him to drop another 30 or 40 pounds (he already lost about 30 pounds in the months before the draft last season). If he can get into better shape without losing any power, he could be a top prospect.
Steve Clevenger is up with the Cubs as their backup catcher, and I've been touting him for years as a potential major leaguer. Sometimes I felt like his only fan. But Clevenger is a converted infielder who has really taken to catching and he's now pretty good defensively. Minor league pitchers in the Cubs system have liked throwing to him and he's been praised for his ability to handle a staff. He's a left-handed hitter without much power, but he knows how to get on-base through a single or a walk. If that's not what you're looking for in a backup catcher, your standards are too high.
Junior Lake is starting the season on the disabled list, but he should join Tennessee soon. There probably isn't a more controversial prospect in the Cubs system, as some people seem to think he's going to be a star and others thinking that he'll never make enough contact to make the majors. I'm afraid I fall more in the second group, but I am willing to admit that I could be mistaken. On the plus side for Lake is his very good speed and above average power. He's got the tools to be a good defensive shortstop, but for now he makes way too many mistakes out there. His arm is a cannon and his hard, but often unpredictable, throws to first base remind me of Shawon Dunston. Yes, it's that good.
Lake certainly has the tools to be a star, but his ability to make contact is a big question mark. Last season between Daytona and Tennessee, he struck out 109 times in 478 at-bats and only walked 19 times. That's actually progress for Lake, who struck out 138 times and walked only 18 times for Peoria in 2009. But if he can't make it as a hitter, the Cubs might want to consider making a pitcher out of him. That arm could make him a very effective relief pitcher.
Jeimer Candelario was the talk of the Dominican Summer League last season. He shows plus-plus hit tool and at at at least average power with the potential to be more. His hands and arm are good enough for third base now, but he's already big and slow at 18 years old and some wonder whether he'll have to move to first base in the future. Some have him ranked higher, but I really want to seen him hit in the States before I move him up any higher than this. He'll probably start in Mesa this season, but he could see Boise by the end of the season.
Geraldo Concepcion is the Cuban pitcher the Cubs signed this off-season. I don't know much about him, but when the Cubs signed him they said he had a 92 mph fastball with an excellent curve and a good changeup. Most outside observers think his upside is a back-of-the-rotation starter, but the Cubs seem to think he can be more than that.
Robert Whitenack would rank a lot higher on this list if he wasn't expected to miss most of the season recovering from Tommy John Surgery. Last season he dumped his knuckle-curve for a slider, which quickly became a plus pitch for him. He already had a strong changeup and his fast ball velocity has gone up into the low 90s. He's an extreme groundball pitcher who only allowed one home run in 61 innings last season before he went under the knife. Should he fully recover from surgery, he could still end up as a mid-rotation starer one day.