We've gotten to part three of our look at the Cubs top 20 prospects. Remember, any stats are accurate through last Saturday and just click on the names to get the current statistics. Standard disclaimer, this list is no one's fault but my own.
11. Kyle Hendricks. RHP. Iowa Cubs. 23 years old.
The Good: Hendricks hasn't taken the mound for Iowa yet as I write this, but he's expected to pitch there soon after dominating the Southern League all season and earning the starting spot in their All-Star Game.
Hendricks's game is all about control and command. His four-seam fastball hits 92 on a good day, but normally sits around 89-91. His two-seamer is in the mid-to-upper 80s. He's got a cutter that he uses effectively and he's got a breaking ball and a changeup. None of these pitches grade out as plus, although the cutter has potential to get there eventually. But what makes Hendricks so special is that his control is excellent. He simply refuses to walk anyone. Over 126 innings this season, Hendricks has struck out a respectable 101 batters, but has only walked 26. He also only allowed three home runs in that span, as he can keep the ball down and hitters off-guard. He was completely unhittable at Smokies Park, as he posted a 0.68 ERA there. (The road ERA was very good at 3.13, which averaged out to a 1.85 ERA.) In a recent Baseball America poll of Southern League managers, he was voted as having the best control in the league.
The Bad: I've already told you the bad. He doesn't have a plus pitch, which leaves him no margin for error. The way he's pitching in the minors this year, he doesn't need a margin for error, but it remains to be seen whether that will carry forward to the Pacific Coast and National Leagues.
The Future: Guys can succeed with a profile like Hendricks's (Jason Vargas comes to mind), but many more fail than succeed. It will all come down to his control and command. If he can keep the ball down, hit his spots and throw strikes consistently, he'll be a major league starter, perhaps as soon as next season. Otherwise, he'll likely ride the Des Moines to Chicago shuttle, frustrating Cubs fans for years to come.
12. Christian Villanueva. 3B. Tennessee Smokies. R:R. 22 years old.
The Good: The Rangers sent Villanueva to the Cubs last year in the Ryan Dempster trade in part because he was blocked in the organization by Mike Olt. Now, he's blocked by Olt again, except that Olt isn't quite the prospect he was in 2012 and the Cubs don't have Adrian Beltre playing third in the majors.
Villanueva has always been praised for his superior defense at third base and plus makeup. The knock on him has always been a lack of power, but this season he has 14 home runs, which is two more than Olt has. He can hit to all fields with a line-drive stroke.
The Bad: Villanueva has been terribly streaky this season, having great months in May and July and struggling in April and June. The increase in power has come at the cost of some batting average, which has dipped to a career low .264. He strikes out a fair amount, which will always keep his average down and he doesn't walk enough to make up for it on that end. The season, his OBP is only .319. His speed is below average, although his baseball intelligence allows him to steal bases from time to time.
The Future: The Cubs are getting as many third base prospects as possible in hopes that one of them seizes the position. Villanueva will be in the mix there, but it seems terribly unlikely that he's going to be in Chicago on opening day next year. That may mean a trip back to Tennessee, if Olt is still blocking him in Iowa.
13. Jeimer Candelario. 3B. Kane County Cougars. B:R. 19 years old.
The Good: He's a switch-hitting third baseman in the Midwest League at 19 years old. I'm not sure how much more I need to say. Candelario has shown an advanced approach at the plate for someone so young, drawing a lot of walks and not striking out too much. He has a nice line-drive stroke and can hit to all fields. His power isn't there yet, but the potential is there to be a 20 home run guy in the majors. He's gotten better every month this season. I'm not going to criticize his .255 batting average because he is 19 year-old in the Midwest League. Just surviving the league at that age is a plus. He's got 30 doubles already, and that's excellent.
The Bad: While some think he can stick at third base, I think a move to left field or first base is inevitable, and his bat just won't play as well there. He's pretty slow and doesn't move well on the bases or the field. While most expect some of those doubles to turn into home runs, that's not guaranteed and he's not likely to be a big power hitter with his current swing.
The Future: Candelario's future with the Cubs is going to be determined by his ability to stick at third base. That position is wide open but first base is totally blocked. His youth, combined with his advanced plate discipline, are his biggest assets. But he's not likely to hit enough to be a regular in the majors at first base, at least for a championship club. He should play most or all of next season for Daytona.
The Good: I bet you forgot about him, didn’t you? Considering he hasn’t pitched since 2011, that’s understandable. At his best, before the injuries, Vizcaino had a fastball that sat at 95 mph and could hit 97. But that wasn’t even his out-pitch, as he had a curve ball that could bend the knees of even the best hitters. With two plus pitches and a changeup that could be at least serviceable, Vizcaino has #2 starter upside.
The Bad: As if. The odds of Vizcaino reaching that potential are close to nil after missing two seasons, one for Tommy John surgery and another for arthroscopic elbow surgery that cleaned up some of the problems that arose after the TJ surgery. Even if he makes a full recovery, the odds that his arm is going to be able to withstand the rigors of throwing 180 innings are pretty long. When he was healthy, his curve was so good that he overthrew it, putting even more strain on his elbow. He’ll have to cut back on the curve if he wants to stay healthy, but he can’t abandon it because it is his out pitch.
The Future: Even if he’s forced into the bullpen, which I expect will happen, Vizcaino has the potential to be a great closer. It seems unlikely that the Cubs would have him open the season with the major league team after having missed two full season with injury, but if he starts out well in Iowa next April, I expect him to be part of next season’s bullpen.
15. Alberto Cabrera. RHP. Iowa Cubs. 24 years old.
The Good: Cabrera started the year in the rotation for Tennessee after pitching out of the bullpen in the majors the final two months of 2012. There he succeeded with a 3.20 ERA over 18 starts. Over 112 innings, he struck out 107 and walked 39. That earned him a promotion to Iowa, in July, where he returned to the bullpen. I suspect that the stint in the rotation was to work on his secondary pitches. His changeup and hard slider are both potential plus pitches. He can hit 98mph on the fastball out of the bullpen and around 94 as a starter. The big issue with all three of his pitches has been consistency and control, and he seems to have made progress there in Tennessee. He got better every month of the season.
The Bad: While it's one thing to show improved consistency in Double-A, he's going to have to keep his composure and not fall back into bad habits as he faces better hitters. His future is almost certainly in the bullpen, probably in a 7th or 8th inning role, which limits his upside.
The Future: Cabrera could be back in the bullpen at Wrigley Field as soon as the brain trust thinks he's ready. That could be anytime now and will almost certainly be on September 1 when the rosters expand.