In case you missed yesterday's installment of my top 20 prospects list, you can find it here, along with an introduction to the series.
By request, I'll list the players in "countdown" fashion today, starting with number 15 and working my way down to 11.
15. Dan Vogelbach 1B/DH. 6'0", 250 lbs. DOB: 12/17/92. 2nd Round (2011). Bishop Verot HS (FL)
Vogelbach is the same guy we’ve been talking about the past four years. He’s still a potential plus left-handed bat that can get on base and hit for power. The National League still doesn’t use the DH, which is still the only position he can play competently.
A superficial look at Vogelbach’s 2014 statistics might lead you think he’s dropped in the rankings because had a bad year. Actually, it was a pretty good one. Yes, he "only" hit .267 with 16 home runs over 479 plate appearances. But he was only 21 and the Florida State League is a tough place to hit. He walked 64 times leading to a .355 OBP. While he "only" hit 16 home runs, he hit 28 doubles which led to a .785 OPS, which was good enough for sixth in the league. Also, I can’t tell you how many singles Vogelbach hit that were line drives off the outfield wall. It was more than one, I know that. The 16 home runs was also good enough for sixth in the league.
Vogelbach has dropped more because the system is getting better and other guys have passed him by. Also, because it’s time to admit he’s not a first baseman.
It’s not like Vogelbach doesn’t care about his defense. It’s not like he doesn’t work hard. He does. From all accounts, he’s a natural team leader who leads not only with words but by example. But it’s just not working for him, even at first base. He just is not able to get down fast enough to make a play on a hard-hit ground ball. His stocky frame isn’t built to stretch and keep his foot on the bag to catch an errant throw. Billy Butler can’t play first base either and he’s had a nice major league career. Just not in the National League.
It’s going to be interesting to see what Vogelbach does in Tennessee. (Other than becoming a fan favorite there.) He’s going to go from a bad offensive environment to a pretty good one. But a good performance with the Smokies is likely to be his last as a Cub. The "sell by" date on Vogelbach is approaching fast.
14. Mark Zagunis. C. 6'0", 205 lbs. DOB: 02/05/93. 3rd Round (2014) Virginia Tech.
Last year, the Cubs drafted not one but two advanced hitting catchers out of college who are likely to have to move to a different position. Then they added Victor Caratini to their collection in trade from the Braves and who also may not be able to stick behind the plate. (Caratini didn’t make my top 20 but would have made the list if I took it out to 30.) Between Schwarber, Zagunis and Caratini, I think the Cubs are just hoping that one of them will be able to stick at catcher. In any case, maybe it’s a good thing that Miguel Montero is under contract for the next three seasons.
Zagunis is fairly new to catching and the Cubs had him spend more time in the outfield than behind the plate last season. But in any case, it's not his defense that has him ranked this high but his bat. In 57 games between Mesa, Boise and Kane County, Zagunis hit .288 with a .420 OBP. That’s right, he walked 42 times in 262 plate appearances while striking out an equal 42 times. Zagunis has a line drive stroke that probably won’t lend itself to a lot of power, but he should be able to post high batting averages. Combine that with his command of the strike zone and Zagunis could be an OBP machine in the majors.
Defensively, Zagunis has a lot of work to do before he can handle being a catcher in the majors. Even in college, Virginia Tech played him more as a corner outfielder than they did behind the plate.
But beyond that, Zagunis may have Craig Biggio’s problem. Zagunis may just be too good an athlete to risk leaving him behind the plate. Last season he stole 16 bases in 18 attempts and his speed is at least above-average and is likely better than that. Offensively, Zagunis profiles as an ideal leadoff hitter, and do you really want to put all the wear and tear of catching on the legs of a player like that? Luckily he profiles as a solid defensive corner outfielder, at either position.
Zagunis could start the season at Myrtle Beach or South Bend, depending on how hard the Cubs want to push him. I'd put him in Myrtle Beach.
13. Jake Stinnett RHP. 6'4", 202 lbs. DOB: 04/25/92. 2nd Round (2014) Maryland.
The Cubs second-round pick as a senior out of Maryland last season is relatively new to pitching, having not converted to the mound until his junior year. It was a wise decision, not only because he can’t hit, but because he’s got a mid-90s fastball. He can even touch 97 mph when he needs something extra.
As you might expect from a recent convert to pitching, his secondary pitches are behind his fastball. His slider is a work in progress but it should be at least average. Maybe it gets to be better than that. He’s got a change and he’ll have to work on that too if he’s going to be a starter. He does have a starter’s body as he’s listed at 6’4" and 202 and he uses that size to get a good sinking action on his fastball.
I’m pretty much working off of Stinnett’s college resume here because he didn’t pitch much for the Cubs last season, throwing only 11 innings. He got a late start because of the college baseball season and then he lost six weeks when he suffered a freak injury in Mesa to a sensitive part of the male anatomy. He ended up having surgery. What a way to start your professional career.
Stinnett is exciting because there’s so little mileage on that arm and his fastball is already so advanced. If the Cubs committed to making him a reliever he could rocket through the system, but I imagine that they’ll take it slow and try to develop him as a starting pitcher. He did start his senior season at Maryland and he definitely has the stamina to do it. He will just need a pitch to keep major league hitters from timing his fastball the second and third time through the lineup.
I wouldn’t mind seeing Stinnett skip Low-A and go straight to Myrtle Beach to start the season, but I imagine the Cubs will be more conservative and put him in South Bend, at least to start the season. This Cubs front office isn't big on skipping levels in the minors. But Stinnett could move fast through the system anyway.
12. Jen-Ho Tseng. RHP. 6'1", 205 lbs. DOB:10/03/94. Int'l Free Agent (2013), Taiwan.
Tseng was the third international free agent that the Cubs signed in their 2013 splurge. The top international free agent out of Asia that year, Tseng’s stock had dropped precipitously after a poor showing in the World Baseball Classic. Not only were the results bad, his mechanics were all messed up and his velocity was down. The Cubs took a chance on him anyway and the gamble seems to have paid off. Tseng righted himself and now looks a lot more like the promising 17-year-old and not the disappointing 18-year-old.
Tseng had extensive international experience with his native Chinese Taipei team, so the Cubs took a chance on the 19-year-old last season and put him out in Kane County to make his professional debut.. The gamble paid off as Tseng posted a 6-1 record with a 2.40 ERA over 19 appearances. Over 105 innings, he showed plus control, walking only 15 batters while striking out 85.
Tseng’s off-speed stuff are his best weapons and his changeup has the potential to be a plus pitch. But the knock on him is that his fastball is just so-so, sitting in the 88-92 range. Many scouts also see don’t see Tseng adding much velocity. He’s already "filled out," so to speak, and there isn’t a lot of room on his 6’1" frame to add much more muscle.
Tseng does not have the upside of some of the other pitching prospects in the Cubs system. But if he can maintain his delivery and demonstrate the same kind of control he showed in the Midwest League as he moves up the ladder, he’ll be a major league pitcher. Tseng is a "high-floor" kind of prospect. Pitchers are always risky, but barring injury, it’s hard to imagine Tseng doing worse than having a decent career as a major league middle reliever. His upside is a back-of-the-rotation starter.
Tseng will pitch in Myrtle Beach this summer.
11. Eloy Jimenez. RF. 6'4", 205 lbs. DOB:11/27/96. Int'l Free Agent (2013), Dominican Republic.
Jimenez was the top player on the international free agent market in 2013 and the Cubs landed him for a $2.8 million bonus. (Gleyber Torres was the second or third best prospect, depending on whom you ask.) Jimenez got off to a fast start in rookie ball, hitting .293 with a .339 OBP and two home runs over the first 16 games in Mesa. But after that, the league adjusted to Jimenez and he failed to adapt, hitting only .185 with only one home run in the final 26 games.
Jimenez’s game is almost a carbon-copy of Jorge Soler’s. They’re both 6’4", although the older Soler has had more time to put on some muscle. Jimenez is still relatively thin. Like Soler, Jimenez profiles as a slugging right-handed right fielder with a solid arm and decent on-base skills. Most reports indicate that he can hit the ball to all fields.
(Just an aside on that. In these days of defensive shifts, it’s becoming more and more important for hitters to learn to go to all fields.)
Jimenez is still a long way away from the majors. It’s entirely possible that by the time Jimenez is ready to play in the majors (if he gets to that point), Soler could be getting close to free agency, nine-year contract and all. But Jimenez has a similar sky-high upside to Soler.
Jimenez is likely to start the season with Eugene in June.