Every year when Baseball America puts out their Top 30 prospects list for each MLB club, they include a projected lineup of the team for four years in the future. They aren't meant to be a serious prediction of a future roster because they couldn't be. No one could predict trades or whom the team might draft the next year. But they are meant to combine the major and minor league rosters of each organization to get a better sense of where the organization's strengths and weaknesses lie. They're also meant to be fun and to give fans something to dream on.
But how accurate are those dreams? Looking back at Baseball America's 2012 book, they have their predictions of the Cubs' 2015 roster. Just to refresh your memory, this is Theo Epstein's first offseason in charge of the Cubs. Former general manager Jim Hendry had been fired at midseason right after completing his final draft season with the team. Epstein, along with GM Jed Hoyer and player development VP Jason McLeod, had just come aboard. The Cubs farm system had been hit badly by the Matt Garza trade and BA listed the Cubs top prospect as center fielder Brett Jackson.
With that background in mind, here's Baseball America's projected 2015 lineup for the Cubs, followed by a list of where those players actually spent 2015.
Catcher: Geovany Soto
First Base: Dan Vogelbach
Second Base: Zeke DeVoss
Third Base: Javier Baez
Shortstop: Starlin Castro
Left Field: Josh Vitters
Center Field: Matt Szczur
Right Field: Brett Jackson
#1 Starter: Matt Garza
#2 Starter: Andrew Cashner
#3 Starter: Trey McNutt
#4 Starter: Dillon Maples
#5 Starter: Dae-Eun Rhee
Closer: Carlos Marmol.
Let's look at those predictions one by one, shall we?
Geovany Soto: BA was right that Soto would catch for Chicago in 2015, they just got the wrong side of town. The Cubs traded Soto to the Rangers at the trade deadline in 2012 as part of Epstein's attempt to rebuild the system from the ground up. He's bounced around with several teams since then and just signed a free agent contract to play for the Angels in 2016.
Dan Vogelbach: Far from being the Cubs first baseman, Vogelbach spent all of 2015 playing for the Double-A Tennessee Smokies. The Cubs did add him to the 40-man roster this offseason, so he could still have a major league future.
Zeke DeVoss: DeVoss could draw a walk, but he never really could hit above short-season Boise. The Cubs released him in 2014, having never played above Double-A. After a short trial with the Athletics, DeVoss was out of baseball in 2015.
Starlin Castro: He had to move to second base late in the season, but otherwise BA got this one right.
Javier Baez: Baez spent most of the season in the minors and we're not really sure where the Cubs will find room for him defensively, but he did play 11 games at third base for the Cubs in 2015. BA gets at least partial credit for this one.
Josh Vitters: He never really did learn to wait for a good pitch. The Cubs let him leave as a free agent after 2014 and he was out of baseball in 2015 after not sticking with the Rockies in spring training.
Matt Szczur: Not the Cubs starting center fielder in 2015, but he did play 6 games there last season. He's proved to be more of a 5th outfielder and he probably played CF at the Des Moines airport more than anywhere else last season, but at least he was on the team.
Brett Jackson: Jackson never cut down on his strikeouts. The Cubs traded him to Arizona in 2014 and after a brief trial there, the Giants took him in the minor league rounds of the Rule 5 draft. After he played half a season in Triple-A Sacramento, the Giants released Jackson in July.
Matt Garza: The Cubs dealt Garza to Texas for Justin Grimm, Carl Edwards Jr. and Mike Olt in July 2013. After signing a four-year deal with the Brewers before the 2014 season, Milwaukee sent him home for the season early because he protested a move to the bullpen after posting an ERA over six as a starter.
Andrew Cashner: Epstein's first big move was to trade Cashner to the Padres for Anthony Rizzo. Cashner has struggled to stay on the mound with the Padres (as he did with the Cubs) but when he has, he's been a solid major league pitcher.
Trey McNutt: McNutt suffered a shoulder injury in 2013 that caused him to miss the better part of two seasons. His stuff never came back and the Cubs released him this past August.
Dillon Maples: The Cubs signed Maples away from a commitment to North Carolina for a whopping $2.5 million bonus in the summer of 2011, one of the last acts of Hendry's time as GM. Maples has never been able to consistently repeat his delivery and thus, has suffered massive control problems. He's never advanced above the low-A Midwest League. Still in the Cubs organization, he pitched 15 games in relief for South Bend this past season and had a 4.15 ERA. It was probably his best season as a professional.
Dae-Eun Rhee: The big Korean with the big changeup struggled with injury problems and his velocity was never good enough after Tommy John surgery in 2009 to get out hitters in the high minors. After reaching Iowa in 2014, he was allowed to leave for Japan in 2015 where he pitched for the Chiba Lotte Marines and had a 3.84 ERA in 119⅔ innings as both a starter and reliever.
Carlos Marmol: The Cubs traded Marmol to the Dodgers in July of 2013 after designating him for assignment. Since then he's signed with the Marlins, Reds and he pitched last season in the minors with the Indians. He's currently a free agent.
So three of the 14 players that Baseball America predicted would play for the Cubs in 2015 back in 2012 actually did play for the Cubs and only one of them, Castro, was a starter. (And even there, there were issues.) Two more, Vogelbach and Maples, are still in the organization.
Of course, there is no chance that BA could have predicted some of the Cubs starters. Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber were still in college in the winter of 2011-12. Addison Russell was in high school. Jorge Soler had just left Cuba and was in Haiti waiting for MLB to clear him to sign with a major league team.
Rather than use this as an example to bash Baseball America, it's better to use to reinforce the notion that the future is fluid. Sure, some of the players listed here as 2015 starters were pretty much listed by default because of a lack of depth in the Cubs minor league system after the 2011 season. But sometimes it's just a matter of plan A not working and the team moving on to plan B or plan C.
One thing I think we can all agree on now is that the future is a lot brighter now than it was four years ago.