Cubs 5×5 2012 Prospect Rankings

If Theo Epstein hopes to become the ultimate curse buster, he and General Manager Jed Hoyer will need to build the Cubs from the ground up with a strong farm system. The team has infused the minor league system with talent through trade and the draft in the last 12 months. There is talent here, but most of it has warts of one form or another.

Cubs top 5 fantasy prospects

1- Anthony Rizzo, 1B

I wrote about Rizzo extensively after the Cubs acquired him through trade from the Padres, so instead of rehashing, I’ll direct you here.

2- Brett Jackson, OF

An argument could be made for Jackson ranking above Rizzo, and I wouldn’t put up much resistance as I nearly ranked him there myself. Jackson offers a solid balance of power and speed, and gets bonus points in fantasy leagues that distinguish between outfield positions (Jackson has been developed in centerfield but may end up needing to move to a corner down the line). The biggest fly in the ointment in his game is a questionable hit tool that has led to ugly strikeout rates. He draws walks at a high rate, which will help offset a below average batting average, but will need to continue to succeed in spite of his strikeouts if he hopes to win over his detractors.

3- Javier Baez, SS

After Baez, the list drops off a bit. Like Jackson, and argument could be made for slotting him atop this list. The most obvious is that he joined the Cubs as a prep shortstop selected in this past June’s amateur draft. Of course, to enjoy the full benefits of positional scarcity, he’ll have to remain at shortstop, and a number of scouting reports suggest he won’t. Those that peg him for a position switch have him moving to third base, so he’d still have a positional scarcity edge over Rizzo and Jackson. Baez calling card is his explosive bat that projects to generate plus batting average and home run totals. Those contributions would play at either shortstop or third base, and once he gets further professional experience he could leap to the top of this list.

4- Josh Vitters, 3B

The pretty swing that scouts fell in love with when the Cubs nabbed Vitters in the first round of the 2007 amateur draft remains pretty, but his failure to develop as expected is leaving him looking as much suspect as prospect. Vitters got time in the outfield in the Arizona Fall League, and has seen time at first base, leaving some questions as to whether he’ll remain at third base. Most scouting reports suggest he has improved his fielding at the hot corner greatly, so there is still hope he can stick. If he is forced to change positions, his fantasy value will plummet in the same fashion Grant Green’s did. Vitters free swinging approach has led to poor walk rates, and prevented his power from being on full display. He’s just 22, and played most of the year at the Double-A level as a 21 year old, so it’s probably a bit too early to say he is what he is. There is at least a non-zero chance he’ll become more selective. The ceiling looks lower these days, and less likely to be reached, but he’s not far from reaching the bigs and he has the upside of being a fantasy starter at a top heavy position.

5- Dillon Maples, SP

Lost in the shock surrounding prep outfielder Josh Bell signing with the Pirates as a second round selection was the Cubs signing 14th round prep arm Dillon Maples out a commitment to North Carolina. Maples has yet to throw a pitch as a professional, but has projectability written all over him. He’s 6-foot-2 and weighs 195 pounds and already pumps out fastballs sitting in the 92-96 mph range. Some premium velocity pitchers tend to throw “straight,” fastballs, but both Jim Callis of Baseball America and Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus gush about the movement on Maples heater. The combination of top notch velocity and movement makes it a plus offering. He also throws a plus curveball. Concerns over Maples development revolve around his lack of a third pitch (he’s learning a change-up), and a delivery that some think could lead to injury and control problems. He’s multiple years away, but a prospect worth monitoring nonetheless.

Top 5 in 2012

1- Brett Jackson, OF

Jackson could break camp with the team, but that will probably be dependent upon the Cubs finding a suitor for Alfonso Soriano (only after they eat a large chunk of his contract, so temper excitement Cubs fans). Even if he opens the year in Triple-A, he has little left to prove and will be up early in the summer. His high strikeout rate could lead to struggles initially. Jackson’s power and speed should play immediately though.

2- Anthony Rizzo, 1B

Don’t expect to see him right away. A strong showing in Triple-A Iowa would go a long way in earning a summertime promotion. Beyond playing well, he may need to rely on Bryan LaHair stinking up the joint. LaHair is a 29 year old who has only played in 65 games at the major league level, so that may not be a problem.

3- Wellington Castillo, C

Castillo has gotten a cup of coffee in the bigs each of the last two years, and should serve as Geovany Soto’s backup this coming season. Castillo could develop into a low average plus power catching option. His strong arm makes him a solid real life prospect, something that could make him the Cubs catcher of the future and Soto expendable. Castillo won’t make an impact in one catcher leagues, but if he gets regular playing time due to injury or trade (either of himself or Soto), he could outproduce the dregs owned in two catcher formats.

4- Josh Vitters, 3B

A good start to the year in Triple-A and struggles from Ian Stewart at the major league level could open the door to Vitters this season.

5- Chris Carpenter, RP

Now a full time reliever, Carpenter has the type of power pitcher arsenal that plays well at the end of ball games. Sean Marshall is now a member of the Reds, and Carlos Marmol has tread the fine line of being effectively wild, and just downright wild. If Marmol loses his grip on the closer gig, Carpenter could be a dark horse for saves. He was much better in the Arizona Fall League than his was during the minor league season, so hopefully he can parlay that into leaving spring training with the parent club. Slightly behind Carpenter is fellow prospect Rafael Dolis. Dolis has missed fewer bats, but has a power arsenal of his own. Keep tabs on him as well.