Remember that time that the Chicago Cubs won 97 games and weren’t even that good. Yeah…that was last year. Only, it wasn’t that they weren’t that good, it was more that they didn’t have their best players out there for the entire season. A full season of OF Kyle Schwarber and 3B Kris Bryant could be enough to get the team to 100 wins. Then, you have to factor in the addition of OF Jason Heyward, and this team is downright scary.
You don’t believe me? Just visit the 2016 Steamer projections over at Fangraphs.
Based on Steamer, the Cubs have three of the top 11 overall position players (based on WAR), as Bryant ranks 7th (5.6), with 1B Anthony Rizzo (5.1) and Heyward (4.8) coming in at 10th and 11th, respectively. If that wasn’t enough, RHP Jake Arrieta (5th, 5.2) and LHP Jon Lester (14th, 4.4) give the Cubs two of the top 15 most valuable starting pitchers in baseball.
With all of this top-tier talent, Fangraphs has the Cubs projected to lead MLB in wins, using their crystal ball to estimate that the lovable losers will earn 95 wins in 2016.
However, it isn’t just the top-tier talent that the Cubs possess. They also signed 2B Ben Zobrist to take over second base, trading 2B/SS Starlin Castro to the Yankees for RHP Adam Warren, who is can fill a role in the bullpen or the rotation, while opening up shortstop for SS Addison Russell, who turns 22 later this month and will offer improved defense at short and another player with a full season of production, as Russell spent a brief amount of time in the minors in 2015 – similar to Bryant. RHP John Lackey was also added to the rotation, adding another veteran arm to the rotation, solidifying that group for another possible postseason run. If Chicago keeps OF Jorge Soler, since he was rumored to be on the move for pitching earlier this winter, and actually have a full, healthy season out of him, that give the Cubs a 24-year-old who could blast 25 or more home runs from right field.
In 2016, the Chicago Cubs are capable of much, much more than they accomplished in 2016. After signing Heyward away from the division-rival St. Louis Cardinals, they are the front runners for the NL Central and the World Series championship. Sure, there are 162 games to play, health to maintain, and possible regression and decline for some of their veterans, but with so many young, gifted, and talent players on their roster, and continuing through the minors, it will be a new team dealing with a new curse, as the billy goat sacrifices will finally come to an end around Wrigley Field.
As we reach the All-Star break, the season has surpassed its halfway point, and we have a pretty good idea of how the league and teams stand. With so many teams contending, 26 of 30 teams are within eight games of a playoff spot, it should be an exciting finish to the 2015 season. However, individual talents continue to shine, with many surprising players atop statistical leaderboards. So, who are the halfway heroes of 2015?
He doesn’t have the .350 batting average or 1.034 OPS of Miguel Cabrera, but Trout is doing his thing once again in 2015, showcasing his ability to hit for power and produce for the Angels. Trout has combined with Albert Pujols to provide the Angels with 50 home runs and 106 RBI in the first half. While Trout isn’t running like he used to (just nine stolen bases), he continues to redefine what teams can expect out of their young talent. Trout, who doesn’t turn 24 until August 7, has already accumulated more WAR than long-time veterans like Victor Martinez, Ryan Zimmerman, Aramis Ramirez, and Alex Gordon. The sky continues to be the limit for this superstar.
Trout and Harper. Harper and Trout. They’ve always been linked as gifted, young talent, but this is the year that they’re both healthy and producing side-by-side. At 22, Harper has mutated into a powerful, muscular, athletic freak, who leads MLB with his .471 on-base percentage, .709 slugging percentage, 1.181 OPS, and 5.7 WAR. The Nationals will continue to be led by their young superstar, while hoping to get and keep Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth, Stephen Strasburg, and Ryan Zimmerman healthy and in their lineup. Even without them consistently around, Washington and Harper sit atop the NL East.
American League Cy Young: White Sox’ LHP Chris Sale
He doesn’t have the wins or ERA of Astros’ LHP Dallas Keuchel, but Sale has been the most dominant starter in the AL. Just a strong gust of wind from being blown halfway into Lake Michigan, the skinny southpaw has racked up an 11.78 K:9, 2.80 ERA (2.31 FIP), 0.94 WHIP, and .205 BAA. Chicago is in last place in the AL Central, but they are just five games out in the Wild Card and have enough pieces to figure things out, riding the left arm of their ace every fifth day.
With an ability to opt-out of his contract at the end of the season, Greinke chose an opportune time to become an unhittable wizard for the Dodgers. His 1.39 ERA is over a half-run better than the 2nd place A.J. Burnett (1.99 ERA), and he has 35.2 consecutive scoreless innings. His 0.84 WHIP, second to Washington RHP Max Scherzer (0.80), and .191 BAA, detail his dominance further. Can he catch Orel Hershiser‘s record for consecutive scoreless innings? We will see after the break!
He’s going to have a difficult time winning the award with his teammate, SS Carlos Correa, lurking in the end-of-year selection process. However, to this point, McCullers has been the most impressive AL rookie. His 2.16 ERA (2.72 FIP), 9.41 K:9, 1.10 WHIP, and .203 BAA are what have made the 21-year-old right-hander such a dynamic addition to the first place Astros’ rotation. Along with Keuchel, McCullers will try to fend off opposing batters down the stretch, firing his electric fastball and knockout punch slider along the way.
National League Rookie of the Year: Cubs’ 3B Kris Bryant
Bryant earned an All-Star bid after hitting .272/.380/.473 with 12 home runs and 50 RBI, as he takes his spot as Savior for the Cubs franchise. Along with first baseman Anthony Rizzo, Bryant will form a dynamic duo of mashing talent in the heart of the Chicago order, and, while the 96 strikeouts may say otherwise, he has proven that he isn’t overmatched by MLB pitching. Look for more of the same, as this 23-year-old continues to make adjustments and show his skills for the Wild Card-leading Cubbies.
American League Manager of the Year: Astros’ A.J. Hinch
This wasn’t the year that Sports Illustrated said that Houston was going to compete, but Hinch has led this group of young, talented players to the top of the American League West after winning just 70 games last season. The players play the game, so Hinch may not deserve all of the credit, but he seems to be pulling the right strings to this point in his brief managerial career. Can they continue at this pace? With Correa, McCullers, Jose Altuve, and Keuchel, they have a core of talent that many other teams are envious of, and they’ll eventually get George Springer back to make them that much more electric.
When you’ve been outscored by your opponents (297-305), even though your starting staff has a 3.45 ERA (7th in MLB), and your team is still above .500, you know that you’ve done a solid job. Terry Collins was given absolutely NOTHING for his everyday lineup this season, and with David Wright missing all but eight games of the season, you’d think that they’d struggle to stay afloat. However, the Mets are just three games back of Washington in the NL East. New York has an incredibly gifted group of young pitchers, as Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz (who will miss a month with a muscle tear after dominating in his first two starts), and Jacob deGrom share their rotation with fountain of youth eating Bartolo Colon, to give the club a chance to win each night. Collins gets what he can with the cards that he has been dealt, and he deserves a lot of credit for that.
Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks!
2015 Projected Record: 82-80 (2nd in NL Central, 14th in MLB)
Manager: Joe Maddon (1st season with Chicago, 781-729 in 11 seasons overall)
Wood posted an atrocious 5.03 ERA and 1.53 WHIP over 31 starts and 173.2 innings in 2014. He saw an increase in his walks (3.94 per nine) and a decrease in runners left on base (66.5 percent), both of which were career worsts. In addition to those numbers, Wood saw his strikeouts per nine reach career-high levels (7.57) and his home run per fly ball stayed below the league average (8.8 percent), so it wasn’t all bad; however, the highly inflated .320 BABIP, which was much higher than the career .278 BABIP. Wood doesn’t allow many home runs, he manages to keep the ball down (though, not at elite levels with a 33.2 percent ground ball rate), and he is entering his age-28 season, the supposed prime of his career, with only 738 major league innings on his arm. With a rapidly improving roster behind him and Jon Lester as a mentor, Wood is capable of an enormous, undervalued, and overlooked season.
All eyes will be on Kris Bryant whenever he is promoted from Triple-A, especially after his monstrous Spring Training, but Soler deserves just as much focus. The 6’4″ Cuban right fielder has a powerful swing and a solid approach at the plate. While he may never hit .300, he is more than capable of producing an on-base percentage over .370 in his first full season, as the 23-year-old sets himself up for tremendous opportunities to succeed. The biggest issue for Soler has been his inability to stay healthy, as the 2014 gave him the most plate appearances of his brief career when he reached 333 plate appearances over four levels, including 97 with Chicago. While everyone jumps at Bryant, do yourself a favor and grab Soler, who, if healthy, is likely to outproduce Bryant due to starting at the major league level on Day One.
Offseason Overview: The Cubs made several additions this winter. They added OF Dexter Fowler in a deal with Houston, 2B Tommy La Stella in a deal with Atlanta, re-signed RHP Jason Hammel, bought low on former All-Star catcher Miguel Montero, and, of course, made the huge splash in free agency by signing LHP Jon Lester. The Cubs made simple additions to improve their roster, teaming up the veterans with the superb group of young talent on hand. Now, Chicago has a more than capable leadoff hitter in Fowler (career .366 OBP) to set the stage for SS Starlin Castro, 1B Anthony Rizzo, Soler, and Montero in the meat of the order, with more help on the way if/when Bryant and Javier Baez are ready in the next month or so. Oh yeah…they got one of the best managers in baseball, as well.
The Verdict: To jump from 76-86 to 82-80 doesn’t seem like a big deal, but that would put the club in 2nd place in the division (based on PECOTA projections). This team is capable of a few more games than that, especially if they have consistency out of Rizzo, Castro, Fowler, and Soler. With utility-man Arismendy Alcantara filling a Ben Zobrist role, the Cubs have enough depth on the major league roster and within their system to overcome some injuries. Additionally, they have the talent to improve at mid-season, as 2014 MLB Draft pick Kyle Schwarber could be a highly-coveted bat at the deadline. This may not be the year, but the Cubs are on the rise, and they’ll be on the rise for the next several years.
Bryant is a mashing star in the making for the Cubs. He is an athletic player, and while there are questions about whether he can handle third defensively, there aren’t any questions about his ability to hit. He’ll be a monster producer for Theo and Co. for years to come. He doesn’t have anything left to prove in the minors, but he’ll likely spend some time in Triple-A to maintain his service time in Chicago.
Say what you’d like to about Buxton’s inability to stay on the field – it still doesn’t tell me that he’s lost any tools. However, if he has another lost season, it may be time to re-evaluate that view. Power, speed, and elite centerfield defense make him valuable in fantasy and real-life baseball. He has more tools than Lowe’s.
Correa, like Buxton, missed most of 2014 due to injury. He was having a monster season, and it doesn’t really matter that it was happening at Lancaster in the California League because he is capable of that type of production. It will be interesting to see if his injury leads to any loss of speed, but the large, powerful shortstop deserves the benefit of the doubt, much like Buxton, because of his gifts.
With Starlin Castro, Arismendy Alcantara, and Javier Baez already in the system, it was pretty shocking to see the Cubs acquire another elite middle infielder when they finally traded Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija to the Oakland Athletics. You can never have too much elite talent, and talent is talent, so it can play anywhere. Russell could be the long-term shortstop due to his ability to handle the position defensively, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him in Chicago around the same time that Bryant makes his debut for the Cubs.
Elite power makes Gallo a future star and the strikeouts make him a future star who strikes out a lot. There isn’t much to be concerned about here. In the hapless offensive era that MLB is currently enduring, power is power and teams are craving it. While a strikeout, as Moneyball showed, is a wasted at-bat, the potential production that Gallo offers is titillating. He’ll continue to rise through the ranks, and, like Bryant, questions about his long-term position don’t matter much due to the bat. He’ll have a spot somewhere.
Lindor doesn’t have the size and power that Correa offers, but his glove is what will make him most valuable to the Indians. That isn’t to say that he is clueless at the dish, though, as Lindor has solid gap power, a very advanced approach at the plate, and usable speed on the bases. He’s a perfect top-of-the-order option, and if he isn’t in Cleveland by June 15th, Chris Antonetti and Terry Francona are doing it wrong.
Kyle’s younger brother has all the makings of a studly offensive shortstop. He may grow out of the position, if he hasn’t already, but his impressive numbers would certainly make the Dodgers lineup that much more feared. It will be interesting to see how far the Dodgers go in negotiations with Hanley Ramirez with Seager waiting in the wings.
Another Twins’ prospect with a lost season, Sano missed all of 2014 due to Tommy John surgery. Sano will be 22 in 2015, and while he’ll need to work on timing and get the rust off, he should arrive sometime during the upcoming season. He is a powerful, right-handed bat, and with the Twins looking to head in a new direction after firing Ron Gardenhire, a quick promotion of their future would be pretty intriguing to their fans – but he needs to prove that he’s ready first.
Soler is an absolute monster. He has insane power and showcased it during his brief time in Chicago last season. He, like Buxton, just needs to stay on the field to reach his full potential. He should open the 2015 season as the Cubs starting right fielder, likely a favorite to win the NL Rookie of the Year award.
The training wheels were still on Giolito in 2014, but it’s likely a good thing that the Nationals are being so cautious because this kid is likely better than Stephen Strasburg ever was. Sure, he hasn’t reached the majors and he, like Strasburg, has already had elbow surgery, but he’s a huge kid with huge stuff, and he’s capable of dominating nightly. My guess is he starts the season in Double-A and will be up with Washington by July 1st. He’s breaking free of the chains and will show just how impressive he is.
Injuries and inconsistencies plagued Bradley in 2014. His walks were up significantly and they continue to be what holds him back from being an elite arm; however, I’ve said that before about people, namely Matt Harvey. He has the stuff…he just needs to harness it to reach his potential.
Urias should be a senior in high school in 2015…only he isn’t, as he will be in Double-A working on becoming a future elite arm for the Dodgers. His numbers are impressive, but then you see that he’s just 17 and has struck out 11.2 per nine over his first 142 innings and it becomes that much more eye-opening. He is mature beyond his years, mentally and with his stuff, and he’s a player to monitor due to his age, stuff, and insane ceiling.
I’m not buying his fall from grace in college. He could have been abused and he could have a poor attitude, but none of those things are going to change the fact that Rodon’s stuff is wicked. His slider is a 100 on a 70 point scale, so if he isn’t able to make it as a starter, he’ll be a dominant relief pitcher. People have questioned the future of other White Sox left-handers and their long-term roles in the past, and Chris Sale says that those people are dumb.
Do you think that this guy prays nightly for the Dodgers to trade him or another outfielder on their roster? If you didn’t think that he broke out as a star at some point in 2012 or 2013 in the minors, he showed up to Triple-A last year and showed more power (I know the league is notorious for it) and a better approach at the plate. He has power, speed, and he can play all three outfield positions. He would be a tremendous target for anyone trying to match-up with Andrew Friedman and the Dodgers in an offseason deal. He just needs a job to get things going.
Bundy lost all of the 2013 season to Tommy John surgery and he pitched well in his return last season, though he wasn’t nearly as dominant as he was in 2012. It’s all part of the process and he dealt with a lat muscle injury during the 2014 season, so he needs some time. He was handled much like Giolito was during his first full season (2012), but you can’t really save an arm that way – he needs to rebuild stamina and prove that he still has the stuff to be a future ace, which I’m banking on.
Gray has the task of becoming a star pitcher within the Rockies’ system, while maintaining a level of dominance once he reaches Coor’s Field. It won’t be easy, but he has the stuff to make it happen. His overall numbers weren’t eye-popping in 2014, but he stayed healthy and maintained the electricity on his fastball and slider, which are the keys to his ability to reach his ceiling. It will be interesting to see if the Rockies keep him away from Colorado Springs and return him to Double-A to start the 2015 season, as the PCL can be hellacious on the mental state of young pitchers.
“Thor” wasn’t alone in having injuries and being ineffective in the world of prospects in 2014, but it was still an underwhelming season. His strikeouts per nine fell and his walks rose a bit, but the most alarming item was how hittable he was. With his stuff, you’d expect more, but he was pitching in Triple-A at the age of 21, so he deserves a bit of a break. He’ll start back there in 2015 and show that he’s better than that, very quickly, and reach New York before the All-Star break.
Glasnow is his own worst enemy. He has only allowed FIVE hits per nine innings in his career, but it’s the 4.4 walks per nine that are worrisome. It stems from an electric fastball that he needs to control to become even better than the 1.94 ERA and 1.04 WHIP over 274 career innings have shown. He could be better than Gerrit Cole when all is said and done.
Stephenson took a step back in 2014 by allowing more walks and home runs than at any point in his career. He spent the whole season in Double-A and he’s still young enough to rebound, but the questions about the “straightness” of his fastball could be the reason that he was greeted so unforgivingly by his opponents. The Reds need to see an improvement due to the possible departures of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, and Aroldis Chapman to free agency after the 2015 season – someone needs to be in their rotation!
Stewart has incredible stuff, but, like many other Twins’ prospect, dealt with an injury in 2014. Stewart struggled with the dreaded “shoulder soreness” that cost him several starts, and the Twins will hope that he gets back on track in 2015 and can remain injury-free. An upper-90’s fastball was his calling card coming out of high school, and he’ll need to regain the strength in that shoulder to keep his stock this high (or higher).
A quick-rising arm out of Oklahoma State, Heaney was able to get to the Marlins within 24 months of being drafted. He has a fastball that can touch the mid-90’s and a very good slider. He likely won’t ever replace Jose Fernandez as the Marlins’ ace, but he can become a very useful arm right behind him in the rotation. A developing changeup is likely his key to success.
Harvey and Giolito were able to battle a couple of times during their time in the SAL in 2014, and Harvey was capable of matching him. If that doesn’t tell you what Harvey is capable of, I don’t know what will. He could easily be where Dylan Bundy is on this list, quite capable of becoming a better long-term option, but he, like so many others, was shut down due to an injury, as Harvey dealt with an elbow strain. If he can rebound from the arm injury, he’ll head to High-A and stay on the fast track to the majors.
Alfaro is a free-swinging, athletic catcher with very good power, and an even more powerful throwing arm. It wouldn’t be surprising for this young man to get comps to Ivan Rodriguez due to climbing the ranks in the Rangers system and being so capable on both sides of the dish, but he likely won’t be the hitter that “Pudge” was. That doesn’t make him any less worth some hype, though. He’ll likely spend some more time in Double-A before a quick promotion to Triple-A, but he won’t be up for good until 2016.
Norris finally reached his potential in 2014, and it led to the young left-hander pitching at four levels, including the majors. His strikeout rate was a career-best, and the walks were down, as were the hits. He really seemed to figure it out, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see Norris get a long, long look in spring training.
He doesn’t hit the upper-90’s, but Owens knows how to pitch. He can locate his pitches and keep hitters off-balance. While many would link him to Tom Glavine due to that, but it’s the awkward angle that seems to get the best of his opposition. As he continues to climb the ranks, you’ll need to watch to see if his stuff or his motion is what is the cause for the impressive totals to this point.
When the Chicago Cubs trade Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics last week, they gained a nice return, adding shortstop Addison Russell, outfielder Billy McKinney, right-handed pitcher Dan Straily, and a player to be named later. With the Cubs sitting at 39-52 entering play Friday, there was little reason for the club to hang onto Hammel, an impending free agent who wouldn’t be worth a qualifying offer, and Samardzija, who had another year of team-control but likely would have been very pricey in his final year of arbitration.
The Cubs added a 25-year-old starting pitcher in Straily who won’t be a free agent until after the 2018 season. While Straily struggled a bit this season, he has proven that he can get major league talent out, logging 157.1 innings for the A’s in 2013 while finishing 4th in AL Rookie of the Year voting. McKinney has been moved aggressively, jumping to High-A as a 19-year-old this season, and he has shown some nice power (though the California League could be responsible for some of that) and on-base skills considering that he is 3.7 years younger than others in his league. Both could be very interesting pieces for the Cubs down the line, with Straily likely to pitch at some point after the All-Star break in Chicago.
However, neither of those players possess the talent and potential of Addison Russell. Russell, who was recently ranked 4th among my mid-season top 50 prospect list, was drafted 11th overall in the 2012 MLB Draft, has moved quickly through the minors, jumping to Double-A in 2014 at the age of 20 (4.6 years younger than others in his league). Jason Parks, of Baseball Prospectus, said this about the Cubs’ new shortstop:
Addison Russell has the most well-rounded profile at the shortstop position in the minors, with above-average chops in the field (including double-plus hands), and impact potential with both the hit and power tools. Russell has lost half a season to injury, but could challenge for the top spot in the minors with a strong second half.
Russell has established himself as one of the best shortstop prospects in baseball and erased any concerns about his long-term future at the position. He has the hands, range and arm strength needed to make stunning plays in the field. Russell uses the whole field to hit, and his quick hands enable him to make consistent hard contact. He has surprising pop and could develop above-average power in the future. He isn’t a speedster, but he gets the most out of his solid speed, and he’s aggressive on the base paths.
Every time I’ve seen him play, he screams “Star”. He’s athletic with a great hit tool and bat speed that should produce 20 home runs. There’s also speed in his game and a 20/20 player at shortstop should be in the cards.
Russell’s trade to the Cubs has actually improved his prospect stock, as he’s more likely to stay at shortstop than future teammate Javier Baez and therefore ranked higher.
Beyond the Boxscore’s Daniel Schoenfeld recently focused on how the Cubs have utilized one-year deals the last two offseasons in acquiring middle-tier starting pitchers and moving them prior to the trade deadline:
They are incurring minimal risk to acquire high upside potential by focusing their efforts on finding players they consider undervalued by the market and signing them to fleeting deals at mid-range money. The Cubs thus take a relatively small gamble on assets that carry the upside of the prospect of being flipped in the three months before the deadline for far more value than they paid.
Indeed the Scott Feldman signing, which led to the deal with Baltimore last year for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop, and Hammel signing have worked out nicely if the Cubs are going to look at players as stocks, but when are they going to stop acquiring the wrong kind of talent for their never-ending push to bring a title to the “Windy City”?
For how great Russell could be, the Cubs have a few things stopping him from being great for them:
1. Starlin Castro, just 24 years old, who is signed through 2019 (with a $15 million team option for 2020 that has a $1 million buyout). From 2015 through 2019, Castro is guaranteed $43 million and he is a shortstop. While he struggled in 2013, Castro is now an All-Star for a third season, all before the age of 25.
2. Darwin Barney has struggled offensively since his rookie season (2011), which still wasn’t all that great (.666 OPS). However, the 28-year-old is an elite defensive second baseman, and he is under team-control through the 2016 season. The Gold Glover is making $2.3 million this season and he could be a non-tender candidate, but considering his slick fielding capabilities, he isn’t completely without value in today’s offensively starved game.
3. Javier Baez was the Cubs “other” shortstop of the future. Also blocked by Castro, Baez didn’t really profile as a shortstop due to his anti-Barney efforts on defense. Baez had 44 errors in 2013, but he has just 11 in 80 games to-date in 2014. Still, Baez has power and bat speed that could make him an elite, All-Star level talent at another position. He was rumored to be going to third base, but…
4. Kris Bryant could be the long-term option for the Cubs at the hot corner. While his defense could be very Miguel Cabrera-like, he does have some athleticism and he deserves an opportunity to stick at third. Like Baez, he could fit in another position, such as an outfield corner, but if both Baez and Bryant are unable to handle playing third defensively…
5. Jorge Soler could be left without a spot to play long-term, as he isn’t really an option in center, where Albert Almora is the long-term answer, and he can’t play the infield. Soler, like Baez, has immeasurable raw power, capable of monstrous offensive production. He profiles as a future All-Star in right field, but he just needs to stay on the field in order to reach that potential.
6. Somewhere along the way, Arismendy Alcantara, a second baseman who recently moved to the outfield in Triple-A, will also need to find a spot to play for Chicago. He could replace Barney as early as this year, considering his recent promotion, which would make a position change for one of the other shortstops that much more difficult or confusing.
While the Cubs have so many options offensively for their potential future dominance, including first baseman Anthony Rizzo (signed through 2019 with team options for 2020 and 2021), they really do not have very many options to put on the mound. After trading two arms without gaining an elite pitching prospect back, Chicago is left with a group of incredibly gifted offensive prospects in an era where pitching and strikeouts are dominating.
Certainly, things could swing the other way for the Cubs and they could dominate opposing pitchers and outscore their competition, but they will still need a five-man rotation to give them some innings – the game won’t change that dramatically.
The cost saving methods of avoiding large contracts, drafting wisely, and spending internationally over the last several seasons could lead to the Cubs adding to their payroll by signing David Price, Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, or other options who currently have deals set to expire after the 2015 season. However, there comes a time when the Cubs will need to develop their own pitching prospects or make deals that includes some of their gluttony of offensive talent to make it happen.
As nice as it was to add Addison Russell to the list of Bryant, Baez, Alcantara, Almora, and Soler, the Cubs needed pitching depth to try stockpile their system for a run in the future. There are only so many players who are like stocks. With more pieces for their future than the diamond can hold, they could be losing leverage in future deals, as clubs will know that they need to deal a “shortstop of the future”. If ownership and management are using the stock market logic, they have to understand risk, and adding Russell to the mix may not have been the smartest of moves for the pitching barren Chicago system.
At the halfway point of the 2014 season, it is time to take a look at some of the top prospects who are still hanging out on the farm developing their trade. Below, you will find the top 50 mid-season prospects for the 2014 season, with links to their statistics and a brief summary of their outlook. Enjoy. Share. Love.
1. Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins: Wrist injuries have hurt him this season, but the tools are still there to be a five-tool stud.
2. Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs: The power is incredible, but not nearly as incredible as the overall numbers. Will he end up at third or the outfield? It doesn’t really matter where he ends up, he’s a star.
3. Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros: Correa’s season has been destroyed by a broken leg after he destroyed opposing pitchers in the California League. He was just about ready for a promotion to Double-A, so the timing was quite unfortunate. He remains a future star in Houston.
4. Addison Russell, SS, Chicago Cubs: It doesn’t matter who he plays for, Russell can hit, hit for power, show patience at the dish, and field his position. While the landing spot of the recent trade leads to a lot of questions, Russell’s overall skills could make him the best option at short for Chicago.
5. Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs: The power and bat speed are tools that all others envy, but until Baez makes some adjustments with his all or nothing approach, he isn’t the top shortstop prospect in the minors – but where he ends up with a crowded Cubs’ system means little if he doesn’t start making more consistent contact and taking a few more pitches.
6. Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians: He may not possess the power that the other prospects offer ahead of him, but Lindor will have plenty of value for the Indians, showcasing an elite glove, solid speed, an excellent approach, and more pop than you’d expect based on his frame (5’11”, 175 pounds).
7. Lucas Giolito, RHP, Washington Nationals: The fastball and curveball, right now, could dominate at the major league level. If he can stay healthy, he could supplant Stephen Strasburg as the Nats ace, not because Strasburg is aging – he is capable of being better.
8. Jon Gray, RHP, Colorado Rockies: Gray still has the fastball and slider that could dominate and he continues to refine the change. Just because he’s a Rockies’ pitcher, he shouldn’t be discounted. He has the stuff to throw the Coors effect out the window.
9. Dylan Bundy, RHP, Baltimore Orioles: The injury is damning but the results and stuff seem to be back already. Bundy’s velocity isn’t there, but the command is there, which is typically the last thing to return after TJ surgery. Four plus pitches and pitching intelligence make Bundy a frontline starter for the O’s.
10. Miguel Sano, 3B, Minnesota Twins: Sano is going to miss the entire 2014 season due to TJ surgery. His power is elite and he should get a long look next spring for a Twins club that is desperate for some offense.
11. Joey Gallo, 3B, Texas Rangers: The power was considered an 80 and it’s there. The plate discipline, however, has shown up and made Gallo an absolutely scary talent, especially when you consider the hitter-friendly nature of his home ballpark if he stays in Texas. Can he stay at third? Another guy who it shouldn’t matter for due to the bat playing anywhere.
12. Robert Stephenson, RHP, Cincinnati Reds: With three pitchers set to reach free agency after the 2015 season, Stephenson appears to be a solution, especially with strong results as he continues to climb through the Cincinnati system.
13. Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks: The injury led to some stumble here, but Bradley, if healthy, just needs to get a firm grasp on his command to be a No.1 starter. It wasn’t always elite results for Matt Harvey and Gerrit Cole, so don’t sell him short due to the numbers this season.
14. Julio Urias, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers: He’s 17 and in the California League dominating hitters. Urias has stuff and command to be a front-of-the-rotation arm, but with projection involved, the sky is the limit. Everything could get better for him as he matures.
15. Noah Syndergaard, RHP, New York Mets: Yet another injury-ravaged arm in 2014, “Thor” should be on the mound for the Mets at some point by the end of the season to gain some experience. He should be a very good No.2 starter for years to come, featuring electric stuff and top notch command.
16. Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers: A slugging shortstop, who may not stay at the position, in a system that continues to develop and acquire elite talent, Seager would be talked about a lot by teams who didn’t have Yasiel Puig and Clayton Kershaw around. Now, with Urias dominating at such a young age, Seager continues to not get the praise he deserves for the skills. California League or not, 1.037 OPS at the age of 20 is nothing to sneeze at.
17. David Dahl, OF, Colorado Rockies: A five-tool talent in Colorado…we’ve seen that before with Carlos Gonzalez and it’s nice. Dahl has the same type of potential.
18. Alex Meyer, RHP, Minnesota Twins: He’s a large man with No.2-No.3 stuff that could be No.1 stuff if he continues to show the type of command that he has in 2014. With the improvements that he has shown this season, he should be higher, but the shoulder issues that he had scare me off a bit.
19. Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers: Pederson would likely be starting for half of MLB this season. Instead, he is depth due to the presence of Puig, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, and Carl Crawford. The strikeouts are up a bit this season, but he is showing more power, speed, and patience (which is confusing but the walks are up).
20. Hunter Harvey, RHP, Baltimore Orioles: Harvey will likely move very quickly for a high school arm, as he has shown electric stuff in his first full season for the O’s Low-A affiliate. Along with Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, Harvey gives Baltimore one of the most, if not the most, prolific arms in the minors.
21. Blake Swihart, C, Boston Red Sox: A switch-hitting catcher with some pop and solid plate discipline skills who is getting better after a jump to Double-A, Swihart has established himself as one of the top catching prospects in the game, redefining his previous outlook with an excellent season.
22. Henry Owens, LHP, Boston Red Sox: While Owens isn’t going to replace Jon Lester at the top of the Boston rotation anytime soon, he should settle in as a very useful arm, capable of owning opposing batters with a strong fastball and very, very good change from the left side.
23. Austin Hedges, C, San Diego Padres: Hedges’ offensive game still needs a lot of work, but he could step behind the plate and be an effective game manager tomorrow. Could he hit enough to be an everyday catcher? Well, Ryan Hanigan has…and Yadier Molina wasn’t always the offensive monster that he is today. Things can change. He’s young enough to get the complete package together, but even if he doesn’t hit, he’s a Gold Glove catcher.
24. Daniel Norris, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays: Norris has jumped to Double-A after dominating the Florida State League in his first 13 starts of the season. He has the stuff to be an ace, and this ranking appears to be much lower than what he deserves considering the stuff and results, but there are a lot of solid arms ahead of him.
25. Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates have a lot of very good, young arms in their system, and Glasnow could be the best if he finds a way to limit the walks. He’s big with big stuff, and just harnessing it would make him a top 10 prospect.
26. Arismendy Alcantara, 2B, Chicago Cubs: It’s unfortunate that it has to be repeated, but Alcantara’s future position in Chicago will be decided at some point between the Starlin Castro/Addison Russell/Javier Baez/Kris Bryant shuffle between second, third, and short, while Alcantara’s recent move to the outfield (he has played 10 games in center) could be a sign of the demise of Junior Lake, and the solution for the crowd – as far as how it impacts this very talented, 22-year-old speedster.
27. Kohl Stewart, RHP, Minnesota Twins: Likely to move slow due to the organizational philosophy, the Twins haven’t had a power arm like this that they drafted and developed as far back as I can remember. He is working on his secondary stuff in the Midwest League this season, so the numbers don’t show dominance like the stuff suggests. He’s still just 19 and he will be a huge part of the Twins system, settling in nicely behind Alex Meyer as a No.2 starter.
28. Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays: Sanchez would likely be pitching in Toronto right now if he had the ability to harness the stuff. Instead, he has walked 55 in 92.1 innings as of July 8. If he can grasp some concept of command, he could be the top pitcher on this entire list. As is, he’s a work in progress and a huge chip if the Blue Jays were to go all-in despite their recent tumble in the AL East.
29. Jameson Taillon, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates: The results haven’t always matched the hype, but we’ll have to wait another year to see how Taillon’s stock fluctuates given his TJ surgery that has forced him to miss the entire 2014 season.
30. J.P. Crawford, SS, Philadelphia Phillies: Crawford has jumped to the Florida State League after a solid run in the Sally League, showing a tremendous approach for a 19-year-old at either level. He has surprising gap power and tremendous speed and he could be the next Jimmy Rollins in Philadelphia with a slightly better approach and a little less pop.
31. Raimel Tapia, OF, Colorado Rockies: Tapia’s ceiling is anyone’s guess, but he’s a 20-year-old in his first attempt at full-season ball, posting an .830 OPS with 19 stolen bases and 27 extra-base hits (as of July 8). He can barrel up practically anything and he could develop power with his 6’2″, 160 pound frame. He could be better than Dahl if everything clicks, but the worst case scenario could be a Dexter Fowler at his peak as his norm.
32. Jorge Alfaro, C, Texas Rangers: A catcher who can run, hit for extreme power, and throw absolute seeds from behind the dish aren’t the norm in baseball, which makes Alfaro a future stud. He has some holes in his swing, but he is just 21 and he has a huge ceiling due to the power and defensive prowess.
33. Albert Almora, OF, Chicago Cubs: Almora hasn’t lived up to the offensive expectations this season, but he still brings a lot to the table with his elite defensive skills in center. After playing in only 61 games in Low-A last season due to injuries, the Cubs were aggressive in assigning the 20-year-old to the High-A Florida State League. He hasn’t been totally over-matched, but an improvement in his production would keep him as an option in the cluttered Cubs’ future.
34. Raul Adalberto Mondesi, SS, Kansas City Royals: Mondesi is an interesting prospect due to the bloodlines and the fact that he is just 18 (until July 27) and he is playing in the High-A Carolina League in the Royals system. It’s the defensive skills and the speed that make him capable of being elite. While he likely won’t develop the power that Russell, Baez, and Correa bring to the prospect list, he can utilize that speed in the same way that Billy Hamilton has for the Cincinnati Reds to become a factor in all facets of the game.
35. Jesse Winker, OF, Cincinnati Reds: Winker will be a left fielder due to his arm, but he has the hit tool, the power, and the patience to be a very useful player in Cincinnati. He may have several seasons of All-Star production, while settling in as a productive, sweet-swinging lefty in the middle of the Reds’ order.
36. Braden Shipley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks: Shipley has a solid fastball and change already, but he has hit a bump with the numbers in the hitter-friendly California League. He has very little experience as a pitcher (he was a former shortstop), but still projects as a mid-rotation starter for the D-backs…if Kevin Towers doesn’t trade him because he hates young players (huge generalizations are always fun).
37. Hunter Dozier, 3B, Kansas City Royals: What seemed like a reach in the 2013 MLB Draft looks to be another wise decision by Dayton Moore and Company in K.C. Dozier looks to be the long-term solution at third with Mike Moustakas failing like a man with no arms trying to remove corn from his teeth. You’d like to see more power from a future corner man, but Dozier could transfer some of those doubles into bombs as he continues adjusting to the wooden bat throughout his maturation.
38. Clint Frazier, OF, Cleveland Indians: Frazier has Baez-like bat speed, which could result in huge amounts of power as he matures. The red-headed stepchild of the Tribe system, Frazier has shown glimpses of his potential while striking out in large quantities as a 19-year-old in full season ball. The Indians would be wise to continue being aggressive with him, allowing him to make adjustments and becoming the potential All-Star, a title that his bat could very well carry him to.
39. Jose Berrios, RHP, Minnesota Twins: Berrios could be the best of the group between himself, Meyer, and Stewart, but he doesn’t get as much love, likely, due to his size. Just touching six feet, Berrios falls into the “short pitcher” label that has haunted the likes of Yordano Ventura, Carlos Martinez, Johnny Cueto, and Pedro Martinez, but stuff will outweigh the oppression, and Berrios has plenty of it.
40. Dalton Pompey, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: Pompey has made huge strides this season in his production, showing his typical speed and solid plate discipline, while driving the ball more consistently. It has led to a promotion to Double-A (where he has struggled) for the 21-year-old center fielder. He looks like a nice piece for Toronto to build around, especially if they lose Colby Rasmus to free agency after the season (though, Pompey won’t be called upon just yet for that role in 2015).
41. Mark Appel, RHP, Houston Astros: Appel has had difficulty adjusting to the pitching methods that Houston employs in the minors, but maybe it’s an attitude thing more than a stuff thing…or an injury. Who knows at this point, but the Astros should be concerned if the stuff is there and the results are this horrific. He’s here because of that stuff, but he needs to get things going before he becomes a bust…yes…already.
42. Luis Severino, RHP, New York Yankees: The Yankees have a prospect! Severino isn’t just a hype-machine type of guy, he has a fastball that can touch 97 with a slider and a change that could be above-average. The 6’0″, right-hander will battle the “small” label, but the stuff could be special.
43. Nick Kingham, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates: A future mid-rotation, innings-eater with solid stuff who is close to making an impact, Kingham may get lost in the Cole, Taillon, and Glasnow hype, but he should be a very useful arm for the Pirates in his own right.
44. Stephen Piscotty, OF, St. Louis Cardinals: Piscotty looks to be a potential clone of Allen Craig, possessing impressive contact skills without taking many walks, while not striking out absurd amounts, and not showcasing power numbers that would make them an ideal corner bat. Still, Piscotty can double his way into credibility, and he will be a nice option to play alongside Oscar Taveras for several seasons in St. Louis.
45. A.J. Cole, RHP, Washington Nationals: Cole has rebounded with his return to Washington’s system. He didn’t take too kindly to his time in the California League for the Oakland A’s, but he still has the stuff of a potential No.2 or No.3 starter. He isn’t Giolito by any means, but he has legit stuff and may not get the love that he deserves due to the flip-flopping in trades the last couple of seasons.
46. Brandon Nimmo, OF, New York Mets: Nimmo’s on-base skills make him the Joey Votto of the minor leagues. He has control over his at-bats, which isn’t the norm for most 21-year-old position players in Double-A. Still, the Mets have to hope that he develops power along with the patience, as they are in desperate need of impact talent at the major league level.
47. Nick Williams, OF, Texas Rangers: This kid can hit. He may not have a clue about how he can barrel up the ball, as the strikeouts show, but Williams has the talent to become an All-Star level outfielder due to his tools, athletic ability, and successful aggressiveness. There is power in his game, as well as speed, but he will settle in as a corner outfielder in Texas, though, there could be some severe learning curves.
48. Josh Bell, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates: Bell is a switch-hitting corner outfielder who can hit for power from both sides, he has a strong grasp of the strike zone, and he has rewarded the Pirates, who made a $5 million investment in him after choosing the Texas-native in the 2nd round of the 2011 MLB Draft, with impressive production after an injury-filled start to his career. He should see some time in Double-A this season, while turning 22 in August.
49. Matt Wisler, RHP, San Diego Padres: Wisler’s numbers in the Pacific Coast League are pretty horrific, but he’ll be reaping the benefits of pitching in San Diego in due time. Mostly working on his change this season, Wisler continues to work his way to the majors, and the results don’t matter as much as continued health and innings. He should be a solid No.2 or No.3 for the Padres in coming seasons.
50. D.J. Peterson, 3B, Seattle Mariners: Peterson’s overall numbers were likely aided by playing at Inland Empire in the California League, but he was a top selection in the 2013 MLB Draft and is continuing his offensive outburst after a recent to Double-A. The Mariners could use a productive right-handed hitter, but his future is likely not at third with Kyle Seager becoming an All-Star caliber player for Seattle. He could be a first baseman or the Mariners could give him a look in left, but they may need to cover him up with an elite-level defensive center fielder.