2009 Cubs Top 15 Prospects
UPDATE: Arizona Phil's much anticipated top 15 list was kind of lost in the shuffle yesterday with the Kevin Gregg trade, so I'm putting it up top for the weekend. Obviously it was done before Ceda got traded, so Phil will have to drop by with #16 and you can move everyone else up one.
I also wanted to add, and sorry if it's a repeat, that the Cubs 6th round pick of 2006 Joshua Lansford has moved from third base to the pitcher's mound as of Instructionals last month. Word comes from friend of TCR, Steve Holley at Inside the Ivy. (Rob G.)
Using the criteria Baseball America uses to rate their Top Ten prospects (50 MLB IP and 130 MLB AB limit, but not concerned with MLB service time), here are my Top 15 Cubs prospects pre-2009. It's just my opinion,and I'm sure many of you have your own idea of who should be where. I probably tend to place greater weight on players at the higher levels, although I do consider players further down the pipeline as well...
1. Jeff Samardzija, RHP (2006 5th Round - Notre Dame) - age 23
COMMENT: A star WR at Notre Dame, Samardzija got "1st round money"(and eventually a major league contract with a "no-trade" clause) to sign with the Cubs. After developing a slider and a splitter to go with his mid-90's power sinker, the Shark is now a bonafide top-tier prospect. He still needs to show better command of his pitches, but he should eventually be either an MLB closer or top-of-the-rotation starter. Baseball was essentially his "second" sport in college, but he has worked hard over the past couple of years to make himself a big league pitcher, and it looks like he has done just that. He will probably be somewhere in the Cubs bullpen in 2009, although he could end up in the starting rotation, too, depending on circumstances. If it's the latter, the Cubs might want him to be in the starting rotation at Iowa for a while coming out of Spring Training '09.
2. Josh Vitters, 3B (2007 1st Round - Cypress, HS - Cypress, CA) - age 19
COMMENT: Vitters was the Cubs #1 draft pick in 2007, and the Cubs signed him just prior to the 8/15 deadline (Vitters had signed an NCAA LOI to attend Arizona State). But he had been sick the latter part of his senior year in high school, and he reported to Fitch Park in August 2007 weak and out of shape. He didn't look much bettter in the 2007 AZ Instructional League, and then he had hand problems (blisters and tendinitis) in Spring Training 2008 that delayed the start of his season. But once he got healthy, Vitters showed what he can do as a hitter. He hit 328/365/498 in 61 games at Boise, and was named the Northwest League's #1 prosprect by Baseball America. He has plus-power and could develop into a 25+ HR guy. He still needs to improve his defensive play at 3B (especially the accuracy of his throws), but I would profile him as a young Garret Atkins at this point. Only 19, Vitters will be the "main man" at Peoria in 2009. His older brother Christian is a 3B prospect in the Oakland A's organization.
3-A. Jose Ceda, RHP (2004 NDFA - Dominican Republic - by SD) - age 21
COMMENT: Acquired from the Padres for Todd Walker a couple of years ago, Ceda has had shoulder problems off & on in his career and he needs to watch his weight (he is 6'4 260+), but when he's in shape and 100% healthy, he is virtually uinhittable. (He threw 23 consecutive hitless innings at Peoria to close the 2007 season). Ceda throws an upper-90's fastball and a power-slider and should devlop into an MLB closer or (at least) an 8th inning set-up man. He was used as a starter at Daytona at the beginning of the 2008 season to force him to use his secondary stuff, but was moved back to closer when he got a mid-season promotion to AA Tennessee. He reminds me of a young Jose Valverde. Ceda should be the closer at Iowa in 2009 and could quite possibly get a call-up to Chicago sometime during the season if he performs well at AAA.
NOTE: Jose Ceda was traded to the Florida Marlins after I completed this post, so I renumbered the list after Ceda, starting with Andrew Cashner at #3-B, and I added Dan McDaniel as the new #15.
3-B Andrew Cashner, RHP (2008 1st Round - TCU) - age 22
COMMENT: Cashner was drafted by the Cubs in the 29th round of the 2007 out of a Texas JC but didn't sign, instead transferring to TCU where he developed into the nation's #1 college closer. And then the Cubs drafted him again in 2008 (this time as their1st round pick), and this time the Cubs did sign him. Cashner was rusty (he hadn't pitched for about three months) when he reported to Fitch Park this past summer, and then he had a lot of difficulty throwing strikes at Daytona in August, but he was "lights out" in the FSL playoffs in September. Cashner profiles as a power-closer, combining a mid to upper 90's fastball and a mid-upper 80's slider. I would describe him as a young Brad Lidge. Cashner should be the closer at Daytona on Opening Day 2009, but he could get promoted to AA Tennessee very quickly if he throws like he did in the 2008 FSL playoffs.
4. Welington Castillo, C (2004 NDFA - Dominican Republic) - age 21
COMMENT: While he's often described as a good defensive catcher, his defense is more projection than performance right now. He has a strong arm and is fairly athletic behind the plate, but he is careless/foolish with his throws and had a ton of errors and passed balls in 2008. His bat is actually ahead of his defense at this point, and he displays above-average power for a player his age. With Geovany Soto ahead of him, the Cubs can certainly afford to take their time with him, but he should eventually develop into a Flying Molina Brothers-type MLB catcher (probably more Benji than Yadier, though). Castillo will likely begin the 2009 season back at AA Tennessee, but he could easily get a mid-season promotion to AAA and a September call-up to Chicago.
5. Ryan Flaherty, INF (2008 Supplemental 1st Round - Vanderbilt) - age 22
COMMENT: Selected with the compensation draft pick the Cubs got for losing FA catcher Jason Kendall to MIL after the 2007 season, Flaherty played SS at Vanderbilt and 2B with Team USA, and the Cubs played him at SS at Boise, but he makes WAY too many errors to stay there. I would say his future is almost certainly at 2B rather than SS. He has plus-power for a middle-infielder, and if he can play corner OF, too, he might become a left-handed version of Mark DeRosa. Best case scenario is that he develops into a Chase Utley-type second-baseman. Son of a college baseball coach, Flaherty is a savvy player, too. I would expect Flaherty to get jumped from Boise to Daytona in 2009, along with a move from SS to 2B.
6. Kevin Hart, RHP (2004 11th Round - U. of Maryland - by BAL) - age 25
COMMENT: Hart was just a middling prospect when Cubs Assistant GM Randy Bush made the deal to get him from the Orioles for Freddie Bynum after the 2006 season, but Hart developed into a definite MLB prospect after AA pitching coach Dennis Llewallyn tweaked his mechanics and taught him a cutter at Tennessee in 2007. In fact, Hart was so successful in his transformation to prospect that he was brought up to Chicago and was added to the Cubs 2007 post-season NLDS roster. Hart struggled in Spring Training 2008 and early in the 2008 season with the Cubs, however, and was sent to Iowa, where he developed into a solid closer. He pitched a lot better with the Cubs in September, and he should be a decent MLB reliever, with the stamina to be a back-of the rotation rotation starter if circumstances warrant. Hart will compete for a job in the Cubs bullpen in 2009.
7. Tyler Colvin, OF (2006 1st Round - Clemson) - age 23
COMMENT: Colvin played most of the 2008 season with a left-elbow injury that eventually required Tommy John surgery post-2008. He has plus-speed and plus-power with the potential to hit 20+ HR, 30+ doubles, and 10+ triples, albeit with too many strikeouts and not a lot of walks. He is a dead first-ball/fastball hitter, although he worked on being more patient at the plate at AA in 2008. He is just a passable flyhawk with a below-average arm (even before the TJS). He probably hurt his elbow after being put on an arm-strengthening program in 2007 that the Cubs hoped would make him able to play RF. He was moved to LF at Clemson to take advantage of his speed and athleticism, but his "natural" position is 1B. Colvin will probably be rehabbing from TJS in Spring Training, but he could well be in LF at Iowa by May and possibly back in CF by 2010.
8. Jay Jackson, RHP (2008 9th Round - Furman) - age 21
COMMENT: Jackson is an advanced pitcher who throws four or five different pitches for strikes, with a nasty slider and 93 MPH fastball being his main "out" pitches. He was drafted just this past June, but made it all the way to Daytona by August and started a game in the FSL playoffs. He has a lot of confidence and doesn't get rattled. Jackson was a rotation starter in college at Furman, but he also played CF when he wasn't pitching. He is an excellent all-around athlete (he was an outstanding basketball player in HS), and being able to hit and field should help him win a few more games than the average pitcher. With his basketball background, cool self-confidence, and the ability to hit (with power), he almost seems a bit like Bob Gibson. Jackson should begin the 2009 season at Daytona, with a rapid promotion to AA Tennessee in the cards if he pitches like he did in 2008.
9. Micah Hoffpauir, 1B (2002 13th Round - Lamar) - age 28
COMMENT: At 28, Hoff-POWER! is an example of a "late-bloomer." He is an excellent defensive 1st baseman (rival managers rated Hoffpauir as the best defensive 1st baseman in the PCL in '08) and a left-handed hitter with plus-power. He had a five-hit game versus the Mets in September. Hoffpauir should replace Daryle Ward as the Cubs back-up 1B and #1 LHPH in 2009, but he could be an everyday 1st baseeman or platoon 1st baseman on some MLB clubs. I would compare him to Adam LaRoche of the Pirates.
10. Esmailin Caridad, RHP (2007 NDFA - Dominican Republic) - age 25
COMMENT: Like Alfonso Soriano and Timo Perez before him, Caridad is a Dominican who signed his first professional contract with the Hiroshima Carp of the Japanese Central League. Caridad spent a couple of years at the Carp Dominican Baseball Academy before moving on to Japan and pitching in a Japanese minor league (and briefly with the Carp) in 2007. Caridad got released on a technicality after the 2007 season, and signed with the Cubs a day or two after arriving back in the Dominican Republic last Fall. He pitched (effectively) as a rotation starter at both Daytona and AA Tennessee in 2008, and he is presently pitching very with for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League. Caridad is 25 years old and he's only 5'10, so there may not be much more there than what's there right now. But from what I've seen of him, he will be pitching in the big league within a year or so. He has a full array of pitches, with a solid fastball, curve, and change-up.
11. Mitch Atkins, RHP (2004 7th Round - NE Guilford HS - McLeansville, NC) - age 23
COMMENT: Like Kevin Hart, Atkins really took off after he learned to throw a cutter. He doesn't throw particularly hard, although he does throw strikes and works hitters by using both sides of the plate and making adjustments the second and third times through the order. Atkins projects as a starting pitcher rather than a reliever, and if he makes it to the big leagues it will probably be as a back-of-the rotation starter. He will almost certainly be added to the 40-man roster by 11/20, and will be a rotation starter at Iowa in 2009
12. Donald Veal, LHP (2005 2nd Round - Pima CC) - age 24
COMMENT: Veal started his college career at the University of Arizona where he was used as a reliever as a freshman, but he transferred to Pima CC (AZ) for his sophomore year so he could be a rotation starter. He was all set to transfer to TCU for his junior year when the Cubs drafted and signed him in 2005. Veal has a plus-curve and a fastball with movement, but he has all kinds of difficulty with mechanics. His main problem is finding a consistent release point, and he often has difficulty repeating his delivery. He's the kind of pitcher who will look like a world-beater one inning, and then the next inning he can't find the strike zone. He throws way too many pitches-per-inning to remain a rotation starter (at least if you don't want to blow-out your bullpen), but he also has the quality stuff needed to be an effective MLB lefty reliever. He reminds me of Arthur Rhodes.
13. Jovan Rosa, 3B-1B (2006 22nd Round - Lake City CC) - age 21
COMMENT: Rosa was drafted by the Cubs out of a Florida JC in 2006, but was signed as a "Draft & Follow" in May 2007 after he signed an NCAA LOI to transfer to NC State, (Rosa was projected as a Top 5 Round pick in the June 2007 Draft). Rosa is a "doubles machine" (he led the MWL in doubles in 2008 at Peoria with 43). He has below-average speed, but he can really put the hammer on the ball and hit line-drive ropes all over the place. If he learns to elevate his swing, he could probably hit 20+ HR. 3B is his "natural: position, and while I have seen him make some spectacular stops at the hot corner, he probably makes too many throwing errors to stay there, and so he played a lot of 1B in 2008. I believe his best bet would probably be to learn to play all four corner IF-OF positions (1B-3B-LF-RF), because if he makes it to the big leagues, it's his bat that's going to get him there. He should be at Daytona in 2009, playing 3B, 1B and DH, and possibly some corner OF, too.
14. Brandon Guyer, OF (2007 5th Round - U. of Virginia) - age 22
COMMENT: Guyer played 3B in high school, but was pushed to LF at the University of Virginia because Ryan Zimmerman was his teammate there. Guyer had an elbow injury in 2008 that kept him at Fitch Park until June, but once he was assigned to Peoria he started to display his developing power stroke to go along with his plus-speed. He plays a "crash & burn" style of defense (he was a football star in HS), and reminds me a lot of Eric Byrnes. The Cubs played Guyer in both CF and RF in the AZ Instructional League post-2008, but he has a below-average arm and (like Etic Byrnes) probably is a "true" left-fielder. But with Alfonso Soriano likely to play LF for the Cubs through 2014, Guyer (like Tyler Colvin) will probably have to try and turn himself into a passable CF if he wants to make it to Wrigley Field as a Cub. Guyer should be at Daytona in 2009 (with Flaherty-Guyer-Rosa hitting 3-4-5).
15. Dan McDaniel, RHP (2008 14th Round - Chabot JC) - age 20
COMMENT: McDaniel fell to the 14th round only because he told everybody he was transferring to Oklahoma State and didn't want to sign, but the Cubs drafted him and signed him anyway. I saw both Cashner and McDaniel pitch this year, and although McDaniel doesn't throw quite as hard as Cashner, I really like McDaniel's mid-90;s fastball and hammer breaking ball. McDaniel will probably be the closer at Peoria in 2009, and as is the case with hard-throwing minor league closers, he could move up the pipeline very quickly.