A Pack of Cubs On The Farm
The Cubs’ prospects situation has been one of the most interesting stories to follow this MLB season. While the Major League club lumbers through another losing season, the guys on the farm are beginning to offer a glimpse into what should be a bright future on the North Side.
Two big questions still remain open for most of their prospects and future call-ups:
1) Where will they end up defensively on the diamond? The acquisition of shortstop Addison Russell in the Jeff Samardzija deal muddied the situation even further, especially with Starlin Castro on a reasonable long-term deal.
2) Will any of these guys (including Castro) become trade pieces at the deadline, possibly to bring in a top pitcher like David Price? If the Cubs could potentially swing a deal and work out a long-term extension with the Rays’ ace, would he be worth dealing Castro, Alcantara or another piece in their stable of stud prospects? As the trade deadline looms, it will be very interesting to see how this plays out.
For now, I will provide some updates on the progress of the Cubs's prospects on the farm (and a rookie already called-up to the big leagues).
MLB Outlooks Of Cubs Prospects & Call-Ups
Arismendy Alcantara, SS/2B/OF
Alcantara was called up for a two-game trial in early July, when Darwin Barney went on the paternity list on July 9th. That trial has been extended as the Cubs DFA’d Barney this week, signaling that the youth movement has arrived. Truth be told, Barney was being phased out of the offense with Alcantara and Javier Baez approaching a call-up.
Alcantara will see time at second base and in the outfield, and is expected to be an every day player for the rest of the season. Through Friday’s games he’s put up a .275/.333/.510 triple-slash line with two homers, nine runs scored and four steals. With the glut of middle infield prospects that the Cubs have on the horizon, Alcantara may settle in as the regular center fielder beyond this season.
Javier Baez, SS/2B
Baez not coincidentally, has been playing second base for Triple-A Iowa for the last week or so. Baez, a natural shortstop, figured to move someplace else on the diamond since Castro and Russell are rated better defensively in the six-hole. The Cubs say that this move isn’t permanent, but rather they are just increasing their defensive versatility. In any case, Baez’s greatest asset will be his bat.
After a rocky start, Baez is hitting .256 with 17 homers in 348 at bats with Iowa. He will always be a free swinger with a lot of Ks, but has 30-40 homer potential from the middle infield, making him a potential fantasy stud once he's settled in with the big league club. It has always taken Baez a longer adjustment period at each level he’s advanced, so it is possible that the Cubs may want to get him in front of Major League pitching before this season is over.
Addison Russell, SS
Russell missed most of the first three months of the season with a hamstring issue, but has been on an absolute tear since coming to the Cubs and getting assigned to Double-A Tennessee. In 48 at bats with the Smokies (through Friday) Russell has five homers, including a pair of two-homer games. The injury may have set back his Major League debut until 2015, but all signs are that he will be an impact Major League bat.
Some scouting reports I’ve read see him more as a third baseman than a shortstop, which would make sense with Castro at short. That probably also means that Mike Olt’s days at Wrigley may be numbered. Olt was sent down last week when the Cubs committed to Alcantara on the big league roster. Russell, however, has not seen game action at the hot corner as a professional and is a better defender at shortstop than Baez. If the Cubs do send Castro in a deal, Russell may take over at short as early as next season.
Kris Bryant, 3B
Bryant is another guy who can be moved around when the Cubs’ dominoes begin to fall. While he has the ability to stick at third base, where he’s played his entire pro career, some see him as a corner outfielder long term. If Russell shifts to third, I’d expect to see Bryant move to right field. Bryant certainly has the bat to handle a corner outfield spot, even if he has no game action there defensively.
After tearing up Double-A to the tune of 22 homers and a 1.160 OPS in 297 plate appearances, Bryant has not slowed down in Triple-A. In 123 at bats in Iowa, he has 11 homers, a .309 average and an OPS of 1.039. That’s a total of 33 home runs and a .340/.436/.685 triple-slash line this season, establishing himself as one of the game’s top prospects.
The crazy thing about all of this positional roulette which may go down for the Cubs, is that they still have two highly regarded outfield prospects in Jorge Soler and Albert Almora, who both advanced a level in the minors this past week.
Jorge Soler, OF
Soler, like Russell, was slowed by a hamstring injury this year, but has been raking since his return to action. He only needed 22 games at Double-A, where he triple-slashed .415/.494/.862 with six home runs and nine doubles before getting promoted to Iowa on Tuesday.
A signee from Cuba, Soler is already on the Cubs’ 40-man roster, which could facilitate a call-up to the big leagues if he continues to hit and the club deems that it will help his development. At this point, Soler and Baez are probably the best bets to see Major League time in 2014, though Bryant is certainly ready.
Albert Almora, OF
Almora jumped up to Double-A on Tuesday, taking Soler’s spot in the Smokies’ outfield. He is further away from the Majors than the aforementioned prospects, but seemed to get his hitting stroke together in his last week of Single-A, where he had 14 hits in his last seven games, including hitting for the cycle.
With all this talent, the Cubs are certainly the talk of the minors this season. We could see a couple of these MLB prospects called-up to the bigs pretty soon, but it will be fascinating to see how Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein decide to finally place them on defense.
I expect to see some of these MLB prospects in the Arizona Fall League this October, maybe working at a new position. The Reds did that with shortstop Billy Hamilton a few years back, getting him action in centerfield, the position where he has now found a home in Cincinnati.