Chicago Cubs: Top 10 Prospects

General Manager: Jim Hendry
Farm Director: Oneri Fleita
Scouting Director: Tim Wilken

FanGraphs’ Top 10 Prospects:
(2009 Draft Picks/International Signees Not Included)

There is definitely some excitement starting to build in the system. There are interesting names at the top of the list, as well as some sleepers sprinkled throughout the system, many of whom did not fit in the Top 10, which is a very nice thing to see for the Cubs. The organization certainly has a lot of depth in the middle infielder, but many of the arms are unproven and, in some cases, rather brittle.

1. Andrew Cashner, RHP, Double-A
DOB: September 1986 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2008 1st round – Texas Christian University
MLB ETA: Late-2010 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 90-95 mph fastball, slider, curve, change-up

Cashner has been a huge find for the organization. Mainly a reliever in college, the right-hander has proven his durability (and repertoire) as a starter. His 1.50 ERA in high-A certainly looks shiny, but his FIP was 3.18 (still good, just not great). At that level, Cashner allowed just 31 hits in 42.0 innings, while showing average control with a walk rate of 3.21 BB/9. His strikeout rate was respectable at 7.29 K/9. He then moved up to double-A, where he allowed 45 hits in 58.1 innings. Cashner’s walk rate increased (4.17 BB/9) and his strikeout rate dropped (6.33 K/9). On the plus side, his ground-ball rate remained around the 47% mark, and he allowed just one home run all season. Cashner will likely begin 2010 back in double-A, with a shot at contributing in Wrigley Field in the second half of the season.

2. Starlin Castro, SS, Double-A
DOB: March 1990 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2006 non-drafted international free agent (Dominican Republic)
MLB ETA: Late-2010 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

There weren’t many prospects that more helium than Castro in ’09. The shortstop has not stopped hitting since going pro, and he followed up a .300+ debut with another solid offensive performance. Just 19, Castro was pushed from rookie ball to high-A ball and he still hit .302/.340/.391 in 358 at-bats. He also stole 22 bases but was caught 11 times, so he has some work to do on the bases. As well, Castro’s walk rate of just 5.0% was worrisome, but it improved to 8.3% upon a promotion to double-A (111 at-bats). Despite the late-season jump, the shortstop actually showed improvements in his game against better pitching. As mentioned, his walk rate rose, and he also kept his strikeout rate low at 10.8% while hitting .288. Castro was also successful in all six of his stolen base attempts in double-A. Defensively, he has the skill set to remain at shortstop. He’ll likely return to double-A to begin the season, but he’ll probably be the Cubs’ starting shortstop before his 21st birthday.

3. Josh Vitters, 3B, High-A
DOB: August 1989 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2007 1st round – California HS
MLB ETA: Mid-2011 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

One of the top prep hitters in the ’07 draft, Vitters has shown a tendency to struggle with each promotion. He hit well during the beginning of the ’09 season in low-A (his second attempt at the level) by hitting .316/.351/.535 in 269 at-bats. He then moved up to high-A ball where he struggled by hitting just .238/.260/.344 in 189 at-bats. The approach to take with Vitters is clear: Don’t throw him any strikes. Keep the pitch off the plate and he’ll get himself out, either by striking out or by hitting a pitcher’s pitch, rather than waiting for something to drive. His walk rate of just 2.6% was a big step back – even from ’08 when he walked just 4.8% of the time in short-season ball. Vitters has shown flashes of having the power needed to remain at third base (.219 ISO in low-A), but that walk rate is going to haunt him at the upper levels of the minors, and it won’t play in the Majors.

4. Hak-Ju Lee, SS, Short Season
DOB: November 1990 Bats: L Throws: R
Signed: 2008 non-drafted international free agent (Korea)
MLB ETA: Late-2013 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

Castro can no doubt feel someone breathing down his neck; that someone is Lee. In his first taste of pro ball in North America, the Korean prospect hit .330/.399/.420 in 264 at-bats in short-season ball. Just 18 during the season, Lee did very well for his age and the 10.6% walk rate was certainly encouraging, as was the fact that the left-handed hitter kept his strikeout rate below 20% (18.9%). In a small sample size, the middle infielder performed well against both right-handers (.818 OPS) and left-handers (.827 OPS). He doesn’t have much power in his game right now (.091 ISO) but Lee projects to add at least gap power and could eventually grow into a 15 homer guy. Right now, though, he focuses on hitting the ball on the ground and utilizing his speed (63.5% ground-ball rate). Lee stole 25 bases in 33 attempts; if he keeps that up, he could be a real threat on the base paths for the Cubs.

5. Jay Jackson, RHP, Triple-A
DOB: October 1987 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2008 9th round – Furman University
MLB ETA: Mid-2010 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 88-93 mph fastball, slider, curve, change-up

Jackson has been a solid find for the Cubs and has moved much quicker through the system than expected. The former two-way player spent time in high-A ball where he posted a 2.29 FIP, a walk rate of 0.94 and a strikeout rate of 10.80 in seven starts (38.1 IP). In double-A, Jackson struggled a bit with his control (4.25 BB/9), but he still missed his fair share of bats (8.38 K/9) and limited base runners with just 73 hits allowed in 82.2 innings. Overall on the year, Jackson held left-handed hitters to a .214 average, but he struggled with his control (4.72 BB/9 compared to 1.76 against right-handed batters). Just 22 years of age, Jackson received one triple-A start in ’09 and he should head back there in 2010. He has the makings of a No. 2 or 3 starter.

6. Chris Carpenter, RHP, Double-A
DOB: December 1985 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2008 3rd round – Kent State University
MLB ETA: Mid-2011 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 90-95 mph fastball, curve, change-up

Plagued by injuries as an amateur, Carpenter has been healthy (knock on wood) as a pro. He made 27 starts over three levels in ’09 and reached double-A. Already 24, the right-hander signed as a senior out of college. He spent the majority of the ’09 season in low-A, where he posted a 3.66 FIP and allowed 55 hits in 73.2 innings. Carpenter struggled with his control a bit and he posted a walk rate of 4.03 BB/9. He also had a solid strikeout rate at 7.33 K/9. Moved up to high-A, he had a 2.16 FIP and allowed just 15 hits in 25.0 innings. Carpenter than headed for double-A, where he had a 3.04 FIP in 32.0 innings and did not allow a homer. He also showed solid walk and strikeout rates. Overall, Carpenter posted a ground-ball rate of 52.7% and limited line drives to just 13.2% on the season. He has the potential to be a solid No. 3 starter if he can stay healthy.

7. Ryan Flaherty, SS, Low-A
DOB: July 1986 Bats: L Throws: R
Signed: 2008 supplemental 1st round – Vanderbilt University
MLB ETA: Late-2011 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

Flaherty is in a bit of an uncomfortable position. The former college standout is a shortstop with Castro ahead of him, and Lee behind him. That is one of the reasons why the 23-year-old infielder spent the entire season in low-A ball. The other reason for his status is that he struggled in the first half of the year and really did not hit well until the second half (15 of his 20 homers came after June 1). The left-handed hitter also struggled against southpaws, having hit just .211/.287/.421. As a result, Flaherty could very well be headed for a platoon role, or back-up infielder role. One thing is fairly certain: He won’t be the everyday shortstop in Chicago as long as Castro is around. Flaherty potentially has the power (.194 ISO) to play third base. Overall in ’09, he had a solid season with a triple-slash line of .276/.344/.470 in 485 at-bats.

8. Dae-Eun Rhee, RHP, Short Season
DOB: March 1989 Bats: L Throws: R
Signed: 2007 non-drafted international free agent (Korea)
MLB ETA: Mid-2013 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 88-93 mph fastball, curve, plus change-up

Rhee had an exciting debut in ’08 but Tommy John surgery showed its ugly face and derailed the Korean’s progress. The right-hander returned in ’09 but obviously was not at full strength. Rhee should return to low-A in 2010 and there is hope that his stuff will bounce back to its pre-surgery levels. If all goes well, he has the potential to be a No. 2 starter, but he’s still a long way off.

9. Logan Watkins, 2B, Short Season
DOB: August 1989 Bats: L Throws: R
Signed: 2008 21st round – Kansas HS
MLB ETA: 40-Man Roster: Options:

Watkins is not as flashy as some of the other middle infielders in the system, but he’s shown a lot of potential in a short period of time. The second baseman has a career .326 batting average after two seasons in the low minors, thanks in part to some high BABIPs. Overall in ’09, he hit .326/.389/.391, with a .368 wOBA, in 279 at-bats. Watkins struck out just 11.1% of the time, while producing a reasonable walk rate of 8.8%. He has little-to-no power, and managed an ISO rate of just .065 in ’09. He has some speed but was caught seven times in 21 attempts. Watkins performs better against right-handed pitchers than southpaws: .831 vs .624 OPS.

10. John Gaub, LHP, Triple-A
DOB: April 1985 Bats: R Throws: L
Signed: 2006 21st round – University of Minnesota
MLB ETA: Mid-2010 40-Man Roster: Yes Options: 3
Repertoire: 89-95 mph fastball, slider

The organization may have regretted trading veteran infielder Mark DeRosa to the Indians, but it wasn’t all bad. The club received back three interesting arms in the deal. Gaub is the closest to having a key impact at the MLB level. The left-handed reliever had a dominating season in the minors, even with below-average control (5.34 BB/9 in double-A). At that level, he also allowed just 19 hits in 28.2 innings of work, while also posting a strikeout rate of 12.56 K/9. Moved up to triple-A, Gaub allowed 17 hits in 31.1 innings with a strikeout rate of 11.49 K/9. His control improved a smidgen to 4.60 BB/9. His stuff – especially his fastball velocity – has improved each of the past three seasons. Impressively, he’s equally as effective against left-handed and right-handed hitters (.167 average/12.57 K/9 vs lefties and .175/11.45 vs righties).

Up Next: The Minnesota Twins

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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12 years ago

WOW on Cashner/Castro