Thursday, March 6, 2014

Farwell Blogger. We're Off To www.chicagonow.com/cubs-prospect-watch

After a series of discussions we have decided to take our talents to The Chicago Now Network <---- LINK. We will no longer be posting on this blog. I welcome you to come join us over there.

Thanks everyone!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Early Look: Ricky's Top 15 College Hitters For The 2014 Draft

This is the final part of the four part draft series that Ricky has put together. It is important to remember that we are still months away from the draft and things can change drastically. The purpose of this list is to give you an idea on who's being talked about early on. Here it goes...

Trea Turner is excellent up the middle (NC State Student Media)

1. Trea Turner - RHH - SS - 6'1" 171 lbs - (NC St.)
2. Kyle Schwarber - LHH - C/OF - 6'0" 240 lbs (Indiana University)
3. Derek Fisher - LHH - OF - 6'3" 210 lbs (Virginia)
4. Bradley Zimmer - LHH - OF - 6'5" 205 lbs (University of San Francisco)
5. Max Pentecost - RHH - C - 6'1" 190 lbs (Kennesaw St.)
6. Michael Conforto - LHH - OF - 6'2" 217 lbs (Oregon St.)
7. Matt Chapman - RHH - INF - 6'1" 195 lbs (Cal State Fullerton)
8. Dylan Davis - RHH - OF - 6'0" 215 lbs (Oregon St.)
9. J.D. Davis - RHH - 1B - 6'3" 215 lbs (Cal State Fullerton)
10. Taylor Sparks - RHH - INF - 6'4" 215 lbs (UC Irvine)
11. Grayson Greiner - RHH - C - 6'5" 220 lbs (South Carolina)
12. Casey Gillaspie - SH - 1B - 6'4" 238 lbs (Wichita St.)
13. Brian Anderson - RHH - INF/OF - 6'3" 185 lbs (Arkansas)
14. Scott Heineman - RHH - INF - 6'1" 214 lbs (Oregon)
15. Alex Blandino - RHH - SS - 6'0" 175 lbs (Stanford)

The next step will be Mock Draft 1.0 - 2014

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Early Look: Ricky's Top 15 College Pitchers For The 2014 Draft

Ricky is back at it. This time he brings you his top 15 college arms for the 2014 draft. It is important to remember that this list is not set in stone and can change many times before the draft. This list was put together so that you can familiarize yourself with names that you will be hearing.

Carlos Rodon looks to start the year strong. Photo from USA Today
1. Carlos Rodon - LHP - 6'3" 234 lbs (NC State)
2. Jeff Hoffman - RHP - 6'4" 192 lbs (East Carolina)
3. Tyler Beede - RHP - 6'4" 215 lbs (Vanderbilt)
4. Aaron Nola - RHP - 6'1" 183 lbs (LSU)
5. Brandon Finnegan - LHP - 5'11" 184 lbs (TCU)
6. Erick Fedde - RHP - 6'4" 180 lbs (UNLV)
7. Sean Newcomb - LHP - 6'5" 240 lbs (Hartford)
8. Luke Weaver - RHP - 6'2" 170 lbs (Florida State)
9. Kyle Freeland - LHP - 6'4" 185 lbs (Evansville)
10. Nick Burdi - RHP - 6'4" 215 lbs (Louisville)
11. Michael Cederoth - RHP - 6'6" 210 lbs (SDSU)
12. Andrew Suarez - LHP - 6'2" 205 lbs (Miami)
13. Jordan Brink - RHP - 6'1" 200 lbs (Fresno State)
14. Brandon Woodruff - RHP - 6'2" 225 lbs (Mississippi State)
15. Zech Lemond - RHP - 6'4" 195 lbs (Rice)


Best Fastball: Nick Burdi
Best Curveball: Jeff Hoffman
Best Slider: Carlos Rodon
Best Changeup: Aaron Nola and Luke Weaver
Best Control: Aaron Nola

Friday, January 24, 2014

Hope, Despair, and Nuclear Physics: Proceeding with Caution in Viewing the Cubs' Prospects

There’s no such thing as an apathetic Cubs fan.  We’re a bipolar collective, to be sure, filled with starry-eyed Pollyannas on one side and long-suffering curmudgeons on the other.  I used to be one of the former.  But as time grinds slowly forward, each step I take wears another layer off the soles of my shoes and the sands of time blow around me, weathering both my clothes and my visage.  It’s getting harder to see through the cracks and scratches of my glasses, which were once rose-colored but now bear only a faint salmon hue.

I have always loved the Cubs, ever since the days when I’d lie on the floor of my Grandpap’s living room, propped up on my elbows, just waiting for the game to start.  My brother and I would lay out a towel and munch Saltine crackers as we sipped Pepsi from glass (glass!) bottles.  Actually, my brother was always more fond of Choc-ola, but that’s a different story.

This was in the days before widespread satellite TV, before lights at Wrigley, before skepticism and disappointment got their venomous claws into me.  And so there we would lie, every summer afternoon.  And lest you think we were a couple of soft tubs of goo, I assure you that we were active kids.  But when it came to Cubs baseball, most other activities took a backseat.  That faded a bit with time, but only a little
.
Ah, to feel once more the boundless optimism of youth, or even that of ignorance.  You see, I was once young, dumb, and full of…confidence.  As the halcyon days of childhood gave way to the more confusing and hormonally-charged years of high school and college, the Cubs got pushed back just a bit.  And don’t worry; this is going to get to a point eventually.  Well, I hope it is anyway. 

I dated the same girl throughout my years of college (well, except for some breaks here and there, one of which spawned “The Race for 62,” in which I attempted to keep pace, amorously, with the longball exploits of a couple of juiced-up sluggers – I failed) and had even harbored thoughts of marriage.  After college, I was lured to a job that promised six figures right away, which sounded too good to be true and also too good to pass up.
 
Well, it was certainly one of those things.  After earning about $10,000 in 10 months, I was out of job, out of a relationship, and out of hope.  I’m sure most of you by now have asked yourselves whether or not I was ever going to get to a point.  Well, I’m getting there.  My colleagues here at CPW work to bring you information on the players making their way up the Cubs’ ladder, and any talk you hear of the team focuses on the youth in the organization

But too often on chats, tweets, or message boards, I see projected lineups that contain nothing but farmhands.  And I know that’s typically coming from the most unhinged optimists of a fanbase filled with them.  But even those with a more realistic outlook can’t seem to envision a future in which the Fantastic 4 are not all patrolling the verdant grounds of Wrigley Field.

I’m talking to the folks who are now what I used to be.  The folks who had the pipe dream about the big salary.  Because it’s not going to happen.  And you know what?  That’s okay.  The simple fact of the matter is that the Cubs can’t keep all of their prospects.  What’s prudent now will become incredibly foolhardy in short order.  And, loathe though it might be to spend $175 million on an unproven pitcher, missing on Masahiro Tanaka dictates that the Cubs part with prospects sooner rather than later.

In Tanaka, you had a pitcher whose only cost was money.  No prospects, no draft picks; just cold, hard cash.  He was a commodity, an oddity, a trifle to put butts in seats and, ideally, to win games and accelerate the team’s improvement.  And between Clark the Cub, missing on Tanaka, and the widening chasm between the Cubs and the rooftop owners, the team is in dire need of a boost.

Masahiro Tanaka (Photo Courtesy of  Koji Watanabe/Getty)
And that boost is going to come via the matriculation of players like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, and Jorge Soler.  The list goes on, but there’s going to come a point where several of the names fans utter with a reverence usually reserved for deities and super heroes are going to either flop or be traded, maybe both.  And again, that’s not a bad thing.

Take Dan Vogelbach, for instance: first baseman with plus-plus raw power and a great attitude.  Thing is, the Cubs already have Rizzo locked up.  But, you say, left field is like the NL version of the DH.  And that’d be all well and good if there weren’t already a bevy of burgeoning stars who can already play the OF.  The same could be true of players like Christian Villanueva and Jeimer Candelario, and that’s just among the top 10.

Don’t let my intro fool you; I’m still driven forward by the spark of hope that I keep buried deep inside, like the last ember of a dying fire.  And I do believe that this organization can get things together, but it’s going to take more than just prospects to do it.  Theo Epstein has talked before about reaching “critical mass,” and that’s all well and good, but I don’t think people truly grasp the concept.

Critical mass is defined as the smallest amount of fissile material needed for a sustained nuclear chain reaction.  In other words, the Cubs need to reach the point at which the team is being sustained by an influx of talent from both the minors and free agency.  But rather than creating a bomb that leaves nothing but scorched earth and crippling disappointment in its wake like Fat Man and Little Boy (Hendry and Zell, perhaps?), Epstein and Jed Hoyer are looking for the same kind of sustained energy produced from a power plant; they want a perpetual motion machine.

Listen, I’m no nuclear physicist, but I understand the need to proceed with caution when it comes to something as potentially incendiary as a young player’s career.  Then annals of Cubs history are littered with the charred remains of promising talent, the hallways caked with layers of ash from the fallout.  The Cubs are stockpiling plenty of new materials with which to create a reaction, but it remains to be seen how they will use it.

So prepare yourselves for the fact that the Cubs might not, no, will not, be able to use all the parts they’ve acquired.  You might see Dan Vogelbach driving bombs into the pool in Arizona or Matt Szczur having his name misspelled by fans in Minnesota.  Who knows?  The point is that the Cubs have spent a few years building a fortune in the form of young assets.  So don’t go getting too attached to them, because most aren’t going to make it.

It’s often said that someone can’t see the forest for the trees, but I am cautioning you to avoid putting so much focus on the individual trees that you lose sight of the forest.  Know the prospects, learn their strengths, but don’t forget that many of them might best help the Cubs by playing for other teams.

We’re going to see a lot more of the vaunted prospects this year and next, but we’re also going to start seeing a bit more of a reversal in the trends of the past.  Rather than flipping short-term commodities for prospects, young players are going to be moved for established veterans.  The Cubs are going to start putting the money in moneyball.  And when you combine that with the ignition of all those dying embers inside so many fans’ hardened hearts: look out.


And as for me: things turned out okay.  It took a little time, but losing things upon which I had heaped so much hope and expectation actually turned out for the better.  The only thing I’m a little disappointed in is the lack of sarcasm in the previous 1,300 or so words, but hey, nobody’s perfect.  

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Prospect Poised for a Breakout Year

When browsing through a top-heavy Cubs farm system loaded with potential high-ceiling bats, it’s hard to forget about the very mediocre group of pitchers.  However, when the Theo and Jed era began just over two years ago they made it an emphasis to improve in all aspects of the farm system.  Currently, it’s widely viewed as a top 5 system, with some going as far as saying the second best, slotting behind the Byron Buxton led Twins.  With a lack of MLB ready pitchers the organization has turned to the draft, mostly more advanced college arms, to pump new blood into it.  Through the draft and mid-season trades the Cubs have built up a solid but not spectacular minor-league rotation filled with potential #3, #4, and #5 starting pitchers.  Though they are still missing that top of the rotation arm.  

After picking Albert Almora with the #6 pick in the 2012 draft, the new regimes first draft, the Cubs veered towards pitching with their next two compensation picks.  (For losing Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Peña in free agency after they were both offered arbitration.)  With the 43rd selection Pierce Johnson was chosen, and 13 picks later the Cubs grabbed Paul Blackburn, a High School arm out of California.

Paul Blackburn
Ready to take the next step  Photo by Scott McDaniel 

Age: 20


6-2, 185 pounds. 


Right-handed starter 


Current Level: Short-Season A-Boise 

Having dominated his senior season at Heritage High School (0.93 ERA), Blackburn started off in the Arizona Rookie League in 2012.  After a successful 20.2 innings, he was bumped up to short-season Boise to begin his 2013 campaign.  In Boise, Blackburn posted a 3.33 ERA but a FIP (Fielder Independent Pitching) more than a point higher at 4.35.  Along with a rather high FIP, his K/BB ratio was 1.31, relatively low for a pitcher in short-season ball.  Much of this was due to the fact that his BB/9 was 5.67, meaning he was often wild and will have to reduce that number in order to be successful.  It is reported that he was pitching during a dead arm period, which could be a potential cause for the lapse in control.  One major improvement over his rookie season was the amount of home runs he allowed per 9 innings, chalking in at a measly 0.59.

Blackburn features a three-pitch repertoire that includes a curveball, changeup, and a fastball that sits in the low 90s.  He’s projected to add a couple more ticks onto his fastball as he still has 10-20 pounds left to fill out his frame.  On the mound Blackburn is an aggressive pitcher with good command who pitches to contact.  His coach for the Boise Hawks, Gary Van Tol, was impressed with his composure and attention to detail at such a young age.  He’s a student of the game and goes after hitters with no fear.  Last season Blackburn was constantly improving throughout which may have earned him a ticket out of Boise.  

Outlook:  At 20 years-old, Blackburn will likely start the year off in Kane County.  There, he’ll have a lot to work to do against slightly more advanced hitters.  If he begins to cut down his walks and develop his changeup and curveball a promotion to Daytona is certainly reasonable.  Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus listed Blackburn as a prospect ready to take a big step forward, and many inside and outside the organization believe that as well.  His ceiling is a #3 starting pitcher.

ETA: 2016-2017

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Broken Appliances and the Cubs Farm System: The Revolution is Coming

Appliances don't last long in my house.  Without thinking very hard, I can count 3 washing machines and at least 5 vacuums we’ve run through.  Sure, they'd work well for a while.  But eventually they'd bite the dust.  There was a 2-week period where I think we lost 3 vacuums.  I mean, it was uncanny how quickly they just crapped out.  They looked great in the box and cleaned up the carpet just like they were supposed to when we first fired them up.  But then, for whatever reason, a belt would break and the promising new appliance was shot.  It sucked.  Or, in this case, didn't suck.

There really wasn't any reason for the seemingly inevitable demise of what appeared to be a series of perfectly good appliances.  Well, the first couple washing machines went kaput as a result of being overloaded to the point that the drum basically wobbled itself to death.  And while it really does no good to lay blame in a case like that, my wife is the one who loaded the clothes both times.
And then there was the time she decided to use the hose attachment to suck up the contents of our document shredder.  I had to spend quite a while cleaning out the remnants of bills and credit card statements in order to return the thing to service.  That little incident of negligent domesticity became a sticking point between the two of us and undermined my trust in my wife for a while.
Most of you are probably wondering by now where in the hell I'm going with these asinine stories of my defunct household gadgets.  The rest might have started to piece my bastardized little metaphor together already.  All of you may think I'm an idiot (and you’re not far off); but bear with me; this might yet start to make a little sense.
In the time since Tom Ricketts and his family purchased the Chicago Cubs, the team's philosophy has shifted from the free-spending days that characterized the latter days of Sam Zell's ownership. Of course, Tom and Associates had to leverage a small mountain of debt in order to make said purchase, which left them in a very compromising and uncomfortable financial position.  Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan laid out some of the details of the purchase and the ensuing fallout in a recent article, though his report was laced with a bit of what might be called pandering at best and trolling at worst.
But thinly-veiled digs at well-known journalists aside, Passan's criticisms mirror those that a great many Cubs fans have been voicing since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer were brought to Chicago like mercenaries.  Over the past couple seasons, the wunderkind duo has jettisoned the bad contracts Jim Hendry had passed out like candy.  They've flipped short-term commodities for long-term prospects and replenished a farm system that was more laughing stock than livestock.
By all accounts, the Cubs have one of the best minor league systems in baseball.  But like unsold stocks or that hot girl who just followed you on Twitter, it's possible for some things to look way better on paper than they turn out to be in the real world.  And sadly, that's been the case for the Cubs when it comes to prospects.  At least, that's the narrative people want to repeat ad nauseum.
The list of failed prospects that got little more than a cup of coffee in the Bigs is longer than my...well, it's long.  I can still remember by neighbor fawning over a report in the latest issue of Vine Line that labeled Brooks Kieschnick as the Next Big Thing.  Brant "Oh, no!" Brown, Josh Vitters, Brett Jackson, and Felix Pie are just the tip of an iceberg that the Cubs just continue to sail into time and time again.

Can you believe Pie is only 28 years old!? (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Even players like Mark Prior, Geovany Soto, Corey Patterson, and Tyler Colvin achieved only limited success before injuries or inconsistency derailed their Cubs careers.  In Colvin’s case, being impaled by a shattered bat didn’t help either.  And when you really get down to it, that's the reason so many people have a hard time with this rebuild, with putting so much faith in the development of prospects.  Why, after all these failed attempts, would it work now?
Well, for one, it's a volume game now.  Every year or two, it seemed there was one player in the minors who got all the hype, one young stud upon whose back was heaped the frustrated expectations of an ever-growing legacy of failure.  And when the weight of those expectations overloaded that player's drum, he broke. Or maybe the Cubs tried to suck up shredded paper with their vacuum. Oh well, just take the load and shift it to the next guy, and the next, and so on.

Whatever the reason, people got the feeling after a while that the team was snakebit.  But this is no longer a one-at-a-time series of players upon whose still-developing shoulders renewed expectations will be placed.  Theo Epstein was forced to unload sopping-wet clothes from a broken washer, repair belts and fish paper from the vacuum.  It hasn’t always been pretty or fun, but through those diligent efforts, the organization now has a bevy of talented young players who can all share the load together.  
But again, it's all for naught until those players are wearing pinstripes on the North Side of Chicago and living up to the hype.  You can read all about the individual players who comprise the core of the Cubs future in the posts of the other members of the CPW team.  I'm not here to break down advanced metrics and tell you exactly how the current crop of farmhands is going to lead the Cubs to glory.  But I am here to say that you can't apply the results of the past to either the present or the future of this organization.

Now, I don't expect you to take my word for it. After all, I think I was brought on board here primarily to give the other guys on the team someone to laugh at and to make them look better by comparison.  There's no doubt that more than one of these prospects is going to have to hit, and hit big, in order for folks to truly buy in.  I'm not talking about an entire lineup of home-grown talent, but we're going to have to see multiple position players and at least one starting pitcher, if not two.  And that reality might be closer than you think.


So be ready, Cubs fans, because the revolution is coming, and it will be televised, just maybe not on WGN. It’ll be sponsored by Budweiser and Toyota and you’ll be able to skip out for beer during the commercials if you like.  And this revolution will not be a re-run, it’ll be live.  So don’t jump off the bandwagon just yet, folks, you’re gonna like what the young Cubs have got in store for you.  

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Update: The "Big Four": ETA, 2013 Reviews, And More

Overview
The Chicago Cubs have, arguably, one of the best, if not the best, group of core prospects, all centered around what many have begun to call the “Big Four”: Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, and Jorge Soler. Below are the stats for each of the four, and a ranking according to a compiling of recent rankings, and the general consensus of rankings.
(Rank) Name
2013 Level
GP
PA/AB
BA/OBP
H/HR
RBI/R
BB
1. SS Javier Baez
High-A
Double-A
130
577/517
.282/.341
146/37
111/98
 40
2. 3B Kris Bryant
(AZ League)
Low/High-A
36
146/128
.336/.390
43/9
32/22
 11
3. OF Albert Almora
Single-A
61
272/249
.329/.376
82/3
23/39
 17
4. OF Jorge Soler
High-A
55
237/210
.281/.343
59/56
35/38
 21

What is clear at this moment, if anything, with these young men, is that they all have had good success at the minor league level thus far. And as limited as said success may be, it goes to show that each one has good potential, and seems to be viewed as a good pick (or in Soler’s case a good signing). But the question being debated by most Cubs fans is when each player will make his splash with the Cubs. Before that question is answered keep in mind that I will be making the necessary assumptions that:
A. All the prospects remain with the Chicago Cubs and are not used as trade bait.
And…
B. All the prospects WILL make it to the ML level, which, in almost no cases, happens.
So let’s look at each prospect, analyze them a bit and, taking all the information, attempt to gauge when each should make it to the Majors.
*Rankings will be based off of most recent/most accurate; not all will be by MLB.com, etc.
**All ages are current
How far did that one go? (Photo Courtesy of Roger C. Hoover)
Javier Baez, SS
Age: 21
Finished 2013: Double-A Tennessee
Expected Start for 2014: Triple-A Iowa
Rankings: MLB.com- Cubs #1, MLB.com Top Prospects- #9
Risk level: Fairly High
Javier Baez is perhaps one of the only draftees out of the Hendry era (aside from Junior Lake (IFA) whose future is still undetermined) that is labeled as anything more than a bust. Ranging from Brett Jackson to Hayden Simpson (who was released by the Cubs last Spring), Jim Hendry had a horrible time when it came to drafting. Even though Jackson and fellow Hendry-draftee Josh Vitters remain with the club, both are being viewed each day as more and more of a bust. That’s where Javier Baez proves most wrong. One of the last GOOD moves that Jim Hendry made was drafting Javier Baez in 2011.
The first thing mentioned when you hear Javy’s name is almost always that “Baez has plus bat speed” (MLB.com Top Prospects). Baez has fantastic bat speed and many have already reached for a comparison to a Mets HOF great: OF Gary Sheffield. Here’s a video courtesy of Bleacher Report comparing the two swings, both with strikingly similar bat speed:



Another, more current, comparison was pointed out by MLB.com writer Bernie Pleskoff, who said Baez demonstrates “similar bat speed to that of Justin Upton when Upton was first promoted to the Arizona Diamondbacks at age 19”. In either case, it should be clear now that Baez has tremendous bat speed. The main problem pointed out by most scouts is Baez’s approach at the plate; whereby he basically attacks every pitch like he’s hitting a homerun. He fails to work the count, and thus results in much more strike outs than walks. Here is why Baez sits at a high risk level, because if he fails to fix his approach, then he could find himself in a Brett Jackson-like hole. The good part about all of this is that Baez has the raw ability, and it’s developing. And, to go along with his average defense, Baez has a cannon for an arm. Scouts rave about Baez's arm; an arm that could land him at third-base, or shortstop. Either way, Baez still has some growing to do, but, overall, has the ability and maturity that the Cubs are hoping to see in all their prospects.
With Baez already at Double-A, and considering he had 20 HR in 218 AB there, he should be ready for Triple-A. Subsequently, he will likely work out any other major flaws at Triple-A, and find himself ready for the Majors, at the earliest, by July. Position-wise will be a bit of a Theo/Jed-preference, depending on whether or not Mike Olt is stationed at third-base, whether or not they deem Darwin Barney bench-worthy, and if they decide it's time to move the oft-mentally lost Starlin Castro to second-base. Baez certainly has the ability to play third-base, however with Mike Olt, Kris Bryant, and others blocking his way, it is more likely that he sticks at shortstop. This would result in Castro shifting to second, which would be very viable. In the end, Baez could take short or second, but it is up to Cubs management to make the move.
ETA: Mid-to-late-2014
Bryant in the field (Larry Goren / AP Images / Four Seam Images)
Kris Bryant, 3B
Age: 22
Finished 2013: High-A Daytona
Expected Start for 2014: Double-A Tennessee 
Rankings: MLB.com’s most recent Top 100 Prospects- #36, MLB.com’s Top Third-Baseman- #2
Risk Level: Relatively Low
With the 2nd overall pick in last year’s draft, the Cubs selected Bryant, considered the best bat in that draft class. Here are the most recent Scouting Grades via MLB.com, on Bryant:
Scouting Grades* (present/future): Hit: 4/5 | Power: 5/7 | Run: 4/4 | Arm: 6/6 | Field: 4/5 | Overall: 4/6
Each category is out of 8; 8 being meaning the player has HOF-like attributes. A grade of 6 is above average, and 5 is average, while 7 (and 8) means they are well plus average.
As you can see, Kris Bryant has excellent ratings, especially when it comes to power. One thing Bryant had little trouble with last year is hitting homeruns. In the 146 PA he had last year, he had 43 hits, of which 9 resulted in a homerun. Also, unlike what many people think when they hear a guy is a “power hitter” Bryant should develop into a good all-around hitter, while still hitting 30-35 homeruns a year, and batting something along the lines of .300-.320. Furthermore, Bryant does have a few weaknesses that he needs to iron out before making a splash, or at least a successful one, with the Cubs. One thing pointed out by scouts is pitch recognition, something that many young players (Javier Baez included) struggle with early on. However, the good thing about Bryant is that he has developed plus-plus power and done so quickly, meaning that he should be able to make the proper approach adjustments at the plate. But Bryant’s biggest strength is one that stands out among any prospect: Bryce Harper, Yasiel Puig, and Stephen Strasburg – quick, easy, and impressive development. While Bryant won’t be emerging AS quickly as the likes of the previously stated current stars, he should be coming up right before or right alongside the current crop of prospects (Baez, Almora, Soler, Arismendy Alcantara, etc.); which is remarkably impressive when remembering that many of those prospects were drafted well before Bryant and have been developing for a couple year. Cubs Mastermind Theo Epstein has suggested that if Bryant continues to “dominate” than he will continue to force their hands. Considering most guys drafted last year didn’t even make it out of Rookie Ball, Cleveland OF Clint Frazier for example, Bryant took a huge jump from the Arizona Fall League, to Low-A, then straight to High-A. Which is why it is likely that he will find himself starting at third-base at Tennessee.
The one main reason why I disagree with those who call Bryant a risky pick (recent Bleacher Report article on Cubs Top Prospects ranks Bryant as a high risk) is because he has already developed enough, to the point where, if need be, Bryant could be playing in Triple-A Iowa right now and be doing decent enough. Bryant is, by no means, a 100% bet to make it the Majors, but he is much safer than any other Cubs prospects right now.  
Here are Bryant’s Arizona Fall League stats, which are, of course, impressive:
Mesa Solar Sox- 20 GP, .360 AVG in 77 AB – 28 H, 22 R*, 6 HR*, 17 RBI, 14 BB/23 SO, .457 OBP, .727 SLG*, 56 TB*, 1.184 OPS*
*Leads the league
Bryant has continued his dominating game, transitioning flawlessly from the low-minors to the Arizona Fall League. Bryant leads the league in many categories, and sits in the top-5, essentially, of the rest of the categories.
So as far as predictions go, this one is tough to make, because unlike many Cubs fans want to believe, the truth is that Bryant is a stretch to show up in September of this season, not to mention before that. Even though Theo and Co. will have Bryant make stops at all minor league levels, each stop will be relatively short. With Bryant developing at an alarming rate he will also never find himself digressing at any point, as Cubs management looks to herd him through the system. So, expect to see Bryant at Double-A to start the season, and finish the season (likely the final month or so) in Triple-A, before even getting a cup of coffee with the Cubbies.
ETA: 2015
Almora at the plate (Thefarmclub.net)
Albert Almora, CF
Age: 19
Finished 2013: Single-A Kane County
Expected Start for 2014: High-A Daytona
Rankings: Bleacher Report: Recent Cubs Top 10 Prospects- #3, MLB.com Top OF Prospects- #6
Risk Level: Medium
Albert Almora will likely be the victim of Bryant when it comes to most prospect rankings, as many remain divided on who, now after the drafting of Bryant, truly is the Cubs #2 prospect. However, where I see Almora ranked a little lower than Bryant, is development. Almora will likely start the year in High-A Daytona, and make his way up to Double-A. It’s fairly likely that Almora could see the final stretch of the year in Triple-A Iowa, however, Almora was restricted to just 61 games because of injuries, and would need to dominate at High-A, and then Double-A before getting such a big promotion.  Ranging from surgery to remove a broken hamate bone in his hand in March, all the way to a nagging groin injury throughout the end of the season, Almora was still able to produce exceptionally well considering his limited play. Almora, playing in the Arizona Fall League, alongside Kris Bryant on the Solar Sox, has amassed 75 AB over 21 games, for a slash line of: .307/.342/.480. He has compiled 23 hits, including 6 doubles and a homer, and 12 runs batted in.
Almora is, by no means, a slacker compared to Kris Bryant. Almora has fantastic offensive tools, including the ability to steal bases, along with surprising power. Almora has room to fill-out, and that should lead to an increase of power as he develops strength. Moreover, he has the ability to hit the ball to all fields and has a good eye at the plate. Where Almora really trumps most prospects is with his defense. Almora is, arguably, the best defensive outfielder among prospects. He has well-above average instincts that allow him to get a great jump on the ball. He has a solid arm, and the baseball smarts to play CF. But as far as development goes, Almora still needs to add muscle, however as far as ability goes it is all there, and he should have little trouble working out any kinks in his swing or game.
Assuming Theo and GM Jed Hoyer play it smart with Almora, expect to see him at Double-A for the majority of 2014, with a chance that he cracks Triple-A. With that said, Almora will need to stay healthy in order to prove himself, and is the main reason as to why he sits as a medium risk. If he stays healthy and continues to add muscle, he should end up as a solid lead-off man and centerfielder for the Cubs.
ETA: Mid-2015
"Don't talk about my family!" (Photo by Mike Janes)
Jorge Soler, OF (RF)
Age: 21
Finished 2013: High-A Daytona
Expected Start for 2014: High-A Daytona
Rankings: MLB.com Top OF Prospects- #8, Cubs Prospect Watch Top 30- #4
Risk Level: Medium-High

The Cubs signed Soler to a 9-year $30 million deal in 2012; a deal that could prove to be a a steal if Soler turns into the All-Star the Cubs expect him to. 
Jorge Soler was yet another top Cubs prospect held back by injuries last year, most significantly a stress fracture in his left tibia that sidelined him after the end of the season. However, he was able to compete in the Arizona Fall League alongside his fellow Cubs prospects Bryant and Almora. Here are his stats playing with the Mesa Solar Sox:


AVG
GP
AB/H
R
HR
RBI
BB/SO
OBP
SLG
OPS
.271
20
85/23
11
1
14
5/21
.311
.376
.688


Soler was able to make up for lost time playing the AZ Fall League, and will look to continue to grow next year. He still needs time to develop, but, overall, should grow into a solid player. Soler has great attributes on the offensive and defensive side.
Offensively, Soler still needs to work on his plate discipline, and taking pitches. While he should be able to maintain an average around .290, he also has to show that he can take walks. A key part of Theo’s plan (considering he is following Billy Beane’s plan – read Moneyball, it’s a great book – it makes sense) is to teach prospects to be patient, and form a team around getting on base, and then driving those players in. But luckily Soler is able to drive the ball to all fields, and can do so with considerable power. Perhaps the most impressive attribute of Soler’s offensive game is his raw power. Combined with his base stealing ability, Soler could be a 20/20, and even 30/30, player. Defensively, Soler is perfectly suited for RF. He is an athletic player, with good speed and can make good plays. More importantly, he has an arm that puts him perfectly in RF. He could, one day, be a fearsome outfielder, especially considering he would be tough to challenge on the base paths. He is athletic enough that any kinks in his defensive game can be easily ironed out in the lower-levels before he hits the Majors.

However, Soler’s development has been pushed back a bit in light of his injuries. Unlike fellow Cuban outfielders Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig, Soler will need a bit more time to develop. As is the reason why many have their concerns about Puig, Soler too has a bit of temper, including an incident last year where he was suspended 5 games and fined for wielding a bat at the opposing dug out. He still quite a bit of maturing to do, and will need to (same of Almora) stay healthy to prove himself. However, he does have the potential to be of the caliber that many expect the Dodgers Yasiel Puig to be. But his raw talent still needs some molding, and he, overall, needs to be able to control himself; not just so he can stay on the field and avoid fines, but so that he isn’t viewed childish, such as Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro has been viewed.
Don’t expect to see Jorge in Triple-A next year, or at least until the very last leg of the year at the latest. Theo and Co. will likely give Soler time in A-ball before moving him full time to Double-A Tennessee, thus making it unlikely that he cracks the Majors this year.
ETA: Mid-2015  
Wrap-Up
After looking at the “Big Four” of Chicago Cubs prospects, it should be obvious that the Cubs have a talented core they are ready to build around. Even though the Cubs possess a bevy of talent, this group of four will likely be the ones who the Cubs build around, along with Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. But something Cubs fans should remember is that Theo and Jed are in no rush to bring up any of the ‘kids’. With the Cubs in no situation to contend this year the Cubs can focus on developing their talent in the minors, through trades and another solid draft, and simply just wait ‘til next year to show Cubs fans that they are committed.