Chicago Cubs 2011 draft review: Javier Baez and Dan Vogelbach

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On or around the two year anniversary of former Chicago Cubs’ general manager Jim Hendry’s firing on August 19, 2011, we will write a brief retrospective on his tenure with the Cubs and his continued imprint on the organization.  While Hendry made some solid free agent signings and masterful trades, his overall drafting record and performance as a trade-deadline seller were woeful.  Where Hendry appears to have left the most positive imprint is through his international signings.
However, another positive legacy of Hendry’s regime appears to be one of his final pieces of business prior to his ouster, the 2011 draft.  If the theory holds credence that one player alone can make a draft successful, then first round pick SS Javier Baez might be exhibit one.  However, we have identified twelve other players from the fifty selected in the 2011 draft who have made overall positive contributions to the Cubs’ organization since being drafted.  We will profile two members of the draft class today, Baez and second round selection 1B Dan Vogelbach, and then the other twelve in articles over the next two days.
Javier Baez:  All of the superlatives have been exhausted describing the right-handed hitting shortstop with quick hands, blazing bat speed and prodigious power.  Just 20, Baez is currently playing for the AA Tennessee Smokies and appears to have Wrigley Field on his 2014 radar.  Last year, his first full season in the Cubs’ system, Baez spent the majority of his time with Peoria, the Cubs’ former Midwest League affiliate, before a late season promotion to Daytona of the Florida State League.
In 235 plate appearances for Peoria, Baez batted .333 with twelve home runs, ten doubles and five triples.  His On-Base-Percentage (OBP) was .383 and slugging percentage an exceptional .596, and he stole 20 bases in 23 attempts.  In 86 plate appearances with Daytona, Baez’s production dipped precipitously.  He hit .188 with a .244 OBP and .400 slugging percentage.  He homered four times and drove in thirteen.  Combined between the two levels, he walked only fourteen times and struck out 69 in 321 plate appearances.
This season, Baez returned to Daytona with a vengeance.  In 337 plate appearances, he hit .274 with seventeen home runs and 57 RBI.  He added nineteen doubles and four triples.  His OBP was .338 and slugging percentage .535.  Baez was promoted to AA Tennessee on July 5, and after a sluggish start, he has been crushing Southern League pitching.  In just 155 plate appearances, he has twelve homers, eight doubles and 31 RBI, resulting in a robust slugging percentage of .580.  Baez’s combined 29 home runs, 88 RBI and .550 slugging percentage would lead both the Florida State and Southern Leagues; and his 27 doubles would rank first in the Southern League and eight in the Florida State League.
Baez needs to continue to improve his plate discipline and minimize his strikeouts.  He walked a mere fourteen times in 321 plate appearances last season and has walked at only a slightly higher rate of 33 times in 492 plate appearances so far this season.  Meanwhile, he fanned 69 times last year and has already struck out a whopping 124 times this season.
Finally, the $60 million question (the total amount of Cubs’ shortstop Starlin Castro’s contract) is what position Baez will play when he joins the Cubs.  Assuming that Castro is as entrenched at shortstop as his contract suggests–and despite a down year offensively, Castro’s .969 fielding percentage is a career high–Baez would have to cut his teeth at another position.  Junior Lake appears to be a future corner outfielder, Anthony Rizzo the first baseman and Welington Castillo the catcher, leaving third base, second base and a couple of outfield openings from which to chose in terms of Baez’s future.  If top-tier prospects Kris Bryant (3B), Christian Villanueva (3B), Arismendy Alcantara (2B); Gioskar Amaya (2B), Albert Almora (CF) and Jorge Soler (RF), among others, all prove to be viable major leaguers, the Cubs will be in a difficult but enviable position of having to cull a surplus of position player prospects for trade assets.  Scouts have already suggested that Baez would be an above-average defensive third-baseman.  Whether at third base or another position, I would definitely count on Baez being ensconced in Wrigley Field for several years to come regardless of how flooded the Cubs’ system becomes with elite position player prospects.
Update:  In last night’s Tennessee Smokies’ 4-1 victory over Chattanooga, Baez went 1-3 with a walk.
Dan Vogelbach:  First-baseman Vogelbach made his debut with Daytona last night after being promoted from Kane County of the Midwest League.  Last year, his first full season in the Cubs’ organization, the 6’0 250 pound left-handed hitting bruiser split time between the Arizona Rookie League and Boise of the short-season Northwest League.  In 283 plate appearances for Arizona, Vogelbach hit .324 with seven homers, twelve doubles, an OBP of .391 and a slugging percentage of .686.  In 168 plate appearances for Boise, he added ten homers, nine doubles and 31 RBI to complement a .423 OBP and .608 slugging percentage.
Prior to his promotion this week to Daytona, Vogelbach put together a solid season for Kane County.  In 500 plate appearances, he batted .284 with 17 home runs, 21 doubles, 57 walks, 71 RBI, a .364 OBP and a .450 slugging percentage.  He leaves the Midwest League ranked 10th in walks, tied for sixth in home runs and tied for eleventh in RBI.  Scouts praise Vogelbach’s plate discipline and bat speed.
Vogelbach has been tagged by scouts as lacking the lateral quickness to field his position effectively.  Some have relented after noting improvement this season.  He has only committed sixteen career errors, although eleven this year, and he does have a fairly impressive career fielding percentage of .988.  The consensus among scouts is that Vogelbach is not capable of playing another defensive position besides first base.  Like any first baseman in the Cubs’ system hoping to man the position at Wrigley Field in the near future, including Dustin Geiger, Jacob Rogers and Justin Bour, Vogelbach will have to unseat incumbent Anthony Rizzo, in whom the Cubs made an enormous financial investment for the next six seasons and who is having an above-average first full season in the majors.
Unseating an entrenched incumbent is not without recent precedent.  First baseman Lyle Overbay put together two exceptional seasons for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2004 and 2005 before being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays to make room for Prince Fielder in 2006.  Jim Thome had back to back seasons of 40 plus homers and 100 plus RBI in 2003 and 2004 for the Philadelphia Phillies before ceding first base to Ryan Howard in 2005 and being traded to the Chicago White Sox at season’s end.  So the challenge for Vogelbach is to prove that he is a better long term option at first base than Rizzo and force the Cubs’ hand.  Otherwise, he likely will end up becoming a valuable trade asset for the Cubs.
Update:  In last night’s doubleheader split between Daytona and Clearwater, Vogelbach made a successful Florida State League debut, going 2-6 with a home run and two RBI.
Check back tomorrow, as we continue to profile productive members of the Cubs’ 2011 draft.
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