In Theo We Trust. That should be the motto of Chicago Cubs’ fans after MLB.com released its Top 100 minor league prospect list last week. When Theo Epstein assumed the position of President of Baseball Operations prior to the 2012 season, he promised to build the Cubs’ minor league system into the premier one in baseball.
The results have been astounding.
Not only did the Cubs tie for second with the Houston Astros with seven players among the Top 100 (five acquired by the Epstein regime), Epstein’s former team, the Boston Red Sox, placed first with nine, eight of whom were drafted or signed when Epstein was in charge of Boston’s baseball operations. Thus, Theo Epstein is responsible for acquiring thirteen of the Top 100 prospects, a distinction no other baseball personnel head can come close to matching.
Let’s examine the seven Cubs’ prospects who made MLB.com’s Top 100 list.
RHP Pierce Johnson: Johnson, 22, ranked 100. The lanky Johnson, drafted as a sandwich pick in 2012 (43rd overall) split last season between Kane County of the Midwest League and Daytona of the Florida State League. He appeared in a combined 23 games, 21 starts, and compiled an 11-6 record, a 2.74 ERA and solid 1.285 WHIP over 118.1 innings. He yielded only five home runs, walked 43 and fanned 124.
2B/SS Arismendy Alcantara: Alcantara, 22, who was signed by the previous regime, had a breakout season playing for the AA Tennessee Smokies last season and ranked 89. In 133 games and 571 plate appearances, the switch hitter batted .271 with 36 doubles, fifteen homers, four triples, 69 RBI, 62 walks and an impressive 31 stolen bases in 37 attempts. He produced an OPB of .352 and slugging percentage of .451. He needs to improve his defense this season, where he will be playing second base for the AAA Iowa Cubs.
OF Jorge Soler: Soler, 21, who was signed by the Theo Epstein regime in June of 2012 after defecting from his native Cuba, is ranked 49. The right-handed hitting Soler experienced an injury-shortened 2013 season with Daytona, where in 237 plate appearances he averaged .281 with a .343 OPB and .467 slugging percentage. He belted thirteen doubles and eight home runs, drove in 35 runs and stole five bases in six attempts.
RHP C.J. Edwards: Edwards, acquired in the July deal that sent RHP Matt Garza to the Texas Rangers, ranked 42. Edwards, 22, whom some scouts believe has Cy Young caliber talent, produced a prodigious season between the Cubs’ and Rangers’ systems. In 116.1 innings covering 24 starts, Edwards fashioned a record of 8-2 and allowed just 76 hits, one home run and 41 walks while striking out 155. He finished the season with a microscopic WHIP of 1.006.
OF Albert Almora: Almora, the sixth pick of the 2012 draft and only 19 years of age, ranked 18. Like Soler, Almora’s season was truncated by injuries. But the slick-fielding center-fielder still had a banner year in limited action. In 272 plate appearances for Kane County, the right-handed hitter batted .329, slugged .466 and produced an OBP of .376. He walloped seventeen doubles, four triples and three home runs and drove in 23 runs batting almost exclusively out of the leadoff position.
3B Kris Bryant: Bryant, drafted second overall by the Cubs in 2013, ranked nine. Combined between the Arizona Rookie League Cubs, the Boise Hawks of the short-season Northwest League and Daytona, the right-handed slugging Bryant, 22, batted .336 in 146 plate appearances with nine home runs, 32 RBI and fourteen doubles. His OBP was .390 and slugging percentage a robust .688. He capped off the season by winning MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League.
SS Javier Baez: Baez, 21, was drafted ninth overall by Epstein’s predecessor in 2011. The right-handed hitting shortstop ranked seventh after combining between Daytona and Tennessee to hit 37 home runs, tied for the most in the minor leagues, and drive in 111, the most of any minor league player last season. He also averaged .282, slugged .578, stole 20 bases in 24 attempts and cranked 34 doubles.
While MLB.com assesses organizations’ minor league star power, Keith Law, a former major league front office employee and current journalist, specializes in evaluating farm systems’ depth top to bottom. He currently ranks the Cubs fourth. This is a vast improvement from 2011, the year before Epstein assumed control of the Cubs and Law ranked the Cubs system 20th. So there is compelling evidence the Cubs’ system has meteorically ascended to the top of the heap both in terms of star power and overall depth in just the three years Epstein has been at the controls.
2014 shapes up as an interesting season for the Cubs. As we will write about in the coming weeks, we believe the Cubs, as currently constituted, have enough talent to flirt with or even exceed .500. However, whether they can achieve that objective will largely depend on whether, for the third consecutive season, Epstein opts to flip veteran players such as Nate Scheirholtz, Ryan Sweeney, Carlos Villanueva, Jeff Samardjiza (if the Cubs cannot reach a contract extension with him) and others to continue stockpiling the farm system for an eventual splash of talent at Wrigley Field that should make the Cubs perennial winners.
We’d prefer to see management let this season play itself out without a major sell-off so that the younger players can experience a modicum of team success.
Whichever direction management pursues, it appears that Theo Epstein is fulfilling his promise to build the premier minor league system in baseball. Now Cubs’ fans need to patiently salivate as the cavalry of prospects begins to arrive.Follow paulmbanks