Just before Spring Training, MLB.com released a list of its top 100 minor league prospects. Seven Cubs, tied for the second most among all major league organizations, were listed by MLB.com, trailing only the Boston Red Sox.
Prior to the season, we profiled each Cubs’ prospect who made MLB.com’s list. Today, as we will continue to do periodically throughout the season, we chart the progress of the Cubs’ top prospects.
Let’s get to work.
RHP Pierce Johnson (ranked 100): Like many of the Cubs’ prospects topping the charts, Johnson has had difficulty staying healthy this season, and his production has regressed when he has been on the field. His start to the season was delayed due to a hamstring injury. He is now on the disabled list with a calf strain. Between the injuries, Johnson made six appearances for the AA Tennessee Smokies, including five starts covering 26.2 innings. He allowed 18 hits and 24 walks while striking out 22. His ERA was 4.39 and WHIP 1.575.
In his final outing before landing on the disabled list, Johnson promisingly tossed four no-hit innings, walking and striking out two apiece.
Johnson, 23 and a first round compensatory pick in the 2012 draft, excelled last year pitching for A Kane County and Advanced A Daytona. Combined, he appeared in 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 Arismendy Alcantara (ranked 89): The switching-hitting Alcantara, 22, has not disappointed upon his promotion to the AAA Iowa Cubs after a breakthrough season with Tennessee last year. In 172 plate appearances through Friday, Alcantara was batting .270 with four home runs, 13 doubles (tied-eight), five triples (tied-first), 23 runs and 22 RBI. He also had swiped nine bases in ten attempts. He had OPB of .306 and slugging percentage of .491.
In 571 plate appearances last season for Tennessee, Alcantara 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 a slugging percentage of .451.
OF Jorge Soler ( Ranked 49): More than any topflight Cubs’ prospect, Soler, 22, has had difficulty staying healthy. He was legging out a double for Tennessee in his first at bat this season when he injured his left hamstring. After missing several weeks, he returned and was producing solid numbers when he tweaked his right hamstring. These injuries followed the 2013 season, which was cut several months short for Soler after he suffered a stress fracture to his left tibia.
He is now on a fitness program to promote “better muscular balance” according to the Cubs, although no return date has been suggested.
In 27 plate appearances this season for Tennessee, Soler is batting .333 with seven doubles, seven RBI, three walks, a .407 OBP and a .625 slugging percentage. In 237 plate appearances for Daytona last season, Soler averaged .281 with a .343 OBP and a .467 slugging percentage. He belted 13 doubles and eight home runs, produced 35 RBI and stole five bases in six attempts.
The consensus is that Soler is a terrific talent. The Cubs just need him to remain healthy so that he can matriculate through their minor league system and eventually compete for an outfield job in Wrigley Field.
RHP C.J. Edwards (ranked 42): Edwards, 22, acquired from the Texas Rangers in the Matt Garza trade last season, is another Cubs’ prospect among the walking wounded. He is currently on the disabled list for Tennessee with shoulder fatigue and inflammation. The Cubs’ brass expects Edwards, who put together an epically successful 2013 season for the Rangers’ and Cubs’ Advanced A teams, to return around the All-Star break.
In four games (all starts) for Tennessee prior to his injury, Edwards produced a 2.61 ERA and an exceptional 1.065 WHIP over 20.2 innings. He allowed 14 hits (one home run) and eight walks while fanning 20.
In 116.1 innings covering 24 starts last season, 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 (ranked 18): Unlike last season, Almora, 20, has remained healthy this season, as he plies his trade with Daytona. In 167 plate appearances, the Cubs’ first round pick in 2012 is averaging .267 with a .287 OBP and .371 slugging percentage. He has eleven doubles, two home runs and 19 RBI.
Despite his 2013 season being truncated by a wide variety of injuries, the slick-fielding and right-handed hitting center fielder still had a banner season for Kane County. In 272 plate appearances, Almora batted .329, slugged .466 and produced an OPB of .376. He walloped 17 doubles, four triples and three homes runs and drove in 23 runs.
3b Kris Bryant (ranked 9): We are running out of superlatives to describe the production of the right-handed hitting slugger, in his second season in the Cubs’ organization and playing for Tennessee. In 195 plate appearances, Bryant, 22, is batting .335 (2nd), producing an OBP of .431 (1st) and slugging .623 (1st). The Cubs’ first round pick in 2013 has walloped twelve doubles (tied-5th), cranked twelve home runs (1st), driven in 40 runs (tied-1st), stolen six bases without being caught and walked 23 times.
Combined between three lower levels last season, the slugger batted .336 in 146 plate appearances with nine home runs, 14 doubles and 32 RBI. His OBP was .390 and slugging percentage a robust .688.
Nevertheless, the Cubs recently announced that they are going to employ a patient approach with Bryant and that a promotion to the Cubs this season is not imminent.
SS Javier Baez (ranked 7): The right-handed hitting Baez, 21, the Cubs’ reigning minor league player of the year, has gotten off to a dreadful start at Iowa after producing prodigious power numbers at Daytona and Tennessee last season. But a recent seven game hitting steak might hint that Baez is about to enjoy a season breakthrough.
In 148 plate appearances for Iowa, Baez is hitting .2o1 with a .270 OPB and .396 slugging percentage. He has six doubles, six home runs, 17 RBI and a staggering 50 strikeouts.
However, over his last seven games, which lifted his batting average from a season-low of .139, Baez is batting .429 with five doubles, three homers and six RBI. Those numbers are much more on par with last season’s .282 average, 37 home runs, 34 doubles, 111 RBI and .578 slugging percentage.
Only time will tell if Baez’s recent hot streak is a blip on the radar or a trajectory shift in his season.
Check back next week for more Cubs minor league analysis.Powered by Sidelines Follow paulmbanks