This is a guest post by devoted Cubs fan JP Hochbaum. Judging by the grandeur of his handlebar mustache, we should all pay close attention.
As the first year of the Epstein era draws to a close it’s time to evaluate the organization from top to bottom.
I won’t go that in-depth in this post, leaving the pitching prospects for a later post, but I have projected out what the current crop of minor league products could produce as far as the Cubs’ everyday lineup by 2015, focusing on the position players at hand.
This assumes, however, there won’t be any trades, which obviously is a long shot, but I am forced to work with what we have and not what we will have.
So around the diamond we go…
In less than a full season Anthony Rizzo has already show strong plate discipline and the ability to be a yearly .300 hitter, 30 HR’s and 100 RBI machine, plus an above average fielder–always a plus. Cleary, a lock for the foreseeable future.
I doubt Darwin Barney is a Cub come 2015, and I say that because of Junior Lake, who I believe is likely to replace Barney in the next year or two.
While Lake’s not the fielder Barney has become, he shows more upside offensively. He is, however, currently playing SS in the minors, but it makes sense to move him to second base with Castro and Baez appearing better prospects at the position. Lake’s arm also shows the potential to be moved to a corner outfield spot.
THIRD AND SHORT
There’s a logjam of prospects at both positions.
Castro, for the time being, remains the man at short with Javier Baez serving as the Cubs’ No. 1 prospect behind him. Not a bad problem to have at one of the most important defensive positions.
However, I see Baez or Castro being moved to third base, barring one of them being traded, and Josh Vitters serving as potential trade bait.
Vitters could eventually become a decent hitter and a serviceable fielder once he adjusts better to the major league game. But there’s also an outside chance his below-average fielding forces a position change to the outfield, which we can only hope raises his appeal on the trade market.
The Cubs are lacking in the catching department behind Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger. It’s an area of need the Cubs likely improve upon through the amateur draft or minor trades.
Brett Jackson or Matt Szczur could be the answer. Jackson reminds me of a faster version of Jim Edmonds in the field, and a similar version to Edmonds at the dish–league average hitter, above average power and a good on-base percentage.
Matt Szczur also shows solid speed and a knack for getting on base. His walk and strikeout ratio is ideal for a leadoff hitter, a spot the Cubs have long been in need of filling.
So with the power coming up at other positions, I prefer the Cubs develop Jackson as trade material for pitching prospects and open the door for Szczur to play centerfield.
CORNER OUT FIELD
Albert Almora and Jorge Soler appear on the fast track to being called-up to the big club in 2014, or sooner, if they develop as quickly as planned.
Both guys show good bat speed and the potential to develop big league power. Soler has quickly been dubbed “Soler Power” in just the few short months he’s been in the Cubs’ system.
Soler is projected to exhibit the most power in the Cubs’ farm system and is likely to become the cleanup hitter in the lineup behind Rizzo.
Almora is the youngest, but more polished, of the prospects and could also potentially be the center fielder pending the development or trade of either Jackson or Szczur.
Almora currently stands as the No.2 prospect behind Baez and could move up very quickly to the major leagues if he continues to dominate minor league pitching the way he has this summer.
This gives us a look at the Cubs’ potential 2015 lineup:
WHAT TO EXPECT
As Cub fans we’ve grown accustom to preaching patience. After all, what’s a few more years when we’ve already waited as long as we have for a World Series contender?
But what’s most exciting is the position players in the Cubs’ system are pretty darn good, granted most are still pretty far away from fielding a contending team together in the NL Central.
It’s likely, of course, the prospect landscape changes as Team Theo works the trade market to supplement pitching and acquire the finishing touches, which will eventually include the addition of free agents.
In the meantime, the objective remains to accumulate depth at every position, moving pieces that no longer fit and maintaining a strong prospect base for future success.
Like many of you, I’m a believer this era, in time, will pan out to be a perennial playoff team. But it does come at the cost of waiting, waiting and waiting some more. And in baseball years that could spells five seasons or more to fully complete the rebuild.
Even so, there’s no high-degree of certainty in developing prospects to perform at the desired levels needed in the majors.
Only time will tell, but pinning down the formula or the time frame is difficult in a sport as unpredictable and every changing as the game of baseball.