By Chris Emma-
(CBS) Through shrewd moves and careful development, the Cubs now have baseball’s top farm system. In fact, it’s being considered one of the game’s best in decades by some.
The Cubs have depth throughout their organization, with eight of the top 100 prospects, according to Baseball Prospectus. In addition, they have three of the top seven names as ranked by Baseball America. It’s naive to think each Cubs prospect will pan out to full form, but the projections appear promising.
As the big league club is headed toward another 100-loss season, the focus has been on the farm. The “Future Five” is drawing great attention, with deserved excitement for the Cubs’ future.
When will each be up in the majors, and how will they project out? Let’s take a look:
SS Javier Baez – 1st-round pick (9th overall) in 2011 draft
Bio: Before Jim Hendry gave up his seat as the Cubs’ general manager, his last move was drafting Baez with the ninth overall pick in the 2011 amateur draft. Baez has worked his way to Triple-A Iowa, where he has endured struggles for the first time. The 21-year-old Baez has turned it around and seems on his way to Chicago in the coming months.
Projection: The slow start in Iowa appears to be more of an anomaly, as Baez has returned to his power-hitting form. The average (.242) and OPS (.761) are rising while his strikeout rate — while still a concern — is beginning to sink. Look for Baez to join the big league club before season’s end, likely with a September call-up.
Quote to note: “Baez tries to hit everything. He doesn’t have his spot locked in yet. Very similar to a young (Sammy) Sosa. He just swings it. … But once he learns how to avoid swinging at pitches in his problem areas and focuses on swinging when he gets ‘his pitch,’ he will take off.” – Jason Parks, Baseball Prospectus
Emma’s take: Of all the Cubs’ rising names in the minors, it’s fair to argue Baez has the greatest bust potential. His contact and strikeout issues are alarming, something that’s not a quick fix. Adjusting to top-tier pitching will be a great challenge. However, the power has always been present, something that will translate to the major leagues.
SS Addison Russell – 1st-round pick (11th overall, Oakland) in 2012 draft
Bio: The Cubs had plenty of suitors for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. But when Russell, Oakland’s top prospect, was made available to Chicago, president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer couldn’t say no. Now, the Cubs have a new name to add to their list of promising prospects. The shortstop has been compared to Derek Jeter by some scouts. He’s currently at Double-A Tennessee.
Projection: In the Athletics’ farm system, Russell was rushed through each level, reaching Triple-A late last season. However, he saw great struggles and proved to be unprepared. The Cubs will be patient with Russell, likely waiting until the start of next year for Russell’s return to Triple-A. A midseason 2015 MLB debut seems likely should the shortstop show confidence in Iowa.
Quote to note: “We would have been very open to getting quality pitching back in this deal, but there was no pitcher available who’s even close to the caliber of player we feel Addison Russell is.” – Epstein
Emma’s take: The acquisition of Russell was yet another example of the Cubs adding value rather than need to their organization. With one of baseball’s top prospects available, Epstein and Hoyer jumped on the opportunity. Russell has a little bit of everything in his arsenal, something scouts love.
3B Kris Bryant – 1st-round pick (2nd overall) in 2013 draft
Bio: The most heralded of the Cubs’ prospects, Bryant now ranks third in the Chicago system according to Baseball Prospectus — a telling fact to how strong the organization is now perceived by baseball experts. The slugging third baseman has dominated Double-A and now Triple-A, leading all levels of baseball in home runs with 30 on the season. His quick rise through the Cubs’ system is unconventional during Epstein’s time with the organization, but he’s been too good for each level thus far.
Projection: The bump up to Iowa hasn’t slowed Bryant down one bit. He’s continued to destroy baseballs while showing no signs of discomfort. It’s likely that Bryant will find his way to Chicago’s north side this season.
Quote to note: “We tell every young class to go dominate (at their level), and he is certainly doing that. … He has been everything we hoped for. Hopefully he will keep it up.” –Hoyer
Emma’s take: The 22-year-old Bryant seems like as much of a sure thing as you’ll find in the minors. He has abused minor league pitching at every level and seems destined to mash on major league pitching. Every projection seems promising, and Bryant hasn’t shown any signs of concern.
CF Albert Almora – 1st-round pick (6th overall) in 2012 draft
Bio: The first draft selection by Epstein in Chicago, Almora is slowly working his way through the minor leagues. Injuries have slowed down the center fielder’s track, and he’s still progressing through High-A ball in Daytona. When on the field, Almora has provided a solid bat and good glove. Still, the 20-year-old Almora has a lot to improve on before reaching the big leagues.
Projection: Sticking to their plan, the Cubs have taken their time with moving Almora through the minors. It’s likely that he’ll rise up to Double-A Tennessee in the coming months, then will split time between there and Iowa in 2015. The projection of Opening Day in 2016 seems realistic.
Quote to note: “We’re going to look back and say this was a great developmental year for Albert. We trust Albert to go out and hit in the long run as much as anyone in our system. He’s sort of just a natural hitter, a pure hitter, yet he’s struggling in High-A ball. This will be good for him.” – Epstein
Emma’s take: The hope is that Almora’s struggles in High-A Daytona can be a learning experience. In reality, he has shown an alarming trend. The promising outfielder hasn’t reached Double-A during two years in the Cubs’ system, due to these slumps and injury concerns. He hasn’t proved to be ready for a higher level. Almora needs to stay healthy and consistent for the 2016 projections to pan out.
RF Jorge Soler – Signed from Cuba in 2012
Bio: The Cubs’ greatest get from the international market, Soler has yet to show his true potential in the minors. Injuries have cut short each of his first two full seasons with the Cubs organization. This season, he has only played in 10 games with Double-A Tennessee. If the slugging right fielder can keep on the field, he’ll show off that high potential the Cubs saw in Cuba.
Projection: Should Soler stay healthy and produce, it seems as if he can work to Wrigley Field by the end of the 2015 season. For this to happen, he’ll need a strong finish in Double-A and a full season in Triple-A Iowa. At age 22 and with professional experience in Cuba under his belt, Soler’s progression through the minors can move faster than the rest of the Cubs’ “Future Five.”
Quote to note: “I see explosive offensive potential, with easy plus power and enough feel for the zone to be a middle-of-the-order bat.” – Keith Law, ESPN.com
Emma’s take: The beauty of bringing in an international prospect is that there’s often a fast track through the minors. Such is true with the case of Soler, who can quickly move through the Cubs’ system to the majors — that, of course, if he can stay healthy. If all projections pan out, Soler could be a big bat in the heart of the Cubs’ order for years to come.
Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.