Cubs

Baseball America releases Cubs' Top 10 prospects

872935.png

Baseball America releases Cubs' Top 10 prospects

The Cubs' farm system has gone through a complete remodel since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over in October 2011 and their stamp on the Cubs' top prospects was on full display in Baseball America's latest rankings.

BA's Top 10 prospects, released this morning, are as follows:

1. Javier Baez, SS
2. Albert Almora, OF
3. Jorge Soler, OF
4. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
5. Brett Jackson, OF
6. Pierce Johnson, RHP
7. Dan Vogelbach, 1B
8. Jeimer Candelario, 3B
9. Kyuji Fujikawa, RHP
10. Arismendy Alcantara, SS

First off, the Top 5 are hardly a surprise, as almost every set of prospect rankings lists those guys in a similar order. Some may be a bit more wary of Jackson given his uptick in strikeouts over 2012, but he still is good enough in the other categories to warrant a place in the Top 5.

Five of the 10 players are new additions under this regime, with Almora and Johnson as draft picks, Soler and Fujikawa as international signings and Vizcaino coming over in the Paul Maholm trade.

It's interesting to see Fujikawa on the list, as the 32-year-old Japanese reliever is not exactly what one pictures as a prospect. I always think it's weird to consider international players "rookies" and "prospects," but I guess they technically are, so it makes sense to include a guy like Fujikawa on this list. He has dominated in Japan over the last six seasons, sporting a sparkling 1.36 ERA and 0.86 WHIP with 202 saves and 12.4 K9 in 345 games.

Candelario and Alcantara are two of the more unknown prospects on the list, as neither has gotten much national acclaim to date.

Candelario, a 20-year-old infielder, was actually born in New York, but moved to the Dominican Republic and signed with the Cubs in 2010 for 500,000. Baseball America said he could have been a first round pick in 2012's draft had he stayed in America.

The 6-foot-1, 180 pound switch-hitter has spent most of his time at third base in the lower levels of the Cubs' system the past two years and boasts a career batting line of .307.393.435 in 615 plate appearances with 30 doubles, 11 homers, 100 RBI and 84 runs. His 76:97 walk:strikeout ratio is very encouraging for a young hitter and he could start the season in Kane County after spending all of '12 with the Boise Hawks.

Alcantara is a bit older -- he can legally buy a drink, having turned 21 this past October -- and also signed with the Cubs out of the Dominican Republic. The 5-foot-10, 160-pound infielder is also a switch-hitter and has spent time at all three infield positions, with 47 games at second, 51 at third and 194 at shortstop.

Alcantara made a whopping 35 errors last season and has 133 in 294 career games, but has shown improvement with the bat, hitting .302.339.447 with 25 steals in 359 plate appearances for High-A Daytona.

Vogelbach, the Cubs' second-round pick in the 2011 Draft, is another intriguing prospect. The 20-year-old first baseman can really hit, slugging .641 this past season at two levels, including 17 homers and 21 doubles in just 283 plate appearances. His 1.051 OPS shows the potential is there, and some have even likened him to Prince Fielder, as Vogelbach is also a big-bodied slugger (listed at 6-foot, 250 pounds).

Baseball America's article is jam-packed with other good nuggets, including a Projected 2016 lineup that features Starlin Castro at second base and Baez at shortstop. Be sure to check out the complete post.

Cubs announce minor league staff for 2018, with many familiar faces receiving new roles

chrisvalaikacubscoach.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs announce minor league staff for 2018, with many familiar faces receiving new roles

The Cubs finalized their minor league staffs for 2018 on Thursday, making changes at numerous staff positions.

The organization has retained managers Marty Pevey (Triple-A Iowa), Mark Johnson (Double-A Tennessee), and Buddy Bailey (Single-A Myrtle Beach) and Jimmy Gonzalez (Single-A South Bend). New to the organization is former Philadelphia Phillies' catcher Steven Lerud. Lerud, 33, will manage Single-A Eugene in 2018.

Eugene also added Jacob Rogers to its staff as assistant hitting coach. Rogers, 28, played in the Cubs organization from 2012-2016. Also new to the organization is Paul McAnulty, who is the new assistant hitting coach for South Bend. McAnulty, 36, played in parts of four seasons with the Padres from 2005-2008 and with the Angels in 2010. He recently served as a coach in the Angels' system in 2016.

Those with new roles for 2018 include Chris Valaika, who is now an assistant coach with Triple-A Iowa. Valaika, 32, began his coaching career last season with rookie league Mesa after playing ten seasons professionally. The former utility player hit .231 in 44 games with the Cubs in 2014.

Like Valaika, former Cubs' farmhand Ben Carhart has a new role with the organization for 2018. Carhart, 27, is now an assistant coach with South Bend after serving as a rehab coach with Mesa last season. From 2012-2016, he hit .270 in 372 minor league games, all in the Cubs' organization.

The Cubs also announced their minor league coordinators for 2018. Holdovers include Darnell McDonald and John Baker. McDonald played for the Cubs in 2013 and will return for his fourth season as the organization's mental skills coordinator. Baker, who played for the Cubs in 2014, will return for his second season as a mental skills coordinator.

Jeremy Farrell returns to the organization for a third season, although 2018 will be his first as the Cubs' minor league infield coordinator. Farrell played in the White Sox farm system from 2013-2015 and is the son of former Red Sox and Blue Jays' manager John Farrell.

Here is a complete list of the organization's major league training staff and minor league managers and staff for 2018:

 

 

 

Albert Almora Jr. is hungry for more

Albert Almora Jr. is hungry for more

While most of the Cubs were focusing on rest and relaxtion this winter, Albert Almora Jr. sees no need for chillin'.

Kris Bryant admitted he was worn down by the end of the Cubs' playoff run last October and most other regulars would say the same thing.

But some Cubs saw the winter not as an "offseason" but as the first opportunity to prove something.

Kyle Schwarber has shed weight and looks to be in great shape, but Almora is in the same boat.

The 23-year-old outfielder is chomping at the bit, anxious for the season to start. So anxious, in fact, that he spent just a couple weeks at home in Florida before heading to Arizona to start training for 2018. 

Yes, that's right. He's been in Arizona since November — training, eating right, mentally preparing himself for the grind ahead, taking swings. 

That's nothing new for the first draft pick under Theo Epstein's front office who's constantly trying to validate the sixth overall selection in the 2012 Draft.

"I'm always going out there trying to prove them right, trying to make them happy," Almora said.

This is a kid who earned a World Series ring before his 23rd birthday and has five gold medals from playing for Team USA as a teenager. 

Almora's no stranger to the big stage and he's already accomplished so much at such a young age, but he's never experienced anything quite like the 2017 season.

He's always been a starter and everyday player. From age 8, when he was playing up with 14-year-olds, Almora has been among the youngest guys on any team he's been on. 

That was the case with the 2017 Cubs once again, but this time, he wasn't a key contributor. He played nearly every day — notching 132 games — but only started 65 times throughout the course of the year. He had to learn a lot about waiting for his moment and making the most of his one at-bat or one inning in the field.

"[Playing time is] not in my control and I'm gonna do whatever I can when my name is called to help the team win games and have a lot of fun with it," Almora said. "That's the only way to stay sane and not worry too much.

"At the end of the day, all I can control is what I do on the ballfield and that's it."

Almora admitted he's let that external stuff creep into his mind in the past, though that was mostly in the minor leagues when he was wondering when he'd get called up to the next level.

In the majors, it's all about winning and Almora believes he can help the big-league team get back to the Promised Land.

Even Epstein admitted Almora is primed for a larger role in 2018, as the young outfielder proved down the stretch last year he could contribute against right-handed pitching as well as southpaws.

What does he make of his progression the last couple years?

"I can answer that by just saying I'm confident," Almora said. "The more opportunity I get, the more experienced under my belt. You're not intimidated, you're having a lot of fun out there and your confident in your game.