Cubs

Trio of Cubs crack midseason top prospect lists

Trio of Cubs crack midseason top prospect lists

The Cubs keep calling up kids from the minor leagues, but the farm system still has plenty of talent.

Even with Willson Contreras, Albert Almora and Jeimer Candelario all earning promotions to Chicago over the last month, the Cubs still had three guys — Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez, Ian Happ — included in the Top 50 of both the Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus rankings.

What's also amazing is the Cubs' best minor-league hitter wasn't even ranked.

Dan Vogelbach is absolutely lighting up Triple-A pitching, yet still finds his name nowhere among top prospect rankings.

The 23-year-old first baseman currently boasts a .973 OPS thanks to a .312 average, .426 on-base percentage and .547 slugging percentage. He has 15 homers, 60 RBI, 51 runs and 55 walks compared to only 65 strikeouts in 84 games.

Vogelbach's bat looks to be near big-league ready, but he's blocked by Anthony Rizzo in Chicago so the 2011 second-round pick figures to be a prime trade candidate as the Cubs creep toward the deadline.

No doubt teams looking to make a deal with the Cubs this month will be inquiring about the following trio, as well:

Gleyber Torres, SS

Baseball America: 27
Baseball Prospectus: 34

Torres is only 19 and has moved up from the No. 41 preseason prospect by both outlets. He collected four hits — including a homer — Thursday to bump his season line to .268/.350/.424 with Advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach.

Baseball Prospectus's rationale for his ranking makes Torres sound like a can't miss prospect:

Why He'll Succeed: There’s no real weakness to Torres’ game. Everything but the power flashes above-average to plus, and his instincts both at the plate and in the field are impressive for any age, much less a 19-year-old.

Why He Might Fail: If he doesn’t stick at shortstop, he doesn’t have the offensive skill set to be a first-division regular. That’s all I got.

Eloy Jimenez, OF

Baseball America: 46
Baseball Prospectus: 28

Jimenez is also 19 and was not included on the game's top prospect lists in the preseason. But he's turning heads now for Class-A South Bend, hitting .337 wiht a .909 OPS on the season, including 10 homers and a whopping 29 doubles in 79 games. 

Here's BP's rationale:

Why He'll Succeed: One of the two or three best young hitters in the minors, Jimenez has the size, bat speed, and hitting ability to develop into a middle-of-the-order hitter. If his approach matures, 30-homer seasons with a .300 average and a good OBP aren’t out of the question.

Why He Might Fail: His aggressive approach could get exploited as his moves up the organizational ladder and down the defensive spectrum, making the bat less palatable, though still playable.

Ian Happ, 2B/OF

Baseball America: 37
Baseball Prospectus: 50

Happ, 21, was the Cubs' first pick (ninth overall) last summer and instantly found himself among the Top 100 prospects in the preseason, topping out at No. 67 on BP's list.

He's bounced around between second base and outfield, but has hit everywhere he's gone, including a .452 average and 1.180 OPS in 12 games since being promoted to Double-A Tennessee this season.

Here's BP's rationale for his ranking:

Why He’ll Succeed: When he finds a long-term defensive home he'll be a solid, well-rounded regular with quality makeup and clubhouse contributions. Does a little bit of everything offensively, hitting for average, some power, and putting up double-digit stolen base totals.

Why He Might Fail: His longer swing and high strikeout totals could get exposed against big-league competition, and the unusual tool set might never quite fit an everyday profile, in which case Happ would ultimately have more of a utility future.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below:

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.