Weve reached the half-way point of the season and it's clear that Chicago is home to two teams with different plans for the second half. The Sox look to make a run at the playoffs and beyond while the Cubs take the next steps in their rebuilding process. Now that the wheels are clearly turning on the Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer machine, lets take a look at whos hot and whos not from the first half of the season.
The Good: This may come as a shock to, well no one, my top performer of the first half is without a doubt Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo came into the season as the number two ranked prospect in the Cubs system according to minorleagueball.com. But early on he catapulted himself head and shoulders above everyone else in the organization. He spent the majority of the first half in Iowa where he was nothing short of spectacular. Rizzo hit .342, launched 23 home runs and drove in 62 runs, all over the course of just 70 games. His towering home runs and infectious attitude caught everyones attention and it was only a matter of time until Rizzo got his shot at the friendly confines. As we all know, the young slugger has not disappointed during his short time in the big leagues, but most of all he has rejuvenated a fan base that had next to nothing to cheer for. Anthony Rizzo is giving Cubs fans a glimpse of the future that they so patiently await.
The Bad: Coming into the 2012 campaign, everyone could agree upon one thing: Brett Jackson was the number one prospect in the entire Cubs organization. This was quickly disproved, and as Rizzo vaulted himself to stardom, Jackson slid somewhere into the shadows and we are still waiting for him to show up. Statistically speaking, Jacksons numbers arent terrible but he is not where everyone expected him to be at the half way mark. He is swinging it at .261 with 12 homers and 37 RBIs. He has also shown exceptional speed swiping 20 bags. All of that is just fine, but neither his numbers nor his play scream call up. The second half of the season may be the most important of Jacksons career. With Rizzo gone, he is back to being the man under the microscope and he has quite a bit to prove. Jackson is in dire need of a few consistent weeks of production at the plate to get everyone back on his bandwagon in a Rizzo-type fashion.
The Watch List: Josh Vitters was ranked number 11 in the system by minorleagueball.com, but he has played well beyond the preseason projections. The Iowa third baseman opened some eyes in the first half with his .302 average and 48 RBIs. The 22-year-old was labeled a contact hitter, but has also seen an enormous spike in his power numbers this season (13 HR.509 SLG.866 OPS). Vitters efforts have not gone unnoticed as he has been selected to the Pacific Coast League All-Star game. At this point in his career, it is Vitters choice whether he wants to be a part of the long term future of the Cubs, and that is why I have him pinned as the Triple A player to watch.
The Good: Junior Lakes numbers wont take your breath away, but his first half performance should not only be evaluated on paper. If there is one word to describe Lakes 2012 efforts, it would be 'grind'. It hasn't come easy for the Smokies shortstop but he has willed his way to a .286 average. Most importantly, he is sporting a new plate approach that has cut down his strikeout rate while boosting his OBP. Scouts main criticism of the youngster was his free-swinging attitude and it appears as if that has been addressed and fixed. It is important for Lake to continue to work into favorable pitch counts. This will allow him to boost his average into the .300s and keep it there. Everything about Lake suggests he is about to have a break through, it is simply a matter of when.
The Bad: Trey McNutt hasn't been awful, but at the same time, hasn't produced the numbers a top-five prospect should. The right hander is 5-7 with a 4.46 ERA. What is most alarming about McNutt is his inability to work deep into games. He is averaging just less than four innings per start. That is just flat out not going to cut it. If McNutt has any big league aspirations as a starter, he needs to approach the second half with a different game plan, one that involves taking his starts well into the seventh and even eighth innings of games. If he fails to do so, he will have 'bullpen status' written all over him.
The Watch List: My Double A player to watch didnt even crack the Cubs preseason top 25, but Eric Jokisch strongly disagrees with those prognosticators. The southpaw has toed the rubber in both Daytona and Tennessee this season and has taken advantage of his opportunities. Since joining the Smokies, Jokisch is 4-1 with a 3.04 ERA. and is allowing a .198 batting average against. Much has been made of the acquisitions of Alberet Almora and Jorge Soler along with the call up of Anthony Rizzo, but the topic of future arms has gone untouched. Aside from late round draft picks, Jed and Theo have yet to address the need for pitching down the road, which is something they will likely do in the offseason and future drafts. Just make sure you dont remove Eric Jokischs name from the discussions just yet.
The Good: Daytona right hander Matt Loosen has been lights out for his club this season. The unlikely prospect was drafted in the 23rd round of the 2010 draft, 700th overall. He currently boasts a 7-3 record and a stingy 2.84 ERA. Loosen has gone about his business quietly, but managed to strikeout nearly a batter per inning. If he continues at this pace, it is likely he will climb the ranks and get an opportunity at a higher level.
The Bad: Ronald Torreyes came into the season as a top 20 prospect in the Cubs organization. The first half has not been kind to Torreyes and the undersized second baseman has slipped from there due to his below-average production. Torreyes was part of the Sean Marshall trade to Cincinnati and was thought to be a solid pickup who hit for good average. The only problem is he isnt. Torreyes is hitting .236 at the half way point. He has nowhere to go but up from here but he has dug himself quite a hole to climb out of.
The Watch List: One Daytona player to watch during the second stanza of the 2012 season is Arismendy Alcantara. The Cubs shortstop has successfully hit the ball to all fields. Initially, Alcantara flew under the radar but his production has become hard to ignore. He is hitting .306 with seven round trippers, 51 RBIs, 46 runs scored and 25 stolen bases. Even more impressively, Alcantara is one of only three players in the Florida State League with 100 or more hits (100). I continue to ask myself if this kid has big league potential and he continues to deliver. The jury is still out but Alcantara is undoubtedly one to keep an eye on.
When it comes to the Peoria Chiefs, Javier Baez has been the good, the bad and the one to watch. The Cubs 2011 first round selection is hitting .310 with six homers and 14 RBIs. He also touts an .887 OPS and 14 stolen bases in 15 attempts. My only concern is Baez's ability to deliver day in and day out. He is young, therefore errors of the metal and physical brand are both to be expected. Baez has been white hot at times and arctic cold at others. He has big play ability and I am convinced he will find his way to the north side sometime in the next few years. The physical tools are all there, with the only question being his makeup and approach. If he shows solid maturity, he could justify his high first round selection in the 2011 MLB First Year Player Draft.
Joe Musso contributed to this report.