CHICAGO -- The one question Albert Almora and other Cubs prospects have heard over and over since joining the team is "When?"
When will Almora be playing in the big leagues? When will Javier Baez get there? Or Kris Bryant?
Almora, Baez or Bryant may not be able to answer right now, but they could soon. One thing is certain: the three players are not only top prospects in the Cubs' system, but also highly regarded in the game.
Baez, Bryant and Almora rank Nos. 7, 9 and 18, respectively, among MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects, released Thursday. The Cubs are the only team with three players in the top 20, and they have seven players in the Top 100. Joining Baez, Bryant and Almora are C.J. Edwards, who is ranked No. 42; Jorge Soler No. 49; Arismendy Alcantara No. 89; and Pierce Johnson No. 100.
Only the Red Sox have more prospects in the Top 100, with nine. The Astros also have seven.
"With the players who have been discussed and talked a lot about, we have multiple guys who have the ability to get [to the big leagues] and be stars," said Jason McLeod, Cubs director of scouting and player development. "That makes me feel really good. History tells me that not all of them will become the player we think they're going to be or that they could be, but we have more volume of those impact-type players. That makes you feel good as an organization."
The annual ranking of baseball's biggest and brightest young talent is assembled by MLBPipeline.com Draft and prospect experts Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis, who compile input from industry sources, including scouts and scouting directors. It is based on analysis of players' skill sets, upsides, proximity to the Majors and potential immediate impact to their teams. The list, which is one of several prospect rankings on MLBPipeline.com's Prospect Watch, only includes players with rookie status in 2014.
The Cubs totaled 393 "Prospect Points," third-highest among the 30 Major League teams, and trailing only the Astros (439) and Red Sox (436). Here's how the rankings work: A player listed as No. 1 on the Top 100 list receives 100 "Prospect Points," No. 2 gets 99, and so on. This is not a ranking of the Cubs' farm system. So, Baez received 94 points; Bryant 92; Almora 83; Edwards 59; Soler 52; Alcantara 12; and Johnson one.
All that matters to the Cubs' prospects is continuing their development and being able to someday call Wrigley Field home. Players taking part in the rookie development camp were asked during a Cubs Convention panel discussion where they expected to open the 2014 season. None responded immediately, and Almora explained why.
"Our angle is the big leagues," the outfielder said.
Baez, 21, who was the Cubs' Minor League Player of the Year in 2013, is getting closer. The shortstop combined to bat .282 at Class A Advanced Daytona and Double-A Tennessee with 37 home runs and 111 RBIs.
The player who made the biggest leap in 2013 is Bryant, 22. The Cubs' No. 1 Draft pick last June, he played at three levels in 2013, reaching Daytona, which won the Florida State League title. Bryant finished with a .336 average in the Minor Leagues, then capped that by winning Arizona Fall League Most Valuable Player honors, hitting .364 in 20 games with six home runs and 17 RBIs.
Almora, 19, has been impressive considering his youth. Drafted out of Mater Academy Charter School in Hialeah, Fla., he has hit .326 in the Minors, although he was limited to 61 games last year because of an injury. Almora joined Bryant in the AFL, and batted .307 in 21 games.
The rest of the Cubs' contingent includes Edwards, 22, acquired from the Rangers in the Matt Garza deal. The skinny right-hander has given up one home run in 183 1/3 innings in the Minor Leagues. In his first start for the Cubs at Daytona, he made a good impression by striking out the first seven batters he faced.
Edwards was overlooked by MLB teams while in high school.
"That motivated me a lot," Edwards said. "It's not about the round [he was selected], it's not about the money. I just have a love for the game. A lot of people say I was overlooked, but it doesn't bother me. I got my opportunity and I went with it."
Soler, 21, was limited to 55 games last season because of a leg injury and batted .281 before he was sidelined. The Cuban outfielder did play in the AFL. He made headlines for the wrong reasons when he went after an opposing player while wielding a bat.
"Obviously, he knew right away it wasn't the right thing to do," McLeod said, "but at the same time, we have to understand where he comes from. The way they play in Cuba with the fire and passion and intensity, it's a different style down there. We said, 'In this culture, this is how we act as professionals here.'"
The Cubs do have someone on the staff to help Latin American players assimilate to the United States.
Alcantara, 22, got a little taste of the big leagues when he was invited to participate in the All-Star Futures Game last July. The second baseman batted .271 and stole 31 bases at Double-A Tennessee. He is projected to open 2014 at Triple-A Iowa, along with Baez.
Johnson, 22, was selected 43rd overall in 2012, and posted an 11-6 record with a 2.74 ERA in 23 games (21 starts) combined at Class A Kane County and Daytona. The right-hander went 6-1 with a 2.22 ERA at Daytona.
During the rookie development camp, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein spoke to the players. Each one is given a list of strengths and weaknesses, and Epstein's message was that when the players can turn the weaknesses into strengths, they'll move up.
The seven listed in the Top 100 are on the fast track.
"Ultimately, it comes down to them," McLeod said. "They're going to let us know when they're ready. They have to go out and perform, they have to go out and meet some of the things we've outlined in their individual player plans. ... They know that, and they recognize it."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.