Additions bolster Cubs' already solid farm system
The Cubs' focus is on the future, and after four trades and the signings of 24 of their Draft picks, including 19 of the first 20 selections, their Minor League system has received a big boost.
The Cubs were happy to get 21-year-old right-hander Ivan Pineyro from the Nationals in exchange for Scott Hairston, and added highly regarded prospects C.J. Edwards and Mike Olt from the Rangers as part of the Matt Garza deal. They will pick up at least one more player from the Rangers -- possibly right-hander Neil Ramirez, 24, who was 9-3 with a 3.33 ERA in 17 starts at Double-A Frisco with 113 strikeouts -- to complete the Garza deal. Ramirez was the Rangers' first-round pick in the 2007 Draft.
"At the least, we added three pitchers if not four in addition to Mike Olt, and that's the kind of depth we need both in power arms and some talented players," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said after the Garza deal. "Anytime you trade a guy like Matt Garza, it doesn't feel good because it's a hard decision and you know that guys like Matt are the kind of guys you want to acquire. But we feel good about the depth and talent that we acquired for the Cubs today."
It's all part of the plan to build the "foundation of sustained success," which Theo Epstein has emphasized since taking over as president of baseball operations in October 2012. They're looking for impact players, and the new Top 20 has some names to watch.
Because of injuries to outfielders, the Cubs promoted Junior Lake after the All-Star break, and earlier than they had considered. Lake, who was No. 9 on the preseason Top 20 list, was playing at the Triple-A level this year for the first time. He may never go back to the Minors. The infielder may have limited playing time in the outfield, but he was inserted in center. The Cubs know there will be growing pains on defense but Lake did pick up 12 hits in his first five games, something that hasn't been done by a Cubs player since 1916. As the leadoff man, he had seven hits in 10 at-bats, and showed his versatility in his first four-hit game with two bunt singles, a two-run home run, and a key RBI single in the ninth.
The Cubs and the Mets were the only two National League teams that did not have a prospect graduate from the preseason Top 20 list. Five American League teams -- the Blue Jays, Indians, White Sox, Astros and Angels -- also did not have a graduate.
Right-hander Dillon Maples, a 14th-round pick in 2011 who was ranked sixth on the Top 20 list, began the season at Class A Kane County, but gave up 33 hits and 31 walks over 34 2/3 innings in 11 games (seven starts). He was shifted to Low Class A Boise after the All-Star break. On Tuesday, he threw five scoreless innings, giving up five hits and striking out seven against Eugene. The right-hander has been slowed by a strained ligament in his right elbow.
Third baseman Josh Vitters, the Cubs' No. 1 pick in 2007, was No. 14 but has struggled with injuries in the first half. He has played 24 games for Triple-A Iowa, and will likely lose playing time at third with the addition of Olt.
Robert Whitenack, an eighth-round pick in 2009, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011, opened at No. 15 on the Cubs' list, but was claimed off waivers by the Indians on April 3. The right-hander is pitching at Class A Mahoning Valley in Cleveland's system.
Outfielder Trey Martin batted .200 in 11 games with Class A Kane County, but the 13th-round pick in 2011 injured his left shoulder, and needed surgery. He began the year 20th on the top 20.
Three of the four new faces in the Cubs' Top 20 were additions this month, but the player to watch may be someone who has been in the system since 2009 -- infielder Arismendy Alcantara, who debuts at No. 8. The second baseman, who played in the All-Star Futures Game for the World team, was batting .278 in 97 games with impressive power -- 13 home runs and 26 doubles.
Other new faces include first-round Draft pick Kris Bryant, who debuts at No. 4. Bryant led the nation in home runs, hitting 31 for the University of San Diego and just started play at Class A Boise this week. Olt, who the Cubs tried to acquire from the Rangers last year at the Trade Deadline, joins the list at No. 5. He joins Edwards, who debuts at No. 12. Edwards was 8-2 with a 1.83 ERA in 18 starts at Class A Hickory and joined the Cubs' High A Daytona team.
The Cubs' top three in the Top 20 -- Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler -- haven't changed but there were three key changes. Bryant's debut at No. 4 is the biggest jump in the Top 20, followed by Alcantara, who enters at No. 8, while Brett Jackson, the Cubs' No. 1 pick in 2009, tumbled from No. 4 to No. 13. Jackson made his Major League debut last Aug. 5, and batted .175 in 44 games. He began this season at Triple-A Iowa, but nagging injuries -- turf toe, right calf -- have limited him to 61 games. When he is ready to return, the Cubs are considering having him play at Double-A Tennessee.
"I'm willing to do whatever it takes to better myself as a player and get back to the big leagues and help the team," Jackson said Sunday in Mesa, Ariz., where he was rehabbing. "If going back to Double-A is what the team thinks is the right move for me, I have my faith in that decision. To me, it's baseball and all about getting healthy and back into the shape as a player to have success and help the team win at the top."
Top 100 representation
The Cubs began this season with three players -- Baez, Almora and Soler -- in the top 100, and now have five with the additions of Bryant and Olt. Baez, the Cubs' No. 1 pick in 2011, has moved up from 16th to 11th, boosted by a solid start at Class A Daytona, where he batted .274 with 17 home runs, including four in one game. Almora, the No. 1 pick in 2012 who was playing at Class A Kane County, has jumped from 39th to 25th. Soler, sidelined with a stress fracture in his left tibia that he suffered in late June, jumped from No. 42 to No. 30.
Newcomers Bryant and Olt entered the top 100 as well. Bryant debuts at No. 40, while Olt, who was 22nd, dropped to No. 63. The third baseman, who was the Rangers' first-round pick in 2010, batted .288 at Double-A Frisco last season, but was batting .219 this year in 68 games at Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock. The additions boosted the Cubs to third in Prospect Points behind the Astros and Twins.