Standout Bryant leads Cubs' updated Top 20 list
Third baseman, seven other Chicago prospects rank in Major League Top 100
With the passing of the Draft signing deadline, teams have had a recent influx of talent into their farm systems, and with that, we've updated the Top 20 Prospects lists of all 30 teams.
To be on a list, a player must have rookie eligibility. To qualify for rookie status, a player must not have exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues, or accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the 25-player limit period, excluding time on the disabled list or in military service.
Players are graded on a 20-80 scale for future tools -- 20-30 is well below average, 40 is below average, 50 is average, 60 is above average and 70-80 is well above average.
Check out all 30 team Top 20 lists and the Top 100 on Prospect Watch.
1. Kris Bryant, 3B
Preseason rank: 2
MLB Top 100 rank: 4 (Preseason: 9)
Scouting grades: Hit: 55 | Power: 75 | Run: 40 | Arm: 60 | Field: 50 | Overall: 70
Bryant began his incredible run in 2013 by winning the Golden Spikes Award at the University of San Diego, and he ended it by winning the MVP Award in the Arizona Fall League. In between, the Cubs made him the No. 2 overall pick, and he crushed pitching everywhere he went. That has continued this year, as Bryant has battled for the Minor League home run lead all season long.
Bryant has well-above-average power, and he drives the ball to all fields. There is some swing-and-miss in his game, but he has worked to eliminate some of the holes in his swing, and he projects to be able to hit for a good average.
Bryant has a strong arm, and he's more athletic than his large frame would suggest. He should be able to stay at third base, but he played some outfield in college, and he'd be able to handle a move to right field if necessary. Bryant wowed in his professional debut, and Chicago likely won't have to wait long for him to get to Wrigley.
2. Javier Baez, SS
Preseason rank: 1
MLB Top 100 rank: 6 (Preseason: 7)
Scouting grades: Hit: 55 | Power: 70 | Run: 50 | Arm: 65 | Field: 50 | Overall: 65
Baez has lived up to his lofty expectations since the Cubs selected him eighth overall in 2011. He reached Double-A Tennessee two years later as a 20-year-old, and his 75 extra-base hits and 111 RBIs led the Minor Leagues.
Baez generates incredible bat speed, resulting in big power. He also has the ability to hit for average, if he is able to develop more plate discipline. But Baez is a good bad-ball hitter, and he often finds a way to get his bat on the ball in spite of his aggressiveness.
Baez isn't as advanced defensively. His average speed begets solid range, and he has a good arm, but he still commits too many errors. Some scouts feel Baez is destined for a move to third or second base, which would be eased by Starlin Castro's presence in Chicago. No matter where he plays, Baez's bat has the ability to make him a star.
3. Addison Russell, SS
Preseason rank: 1 (OAK)
MLB Top 100 rank: 7 (Preseason: 12)
Scouting grades: Hit: 60 | Power: 60 | Run: 55 | Arm: 60 | Field: 55 | Overall: 65
Russell rose up First-Year Player Draft boards in the spring of 2012, and he has continued that upward trend in the Minor Leagues. He began this season with Double-A Midland, where he was the second-youngest player in the Texas League. While Russell missed most of the first half of the year with a hamstring injury, he returned to health in time to headline the package the Cubs acquired in exchange for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel on July 4.
Russell has established himself as one of the best shortstop prospects in baseball, and he's erased any concerns about his long-term future at the position. He has the hands, range and arm strength needed to make stunning plays in the field.
Russell uses the whole field to hit, and his quick hands enable him to make consistent hard contact. He has surprising pop, and he could develop above-average power in the future. Russell isn't a speedster, but he gets the most out of his solid speed, and he's aggressive on the basepaths.
4. Arismendy Alcantara, 2B/OF
Preseason rank: 6
MLB Top 100 rank: 37 (Preseason: 89)
Scouting grades: Hit: 55 | Power: 50 | Run: 60 | Arm: 60 | Field: 50 | Overall: 60
Scouts had long waited for Alcantara to put together his exciting package of tools. That finally happened in 2013, and he earned a spot in the All-Star Futures Game as a result.
Alcantara has a short compact swing from both sides of the plate. His swing is more suited for line drives, but he does have some pop in his bat. Alcantara is athletic, and he has well-above-average speed, making him a stealing threat.
In the Minors, Chicago used Alcantara primarily at second base and shortstop. He has a strong arm, and he's a good defender at both positions, but the Cubs have a logjam of burgeoning talent at both spots. Alcantara began to see some time in center field this year, enhancing his versatility.
5. Albert Almora, OF
Preseason rank: 3
MLB Top 100 rank: 41 (Preseason: 18)
Scouting grades: Hit: 60 | Power: 50 | Run: 50 | Arm: 65 | Field: 75 | Overall: 55
Almora was more polished than most high school hitters, and Chicago happily took him with the sixth overall pick in 2012. Injuries limited him somewhat in his first full professional season, but he made up for the lost time with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League, where he was the second-youngest player.
Almora has a loose easy swing, and he sprays line drives to all fields. He is an aggressive hitter, but he doesn't strike out a ton, thanks to his feel for the bat. Almora has more power than his lithe frame would suggest, and he projects to have average power. He is an excellent center fielder, and he has a strong arm.
Almora has five-tool potential, and his makeup and baseball instincts allow his tools to play up. If he can avoid further injury troubles, he has the skillset to start moving quickly.
6. Jorge Soler, OF
Preseason rank: 5
MLB Top 100 rank: 54 (Preseason: 49)
Scouting grades: Hit: 55 | Power: 65 | Run: 50 | Arm: 65 | Field: 55 | Overall: 55
Soler joined fellow Cuban natives Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig in signing big contracts with Major League teams in 2012. While Cespedes and Puig have already made their impact felt in the big leagues, Soler -- the youngest of the three -- continues to progress toward Chicago. His development was stalled in '13 by a stress fracture in his left tibia and in '14 by hamstring strains, but his tools are still obvious.
Soler has big raw power, and he drives the ball to all fields. He has a good approach at the plate, and he shows a willingness to take a walk.
Soler has a strong arm, and he covers ground well in right field. While his makeup has been questioned at times, he is still young, and he profiles well as a prototypical right fielder.
7. C.J. Edwards, RHP
Preseason rank: 4
MLB Top 100 rank: 60 (Preseason: 42)
Scouting grades: Fastball: 65 | Curveball: 60 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 55 | Overall: 55
Texas nabbed Edwards, who was lightly scouted in high school, in the 48th round of the 2011 Draft. He quickly developed into much more than a typical 48th-round pick, and he was a key component to the package the Rangers sent to the Cubs in exchange for Matt Garza in July '13. Edwards has shown electric stuff with his new organization, though shoulder inflammation has limited his innings this year.
Edwards throws his fastball in the low-to-mid 90s, and it can touch 97 mph. He does a good job of keeping his fastball down in the zone, and he only gave up one home run in 116 1/3 innings in 2013. Edwards' best offspeed pitch is his 12-to-6 curveball, and his changeup has improved as a professional.
Edwards is skinny, and some scouts question his long-term durability as a result. If he can prove that won't be a problem, his stuff is good enough to make him a front-line starter.
8. Kyle Schwarber, C/OF
Preseason rank: None (2014 Draft)
MLB Top 100 rank: 79 (Preseason: NA)
Scouting grades: Hit: 60 | Power: 65 | Run: 40 | Arm: 40 | Field: 40 | Overall: 55
Undrafted and relatively unknown coming out of a high school, Schwarber powered Indiana to its first College World Series appearance and first outright Big Ten Conference regular-season championship in 81 years in 2013, slugging a school-record 18 homers. He established himself as the best all-around college hitter in the '14 Draft class, and he signed with Chicago as the No. 4 overall pick for $3,125,000. Though Schwarber went that high in part because he would sign a below-market deal, his fast start in pro ball showed that the Cubs didn't sacrifice much, if anything, in the way of talent.
Schwarber combines strength and bat speed from the left side of the plate, giving him well-above-average power. He's also more than a masher, as he repeatedly barrels balls and controls the strike zone, so he should hit for a high average, as well.
Schwarber's offensive ability could make him a star, regardless of his position. He primarily played catcher, but he also saw time in left field for the Hoosiers, and he split time between both spots as he broke into pro ball. Schwarber moves well for his size, and scouts love his work ethic, but they question whether he can throw or receive well enough to stick behind the plate.
9. Billy McKinney, OF
Preseason rank: 2 (OAK)
Scouting grades: Hit: 60 | Power: 50 | Run: 50 | Arm: 45 | Field: 50 | Overall: 50
One of the purest hitters available in the 2013 Draft, the A's selected McKinney 24th overall, and he lived up to his reputation by batting .326 in his pro debut. Oakland pushed him aggressively this year, assigning him to Class A Advanced Stockton. McKinney hasn't had quite as much success against the older competition, but that didn't deter the Cubs from acquiring him in the July 4 deal that sent Samardzija and Hammel to the A's.
McKinney has outstanding hand-eye coordination, a sweet left-handed swing, bat speed and a mature approach. He should continue to hit as he climbs the ladder, and he barrels balls so easily that he should develop at least average power as he fills out.
Outside of his bat, none of McKinney's tools grade as better than average, but they play up because of his fine all-around instincts. He goes 100 percent all of the time, and he's aggressive on the bases and in the outfield.
10. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
Preseason rank: 8
Scouting grades: Fastball: 70 | Curveball: 65 | Changeup: 45 | Control: 55 | Overall: 50
Vizcaino was one of the game's top pitching prospects before he blew out his elbow in Spring Training in 2012 with the Braves. He didn't pitch at all that season, during which Atlanta sent him to Chicago in a trade for Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson, or last year, when he had a second operation to clean up some scar tissue.
Early indication this season was that Vizcaino is back -- and in such a big way that he could be closing games for the Cubs soon. He was throwing 94-98 mph, with his fastball exploding on hitters. Vizcaino has regained the spin and shape, and he is getting back the power on a curveball that was devastating at times in the past.
Vizcaino's changeup had shown signs of becoming a solid third pitch, giving him the potential to become a No. 2 starter. In order to keep him healthy, the Cubs will make him a full-time reliever going forward.
11. Pierce Johnson, RHP
Preseason rank: 7
Scouting grades: Fastball: 60 | Curveball: 60 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 50 | Overall: 50
Johnson had an impressive first full professional season, pitching well across two levels in 2013. And perhaps most importantly, he stayed healthy after a checkered injury history as an amateur dinged his stock leading up to the '12 Draft. Johnson hasn't been as fortunate this year, as hamstring and calf issues sidelined him early.
Johnson's fastball sits in the low 90s, and it is most effective when he keeps it down in the zone. He has a good feel for his hard curveball, which is an effective out pitch. Johnson rounds out his three-pitch mix with a solid changeup.
At his best, Johnson pounds the strike zone and shows the ability to command all of his pitches well. He earned praise for his pitchability, and he looked the part of an advanced college pitcher at the outset of his professional career. Johnson profiles as a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
12. Dan Vogelbach, 1B
Preseason rank: 10
Scouting grades: Hit: 55 | Power: 60 | Run: 20 | Arm: 40 | Field: 30 | Overall: 50
Vogelbach has stood out for his power, dating back to high school. Large-bodied even then, he has hit at every stop of his professional career, bashing at least 17 home runs in each of his first two full professional seasons.
Vogelbach's bat has never been questioned. He easily has plus power, and his advanced approach allows him to drive the ball to all fields. Vogelbach projects to be a good all-around hitter, and he doesn't have as much swing-and-miss in his game as many power hitters.
Defensively, however, Vogelbach is still very much a work in progress. He will have to watch his weight throughout his career, and scouts doubt he will ever be even an average defender. That puts more pressure on Vogelbach's bat, which will have to continue to carry him as he advances through the Minor Leagues.
13. Jeimer Candelario, 3B
Preseason rank: 9
Scouting Grades: Hit: 55 | Power: 50 | Run: 30 | Arm: 55 | Field: 45 | Overall: 50
Since signing for $500,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2010, Candelario has consistently been one of the youngest and most productive hitters in every league he has played in. Last year, he made the jump to full-season ball at age 19 and ranked third in the low Class A Midwest League with 35 doubles. He struggled with a promotion to high Class A in 2014 but the Cubs remain optimistic about his potential.
A switch-hitter, Candelario has a polished swing and approach from both sides of the plate, though he shows more power as a lefty. He has good feel for the barrel, and once he adds strength, he could develop into a .280 hitter with 20 homers annually.
It remains to be seen whether Candelario will stay at third base, though he has improved defensively. He's not especially quick or rangy at the hot corner, but he does have solid hands and arm strength.
14. Eloy Jimenez, OF
Preseason rank: 12
Scouting grades: Hit: 55 | Power: 60 | Run: 50 | Arm: 60 | Field: 50 | Overall: 50
The consensus top prospect on the international amateur market last summer, Jimenez signed with the Cubs for $2.8 million. One club official called him a 16-year-old version of Soler.
Like Soler, Jimenez fits the right-field profile extremely well. His most impressive tool is his power potential, as he has plenty of bat speed and room to add strength to his 6-foot-4 frame. Jimenez is more advanced than most 17-year-olds at the plate, showing a precocious feel for pitch recognition and strike-zone discipline.
Though Jimenez is an above-average runner now, and he may begin his pro career in center field, he figures to lose a step once he fills out. That likely would dictate a move to right field, where his strong arm will fit nicely.
15. Jen-Ho Tseng, RHP
Preseason rank: None
Scouting grades: Fastball: 60 | Curveball: 55 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 50 | Overall: 45
Tseng looked like an elite international prospect when he dominated the 18-and-under World Championships in September 2012, but his stuff and delivery regressed significantly by the time he pitched for Taiwan as an 18-year-old in the World Baseball Classic the following spring. Undaunted, Chicago signed Tseng for $1.625 million last July.
The early returns on that investment have the Cubs optimistic that they could have a future No. 3 starter on their hands. Tseng was so impressive in Spring Training this year that Chicago sent him to Class A for his pro debut, and he got off to a terrific start at Kane County.
Tseng's stuff has bounced back to where he's pitching with a consistent 90-95 mph fastball. He also can get swings and misses with his curveball. Tseng has advanced feel for his changeup and for finding the strike zone with all three of his offerings.
16. Gleyber Torres, SS
Preseason rank: 20
Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 45 | Run: 50 | Arm: 60 | Field: 50 | Overall: 45
The Cubs blew well past their assigned international bonus pool for 2013, outspending every team but the Rangers with a total outlay of $8.22 million. While that limited what Chicago could do internationally this summer, the splurging allowed the club to land two of the top three prospects on the market in Jimenez ($2.8 million) and Torres ($1.7 million).
Though he has a compact build, Torres has the tools to make an impact at the plate. He has a quick bat, and once he fills out, he could hit for a solid average and power.
Currently a shortstop, Torres has the actions and arm strength desired at that position. He's not as quick or rangy as a typical shortstop, and if he slows down as he matures physically, he could move to second or third base. Torres' offensive potential still would make him a nice fit at either position.
17. Paul Blackburn, RHP
Preseason rank: 15
Scouting grades: Fastball: 55 | Curveball: 55 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 45 | Overall: 45
The first of four high school pitchers selected by the Cubs in the top five rounds of the 2012 Draft, Blackburn has one of the best combinations of stuff and feel among the system's mound prospects. He projects as a potential No. 3 starter, with command of three average or better pitches.
Blackburn's best pitch is a 90-93 mph fastball, with the sink to generate plenty of groundouts. He spins a nice curveball, too, and he already has an effective changeup. Blackburn is already starting to add strength, and he has the athleticism to repeat his delivery on a regular basis.
Blackburn finished his first full season with two dominant starts in the short-season Northwest League playoffs, which could be a harbinger of a breakout this year. If he can build on that progress, he could advance very quickly for a prep prospect.
18. Kyle Hendricks, RHP
Preseason rank: 16
Scouting grades: Fastball: 45 | Curveball: 45 | Cutter: 40 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 65 | Overall: 45
The Cubs acquired two prospects who could be part of their 2014 plans when they traded Ryan Dempster to the Rangers for Christian Villanueva and Hendricks in July 2012. They named Hendricks their Minor League Pitcher of the Year last season, when he led the system in wins (13) and the Double-A Southern League in ERA (1.85).
The best pitching prospect from Dartmouth since Mike Remlinger, Hendricks reached 95 mph with his fastball in college, but he now relies on finesse. While his four-seam fastball now operates at 88-92 mph and doesn't feature much life, it plays up because he can locate it wherever he wants. Hendricks' best pitch is a changeup that grades as a plus offering at times.
Hendricks has better command and a higher floor than most pitching prospects, though his ceiling is limited to a No. 4 starter because he lacks an effective breaking ball. He can throw his curveball for strikes, and he's working on a cutter, though neither strikes terror in batters.
19. Corey Black, RHP
Preseason rank: 17
Scouting grades: Fastball: 65 | Curveball: 50 | Slider: 55 | Changeup: 45 | Control: 45 | Overall: 45
After the Cubs traded Alfonso Soriano to the Yankees for Black last July, New York general manager Brian Cashman went on record as saying that he was opposed to the deal, because he didn't want to give up the live-armed right-hander. A fourth-round pick in 2012, Black touched 100 mph with his fastball during instructional league that fall, and he worked at 91-96 mph as a starter in his first full pro season.
Black has more than enough pitches to remain in the rotation. His hard slider gives him a second swing-and-miss pitch, and his curveball made siginificant strides in 2013. Black's changeup has enough fade to keep hitters off balance.
Though Black has the arsenal to start, some scouts believe he projects more as a reliever in the long run. He's small and slender, and he has some effort to his delivery, leading to questions about his long-term durability and command. If Black moves to the bullpen, he'd likely add more velocity and be a late-inning option.
20. Jefferson Mejia, RHP
Preseason rank: None
Scouting grades: Fastball: 65 | Curveball: 55 | Changeup: 45 | Control: 40 | Overall: 45
The Cubs were aggressive on the international market in 2013, handing out seven-figure bonuses to Dominican outfielder Jimenez ($2.8 million), Venezuelan shortstop Torres ($1.7 million) and Taiwanese right-hander Tseng ($1.625 million). Chicago didn't stop there, also landing Mejia for $850,000. He would have been eligible to sign in '12, had MLB not ruled him ineligible over a discrepancy with his age.
Mejia came to the U.S. this year to make his pro debut, and he opened eyes with his pure stuff. He's adding strength to his 6-foot-7 frame, and he already can reach 97 mph with his fastball. Mejia usually works at 92-94, and his heater is tough to hit, because it features quality life and downhill plane.
Mejia's other pitches are less advanced, but they show promise. He has a hard curveball and a deceptive changeup, and both elicit swings and misses at their best. Like most young pitchers, Mejia needs to improve his command, control and consistency.