Chicago Cubs top 30 prospects for 2012

Anthony Rizzo made his way back to Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to become the Cubs' #1 prospect. (Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune)

The Chicago Cubs farm system has ranked among the worst in recent years. However, through trades, international signings and quality drafts over the last couple of years, the future looks bright, especially on offense. Here is the breakdown for the top 30 prospects to watch in 2012.

1. Anthony Rizzo: Age-22 | Position-1B | B/T-L/L | ETA-2012

Acquired by the Cubs for Andrew Cashner in the offseason. The 6’-3”, 220-pound lefty destroyed minor-league pitching last season, hitting .331 with 34 doubles, 26 home runs, 101 RBI and a 1.056 OPS over just 93 games at triple-A Tucson of the PCL. Struggled with major-league pitching over 49 games last season, hitting just .141 with one home runs, nine RBI and a .523 OPS. Also struck out 46 times over 153 plate appearances. Shows tremendous power to all fields, the ability to hit for a high average and has good speed for his size. Will battle Bryan LaHair for the starting spot this spring.

2. Brett Jackson: Age-23 | Position-OF | B/T-L/R | ETA-2012

The team’s first-round pick out of California in 2009, Jackson is a future lead-off hitter because of his speed and ability to get on base. The lefty has a .393 OBP over 296 career minor-league games, including 64 stolen bases and 22 triples. He also hit 20 home runs over 115 games last season, showing 20/30 potential at the next level. Aside from his hitting abilities, he is also a gold-glove caliber defender in center field. Should finally get a chance to show Cubs fans what he can do this season.

3. Javier Baez: Age-19 | Position- SS | B/T-R/R | ETA-2014

The team’s first-round draft pick (ninth-overall) in 2011, Baez was considered one of the best hitters in the draft. As a senior at Arlington County Day HS in Florida, he hit an astounding .771 (64-83) with 20 doubles, six triples, 22 home runs, 52 RBI and 28 stolen bases. He also walked 32 times to only three strikeouts for a slash line of .835/1.952/2.787. His extremely quick wrists allow him to catch up to anything, and he has power to all fields. With Starlin Castro looking like the team’s shortstop of the future, Baez has the size, at 6’-1”, 210 lbs, as well as the range, glove and footwork to be a third baseman. He began his pro career at the team’s rookie league, going 4-for-12 (.333) over three games, hitting two doubles while stealing two bases. He then played in two games at short-season Boise, going 1-for-6 (.167) with an RBI. The Cubs then shipped him to their instructional league, where he went 6-for-22 (.273) over six games with two doubles, an RBI and a stolen base. He should start the season at either single-A Boise or Daytona.

4. Matt Szczur: Age-22 | Position- OF | B/T-R/R | ETA- 2013

The Cubs fifth-round draft pick in 2010, and maybe the best athlete in their system. Was a standout football player at Villanova, totaling 5,234 all-purpose yards and 35 touchdowns over his career. Hit .293 with 10 home runs, 46 RBI and 24 stolen bases over 109 games last season split between low single-A/high single-A. Shows a great approach at the plate as he only struck out 48 times over 480 plate appearances last year. Was selected to play in the Futures Game. Just starting to focus on baseball full time, and his ceiling is still high.

5. Dillon Maples: Age-19 | Position-RHP | B/T-R/R | ETA-2015

Owning one of the best curveballs in the draft, a 78-80 mph hammer, and a mid-90s fastball with late life, Maples toyed with his opposition over his high school career. Over his last two years at Pinecrest HS in North Carolina, he went 17-2 with a 0.77 ERA, 0.69 WHIP and 245 K/50 BB over 121.1 innings. He also held opponents to a .083 BAA. Considered one of the best arms in the draft, the 6’-3” righty slipped to the 14th round because of his strong commitment to also play football at the University of North Carolina. He was a 2010 AFLAC All-American, a 2011 second-team Baseball America All-American and a member of the 2010 U18 Team USA, where he pitched 11 innings, allowing just one run on two hits, while striking out 12. He projects to a good command-pitcher with two already plus pitches. Like most pitchers his age, his change-up is still developing; but it looks like it will be a solid offering. He has the size and frame to add more velocity as he matures, and his mound presence is advanced for his stage. Because of his blistering fastball, power curve and feel for pitching, he has drawn comparisons to Josh Beckett.

6. Daniel Vogelbach: Age-19 | Position-1B | B/T-L/R | ETA-2015

The team’s second-round pick in the 2011 draft, Vogelbach is a 6’-1”, 240-pound lefty who has drawn inevitable comparisons to Prince Fielder because of his size, position, personality and jaw-dropping power. As a senior at Bishop Verot, a powerhouse that has had 12 players drafted in baseball, Vogelbach hit .467 with 19 HR, 54 RBI and a .571/.1.239/1.810 slash line over 34 games. He drew 27 walks while only striking out eight times. While he has plus/plus power to all fields, he isn’t a one-dimensional player. His quick wrists and exceptional bat speed allow him to never get cheated at the plate. His plate discipline is far advanced for his age, and even with his long swing, he has the patience to lay off pitches out of the zone. He also is one of those players that the ball just sounds different coming off his bat — once he connects, you just know. Showed off his power at the 2010 Perfect Game Power Showcase, an annual event that pits the top 100 power hitters against each other in a home run derby, by winning the event hitting a record 30 total home runs, including a 508-foot bomb, another record. Made his pro debut for the Cubs Arizona Rookie League this fall. Over six games, he hit .292 with three doubles, one home run and six RBI. He walked twice and struck out twice over 24 at bats. At the team’s instructional league in Florida, he hit .261 over 16 games. He had two doubles, a triple, one home run, seven RBI and two stolen bases, showing good instincts on the base paths. He also showed off his plate discipline by walking 10 times, good for a .393 OBP. With top prospect Anthony Rizzo in the organization now, the team can be patient with him.

7. Trey McNutt: Age-22 | Position-RHP | B/T-R/R | ETA-2012

After bursting onto the scene in 2010, going 10-1 with a 2.48 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 132 K/37 BB over 116.1 innings across three levels, blisters played a big part in McNutt’s disappointing 2011. Over 95 innings at double-A, he went 5-6 with a 4.55 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, 65 K/39 BB and opponents hit .296 against him. The team’s 32nd round pick in 2009, the 6’-4″ 220-pound righty features two plus pitches, a 92-95mph fastball with late life and a slurve (slider/curve) that drops off the table. His change-up is still developing, and could be the difference between him being a starter or a reliever. As of right now, his two plus pitches make him a potential closer down the road. Is vying for a bullpen spot this spring.

8. Josh Vitters: Age-22 | Position-3B/OF | B/T-R/R | ETA-2012

The team’s first-round pick (third overall) in 2007, Vitters has progressed slowly considering his talent. Has battled injuries over his career but stayed healthy in 2011, putting together an impressive season hitting .283 with 28 doubles, 14 home runs, 81 RBI and a .770 OPS over 129 games at double-A Tennessee. He is one of the hardest players to strike out as he only had 54 strikeouts over 488 plate appearances last season. However, he also only drew 22 walks, showing a needed improvement in that area. He has played third base for the majority of his career, but a move to a corner-outfield spot seems necessary at the next level. Was among the leaders at the Arizona Fall League, hitting .360 to go along with six doubles, four home runs, 17 RBI and a .923 OPS over 24 games.

Chicago Cubs prospect Junior Lake put on a clinic in the Arizona Fall League.

9. Junior Lake: Age-21 | Position- SS/2B/3B | B/T-R/R | ETA-2014

Signed as a 17-year-old in 2007 out of the Dominican Republic, Lake is a superb athlete with a plus/plus arm. He hit .280 with 12 home runs and 36 stolen bases in 116 games this season for Daytona and Tennessee, showing his power and speed potential. He did, however, strike out 109 times to only 19 walks on the season, showing how much he needs to work on his plate discipline. Was one of the top players at the Arizona Fall League this off season, hitting .296 with eight doubles, three triples, five home runs, 21 RBI and a .900 OPS over 28 games. Also was a perfect 18-18 in stolen bases, leading the league. His defense remains a big question, as well, as he has committed a whopping 74 errors over the last two seasons. The offensive potential is scary, but he needs to refine his defense and plate discipline to be a starter in the majors.

10. Jeff Beliveau: Age-25 | Position-LHP | B/T-L/L | ETA-2012

The team’s minor league pitcher of the year last season, Beliveau went 6-2, with a 1.57 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 89 K/19 BB over 74.1 innings across two levels. With his mid-90s fastball and hard slider, he has averaged 11.8 K/9 over 270.2 career minor league innings. Has improved his command drastically over the last couple of years from 4.1 BB/9 in 2010, to 2.1 BB/9 last year. Should get a bullpen spot this season and could be a top set-up man in the league for years.

11. Rafael Dolis: Age-24 | Position-RHP | B/T-R/R | ETA-2012

Can hit triple-digits on the radar gun with his heavy fastball and also owns a plus slider with late break. Had a 3.22 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 48 K/35 BB over 72.2 innings as he made the transition from starter to the bullpen. Also had 17 saves, showing the ability to be a closer down the line. Needs to work on his control, but held opponents to a .219 BAA so the control isn’t a big issue. Should help the bullpen this season.

12. Reggie Golden: Age-20 | Position-OF | B/T-R/R | ETA-2014

Golden is all about potential. Still very raw in most aspects of the game, the 5’-10″, 200-pound 20-year-old was the Cubs second-round pick in the 2010 draft. He is fast, has quick wrists and can hit the ball for miles. All he needs to do is harness his talent and refine his tools. Over 64 games at single-A Boise last year, he hit .242 with 10 doubles, five triples, seven home runs, 39 RBI and five stolen bases. He struck out 68 times to 28 walks, showing the improvement needed in his approach. Playing time will correct that and he has legitimate 30 HR/30 SB potential.

13. Robert Whitenack: Age-23 | Position-RHP | B/T-R/R | ETA-2013

No one is even sure yet how much, if any, Whitenack will pitch this upcoming season. He underwent Tommy John surgery, and the recovery time varies from person to person.  But the 6’-5” righty was one of the most dominant pitchers for the Cubs this year. After just four starts at Daytona, where he went 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA, 0.52 WHIP and 25 strikeouts to just one walk over 23 innings, he got a promotion to double-A Tennessee. He finished the season 7-0 with a 1.93 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 47K/14BB over 60.2 innings before the surgery cut his season short. The 23-year-old, who was the Cubs eighth-round draft pick in 2009, has a mid-90s fastball and a plus-curveball. He could be a solid set up man out of the bullpen for the Cubs or a rotation guy if he develops a third pitch.

14. Wellington Castillo: Age-24 | Position-C | B/T-R/R | ETA-2012

The team’s top catching prospect will backup Geovany Soto this season. Hit .287 with 16 home runs, 42 RBI and an .876 OPS over 75 games across three levels last season. Has impressive power to all fields but lacks consistent strike zone judgment to hit for a high average. An above average defender with a great throwing arm, he could see increased time behind the plate if Soto struggles offensively.

15. Ronald Torreyes: Age-19 | Position-2B | B/T-R/R | ETA-2015

Acquired in the Sean Marshall deal, the 5’-9”, 140-pound Torreyes can flat out hit. Over 67 games at Class-A Dayton last season, he hit .356 with nine doubles, five triples, three home runs, 41 RBI and 12 stolen bases. He also has an incredible eye at the plate, striking out just 19 times over 306 plate appearances. Defensively, he can hold his own at second base or shortstop with his range, speed and arm. A lot of potential despite his size.

16. Gerardo Concepcion: Age-18 | Position-LHP | B/T-L/L | ETA-2015

Cuban defector who was signed by the Cubs in the offseason. Went 10-3 with a 3.36 ERA over 21 outings for the Cuban National Team last year. Reportedly has a low-90s fastball to go along with an above average curveball, slider and change-up. There aren’t a lot of scouting reports on him, but he is a young left-hander with intriguing potential. Going to take some time to get a real feel for him.

17. Jeimer Candelario: Age-18 | Position-3B | B/T-B/R | ETA-2016

A 2010 international free agent signing out of the Dominican Republic, the 6’-1”, 180-pound switch hitter showed an advanced approach at the plate for a player his age at the Dominican Summer League. Over 72 games, he hit .337 with 16 doubles, two triples, five home runs, 53 RBI and a .921 OPS. He also walked 50 times to just 42 strikeouts. To be fair, the DSL is considered the lowest level of competition in the minors; however, he still put up great numbers. He made his US debut at the team’s Florida Instructional league, hitting .297 with four doubles, one triple and five RBI over 14 games. He continued to show his advanced approach at the plate by taking five walks to only four strikeouts. At just 18 years of age, he is going to take some time.

18. Aaron Kurcz: Age-21 | Position-RHP | B/T-R/R | ETA-2013

The Cubs 11th-round pick in the 2010 draft, Kurcz could be the team’s closer down the road. Armed with a fastball that touches 96 mph and a plus slurve, he struck out 91 batters over 82.1 innings this season at Daytona as a starter and reliever. Last year at short-season Boise, he had 46 strikeouts with only 11 walks over 26.1 innings. A teammate of Bryce Harper at Southern Nevada University, he had 10 saves and 52 strikeouts in 35 innings as the team’s closer.

19. Marco Hernandez: Age-19 | Position-SS/2B | B/T-L/R | ETA-2015

Hit .333 with 16 doubles, five triples, two home runs, 42 RBI and nine stolen bases for the Cubs rookie league last season. Showed a very good approach at the plate by only striking out 29 times over 233 plate appearances. Has the range, glove and arm to stay at shortstop but could easily move over to second base. Has a high ceiling and is just starting his pro career.

20. Zach Cates: Age-22 | Position-RHP | B/T-R/R | ETA-2014

Acquired by the Cubs as part of the Anthony Rizzo/Andrew Cashner trade. Was a third-round pick by the Padres in the 2010 draft out of Northeast Texas CC. A converted catcher who is still relatively new to pitching, he had a 4.73 ERA, 1.36 WHIP and 111 K/53 BB over 118 innings at single-A Fort Wayne last season. His fastball sits in the 95-97mph range, and his change-up is a plus offering already. His curveball shows promise, and with more experience, he could develop into a middle of the rotation starter at worst.

21. Gioskar Amaya: Age-19 | Position-SS/2B | B/T-R/R | ETA-2015

Another one of the Cubs talented young infielders, Amaya hit .377 with 11 doubles, eight triples, 36 RBI, 13 stolen bases and a .927 OPS over 52 games at the Arizona Rookie League last season. He makes great contact and is lightning quick on the base paths. The Cubs are going to be patient with him, but he has the makings of a very good pro.

22. Ben Wells: Age-19 | Position-RHP | B/T-R/R | ETA-2015

Wells flew under the radar for several reasons leading up to the 2010 draft. One was the fact that he played in Arkansas, not exactly a hotbed for baseball players. Another is the fact that he is a late bloomer, so to speak. Only 18, he grew four inches his senior year and tacked on about 10 mph on his fastball. The 6’-4″, 220-pound righty can now zip his fastball up to 93 mph to go along with a knee-buckling slider and developing hard splitter. Over 15 starts at short-season Boise this year, he had a 4.66 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 53 K/19 BB over 77.1 innings. With time and proper development, Wells has the potential to be a front-of-the-rotation starter.

Zeke DeVoss works the flip drill in Mesa, Ariz. (Tim Sheridan/

23. Zeke DeVoss: Age-21 | Position-2B/OF | B/T-B/R | ETA-2014

The team’s third-round pick in 2011 out of the University of Miami, DeVoss is an athletic speedster who projects to a leadoff-type hitter. Over 38 games at single-A Boise, he hit .311 with eight doubles, one triple, 14 RBI and 14 stolen bases. Very patient at the plate, he had a .458 OBP, drawing 32 walks to just 28 strikeouts. Was originally drafted by Theo Epstein in the 38th round of the 2009 draft out of high school by the Red Sox, opting to attend college instead.

24. Garrett Schlecht: Age-19 | Position-OF | B/T-L/L | ETA-2015

The team’s ninth-round pick in the 2011 draft, Schlecht has an advanced approach at the plate, one of the biggest keys to success for a player his age. Over his first 23 games, split between rookie ball and instructionals, he drew 19 walks, good for a .443 OBP. At 6’-2” and 200 pounds, the lefty has the frame to be a power hitter down the line. Being a former pitcher in high school, his canon arm and speed will help him hold down a corner outfield spot. Going to take some time, but his understanding of the game, along with his intangibles, make him an intriguing prospect.

25. Dave Sappelt: Age-25 | Position-OF | B/T-R/R | ETA-2012

Acquired in the Sean Marshall trade, Sappelt makes great contact, has gap power and can be a threat on the base paths. Over 74 games at triple-A last season, he hit .313 with seven home runs, 29 RBI and an .834 OPS. He also only struck out 39 times, showing a great understanding of the strike zone. Should platoon in the outfield this season as he can play both corner outfield spots.

26. Shawon Dunston Jr.: Age-19 | Position- OF | B/T-L/L | ETA-2015

Blistering speed and a canon arm make Dunston a legitimate center fielder at the next level. The team’s 11th-round selection in last year’s draft, he has been timed at 6.5 in the 60 yard dash and has the range and instincts, along with the arm, to be a very good defender. At the plate, he has exceptionally quick hands, some of the quickest in his draft class. He bats left-handed, and with his all-out swing, he never gets cheated. At 6’-2” and 180 pounds, and getting bigger, he generates gap-to-gap power as the ball jumps off his bat having top bat speed. He can drop down a bunt when needed, draw a walk and has extreme confidence in his abilities at the plate. Another kid who is going to need some time to develop, but has the talent, and bloodlines, to make an impact.

27. Hayden Simpson: Age-22 | Position-RHP | B/T-R/R | ETA-2014

The Cubs surprised many by taking Simpson with the 16th-overall selection in the 2010 draft. Baseball America had him as the 191st-ranked prospect, but the Cubs thought someone would take him before they selected again. He dominated at Division II Southern Arkansas University by going 13-1 with a 1.81 ERA and 131 strikeouts over 15 starts but looked lost during his first professional season. Over 25 starts last year, he went 1-10 with a 6.27 ERA, 1.77 WHIP and 57 K/38 BB over 79 innings split between Peoria and the Arizona Rookie League. With a fastball that can hit 97 mph, and a plus-slider and change-up, the talent is obviously there. With guys like Marlins’ minor league player of the year Christian Yelich and Giants’ minor league player of the year Gary Brown being selected after Simpson, all eyes will be on him this season to live up to the expectations the Cubs put on him by taking him so early.

28. Dae-Eun Rhee: Age-22 | Position-RHP | B/T-L/R | ETA-2014

Underwent Tommy John surgery in 2009, but has come back as good as ever. Had a 4.02 ERA, 1.36 WHIP with 117 K/43 BB over 127.2 innings at single-A Daytona last season. He also completed four games, showing good stamina. Has a mid-90s fastball, a plus curveball and is an exceptional control pitcher. Still needs work on his mechanics, which most likely lead to arm troubles in the first place; but with the right teaching, and more time, could find himself in the rotation in a couple of years.

29. Roderick Shoulders: Age- 20 | Position-1B | B/T-L/R | ETA-2015

The Cubs’ 25th-round selection in last year’s draft, Shoulders was offered third-round money to pry him away from his strong commitment to South Florida. At State College of Florida, a junior college, Rock hit .318 with 14 HR and 58 RBI. At 6’-3″ and 225 pounds, the lefty has a ton of power, but his lack of speed will most likely keep him at a corner infield position. With a sudden logjam of talent at first base, his strong arm may be better suited at third. Will be getting his first taste of professional ball this upcoming season.

30. Chris Rusin: Age-25 | Position-LHP | B/T-L/L | ETA-2012

An excellent control pitcher, Rusin has a 1.9 BB/9 ratio over 284.2 minor league innings. The lefty had a 4.02 ERA, 1.34 WHIP and 46 K/14 BB over 62.2 innings at triple-A Iowa last season. Primarily a starter now, he may be more useful as a situational lefty out of the bullpen for the Cubs as early as this season.  His fastball sits in the 88-90 mph range, and his change-up is a devastating plus pitch.

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