Cubs preaching patience with loaded farm
MLB Pipeline checks in from Spring Training camp, unveils team's Top 20 Prospects
MESA, Ariz. -- If you would believe all the hype, the Cubs are just moments away from having the 21st century edition of Murderers' Row.
The top three prospects on the Cubs' Top 20 Prospects list -- Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora -- are in the first 20 slots of the overall Top 100. No. 5 prospect Jorge Soler and No. 6 Arismendy Alcantara are in the Top 100 as well.
None of them, of course, has played an inning of Major League Baseball. And while the future looks decidedly bright, especially in the batter's box, the Cubs have been sure to keep everyone on the same page and not get ahead of themselves.
"I think everyone here, especially the younger players, come in with respect for the organization, respect for each other. No one feels like they're bigger than the game," said Cubs farm director Jaron Madison. "Everything we do here is focused on doing what's right for the team, not individual goals. We understand those individual goals will lead to team goals. Overall, everyone is out here for the right reason: To help the Cubs win. I think they truly buy into that."
Some -- particularly the powerful combination of Baez and Bryant -- could get the chance to show how much they can help the Cubs win in the not-too-distant future. While dreams of 70-plus home runs and countless RBIs from the duo may dance in their heads, the decision-makers in Chicago are making sure to not get ahead of themselves and force the issue.
"We have to make sure we develop the guys completely before we rush them up to the big leagues," Madison said. "Our goal is not to get these guys to the big leagues quickly, it's to make sure they hit the big leagues, stay in the big leagues and impact our big league team. We're not in a rush to get them up there. They understand there's a timeline. They're not asking every day, 'Am I going to make the team?' They understand there's a process that goes into place. There's a checklist of things they have to accomplish before they move up and get on that big league roster."
Once they do, they obviously can't do it alone. Even if the big five make it and fulfill their potential, the Cubs will have to have some pitching to record outs on the other side of the ball. They are decidedly bat-heavy, but they do have two pitchers in the Top 100 in Pierce Johnson and C.J. Edwards. One of the things the Cubs have tried to do to even things out organizationally is to bring in arms, with Edwards and No. 13 Neil Ramirez coming from the Rangers in the Matt Garza deal.
"We understand there's a clear strength in the organization -- our offense," Madison said. "That's why every trade, every Draft, every international signing we make, we focus on bringing in quality pitchers to the organization. Guys like Ramirez and Edwards, guys we've acquired the past couple of years via trades, it's really changed the state of our farm system. I think the pitchers are close to catching up to what we have on the position-player side."
Three questions with Ramirez
Originally drafted in the supplemental first round of the 2007 Draft by the Rangers, Ramirez was traded to the Cubs as the player to be named in the Garza deal in 2013.
MLBPipeline.com: How does it differ here compared with the Rangers organization?
Ramirez: Everybody here has made me feel really welcome. I get along with everybody. A trade is always a difficult process at first, when you're coming to a new team. Being with the same team for six years, you get comfortable over there. Once you get here, you realize baseball is baseball. It's pretty much the same anywhere you go. There's always going to be guys in the locker room who've gone through it before, so they can help you through the process. Getting in here, meeting the guys, it's a quick transition.
MLBPipeline.com: Being in Spring Training helps a lot, doesn't it?
Ramirez: Being able to be here in big league camp has been great. It's not like I haven't been part of the organization; I'm just getting to know the guys. Rick Renteria is just a great, positive manager, too, so it's been easy to come over here and be around him. Chris Bosio's a guy I've been able to talk to, not just all baseball, [but he's] a guy you can talk to and relate to, so that makes it a little better, too.
MLBPipeline.com: Your development hasn't taken a direct path, taking a while to get going, then shooting forward in a hurry, then stalling a little. How have you dealt with that?
Ramirez: It's been an up-and-down ride. I think everyone has their own path. I trust that my preparation and everything I do behind the scenes is going to get me there in the time that I get there. I think this is going to be a really good year for me if I can focus on doing my job and staying healthy.
Camp standout: Dan Vogelbach
No one has ever questioned Vogelbach's ability to swing the bat. That's why the Cubs gave him $1.6 million to sign out of the second round of the 2011 Draft. That's why Vogelbach is currently ranked as the No. 4 first-base prospect and No. 10 on the Cubs' Top 20. He doesn't have a 60 grade for his bat and power for no reason. Vogelbach's .297/.386/.515 line thus far in his career backs that up.
But Vogelbach has always been, to be blunt, big. And not in a good way. In a way that led to concerns about his long-term potential, especially in terms of being able to continue to play first base.
Vogelbach got a good amount of attention at the beginning of Spring Training for reporting to camp in much better shape. Seeing him on the back fields as Minor League games got underway, it wasn't a public-relations mirage. Someone seeing Vogelbach for the first time might not even know that conditioning has ever been an issue.
"A lot's been written about Vogelbach recently with the work he's done in the offseason, losing over 30 pounds and really working hard on the defensive part of his game to show us and other teams he can play first base and stay at first base," Madison said. "That immediately stands out."
Breakout candidate: Jeimer Candelario
Candelario is already on radar screens, to an extent. He is, after all, No. 9 on the Cubs' Top 20. Candelario's .256/.346/.396 line in the Midwest League in 2013 may not make you sit up and take notice, but he was still a teenager, as the Cubs have continually challenged the third baseman, and he has kept up so far.
Candelario has a very good swing from both sides of the plate, with an advanced approach and solid plate discipline, especially for his age. There's much more power to come as well, and he has every chance to stick at the hot corner.
"With what he did last year in the Midwest League, as a teenager, I expect a big breakout year for him," Madison said. "He has a great swing, a feel for the bat on both sides. He has the chance to be a pretty good third baseman."