Cubs Top-50 prospects for 2014

Javier Baez's days as a top prospect are numbered

Here's Northsiders Report's 2014 Top 50 Cubs prospects. There's 53 more names that will be featured in profile stories over the next two months to get you ready for spring training.

Simply put, the Cubs have an abundance of talented minor leaguers, including some of the best in baseball. Here's my Top 50 and 53 more names that are worth mentioning. Over the next two months, Northsiders Report will be publishing profiles on all 103 players to get you ready for the 2014 season.

1. Javier Baez, Shortstop—An easy choice for #1 after leading the minors in RBI (111) and total bases (299). Baez's bat-speed translated into 37 homers and a slash line of .282/.341/.578. The 21-year-old was named to the FSL and Southern League post-season all-star teams, and earned Cubs Minor League Player of the Year honors. Doesn't get enough credit for his base running or his baseball IQ. If Baez keeps progressing, he will make his MLB debut sometime in 2014 at Wrigley.

2. Kris Bryant, Third Base—The Cubs first-round pick in 2013, Bryant made the Cubs' front office look good, breezing through the Northwest and the Florida State leagues. He hit .336/.390/.688 in 36 games with nine homers and 32 RBI between the two stops He capped off his impressive first pro season with a MVP performance in the Arizona Fall League (.364/.457/.727 6 HR, 17 RBI). Many "baseball experts" think the 22-year-old will move to one of the corner outfield positions but the Cubs are keeping him at third.

3.Jorge Soler, Right Field—Was named to the Florida State League All-Star game despite playing the first half of the season with a broken bone in his leg. The slugging Cuban outfielder hit .281/.343/.467 in 55 games before the Cubs shut him down after discovering the injury. Soler finally got back on the diamond in the Arizona Fall League, hitting in 18 of 20 games for a slash line of .271/.311/.376. Soler has a team-friendly contract that doesn't expire until 2020 and all the skills to fulfill the deal.

4. Albert Almora, Center Field—A series of injuries slowed Almora's progress in his first full season as the slick-fielding outfielder broke his hamate bone in spring training and didn't start action until July. He played in 61 games for Kane County (.329/.376/.466 61 G, 3HR, 23 RBI) before being shut down the final month of the season with a groin injury. Almora's maturity showed in the Arizona Fall League as the league's second youngest player hit .307/.342/.480.

5. C.J. Edwards, Right-Handed Starting Pitcher—Acquired in the Matt Garza trade with Texas in July, Edwards wasted no time making an impact as the right-hander with the 95-mph fastball fanned the first eight St. Lucie Cardinals he faced in his Cubs' debut. By the time his season was over, he had earned MiLB Pitcher of the Year honors and helped Daytona win a FSL championship. He finished the year with 155 K in 116.1 IP in two Class A stops, going 8-2 with a 1.86 ERA.

6. Kyle Hendricks, Right Handed Starting Pitcher—Tough to beat the season turned in by the right-hander who spent his off-season graduating from Dartmouth. Between Tennessee and Iowa, the 24-year-old went 13-4 with a 2.00 ERA, tossing 166.1 IP with 128 K and only 34 BB. Named Cubs 2013 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, he also started the Southern League All-Star game and earned SL post-season honors.

7. Arismendy Alcantara, Second Base—A breakout season for the 22-year-old as he produced career-highs in nearly every offense category (.271/.352/.451 15 HR, 69 RBI, 31 SB) and earned MiLB honors as a AA post-season all-star. He was named to the Southern League mid-season and post-season all-star teams, and homered as a member of the World Team at the Futures All-Star Game. Alcantara started the season at short and moved to second when Javier Baez arrived in town.

8. Pierce Johnson, Right-handed Starting Pitcher—The first pitcher drafted by Cubs' new front office, Johnson serves as the poster-child for Cubs' pitching success. He didn't disappoint in 2013, making 13 starts for Kane County (5-5 3.10 ERA, 69.2 IP, 22 BB, 74 K) and pitched in 10 games for Daytona (6-1 2.22 ERA, 48.2 IP, 21 BB, 50 K). The 22-year-old is likely to part of a potent staff at AA Tennessee.

9. Mike Olt, Third Base—Olt is going to be given every chance to make the team out of spring training but that may be a large task based on 2013. He struggled after getting beaned in Winter Ball and an eye problem sidetracked his progress with the Iowa Cubs (.168/.276/.275 3 HR, 8 RBI, 131 AB). Considered one of the top prospects in the game heading into 2012, the Cubs are hoping the 24-year-old (acquired in the Garza trade) regains his form and can make an impact at Wrigley Field this summer. Olt has the glove to play the position and the power for a corner infielder.

10. Armando Rivero, Right-Handed Relief Pitcher—I realize you're not suppose to rank relief pitchers this high, but I've been impressed with the free agent from Cuba as he made his way through the minors last summer. Signed in March, Rivero struggled in his debut at Kane County but fanned 12 in 8.2 IP at AA Tennessee. Rivero has a 95-mph fastball with late movement and a repertoire of off speed stuff to get hitters out. It wouldn't surprise me if Rivero made his way into Chicago's bullpen in 2014 and became a closer down the road.

11. Christian Villanueva, Third Base—Slated to start 2014 in AAA Iowa, Villanueva gives the Cubs another option at third and is the best defender of all hot corner prospects. He led the Southern League with 41 doubles and 230 total bases while hitting .261/.317/.469 with 19 HR and 72 RBI in 133 games. He earned mid-season and post-season all-star honors, and was named to MiLB's AA All-Star team for 2013.

12. Arodys Vizcaino, Right-Handed Relief Pitcher—Sounds like from recent comments from Cubs President Theo Epstein, Cub fans may finally get to see Vizcaino on the mound in 2014. Traded for Paul Maholm in 2012, Vizcaino has yet to pitch an inning at any level. Epstein told reporters Dec. 5, Vizcaino was hitting 98 mph at fall instructs and had electric stuff with strong command. If healthy, he's likely to start the year in AAA and then make his way to the Friendly Confines.

13. Daniel Vogelbach, First Base—Vogelbach is a rare combination of a power hitter with command of strike zone as he walks about as often as he strikes out (73/89 in 2013). Throw in his ability to take the ball the other way and Vogelbach may be one of the best pure hitters in the organization. The 21-year-old (20 during season) hit .284/.375/.449 with 19 HR and 76 RBI with a majority of his 131 games spent in Kane County. Vogelbach's been criticized for his defense at first as well as his weight but he's shedding pounds and continues to work on his defense. He's likely to return to Daytona for the start of 2014.

14. Gioskar Amaya, Second Base—Although his numbers weren't impressive, I really like Amaya's makeup. He still has a lot of work to do on defense but I was impressed with his baseball IQ as the 21-year-old completed his first full season. He hit .252/.329/.369 and showed improvement in his plate discipline. He's still a few years away from Wrigley but has the skill set to be an everyday player.

15. Jeimer Candelario, Third Base—Cubs can afford to be patient with the 20-year-old who, like Amaya, didn't set the MWL on fire, but turned in a solid year showing progress. The switch-hitter batted .256/.346/.396 with 11 HR and 57 RBI for Kane County in 130 games. His defense improved in the MWL and he shows maturity in his approach at the plate.

16. Paul Blackburn, Right-Handed Starting Pitcher—Blackburn showed flashes of why the Cubs used a first-round supplemental pick on the high school right-hander out of California in 2012. After a great start at short-season Boise, the 20-year-old struggled with his command but finished the season strong, including two playoff outings as he fanned 17 in 12 innings, allowing just five hits. Threw 46 innings in 13 games with 29 BB, 38 K, and a 3.33 ERA.

17. Corey Black, Right-Handed Starting Pitcher—Acquired from the Yankees for Alfonso Soriano in July, Black ended up leading the Florida State League in strikeouts with 116 in 107 innings between Tampa and Daytona. The 22-year-old went 4-0 with a 2.88 ERA in five starts with Daytona, and ended 2013 with 11 shutout playoff innings in the D-Cubs FSL title run.

18. Rob Zastryzny, Left-Handed Starting Pitcher—The top pitcher selected by the Cubs in the June draft (#43 overall), the University of Missouri product was on an innings count as his longest outing was 3.2 frames. He threw 24 innings in his first pro season between Boise (8 G, 14.1 IP, 4 BB 16K) and Kane County (3 G, 9.2IP, 4BB, 6K).

19. Eloy Jimenez, Outfield—Considered the top international prospect in 2013, the 16-year-old Dominican signed with the Cubs for $2.8 million. The 6-foot-4, 205-pounder, came stateside this fall and participated in Cubs Instructional League in Mesa. He didn't play in any scheduled games but got his first taste of pro ball working with the Cubs.

20. Ivan Pineyro, Right-Handed Starting Pitcher—Acquired from Washington in the trade for Jerry Hairston Jr., Pineyro, a South Atlantic League mid-season all-star before the trade, pitched in eight games for Daytona going 3-1 with a 3.40 ERA. Pineyro features a plus change-up and the ability to work both sides of the plate. Should be part of the starting rotation in AA Tennessee and another great find by the Cubs professional scouting team.

21. Neil Ramirez, Right-Handed Starting Pitcher—The player to be named later in the Matt Garza trade, the 24-year-old didn't join the Cubs until late August and made one start at AA Tennessee (4.2 IP, 1 H, 0R, 2BB 5K). A former first-round pick of the Rangers, Ramirez features four pitches with a mid-90s fastball. He should be in the Iowa rotation to start 2014 and is a member of the Cubs 40-man roster, so a trip to Wrigley is not out of the question. I may regret not having him ranked higher.

22. Alberto Cabrera, Right-Handed Relief Pitcher—A potential Chicago bullpen candidate for 2014, Cabrera made 18 starts for AA Tennessee, going 9-3 with a 3.20 ERA and 107 K in 112 innings. After earning mid-season all-star honors, Cabrera was promoted to Iowa, making 15 appearances out of the bullpen. He pitched in seven games for Chicago after a September call-up (0-0 4.50 ERA, 6 IP, 5 BB, 4K).

23. John Andreoli, Outfield—Another prospect under the radar in the all the hype in Daytona and Tennessee, but the 23-year-old led all Cub full-season minor leaguers with a .305 average. He was named a Florida State League All-Star before being promoted and ended the year with a organizational-high 40 stolen bases.

24. Matt Szczur, Center Field—The 24-year-old had a solid season at AA Tennessee, batting .281/.350/.367 with 22 SB as the 2010 fifth-round pick earned mid-season and post season all-star honors. A member of the Cubs' 40-man roster, Szczur may need a full season in AAA before he gets called to Wrigley.

25. Zach Rosscup, Left-Handed Relief Pitcher—Rosscup pitched his way from AA Tennessee to Wrigley Field in 2013, and has a chance to make Chicago's bullpen out of spring training. Rosscup appeared in 10 games in Chicago (6.2 IP, 3H 7BB, 7K) after stops in Tennessee (37G, 2-1 2.49 ERA, 43.1 IP, 19 BB, 66K) and Iowa (9G 0-1 0.00 ERA, 7.2 IP, 5H, 6BB, 17K).

26. Dillon Maples, Right-Handed Starting Pitcher—After starting the year at extended spring training, the 2011 draft pick was promoted to Kane County but command issues sent him back to Boise. Maples finally found some consistency with his delivery going 5-2 with a 2.14 ERA in 42 innings. He fanned 41 and walked 19 after issuing 31 free passes in 34.2 innings at Kane County.

27. Gleyber Torres, Shortstop—The top Venezuelan international prospect in 2013, the 16-year-old signed with the Cubs for $1.7 million. Scouts raved about Torres' hitting ability leading up to the signing period and there was some speculation that he may not end up at shortstop. Cubs got a look at Torres during fall instructs as he played in several games.

28. Jae-Hoon Ha, Center Field—A back injury sidelined the South Korean in early May as he was hitting (.305/.408/.402) for AA Tennessee in 25 games. After returning in mid-June, Ha was promoted to Iowa and inserted into the starting lineup in center, playing 62 games (.241/.288/.364) in AAA. There's no reason why Ha couldn't make his MLB debut in 2014 if he excels at Iowa but there's no rush as he's still only 23.

29. Rubi Silva, Outfield—With a lineup filled with AA All-Stars, Silva almost went unnoticed despite hitting a career-high 15 homers after only smacking 10 in his previous two seasons. Silva is no slouch in the outfield with a plus arm and ability to play all three positions. The Cuban hit .284 in 126 games and was second to teammate Christian Villanueva for the league-lead in total bases (226). The 24-year-old will need to improve his on-base percentage in 2014 as he only walked 18 times while striking out 99.

30. Yasiel Balaguert, Outfield—The 20-year-old (turned 21 on Jan. 2) led the Northwest League in RBI with 48, helping lead Boise into the playoffs as the outfielder was among the league leaders in homers and total bases. The Cuban was named NWL player of the week and hit .261/.334/.439 in his second pro season.

31. Dallas Beeler, Right-Handed Starting Pitcher—Earned a spot on the 40-man roster after a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League (4-1 2.49 ERA, 6GS, 21.2 IP, 5BB, 9K). The 41st round pick in 2010 missed most of 2013 after tearing a tendon in the middle finger of his pitching hand after nine starts at AA Tennessee (4-2 3.13 ERA).

32. Logan Watkins, Second Base—Made his MLB debut Aug. 4 after starting the season in AAA Iowa. Watkins was the Cubs 2012 Minor League Player of the Year and was hitting .243/.333/.379 in 107 games in AAA before the promotion. Watkins only got 38 at-bats in two months of action for Chicago.

33. Josh Vitters, 3B/1B/LF—Once considered one of the Cubs top prospects, Vitters had a hard time staying off the disabled list in 2013, making four trips to the DL. He only played in 28 games in AAA but hit .295/.380/.511 with 5 HR. Vitters days at third may be numbered and he may move across the diamond to first or head to left field.

34. Brett Jackson, Outfield—Another former top Cubs prospect headed in the wrong direction, Jackson started the year in Iowa but hit .223/.300/.367 with 77K in 215 at-bats. He was demoted to Tennessee and played in 30 games for the Smokies, hitting .200/.309/.284.

35. Juan Paniagua, Right-Handed Pitcher—Not sure what was tougher, getting a visa to pitch in the states or throwing strikes once he got here. Signed for $1.5 million in July of 2012 after MLB nixed contracts by the Diamondback and Yankees, Paniagua didn't arrive in U.S. until July and struggled with Kane County and Boise. (0-2 6.08 ERA, 37 IP, 46 H, 26 BB, 41 K). The 23-year-old got extra work at the fall instructs in Mesa.

36. Duane Underwood, Right-Handed Starting Pitcher—The Cubs gave Underwood over $1 million to keep the high school star from attending the University of Georgia and his professional career has been a learning experience. The 19-year-old threw 54.1 IP at Boise in 2013 going 3-4 with a 4.97 ERA. Underwood throws in the mid-90s with ease but needs to improve his command at Kane County.

37. Jen-Ho Tseng, Right-Handed Starting Pitcher—Another one of the top International prospects signed by the Cubs in 2013 as they blew past their cap spending limit. Tseng inked a $1.625 million bonus and the 18-year-old Taiwanese right-hander throw five pitches including a 90-plus mph fastball. Tseng pitched at the Cubs fall instructs.

38. Zeke DeVoss, Center Field—The top leadoff hitter in the system, DeVoss led the Florida State League in walks and hit-by-pitches, finishing the year with a .393 OPB, 3rd in the FSL. A fourth-round pick from the University of Miami in 2011, DeVoss made the switch from second base to centerfield in 2013 and showed improvement in the field as the season progressed. He's also one of the better base stealers in the organization, swiping 39, 2nd in the FSL.

39. Kevin Encarnacion, Outfield—May regret ranking the 20-year-old this low but I can't get by a promotion to Kane County that resulted in a trip back to Boise after hitting .217/.314/.333 in 16 games. The Dominican was outstanding in the Northwest League, leading the league in hitting .355 and slugging .566, and was second in OPB at .431. Encarnacion smacked eight homers and knocked in 30 runs, earning mid-season and post-season all-star honors.

40. Carlos Penalver, Shortstop—While Starlin Castro and Javier Baez getting all the attention at shortstop, look for Carlos Penalver to draw the attention of scouts and media in 2014 as the 19-year old could be the best defensive shortstop in the organization. The Cubs front office had to be pleased with the way Penalver progressed at the plate in Boise, hitting .341/.427/.477 the final month of the season. He hit .261/.338/.359 in 68 games, earning mid-season all-star honors.

41. Tyler Skulina, Right-Handed Starting Pitcher—The Cubs fourth-round pick in 2013 out of Kent State, Skulina made his pro debut in the Northwest League and didn't allow a run over his first 10.1 innings. He fanned 10 in 15 innings with a 1.20 ERA. The 22-year-old didn't find the same success in the MWL after being promoted to Kane County. (9.2 IP, 14H, 10 ER)

42. Trey Masek, Right-handed Pitcher—Another hard-throwing college arm drafted in 2013, the Texas Tech product was selected in the fifth round and spent his first pro season between Mesa and Boise, throwing 19 innings. In 10 games in Boise, the 21-year-old fanned 19 in 16.2 innings while opposing batters hit .190.

43. Erick Leal, Right-handed Pitcher—Acquired from the Diamondbacks in the Tony Campana trade, Leal spent his 2013 season in the Arizona Rookie League after seasoning at extended spring training. In his first year in the states, the 18-year-old went 2-3 with a 2.77 ERA, tossing 48.2 innings with 52 K and only 8 BB.

44. Ben Wells, Right-Handed Pitcher—Another player surrounded by highly rated prospects who quietly put together a solid season. The 21-year-old led Daytona in innings pitched (112.1) and finished the year 9-6 with a 3.28 ERA. Wells only allowed 7.7 H/9 but may have been helped by a .262 BBIP.

45. Dustin Geiger, First Base—The 22-year-old was named Cubs Minor League Player of the Month for May but was better than just one month in his fourth pro season as Geiger hit .281/.365/.458 with 17 HR and 86 RBI, second in the FSL. He made the defensive switch from third to first and earned Florida State League mid-season all-star honors.

46. Daury Torrez, Right-handed Pitcher—Another pitching prospect who could make some noise in 2014 if he continues on his 2013 pace. The 6-foot-3, 20-year-old led Mesa in the Rookie League with 49 innings, fanning 49 with only five walks. He was promoted to Kane County for a late season start and may return to the Cougars for 2014.

47. Corbin Hoffner, Right-handed Pitcher—At 6-foot-5, it wasn't hard for the Florida native to stand out in 2013 at Boise, making 16 appearances out of the pen. With a fastball in the mid-90s, the 20-year-old put up impressive numbers allowing 29 hits in 46.2 innings with 42 strikeouts and 13 walks. He recorded one save and was 2-0 with a 1.74 ERA, including a stretch of 16 straight shutout innings.

48. Chadd Krist, Catcher—The only catcher on the Top 50 list, the University of California product split 2013 between Kane County and Daytona. A 2012 9th round pick, Krist hit .255/.361/.373 in 77 games and was behind the plate for Daytona's FSL title run.

49. Rock Shoulders, First Base/Outfield—The Cubs Minor League Player of the Month in April, Shoulders went on to have a solid year in the MWL for Kane County, earning mid-season and post-season all-star honors. The 22-year-old hit .258/.352/.445 with 18 HR and 74 RBI.

50. Stephen Bruno, Second Base—Bruno can hit a baseball. He won the Northwest League batting title (.361) after being selected in the 7th round in 2012 out of Virginia and was batting .362 for Daytona in 19 games before Tommy John surgery ended his season.

You can make a case that some of the following players should be in the Top 50 but here's 53 more prospects to keep an eye on in 2014.

CatchersTyler Alamo, Cael Brockmeyer, Benjamin Carhart, Willson Contreras, Rafael Lopez, Mark Malave, Chad Noble, Lance Rymel

InfieldersRoney Alcala, Wes Darvill, Frandy Delarosa, Bryant Flete, Wladimir Galindo, Marco Hernandez, Daniel Lockhart, Dalfis Ortiz

OutfieldersLuis Acosta, Charcer Burks, Pin-Chieh Chen, Shawon Dunston, Trevor Gretzky, Jacob Hannemann, Trey Martin, Bijan Rademacher, Shamil Ubiera

PitchersAdbert Alzolay, Trevor Clifton, Josh Conway, Nathan Dorris, Frank Del Valle, Greyfer Eregua, Scott Frazier, Frailin Figueroa, Zack Godley, Michael Hamann, Michael Heesch, Eric Jokisch, Matthew Loosen, Ryan McNeil, Jefferson Mejia, Erling Moreno, Yoanner Negrin, Jose Paulino, James Pugliese, Austin Reed, Carlos Rodriguez, Brian Schlitter, Tayler Scott, Nicholas Struck, Ryan Searle, Yao-Lin Wang, Sam Wilson, Tony Zych

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