Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Doubts growing about Cubs prospects
By Jim Bowden
Cubs prospects Jorge Soler and Javier Baez have shown some holes at the plate.
MESA, Ariz. -- It’s telling that the Chicago Cubs leapt 10 places in ESPN.com’s Future Power Rankings, jumping from 16th to sixth in only one season. Both the major-league club and farm system saw significant additions, but that won’t stop another last-place finish.
Most evaluators at the Cubs' big-league camp are praising the tools and bat speed of prospects Javier Baez, Junior Lake and Jorge Soler. Baez has ridiculous bat speed but also a late cocking motion in his swing that has to be corrected as he heads up the development ladder. Lake has tremendous power but huge holes in the zone. Soler’s power and presence is reminiscent of Frank Thomas.
After watching their at-bats and batting practice, however, I think all three have some “hit” tool issues. Odds are one of them never pans out and follows Corey Patterson and Felix Pie as Cubs prospects who failed to live up to the fans’ often unrealistic expectations. The one prospect who does look like slam dunk isn’t even in big-league camp -- center fielder Albert Almora. He was the Cubs’ first-round selection in last year’s draft and looks like a future All-Star.
However, the Cubs' best prospect might not even be a player. Vice President of Player Development and Scouting Jason McLeod is one of the best evaluators in the sport. McLeod’s history of successful drafts in Boston, San Diego and now the Cubs make him one of the top GM prospects in the game of baseball.
In 2008, Seattle Mariners President Chuck Armstrong was doing his due diligence in looking for a new general manager. He called me and asked who I would recommend. I gave him two names at the time -- Mike Rizzo and Jack Zduriencik. I considered them two of the best evaluators in the sport, and they both possess the intelligence and blend of new- and old-school philosophies to succeed in the position. The next time I'm asked for a recommendation, I'm going to bring up McLeod. He’s intelligent, smart, intuitive, organized and articulate. The Cubs should value his judgment now while they still have him because he’s a rising star.
• Alfonso Soriano told me that he’d like to finish his contract with the Cubs, which runs through 2014. He said his knee was about 80 percent last year, which makes the fact he hit 32 homers all the more impressive. His goal is to win with the Cubs and his rejection of a trade to the Giants last year had more to do with their large outfield and concerns about how his knees would handle it. That doesn’t mean he would veto a trade, but most likely it would have to be to a team like the Yankees (DH option) or Phillies (smaller outfield) for him to waive his no-trade clause. Soriano’s work ethic and leadership with young players earns him constant praise in the Cubs' clubhouse, with many saying they have never had a better teammate than Soriano.
Notes: It appears the Cubs more likely to sign right-hander Matt Garza to a long-term deal rather than trade him if he comes back healthy. His age and ability make him a good cornerstone for the Cubs’ rotation along with Edwin Jackson and Jeff Samardzija Don't be surprised if the San Diego Padres deal third baseman Chase Headley in July. If the Cubs are a player, despite the stream of infield prospects coming, the Cubs would be happy with a long-term infield of Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney, Starlin Castro and Headley one Cubs evaluator told me if Stanford right-hander Mark Appel is sitting there at No. 2 in this year's draft, he won't get by them.
Tempe: Los Angeles Angels camp The Angels’ offseason plan centered around rebuilding its starting rotation. Their moves raised some eyebrows after acquiring three fly ball pitchers, giving them four including Jered Weaver. Certainly there was cost considerations related to bringing in Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton, but GM Jerry Dipoto’s strategy is to take advantage of one of the best defensive outfields in baseball.
With Josh Hamilton, Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos, the Angels boast three center fielders in their outfield, with Trout and Bourjos possessing elite range. Combined with the spacious confines of Angel Stadium, which ranked 27 in ESPN’s park factors, Dipoto is betting more fly balls will die harmlessly in the Angels outfield this season. But the key was how undervalued fly ball pitchers like Hanson, Vargas and Blanton were in the trade and free-agent market. DiPoto told me they are going to start the season with what they have and will not make a late push for Kyle Lohse, but he added if he's still available after the season starts and something happens, he won't close the door.
With Peter Bourjos, Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton, the Angels have a rangy outfield.
For manager Mike Scioscia, he told me the key to the Angels’ offseason wasn’t Hamilton or the rebuilding the rotation. In fact it was the bullpen additions of Ryan Madson and Sean Burnett. The Angels blew 22 saves last year, and if they can reduce that number by 10-12, he thinks the Angels will win the AL West. Madson is on schedule from his rehab from Tommy John surgery and hopes to be active sometime in mid- or late-April with the Angels. Both DiPoto and manager Mike Scioscia say Burnett has been one of the game’s best left-handed relievers over the past four years with some of the nastiest late movement on his two-seam fastball. Combined with lefty Scott Downs and the continued development of both Ernesto Frieri and Kevin Jepsen, the Angels believe this bullpen can become a strength.
• Prospect Kaleb Cowart is really turning heads in spring training. The Angels won’t rush him -- he was sent down to minor league camp last week -- but he certainly looks like their long-term solution at third base maybe as early as this September. However, one thing is painfully clear about the Angels’ farm system -- there is very little depth after the 25-man roster.
• C.J. Wilson said something interesting pertaining to the Angels’ acquisition of his former teammate Hamilton: “The one thing about [Texas GM] Jon Daniels is he’s going to trade or let go everyone that wants to have fun.”
Notes: Trout’s weight gain was over way overblown. He told me he actually only gained three pounds from the end of last season going from 231-234 Hanson told me that he didn’t work hard in the offseason last year and paid the price in second half. This offseason Hanson worked on shoulder exercises the hardest he has in a long time and hopes to be the pitcher he was two years ago. Both Scioscia and Dipoto told me they have been very impressed with Hanson’s outings and think he can be a force Blanton and Hamilton each have lost approximately 20 pounds and appear in great shape.