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Cubs Tue Jun 04 2013

A Look at Future Cubs in Kane County

Cubs_200.pngWith the Cubs low-A affiliate now located in Kane County (Fifth Third Bank ballpark in Geneva), it's incredibly easy and cheap to get out and see the future of the ballclub for yourself instead of having to read about it from dozens of sources. If you haven't had a chance to go yet, I recommend doing so. Parking is $5, and the seats that my girlfriend and I snagged were the most expensive non-suite tickets in the stadium: $15 on game day just a few rows off the field. You can go even cheaper than that and still have great seats.

The game we saw on Saturday night was a 15-2 demolition put on by Cedar Rapids without their best player, Byron Buxton. Despite the outcome, I was able to get a look at four out of the five Cougar players who appear on MLB.com's Top 20 prospects for the Cubs (Pierce Johnson started earlier in the week, and has been solid all year for Kane County).

Albert Almora (CF), Bats: R, Throws: R, Age: 19

Almora was the second best prep outfielder in the 2012 class behind the aforementioned Buxton (and there's no doubt that Buxton is better). He was playing his ninth game after recovering from a broken hamate bone, and it didn't seem to be impeding his swing at all. After a couple of weak grounders to third off a pair of low-90s fastballs from Cedar Rapids starter Brett Lee, Almora laced a couple of singles to right center that were absolutely hammered. The sound from the contact he makes reminds you of Starlin Castro from a few years back. The free swinging nature does too, however. He's young, and plate discipline takes time to develop -- especially when you're a player who makes hard, consistent contact like he does. There isn't much loft in his swing, so 20 homers at his peak would be getting absolutely everything out of him. He's got average speed on the bases, and probably wouldn't steal more than 10-15 bags anytime in the future.

What makes him a Top 50 prospect overall, and number two in the Cubs system, is his defense. I'm confident he could play center field in the majors right now, and would be one of the league's top defenders there. His reads off the bat are instantaneous, and he glides to a lot of balls most defenders would be running all out for simply because he takes perfect angles. His arm seemed average, but he didn't get a chance to unleash it on anyone, which leads me to believe there's more in the tank. The Cubs have a history of center field prospects who are good defensively flaming out in the majors and high minors (Corey Patterson, Felix Pie, Brett Jackson), but with a new system of support, the organization is hopeful Almora can break that mold. He doesn't turn 20 until next year, and his future is bright.

Dan Vogelbach (1B/DH), Bats: L, Throws: L, Age: 20

The Cubs' second round pick in the final draft under the Jim Hendry regime, Vogelbach has power potential that makes scouts drool. He bashed 17 homers in 61 games in rookie and low-A ball last year, and has racked up eight so far in 54 games in 2013. He shows solid patience and a quicker swing than you see from most big power prospects, getting a lot of leverage by keeping his hands high at the start. He struggled a bit with the lefty starter, and I worry that strikeouts may be a problem in the upper levels of the minors where pitchers mix in and throw a lot more offspeed pitches.

The biggest issue for the Cubs No. 11 prospect is that he is a DH for a team that plays in the National League. Unless MLB finally adopts the universal DH in the upcoming years, I don't see how he makes it to the majors outside of a September call-up. He played first base on Saturday night, and he wasn't very good there. He can scoop balls fine, but he has no lateral mobility and not enough flexibility in his large frame to allow him to get to balls hit more than a few feet in either direction. His potential is all in his bat, and it's more likely he's used as a prospective trade chip in the future if he continues to hit for power.

Jeimer Candelario (3B), Bats: S, Throws: R, Age 19

His best asset right now is his age. At 19, there is still plenty of projection to him. He's got a quick, compact swing and good approach that drew attention the past couple of years in the Dominican Summer and Northwest leagues. He's got mainly doubles power with some home runs mixed in, but also may run into contact issues in the upper minors with more consistent pitching. He plays third, but I don't see him staying there. He has really poor footwork on a big frame and isn't quick to react after contact, which prevented him from getting to a pair of balls early in the game. His arm is good, however, making it possible to put him in one of the outfield corners, but that means the bar for his bat is set a lot higher.

Gioskar Amaya (2B), Bats: R, Throws R, Age 20

He tore up the rookie and short season leagues the past two years by peppering the ball all over the place and stealing nearly 30 bases total. This season, his strikeouts have become a bit more of a problem with the step up in talent he's facing on the mound, and his speed is above average but no more. I'm not sure if he'll be able to hit as he progresses in the minors, but he's got the glove for second base. He made a couple of slick glove-and-flips for double plays that turned some heads. I don't think he'll ever make the majors based on what I saw (18th-ranked prospects in a system rarely make the bigs), but he's a really solid organizational prospect who might adjust enough with the bat to make himself useful in the city at some point in the future.

 
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