Baez, Bryant headline Top 20 Cubs prospects rankings

Baez, Bryant headline Top 20 Cubs prospects rankings
January 9, 2014, 12:45 pm
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Tony Andracki's John Sickels released his Top 20 (21) Cubs prospects for 2014 Thursday.

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As expected, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant headline the rankings and both were given grades of "A" (Sickels grades players on how likely they are to develop into impact big-leaguers).

Albert Almora came in at third with an A- while Jorge Soler (B+) and C.J. Edwards (B+) rounded out the Top 5.

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Here is the complete list:

1. Baez - A
2. Bryant - A
3. Almora - A-
4. Soler - B+
5. Edwards - B+
6. Arismendy Alcantara, 2B/SS - B
7. Pierce Johnson, RHP - B
8. Jeimer Candelario, 3B - B
9. Dan Vogelbach, 1B - B
10. Christian Villanueva, 3B - B-
11. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP - C+
12. Mike Olt, 3B - C+
13. Neil Ramirez, RHP - C+
14. Matt Szczur, OF - C+
15. Josh Vitters, 3B/OF - C+
16. Kyle Hendricks, RHP - C+
17. Corey Black, RHP - C+
18. Rob Zastryzny, LHP - C+
19. Ivan Pineyro, RHP - C+
20. Paul Blackburn, RHP - C+
21. Kevin Encarnacion, OF - C+

A few notes on the list:

--The Cubs' trades the last few years has helped pad the system, especially the Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster deals with the Texas Rangers the last two seasons that led to Edwards, Villanueva, Olt, Ramirez and Hendricks.

Black, 22, came over from the New York Yankees in the Alfonso Soriano deal and Pineyro, 22, was the return from the Scott Hairston trade with the Washington Nationals. The Cubs also acquired Vizcaino from the Atlanta Braves for Paul Maholm in 2012.

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--Brett Jackson's fade into obscurity is reflected on this list, as the former top outfield prospect was ranked sixth on Sickels' list last year and fell off into the "Others" section in the preseason 2014 rankings.

Vitters is still hanging around the low end of the list. The 24-year-old former first-round pick (third overall in 2007) never made it back to the majors in 2013 and was dogged by injuries, playing in just 28 games with Triple-A Iowa.

--The pitching is starting to come around, especially toward the low end of the list. Edwards and Johnson headline the top arms in the system and Hendricks could push for a shot on the big-league pitching staff after going 13-4 with a 2.00 ERA across 21 Double-A and six Triple-A starts last season.

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--Encarnacion is an interesting addition to the list, as he is not considered a household name among the Cubs' top prospects. The 22-year-old Dominican outfielder flashed some power in his fourth professional season, hitting nine homers and slugging .504 in 58 games between short-season Boise and Low-A Kane County. In 258 plate appearances, he drew 29 walks and sported a .904 OPS.

For reference, here are Sickels' 2013 preseason rankings:

1. Baez
2. Almora
3. Soler
4. Vogelbach
5. Vizcaino
6. Jackson
7. Dillon Maples, RHP
8. Villanueva
9. Szczur
10. Johnson
11. Gioskar Amaya, 2B
12. Duane Underwood, RHP
13. Vitters
14. Junior Lake
15. Candelario
16. Juan Carlos Paniagua, RHP
17. Blackburn
18. Marco Hernandez, SS
19. Alcantara
20. Barret Loux, RHP

Interesting to note Alcantara's jump (from 19 to 6 after a breakout campaign), as well as the absence of seven players from the 2014 list, with Junior Lake as the only "graduating" member of the rankings.