While the Chicago Cubs continue to struggle at the major-league level, the front office continues the arduous task of building a farm system. The system, which was ranked 28th in baseball just three years ago, is now flush with impact talent.
The top two players in the Cubs pipeline are shortstop Javier Baez and third baseman Kris Bryant, who are currently playing at Triple-A Iowa and considered among the Top 20 prospects in all of baseball.
With Bryant having a monster season - 28 home runs between stints at Double-A and Triple-A - and showing that he is nearly ready to play at the big-league level and Baez trying to dig out of a very slow start that saw him hitting just .143 in early May, you would think that Bryant would be the definite top prospect in the system.
However, after talking with multiple scouts, as well as a pitcher who has faced both players, it seems despite his lackluster numbers, Baez is narrowly ahead of Bryant among the scouts who project players for a living.
Former Cubs pitcher Casey Coleman, who is now pitching at Triple-A Omaha in the Kansas City Royals system, gave up a grand slam to Bryant on Monday night, but he believes that Baez is as tough an out as he has faced.
"They are both great prospects, but they are entirely different types of hitters," he told me. "Bryant doesn't chase and if you make a mistake in the zone to him, he will kill you, like he did to me on Monday night. He waits for you to come to him and to leave a ball out over the plate.
"Baez is not as predictable. He might miss a fastball down the middle once in a while, but then he will hit a slider that is down and off the plate and he will hit it out of the ballpark. You never know what he is going to go after and he is very good at hitting a pitcher's pitch and hitting it hard."
Two American League scouts, who have watched both of the Cubs prospects at multiple minor-league stops over the past two seasons, believe that both players will be stars in Chicago with "All-Star" written all over them.
One prefers Bryant because "he is more consistent and his approach at the plate is mature and refined, which should help him to avoid prolonged slumps in the big leagues."
The other goes with Baez because of his phenomenal bat speed and incredible power.
"I like both of them, but I think Baez's upside is higher," he told me. "Bryant will have more success early in his big-league career but long-term, I think Baez will put up bigger numbers if he stays healthy."