Prospect Watch: Cubs minor-league affiliates kick off 2014

Prospect Watch: Cubs minor-league affiliates kick off 2014
April 3, 2014, 9:15 am
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Tony Andracki

The minor-league baseball season opens Thursday evening and once again, the focus will be on the prospects in the Cubs organization.

Every home run Kris Bryant or Javier Baez hits will be played out on social media almost as much as the longballs leaving the yard in Chicago.

The Cubs set their minor-league rosters earlier this week, pitting Baez, Bryant and 2012 first-round pick Albert Almora all at different levels.

Triple-A Iowa

It's all about Baez. Iowa is filled with intriguing prospects and well-traveled veterans who are just one call away from the big leagues, but Baez will dominate the headlines.

Players to watch: SS Baez, 2B Arismendy Alcantara, 3B Christian Villanueva, OF Brett Jackson, OF Josh Vitters, OF Matt Szczur, RHP Kyle Hendricks, LHP Eric Jokisch, RHP Neil Ramirez, LHP Zac Rosscup, LHP Chris Rusin

Rusin is likely one phone call away if another starter goes down in Chicago while Hendricks is fine-tuning his game before a possible promotion later this season. Alcantara and Villanueva are advanced infield prospects who, like Baez, are getting their first crack Triple-A.

Jackson and Vitters were the top two prospects from the old front office regime and after suffering through a myriad of issues in 2013, both are hoping to find their game again. Szczur and Jokisch have moved through the system steadily and Rosscup had a cup of coffee in Chicago last year. Ramirez was the final piece from Texas in the Matt Garza deal in July.

Double-A Tennessee

There will be plenty to pay attention in Kodak, Tenn., where Baez tore up the scene last summer. Bryant will get his first taste of the upper levels of the minor leagues after just a half-year with short-season Boise and a championship run with Daytona.

Players to Watch: 3B Bryant, OF Jorge Soler, RHP Corey Black, RHP C.J. Edwards, RHP Ivan Pineyro, RHP Armando Rivero, RHP Tony Zych

Soler endured a trying season in 2013 with several behavioral incidences and then a stress fracture that kept him out of action for months. He's hoping to get back on track in 2014 and should benefit from playing alongside Bryant.

Edwards is the organization's top pitcher while Black, Rivero and Pineyro are starting to become household names after flying under the radar. Zych has a big-league fastball, but control issues have plagued him since the Cubs made him a fourth-round pick in 2011. Righty Pierce Johnson is also expected to join the team later in the season after struggling with a hamstring injury in Arizona.

Advanced Class-A Daytona

The D-Cubs are coming off the Florida State League championship last season, but it's a completely different roster. In fact, most of the players in Daytona to start the season spent time with the Kane County Cougars in suburban Chicago last season.

Players to watch: OF Almora, 1B Dan Vogelbach, 3B Jeimer Candelario, C Willson Contreras, LHP Rob Zastryzny, RHP Tayler Scott

Vogelbach is one of the holdovers from the championship squad, though he spent the bulk of the season in Kane County to start. He and Almora make up two of the Cubs' top offensive prospects and both could move to Double-A Tennesse before the year is out.

Candelario is one of the organization's most underrated prospects. At 20, he's been among the youngest players at every stop, but has held his own with solid defense at third base, a patient approach at the plate and budding power that should improve as he fills out more.

Contreras is arguably the Cubs' top catching prospect while Scott is an intriguing pitcher with South African roots. Zastryzny was the team's second-round pick last summer and advances to Daytona after just three appearances with Kane County.

Class-A Kane County