Cubs' redevelopment flourishing with new regime
System deeper after pitching-rich Draft, focus on homegrown talent
CHICAGO -- The future, slowly but surely, is starting to look brighter for the Cubs.
And while the wait might be prolonged, the Cubs' front office is pleased with the work done through the First-Year Player Draft and international scouting since the regime headed by president of baseball operations Theo Epstein took over in October 2011.
The three biggest names in the Cubs' system are a trio of young, talented position players: shortstop Javier Baez and outfielders Alberto Almora and Jorge Soler, ranked respectively among the Cubs' Top 20 Prospects, according to MLB.com.
Add 2013's No. 2 overall Draft pick, third baseman Kris Bryant, and third-round selection, outfielder Jacob Hannemann, and the Cubs have a handful of high-upside position prospects.
"Trying to look at our organization as objectively as you can, I think the strength is with our position players, and our young position players that are out there right now," said Cubs vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod.
But it's the pitching -- or lack thereof -- that Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and McLeod have focused on during their time in Chicago. Significant process has been made.
After focusing on high-upside high school arms in the 2012 Draft, the Cubs took a number of college arms this year, including 11 of their first 15 picks.
"Theo and Jed have made no secret of trying to acquire pitching, no matter how we can get it," McLeod said. "So I think the last two Drafts, it's been a volume approach with the amount of arms we've taken early."
The result thus far is a much healthier and deeper system.
That begins with the top trio, all of whom are putting up big numbers in the Minors (all stats entering play Sunday):
• Baez, 20 years old: .281/.325/.511, nine home runs and 16 doubles at Class A Advanced Daytona Beach.
• Almora, 19: .435/.471/.581, one homer and six doubles in 15 games at Class A Kane County.
• Soler, 21: .283/.352/.481, eight home runs and 11 doubles at Daytona Beach.
Despite the numbers, McLeod said there hasn't been talk of moving Baez or Soler up a level.
"We haven't had those conversations yet," McLeod said. "We'll let them force us to have those conversations."
Another name to keep an eye on is Daytona Beach first baseman Dustin Geiger, who has a .297/.364/.464 line and was named Cubs Minor League Player of the Month for May.
"He's been really steady under the radar and he probably gets lost with Baez and Soler being in the lineup there," McLeod said. "He's a kid who had a tremendous month this past month. He's young (21), too, for that league."
At the Double-A level, there's shortstop Arismendy Alcantara, MLB.com's 20th-ranked prospect. Alcantara, 21, can hit for power (nine homers, 14 doubles) and is wiry, leading McLeod to compare him to Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins.
Other hitters include third baseman Christian Villanueva (the Cubs' No. 8-ranked prospect), now at Double-A Tennessee, Kane County first baseman Dan Vogelbach (No. 11) and Daytona infielder Jeimer Candelario (No. 13). Plus center fielder Brett Jackson (No. 4), third baseman Josh Vitters (No. 14) and infielder Junior Lake (No. 9), all at Triple-A Iowa.
On the mound, one of the best pitchers in the system has been right-hander Pierce Johnson, who was selected in last year's supplemental round. Johnson (No. 7) has a 2.95 ERA in 11 starts with 65 strikeouts in 58 innings at Kane County.
"It's good to see Pierce Johnson having a strong May," McLeod said.
Right-hander Arodys Vizcaino (No. 5), acquired from Atlanta last July, also has high upside, though he's out for season following arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow. And last year's second-round pick, right-hander Duane Underwood (No. 15) has talent, as well.
The additions made to that group through this year's Draft -- led by right-handers Tyler Skulina (fourth round), Trey Masek (fifth) and Scott Frazier (sixth) -- has McLeod and the Cubs envisioning a winning future at Wrigley Field.
"We're very hopeful two years from now the club up here is winning more and we've got the pipeline going with those young position players that should be at the upper levels, if not up here already," McLeod said. "Then with all the arms we've taken in '12 and '13, along with some of the acquisitions and trades, hopefully we're bearing more fruit out as far as the pitching pipeline goes."