Friday, July 18, 2014

Previewing The Cubs' Top 5 Hitting Prospects

1. 3B Kris Bryant

ETA: Opening Day 2015

MLB Prospect Ranking: 1

It's no secret that the Cubs' future man at the "hot corner" has been on a tear this season. In fact, he's been on a tear ever since he became a professional baseball player. He started last season by dominating the lower levels of the minor leagues. He proceeded to win the MVP of the Arizona Fall League, the league with some of the best up-and-coming prospects in all of baseball. All he did to follow that up this season is work his way through Double-A and Triple-A while slugging 32 home runs and driving in 82 runs, both of which are tops in all of minor league baseball.

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Earning a spot on Team USA for the Future's Game, Bryant made it clear that he's now known on a national scale. In fact, he's been hot enough this season to propel himself all the way to the top of Keith Law's updated Prospect Rankings (ESPN Insider Subscription Required).

It appears that Bryant will remain at third base when he reaches the major leagues as the team recently moved fellow top prospect Javier Baez to second base. Previously, it was thought that perhaps Bryant would move to a corner outfield spot with Baez taking over at third base. Now, it seems that Bryant will be staying at his natural position.

Theo Epstein and the Cubs' front office has repeatedly said they won't call Bryant up to the major leagues this season and seems like that's a safe bet. This front office hasn't rushed any top prospects and they haven't wavered from statements they've made publicly. The most likely scenario is that Bryant ends up as the team's Opening Day starter at third base in 2015.

2. SS Addison Russell

ETA: Early 2015

MLB Prospect Ranking: 4

The key piece to the Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel trade, Russell is the best prospect that will switch teams this season. He opened the season as the No. 3 prospect in all of baseball and hasn't done much to stifle people's hopes for him. While he tore his hamstring early on in the season, he's back on track and could be in Chicago by early next season.

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Russell makes the most sense at shortstop long-term for the Cubs because he's the best fielder of the trio between he, Castro and Javier Baez and his bat is the most traditional from the position. Based on his performance in the minor leagues, Russell seems ready to contribute at the big league level. Once he's there, expect him to bat somewhere around .300, hit 15 home runs and steal 20 bases. Only time will tell if those projections pan out.

3. SS Javier Baez

ETA: August, 2014

MLB Prospect Ranking: 7

Baez could be headed to Chicago in the near future. He was moved to second base coming out of the all-star break, which could be indicative of a call-up very soon. The team moved OF Junior Lake to the outfield in preparation for the big league call up last season and played him just six games there before promoting him. If history does in fact repeat itself, Baez could be on the Cubs before the trade deadline.

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With his insane raw power, the best bat speed in all of minor league baseball and an ability to hit to all fields, Baez is a potential superstar. He needs to cut some of the swing-and-miss out of his game, but if he's hitting 35-40 home runs like he's capable of, the team will gladly take 150+ strikeouts as well. Of all the team's top prospects, he's by far the most likely to see major league playing time this season.

4. 2B Arismendy Alcantara

ETA: Already Arrived

MLB Prospect Ranking: 29

Alcantara is both the Cubs most underrated prospect and hottest prospect. Every year for five seasons, Alcantara trudged his way through one level of minor league baseball. He always showed promise, but injuries kept him from taking that next step in his development. That was until last season.

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In 2013, Alcantara stayed healthy and put everything together. He showed the organization that he's capable of hitting for power and stealing bases as he clubbed 15 homers to go along with 31 steals in Double-A. Promoted to Triple-A to start this season, Alcantara picked up where he left off and actually improved. Now that he's in the major leagues, he's impressed the team enough that they're trying to make moves that will enable them to keep him at the big league level for the rest of the season.

Given the fact he's spent time in the outfield in the minor leagues, it's likely he will move there as soon as top prospect Javier Baez gets the call up. In the next few weeks, Javier Baez could be the team's starting second baseman with Alcantara manning centerfield for the remaining of the year.

5. OF Albert Almora

ETA: Opening Day 2016

MLB Prospect Ranking: 34

Almora was the Cubs' first round pick in 2012, going sixth overall. Taken out of high school, Almora is highly touted as a multiple tool player and natural born leader. He still has some lumps to take in the minor leagues before reaching Chicago, but he's gotten hot as of late. Should he continue on that track, he could be in Chicago by midseason 2015. At the latest, Almora seems destined to be the Cubs' everyday center fielder by Opening Day 2016.

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Something the Cubs have been searching for for a while now, Almora could also potentially leadoff in the Cubs' future lineup. Of course, other pieces would have to fall into place, but Almora leading off ahead of some of the big hitters of the future seems like a very promising situation for everyone involved.

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