Teenage shortstop Javier Baez can only hope he's on the same fast track as Anthony Rizzo.
Baez is the new No. 1 on the Cubs' Top 20 prospects list, determined by MLB.com, and takes over the top spot from Rizzo, who was promoted to the big league team in late June.
The Cubs' No. 1 pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, Baez, who turns 20 on Dec. 1, began this season at Class A Peoria and hit .333 with 12 home runs, 10 doubles, five triples and 20 stolen bases in 57 games. He was moved up to high Class A Daytona, where he batted .188 in 23 games but finished with a flourish, hitting two home runs in the season finale.
Jason McLeod, senior vice president of scouting and player development, has been impressed by Baez's combination of plus tools and baseball skills.
"The bat speed and raw power he displays are second to none," McLeod said. "He needs to work on consistency with his approach at the plate as he'll get too aggressive trying to do too much and has a tough time staying under control. On the flip side of that, he plays very under control on defense and on the bases, which is an exceptional skill to have for a player of his age."
Three players from the Cubs' 2012 Draft class made the Top 20 list, including first-round pick Albert Almora, an impressive outfielder from Hialeah, Fla., who enters at No. 2. Pitchers Pierce Johnson and Paul Blackburn, who were taken in the compensation round, made the list at Nos. 9 and 15, respectively.
The Cubs have some players who stayed in the Top 20, including pitcher Trey McNutt, who appeared to have more success in a relief role this season, compiling a 3.81 ERA in 17 games and holding teams to a .202 average. In 17 starts, he had a 4.46 ERA and hitters were batting .268 off him.
Other holdovers in the Top 20 include Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters, who were ranked second and 11th, respectively, in the season-opening list, and were promoted to the Cubs on Aug. 5. Jackson, who was batting .256 with 158 strikeouts in 106 games at Triple-A Iowa, has continued to struggle at the plate but has shined in center field. Vitters, another No. 1 pick by the Cubs along with Jackson, was batting .304 at Iowa when he got the call, but he has struggled in the big leagues. Jackson and Vitters now are Nos. 3 and 10, respectively, on the latest prospects list.
Pitcher Ben Wells and infielders Jeimer Candelario and Gioskar Amaya also maintained spots on the Top 20 list. Candelario hit .281 at Class A Boise, and Amaya batted .298 for the Hawks. He also had one game with Iowa, subbing on the West Coast when the Minor League team needed an extra player. Amaya made the most of it, hitting a double. Maybe it's a sign of things to come.
Rizzo was recalled on June 26, and he had an immediate impact on the Cubs' lineup. Inserted into the No. 3 spot in the order, he delivered four game-winning RBIs in his first 10 games. He won National League Rookie of the Month honors in July after hitting .330 with seven home runs and 17 RBIs. Acquired in January from the Padres for pitcher Andrew Cashner, Rizzo was expected to be a mainstay in the middle of the Cubs' lineup.
Rafael Dolis, ranked eighth at the beginning of the season, made the Cubs' Opening Day roster and took over as closer in late April-early May when Carlos Marmol was struggling and then sidelined with an injury. However, the club had to send Dolis to the Minor Leagues when he struggled with command, and he was bothered by a knee injury. He was called up Tuesday.
Right-handed pitcher Chris Carpenter, ranked fifth at the start of the season, has the dubious distinction of being the player to be named later as compensation to the Red Sox for Theo Epstein, who took over as the Cubs' president of baseball operations last October.
Gone from the Cubs' Top 20 is outfielder Reggie Golden, who was ranked 10th at the start of the season. A second-round pick in 2010, Golden batted .242 in 2011 at Boise, then hit .192 in seven games at Peoria this season before a knee injury ended his year.
Two players whom the Cubs acquired from the Reds in the Sean Marshall trade, infielder Ronald Torreyes and outfielder Dave Sappelt, were ranked Nos. 13 and 19, respectively, at the beginning of the season, but have both dropped off. Torreyes, who can play second and short, batted .264 with Daytona this season, while Sappelt hit .266 at Iowa, and admitted he tested about 15 different batting stances. Sappelt was called up Saturday.
Marco Hernandez, who was 18th, has dropped off the list after batting .286 in 67 games at Boise. He began the season at Peoria and hit .210 in 43 games before being assigned to the lower Class A Hawks. Taiwanese outfielder Pin-Chieh Chen, who was No. 20, has been bumped after batting .259 in 127 games at Peoria.
There are eight new players in the Cubs' Top 20, starting with No. 2 Albert Almora, the organization's first-round pick in June. The outfielder batted .347 in 18 games with Mesa in Rookie League play, then hit .292 in 15 games with Boise.
"He's still learning the nuances of playing every day facing different pitchers with a wood bat in his hands," McLeod said. "However, he works as hard as anyone with plus instincts on the defensive side. He has a chance to be a special center fielder.
"Offensively, like most young hitters he is trying to learn how to stay consistent and within himself," McLeod said. "It's been a good first summer considering he started a bit later than most of his teammates."
Pitcher Arodys Vizcaino, acquired at the Trade Deadline from the Braves for Paul Maholm, enters at No. 4. The right-hander, who did appear in 17 games with Atlanta last season, underwent Tommy John surgery in March. He was expected to be ready for Spring Training.
One of the most talked about additions is Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler, 20, who signed a nine-year, $30 million contract in late June. Said Cubs Minor League hitting coordinator Tom Beyers: "He's a special player. He's capable of doing a lot of special things." In 20 games with Peoria, Soler batted .338 and will continue to play in instructional league this fall.
McLeod said Soler has been impressive.
"I see nothing but positives at this point in terms of his work ethic, assimilation to his new surroundings and performance over the past month," McLeod said. " We're looking forward to a full offseason working with him."
The Cubs also have four new pitchers in the Top 20, including Johnson, Blackburn and Tony Zych, a fourth-round pick in 2011, who was added after posting a 3.19 ERA in 27 games with Daytona and 4.38 ERA in 20 games with Double-A Tennessee. Alberto Cabrera, who began the season at Tennessee and was eventually promoted to the Cubs on Aug. 1, enters at No. 19, followed by Marcus Hatley, who had a 3.40 ERA in 28 games with Tennessee, then pitched briefly at Iowa. Hatley is coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2009.
cubs' top prospects
Click here for the complete Top 20 list on Prospect Watch.
Outfielder Matthew Szczur, a fifth-round pick in 2010, dropped two notches to No. 6. The former Villanova football star batted .295 in 78 games with Daytona, but he hit .210 in 35 games with Tennessee. Infielder Junior Lake, on the other hand, moved up three notches after batting .279 with 10 home runs and 26 doubles in 103 games at Tennessee. Lake started strong, hitting .301 in the first half, and batted .267 in the second half.
Dillon Maples and Robert Whitenack both dropped in the Top 20, but that's because both were sidelined with injuries in 2012. Maples was bothered by an elbow injury and made four starts for the Mesa team, while Whitenack is coming back from Tommy John surgery in June 2011. He was definitely one to watch, combining for a 7-0 record and 1.93 ERA in 2011 at Daytona and Tennessee combined.
Top 100 representation
At the beginning of the season, the Cubs ranked 15th among Major League teams with three players in the top 100 in Rizzo, Jackson and Baez. Now they have five, and only the Blue Jays (seven players), Pirates and Padres (six each) have more. Baez was No. 62 and jumped up to No. 24. Almora entered at No. 52, Jackson dropped to 74th, and Vizcaino was ranked 76th and Soler 77th.
Brandon Hyde, promoted from Minor League field coordinator to the club's director of player development, spent the season evaluating the talent in the Cubs system.
"The bottom line for us is we're trying to develop impact big leaguers, whether that's pitchers or hitters; we're looking at the whole package," Hyde said. "Our job is to get as many players to play at Wrigley Field as we can who are impact players."