CHICAGO -- Manager Dale Sveum was able to get a good look at the Cubs' future in Spring Training, and he liked what he saw.
Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, Christian Villanueva and Chris Rusin drew favorable reviews. Baez, the team's No. 1 pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, hit four home runs in back-to-back games, and Sveum got more than a few questions as to whether the shortstop was ready for the big leagues.
"He's still got to face a lot of right-handed pitching," Sveum said of Baez, who batted .298 this spring. "There's a lot to be learned and a lot to be learned at the plate when you're going to face right-handed pitching constantly -- sliders and all that stuff -- and know you'll get quite a few of them and how you're going to react."
where to watch
|2||Albert Almora||Extended ST||TBD|
|6||Dillon Maples||Extended ST||TBD|
|7||Pierce Johnson||Kane County||A|
|11||Dan Vogelbach||Kane County||A|
|13||Jeimer Candelario||Kane County||A|
|15||Duane Underwood||Extended ST||TBD|
|16||Paul Blackburn||Extended ST||TBD|
|17||Gioskar Amaya||Kane County||A|
|19||Darien Martin||Kane County||A|
That's why the Minor Leagues are so important, and Cubs fans can get a glimpse of the future there. The good news is that there is depth in the system.
"There's a trail of guys getting ready to be a phone call away; there's no doubt about that," Sveum said.
Baez began the season at Class A Daytona. Last year, he batted .333 in 57 games at Class A Peoria, and hit .188 in 23 games after a promotion to Daytona.
"People who play in the big leagues, there's always an edge to them, one way or the other," Sveum said of Baez. "He's got that edge. He wants to be that guy. I think he got comfortable as big league camp went on in the environment and with the guys. We all know it's there."
Minor League Baseball is under way, and you can keep track of the Cubs' top prospects throughout the season on MLBPipeline.com and Prospect Watch. Get scores, stats, news, schedules, tickets and more for all of the Cubs' Minor League teams on MLBPipeline.com/Cubs.
Joining Baez in Daytona is Soler, another top prospect who had an impressive spring. It will be interesting to see how Soler rebounds from an incident last Wednesday in which he became upset at comments from an opposing player and left the dugout with a bat. Soler received a five-game suspension from the Florida State League and an undisclosed fine.
"We condemn the act and what took place, but we support the player," said Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. "We believe in Jorge as a person, as well as a player. It's our responsibility to work with him and make sure he has a better way to channel his emotions on the field and make sure something like this doesn't happen again."
Five of the Cubs' top 20 prospects are on Class A Kane County's roster: Pierce Johnson, Dan Vogelbach, Jeimer Candelario, Gioskar Amaya and Trey Martin. They were together last season at Boise, which reached the playoffs and lost to Vancouver in the Northwest League Championship Series. Amaya was named to the Northwest League postseason All-Star team after batting .298 in 69 games.
Third baseman Christian Villanueva, acquired last July from the Rangers in the Ryan Dempster trade, headlines the Double-A Tennessee roster. Villanueva received plenty of playing time this spring because of injuries to Ian Stewart and Josh Vitters, and impressed Sveum with his defensive skills.
Another player to watch at Tennessee is outfielder Matt Szczur, a fifth-round pick in the 2010 Draft who batted .295 at Daytona last season.
Debuts and Draftees
Albert Almora, the Cubs' No. 1 pick in 2012, was slowed this spring when he broke the hamate bone in his hand, and he has not been assigned to a Minor League team. Almora combined to bat .321 last season at Mesa and Boise.
Another player to watch is Duane Underwood, Chicago's second-round pick in 2012 who got a taste of pro ball pitching for Mesa last year. Underwood and Dillon Maples, a 14th-round pick in 2011, have yet to be assigned. Maples was slowed last season with a strained right elbow, but did appear in six games with the AZL Cubs in the Arizona League. This year will be the first in which he should get regular work.
Teams on TV
The Iowa Cubs and Tennessee Smokies are among a growing number of teams whose games are available on MiLB.TV. The 2013 MiLB.TV package will include more than 3,500 Minor League games streamed live, as well as games archived for on-demand streaming soon after completion.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.