Amid all that futility, there's legitimate cause for hope in Chicago. The Cubs have built one of baseball's strongest and deepest farm systems, and that talent should spark a turnaround in the near future.
No organization can match Chicago's collection of high-ceiling position talent, starting with shortstop Javier Baez, third baseman Kris Bryant and outfielders Albert Almora and Jorge Soler. Baez, Bryant, Soler and first baseman Dan Vogelbach give the Cubs a quartet of sluggers that's unrivaled in the Minor Leagues.
Jonathan Mayo and I concur that Chicago will produce the Minor League home run champion in 2014, even if we don't agree on who that will be. Jonathan likes Baez's chances, while I believe Bryant will outdo him and every other prospect this season.
Bryant might not match his truly dominant 2013 performance, when he combined for 46 homers between college, the Minors and the Arizona Fall League. He went deep 31 times as a junior at San Diego, leading NCAA Division I, outhomering 223 of the 296 teams at that level and hitting more long balls than any player has since college baseball toned down its bats in 2011.
Bryant also paced D-I in slugging (.820), runs (80), walks (66) and total bases (187). He finished his college career with 54 homers, a Toreros record, and he won USA Baseball's Golden Spikes Award and Baseball America's College Player of the Year Award.
Though the Cubs need pitching more than anything, they couldn't pass on Bryant with the No. 2 overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft. They signed him for $6,708,400, a franchise record and the largest upfront bonus for any position player in Draft history. Bryant shook off a 1-for-11 start to hit .336/.390/.688 with nine homers and 32 RBIs in 36 games at three levels, capping his first pro summer by helping high Class A Daytona win the Florida State League championship.
Bryant's next stop was the AFL, where he continued to destroy pitchers. He won league MVP honors after batting .364/.457/.727, reaching base in each of his 20 games and topping the AFL in slugging, runs (22), homers (six), extra-base hits (15) and total bases (56).
Bryant has everything needed for big-time home run production. He has size (6-foot-5, 215 pounds), strength, bat speed, loft in his right-handed swing and the patience to wait for pitches he can crush. After winning a Minor League homer title this year, Bryant should do the same in the Major Leagues in the future.
Baez should give Bryant a run for the crown after tying for second with 37 homers in 2013, when he led the Minors with 75 extra-base hits and 111 RBIs. Baez may have the quickest bat in the Minors and he finished last season by matching his age in homers (20) in just 54 games at the Double-A level. The Cubs won't be able to resist the temptation to call him up this summer, however, which will prevent him from winning the Minor League homer title.
Who might challenge the Cubs sluggers? Rangers third baseman Joey Gallo led the Minors with 40 homers in 2013 and may possess more raw power than any prospect. But he's also raw at the plate and struck out 172 times in 111 games last year, so he figures to find the going at least a little rougher as he advances to high Class A.
Astros outfielder George Springer tied Baez with 37 homers last year, but he figures to spend all or most of 2014 in Houston. Twins third baseman Miguel Sano, rated as having the most usable power on the MLBPipeline.com Top 100 Prospects list, was fourth with 35 homers in 2013. But Sano strained his throwing elbow while playing in the Dominican Winter League, requiring Tommy John surgery that likely will cost him the entire season.
Even if Baez, Gallo, Springer and Sano were fully healthy and ticketed for an entire season in the Minors, Bryant would still be my choice to outhomer all of them and everyone else. He's the best college power-hitting prospect to come along in years, and he's just getting started in terrorizing pro pitchers.