Chicago Cubs Top 20 Prospects

The second part of our annual rankings of the Chicago Cubs' top 20 prospects.

11. Esmailin Caridad, RHP
Acquired: Signed by Cubs as non-drafted free agent in 2007
2008 stats: 13-7, 3.73 ERA, 152 IP, 88 K, 38 BB, 1.11 WHIP

Caridad hails from the Dominican Republic, where he spent time pitching for the Hiroshima Carp's Latin America academy in 2007. When Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry and Vice President of Player Personnel/Farm Director Oneri Fleita saw him pitching at a workout there in 2007, they signed him on the spot.

At 25, Caridad is older than most prospects and will move up quicker. He was already ahead of his competition at Daytona last season when the Cubs promoted him to Double-A Tennessee. The promotion proved to be a learning experience. He had to make adjustments because he was not able to get by on sheer ‘stuff' alone. He eventually righted the ship and was the team's best pitcher in August.

His fastball registers in the low 90s, so he's not overpowering, but he offers an above-average slider and an average changeup. A particular downside to Caridad is that he has a tendency to leave his stuff up in the zone. That helped translate into 18 home runs last season and a few early exits. He'll be back in major league camp this spring and likely will begin the season at Triple-A.

12. Brandon Guyer, OF
Acquired: Selected by Cubs in fifth round of 2007 draft from Virginia
2008 stats: .269 AVG, 14 HR, 38 RBI, .331 OBP

Guyer is one of the most exciting and likeable players in the system. He is a rarity in that his athleticism -- in high school, he lettered in football as a running back, and played linebacker -- enables him to combine power with speed. Both were on display at Class-A Peoria last season. His 14 home runs are a good indication of his 20-homer potential, especially if he's able to stay healthy after having fought through a series of arm problems that had hindered his flexibility and stroke.

On the bases, he takes a keen interest in analyzing pitchers and exploiting their weaknesses for better jumps. In the outfield, the Cubs seem to be courting him to play center, where he spent the latter part of last season and the fall Instructional League working to get better reads and routes. His throwing arm took a beating thanks to a stress fracture in his elbow, which caused Guyer to miss a month and a half of last season. But the arm problems seem to be in the past now, and he led Peoria outfielders with 10 assists. He'll be expected to start 2009 in High-A.

13. Marcos Mateo, RHP
Acquired: Via trade from Cincinnati for OF Buck Coats in September, 2007
2008 stats: 5-3, 3.23 ERA, 103.1 IP, 85 K, 36 BB, 1.23 WHIP

To say the Cubs believe Mateo could become a steal is a bit of an understatement. In his first season as a Cubs prospect, the former Cincinnati Reds farmhand made strides with the development of a breaking ball -- a hard slider that was regularly 87 mph and, at least according to Cubs Scouting Director Tim Wilken, as high as 91 mph on occasion. Moreover, Mateo's fastball topped out at 97 mph, and the Cubs' front office considered his stuff as good if not better than that of Jose Ceda, whom they traded to the Florida Marlins for reliever Kevin Gregg in November.

Mateo is listed in most media guides as 6-foot-1, 160 pounds, but those figures are outdated. He was already close to 175 pounds when the Cubs acquired him from Cincinnati, and now he is closer 200-205 pounds. Mateo will be 25 shortly after opening day, and the Cubs feel he could be somewhat of a late developer. He is still a bit raw in some areas and has a tendency to overthrow. His immediate future appears to be as a starter, and he could begin 2009 at Double-A.

14. Jovan Rosa, INF
Acquired: Selected by Cubs in 22nd round of 2006 draft from Lake City (Fla.) CC
2008: .293 AVG, 7 HR, 81 RBI, .353 OBP

One of the last draft-and-follow players signed before MLB eliminated the process, Rosa was scooped up on Day 2 of the draft, delayed signing, and went on to have a banner year at Lake City where he was Mid-Florida Conference Player of the Year. Some Cubs scouts and front office personnel believe he would have been a third- or fourth-round pick had he re-entered the draft in 2007.

His primary position for now is third base. He has the hands and the arm to stay there, but his throws often lack consistency and the Cubs have experimented with him at other positions -- namely first base. He'll be expected to hit for power as long as he continues to play third, but his future is likely to include many positions. His power numbers were shy of what he'd have liked at Peoria, but he is otherwise one of the best gap hitters in the system as evidenced by his 43 doubles. The Cubs believe it's only a matter of time before some of those doubles turn into home runs. He'll likely anchor the hot corner at Daytona to begin 2009.

15. James Russell, LHP
Acquired: Selected by Cubs in 14th round of 2007 draft from Texas
2008 stats: 6-10, 5.45 ERA, 127.1 IP, 86 K, 38 BB, 1.45 WHIP

Russell (6-foot-4, 205 pounds) is a fairly strong and athletic presence that comes from good lineage. His father, Jeff, had a 14-year major league career and is credited for teaching James Russell his changeup -- considered by many as the best such pitch in the system. His curveball was a work-in-progress entering 2008, but Russell made strides with the pitch, a kind of slurve that was 75-78 mph. His fastball (88-92 mph) is an above-average pitch, though at times he struggles with command.

By most intents and purposes, Russell had an up-and-down year in 2008. He made it to Double-A by early May (a faster trek there than even Jeff Samardzija the previous year), and admittedly the Cubs knew he was in for a struggle. They called him up anyway because they wanted to push him, and it proved to be beneficial despite his struggles, said Tennessee pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn. He'll be expected back at Double-A in 2009.

16. Dan McDaniel, RHP
Acquired: Selected by Cubs in 14th round of 2008 draft from Chabot College
2008: 2-0, 1.56 ERA, 34.2 IP, 48 K, 18 BB, 1.01 WHIP

Many teams shied away from McDaniel due to perceived signability issues and because he wasn't the easiest to scout; teams were competing against a full scholarship to Oklahoma State and McDaniel was pitching in a program that emphasized fastballs, fastballs, and more fastballs. Thus, many clubs didn't get a chance to get the same read the Cubs got on McDaniel. Chicago was able to swoop in and convince the right-hander to turn pro. McDaniel then quietly rewarded the Cubs with one of the best seasons of any draftee, pitching at short-season Low-A Boise where one Northwest League scout described him as "filthy."

An aggressive pitcher, his fastball was anywhere from 90-95 mph at Boise, and he showed a good feel for a changeup. His curveball is a hybrid pitch, a slurve that has more of a curveball break and was at times knee-buckling, scouts said. He has a tendency to run out of gas as evidenced toward the end of last season, and his future is probably in the bullpen. Cubs Minor League Pitching Coordinator Mark Riggins, however, has a track record of attempting to stretch relievers into starters, and he should have plenty of time to work with McDaniel in a similar fashion.

17. Chris Carpenter, RHP
Acquired: Selected by Cubs in third round of 2008 draft from Kent State
2008: 4-2, 4.64 ERA, 33 IP, 25 K, 23 BB, 1.73 WHIP

Carpenter, in some ways, is already a success story. His powerful return from Tommy John surgery (2005) and ulnar nerve transposition (2006) was nothing short of remarkable in the eyes of his coaches at Kent State. He's shown no signs of rust since the operation, topping out at 96 mph last season as he often reached back and unloaded on hitters. He showed a hard curveball that at times was 82 mph, and he also showed a feel for an above-average changeup. Because of his age (he turned 23 in December), many believe Carpenter can advance quickly. His downside has always been control. He walked nearly as many batters as he struck out last season at Low-A Boise, and some scouts believed that was a result of overthrowing.

18. Aaron Shafer, RHP
Acquired: Selected by Cubs in second round of 2008 draft from Wichita State
2008: 2-2, 3.00 ERA, 33 IP, 25 K, 6 BB, 1.03 WHIP

Shafer doesn't throw as hard as Carpenter, but he locates well and generally keeps the ball down. He's at his best when he's able to mix in his 12-6 curveball and changeup -- a palm-ball -- for strikes. His fastball is usually 88-92 mph most days, and he tries to dictate at-bats by working off his fastball and then shifting into his secondary stuff as needed. While pitching in Arizona after the draft, Cubs coaches noticed a mechanical quirk that involved Shafer having a tendency to snap his head when he threw, indirectly putting more stress on his arm. By the end of the season at Boise, he broke the habit and was able to command his pitches better.

A three-year starter at Wichita State, Shafer proved his durability by logging almost 300 innings from start to finish. He recorded a career-high in innings pitched last season (over 140) between college and pro ball but showed signs of dead-arm after the layoff between his final start in the College World Series and the time of his professional debut in late July. As such, the Cubs shut him down after only two outings in the Instructional League. There are only so many spots available on full-season rosters, especially with some players not guaranteed to advance a level. But it's hard to imagine Shafer not getting a chance to compete at Peoria in 2009.

19. Ryan Acosta, RHP 2008: 1-1, 6.36 ERA, 38.2 IP, 30 K, 10 BB, 1.54 WHIP

Acosta came into 2009 with expectations of being one of the five starters at Class-A Peoria, only to be informed midway through spring camp that he'd be used in long relief. Then, just hours before the team's season opener, Acosta suddenly found himself back in the rotation after RHP Robert Hernandez was dealt a 50-game suspension by MLB for testing positive for a banned substance.

Acosta handled the initial confusion of his role quite well and made eight starts before his season was derailed altogether; his mother had suffered a fall and had fractured her spine. Acosta left the team to take care of family business and didn't return to pitch in a live game until nearly a month and a half later. Upon his return, he was rusty and eventually was diagnosed with tendinitis in his throwing shoulder and biceps. He was shut down for the remainder of the season and was slated to pitch in the fall Instructional League, but the Cubs excused him for personal reasons.

When pitching, Acosta can be effective. In addition to his fastball (88-92 mph) and changeup, he features a slider and curveball for breaking pitches. He also has a split-finger fastball tucked away in his arsenal, but the Cubs instructed him to shelve the pitch until he gets more experience under his belt. His biggest problem is concentration, or lack thereof. He made it past the fifth inning only once last because he tended to lack the overall mindset of each pitch, leaving hitters to capitalize on his mistakes. Where Acosta begins 2009 will be interesting. He says he now feels fine physically, but the Cubs may not be in a rush to send his arm into the frosty Midwest League right away given how few innings he pitched last season.

20. Matt Cerda, C
Acquired: Selected by Cubs in fourth round of 2008 draft
2008: .253 AVG, 2 HR, 15 RBI, .341 OBP

This admittedly is a bit of a stretch because of how little we've seen of Cerda. But he was considered by amateur scouts as one of the top prep hitters in California last year and didn't have an overly bad season with the bat in his first taste of pro ball in the Arizona Rookie League. He showed a fairly balanced eye of the strike zone, amassing 21 walks to 25 strikeouts. The Cubs view him as a patient, gap hitter with some underdeveloped power, and he has shown the ability to catch up with velocity.

Defensively, the Cubs drafted him as a shortstop but moved him to catcher right away. It was a bit of a surprise move, but the club was impressed enough by Cerda's agility and throwing arm in a pre-draft workout in Mesa to feel the move was worth a shot. He's still raw behind the plate, as evidenced by his seven passed balls in just 13 games, and he was generally a back-up to Dominican prospect Alvaro Sosa, who got the bulk of starts at catcher and threw out 41 percent of runners. Cerda threw out five opposing runners in 23 attempts, roughly 24 percent. A sign that his bat has top priority for now, the Cubs had him DH in plenty of games last season. He'll likely start in extended spring training with a chance to join Low-A Boise later in the summer.

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