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Almora signs, gives Cubs system another boost

There are no guarantees that any of the players selected will amount to anything, but less than a month after it ended, the first draft of the Cubs new front office looks like a huge success.

Theo Epstein and company got their guy, drafting OF Albert Almora, who Baseball America's Jim Callis describes as " the most polished high school player available in the draft," sixth overall. They followed that with a series of selections that were generally praised by pundits. And most importantly, they got their top guys signed without spending so much they'd have lost a future draft pick under the new draft rules. The Cubs did go a bit over slot with Almora and will have to pay a tax of $280,350 for doing so. No big deal.

At this time last year, the Cubs system featured Brett Jackson (who is currently sputtering at Triple-A Iowa) and not a whole lot else. They hadn't yet signed top 2011 pick Javier Baez, who is currently hitting pretty well at Class A Peoria. They hadn't traded for Anthony Rizzo, who's no longer a top prospect because he's raking (albeit in an extremely small and insignificant sample) for the big-league club. They hadn't signed Jorge Soler. They hadn't, of course, landed Almora.

In 2011, Baseball Prospectus said the Cubs said the Cubs had just two of the top 101 prospects in baseball. That number grew to three in 2012 (and the artice specifically says Soler would rank No. 38 if he were included). Rizzo will no longer count, but between Baez, Soler, Jackson (who may not make it if his contact rate doesn't improve, or if it does and he gets called up) and Almora, they could easily have four in 2013. That doesn't include the nonzero chance that someone like Jeimer Candelario or even Josh Vitters sneaks onto the list, or the nonzero chance that Epstein gets another top 101 prospect back for Ryan Dempster and/or Matt Garza.

The Cubs' system still isn't on par with, say, the Padres' or the Blue Jays'. They've got some good young talent, but they don't have anyone that will be listed on anyone's top 10 prospects lists any time soon. But I think the transformation the organziation has undergone in the last 12 months, starting under Jim Hendry and accelerating under the Epstein regime, is remarkable. Almora's signing was another big step in the right direction.

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