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Cubs’ top prospects should get long looks

Published: Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 10:34 a.m. CST

(MCT) — MESA, Ariz. — Baseball America listed four Cubs in its Top 100 prospects list, an indication the organization is showing progress in its rebuilding plan.

Shortstop Javier Baez is ranked No. 16 while outfielders Albert Almora and Jorge Soler are Nos. 33 and 34. Pitcher Arodys Vizcaino is at No. 83.

Lists such as these are only educated guesses, of course, and even a respected publication like Baseball America can be wrong. Before the 2011 season, the publication projected the Cubs’ 2014 starting lineup with Josh Vitters at third, Geovany Soto catching, Tyler Colvin at first, Hak-Ju Lee at short and Brandon Guyer in left. The projected rotation had Andrew Cashner as the ace, followed by Chris Archer, Trey McNutt, Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster.

There’s no way of knowing what the future will bring, but Baez and Soler could give an indication this spring in Cactus League play. With 39 exhibitions scheduled in the Phoenix area, Tucson, Las Vegas and finally Houston, Soler and Baez will get plenty of chances to show what they can do.

“There always comes that time in spring training when the starters start going seven innings and preparing (for the regular season),” manager Dale Sveum said. “But we have so many split-squad games that they’re going to get quite a few games in before anything happens such as getting sent down.”

Sveum said the core players will start slowly, giving more time for prospects.

“You don’t want to kill anybody at the beginning,” he said. “There are going to be a lot of at-bats for those guys the first 10 days of (games) or so.”

Sveum has said Baez will play some second base as well as shortstop, while Soler will play left and right fields. The importance of their careers can’t be understated because of the team’s poor history of drafting and developing impact players. The Cubs’ last nine top picks were Grant Johnson (a second-rounder), Mark Pawelek, Colvin, Vitters, Cashner, Brett Jackson, Hayden Simpson, Baez and Almora.

Colvin and Cashner were part of the first trades President Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer made, netting Ian Stewart and Anthony Rizzo, respectively. Jackson and Vitters looked shaky in big league call-ups last year and will be sent to Triple-A Iowa. Johnson and Pawelek were busts, and Simpson went 1-6 with a 5.72 at Class-A Peoria in 2011, then 4-7 with a 6.56 ERA at Class-A Daytona and Boise last year.

Players with as little minor league experience as Soler and Baez typically don’t get a chance to play in major-league exhibitions this early in their careers. Soler is on the 40-man roster and Baez received a nonroster invite.

The Cubs want to see what they have.

“Obviously those are the guys you talk about who are on your radar in the minor-league system, who have all those God-given tools — the speed, the power, the arm, hopefully the hitting ability, meaning OPS,” Sveum said. “A lot of that stuff comes a little bit later in careers. But this is pretty special talent.”

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