Rizzo heads Cubs' crop of promising prospects
Club not rushing first baseman; Jackson waiting in wings
CHICAGO -- Saying "Anthony Rizzo" evokes excitement for nearly all Cubs fans, who hear the name of the young first baseman and immediately want him called up from Triple-A Iowa to Chicago.
Some day he'll be at Wrigley Field. And then there will be another prospect fans can't wait to see.
Major League Baseball's annual First-Year Player Draft concluded Wednesday, with the Cubs selecting 42 players they hope to sign. The prize of this year's Draft is high school outfielder Albert Almora, whom the Cubs selected with the sixth overall pick.
With the Draft now complete, the focus of many will return to the Major League team, but there are some players already in the Cubs' Minor League system to be excited about.
The biggest name wasn't drafted by the club, but Rizzo was chosen by vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod, who originally drafted Rizzo for Boston in 2007 and was part of the San Diego front office that acquired him from the Red Sox. Rizzo likely will be called up this year, but the Cubs have repeatedly said he won't be rushed.
He entered Wednesday hitting .363 with 17 home runs for Triple-A Iowa, but Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has said he won't promote Rizzo until the organization feels he's ready.
"No, we're not going to rush him," Epstein said earlier this season. "We're going to wait until the time is right, his development being the primary factor."
The club's No. 2 prospect -- and No. 33 in all of baseball, according to MLB.com -- is center fielder Brett Jackson. The 2009 first-round Draft pick (No. 31 overall) was hitting .261 with seven home runs and eight triples in Iowa, but had 75 strikeouts in 242 plate appearances.
He can play all three outfield spots and also could be in Chicago at some point this season.
Third baseman Josh Vitters was drafted No. 3 overall in the 2007 Draft out of Cypress (Calif.) High School by the Cubs, but he was sporadic in his first three seasons of professional baseball. He seemed to put it together last year, hitting .283 with 14 home runs and 28 doubles at Double-A Tennessee, and played well in the Arizona Fall League.
He was hitting .261 with nine home runs at Triple-A this season.
Last year's first-round pick, shortstop Javier Baez, is off to a good start at Class A Peoria. The 19-year-old is hitting .290 and getting on base at a .371 clip, but he is still a few years away.
Although only 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, Baez, the club's No. 3 prospect, hits for average and power. He's a also a good defender, but some believe he could shift to third base in the future.
The club's first-round pick in 2010, right-hander Hayden Simpson, hasn't found the same success in pro ball as Baez. He went 1-10 with a 6.27 ERA at three levels in 2011, walking 38 batters in 79 innings.
Simpson's command issues have continued to plague him this season, as he's walked 29 in 35 2/3 innings at Class A-Advanced Daytona.
While Simpson has struggled as a first-round pick, right-hander Trey McNutt is proof that late-round steals do happen. The Cubs nabbed McNutt in the 32nd round of the 2009 Draft, and the righty posted an 0.98 ERA in 13 games (six starts) after signing that year.
After struggling in 2011, he's shining in his second season in Double-A with a 3-4 record and 2.68 ERA in 10 starts.
McNutt is a hard-throwing righty, with a power breaking ball and fastball in the mid-90s, who could grow into the Cubs' most promising starter if he develops an offspeed pitch.