The Cubs’ top ranked farm system has received its fair share of press lately, centered around recently called-up slugger Kris Bryant and shortstop Addison Russell. Now that the teams top ranked guys have made it to the Majors, two lesser known prospects may finally start getting more recognition. Catcher Kyle Schwarber and First Basemen Dan Vogelbach have gotten off to a red-hot start for the Double-A Tennessee Smokies, and may be part of the next wave of position players to impact the Cubs.
Despite being drafted 4th overall in last June’s draft, Schwarber was overshadowed by the bigger names in the Cubs system. However, the future looks very bright for the 22-year old, who ranked 48th on mlb.com’s prospect rankings before the season, and 4th among Cubs prospects. As an advanced bat coming out of Indiana University last year, he did not disappoint, hitting .344/.428/.634 with 18 homers in just 72 games through Single-A ball. The impressive numbers meant that he would start 2015 with the Tennessee Smokies, where he’s continued where he left off last year. Hitting in the 3-hole, he’s been mashing in the early going, slashing .359/.480/.615, with 2 home runs.
There isn’t a whole lot not to like about the 6 foot, 235 pounder’s offensive game, where his powerful, consistent stroke is combined with a great eye at the plate. He should continue to hit well as he moves up the Minor League ladder, and looks the part of a 30 homer hitter. The main questions surrounding the lefthanded hitter are with his defense. The Cubs will give him a shot to catch, but his receivability and throwing arm need a lot of work if he wants to stick there. He may have to move to first base or left field, where he played here and there in college. His offensive game will play anywhere, but his bat would be a lot more valuable behind the dish.
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Hitting right behind Schwarber in the Smokies lineup is slugging first basemen Vogelbach. The Cubs have brought him along slowly since drafting him in the 2nd round out of high school in 2011. He’s posted some solid numbers over the last few years playing no higher than Advanced-A ball, where he hasn’t quite produced the home run numbers that he is capable of. This season is his first playing in Double-A ball, and he’s been off to an even hotter start than Schwarber has been. Through 50 at bats, the 15th ranked Cubs prospect has slashed .460/.571/.780, with 3 home runs and only 3 strikeouts. Although he won’t keep up that ridiculous pace, there is good reason to believe he can be a high contact, high power guy with plate discipline at the next level.
A good Major League comparison for Vogelbach is Cardinals first basemen Matt Adams. They both have similar size at 6 foot, 250 pounds, and both have similar high power and contact rates. The thing that he does better than Adams is take walks, which will lead to better on base numbers in the Majors. However, Adams is a lot more athletic, and is actually a plus defender at first base. The 22-year old has done a lot of work to trim down his weight since high school, but his defense is not very good at all. This could relegate him to a DH role in the Majors. Since the Cubs already have Anthony Rizzo at first base, it seems unlikely that he will become a regular with the Cubs. He may be a valuable trade chip if he continues to mash, as he would have a lot more value on an American League team.
Even with the promotions of Bryant and Russell, the Cubs still have some promising sluggers in Schwarber and Vogelbach. Both appear to be about a year away from the Major Leagues, as they both have work to do with their defense. Both players’ offensive games leave little to complain about, with both having the potential to be middle of the order bats at the next level. The Smokies should be an interesting team to watch this year, as they boast one of the more intimidating 3 and 4 hitters in the entire Minor Leagues.
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