Cubs collection of young talent may be their best

They can boast 2 budding big league stars and possibly 4 prospects game's top 20

Starlin Castro is 23. Ditto Anthony Rizzo. They're not exactly going to be old men when the Cubs' best-in-baseball wave of amateur talent starts rolling into Wrigley Field, although they might feel like it.

With University of San Diego slugger Kris Bryant signing for $6.7 million last week, the Cubs probably have assembled the biggest collection of position-player talent they ever have had at the same time. In Bryant, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora — along with Castro and Rizzo — the Cubs have given themselves a foundation for future success.

That's progress.

Agent Scott Boras represents Almora and Bryant. He has seen Soler and Baez multiple times.

His take: "Albert's a great young player, an instinctive player, a player who is going to be very important for this team in many ways. Kris Bryant … I've been doing this more than 30 years, and I can count on my hand the number of college players who have that type of power. He has very rare power, loft power, easy power. This is going to be a cornerstone player for this franchise.

"As far as Soler, I've watched him play three or four times. The strength, the quick twitch, he has a chance to really have a high ceiling as a player. I saw Baez play maybe three games of rookie ball. He's almost (Dustin) Pedroia-like in generating power from a small strike zone. He has a 6-4 swing in a (6-foot) body. He's fun to watch hit. He's going to be a very impactful guy.''

Baseball America's Jim Callis recently released his midseason prospect rankings. He listed Baez 10th overall, Almora 16th and Soler 18th.

Callis didn't list Bryant because he was unsigned at the time. He says he might put Bryant ahead of Baez if he was updating it now. That means the Cubs have four of the top 20 prospects in the minors.

The Astros (five), Cardinals and Red Sox had at least four players apiece in Callis' top 50. But none of them had more than two in the top 20.

When are the kids going to get to the big leagues? Here's my guess:

•Baez: July 2014. When he gets close to the big leagues, the Cubs will have to move him or Castro to another position or deal one of them. I will guess Castro gets traded, but it's up to Baez's continued development as a shortstop.

•Bryant: August 2014. That might be too soon, given the lack of urgency and Cubs President Theo Epstein's commitment to minor league instruction. But getting to the big leagues in a hurry hasn't seemed to hurt guys like Ryan Zimmerman, Evan Longoria, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout.

•Soler: April 2015. He was likely to get to the big leagues sooner before suffering a stress fracture in his ankle that could cost him half of this season.

•Almora: June 2015. He has bounced back well from a broken hamate bone and could come even more quickly.

Tough week: Somewhere Jonathan Papelbon is smiling about recent developments with the Dodgers' Yasiel Puig. He shockingly failed to win online balloting for the Final Vote spot on the National League All-Star team, and he is being made to look mortal as teams face him for the second time.

In his second series against the Diamondbacks, Puig was 4-for-15 with no extra-base hits and four strikeouts. He did get two hits against the Rockies before leaving Thursday's game with soreness in his left hip, which he injured last week running into the Coors Field wall, but he entered the weekend hitting .271 in 48 at-bats against teams facing him the second time.

Puig, who joined Tony Oliva as only the second hitter since 1950 to bat .400 after his first 130 at-bats, is a .459 hitter (45-for-98) in his first series against an opponent. But teams are making successful adjustments to him.

Because of Puig's swagger, common in Cuba but frowned up by the MLB fun police, Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero says he's well on his way to becoming "hated'' by other big leaguers. Manager Don Mattingly isn't worried about that.

"Honestly, every team has guys who get under your skin," Mattingly said. "They have a few of them (on the Diamondbacks) too. That's just talk, to me. I don't think he's doing anything that's any different than what other guys do to get under your skin. It's just something you see when you play them 19 times (within the division). …

"I played with Rickey Henderson, and he irritated a lot of people. But he was a pretty good player. I've seen a lot of guys irritate the other side."

 

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