We’ve already seen plenty of fine pieces on what Theo Epstein is worth. One can argue he is easily worth a top prospect as he will certainly change how the Cubs function as an organization. Another could argue that one man can only provide so much value to an organization, value that cannot cancel out the loss of such a prospect. Either way, there have to be a number of players on Boston’s radar. Here’s an idea of who might be targeted:
- Brett Jackson, CF: It’s already been spoken about through a number of outlets that Jackson is possibly on the table in the Epstein negotiations. If true, Boston could be getting back a player who’s value is understated by some and recognized by others. Some feel he can hit for enough power and average to be valuable offensively as he should walk plenty. Others think his strikeouts will limit his offensive contributions and that his power will be only slightly more than average for a center fielder. Defensively, it sounds like there is much less conflict over his abilities, as most think he should be a quality defender in center for the foreseeable future with good range and a solid arm. On top of that, he runs the bases well, but not to the point where he blows you away with his speed. Rarely are his tools loud, but they are numerous.
- Matt Szczur, CF: Speaking of skeptics, many do not believe in his future power potential and find that his approach is lacking. The still raw prospect has fantastic speed and shows excellent defense in center (that is still developing), while his power has been slowly showing this past season. He doesn’t look like someone who will hit for tons of power at the major league level, but it should be at least average in center. As for his hit tool, it sounds like it has more than enough potential. The ultimate ceiling on Szczur is a plus defensive center fielder who hits for high average with excellent base-stealing ability and at least average power.
- Trey McNutt, RHP: Definitely a buy-low candidate, McNutt’s season has been marred by injuries and mechanical issues. Before this season began, he has one of the fastest rising stocks in the minors as pitching prospects goes. Most didn’t see it coming, but he developed a plus fastball and plus curve that ate up hitters at every level in 2010. Unfortunately for him and the organization, neither showed up with great consistency through 2011, with much of it to blame on blister issues. No real arm troubles to speak of here, so while his stock is down, I can’t see a reason to get rid of him now.
- Andrew Cashner, RHP: Speaking of buying low, Cashner has had his own injury troubles this year, although they were more troubling than McNutt’s. With shoulder soreness early on, he was shut down for what was almost the entire season as the Cubs did not want to take any risks. So far in Arizona Fall League ball, his velocity has been present, registering regularly in the upper 90s. There does not seem to be any negative news on his offspeed stuff just yet, so I’d imagine he has the benefit of the doubt. One wonders if Boston would truly target him with his recent shoulder issues and the fact that he may now be destined to be a bullpen arm. As a starter he had huge value, but if relegated to relief, it remains to be seen what he can provide to an organization.
- Josh Vitters, 3rd: The third question mark in a row on this list, Vitters has always been praised for his sweet right-handed swing and ability to make consistent contact. While those are useful traits, the power that was expected to develop sooner rather than later has not shown up. Vitters may still be decently young for his level (22 at AA), but fans have been playing the waiting game for a while with him. At the plate his biggest issue has been impatience, swinging at pitchers pitches that end up producing favorable contact to the defense, no matter how hard it comes off the bat. He doesn’t strike out much either, so it’s really just a matter of adjusting his very aggressive approach. It’s not out of the question that the Red Sox might want to take a flier on him, even with Will Middlebrooks hitting well.
- Wellington Castillo, C: Obviously a lesser prospect, most likely someone that would be part of a package, Castillo registered a decent year at AAA following an underwhelming 2010. With quality arm strength behind the plate and developing game calling skills, he is still a raw product as a catcher. He has shown an improved eye at the plate (although still a bit too aggressive) while still showing the power that has gotten him attention previously. He profiles more as a backup type of player, but he may develop into an average regular if given the opportunity. Doubtful that Boston would be totally pining for him with Lavarnway and Saltalamacchia on the team.
- Dae-Eun Rhee, RHP: Most likely now fully recovered from Tommy John surgery the season before last, his stuff may finally have returned. His 2010 season ended up being a time of development for him as he worked to gain his feel for pitching back, with 2011 looking much better. He kept his walks at a decent rate this year (could be a tic lower) while he bumped his K rate back up to old levels, ending up with a FIP of 3.58 at high A. The 6’2″ righty’s groundball rate registered slightly less than last year, but it is still better than average, and should climb higher. At 22 years old, he’s a little behind development-wise, but his feel for pitching, solid velocity (low 90s) and quality change up makes him a good arm to target.
- Reggie Golden, OF: One of the highest upside players in the system, the 20 year old was selected in the second round of the 2010 draft for his power and athleticism. While you can argue that the power has shown itself, most would like to see him make more quality contact in the future. He’s still incredibly raw though, so one can only expect so much. Golden’s speed should be a valuable tool in time when he learns better base stealing and his defense starts to improve. It’s seeming like right will be his ultimate position in the future, as he started just a few games in center so far in professional ball. If Boston buys his potential though, and they think that they can give him proper instruction, he could be a steal.