2015 Outlook: Rizzo entered 2014 with a glaring flaw but at an age at which it was hardly set in stone as a known deficiency. He had struggled massively against lefties in his first 356 plate appearances against them, but he unloaded on southpaws for a massive .928 OPS in 171 plate appearances last season. The only impediment for Rizzo in 2014 was a back injury that cost him time late in the season and left him with 20 fewer games played than the year before. His issues with lefties can't be erased completely after the one season, but there is no longer any question he can handle them. The maturation of a youthful lineup will likely be the deciding factor in whether Rizzo can reach 100 runs scored or driven in, but the power and on-base skills are real and spectacular.
2015 Outlook: Two years ago, Castro was being drafted as a top-30 player, but he finished 2013 near the bottom of the top 300. However, 2014 ended up being a profitable year for his owners, as Castro largely returned to his 2012 levels. The one area where Castro's game did not rebound is the stolen-base department, as he took off just eight times and has only 13 steals in the last two seasons now. New manager Joe Maddon does like to use a lead foot with the running game, though, and a change in philosophy could help Castro regenerate that value. His skills aren't as worrisome as his off-the-field issues, as he did get into some legal trouble in late December back in the Dominican Republic, which could affect his 2015 value.
2015 Outlook: Bryant enters 2015 atop many prospect rankings, and should be considered an early favorite for Rookie of the Year honors in the National League. The Cubs kept Bryant in the minors for all of last season, splitting his time nearly evenly between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. His plate-discipline numbers were nearly identical at the two levels, as he walked in 14.5 percent of his plate appearances while striking out in just over a quarter of them. With raw power at the top of the 20-80 scale, Bryant makes an overwhelming amount of hard contact and possesses the ability to drive the ball to all fields, a tool that he used to swat 43 home runs over 594 plate appearances in 2014. There are still some questions regarding his ability to stick at third base in the long run, but the Cubs have been adamant about giving him a chance to handle the hot corner before moving him to the outfield. While he'll start his year at Triple-A Iowa, Bryant will likely be called up to serve as the everyday third baseman shortly after April 17, at which point the Cubs gain an extra year of team control over their prized rookie.
2015 Outlook: Alcantara got ahead of some of his more highly touted prospect mates in the Cubs organization in 2014, getting the call to fill the void first at second base and later in center field. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to carry over his production from the minors in his first exposure to major league pitching. Strikeouts were the big culprit for Alcantara, as he whiffed a whopping 31 percent of the time. The bigger problem is that more help is on the way for the Cubs -- between Albert Almora, Javier Baez and Addison Russell, at least one or two guys are bound to be displaced, and Alcantara is likely to be one of them. Even if the Cubs send down Baez to cut down on his prodigious whiff rate, they still have Tommy La Stella available as a superior OBP option. It's silly to dismiss a player after a 70-game sample, but Alcantara will have to dramatically improve on last season's .205 batting average to reestablish a foothold in the Cubs' lineup.
2015 Outlook: With immense power comes tremendous holes in the swing. At 22 years old, Baez is a unique talent in that he has 80-grade power from a middle-infield position and is one of a small group of players who are legitimate threats to hit 35-plus homers. The problem is, his struggles to make contact are practically historic. In his rookie season, he struck out 42 percent of the time he came to the plate. Even Mark Reynolds in his worst season struck out "just" 35 percent of the time. Seven of Baez's nine home runs came in his first month; he hit .149/.239/.228 in September, showing no improvement with his contact abilities. Baez is all about counting-category potential, as his batting average carries extreme risks. In a best-case scenario, he's Mark Reynolds 2008, which would make him one of the most valuable players in the game. In the worst case, he struggles to replicate Mark Reynolds 2014, which would make him one of the worst. Either way, Baez will start his season with Triple-A Iowa, as the Cubs want him to work on his plate approach before getting consistent at-bats in the major leagues. While he'll likely be back with the big club before long, Baez will need to cut out some of the strikeouts if he wants to lock down an everyday role.
2015 Outlook: After two stints in the big leagues, it appears Olt just might not be able to connect with any regularity against major league pitching. The 12 home runs in 225 at-bats last year were nice, but those represented a third of all his hits, as the 26-year-old had a miserable .160/.248/.356 slash line that earned him a midseason demotion. He flashed his potential back down at the Triple-A level, hitting .302 with seven homers in just 28 games, but he's been unable to translate it to the big league level. Olt has an alarmingly high strikeout rate, with 100 last year in only 258 plate appearances, and while he may start the year as the top option at third following Luis Valbuena's departure in the offseason, he's unlikely to even hold a grip on that role as the Cubs continue their youth movement. Kris Bryant figures to get a shot relatively early on.
2015 Outlook: La Stella drew some attention last year as someone who could wrestle the second-base job from Dan Uggla and offer some value via a big batting average (career .322 average in the minors), but his punchless bat was stymied (.255 average) despite almost a 1-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Now he has been shipped to the "Land of Milk and Middle Infielders," where he will struggle to get any real measure of playing time behind that cluster of star-level talent. Maybe if Javier Baez continues to fan at a 41.5 percent clip, La Stella could get some extra starts, but it is tough to envision a scenario where he is logging meaningful playing time. Even if he did, he's what, a powerless Jeff Keppinger? And Keppinger himself is already powerless. Great.
2015 Outlook: Russell is one of the top prospects in baseball, but those in single-season leagues would be wise to target a player who is closer to the majors and does not have a logjam at his position on the major league roster. By 2016, Russell could be the Cubs' everyday shortstop, and at that point the excitement surrounding the five-tool phenom will have reached a fever pitch. However, he has just 262 plate appearances under his belt at Double-A, and Starlin Castro remains entrenched as the Cubs' shortstop for the time being. Russell hit 12 home runs with two steals and a .294/.332/.536 slash line in 205 plate appearances in the Southern League after being traded from Oakland midway through the season. An early-season hamstring injury likely contributed to his lack of steals, but he stole 21 bases in 504 plate appearances at High-A in 2013, so he should be able to contribute across the board while he is young and fully healthy. Fellow Cubs prospect Kris Bryant completely dominated Triple-A pitching over 297 plate appearances in 2014 and was not rewarded with a September call-up, so while he may be a fantasy star at shortstop a few years from now, it would be illogical to expect Russell to be pushed aggressively through the minors this season.