Alfonso Soriano and Matt Garza remain on the Chicaco Cubs active roster, at least for now, but first-year president Theo Epstein started his rebuild of the farm system with trades of starting pitchers Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm, outfielder Reed Johnson and catcher Geovany Soto.
In the Maholm and Johnson deal, the Cubs received highly regarded right-hander Arodys Vizcaino and Triple-A righty Jaye Chapman. The 21-year-old Vizcaino, who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery this season, projects as a starter or a late-inning reliever.
In their revamped top 10 prospects list for the Cubs, MLB.com ranks the Dominican Republic native at No. 3, and he becomes the top pitching prospect in the system. Chapman, who is 25, had a 3.52 ERA in 40 games at Triple-A Gwinnett.
For Soto, the Cubs obtained a fringe prospect in 24-year-old right-hander Jake Brigham. A sixth round pick out of high school in 2006, Brigham was repeating at Double-A Frisco, where he logged a 4.49 ERA in 35 games (including 14 starts) last year and posted a 4.28 ERA in 21 games (all starts) this season.
Along with Vizcaino, the most prominent pickup for the Cubs is 21-year-old third baseman Christian Villaneuva as part of the trade for Dempster. Villaneuva was rated as the 100th best prospect in the game by Baseball America before the 2012 season and was batting .285 with 10 home runs and 59 RBI at advanced Single-A Myrtle Beach.
Epstein also landed 22-year-old right-hander Kyle Hendricks in the Dempster transaction. An eighth round pick out of Dartmouth in 2011, Hendricks recorded a 2.82 ERA in 20 starts at Myrtle Beach and projects as a back of the rotation starter in the majors.
It is Epstein’s intention to build a winner in Chicago through a productive farm system stocked by draft picks, international free agent signings and trades of veterans. Soriano and Garza will likely be traded, either in August or during the upcoming off-season. When they are dealt, the Cubs top prospects list will need more updates. As for now, the top overall prospect remains 23-year-old outfielder Brett Jackson.
When rosters expand on September 1, or perhaps before, Jackson and 22-year-old third baseman could make their major league debuts with the Cubs. Jackson was a first round pick (23rd overall) in 2009 and is batting .253 with 15 home runs, 46 RBI and 25 stolen bases at Triple-A Iowa. A first round pick in 2007 (third overall), Vitters is hitting .296 with 15 home runs and 63 RBI at Iowa.
Javier Baez, a 19-year-old shortstop who was a first round pick (ninth overall) in 2011, is the lone Cubs minor leaguer to make Baseball America’s 2010 Mid-Season Top 50 Prospects List at No. 25.
The Cubs did make news in the international free agent market when they signed Cuban outfield phenom Jorge Soler.
Pitching is thin in the Cubs organization, so Epstein’s acquisition of Vizcaino is just a baby step.
The Cubs do have some intriguing core players to build around in the majors, including shortstop Starlin Castro, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, second baseman Darwin Barney and starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija.
The rebuilding project is in its infancy, though, thus the reason why Epstein is eager to find new homes for Soriano and Garza, both of whom should yield more promising prospects for a system in need of depth and talent.