Baseball Prospectus’ Top 10 Cubs Prospect List is Pitching Heavy and Young

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By Todd Johnson

The prospect list season is going quick this year. Usually, the major lists are spread out over four months. Not this year. So far, four of the six major lists have been published leaving only MLB Pipeline and Keith Law to go. On Monday, Baseball Prospectus joined the early crowd with their list of top 10 Cubs prospects.

However, despite the current state of the Cubs system, there is still plenty of room for hope and plenty of time for these prospects to develop into players that can contribute at the major-league level.

Baseball Prospectus can be a little bit out there in it’s ranking of Cubs prospects. In 2015, they ranked Addison Russell at number one ahead of Kris Bryant. In 2015, BP placed Gleyber Torres first and followed that up with Eloy Jimenez last year. Heading into this year’s list, I thought it would be one of three prospects: Adbert Alzolay, Aramis Ademan, or Jose Albertos.

There was nothing shocking in the list. Right-handed starting pitchers dominated the list followed by one lefty starter, a switch-hitting catcher and a soon to be 19-year-old shortstop.

The Top Ten
1. Adbert Alzolay, RHP; 2. Jose Albertos, RHP; 3. Aramis Ademan, SS; 4. Brendon Little, LHP; 5. Alex Lange, RHP; 6. Victor Caratini, C; 7. Thomas Hatch, RHP; 8. Oscar de la Cruz, RHP; 9. Jen-Ho Tseng, RHP; and 10. Alec Mills, RHP

In years past, Twitter exchanges could get hot and heavy over which Cubs prospect made a list or did not make a list. I don’t think anyone’s going to be fighting over whether Alec Mills is at number 10. Times have changed. And more importantly, that goes to show just how much focus is now on the major league club.

The Hope
One key to understanding the system and just how raw it is comes from the fact that many of the prospects who might eventually make a top 100 list are 18-19 years old and only Ademan has played  in South Bend and full season baseball. A year from now, this list is going to be totally different and filled with Albertos and other young prospects like Jeremiah Estrada, Nelson Velazquez, and Javier Assad. That’s where the hope is.

BP discussed many of them in their “second ten” section. There’s a lot of depth in the system just based on this section.

Who Is Missing?
It’s stunning what two months of a rough stretch in baseball can do to career, as well as an injury. For Trevor Clifton, he had an outstanding first half (2.84 ERA in 12 starts) at Tennessee and then fell apart in the second. I am still hopeful that he can get it back to what he was like in the first half of 2017. I don’t know how one could give up on him so fast.

Jake Stinnett missed most of the year but came back in August and also pitched in the Arizona Fall League. He showed that he could possibly be a reliever.

Coming Up
I’m looking forward to MLB Pipeline’s list which should be out sometime in January. It’s a little bit more extensive in that they rank 30 prospects. Keith Law usually waits until February to publish his list and I had not planned on doing an updated Top 21 list this winter unless there’s a trade. Who knows, anything could happen this week.

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Episode V of the MiLB Mailbag: Is South Bend’s Pitching Stacked for 2018?

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By Todd Johnson

This week’s mailbag has just one question and it’s a doozy.

Shawn Cline: Is South Bend going to be stacked at pitcher next year?

By the time the 2018 minor league season begins, I could answer this question four or five different ways. There are a myriad of combinations of pitchers who could start at South Bend in 2018. Just off the top of my head, I counted 13 possible arms who could take the bump every sixth day. Not all of the 13 are going to start the year at South Bend. Some could find their way to Myrtle Beach to begin 2018.

So, Shawn, the simple answer to your question is yes.

The complicated answer would be that I have no idea which six will make the opening day roster.

The Cubs have targeted pitching in the last two drafts and the last two international free-agent signing periods, especially in the Mexican market. The dividends of those investments will begin to come to fruition at South Bend. In 2017, Duncan Robinson and Michael Rucker were the first wave of arms to breakout and both will be at AA Tennessee next year along with 2016 third round pick Thomas Hatch.

As for South Bend, here are 13 pitchers who could wind up in the rotation.
Alex Lange, Jose Albertos, Javier Assad, Jesus Camargo, Brendon Little, Cory Abbott, Erich Uelmen, Bailey Clark, Rollie Lacy, Keegan Thompson, Enrique de los Rios, Matt Swarmer, and Carson Sands.

The starting rotation for South Bend will be determined in spring training. Some of the arms could skip South Bend and wind up in Myrtle Beach to begin the year. Alex Lange and Jesus Camargo would be the two most likely selections based on their age and experience.

While having Albertos skip South Bend would be interesting, he is going to be just 19 years old next year and there’s no rush to move him up the system.  He needs to refine his curve and basically get his work in. He needs to throw close to 100 innings after missing most of 2016. Whether he does that at South Bend or Myrtle Beach, I don’t care. But either way, it will be riveting.

The same is true for Javier Assad, who could be one arm at South Bend to really break out. I really like Assad a lot. Out of all the pitchers I watched at Eugene last summer, he improved the most in his arsenal and command. Now 20, he struck out 72 in 66 IP. He has a nice live mid 90s fastball and a good curve. If he commands his fastball down in the zone, he misses a lot of bats. He struck out 9 batters three times in short season ball where pitch limits are just 70-75 pitches. That is extremely impressive.

Top 2017 draft pick Brendon Little should be in South Bend most of the year as he works on his command and control.

While Albertos, Assad, and Camargo pitched well in full extended starts last year at Eugene, the one player who I am going to be fascinated with this year is the Cubs 2017 second round pick Cory Abbott. I was impressed with him last year as it pertained to his physical presence on the mound along with his actual talent and demeanor. He made five starts for Eugene, never throwing more than 3 innings and he exceeded 50 pitches only once.

While Little and Alex Lange got all the headlines from the draft, Abbott is an under the radar type who grew by leaps and bounds the last two years thanks in part to an uptick in his velocity and a slider that he modeled after Noah Syndergaard, his idol.

Fangraphs said the following about Abbott’s potential just last week:

Abbott has terrific glove-side control of his average slider and fastball, and can loop a 12-6 curveball into the zone for strikes. He’s not a great athlete but repeats his delivery well and could have plus command and control at peak. If he does — and he could move quickly — he’ll be a No. 4/5 starter.

Another possible breakout pitcher who did not get much time in Eugene in 2017 is Erich Uelmen. Uelmen was the Cubs fourth round pick out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. After his selection, he got in 17.2 innings of work with a 2.04 ERA and 23 Ks. He was just used in relief. Next year, his role could change.

Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen also liked him. Longenhagen said:

The club’s 2017 fourth-rounder out of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, Uelmen’s college stats are remarkable. He allowed just three home runs in 212 career innings at Cal Poly and struck out a batter per inning as a junior there, just as he did the prior summer on Cape Cod. He was up to 95 on the Cape but pitched more in the low 90s as a junior. His delivery is odd but effective. Uelmen is basically a side-armer, but has a shorter, quicker arm stroke than most of his low-slotted peers. It creates deception/extension which, along with his fastball’s significant arm-side movement, makes the fastball effective despite middling velocity. He also has an average slider, which he locates consistently to his glove side, and feel for creating movement on his changeup but not for locating it. There’s a chance Uelmen ends up with a starter’s repertoire and command. Ultimately, the very thing that has many skeptical about his chances of remaining a starter — his delivery — is precisely (because of its deception) what might allow him to be one.

Keegan Thompson out of Auburn is a third pitcher who I think will do extremely well at South Bend. He missed all of 2016 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and came back last year and was the Cubs third round pick. He pitched well in his debut in Eugene (mostly in relief) and he should come back stronger from the surgery than he did in 2017.

One of my own personal favorites from this list is Bailey Clark. Drafted out of Duke in 2016, Clark debuted that summer for Eugene but returned to school to finish his degree that fall. Due to finishing his degree and some nagging injuries and an inability to weight train, Clark came to camp late in the the spring. He pitched well in Eugene, especially in August where he had a 1.69 ERA in 3 starts. This offseason, Clark is injury free, improving his strength and his velocity should be back in the mid 90s when spring training rolls around. As a result, he could be either at South Bend or Myrtle Beach, depending on his camp.

So, here are my six to start the year for South Bend: Albertos, Assad, Little, Abbott, Thompson, and Clark or Uelmen. It’s still extremely hard to call this some 3 1/2 months away. However, I think Lange will go up and start at Myrtle Beach and Camargo and his plus changeup will be there, too.

I didn’t even get to the relievers in this post but here are three names to watch for out of the pen:  Ricky Tyler Thomas, Jake Steffens, and Ben Hecht.

I am pretty geeked to see all of these guys throw next year. It should be very interesting to see who goes to what affiliate to begin the year and what their roles will be.

Next week’s mailbag will be just one question again. I will be comparing and contrasting the system now to 2011, just before Theo took over. That has brought back some ghosts.

Cubs Sign Reliever Brandon Morrow – It’s a Slight Gamble

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The Cubs went and got themselves another pitcher this afternoon in reliever Brandon Morrow.  Morrow signed a two-year deal (which I like) with an option and he fits the mold of a strike thrower (which Theo Epstein likes).

Morrow pitched last year with the Dodgers as a setup man and could be the closer with the Cubs. A former starting pitcher with Seattle, Toronto, and San Diego, Morrow has struggled in the past with injuries. In 7 seasons as a starter, he only threw over 100 innings 3 times, never coming close to 200 innings. Ironically, he started relieving in 2016 with the Padres.

He remained healthy all of last year as a reliever. With the Dodgers, Morrow appeared in 45 games throwing 43.2 IP. He struck out 50 and walked only 9 as opponents managed to hit .192 against him.

In the 2017 NLCS, Theo got a close up look at Morrow’s talents as Morrow consistently hit the upper 90s on the radar gun. Almost 70% of his pitches find the strike zone. His strikeout rate of 29.4% is impressive as is his walk rate of 5.3%.

Right now, Morrow slides into the back of the pen as a power arm with pitching experience but little experience as a closer. In his second year (2008) as pro in Seattle, Morrow saved 10 out of 12 games, 6 out of 8 in 2009, and just 2 out of 3 last year. As a result, the Cubs are taking a slight gamble and banking on Morrow’s track record the last two years out of the pen.

The Cubs are far from done in filling out their roster. They should be adding at least one more arm to the bullpen this week, likely a left-hander. It will interesting to see how that arm fits in with Morrow.

The Weekly – Lots of Action and News Coming Up Next Week

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By Todd Johnson

What a week!

Between the Cubs attempted signing of Shohei Ohtani, the possibility that Giancarlo Stanton briefly wanted to come to the Cubs, and the signing of Tyler Chatwood, I am worn out. It was nice to sleep in on Saturday morning, if only to get some rest. Starting tomorrow, the General Manager meetings will take place in Orlando, Florida. As a result, there will be no respite next week.

From trade rumors to free agents, the internet has been a buzz of activity and speculation now that Ohtani and Stanton have cleared the marketplace.

Later, on Thursday the 14th, the Rule Five Draft will take place. There will be two parts – a minor-league phase and a major-league phase. The Cubs have 48 players eligible to be selected in the major league phase. However, most teams are not gonna want to take a chance on the Cubs’ talent except for maybe a few players like reliever Pedro Araujo and utility man Chesny Young. Then again, Araujo has never pitched above Class A Myrtle Beach while Young had an up and down season at AAA. Jacob Hannemann, who got a cup of coffee last year with Seattle, could be selected as well.

The Cubs could take a chance and select a pitcher like Kohl Stewart from Minnesota who they could put in the bullpen and develop him into a starter. The former 2013 first round pick (#4) of the Twins is someone the Cubs could take a gamble on in hopes of future performance. If it doesn’t work out, the Cubs return him back to Minnesota at the end of spring training. Ideally, the Cubs would hope to find a left-handed strike thrower and hope they get lucky like they did with Hector Rondon in 2012.

When it comes to the minor-league phase of the draft on Thursday, the Cubs only have 24 players eligible to be selected by other minor league systems. Any of the Cubs eligible prospects could be selected. Most likely, other organizations could select one of the Cubs eligible catchers that include Ali Solis, Cael Brockmeyer, Erick Costello, Alberto Mineo, and Will Remillard. The Cubs might try to stockpile some AAA and AA bullpen arms.

On Tuesday this past week, many of the prospects that were released in the Braves international free agent scandal began signing with other teams. Going into the weekend, there were still six players left. The Cubs currently have $930,000 left in their 2017-18 international free agent bonus pool per Arizona Phil. It looks like the bidding has been pretty high as the first six prospects all signed for bonuses over $1 million. The Cubs could be shutout on getting one inked.

In addition to the meetings next week, Baseball Prospectus will be releasing their top 10 Cubs Prospect List at some point. It was originally scheduled for Monday the 11th, but it looks like it’s going to be backed up to later in the week. I will be analyzing that list for this site, Cubs Insider, and BP Wrigleyville.

Card made from a photo by Freek Bouw/27 Outs Baseball.com

I last redid the Top 21 Prospect list shortly after the end of the minor league season. While I see no reason to currently change it, events could take place this week that might necessitate said change. I don’t foresee a lot of movement up my list except for Nelson Velazquez and Alex Lange. However, there’s gonna be a lot of movement in the list next summer. I originally planned on redoing the list in late March, just prior to the regular season beginning. Let’s play it by ear this week. The earliest I could redo it would be Saturday.

It’s hard to believe that we are closer to the draft than we are away from it. MLB Pipeline released their top 50 draft prospects last week and it looks like there will be a lot of good bats for the Cubs to pick from at #24. Pipeline has Florida high school pitcher Carter Stewart ranked #24. What I am intrigued by is the plethora of bats coming right after Stewart that include Greyson Jenista and Alec Bohm of Wichita State, thee Seth Beer, Luken Baker, and possible 5 tool sensation Tristan Pompey of Kentucky. A lot can happen between now and June. The player I am intrigued most with right now is Shortstop Xavier Edwards, a high school shortstop from Florida, who is ranked #38 by Pipeline.

Tomorrow, the Mailbag returns as I answer just one question on South Bend’s possible rotation for 2018. On Wednesday, the “Leveling Up” series is back and looks at pitcher Jose Albertos while the shortstops in the system get ranked on Friday in the position breakdown series.

Baseball Card of the Week

Cubs Insider

John Sickels’ Top Prospect List

BP Wrigleyville

Cubs Sign Tyler Chatwood

Ohtani Signs with the Angels but the Off-Season Is Far from Over

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By Todd Johnson

The dream is now over. The off season is not.

At first, I thought Shohei Ohtani would wait until next week to make his decision. Instead, he chose today. In choosing an American League team, Ohtani chose wisely. He can DH and pitch and might avoid playing in the field.

The Cubs now need to go out and get another starting pitcher or two.

It’s been obvious that the Cubs had four needs this off-season: replace Arrieta and Lackey in the rotation, acquire more relief help, sign a veteran backup catcher to a short-term contract, and possibly acquire another outfielder.

So far, the Cubs have gotten some relief help but things began to change a little bit on Thursday afternoon when the Cubs signed Chatwood to a three-year deal. At first, I thought the Cubs might be moving on from Otani. They were.

Like everyone else, I also thought signing Alex Cobb was pretty much written in stone as a pitcher the Cubs would acquire. So, if the Cubs get Chatwood and Cobb, would they be done?

As the day wore on yesterday, I kept thinking back to tweets by several people that the Cubs might go to a six man rotation. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but I would not be surprised if it did. This would allow for some extra rest for the rotation. The issue would be in acquiring quality depth.

(Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Word also came down on Thursday night that outfielder Giancarlo Stanton would waive his no trade clause to go to the Yankees, Dodgers, Astros, and Cubs. My first thought was to think one year ahead to when Bryce Harper could sign a contract to play with his best friend, Kris Bryant. My brain did not explode, but it was pretty close. It did not take long for me to realize there’s no way the Cubs could afford to take on $70 million of both Harper and Stanton in salary. The Cubs are going to get one or the other unless they trade Heyward.

The idea of the Cubs acquiring Stanton is not that far fetched. The main reason that it is plausible is that the Cubs have the money to take on all of that salary. They may not have the high-end prospects of other teams, but they do have some players who are going to be good professionals

Such a move would strip the farm system for the time being. But this is Giancarlo Stanton of 59 home runs last year. I could see him slide in the number four spot right behind Anthony Rizzo. That could be a devastating lineup for the next four years, just devastating. I can only begin to imagine the headache of every pitcher and manager in the NL Central having to face that lineup five times every day

I wish I did have a crystal ball so that I could look into the future and see what the Cubs roster looks like when spring training opens in two months. Even without Ohtani, it could still be special.

Position Breakdown Series: Second Base Is Loaded Again

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By Todd Johnson

A year ago, I thought second base might have been the deepest position in the system. The rankings had Ian Happ followed by Chesny Young, Carlos Sepulveda, Trent Giambrone, Yeiler Peguero, and Jonathan Perlaza. Things did not work out well for anybody on that list except for Happ. Part of that disappointment was based on performance and part of that was because of Injury.

Sepulveda was injured early but did finish the year in the Arizona Rookie League. Chesny Young was up and down all year (more down than up). It took Trent Giambrone some time to adjust to high A after skipping South Bend and he took off in June and July before settling back to Earth in August.

Here are this year’s compilation of second baseman.

1. Carlos Sepulveda – He played in 28 games for Myrtle Beach at the beginning of the year before an injury robbed him of most of his season. He came back at the end of August and played nine games, plus the playoffs, for Mesa. After watching him hit .310 at South Bend in 2016, I was really looking forward to seeing what he could do and how much he could improve at Myrtle Beach. That didn’t happen, but he is still ahead of everybody else at the position when it comes to a hit tool. For 2018, I am not sure where he will begin the year but he should end it AA Tennessee.

2. David Bote – He begin to turn his career around in the middle of 2016 when Ian Happ left Myrtle Beach for Tennessee. Since then he has been a holy terror at the plate showing a mixture of power and the ability to hit for average. He can also play almost every position in the field, but most likely he will play second or third and some outfield in the future.

3 (tie). Jared Young – The 2017 draft pick got off to a rough start in Eugene. He hit .131 in 16 games in July. In spite of that average, I really liked his approach at the plate. It did not pay off that month. In August, it did. He hit .323 for the month and helped lead Eugene into the playoffs. I really like his size at 6’2″ and his smooth left-handed stroke. He will be at South Bend to begin 2018.

3 (tie). Austin Upshaw – Another 2017 draft pick, Upshaw hit from the get-go in Arizona, he skipped Eugene, and then he landed in South Bend where he hit almost .300 for a two month span. He was also one of my favorite interviews of the year and I wonder what position he will have going forward – first or second base. What I really like most about him is that he seems cool under pressure as he hit .293 with runners in scoring position. In just 52 games, he drove in 29. He also bats left-handed and showed a solid approach with a .339 on base percentage. That should improve more in 2018.

5. Chesny Young – 2017 was a series of adjustments for the young utility player. He played all over the field for Iowa and had a roller coaster season. That may be a cause of concern for some, but when you start to dig deeper you see that the approach is there, just not the results. His monthly batting average splits went .224/.357/.220/.300/.188. When he was ahead in the count in 2017, he hit over .500. When he was behind, he hit under .200. Those are some alarming differences that he is going to have to correct next season.

6. The fact that I did not include Trent Giambrone near the top of the list is not a knock against him as I love to watch him play and hit. I think he could have a great year at AA. To do so, he needs to be more consistent at the plate. He had an up and down year at Myrtle Beach after skipping South Bend. I think he will adjust back in 2018. There’s a lot to like about his game, his leadership, his intensity, and his potential for power.

Ones to Watch – Delvin Zinn, Jhonny Bethencourt, and Christian Donahue
Zinn played a mixture of shortstop and second base last year for Mesa while Bethencourt played all over the infield for Eugene. Both have the potential for outstanding bats. However, I think their positions need to be a little bit more settled. Zinn should be at Eugene playing a mixture of second and shortstop while Bethencourt should be at South Bend. The problem is where Bethencourt is going to play as he is not very solid defensively. I think he fits best at second base versus third base and especially over short.

At the end of the season, the Cubs signed undrafted free agent second baseman Christian Donahue from Oregon State. He was dismissed from the team right before the College World Series. It should be interesting to see how he does and where he does it at. In addition to playing second base for the Beavers, he played some outfield. He is known for having a high motor and being an excellent base runner.

Cubs Sign Free Agent Pitcher Tyler Chatwood to 3-Year Deal

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By Todd Johnson

It is the not the news I was expecting to hear today, but signing Tyler Chatwood to be a back of the rotation starter is alright with me.

Chatwood will turn 28 next week on the 16th. The 3-year $38 million deal is a pretty decent sign for a guy whose ERA away from Coors Field  last year was 3.49. In 77.1 IP in other parks, Chatwood struck out 62, walked 40, and opponents only hit .200 against him. He does throw 5 pitches. However, after having 2 TJS (one at age 16), he was reaching the mid 90s (averaging 94.84) on his fastball summer, the highest peak since his last surgery in 2014.

Originally drafted the Angels in 2018, he debuted with the Angels in 2011. Chatwood has spent most of his pro career in Colorado – not an ideal location for a pitcher.  His best year was 2013 (a year before TJS) when he made 20 starts with a 3/15 ERA.

(Graph courtesy of MLB.com)

Still young, Chatwood will be entering the prime of his pitching career as a Cub.

Hopefully, he will not be the only addition this week to the Cubs’ rotation.