By Todd Johnson
It is getting to be that time of year when prospect lists begin to roll in. John Sickels was the first to punch one up. Cubs Den recently released a top 16. Baseball America tweeted they would have their Cub list out after the new year and the same with MLB Pipeline. I have not updated mine since the end of the minor league playoffs in September. And unless there is a trade, I think mine is going to stay the same.
As the prospect lists begin to roll in, I am starting to notice several trends.
1. There seems to be a definite top four of Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease, Ian Happ, and Jeimer Candelario. So far, Eloy has moved to #1 and rightfully so. Then Happ, Cease, and Jeimer are in the next three in varying orders. Trevor Clifton has made his way into the top three in John Sickels’ list while Oscar de la Cruz made Cubs Den’s top four.
2. Spots 5-14 seem to be the same prospects. There you will find Trevor Clifton, Tom Hatch, Oscar de la Cruz, Duane Underwood, Jose Albertos, Donnie Dewees, Mark Zagunis, Eddy Martinez, and Victor Caratini.
3. And then all hell breaks loose with a wide variety of prospects. The opinions vary greatly on prospects like Bryan Hudson, Jake Stinnett, Rob Zastryzny, Wladimir Galindo, Erling Moreno, Zach Hedges, DJ Wilson, Preston Morrison, Isaac Paredes, Ryan Williams, Chesny Young, and Carlos Sepulveda.
4. The shift to pitching dominated lists has begun. Although heavily right-handed, Clifton, Cease, Hatch, Albertos, and Underwood are in or near the top ten in each list.
5. There are several prospects on the fringes of most lists who could break out and make their way onto several lists including PJ Higgins, Jose Rosario, Ryan Williams, Zach Hedges, Wladimir Galindo, Erling Moreno, and Aramis Ademan.
I always look forward to redoing my Top 21 Prospect List. For me, it’s about discernment and value. While the Cubs’ system has changed quite a bit in the Theo Epstein era, it’s ability to produce players for the major leagues has been constant the past three years. What has changed, or what will change in 2017 is the level of that talent. Right now there are no prospects who are expected to go to Chicago this year and tear it up. There are several prospects who could help the ballclub, but no one is at an elite level and that high in the system to have a major impact.
As a result, there could be four prospects getting a crack in Chicago this year. Victor Caratini, Mark Zagunis, Jeimer Candelario, and Chesny Young are the most likely. There could be others like pitchers Ryan Williams, Jose Rosario, Pierce Johnson, or Corey Black. However, this does not mean the list will remain the same. It is going to be quite volatile throughout the course of the year. I think there will be a lot of changes up and down the list. Maybe Jake Stinnett finally puts it together. Maybe Duane Underwood and Pierce Johnson are redeemed as relievers. Who knows, Eddy Martinez could take off in his second year after basically missing two years of baseball. And Jacob Hannemann could finally get the bat on par with his fielding and speed. You never know. That makes it very exciting to write and watch every day.
When Baseball America, Fangraphs, and MLB Pipeline release their lists next month, I will be back with a look at those configurations. There are going to be a lot of ifs, buts, and what have yous. On that, you can be sure.