By Todd Johnson
It’s getting harder and harder to sneak up as a prospect and have a breakout season. There are eyes, ears, evaluators, and video everywhere. For 2017, the Cubs have several 18-year-old prospects who could redefine every prospect list, even mine, in the second half of the year.
As for the first half of 2017, the names on this list should be very familiar. For them to break out, most of them will be playing their first full season at South Bend or Myrtle Beach. Add in some 2016 draftees who did not see any action last year and this year should be an exciting one for breakout pitching prospects.
As for Michael Rucker, the former BYU righty saw a little bit of action last year in Mesa and Eugene after signing late. He throws in the low 90s with good movement. He could bounce up a couple more miles an hour this year. I don’t know if the long-term plan for him is to be a starter or reliever. I think he’s experienced enough to start in the low minors.
When it comes to Stephen Ridingsbut, he’s got a rifle attached to his right shoulder. He can throw 95 with ease but the question is where the ball is going. I tend to lean towards him beginning the year in Eugene and going from there. Or he can stay in Extended Spring training. He’s a bit of an unknown in most respects because of the school he pitched at in college (Haverford). But I think he’s going to stay in extended spring. Right now, I tend to lean towards him relieving rather than starting.
After missing the better part of two years, Erling Moreno came back in a big way in 2016 at short-season Eugene. As long as he is healthy, I expect him to put up some dazzling stats at South Bend in 2017. He has what I think might be the best curve (12-6) in the Cubs’ minor league system. Opponents batted under .200 against while he put up a WHIP 0.70 last year. He was just plain filthy. He just turned 20 in January.
Colton Freeman is a lefty reliever out of Alabama who missed all of 2016 after season after being drafted by the Cubs. He throws in the low 90s and is one of a few new lefties in the system. It will be interesting to see what he can do as a reliever.
Thomas Hatch and Dylan Cease both come into 2017 highly hyped. Hatch is the Cubs 3rd round pick who has a mastery of four pitches he can throw for strikes. After throwing 131 IP in college, Hatch was shut down for the year. 2017 should see him make his debut at either South Bend or Myrtle Beach. Cease, on the other hand, finally will have no restrictions at South Bend. I don’t think you can really call Cease a breakout pitcher, but he will not have limited pitch counts and hopefully fans can see him pitch beyond inning number 5. As a result, he will shoot up many of Top 100 Prospect list.
Jose Albertos is more like a mystery man. The just turned 18-year-old made his Cubs debut in Extended Spring Training and Mesa last year at the age of 17. He pitched only 4 innings in rookie ball. But those four innings created a mythical figure in the minors. I will let Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo explain the mythos of Albertos.
Callis:I guess the guy I’m most intrigued by is [right-handed pitcher] Jose Albertos with the Cubs. This is a guy they purchased from a Mexican League club in 2015. He made his U.S. debut as a 17-year-old in the Arizona League: four innings, one hit, one walk, seven strikeouts, hit 97 miles per hour, worked both corners, showed a well-above average changeup, a pretty good slider, and that was the only game he pitched all year. He was shut down as a precautionary measure. He had some forearm soreness. It’s weird because, and Jonathan you can help me with this … there have been other outlets that have written that he wasn’t really hurt and the Cubs had some ulterior motive for shutting him down, which I actually asked the Cubs about this and they say: ‘No.’ I mean, he had some forearm stiffness, and they shut him down as a precaution.’ But I couldn’t even think what would be the upside? He’s not eligible for the 40-man roster. Like, I don’t even know why you would shut the guy down if you didn’t need to. I mean, can you think of any reason why you would make up an injury for an 18-year-old kid so he wouldn’t pitch anymore the rest of the summer?
Jonathan Mayo: I’ve got nothing.
I just love Mayo’s answer! They continued talking about possible reasons Albertos was shut down. Still, the interest created in Albertos has been unreal as most Cubs prospect lists have him in their top ten just based on that small sample size. But if he throws 95-97 with control and can command two other pitches, then sign him up as the Cubs breakout pitcher of the year.
The only real issue will be where Albertos will play. Will it be in Eugene? Will it be in South Bend? I don’t know. I tend to lean towards him doing EST and then Eugene if the injury really was that serious to shut him down for a whole Rookie League season. Otherwise, if his stuff is that good, the Cubs should put him in EST and let him go to South Bend in late May when it warms up.