By Todd Johnson
The first half of the MiLB season ends on Sunday. It always goes quick. By the end of this week, short season ball begins, some players will be off to All-Star games, some will go home, and draft picks will be signing. 70 games goes by fast.
It especially flew by this month. I finished teaching the 24th of May and I will be on summer vacation 3 weeks as of tomorrow. I got some things done around the house, mostly in the yard and on the deck. And in doing so, I had plenty of time to think while working. Yesterday, for example, I put in three small trees on the west side of the yard. While I was shoveling and moving dirt, I wondered to myself, “If I was to rank the Cubs’ system by position strength, how would that look? Which group is the deepest, is the most talented, and is filled with players with the most projection?”
So, here they are with #1 being the top area. And, yes, this list includes recent draft picks.
1. Starting Pitching
Key Prospects – Adbert Alzolay, Thomas Lange, Oscar de la Cruz, Trevor Clifton, and many more.
The Cubs targeted pitching in the 2016 and 2017 drafts. That pitching has spread across the system from South Bend all the way up to Iowa already. In putting together my first half All-Star team, there are nine pitchers who have an ERA of 3.25 or lower for the first half and another three between 3.26 and 3.50. That’s some pretty good depth for just four affiliates. Another fact I like is that at AAA Iowa there are four starting pitchers who are 23 years old in Clifton, Tseng, Alzolay, and Underwood. So, the pitching is still relatively young but playing at a high level.
Key Prospects – Victor Caratini, Taylor Davis, Ian Rice, Jhonny Pereda, PJ Higgins, Miguel Amaya, et al.
After the Eloy trade, this became the deepest and most productive everyday position in the Cubs system. If the Cubs were to make a trade this summer, you can be pretty sure that one of the Cubs’ many backstops would be included. If Caratini were still eligible to be on a prospect list, he would be the Cubs number one prospect with Miguel Amaya close behind at number three. That’s pretty deep.
3. Relief Pitchers
Key Prospects – DIllon Maples, Dakota Mekkes, Wyatt Short, James Norwood, Tyler Peyton, Ethan Roberts, and Mike Glowicki.
This group of players made the biggest jump this season. Part of their high ranking is due to the fact that they have two players who are basically ready to head to Chicago at a moments notice in Maples and Mekkes. I am also excited to see what Ethan Roberts can do when he steps onto a mound for Eugene in the next couple of weeks. Recent draft pick Layne Looney might be one worth watching, too.
Key Players -Aramis Ademan, Zack Short, Luis Vazquez, Luis Verdugo, Fabian Pertuz, and Nico Hoerner.
This is easily the youngest group and the one who could shoot up the rankings the fastest. While Short is at AA and Ademan at high A, the rest are all playing short season ball and are 18 or younger except for Hoerner. It will be interesting to see how quickly Horner moves in the system in relation to Ademan and whether they both play a mixture of short and second from here on out. WIth Vazquez, Verdugo, and Pertuz lurking down in short season ball, this should be the number one everyday position in 2-3 years.
5. Third Base
Key Players – Jason Vosler, Wladimir Galindo, Jesse Hodges, Luke Reynolds, and Austin Filiere.
Four years ago, the Cubs had some great third base prospects in the system. While this position has the most power in the system now, it’s still a bit uneven as it doesn’t have the most depth, yet. I like what Vosler has been doing for the past month at Tennessee and I am interested to see how well Luke Reynolds does this summer in Eugene and South Bend. If Wladimir Galindo can stay healthy, this position gets a lot stronger because of the impact of his bat..
6. First Base
Key Players – Jared Young, Yasiel Balaguert, Tyler Alamo, Austin Upshaw, Luis Hidalgo, and Tyler Durna.
In the Theo era, the Cubs have only drafted two first baseman and one of them was last week. This is a position where everybody tends to be sent to get some at-bats. This year, Jared Young has really taken off at the plate by showing more power sooner than I thought he would. It’ll be interesting to see how Durna does when he suits up in Eugene.
7. Second Base
Key Players – David Bote, Chesny Young, Andruw Monasterio, Trent Giambrone, Vimael Machin and Christian Donahue.
Outside of Bote, this is a position that lacks the biggest impact in power mode. However, there are some players who can hit well for average and get on base.
Key Players – Mark Zagunis, Bijan Rademacher, Charcer Burks, Kevonte Mitchell, DJ Wilson, and Jonathan Sierra.
There’s potential here but a lot of that potential is not having a good year outside of Rademacher and Mitchell. Zagunis and Burks have struggled and the lack of HRs from this position is a little disconcerting. There are plenty of young players in A ball on down who can hit and get on base while also showing some glovework, but HRs are rare there, too.
If I redo this in September, and/or a year from now, the rankings change because of the impact of the younger levels. I don’t expect a lot of change from the prospects in Tennessee and Iowa, but the young kids throughout the lower levels could give some hope to each position.
Pitching will be #1 again as it is just too strong and getting better. With several young Latin pitchers getting ready to start their season in Eugene and Mesa, the starting pitching is only going to get stronger.