Chicago Cubs Hitting

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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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.

Leveling Up – Wladimir Galindo Is on Track to Get Back for 2018

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By Todd Johnson

There have been many times over the past two summers where I have referred to Wladimir Galindo as “my guy.” I still feel that way despite his inability to stay healthy. What Galindo has is a large frame and the potential for power similar to previous prospects like Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ. It’s a pretty fancy comparison, and I don’t really think it’s hyperbole to put him in with those two names. The only issue is whether he can stay healthy enough to fulfill that potential.

Basic Info
Age: 21
Signed in 2013 – International Free Agent from Venezuela
Bats/Throws: R/R
Ht: 6′ 3″ Wt: 210

2017 Season
After staying healthy for most of 2016 at Eugene, I was really excited to see what Galindo could do in his first year in full season baseball at South Bend. I liked the fact that when he sees the ball, he hits the ball. In just 44 games, he hit .290 with four home runs and 19 RBIs at 20 years of age. There is a natural inclination for him to go up to the plate swinging. Although, in 2017. his K percentage shrunk to an all time low of 20.9%. Considering his injury history, you should not find this approach surprising.

Despite being signed in 2013, he only has 787 at bats for his total career. There’s not very many. In addition, he has not seen that many pitches in his four years of playing baseball in Venezuela, Mesa, Eugene, and South Bend. He has seen just a total of 2106 pitches as a professional. For your average player, that is not very many. Most full season minor leaguers will see between 1600 to 1800 pitches in just one season (120-140 games).

In his brief stint at South Bend, Galindo came across as an experienced hitter despite his lack of game experience. One thing that impressed me was how often and how easily he went to right field. at South Bend. 36.9% of batted ball by Galindo wound up in the opposite field. That is an extremely high rate that reminds me of another Cub who loved to go oppo in his prime in the 1990s.

Fangraphs said this last week,

Reports concerning Galindo’s approach indicate that his bat-to-ball profile is still pretty volatile despite the slight reduction in K% (over just a 44-game sample, mind you). Still, it’s an improvement when compared to Galindo’s previous two seasons. He’s a potential everyday player if he can stay at third and get to most of his power.

What needs to happen in 2018.
Wladimir has been posting updates on Twitter (@galindowladi38) about his rehab since his surgery to repair his broken leg in June. In early November, he began hitting off the tee and I think he’s going to be primed and ready to go when 2018 begins.

A few of you have asked me if I think he will start at South Bend or at Myrtle Beach in 2018. To be honest, he’s hit at every level and, despite a lack of plate appearances and pitches seen at each level, he has done extremely well. If he begins 2018 in the Carolina League, I expect him to do well. For him, it’s not gonna be that big of a jump.

What I would like to see most from him next year is to stay healthy. I’d like to see him get in 120 games at the plate. He could get 400 at-bats and see 1600 to 1700 pitches while hitting 15 to 20 home runs and driving in 70 to 80 runs. He could get in 80 games at third base and 20 at first while being the DH every once in awhile to rest his leg.

But the overriding goal is to stay healthy to do all of these things. I firmly believe that if he stays healthy, he could easily be the top power hitter in the Cubs’ system without much effort.

Position Breakdown Series: First Base Lacks Star Power…For Now

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By Todd Johnson

With Anthony Rizzo entrenched at first base for a while, there’s really been no need to draft or develop a first baseman. Last year, I only listed four first baseman in the position breakdown. I had Yasiel Balaguert, Matt Rose, Chris Pieters, and Gustavo Polanco ranked. This year is slightly different.

A lot changed at the position in one year…Matt Rose was traded in the Eloy deal. Yasiel played 25% of his season in the outfield and Chris Pieters almost exclusively played on the green grass as well. However, three players in 2017 began to emerge as possible bats at the first base position. Like their fellow brethren before them, they are not exclusive to first base. Although, some soon could be.

1. Yasiel Balaguert – For the second year in a row, he had a great second half at AA Tennessee hitting .285 with 10 HRs and 40 RBI. That’s a pretty productive half a year. However, for the second year in a row, he had a poor first half. If he ever gots hot in the first half, he’d be in the majors quickly. Now that he’ll be at Iowa in 2018, the environs of the Pacific Coast League should play to his power game.

2. Joe Martarano – I really dig his bat and his potential. While his July at South Bend was just plain horrid (.167), he had a pretty good year otherwise. He was good in extended spring (.324), great at Eugene (.385), and he quietly rebounded  at South Bend hitting .273 in August. I love the sound the ball makes when he squares it up live. Losing a leg kick and going with a toe tap will help him in 2018, especially with curveballs. He might start out at South Bend, but don’t expect him to be there long if he gets off to a fast start. Myrtle Beach will come calling soon enough.

3. Luis Hidalgo – He might be the most unheralded player on any list I have this winter. After one good season in the Venezuelan Summer League and 2 mediocre stints in the Dominican, Hidalgo, a righty, put it together last year at the age of 21. He hit .353/.419/.521 in the DSL before coming stateside in August. In 17 games in the Arizona Rookie League, he hit .339 with a .516 slugging percentage. He should continue to feast this year in Eugene, if he plays there. He might be talented enough to skip that level if he has a good spring training and extended spring training. Watch him.

4. Tyler Alamo – His offseason has already been tragic as a survivor of the Las Vegas shooting. Hopefully, he will be ready to go when 2018 begins. Despite the tragedy, his baseball season was somewhat of a breakout. After the Eloy trade, Alamo’s playing time increased and his place in the order moved up. In the second half, he hit .306 with a .345 OBP, and 5 HRs. I think the right-handed hitter has the plate discipline, work ethic, and maturity to improve again next year.

Card made from a photo by Jared Ravitch

5. Gustavo Polanco – He is a prospect of extremes right now. First off, he has a beautiful inside-out swing that takes the ball naturally to right field. He hit .281 for the year but his OBP was only .322 as he only walked 4% of the time. Second, he has the potential for great power but hasn’t shown it yet. On the other hand, he has shown the ability to hit the ball hard. Then again, he lacks some discipline at the plate. With a 27.5% K rate, he at least has something to work on next year at South Bend. He has no trouble with a pitch that starts with an F, he just needs to recognize pitches that don’t.

Second base is on deck for next week.

Leveling Up – Kevonte Mitchell Is Coming Right Along

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By Todd Johnson

2017 was a mixed bag for Kevonte Mitchell. He had moments when he looked like a monster at the plate and times when he did not. And if I had to come up with one phrase to describe his season, it would be “confidence building.” For the season, he hit 11 home runs and drove in 59 in 115 games. However, what I was most impressed with was not the work he did on the field, but his work ethic off the field.

Many times writers forget that the minor leagues is about development. It’s often about taking a hitter with raw skills and athletic tools and polishing them up. When I watch all the work Kevonte Mitchell puts in to get ready for a game, I come away extremely impressed at the effort he puts into everything. As a result, 2017 saw improvement in his approach at the plate and his performance on the field. He still has some work to do, but when he goes up a level in 2018, he could really break out as a hitter in Myrtle Beach.

Basic Info
6’5”, 235 lbs.
Bats – Right
Throws – Right
2014 13th round pick
Just turned 22-years-old

For Mitchell, 2017 was a series of adjustments. His monthly splits were very inconsistent but there were glimpses that he is starting to put things together. July saw him hit .295 with two home runs and 16 RBIs. April wasn’t bad either with three dingers and 11 driven in. But August and May were not good at all (.229 and .193 respectively).

When I watch Kevonte, anything can happen. It could be a 500 foot home run, a mile high pop up, a screamer, a weak grounder to first, or a strikeout. But I also see his ability to track the ball better over the course of the season. He is able to identify a curveball and lay off one out of the zone now, but he also struggles with that same pitch and putting it in play if it is in the zone. If he can make that small adjustment in 2018, everything for him is going to change.

One stat that impressed me most about 2017 was the percentage of balls he hit to right field increased to over 30%. Rather than trying to pull everything, as he he has done in the past, he is taking what he is given. In addition, that type of approach fits well with his batting practice approach and routines to drive the ball up the middle.

What needs to happen in 2018?

Playing full season ball in Carolina is a lot different than the Great Lakes region. It’s a lot more humid and it’s a lot warmer at the beginning of the year. For Kevonte, he is going to be playing half his games in a stadium that is known for the wind coming in off the ocean. However, some Cubs’ hitters have been able to hit well at Myrtle Beach. They don’t put up ridiculous power numbers, but they have been able to put up 15 to 20 home runs.

And for Mitchell, I think that is a good range for us to expect in 2018. For me, what I am going to be looking for is for him to put up consistent averages at the plate. I do not expect him to break out and hit .300 for the season. Instead, if he has a good year, he should have consistent splits between .265 to .280. If he can hit 20 home runs, that would be an outstanding season.

It seems as though Kevonte has been around for quite a while. However, he still is only 22 years old. And he’ll be 22 most of 2018 until late August. He’s still very young, developmentally speaking. Before last year, he had not seen 1500 pitches total in his career. He saw 1700+ pitches in 2017.  So, in one season, his eyes saw more pitches than he had seen in his previous three combined.

This will be his fifth season as a Cub and I think the fact that he can see somewhere close to 1800 pitches in 2018 is only going to benefit his long range development. He should be one of the most exciting bats to watch all season.

If all goes well in 2018, the Cubs might take an extended look at him in the Arizona Fall League as he will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft next December.

Leveling Up: DJ Wilson Could Make a Big Jump in 2018

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By Todd Johnson

It is always hard to do the first post in the series. However, Cubs outfielder DJ Wilson makes things a little easier. The young, toolsy outfielder should be headed up a level to high class A Myrtle Beach for 2018. Now at 21 years old, he will begin his fourth professional season as a Cub prospect. I expect to see him make a jump in his development next year.

Basic info

Bats/Throws: L/L Ht: 5′ 8″ Wt: 177

Draft: Round 4 (2015, CHC)

Canton South, Canton, OH

Originally Committed to Vanderbilt

Here is what MLB.com said of Wilson’s talents

While Wilson will need time to develop at the plate, he could become a .275 hitter with 15 homers and 30 steals on an annual basis. He has a compact left-handed swing and generates sneaky power with his ability to backspin the ball from center to right field. He makes a lot of hard contact but is still in the process of solving left-handed pitching.

2017

After struggling with injuries the first half of the year, Wilson came into his own in the second half when he was named the Cubs’ July player of the month. For the month, he hit .284 with 7 HRs and 21 RBI. On the surface, his season stats are not that impressive. For April, he hit .159. He was doing better in May hitting .263 when he went on the DL after 16 games. After returning in the second half, he hit .245 with a .333 on base percentage with six home runs.

The key to understanding why Wilson should break out in 2018 is to have seen him in person. One of the things that I like to watch for in a player is their ability to track the ball into the catcher’s mitt. On the surface, that may not seem like a big deal, but that tells me how well he is seeing the ball. It also details the batter’s knowledge of the strike zone. 

For Wilson, he did both very well every time I saw him in 2017. Sometimes, he hits the ball right at someone. At other times, he got on top of or underneath the ball. If he can consistently square up the ball, his career path will be taking off. In 2017, he did not use the whole diamond efficiently as he pulled 47% of batted balls. When he made contact, he tended to get the ball up in the air hitting 46.7% fly balls to 37.4% ground balls to 15% line drives. Those stats need to even out more in 2018.

While he did have a big leg kick early in the year, he toned that down as the season went on. All signs are pointing in the right direction for him to turn it up a level.

Leveling Up for 2018

I would like to see more than just glimpses of his ability to hit. I know he can play defense and he has the potential for power, but he has yet to hit for average at any point in his career. A consistent monthly split between .260 to .280 with 2-3 HRs would be great. It is strange it could happen in what is notoriously a pitcher’s league. What I have seen is a player who is maturing physically and mentally. Next year, that maturity should lead to a breakthrough year. If he can stay healthy, it could be a great season.

He should have at least 15 home runs next year with most of them likely to occur on the road. It’ll be interesting to see where manager Buddy Bailey puts him in the lineup. He hit all over the place in 2017, but he fits best down in the six or seven spot considering some of the thumpers that will be in front of him.

At 21 years of age, Wilson now has a two-to-three year window in which to begin to fulfill his potential. 2018 is year one in that time frame.

Cubs Adding Adbert and 2 More to the 40 Man – Clifton Left Off

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By Todd Johnson

Heading into today, the Cubs had six spots open on their 40 man roster. They could have used all six spots to protect six prospects from the Rule 5 Draft or they could have used less if they wanted. They could also release a couple guys and protect more than six.. But whatever they did, I was pretty sure the Cubs would protect their pitching assets. Namely, Adbert Alzolay and Oscar de la Cruz would be added so as not to fall into the enemy’s hands. In the end, the Cubs picked players they currently value who they think could help the team in the very near future. 

The Protected

Adbert Alzolay – He’s been pretty much a given since the end of the season and his standing in the organization has reached a level not seen for a Cub starting pitcher in a long time. He is far from a finished product as he still has work to do on his curve and changeup. He could make an appearance at some point this summer. Although, he hasn’t pitched over 120 innings in one season yet.

If Oscar de la Cruz ever gets healthy, he can move quickly. Then again, I have been saying that for two years. And in that timeframe, he’s barely pitched 95 innings. Still, his protection shows value. I wonder how long the Cubs are going to try to keep him as a starter if he continues to miss time.

David Bote –  He tore the cover off the ball from July of 2016 to June 2017 before a minor slump in July. Still, he rebounded to do well in the Arizona Fall League to hit .333 with a .395 OBP and 4 HRs in 19 games. It helps that he played all over the field in 2017 including 12 games in the outfield. When I first saw him play in 2014, he was playing SS. His versatility is a key.

The Unprotected

With only six spots, and some 50+ players eligible for Rule 5 selection, the Cubs cannot protect everyone. Then again if selected, the team making the choice has to keep the player on the 25 man roster or return them to the original team. The Cubs only have a few players eligible for rule five selection who could be at best bench players in the majors. To be honest, I did not see much of a gamble in whom the Cubs left off. The gamble will come by another team if they select a Cub.

Outfielder Bijan Rademacher, Charcer Burks, Chesny Young, and 3B Jason Vosler were the most notable position players left off. Trevor Clifton, Pedro Araujo, Jose Paulino, Erling Moreno, and Jake Stinnett are some of the better known pitchers.

A year ago, I said that Clifton and Young should be locks for the 40 man. In 2018, things still can change for both of them as they will make some adjustments for the upcoming season. Just because a player was not selected does not mean the Cubs are down on that prospect. Instead, it is more about 2018 than anything else. In a year from now, the Cubs will do this all over again. 

In addition, the Cubs also sent Jacob Hannemann down to AAA Iowa. The roster now stands at 36.