Position Breakdown Series: Third Base Depth Took a Huge Hit in 2018

By Todd Johnson

Third basemen in the Cubs’ system struggled mightily in terms of performance/production in 2018. While Jason Vosler hit an organizational leading 23 HRs with 93 RBI, it was rough elsewhere. Injuries and adjustments looked to be the order of the day.

A year ago, I thought Wladimir Galindo would have a breakout year at Myrtle Beach if he could just stay healthy. He struggled with nagging injuries again. At #2, Jason Vosler surprised everyone again as he hit 20+ HRs for the second straight year. He was traded to the Padres in November. Things did not go well at all for last year’s #3 pick Jesse Hodges at AA. Down at South Bend, Austin Filiere, who was in the #4 slot, was an up and down guy in his first full year in the system. A 140 game grind takes some adjusting.

Now with 2019 in sight, the position looks to be in flux from the recent power hitter stereotype into guys who can get on base. In addition, the Cubs have a lot of versatility in the lower parts of the system. As a result, what we may think of as a traditional 3B also plays some 2B, maybe some 1B, and the occasional OF or SS. Very few players just play 3B anymore.

When it comes to ranking the corner men after the Vosler trade for 2019, it’s a bit of a struggle.

1. In the long run, 2018 draftee Luke Reynolds might be best suited to 1B. But for now, the former Southern Mississippi product is listed at 3B. Reynolds has a lefty hitting profile and approach that could surpass Vosler’s production in the next two years. At Eugene in 2018, he put up a wRC+ of 127. It will be interesting to see just exactly where he begins 2019. It could be South Bend or it might be Myrtle Beach. However, he will be 24 when the 2019 season starts, which gives Myrtle Beach the edge. Once that is settled, it will be interesting to see how much 3B he actually ends up playing.

2. He’s still my guy, but Wladimir Galindo had nagging injuries again in 2018. Luckily, it was not a broken leg, so he was able to gain experience with 403 ABs. He put together a nice run in June when he hit .290 in 26 games with 1 dinger and 11 RBI and an OPS of .753. I’d like to see more months like that because that is who I think he really is. The guy who hit .194 in the second half. I do not know him and I do not want to, either. I like the guy who can go gap-to-gap and occasionally drive the ball over the fence.  

3. Austin Filiere looked like he was going to have a monster year after a terrific April where he hit .310 with a .403 OBP. And then May hit where he played 31 games. That’s a lot of baseball for any MiLB hitter. The effect showed in June where his average plummeted to .207 for the month which also included making a swing adjustment. He rebounded some in the second half to hit .256 in July and .267 in August . I still like Austin as a hitter. As long as he stays within himself, that will be the key going forward. Also, he seemed to thrive when he batted third, he hit over .300 with an OBP of .388. If there is one thing to like about Filiere’s first full year, is that he drew walks at a 10.2% rate, regardless of his average. That’s not bad. I am looking forward to see how he adjusts to that initial season and what changes he worked on this winter.  

4. Fidel Mejia tore it up at the plate in Mesa in the Arizona Rookie League. In just 50 games, he hit .324/.389/.410. Not bad for  a kid listed at 5’11” and 160 lbs. He is in play for Eugene for 2019.

The Sleeper: As for Jake Slaughter, he’s grown quite a bit since the Cubs drafted him out of high school two years ago. He went to LSU and the Cubs took him again last summer and signed the 6’3” 200 lb.  3B. He looks to have been working out quite a bit. After a very rough July at Eugene, Slaughter hit .263 with 1 HR and 11 RBI in 22 games in August. He looked much improved. Hopefully, those last 6 weeks in which he hit over .270 can act as a springboard for him in 2019. He will definitely have a lot of competition to find a place to play at South Bend come the spring.

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Position Breakdown Series: Second Base As Deep As Ever

By Todd Johnson

It’s amazing how much change can happen in one year. Last year, this is how I ranked the second baseman in the Cubs’ minor-league system:
1. Carlos Sepulveda, 2. David Bote, 3. Jared Young/Austin Upshaw, 5. Chesny Young, and 6. Trent Giambrone.

What a difference a year makes. Sepulveda never played a day in 2018. Bote is now on the major-league roster while Jared Young is now the number one first baseman in the system. Austin Upshaw surprisingly struggled all year at two levels of class A. On the other hand, Chesney Young is still hanging around after having a more up year than down.

However, only two of last year’s top six are on this year‘s list.

1. To move up from number six to number one is quite an achievement for Trent Giambrone but he earned it through plate discipline and power (17 HRS at AA). He also began branching out to play more shortstop and third base and that will increase his ability to move up in the system. He even played right field once in the AFL. Playing in the PCL should increase his HR totals over 20 next year.

2. I really really like 2018 fifth round pick Andy Weber. He is 6’2” was drafted as a second baseman but also played shortstop, third, and first at Eugene. He reminds me a lot of Jared Young but is a little bit skinnier. One thing I think he has over Young is a bit more patience. Then again, his power could change with off-season conditioning. I’m really excited to see what he can do in 2019, and also where he’s going to be to start the year. He could be a guy that could skip South Bend with his patience at the plate.

3. Last year, Carlos Sepulveda was the number one second baseman on this list. He missed all of 2018 after missing most of 2017. He’s gotten some action down in the Caribbean this winter, which is a good sign. Hopefully he can come back in 2019 as a 21-year-old, which is really strange to say after missing two years. But what Sepulveda had was the ability to put the bat on the ball. Not really a power guy, but he could turn on an inside pitch and take it right down the line.

4. When I hung out with South Bend for about 10 days last summer, one of the highlights every day was just saying hey to Christian Donahue. The non-drafted free agent out of Oregon State was enjoying every single second of playing pro ball. And not only was his attitude infectious off the field, it was infectious on the field. He played multiple positions, but mostly second. He showed the ability to hit the ball all over and to take a walk. He was one of my favorite players to watch play in person last year. He should start 2019 at Myrtle Beach.

5. When Jonathan Perlaza signed in 2015, the then 16-year-old ranked not too far behind Aramis Ademan. Injuries slowed his development, but last year saw him really come on at Mesa and I got a sneak peek of him in the playoffs at Eugene. He should be at South Bend with his solid hit tool as a left-handed bat in the middle of the infield.

6. One of the fun things about August last year was the somewhat breakout performance of Delvin Zinn in an every day role. The two time Cub draftee finally got over a nagging finger injury and played almost every day throughout the infield in August as he hit .322 with a .406 OBP for the month. He’s still got some small issues on defense he’s working on. But like Donahue, he’s an infectious player to watch and to be around.

Still Some Work to Do
Jhonny Bethencourt’s bat is one of the top young bats in the system. The issue is he has a long ways to go on defense. A wrist injury caused him to miss most of final three months of 2018. Hopefully he spends his winter working on his fielding skills as well as his decision making in game situations. I don’t see him repeating South Bend. He should be at Myrtle Beach with the quality of his bat.

The One to Watch in 2019
Reivaj Garcia
hit very well for most of the season in Mesa. At 17-18 years old, he was probably playing two years above where he should’ve been. Still, the second baseman out of Mexico displayed a mature approach for such a young kid in a stateside league. Eugene will be the beneficiary of his expertise in 2019.

What If…
With Javy Baez at shortstop, the likely landing point for Nico Hoerner in the majors is at second base as a Cub. It’ll be interesting to see how much time he puts in there this year as he gets closer and closer to Chicago. If the Chicago Cubs moved him to second, he would easily be number one on this list. In spring training, we will see how many looks Hoerner gets with the big league club and just exactly where he plays.

Position Breakdown Series: 1B All About Jared Young for Now

By Todd Johnson

Let’s cut right to the chase. This position was a mess in 2018. Outside of Jared Young, the Cubs saw little production across the board in the upper parts of the system. If you look back at who was ranked a year ago in the series, two of them are actually out of baseball, another one struggled with injuries, a fourth actually wound up a level lower at the end of this year than where he ended last year. And the fifth one just did not produce at all. Not. At. All.

Heading into 2019, the position is still hopeful. Young, the Cubs MiLB Player of the Year, tops the 1B list. Meanwhile, for the first time since 2012, the Cubs actually drafted a first baseman in Tyler Durna from UC San Diego. Injuries limited his playing time but he should be good to go to start 2019.

As spring gets closer, two other players that produced in the lower parts of the system and short season ball should be at either South Bend and/or Myrtle Beach and could be impact bats at the position. However, success in Mesa and/or Eugene doesn’t guarantee success in full season baseball.

Bouncing Back – Coming in at number four is Tyler Alamo. He had a bit of a rough year at Myrtle Beach as he struggled through minor injuries. Considering what he went through in the off-season at the Las Vegas shooting, I am always going to pull for him to make it. You never know what can happen but he will be at AA Tennessee to start next year. Hopefully, he can get his power/average game going that he had in 2017.

Does He Play 1B, Too? – Next at number three, Grant Fennell played a little outfield, a little third-base, and 1B at Eugene in 2018. As a non-drafted free agent, Fennell displayed a solid approach last year  as he went .305/.362/.487 between Mesa and Eugene with 5 HRs in 61 games. To hit 21 2Bs in your debut year speaks to his potential for power. He will probably be at South Bend to begin 2019. Just how much he can hit and the amount of power he has is still up in the air. 

Just Give Him a Chance – Rafael Mejia was only at Eugene a week before he was sent down to Mesa to make room for some college draft picks. I liked what Mejia could do with a bat at Eugene, I was just surprised he was pushed aside so quickly. It didn’t stop him though. He went down to Mesa and left no doubt about his skills with eight home runs in 38 games to get him the number three spot. I’d like to see him at South Bend this year but it probably won’t come until May. I doubt if he goes back to Eugene.

 

Wonder If He Stays at 1B? – Jared Young’s high average combined with 17 home runs and his OBP pushing .400 earned him the top position. Young displayed a sweet swing. He was originally drafted as a second baseman but moved over to first this year and displayed an outstanding glove there as well. He will be at Tennessee to start 2019 and could see more time in the outfield than at first. I’m excited to see how he does against pitchers that are around the plate a bit more. Young might be one of those guys who improves as he plays against better players.

Sleeper – I don’t really have one picked out yet, considering the lack of depth. You never know, though. A sleeper could pop up anywhere. My bet is that he pops in the second half rather than the first as he will likely be playing short season ball. Then again, Luke Reynolds could find himself entrenched at first instead of third all season long.

Position Breakdown Series: Miguel Amaya Leads Off the Catchers

By Todd Johnson

 A year ago, I had Victor Caratini atop the Cubs catching prospects followed by Miguel Amaya, Ian Rice, PJ Higgins, and Will Remillard. The Cubs’ catching corps is still pretty deep this year. Only a few changes were made to the list since Victor now has a big league job.

With this year’s rankings, the top spot has to make everyone feel good. At number one, Miguel Amaya is quickly developing a potent bat to go along with his ability to be a defensive stalwart behind the plate. To have a power arm and a power bat as a catcher is a rare commodity for most organizations. The great thing about him is that he’s just going to be 20 this year and his bat is far from complete. This year‘s goal at the plate will be to continue to improve his pitch recognition skills and walk a bit more as well smack some more balls over the wall.

Jhonny Pereda had an excellent first half at Myrtle Beach and was one of the surprises of the year in the Cubs’ system. In that first half, he hit .284 with a .368 OBP and 5 HRs. As the year wore on, he kept on catching most games and slipped about 20 points in average and on-base percentage. Still, Pereda was given a ticket to the Arizona Fall League where he was decent at .276/.344. Like Rice and Higgins, he is also Rule V eligible. If he does not get taken, he should be at AA Tennessee to begin 2019. 

For now, catcher Ian Rice is firmly implanted at number three. With an on-base percentage of close to .400 year last year, Rice worked mainly on his defense while also playing first and third base a bit. While his power numbers were down, Rice also did an excellent job of managing a pitching staff at Tennessee. I am very excited to see what he can do in the Pacific Coast League while at Iowa. He could be a Cub or he could not. It all depends on whether he is taken as a Rule V pick on December 13. Some other team is going to get a guy with the potential for 20 home runs with a smooth uppercut bat path and a good eye at the plate.

At #4, PJ Higgins tore it up at Myrtle Beach in the first half of 2018. At Tennessee, he kept his head above water and was fine behind the plate as he worked with a staff that he was quite familiar with. As for his experience in the Arizona Fall League, it did not go as planned as he struggled to hit most days. Then again, his AFL experience should shape his future. It should propel him to improve in the batter’s box. More than likely, he begins 2019 back at AA Tennessee.

In his first year as a Cub, Alexander Guerra put up some nice numbers in helping to lead the Cubs 1 team in Arizona to the best record in the league. He hit .267, had an OBP of .355 with 3 HRs, and drove in a team leading 30 RBI in 46 games. Based on that successful experience, he should be at South Bend to begin 2019. 

As for Michael Cruz, he looked like he figured some things out last summer at South Bend. He hit .322 in June and .286 in July to go with 27 RBI over the two months. He was promoted to Myrtle Beach and saw action in just 12 games in August and September. Cruz should be at Myrtle Beach to start 2019.

Still a Bit Unsure
A year ago, I had Will Remillard at number five. I thought he was going to be ready after missing 2.5 years. He got some work in at Tennessee and Iowa, but 29 games is not a lot. I hope he is back healthy and ready to go in 2019.

Sleepers for 2019
Henderson Perez – He’s listed at 5’9” and 160 lbs. Those were his 16-year-old traits. He is ripped now and did well in the second half for Mesa 2 hitting .311/.386/.411 with 15 RBI in 24 games. He will be just 19 when he starts next year at Eugene.

Marcus Mastrobuoni – After leading Mesa to an AZL title in 2017, Marcus missed all of 2018 with a knee injury. After hitting .308 with a .390 OBP and 6 dingers, Mastrobuoni looked prime to break out last year for South Bend. It didn’t happen for him but it could in 2019 even at 24 years of age. 

And I Wonder…
The Cubs signed two non-drafted free agent catchers in Caleb Knight and Brennon Kaleiwahea. I wonder what kind of roles they will have this year and with whom. And in a weird twist of fate, the Cubs can still sign 2018 23rd round pick Hunter Taylor of South Carolina up until 2 weeks before the 2019 draft. Because Taylor was a senior last year, the Cubs still have that strange right.

After the Rule V Draft, we shall see if this list is still the same.

Position Breakdown Series: Relievers Close It Out

By Todd Johnson

 

Out of all the positions in the breakdown series, relief pitcher is the most unpredictable. I don’t think anyone foresaw the phoenix-like ascendance of Dillon Maples last year to go from class A all the way to Chicago. One pitch can sometimes be the difference.

I went back-and-forth on how to organize this breakdown. First I was going to rank what I thought were the top 5 arms and then list of some potential breakouts. Then, I thought I had a great idea of putting them in categories until I thought about it some more. Then I went back to rankings. But after sifting through each affiliate, I began to wonder out loud how much more time the Cubs are going to give some of these relievers a chance to be a Cub. As a result, I wound up with four categories.

Kind of a Big Deal
1. Dillon Maples – Armed with upper 90s stuff and a devastating slider, he is technically not going to be a prospect very much longer. 2017 saw him harness his physical and mental skills to perfection at Myrtle Beach, Tennessee, Iowa, and Chicago. He does have closer type stuff but will probably be treated with kid gloves his first full year in Chicago.

2. Dakota Mekkes – The 6’7″ reliever from Michigan State dominated two leagues in 2017. For 2017, he put up an ERA under one and struck out 92 hitters in 73.1 innings. His deceptive delivery makes a 91 to 93 mile an hour fastball seem more like 96 to 98. The ball just sneaks up and creates a rushed decision. It should be exciting to watch him go at it in AA Tennessee this year. If he can cut down on his walks, the big league club could be calling very soon.

3. Jake Stinnett – After missing four months at AA Tennessee, Stinnett returned late in the season in a relief role and appeared to be reborn as a pitcher. He then went to the Arizona Fall League and did very well against elite competition. He always struggled as a starter in his previous three seasons as a prospect. Coming out of the bullpen, I think his stuff plays up a little bit better as most of his pitches have some sort of wiffle ball type movement to them. Along with Mekkes, he is going to be an interesting prospect and test case to see how the Cubs deal with just what his role is going to be.

4. Corey Black – Something Jaron Madison said at the Cubs convention has stayed with me for the past two weeks. In talking about Corey, Madison mentioned an “emotional maturity” that seems to bode well for Corey’s future. Now at 26 years of age, Black should be on the precipice of making it to the majors as Madison spoke very highly of Black’s potential and Madison was high on Corey’s 4+ MLB type pitches. If that’s the case, Black could be a guy. Sometimes an injury can turn your career around for the better.

Who the Hell Is This Guy?
Jhon Romero flew under the radar in the second half of 2017. He began his season in June at Eugene and ended up in South Bend. After Maples and Mekkes, Romero was this relief pitcher I enjoyed watching the most in August. He can throw 93 to 95 and has a beautiful tight breaking ball that just devastated hitters. He struck out 53 hitters in 41 innings and opponents only hit .109 against him. He should be at Myrtle Beach to begin the year.

How much longer?
James Pugliese, Daury Torrez, Ryan McNeil, Tommy Nance, Jordan Minch, Tommy Thorpe, Kyle Miller, Craig Brooks, Scott Effross, and David Garner
What we have here are several relievers who have been in the organization for at least three years, some of them going on six years. Out of this bunch, Tommy Nance has the best stuff. He throws a hard ball in the mid 90s and breaks a lot of bats. Hopefully, he can return healthy in 2018. Two players who came on strong at some point last year were Scott Effross and David Garner. Effross will be at AA and Garner will be in AAA, along with a spring training invite.

Breakout Relievers for 2018
Jake Steffens, Ricky Tyler Thomas, and Ben Hecht all were outstanding for Eugene last summer coming out of the pen. All three were also draft picks from last year. Steffens is pretty good sized guy with a natural sinking fastball while Hecht was a strikeout machine for the Emeralds. To me, Thomas has the potential and pitches (plus changeup) to be a starter, just unsure about his frame. He might get a shot to stretch it out this year. For these three arms, pitching in the Northwest League is a different animal than the Midwest League. It is usually a pretty good barometer or a pitcher’s acumen.

If I was to pick one more arm, I would go with Ivan Medina who was Mesa’s closer. I am sure there will be an arm that does really well that I did not foresee. There always is.

Position Breakdown Series – Lefty Starters Gaining Ground

By Todd Johnson

The left-handed starter might be the most coveted of the Cubs’ prospects. The problem is they only have around 10. Ranking them is not that difficult. But then again, you never know what is going to happen to them from year to year.

Last year, I had Rob Zastryzny at number one and I thought for sure he was going to be in the bullpen in Chicago all year long and that didn’t happen. At number two, Ryan Kellogg struggled most of the year at Myrtle Beach after a dominating second half at South Bend in 2016. Jose Paulino came in at number three and fellow South Bend teammate Manny Rondon was at number four. Both struggled at low class A with Paulino rebounding some in the second half.
I had Bryan Hudson at number five last year despite struggling in 2016 at Eugene. I put Justin Steele at No. 6 despite his struggles the year before at South Bend.

Both pitchers changed quite a bit in 2017. I really liked the maturation I saw from Hudson in 2017. He turned into a ground ball machine. He’s not perfect yet, but he was vastly improved from 2016. He is still just 20 years old. As for Steele, He probably had the best year of anything Cubs’ lefty starting pitcher. However, he had TJS in late August.

What I thought would be an easy list this year is actually turning into something quite hard. You would think out of 10 arms that I can find five or six that I really like. After thinking about it, I wanted to get a Time Machine go to the middle of August, see how they did, then come back and pick them that way. That’s not gonna happen…

7. Didier Vargas is a Dominican summer league player who had some success last year. He doesn’t throw as hard as fellow teenager Danis Correa, but Vargas should do well in Mesa after posting a 0.99 ERA in 63.2 IP in the DSL in 2017.

Card made from a photo by John Arguello

6. Brailyn Marquez – If this list was just on pure talent, he would be number one. If it was on command, he wouldn’t even be on the list. Part of Mesa’s championship team, Marquez can throw in the mid 90s with a killer curve. The problem Marquez has is that he has not got his control and command down yet. He can look like the greatest thing for two or three innings and then turn into a BP machine. In 44 IP, he whiffed 52 but gave up 50 hits.

5. Jose Paulino – He went from 75 IP to 123.2 IP between 2016 and 2017. In May and June, his ERAs for both of those months were over 6. He was put on leave for a week and moved to the bullpen to begin the second half. He got a second chance at starting in July where he put together a nice string of outings with a 2.28 ERA for the month, reminiscent of his outstanding 2016 at Eugene. In August, he made 6 starts with a 3.34 ERA. What I liked most about his year was that he went 6 or more innings 11 times in 22 starts, and 7 of those came in 11 starts in the second half. That bodes really well for 2018 and Myrtle Beach.

4. I don’t know what the plan is for Rob Zastryzny. He could be a starter, or he could be a reliever. Or, do the Cubs just want to maintain that flexibility with him? That has to be a difficult and challenging thing to deal with when you don’t know how they want you to be used. My guess is the Cubs will keep him stretched out in case of an emergency this year at Iowa.

3. Justin Steele – He’s not gonna play in 2018 but when he comes back in 2019, he will hopefully carry the approach he began at Myrtle Beach with him to AA Tennessee. He credits daily mental routines for his 2017 success and his aggressiveness on the mound was also a key factor. In 20 starts, he had a 2.82 ERA with 82 Ks in 98.2 IP. The other day, Steele tweeted that he has already begun throwing in his rehab. Now, I am beginning to wonder if he throws some in relief the second half of the year.

2. Bryan Hudson – I probably should’ve just given him a 1B distinction because his future looks mighty bright. Do not get hung up on what his ERA was last year (3.91) but I liked what I saw in his ability to get hitters out. He figured out he could get guys to beat the ball into the ground with his fastball just as well as he could with his killer curve/slider. I think performance wise he’s going to have the best year of these five in 2018. If you’re thinking down the road a few years, I think there’s a lot to look forward to there as well.

1. Brendon Little – If you’re talking about performance, 2017 is not going to rank too high in his professional career. He had some command issues in his debut at Eugene but he also showed a devastating curveball at times. The differentiation between his reported fastball in college and what he showed in Eugene was substantial. He threw 91-94 in college, topping out at 97. At Eugene, he was in the upper 80s and low 90s. What I like is that he could be is a power arm that I think the Cubs can work with and develop. He just turned 21. He came from a junior college program. He doesn’t have all the spit and polish of someone like Lange who spent three years in a major college program and pitched in the College World Series. Little is going to be a work in progress. But the end result in three or four years could be substantial. That’s what you have to focus on. As a fan, you cannot judge him and his future on six weeks in Eugene. You just can’t. He might be one of those guys the Cubs keep in extended spring training in April and May to work on some things before he goes to South Bend. I don’t see the Cubs rushing him through the system. The Cubs poured a lot of money into him and they’re going to do it right.

Other Names to Keep an Eye On
I’m not ready to give up on Manny Rondon. And like Hudson, Rondon may benefit from the environs of the Carolina League and be a bounce-back prospect just like Steele was in 2017. As for Ryan Kellogg, I’m pretty sure he’ll be at Tennessee in 2018 but I’m not so sure what role he is going to have.

Andres Bonalde missed all of 2017. The 6’6” lefty put together a great second half in the DSL in 2016. He had a 2.31 ERA in 7 second half starts including a 1.29 ERA in 4 August starts. I was saddened to see him miss last year. Now, I look forward to him coming back at Mesa in 2018. He is still just a 20-year-old.

The big question mark is Carson Sands. He underwent surgery last winter for elbow splints and returned in late July. He did some rehab starts in Mesa before joining South Bend where he struggled to find the plate, one of which I saw live at Beloit. After two terrible starts for South Bend, he was sent to Eugene. He only made one more start in the Northwest League before he was shut down for the year. You have to feel for the kid. At this point, I hope the problem is physical and can be remedied with rest and rehab. At this point, I do not have a destination for him in 2018.

Position Breakdown Series – RHSP Part Two: The Top of the Heap

By Todd Johnson


Last week, in part one, I talked about the depth of right-handed starting pitching in the system. That depth also could make my job harder to pick just six arms each month for all-star teams. If I was to rank all 34 right-handed starters, there would not be much of a difference between number 30 and 13.  However, in this article, the top six arms in the system set themselves apart from the pack with their talent.

6. Jen-Ho Tseng – For the second time in four years, he was named the Cubs MiLB Pitcher of the year. There probably won’t be a third. He’s pretty much ready. With a plus curve and a plus change, he can baffle hitters as long as he can command his fastball. It will be interesting to see what role he gets in spring training. If he doesn’t make the 25 man in the pen, he will begin 2018 at Iowa as a starter.

5. Oscar De la Cruz – He did not pitch 50 innings last year. That’s a concern. In fact, he hasn’t pitched a 100 innings combined over the last two years. That is a huge concern. As a result, it is easy to question whether he is built to be a starter. He definitely has starter stuff, but he keeps breaking down. Last year, it was a shoulder strain, the year before, a forearm strain. He was all set to pitch in the Arizona Fall League in 2017 and the Cubs yanked him from there. For 2018, there are a lot of questions that only his performance and health can answer. Spring training will give us the first look.

4. Thomas Hatch – Year two should go much better. Maybe he was thrown to wolves a bit last year, but he did dominate as much as he struggled. At AA, his four pitch mix should play well if he can find the zone. After a 0.98 ERA in five June starts, I thought he was headed to Tennessee. That didn’t happen. On the other hand, he stayed healthy for the entire year, pitched 124 innings, and struck out 126. An interesting tidbit is that he only pitched beyond five innings just five times. AA will be a huge test to improve that efficiency.

3. Alex Lange – I love to watch him pitch. He has an amazing curve and when his fastball command is on, he is almost unhittable. The problem is he needs a third pitch if he dreams of being a starter in Chicago. He got in 9 innings of work last summer to acclimate himself a bit to the minors. As for where he will begin 2017, part of me hopes it is South Bend to get a taste of a Great Lakes spring. The other part of me hopes for Myrtle Beach to challenge him. Right now, I am leaning toward the former. This is one thing I would like to find out this weekend at the Convention.

2. Adbert Alzolay – He needs to refine his secondaries some more this year. He should begin 2018 at AAA Iowa and if he ever gets a changeup figured out, he could be in Chicago quickly. He should make several starts with the big league club in Chicago during spring training. That should be fun.

1. Jose Albertos – I love everything about this kid. Ever since Eloy left, I labeled him as the Cubs top prospect. His 18-year-old-floor contains a 91-96 mph fastball, a wicked plus changeup, and a curve that still has some grip issues. If he gets the curve figured out, the sky’s the limit for his ceiling. He just needs to keep building innings and arm strength. In 2016, he only got 4 in. Last year, he put in 60+ if you include extended spring training. This year, 100 should be the goal and 120-130 in 2019 making him ready for 160 big league innings in 2020.

More names to watch
Jesus Camargo – I love his changeup. He had a good 2017 coming off of TJS and was one of my favorites to watch last year. Plus changeup.
Alec Mills – I need to see more. Several lists have him as a top 10 prospect, but I haven’t seen it yet.
Jeremiah Estrada – He’s young, moldable, and was a stud in 2016 on the summer circuit. His 2017 high school season was a downer but the Cubs took the talented flamethrower in the 6th round and dissuaded him from going to UCLA. There’s no rush with him.
Bailey Clark – 2018 should be a good year for him as it sounds like he is working hard this offseason and building up strength to get back into the mid 90s. In August, he destroyed the Northwest League with a 1.69 ERA.
Erick Leal – After missing all of 2017, he should be back at Tennessee and the long, lanky righty will get his first crack at AA.
Erling Moreno – If he could only stay healthy. He missed the better part of two months in 2017 after missing most of 2014-15. When he and his plus curve are on, he’s very good. When he’s not, it is not pretty.
Keegan Thompson – Last year was a comeback year for the 2017 draft pick from Auburn and now he should be set free from day one with no restrictions. The former flamethrower said surgery turned him into more of a pitcher. I look forward to seeing him in South Bend.
Erich Uelmen – He didn’t get a lot of work in after being drafted last year, but he should be in a rotation somewhere in 2018. He can throw in the low to mid 90s in somewhat of a sidearm style.
Jesus Tejada – He was the hottest Cub pitcher in August but that was down in the Dominican. He should be stateside this year. I think he will probably start out in Eugene.
Brendan King – He was the ace of the Mesa staff after being drafted last summer. The kid from Holy Cross should get a crack at South Bend to start 2018. He struck out 28 in 22 innings and made 4 starts for the Rookie League champs.

Next week’s breakdown post returns on Friday as I examine left-handed starters.