prospect lists

New Top 21 Prospect List Is Aggressive and Infused with Draft Picks and a Latin Feel

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By Todd Johnson

Over the past two months, I bet I made 10 different versions of this prospect list. I moved players up and down, in and out, and then I did it all over again. The last time I updated the list was at the end of spring training. A lot has happened in those 2.5 months. Ian Happ was promoted and made over 90 plate appearances in the majors, many prospects played a half a season in the minors, and extended spring training just ended.

I think the first thing you’ll notice in this list is that I did move a lot of players around. Some of that’s based on performance and some of it is based on projection. Players who have been on the list for four or five years are no longer there. Instead, there’s an infusion of young Latin players and a couple first-round picks.

I think it’s only natural that these changes are taking place. In 2015, the Cubs made a concerted effort to sign a substantial group of players in the international free-agent market. They were 16 and 17 at the time. Now they are 18 and 19 and a maturing physically, mentally, and developmentally. The game is beginning to slow down for them.

I did not include Mr. Happ in this list as I didn’t want to redo it in 10 more games.

Here are the top 10 of the Top 21. To see the full list click here.

10. Oscar de la Cruz – Pitcher
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Age: 21
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – Commanding presence, fastball, curveball
ETA – 2018/2019
Sometimes, he makes it look so effortless. I often wonder how effortless it is for him. He could have been at AA Tennessee in early July. Things were going extremely well for him at Myrtle Beach before he skipped a start and went on the DL. He needs to stay healthy to build up that arm strength. Innings are what he needs.

9. Victor Caratini – Catcher
Age: 23
2017 Affiliate – Iowa
Top Skills – Switch hitting, hit almost .300 in 2016
ETA – 2017/18
I thought that 2016 was his best year as a Cub. Currently, he is blowing that season out of the water this year. He looks to be ready offensively to take over as the backup catcher in Chicago come 2018. On defense, I am not so sure. If he was ready defensively, he would probably be a top five prospect.

8. Aramis Ademan – Shortstop
Age – 17
2027 Affiliate – Eugene
Top skills – Defense, deft hands
ETA – 2021
He is going to skip rookie ball and play in short season Eugene in 2017. Defensively, he is leaps and bounds above every shortstop in the system.

7. Miguel Amaya – Catcher
Age: 18
2017 Affiliate – Eugene
Top Skills – Great receiver, great arm, and a developing power bat
ETA – 2020/2021
He is a great defender with a great arm. This spring in EXST, he showed he ‘s got some power in that bat. Premium skills at a premium position move him way up the board. I watched his debut in Eugene as he threw out three runners. Wow!

6. Adbert Alzolay – SP
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Age: 22
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – 96/97 mph fastball that he can sustain and maintain deep in the game.
ETA – 2019
He’s really come on in 2017 by quickening his pace. He still needs work on his change, but his FB is c’est magnifique. His curve is improving with a nice 2-7 arc.

5. Trevor Clifton – SP
Age: 21
2017 Affiliate – Tennessee
Top Skills – 3 plus pitches, improving command, pick-off move, pitchability, work ethic
ETA – 2018
He has been pretty consistent in 2017. He has gone toe to toe with some big names and held his own. I still think efficiency should be the thing he works on most of the second-half. He needs to get to seven innings pretty consistently.

Image may contain: 1 person, playing a sport and baseball4. Tom Hatch – SP
Age: 21
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – 4 pitch repertoire, command and control, ridiculous armside run on his FB
ETA – 2019
He had a rough adjustment period in April through mid-May. After that, he’s been throwing darts including a 13 K affair. He could be amazing in the second half. Don’t look at his ERA before June.

3. Jeimer Candelario – 3B/1B
Age 23
2017 Affiliate – Iowa
Top Skills – Switch hitting, can hit for power and average
ETA – 2017
I don’t know how much longer he is going to remain a Cub. I don’t think there’s much left for him to prove at Iowa, and I don’t think he’s going to get a fair shot to play every day in Chicago.

2. Dylan Cease – SP
Age: 21
2017 Affiliate – South Bend
Top Skills – 100 mph fastball, plus curve, improving changeup
ETA – 2019
He was having a pretty good season until he went down with an ankle injury in mid-May. The fastball and curves are there, the change is showing signs of being an average pitch. He still needs to be a lot more efficient to get into the sixth and seventh innings some more.

1. Eloy Jimenez – OF
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Age: 20
2017 Affiliate: Myrtle Beach/Tennessee
Top Skills: Hit for average and power, great pitch recognition, contagious smile
ETA – 2018
People laughed in the spring when he said he was trying to make ball club. He pretty much proved everyone wrong when he showed he belonged as a hitter. I think he’s about as close to being ready as he can be. Once he proves he we can make it at AA, I don’t even see the need for him to go to AAA. The question becomes where he is going to play.

The Weekly: Tight Playoff Races and the Draft Schedule

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By Todd Johnson

It is all about the draft over the next three days. Here is my plan.

Monday – Rounds 1-2
On Monday night I will be blogging live. The keyword for you will be “refresh.” That way, you can follow along as I make changes and other teams make their selections. Once the Cubs make their first pick, I will begin frantically putting together a new post for pick #27 while awaiting pick #30. Once a second round pick is made at #67, I will do my due diligence on that new prospect as well. So, there will be four posts altogether and three draft cards. I will be on Twitter most of the evening and begin blogging somewhere around 7:30 pm Central.

Tuesday – Rounds 3-10 begins at noon
I tend to like covering day number two a lot. With just 8 picks, there’s a lot less stress in between picks. That leaves me plenty of time to find information, write a brief profile, and make a card. Coverage begins at noon Central. This will be one post for the entire day. Just hit refresh to get caught up on each selection and profile, plus seeing their draft card is always a kick.

Wednesday – Rounds 11-40 begins at 11 AM
This day is a lot of fun just for the research and the cards. I tend not to do too big a blurb about each prospect. It usually starts out bigger at number 11 and by the time I get into the 30s there’s only a sentence or two about the player. For me, this is the most challenging and sometimes fun part of the draft as there’s just not a lot out there on some guys. Think about it, there are 1200 players going to be drafted over three days. My knowledge only goes to about 200-250 tops.

Top 21 List Redux
After the draft is complete, I will have a new top 21 list by the end of the week I don’t know how many draft picks will make it onto the list, but right now I’m guessing three. The Cubs pick at number 27, 30, 67, and 105 in the first three rounds. I am pretty sure the top three picks will make the cut. I think the third round pick has a chance to be in the top 21. As for the fourth round pick, I am not so sure. I think that player will definitely be in the Ala Carte portion of the list.

The Playoff Chase in the Minors
Exactly one week from today is the end of the first half of the minor league season. I cannot believe how fast it went. Three of the affiliates are still in position to earn a playoff spot.

Iowa: 2-6;  26-36
I feel bad for this team right now. They are basically down to three startIng pitchers and two relievers making spot starts. I am pretty positive this will be remedied once the first half ends for Tennessee.

Tennessee: 5-2; 35-26
The pitching is there to finish off the first half championship. They just need the bats to keep it up for one more week. Trey Martin is back patrolling centerfield and Dillon Maples will be joining the team from Myrtle Beach. Yasiel Balaguert seems to be turning it on and Charcer Burks is a model of consistency this year.

Myrtle Beach: 6-1; 36-26
Image may contain: 1 person, playing a sport and baseballWinning seven and a row has them in the first place. It’s going to come down to their offense. Their starting pitching has been outstanding and the bullpen can shut it down. Thomas Hatch and Ryan Kellogg seem to be peaking at the right time. Hopefully, it doesn’t come down to the last day, but I think it might.

South Bend: 3-3; 37-24
Last year it came down to the last day and I think the same thing is going to happen this year. I don’t think they have a shot at winning the division, but they are now tied for a wild-card spot. For that to happen their offense needs to get clicking. And with Dakota Mekkes now in Myrtle Beach, someone in the pen needs to step up as well. Isaac Paredes is hitting over .300 this month.

DSL 1: 3-3: 3-4
DSL 2: 2-4; 2-5
After another two weeks of play I will begin to take a look at some of the players who are standing out. It’s hard to get a grasp on what is happening in the DSL, but usually time wins out when looking at their statistics.  

Extended Spring Training per “The Cub Reporter”
It’s almost over! The players had to Mesa in Eugene and begin their seasons on Thursday. I’ll see if I can have the profile of each team on Thursday. I am not promising anything with the draft. It might be an afternoon post or Saturday at the latest.

Players of the Week

Card of the Week

My Posts on Other Sites This Week

Cubs Insider
Tennessee Update
Iowa Cubs Update
Michael Rucker

BP Wrigleyville
Adbert Alzolay

Prospect Lists Are Going to Be a Bit on the Messy Side to Figure Out This Year

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By Todd Johnson

The MLB Draft  is less than a month away. With that in mind, I thought I would revisit my top 21 prospect list which I last updated on March 29, 2017 at the end of spring training. I thought I would give it a cursory look as to where possible draft picks might slotted. Much to my surprise, once I begin looking at the list, I realized it’s going to be a total mess to restructure.

I don’t think my rankings were too far out of the ordinary at the end of March, but several things have happened which have thrown them into flux. Some prospects have yet to play this season because of injury. Others are having very good seasons, while others are struggling to get going. As a result I don’t quite know what is going to happen. Well a lot has happened in April, even more can happen in May.

Here are my rankings from the end of Spring Training:

1-5 Eloy, Cease, Happ, Candelario, de la Cruz

6-10 Clifton, Hatch, Zagunis, Martinez, Albertos

11-15 Caratini, Wilson, Sepulveda, Paredes, Galindo

16-17 Ademan, Moreno

18-21 Ala Carte – Reader”s choice

The Walking Wounded

Eloy still has not made it out of extended spring training. His shoulder bruise was originally going to cause him to miss a month. Well, it’s been more than a month with no sign of return. On Monday the eighth, he finally returned from a 10 day absence.

18-year-old Jose Albertos also began playing this week after missing almost all of 2016. In addition, 19-year-old Erling Moreno only has pitched in one game this season while Wladimir Galindo has missed the past two weeks at low A South Bend after a sizzling start.

Struggling/Slow Starts

Other players are off to slow starts this year. Mark Zagunis and DJ Wilson or two players who are barely hitting about .200, although Wilson is hitting .400 in the last week. Zagunis, on the other hand, is just getting his power game going as he has had three home runs in his last 10 games.

The player who I think you’ve struggled the most has been Thomas Hatch of Myrtle Beach. With an ERA close to five, Hatch has taken it on the chin in several starts. He has shown glimpses of using his four pitches  to maximum effect, but he has also shown the ability to have “the big inning.”

South Bend shortstop Isaac Paredes is hitting barely above .200. Myrtle Beach outfielder Eddy Martinez is also off to a slow start, but is improving week by week.

Knocking It Out of the Park

Three players at AAA Iowa are just knocking it out of the park, literally. Ian Happ leads the system with nine home runs while Victor Caratini is hitting over .340. Jeimer Candelario was named the Cubs minor-league hitter of the month as he led the system in RBIs.

At South Bend, Pitcher Dylan Cease is a fixating force when he takes the ball every fifth day. Oscar de la Cruz and Trevor Clifton have been pretty steady despite usually being slow starters. Meanwhile, out in Arizona, shortstop Armanis Ademan has been receiving rave reviews from scouts and bloggers alike.

As I look at these prospects in their entirety, part of me enjoys the depths of the Cubs system while the other part of me looks at the volatility of these specific prospects. In making a prospect list, I am always questioning whether I should value performance over the skills or the skills over the performance. And I think those are both valid points of view in making lists.

As the draft approaches, the Cubs will basically have two first round picks that should enter the top 21 list. There is also a pretty good chance that the second and third round picks could do the same. However, there are several prospects, who, by their own performance, could also make the list. Young players like Miguel Amaya, Joe Martarano, Michael Cruz, Bailey Clark, Dakota Mekkes, and Craig Brooks. Add in older prospects like Chesny Young, Zach Hedges, and Duane Underwood and you have quite the conundrum.

In the end, there is still a month left to be played before the draft. I don’t need to rush out and make any decisions for something that’s a month away. And even after the draft is complete, there will be three more months of baseball to go this season. Speculation and evaluation is never going to end. To be honest, that’s where the fun is in a list.

South Bend Cubs Preview – 10 Things I Think

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By Todd Johnson

It is no secret that one of my highlights of last summer was watching the Eugene Emeralds’ home games on MILB.TV. While it may have only been 37 games, those same players are now moving on to play in South Bend a week from today. The number of games they will play will double in 2017. As a result, their development will intensify exponentially.

2016 Review
Last year, the South Bend Cubs went 84-55 and won the first-half Eastern Division title. The Cubs were led by top prospect Eloy Jimenez, all-stars Donnie Dewees, PJ Higgins, and Carlos Sepulveda. Pitchers Preston Morrison and Ryan Kellogg also had outstanding seasons for the Cubs low class A affiliate.

10 Things I Think
I am going to do something different with this preview than I did with the other previews. If it seems like I have been writing about South Bend for a week. it is because I have. I talked about South Bend rotation on Tuesday for BP Wrigleyville. I just recently posted one for Cubs Insider. Now, it’s time for my own look.

10. Yeiler Peguero is an extremely exciting player. He can play shortstop and second base. He can hit for average and he has speed to burn. However, that speed has not translated to stolen bases yet. The young 19-year-old should be a fascinating watch this summer.

9. Trent Giambrone can hit really well. I don’t see him hanging around South Bend very long with his hit tool. Surprisingly, he has more power than expected and he can play all infield positions well.

8. At the plate, Zack Short has shown that he knows what he’s looking for in a pitch. He has some power, but he also knows how to get on base via the walk. He is also a plus defender and can play three positions in the infield.

7. The bullpen is going to be stacked with several arms from last year’s draft. They basically turned every game last summer into a five or six inning game.

6. With just a week to go until the season, I think it’s still a little unclear on who will be in the starting rotation due to injuries and precautions to avoid injuries. I think Tyson Miller and Duncan Robinson are in, but I think Bryan Hudson and Bailey Clark are out.

5. Erling Moreno is another favorite of mine. The young right-handed pitcher has a plus-plus curveball to go along with a mid 90s fastball. After missing two seasons due to Tommy John surgery, Moreno was outstanding last year at Eugene with an ERA under one and a whip of 0.70.

4. Pitcher Manny Rondon is a lefty who seems to have grown by leaps and bounds since he came to the Cubs organization. Under the tutelage of pitching coach Brian Lawrence, Rondon flourished at Eugene and was named Northwest League Pitcher of the Year. Rondon will get to have Lawrence as his pitching coach again this year.

3. I think by the end of the summer, most people’s definition of exciting will change after they watch DJ Wilson play the outfield for 140 games. The youngster has speed to burn and knows no fear. His bat is still a work in progress and it will be just as exciting to watch it develop.

2. I think this is the year that Wladimir Galindo puts it together. The 20-year-old third baseman could hit 20+ home runs if he becomes more selective and is able to recognize pitches better at the plate. Luckily for him, manager Jimmy Gonzalez can help that department as it is his specialty.

1. While Dylan Cease does have a fastball that closes in on 100 mph, his changeup needs some work. The great thing about that fact is that we will get to see him work on it most of April and May. In the meantime, there will be lots of fastballs and curves to go along with the changeups. Enjoy his talent while you can!

I think the South Bend Cubs can get another first half title in 2017. The key to doing that is having a balanced team. After the All-Star break last year, promotions to Myrtle Beach disrupted the flow of the team. This year, however, I don’t think the promotions in late June will have as much of an effect because of who could be coming to South Bend courtesy of the draft and Eugene.

Three names you might hear for the second half who could help a title run are pitcher Jose Albertos, catcher Michael Cruz, and shortstop Isaac Paredes.

First to be promoted – Trent Giambrone. His bat is just too polished and his approach is too top-notch to remain in South Bend very long.

Other Previews
Myrtle Beach

Which Cubs could break onto a top 100 list this year?

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By Todd Johnson

Most prospect lists have between three and five Cub prospects in their top 100 lists. While Eloy and Ian Happ are the only usual picks, others filtering in the lists include Dylan Cease, Jeimer Candelario, Trevor Clifton, and Albert Almora. It just depends on the list.

This got me thinking what other Cubs could make it onto lists later this year. It is more than just looking at current rankings. It includes evaluating pure talent, performance, and projection.

I think 2017 begins with Jose Albertos bursting onto the scene. We might have to wait until June to see it, or it could happen at South Bend. Fangraphs describes why Albertos is so special:

Albertos was sitting 90-94 mph in extended spring training before his fastball ticked up in the summer. He was 93-98 in his only AZL outing, throwing strikes where he wanted to at 95, and still bumping 96-plus in his fourth inning of work.

Another ascending prospect, Oscar de la Cruz, is a big, big man. He has such a dominating presence at close to 6’6″ on the mound. He can throw in the mid-90s and has a plus curve. He is still working on his change. If he can begin 2017 healthy, he could easily break onto most lists. MLB Pipeline placed him in their second 100. So, he’s close.

Depending on who you ask, evaluations very greatly on our next prospect at the plate. However, Eddy Martinez is very talented in the field. He has a great arm and, with Donnie Dewees now in Kansas City, Martinez could slide over to center this spring. I think his arm plays better in right. I think his bat will be better this after missing basically two seasons getting out of Cuba.

Wladimir Galindo and Erling Moreno are two members of the Cubs vaunted 2013 IFA class. Both missed the better part of two seasons and both were excellent in Eugene in 2016. Moreno throws in the low to mid-90s and has a devastating 12-6 curve. His WHIP was 0.70 last year. Galindo hit 9 HRs in a little over 60 games. He could hit 20+ this year at South Bend. That would put him in an elite status.

The Cubs 2016 third round pick, Thomas Hatch, did not pitch after putting in 131 IP at Oklahoma State in 2016 after missing all of 2015. It appears we will see his four-pitch mix at South Bend. And that four-pitch mix will likely overpower Midwest League hitters.

Sometimes prospects stumble, and for Duane Underwood, let’s just hope 2016 was a stumble after two years of pesky minor injuries. I am hoping he can return to form and shoot back onto most lists with a rebound season. It’s all about commanding his pitches down in the zone.

The Cubs have two first round picks and more than likely those picks will be on some top 100 lists at the end of the season, especially if they get a prep bat.

In the end, I think you have to give the best odds to de la Cruz and Albertos. With Trevor Clifton and Dylan Cease a little bit ahead on most lists, I truly think this is the year where Cubs pitchers begin to break out in a big way.

Spring Training News and Notes – Week Two

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By Todd Johnson

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Spring training this year is a little bit different. First, there might be only one roster spot up in the air for position players. Second, the bullpen is wide open along with who will be the fifth and or sixth starter.

For me, Joe Maddon made a comment earlier in the week that kind of summed up an objective the Cubs might have for the spring. That objective is to identify the next group of position players that can come up and help. Yes, Eloy is there. Ian Happ is also in camp getting a lot of reps with the big league club. But I think two players who could actually help out this year are Chesney Young and Mark Zagunis. Their impressive hit tools are going to get them to the major leagues even as utility players.

Game Action
burks 65 2016 MBThe starters, like always, only played a little bit yesterday. Most of the big names just got one at-bat. As a result, the minor league guys got a lot of at-bats and innings. The big hitters were Eloy (1-3), Chris Dominguez (2-3), Charcer Burks (GW HR), and Matt Szczur (1-2, 2 RBIs). On the pitching side, Jack Leathersich and Stephen Perakslis, and Felix Pena looked good in relief. Starters Rob Zastryzny and Mike Montgomery did well as neither allowed a run in an innings apiece. Although, Montgomery walked 2. It was the first game of spring training. I wouldn’t put too much stock in the competition for starter spots just yet. Wait until they get stretched out to go 5 innings. However, I think the bullpen spots and bench spots are full on competitions from the get go.

Other News

I did see Eloy say that he was trying to make the roster. Good for him. It is highly unlikely he makes it, in fact, it’s extremely unlikely. Still, you have to like his attitude.

Minor-league players will officially arrive over the next week. It will be interesting to see how they are grouped and sorted. Here are a few names to keep an eye on this week: Duane Underwood, Zach Hedges, Eddy Martinez, Aramis Ademan, Isaac Paredes, Thomas Hatch, Dylan Cease, Oscar de la Cruz, and Jose Paulino.

Major League Baseball is eliminating the need for pitchers to pitch an intentional walk. My thoughts….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. This rule does absolutely nothing. Nothing.

Baez Tattoo
However, Javy’s tattoo makes life worth living


Upcoming Posts
Breakout Hitters for the 1st Half
New Top 100 Guys
Draft Profile: Ricky Tyler Thomas

MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Cubs List Has Few Surprises

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By Todd Johnson


And just like that, the prospect list season comes to a close as MLB Pipeline released their top 30 Cubs prospects on Thursday afternoon. There were not a lot of surprises. Eloy captured the top spot followed by Ian Happ, Albert Almora, and Dylan Cease. Jose Albertos and DJ Wilson rounded out the top 10 followed by Eddy Martinez, Thomas Hatch, Victor Caratini, and Chesny Young at 11-14. I was really glad to see Chesny move up so much. He has an impressive hit tool despite the lack of power.

The only real surprise (sort of) came in the mid teens. Future South Bend lefty Jose Paulino came in high at number 15 followed by Duane Underwood at 16. I’m glad that Underwood got this high as I still think he has some value as a starter or reliever. If Duane can stay healthy, his ceiling is pretty high.

paredes-70-2016-sbFrom 17 to 20, Aramis Ademan, Carlos Sepulveda, Isaac Paredes, and José Rosario filled in those spots. Ademan, who has not played in the states yet, is easily the number one shortstop prospect in the system at just 17 years old. For Isaac, I’m not surprised to see him this high and he might be the breakout hitter of the year this year in the Cubs system. The question of where he plays is up in the air.

New Cub Alec Mills came in at number 22 and Rob Zastryzny came in at number 23 while Preston Morrison rounded out the list at number 30. Gone for now are Jake Stinnett, Justin Steele, Carson Sands, Jen-Ho Tseng, and Corey Black.

In the accompanying article, Jim Callis gave the best hit tool to Ian Happ, Eloy, the best power tool, and DJ Wilson the best speed tool. On defense, Albert Almora and Eddy Martinez were the top rated according to defense and arm, respectively.

When it came to pitching, José Rosario graded out to have the best fastball followed by Dylan Cease and his curve and Thomas Hatch and his slider. Young José Albertos had the best changeup and Ryan Williams had the best control.

I don’t think there was anything major in this list that needs to be discussed at any length.

eloy-65-2016-fgOver this winter I’ve compiled each prospect list awarding first place 10 points on down to the 10th place with one point. I don’t think there any surprises on that list either. Eloy took the top spot unanimously with 80 points. Ian Happ had 69 (nice!). Dylan Cease, Jeimer Candelario, Oscar de la Cruz, Albert Almora, Trevor Clifton, Mark Zagunis, and Jose Albertos rounded at the top 10.

In the middle of April, there will be new Cubs lists all over the Internet as Albert Almora will no longer be considered a prospect. Someone may surge their way into the top 10 by then. Thomas Hatch is one prospect who could do that. DJ Wilson is another.

I think the big thing to take away from these lists this winter is that the strength of the system is in the low minors. There are several teenagers on this list who are a long way from Chicago. And there are many more teenagers coming who will debut at Mesa this June.

Add in what are basically two first round picks this summer and the lists should be changing dramatically over the course of the year.