By Todd Johnson
While Alzolay was ranked number one, he’s only got a couple of months in at AA and he still needs to work on his changeup quite a bit. I see his potential more as a reliever long-term. Although, he was able to stay in the mid-90s in the 6th and 7th inning last year. He just needs to continue to build up more innings to maintain his viability as a middle of the rotation starter.
As for Ademan, while he did well at Eugene on both sides of the plate, he struggled offensively at South Bend in his short time there. The Cubs will more than likely be aggressive with him this year and he will be assigned to Myrtle Beach. Oscar de la Cruz missed most of 2017 but still has a powerful potential in spite of his being oft-injured past two years.
When it comes to Jose Albertos, I just love him. By the end of the year he could take over the number one spot and I am looking forward to watching him do it at South Bend in the first half of the year. If all goes well, the young 19-year-old pitcher could end up in the pitcher friendly Carolina League for the second half of the year.
Catcher Miguel Amaya shot up to number 11. If his bat comes along at South Bend in 2018, he could rise even more. David Bote, at #15 went from utility organizational guy to a player with bat to make it as a utility infielder in Chicago. Recent draft picks from the past two years dot the list with Alex Lange at 5, Brendon Little at 6, and Thomas Hatch at 7. Three 2017 draft picks also got some praise. At 17, Jeremiah Estrada is well liked along with Erich Uelman at 19 and Keegan Thompson at 19, two college starters who only saw brief action in relief last year at Eugene. Pitcher Michael Rucker moved all the way up to 21 and Zack Short made his first appearance on the list at 23. Pitcher Javier Assad, who I am looking forward to watching throw at South Bend, is at #24. That’s a very good sign as he is only 19. Meanwhile, lefty starter Brailyn Marquez debuted at #27 at the age of 19. He is still very raw but he does miss a lot of bats.
Who is still in?
Most of the usual suspects in the Cubs system still made the list. Although, it is quite clear that they have lost some of the former status. Usually, MLB.com’s Pipeline is slow to change. One bad season doesn’t befall most prospects. There was some slippage this year. Trevor Clifton still made the list at #28 as did Duane Underwood at #30. Both have their work cut out in front of them.
Names to Know for Later Lists
Danis Correa is one of several young Latin pitching prospects who could breakout in 2018. He throws in the mid to upper 90s but needs some work on his command. I think Bailey Clark will turn some heads this year as he is now done with his degree at Duke and minor injuries. 2B Carlos Sepulveda was not on the list this year after missing almost of 2017. He could return later. The big breakout could be OF Fernando Kelli who will arrive from the Dominican Summer League where he stole 58 bases last year. Personally, I like the potential bats of infielders Austin Upshaw and Jered Young along with pitcher Jesus Tejada, who threw a no-hitter in the Dominican last summer.
It should be exciting as the Cubs system gets remade. It looks to be getting much younger since last year’s trades.
The Final Rankings List
I assigned point value to seven prospect lists this winter. A player received 10 for being named #1, 9 for #2, etc. I used Fangraphs, John Sickels, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America, Keith Law. MLB.com, and my own Top 21.
Here are the final totals.
Adbert Alzolay -66
Aramis Ademan – 64
Jose Albertos -57
Alex Lange – 42
Oscar de la Cruz – 38
Brendon Little – 33
Victor Caratini – 28
Thomas Hatch – 23
Jen-Ho Tseng – 12
Dillon Maples – 7
Nelson Velazquez – 5
By Todd Johnson
As spring training got underway, I was getting ready for what I call my busy season, which actually began yesterday with a Scholastic bowl tournament. Throw in a history fair and seven nights of Scholastic bowl meets and you have my life through March 15. I am pretty sure I am going to be dragging but it still allows me plenty of time to recoup before spring break starts and spring training ends.
As a result, anytime I had an idea pop into my head this week, I pondered about whether to write a full-blown post about it, or just a small blurb in this column. So, I just cited to get some ideas down now and maybe I can expand upon them more at a later time.
Darvish Impact on Minors
With an opt out clause after two years, that clause does buy the Cubs a couple more years to develop some arms to take Darvish’s place should he leave via free agency. A lot can happen to a pitching prospect in two years. So, it’s a little hard to justify a full-blown post about the topic right now. While some may think that Adbert Alzolay might be one of those who could start in 2020. Thomas Hatch, Duncan Robinson, Alex Lange, Jose Albertos and few more will have their name in that hat.
3 More Coming to Camp
The Cubs invited three more non-roster players to spring training. They were all catchers and many are very familiar to most of you. Cael Brockmeyer, Erick Castillo, and PJ Higgins all got the call.
2 New International Signees
Per Arizona Phil, the Cubs signed two more Cuban international free agents this week. Kevin Moreno is a 17-year-old third baseman who does not have a lot of experience playing international baseball. Pitcher Raidel Orta played in the Serie Nacional when he was 18 in 2014/15. He missed the last two years after defecting. Now at 22, it should be interesting to see just exactly what he has and how much he can improve over the course of the year playing in the US. I’m very interested to see where the Cubs place both prospects after spring training. I made a spreadsheet that has the Cubs last few international classes. Use the tabs at the bottom to go from year to year.
Keith Law of ESPN released his top 30 draft prospects (subscription required) for 2018. While he did not place players with teams, he did rank them from 1 to 30. While I can’t get into specifics about who was ranked where, it’s quite clear the Cubs are going to get an outstanding player at number 24. Law’s rankings are quite different from MLB Pipeline’s top 50 and the first 30 in Baseball America’s top 200. His list is a perfect example of the rise and fall of many prospects and the differentiation in evaluation. As a result, one name Cubs fans may want to add to the list is Missouri State shortstop Jeremy Eierman.
A Bunch of Arms
Cubs also moved pitcher Drew Smyly to the 60 day DL and signed reliever Shae Simmons to a split major/minor league contract. The Cubs signed several pitchers this off-season including Anthony Bass, Daniel Camarena, Michael Roth, Dario Alvarez, Randy Rosario, Cory Mazzoni, Kyle Ryan, Alberto Baldonado, Luke Farrell, and Simmons. I don’t think many of these guys stand much of a chance of making the major leagues bullpen and only a few will probably break camp in the Cubs’ minor-league system. I can see Camarena getting an opportunity to start in the minors at either Iowa or Tennessee. Rosario and Ryan have an outside shot to make the major leagues roster but will need some help and the same is true of Farrell, who is more of a starting pitcher. I don’t think Alvarez, Bass, and even the new signee Simmons have much of a shot. I think the Cubs are pretty clear on just exactly who is going to be in their bullpen. I’ll probably talk about this more as spring training wears on and players get some work in.
Coming Up this Week
On Wednesday the “Leveling Up” series begins to wind down as I look at outfielder Nelson Velasquez. On Friday, I should have something for you either about the bullpen or about young Latin arms coming into the system in 2018. On Saturday the 24th, I will be with my students participating in the history fair at NIU and then “Spring Training News and Notes” will take over for “The Weekly” on Sundays until the season begins. I am also pondering a draft article that looks at a few players beyond the first round.
By Todd Johnson
I am still so excited! I haven’t been this pumped up since November of 2016!
Cubs fans are now just 4 days away from meeting Yu Darvish and him taking part in his first official practice this Thursday. Now, with Yu in the rotation, Mike Montgomery heads back to the pen. It makes me wonder who Dillon Maples has to get past to earn a spot. It also makes me wonder how much this could affect Justin Grimm, who no longer has a guaranteed contract after losing his arbitration case.
The Cubs starting rotation is now very deep at the major league level. A staff of Hendricks, Quintana, Darvish, Lester, and Chatwood puts the team on par with any staff in the majors. They aren’t going to go 162-0, but I could see the Cubs winning 95+ games in 2018. A week ago, without Darvish, the Cubs were predicted to win 89 games by Pecota. Darvish has to increase that win total at least 5 or 6 games.
About an hour after the signing, I began shifting my thoughts on the organizational impact this signing has. It puts in place a staff for at least the next two years, depending on when Darvish could opt out of his deal. It buys the Cubs time to develop several young arms. After the 2020 season, Darvish is the only current Cub in the rotation signed to a contract. Lester, Hendricks, Quintana, and Chatwood’s contracts all expire at the end of the 2020 season.
As a result, the Cubs’ young arms can be brought along and developed as assets, as Theo always intends. With so many young arms, the Cubs could have a large stockpile they could use in a deal later down the road while still being able to cherry pick the best of their own to keep. It’s a win-win scenario.
And finally, there is no compensation pick attached to Darvish. Because he was traded mid-season, the Cubs do not lose their second round pick. So, it looks like the Cubs will be picking up a pick should Arrieta sign soon. That would give them 4 picks in the top 75-80 selections.
In Prospect News…
Baseball Prospectus released their Top 101 prospects for 2018 and one Cub made the list. Adbert Alzolay came in at #95. Here is what John Eshleman of BP had to say about Adbert:
Alzolay has a starter’s delivery in a reliever’s body with a change-up that could push him to either role. Currently, the pitch is not playable to turn over MLB rotations, but he could right now get outs from a bullpen with his FB/SL combination, playing to higher end of velo band in short stints. The relative quietness of his delivery given his size, a result of plus athleticism and a strong lower half that stabilizes his delivery. I project change up and command improvement enough to keep Alzolay in an MLB rotation.
While Theo Epstein and the Cubs see Alzolay as a starter for now, Adbert still has some work to do to get there.
MLB Pipeline announced they will release their latest Cubs’ Top 30 Prospect list on Thursday February 22. Over the offseason, I have been keeping track of the prospect rankings and assigning points to where each player has been ranked. Using Baseball America, Fangraphs, John Sickels, Keith Law, Pipeline, and Baseball Prospectus, the leader in points right now is Adbert Alzolay followed by Aramis Ademan. Only one point separates the two. Pitcher Jose Albertos rounds out the top three. Then it is a while until fourth place. Here are the top nine point values so far.
Ademan – 55
Lange – 36
de la Cruz – 30
Little – 27
Caratini – 25
Hatch – 19
Tseng – 12
I did include my Top 21’s top 10 in these results. However, I did not include Caratini as I don’t consider him a prospect. Normally, I usually include Cubs Den’s rankings, but this year Michael Ernst’s did not rank them. Rather he placed them in tiers. Although, Michael did have Jose Albertos as the lone Tier 1 prospect. I don’t think that his ranking them would have changed the list and its point totals and rankings much.
I don’t really think MLB Pipeline’s list will change many people’s perceptions of either prospect or the Cubs as a whole. It has been a while since the Cubs did not had a clearly defined top prospect, let alone a top 100.
I hope that this summer sees some prospects like Albertos, Ademan, and Lange matriculate up to full season ball and onto prospect lists. Maybe next winter the Cubs could get 3-4 names on a list.
Also in prospect news, Fangraphs released their KOTAH projections. The list is a projection of WAR for the next five years at the MLB level. Two Cubs made the list. Charcer Burks came in at #61 with a projected WAR of 5 and Victor Caratini came in at #35 with a 6.7 WAR projection. I did not see Burks like that, but I like that he is highly thought of after a brilliant first half in 2017.
Just throwing this out there…
I am wanting to do profiles of two prospects but I don’t have pictures of them, yet. One is of Danis Correa, a pitcher who threw in just two games for Mesa after coming over from the DSL. The other is Jesus Tejada, who threw in the DSL the past two summers.
This week, come Wednesday, Fernando Kelli gets profiled in the “Leveling Up” series. I really enjoyed profiling the excitement for the young outfielder. I also have two spring training previews for the major league camp and the minor league camp in the works for this week. The major league post hits Monday, the minors on Friday.
Baseball Cards of the Week
By Todd Johnson
Lists, Lists, and More Lists
It was a pretty exciting week as far as lists go. On Monday, Keith Law released his top 100 prospect list. Two Cub prospects, Aramis Ademan and Adbert Alzolay, found their names in the second half of the list. In addition, Jose Albertos later made Law’s “Just Missed List” of 10 prospects outside the top 100. That is a great sign heading into the season for Jose and the Cubs. On Friday, Law ranked the Cubs very low in his annual farm system rankings (subscription required). No shocker there.
Over the past two weeks, MLB Pipeline listed their top 10 prospects at each position in the minors. Catcher Victor Caratini was the only Cub prospect to make any position list and he came in at number 10.
And then last night, MLB Pipeline released their top 100 prospects. I did not expect to see any Cubs make the list as Jim Callis spoke previously that it would be very hard to get a Cub on there. And no Cub made it.
Starting in about a week, MLB Pipeline will be putting out their top 30 prospects for each MLB team. Alzolay looks to be their number one prospect on that list for the Cubs.
— Jonathan Mayo (@JonathanMayo) January 28, 2018
Spring Training Invitees
With just two weeks until the beginning of Spring Training, the Cubs began assembling the camp roster this week. In addition to minor league players on the 40 man like Mark Zagunis, Adbert Alzolay, and Duane Underwood, the Cubs invited 19 other non-rostered players to come to camp. They include:
Pitchers: Anthony Bass, Craig Brooks, David Garner, Justin Hancock, Thomas Hatch, Williams Perez, Alberto Baldonado, Daniel Camarena, and Kyle Ryan.
Infielders: Ryan Court, Mike Freeman, Jason Vosler, and Chesny Young.
Outfielders: Jacob Hannemann and Bijan Rademacher.
Catchers: Taylor Davis, Chris Gimenez, Ian Rice, and Ali Solis.
A few names stick out to me in Hatch, Rice, Garner, and Brooks. I am not surprised to see Rice, Garner, and Brooks get invites because they have already played at AA. As for Hatch, I’m gonna look forward to seeing what he can do as he has yet to play at Tennessee. This might be a little crumb for him. I can’t wait to see how Rice does in that setting along with Garner and Brooks, both who throw in the mid to upper 90s.
Additionally, a few names that were omitted also stand out to me. Jake Stinnett, Yasiel Balaguert, Charcer Burks, and the newly signed Wynton Bernard did not receive the special invitation. In most years, the NRI is usually just a formality as the Cubs tend to use players from across the system in games. It’s going to be true again this year. Burks should get some playing time and Stinnett will likely pitch for an inning or two just to see how they match up against MLB talent. That might be good for both of their confidence levels.
Coming Up Next Week
On Tuesday, I have an article coming out for BP Wrigleyville where I talk about 10 things to think about regarding the 2018 draft. On Wednesday, 2017 first-round draft pick Alex Lange gets the “Leveling Up” treatment. The “Position Break Down” series ended last Friday with relievers. So, now I have to come up with some new things to do until Spring Training. One of them involves the year 2021. I may just come right out with one post about that year and what the end of that season means.
Baseball Card of the Week
By Todd Johnson
Yesterday, Keith Law released the first part of his Top 100 Prospect List, numbers 51-100. Lo and behold, I was surprised to find two Cubs in it. Because it is a subscription article, I cannot divulge much more than Aramis Ademan and Adbert Alzolay made it and that is good news for Cub fans.
Honestly, I did not expect to see a Cub make any prospect list until this summer. Within the next year and a half, there could be several more prospects make a list by either Keith Law, Baseball America, MLB.com, Fangraphs, or Baseball Prospectus.
I like covering prospect lists just to see how others evaluate the Cubs system and then compare those views with what I see and read. When the Cubs were struggling, the minor league system was something to hang your hat on. It gave one hope that help was on the way. Now, not so much.
When Baseball America released their Top 100 prospect list the other day, there was not a Cub on it. I pretty much expected that. When MLB.com rolls out their top 100 list this weekend, I do not expect to see a Cub there, either. If there is, it will be a bonus.
To be honest, getting prospects on those lists is nice, but getting players, developing them, and having them produce at the MLB level is most important.
With several young players getting their first crack at full season ball this season, things should change greatly over the next few years. Jose Albertos could make a list at some point this summer. And depending on how his bat goes, Nelson Velasquez is the player who could rise the fastest in the next year. Miguel Amaya is another option as would be Hatch, de la Cruz, and maybe even Bryan Hudson. Who knows who could breakout? And that might be a lot of the fun when it does happen.
Ultimately, I will be paying attention to the lists the next three years as more and more Cubs prospects should be moving up through the system. As players from the 2015 international free agent class arrive stateside, they should be the elite part of the system the next three to five years.
If 2021 comes and there are no Cubs on Top 100 prospect lists, then there is a major problem. After the 2021 season, contracts will expire for most of the Cubs top players that year. As a result, the Cubs are going to need to reload the major league club in 2022. The fastest, best, and cheapest way to do that is by developing their own players.
So, enjoy having a couple of guys on a list today and hope the Cubs have a boatload of them in 2-3 years.
By Todd Johnson
For most of the winter, I have avoided updating my Top 21 prospect list. The main reason for that is because I always thought a trade was imminent. So for the better part of three plus months, the list just sat there, waiting to be updated. I thought the second that I posted a new list will be the second that the Cubs trade someone off the list. If a trade happens this week, you can now thank me because my new Top 21 list is now uploaded.
I don’t think there any big surprises for those of you that check out this website regularly. You know my love of Jose Albertos and he is still sitting pretty at number one. When I was done arranging the prospects, I was somewhat stunned to realize that I only placed five position players on the list. I even gave spots to two relievers.
It’s quite clear that the Cubs do have a lot of pitching depth. They still don’t have that top of the rotation type starter just yet. Albertos could be that guy by the end of this year and Alzolay could be a middle of the rotation type starter if he can develop his secondaries. While I think it’s obvious that Albertos has a higher ceiling than any Cub prospect, there’s still a lot that needs to happen for him to reach his potential.
As for the system as a whole, there’s a lot of depth, but there’s not a lot of elite talent that you could for see being All-Stars at the major-league level. On the other hand, I can see several of these prospects becoming major-league players.
Now that the list is ready to go, there are only two major prospect lists left to be published. MLB Pipeline should have theirs in early February and so should ESPN’s Keith Law. Based upon Jim Callis and his point of view on “Inside the Clubhouse,” it was pretty clear Pipeline is going with Aramis Ademan at number one and who knows what Keith Law will do. He could go one of three ways.
In six months, this prospect list is going to drastically change. With a new draft class (likely 4 picks in the top 100) and some money to spend in international free agency, there should be a huge influx of higher level talent coming aboard. Add in a another three months of development from current prospects and this list could be completely different. But for now, this is what the system is.
By Todd Johnson
The final question of this off-season’s minor-league mailbag comes to us from little Cory Alan from South Bend, Indiana. Cory asks: How does this year’s prospect list compare to when Theo took over?
To answer Cory’s question thoroughly, I had to do some digging. First, I went back to the archives at MLB Pipeline to look at their Cubs prospect list from 2011. They had Anthony Rizzo at number one. That list came out after Theo took over. I was able to find BP’s list from 2011 and I think it’s much more indicative of the Cubs system heading into 2011 before the season rather than after.
Here is their top 10 in all its glory, pre-Theo:
1. Brett Jackson, OF
2. Trey McNutt, RHP
3. Chris Archer, RHP
4. Josh Vitters, 3B
5. Hak-Ju Lee, SS
6. Chris Carpenter, RHP
7. Hayden Simpson, RHP
8. Reggie Golden, OF
9. Jay Jackson, RHP
10. Robinson Lopez, RHP
I also found Baseball America’s list. They had Archer at number one, Jackson at two, and McNutt at 3.
Now, it would be easy to sit back and say that today’s system is much better than 2011. But, at the time, I can’t believe I’m going to say this, the 2011 Cubs actually had two top 100 prospects in Brett Jackson and Trey McNutt. The Cubs don’t have a single top 100 prospect today. However, today’s Cubs could have three or more within the next two years, depending on draft picks and development. But beyond the top 10 in 2011, there was not much hope in the system. Only Darwin Barney is a recognizable name for most Cubs fans from that list.
In all sincerity, there were people who actually believed that Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters were going to be pros in Chicago. People thought Trey McNutt was going to be an arm and that Chris Carpenter was going to make it. In addition, I remember seeing Reggie Golden play for Kane County in 2013 and struggling to hit any pitch that started with a C, but he was one sculpted physical specimen.
It’s obvious, now, that the system in 2011 was not deep at all. It’s not like Brett Jackson was fooling anyone. Lots of top 100 prospects don’t make it in the major leagues – injuries happen, players peak. When Josh Vitters hit .283 with 14 home runs and 80+ RBIs at AA Tennessee, I think most Cubs fans and evaluators thought he was going to be an “it” guy.
By the time the 2011 season began, Archer was gone and General Manager Jim Hendry would be by mid-year. In Hendry’s final act, he drafted Javier Baez, Dan Vogelbach, and Dillon Maples. Soon after, thus began what we think of as the rebuild, but it would be Theo who did almost all the heavy lifting.
Sure, today’s Cubs system does not have one Top 100 prospect…for now. Still, the system is deep, redundant, but just lacks elite talent. However, within two years, several of the prospects led by Jose Albertos, Aramis Ademan, Miguel Amaya, Alex Lange, Jeremiah Estrada, and Nelson Velazquez (who will be at Eugene and South Bend in 2018) could matriculate up prospect lists . It could take a while, but Cubs system could be making a vaunted comeback without having to lose 100 games.