Top 21 Prospect List

A New Top 21 List for a New Season – Just a Few Changes for Now

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By Todd Johnson

Part of me did not want to do this post. I thought to myself that the changes were so minute that they would be hardly noticeable. I thought that I could probably hold out another two months until early June before I redid it. That way, there would be two months of performance on which to make adjustments. And I started thinking again… “But if I do it in early June, I’ll just have to redo it again after the draftand then again in early July after international free agency begins.” This will be a never ending crusade because it’s never complete, but that’s the fun inherit in constantly evaluating the organization.

The biggest reason for updating the list has been the play of Oscar de la Cruz. The pitcher had a really good spring and that should carry over into the season as he will be AA Tennessee. Oscar threw in 4 big league games in spring training, all in relief, striking out two and and only allowed one hit. He did not give up a run. Over the course of those four games, his velocity went from 89-91 to 93-95.

Another reason for doing the list has been the ascension and play of David Bote as a valuable utility man in the future. Originally, Bote did not make the list in January but he’s been rising for the past year and a half. He began to turn it on in the summer of 2016 at Myrtle Beach, had a good season in Tennessee in 2017, and he didn’t stop in the Arizona Fall League. This spring  saw Bote continue to chug along in spring training and he should do just fine in Iowa. 

Even though he spent all of camp with the big league club, I think Ian Rice showed his potential on the last Sunday of camp by jacking a ninth-inning two-run home run. I think the Cubs are going to have to live and die with that swing. He may not hit for average, but he’s going to hit a lot of home runs. As a catcher, I wonder what value he is going to have beyond this year. I’m sure there’s some insurance but when you’re blocked by Willson and Caratini, there’s not a whole lot of places you can go.

And last, but not least, Duane Underwood looks to be reborn and on a mission to make it to the majors. Underwood will start the year at AAA Iowa and the 23-year-old seems to have had a change of attitude after talking with Epstein last season. I really his stuff. It is just a matter of him commanding it.

So, today’s list is more about reshuffling the deck chairs than it is about anything else. There will be a new list in June with some new names on it, and there maybe some names that move up or down or even off the list. Regardless, it’s gonna be exciting to see what happens and how having five picks in the top 100 of the 2018 MLB Draft will reshape the organization. A month after that, a couple more prospects will be added to the list now that the Cubs can sign an international free agent for more than $300,000. 

A lot of changes will be coming this year.

Here is the new list.

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Cubs Central Has Big Plans for the Opening Week

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By Todd Johnson

I’m on spring break this week. What better way to spend the week than to watch Opening Day from the comfort of my own chair in my living room. I also have a lot of things happening over the next 10 days here at Cubs Central. Tomorrow, I will roll out my Cubs 2018 season preview that looks at the strengths of the team and some concerns that I have; some of you may share with me.

However, most of the content that begins later in the week is minor league oriented. For seven straight days, I will be posting material I usually write at the beginning of each season. Starting on Friday, the 30th, a new Top 21 Prospect List will hit the Internet but it probably won’t break it. There are a few changes to the list based on what happened this spring. And, I also will examine how the list will change quite a bit this season.

On Saturday the 31st, I will show off my favorite cards I made this spring. I am cutting the deadline close as I continue to get pictures from spring training and find the occasional leftover picture from last year.

This Sunday, April 1, my preseason all-star team video will be released. I just have one slide left to go. Then, I break out the big guns with the affiliate previews. I will start with Iowa on Monday, hit Tennessee on Tuesday, go to Myrtle Beach on Wednesday, and conclude in South Bend on Thursday. Then, on April 6, I recap opening night in the minors. 

In addition, “The Weekly” returns on April 8 with the first “Players of the Week” in the Cubs’ system to go along with the team of the week. It seems strange because it’s only three days but I need to practice.

Over on the Facebook page, I will be doing the “Players of the Day.” Each day of the season I pick one hitter, one starting pitcher, and one reliever who I think perform the best that day. I am going to be bringing that to Twitter this year to highlight the players. I also keep a record of them. The tab to access the list is on the menu. Here is the sample/template pic for the Players of the Day.

I cannot wait to get started tomorrow with Opening Day in Miami! Go Cubs!

A New Top 21 Prospect List for a New Year

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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.

Leveling Up Series – Jose Albertos Should Excel in 2018

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By Todd Johnson

When thinking about 2018 and what could happen in South Bend, I get pretty excited thinking about seeing Jose Albertos pitch. With most of the teams in the Midwest League connected to the MiLB .TV network, I will be able to see most of his starts as long as he is stationed in South Bend.

It is easy to put into words why I am so giddy. Last year, I was extremely excited to see Dylan Cease pitch for South Bend. But this year, I am even more excited to see Albertos. In watching Jose pitch for Eugene last year, it’s quite evident that he does not put forth much effort to throw between 91 and 96. He looks free and easy. His changeup is straight out filthy and is easily the best changeup in the Cubs’ system. His curveball is still a work in progress and will be the focal point of his development in 2018. If he can consistently get his curve over, he will be at Myrtle Beach very, very quickly as that would give him 3 plus pitches that he can command.

Basic Info
Age: 19
Ht: 6’1″
Wt: 185
Reynoso, Mexico

It’s no secret that I think Albertos is the Cubs’ top prospect. His current floor is extremely high and, at just 19-years-old, he is not even close to his ceiling as a top of the rotation starter. In 2017, between extended spring training, Mesa, and Eugene, Albertos threw 60+ innings. For the most part, he stayed healthy. There was one stretch where he did miss two starts after working on his curveball. He came back, he whipped out the changeup on a more regular basis, and just dominated the Northwest League in August (1.96 ERA in 5 starts).

Albertos averaged pretty close to a strikeout per inning in 2017. What was most impressive was that he got better as the year went on.

Heading into 2018
Albertos should have three goals for next season. First, stay healthy. In 2016, he only pitched four innings and, ideally, you would like him to have him right around 100 innings in 2018. That puts him on pace for 130 innings in 2019 and then he could arrive in Chicago the year after. He would only be 21/22 years old at that type of pace.

His second goal should be to work on his curveball. Last year, it could be a 55 footer, it could sail over the catcher’s head, or it could be your classic Uncle Charlie. The more he threw it, the better he got and that is likely what is going to happen in 2018.

The third goal that should take place next year would be for him to move the ball up and down in the zone. He’s able to work the ball in and out with ease. His fastball command is pretty good and he can move the ball in and out of the zone. Now it’s a matter of changing eye levels with command if he doesn’t add a fourth pitch like a four seamer.

South Bend fans should be extremely excited to see what he can do. He is much more polished than any of the pitchers that the Cubs have sent out to the mound at South Bend the last three years, including Dylan Cease. I just hope that when I go down to Peoria for the first weekend in May that he will still be with the team. I’m pretty sure he will. However, all bets are off after Memorial Day.

Out of all the Cub prospects, Albertos is the most likely to MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospect List this summer.

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.

A New Top 21 List – A Few Movers and Shakers

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By Todd Johnson

I am thinking I had this list done about three weeks ago. I wanted to put it out almost immediately after the minor league season ended. After thinking about it, I thought I would just let it settle and edit it before I put it out. To be honest, it has changed much from when I wrote it to today. In fact, I was reconsidering re-ordering 5-9 all night.

Card made from a photo by Freek Bouw/27 Outs Baseball.com

There are really only two major changes in this list from the summer. They are the inclusion of outfielders Jonathan Sierra and Nelson Velazquez. In fact, I had Velasquez shoot all the way into the top 10. The Cubs don’t have anybody like him in the system with his home run power and production.

I still think this list is pretty volatile. After the Arizona Fall League, I will think about mixing it up a bit. But with who is going to Arizona, I think only one prospect might improve their lot on the list.

The list could change quite a bit later this off-season as trades are made and injuries are revealed. I think the biggest risers and fallers next year will be at AA Tennessee. The Smokies will have pitchers Thomas Hatch, Trevor Clifton, Oscar de la Cruz, Duncan Robinson, Michael Rucker and position players Zack Short and Eddy Martinez. Those seven will determine how the rest of the list looks because production at AA signals that the product could be productive in Chicago.

South Bend’s rotation next year will also have a huge impact on the list as recent draft picks will be unleashed without any restrictions. Cory Abbott and Keegan Thompson are two pitchers who could make some waves in 2018 with some excellent performances next summer.

So, without further adieu, here is the current Top 21 list in video form.

New BA Top 10 Cubs Prospect List Is Out with the Old and In with the New

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By Todd Johnson

It was a bit stunning to look at how John Manuel and Baseball America (BA) viewed a reorganized collection of talent in the Cubs system. With Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease, Albert Almora, and Ian Happ no longer prospects, the BA staff went to town reshuffling their midseason prospect list (subscription required to read the profiles). In are a few young prospects in Jose Albertos, Isaac Paredes and Aramis Ademan. Also falling out of the top 10 from the January list are Trevor Clifton, Mark Zagunis, and DJ Wilson.

Here is their list (Links are to Cubs Central Profiles).

  1. Victor Caratini, C
  2. Thomas Hatch, RHP
  3. Jose Albertos, RHP
  4. Adbert Alzolay, RHP
  5. Isaac Paredes, SS
  6. Brendon Little, LHP
  7. Alex Lange, RHP
  8. Aramis Ademan, SS
  9. Jeimer Candelario, 3B
  10. Oscar de la Cruz, RHP

I guess it shouldn’t be all that surprising. Last week, I talked about the shift in the organization from hitting to pitching. However, I didn’t think that Lange and Little would be top 10 considerations without having thrown a pitch. There’s a lot to like about each of them, but pitching in the minors will take some adjusting for both of them.

While I agree with the overall restructuring of this list, I am not sure I would have put Caratini at #1 or Hatch at #2. While all lists are subjective in nature, there are data and reports which sway decisions and evaluations. I, for one, think Albertos should be number one based on his fastball command and poise at just 18. Others, like MLB.com, went with the old tried and true Jeimer Candelario.

I think that Caratini was selected by default based on his hitting performance this year, which has been spectacular (.342 avg, .919 OPS). On the other hand, everyone knows Caratini’s defense is his weakness and that there are other prospects in the Cubs’ system with far superior arms and defensive skills (Miguel Amaya and P.J. Higgins).

I would have been OK with Alzolay going up to #1 or even Paredes, who seems to be developing some power in small bunches.

I was surprised to see Trevor Clifton drop all the way off the list. Clifton was outstanding in the early part of the year (1.84 ERA in May) at Tennessee but has struggled in June and July. As for Wilson, he missed most of the first half with a lower body injury after getting off to a poor start. As for Zagunis, he got a sneak peak in Chicago, but I don’t know how valued he is. He hasn’t hit for average as he has in the past, but he still gets his walks and has hit 11 HRs in 74 games, which is pretty decent.

Come the offseason, there will be new lists and a new number one as Caratini does not look to be leaving the Cubs 25 man roster anytime soon. So, we will get to debate again. And it will be fun as that is what a prospect list is supposed to do.