Top 21 Prospect List

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.

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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.

The Weekly – An Exciting Week Leads to a Lot of Changes in the System

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By Todd Johnson

The first half of the week was rather dull in the Cubs universe due to the MLB All-Star Game. Then, things exploded on Thursday with the Jose Quintana trade. The trade was soon followed with promotions from Eugene to South Bend to Myrtle Beach. I changed my Top 21 List and wondered who was left that the Cubs could trade for other needs for this year and beyond. I christened a new number one prospect in Jose Albertos (for now). Meanwhile, Dillon Maples and Jen-Ho Tseng made their way onto MLB.com’s Top 30 Prospect list in place of Eloy and Dylan Cease.

Then, on Friday night, Sonny Gray was reported to be scratched for his start, and then he went out and pitched a great game against the Indians raising his stock and the likely asking price. There are just 15 days left of the trade deadline left and I am pretty sure the Cubs are going to go out and get a few more players, but I don’t know if they will be big names.

On Saturday morning, Cubs V-P Jason McLeod was on 670 the Score’s “Hit and Run” for about 20 minutes. It was interesting listening to him talk about rebuilding the farm system after the trade. He said he was having a conversation with someone and said that the Cubs needed to go out next year and “sign some position players.” McLeod used the word “ludicrous” to describe how he thought about his own statement after years of dominating that market.

McLeod said that he and his staff are pretty excited about some young Latin players in the lower parts of the system. He also talked at length about the pitching the Cubs have in the minors. While he didn’t mention a lot of names, McLeod is very encouraged by their performances. On Thursday, I wrote about these same things.

As a result of the trade, there was a lot of movement in the minors.

Promotions
To Myrtle Beach – Vimael Machin, Roberto Caro
To South Bend – Joe Martarano

Draft Pick Debuts This Week
Eugene – P Ricky Tyler Thomas, P Casey Ryan, P Jake Steffens, P Brian Glowicki, OF Brandon Hughes, and 2B Jared Young
Mesa – 3B Ramsey Romano, OF Chris Singleton, OF Chris Carrier, P Rollie Lacy, P Mitch Stophel, P Brendan King, P Ben Hecht, P Braxton Light, and P Jeffrey Passantino
Still Not Rostered – Pitchers Brendon Little, Alex Lange, Cory Abbott, Keegan Thompson, Erich Uelmen, Jeremiah Estrada, Peyton Remy, Sean Barry, Brady Miller, and OF Nelson Velazquez along with SS Luis Vazquez.

Coming Up on Cubs Central
My brain began to shift towards teaching this week. I usually start planning big idea stuff for the year shortly after July 4. As a result, my mind has been a little preoccupied. For a while, I did not have posts in the que for this next week. Thankfully, Jose Albertos made another start and I will be back with an article about that outing, hopefully tomorrow. On Monday, in the late afternoon, I will be doing a phone interview with Myrtle Beach pitcher Dakota Mekkes. I have some very exciting questions to ask him about his daily routine and the differences in levels.

I have also been busy making a lot of cards. It is going to be tough in a couple of weeks to just pick ten, and then one as the card of the month. You can find them on the Facebook page here.


Around the Minors This Week
I started assembling and culling statistics this week in preparation for the July All-Star team. It looks like there are going to be a lot of new faces this month. There are still 15 days left, but there are some interesting trends happening with Eddy Martinez, Luis Ayala, Zack Short, Vimael Machin, Isaac Paredes, and Yasiel Balaguert at the plate. On the mound, it is still a free-for-all as consistency from start to start seems to be an issue. Right now, Jose Paulino and Preston Morrison have been outstanding.

Iowa: 1-0; 42-48 –  It was their All-Star Break this week and was soon followed by rain and more rain. For the second half, keep an eye on Matt Carasiti. The Cubs picked up the reliever in exchange for Zac Rosscup. He got the save in the AAA All-Star Game on Wednesday night.

Tennessee: 5-2; 14-9 – All of a sudden, the Smokies are in the lead for a playoff spot even though they aren’t in first. Since Chattanooga, who won the first half, is again in the lead, the Smokies have a 1.5 game lead for the second spot by virtue of having the second best record for the year.

Myrtle Beach: 2-3; 8-13 – They have gone from first to worst this half. Losing Alzolay to Tennessee will hurt, but so will losing Bryant Flete,  Matt Rose, and Eloy. Still, they already have a spot wrapped up in the playoffs after winning the first half. Zack Short has responded well at this level, especially after being moved to the leadoff spot.

South Bend: 3-2; 10-12 – They can go only as far as the pitching will take them. Their hitting has been, for lack of a better phrase, “hit or miss” this half. They can score ten runs just as easily as two. They are extremely young and have a lot of potential on the roster. It is good to see Jose Paulino returning to starting and doing well.

Eugene: 4-2; 17-13 – They were on the road this week and getting some timely hits along with some help from what has turned into a college bullpen. Their first half ends next Sunday, the 23rd. Currently, they are in first place one game ahead of Hillsboro and Boise.

Mesa: 0-5, 5-12 – The bullpen on this team has been outstanding. The starting pitching has not which explains the rough week. Rob Zastryzny and Jake Stinnett made appearances last night as part of their rehab.

The DSL had their All-Star Game on Saturday. Three Cubs represented the organization. Pitchers Yovanny Cruz and Didier Vargas along with OF Fernando Kelli were in uniform yesterday for the National League.

DSL 1: 4-1; 19-17 – They are now getting some starting pitching to go with their heavy hitting lineup and are now just 4 games back in their division.

DSL 2: 3-2; 19-17 – Alonso Gaitan and Orian Nunez might be the best 1-2 punch in the system but they are not getting a lot of help hitting. This is still a team built with excellent starting pitching. Several of the starters should be in fall instructs and a couple might make it to Mesa before the end of August. Remember the names – Jesus Tejada, Didier Vargas, and Emilio Ferrebus.

Players of the Week

Card of the Week

My Other Stuff on the Web
BP Wrigleyville:
Miguel Amaya
Why Albertos Should Be the Number One Prospect

Cubs Insider:
Jose Albertos
Farm System Post Eloy
Aramis Ademan

Prospect Profile: Aramis Ademan Is Showing Some Serious Promise

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By Todd Johnson

The Internet has changed how every prospect is covered. There is usually someone, somewhere, with a camera/phone taking pictures or shooting video. It is very hard to go unnoticed even in spring training, extended spring training, and fall instructs. I follow 9-10 people on Twitter just because they are covering that scene year round in Mesa. From blog writers, baseball magazine evaluators, and even photographers, I am always finding someone new with a different angle on what’s happening.

This spring, the buzz in minor league camp was that Aramis Ademan might be advanced enough with the bat to skip rookie ball in Mesa and go straight from the DSL to short season ball in Eugene. And that is exactly what happened when rosters were announced in mid-June.

I first learned of Aramis Ademan the spring before the Cubs signed him as an international free agent in 2015. Profiles of him appeared on Baseball America and MLB.com. He was not the top free agent the Cubs signed that summer, but he was labeled as a sure-handed shortstop. Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com wrote this about Ademan’s potential in 2015:

Ademan has opened eyes with his athletic ability and skills on defense. He’s expected to fill out his frame as he matures and improve all facets of his game once he enters a team’s academy and receives daily instruction.

Some scouts consider Ademan a glove-first infielder who has to get stronger and become more physical as he matures. He has shown the ability to hit in games.

After a summer in the DSL in 2016 where hit .256 with a .366 OBP, Aramis arrived for fall instructs. In those few weeks, Ademan began to improve his game and develop his bat.

This spring, the bat played in extended spring training. He “unofficially” hit .270 with a .337 OBP with 1 HR and 8 RBI in 28 games (stats via The Cub Reporter). The fact that he hit a HR was something many people did not see coming including yours truly. When Cubs Farm Director Jaron Madison talked about Ademan to Baseball America’s JJ Cooper, Madison gushed about the young shortstop’s hitting approach:

“It’s a very mature approach on both sides of the ball. He’ll show you that he can be an everyday shortstop. Then he’ll go to the plate and really impact the ball and show you he can really swing the bat. He’s definitely getting stronger. Filling out. He’s still very young, but he’s impressed everyone who has seen him so far.”

Ademan is not done growing and his bat is not done developing.

I have been impressed with what he is doing now in Eugene. After a rough June where he only hit .224, Ademan is grooving along near .300 this month (.292). The big change occurred when he was moved out of the leadoff spot to the second spot in the batting order. For the year, he has two HRs with 3 triples and 1 double to go along with 8 SBs in 24 games.

His defense, which was supposed to be his calling card, has been decent. He has made 8 errors, mostly throwing and on somewhat routine plays. He does cover a large amount of ground on pop-ups and is excellent at taking throws on stolen bases.

The fact that he is just 18-years-old,and looks like a wisp of a young man, the sky is not literally the limit, but you can see he could be something special if his bat continues to develop. Defensively, he can stick at shortstop and be a premium player in the middle of the diamond. The question will always be, “How much can hit?”