Top 21 Prospect List

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.

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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?”

The Cubs Farm System in a Post-Eloy World Built on Youth and Pitching

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By Todd Johnson

You wouldn’t think that trading two of your top prospects would gut your farm system. But for the Cubs today, it did rip a pretty good gash in the system. Eloy Jimenez was the top ranked hitter and Dylan Cease was the top ranked pitcher. Combined, they were the only two prospects the Cubs had in Baseball America’s Top 100. Jeimer Candelario is the only Cub that remains on MLB.com’s Pipeline Top 100. That’s a drastic change from 2013-2014 when the Cubs had as many as 6 prospects in the list.

However, the Cubs farm system will be fine in the long run.

The organization can be rebuilt quickly. Epstein, Hoyer, and McLeod did it once, they can do it again. Next year, they have the regular draft, likely 1-2 comp picks, and international free agency restrictions will be lifted. You can be assured the Cubs will attack acquiring talent in several means. In fact, the system is just beginning a quiet rebuild with the 2015 international free agent class hitting these shores, many of them at just 18 years-old.

Some of them are just blossoming in the states. Names like Jose Albertos, Miguel Amaya, Isaac Paredes, Johnathan Sierra, Aramis Ademan, and Brailyn Marquez could become household names in the next two years as they mature. John Arguello of 2080 Baseball wrote an excellent piece on the depth of the Cubs’ cull that year. I think that the group will be the foundation of the system the next three years.

But when it comes to now, just who exactly moves up the prospect lists in the void left the trade of Jimenez and Cease? MLB.com listed Jeimer Candelario as the new top prospect. I don’t think that he is. Sure, he’s a good player with value, but I think there others who project much higher.

Here are the top 5 names after Jeimer that could assume the mantle of the Cubs’ Top Prospect in the next two summers.

Aramis Ademan – Shortstop

Age – 18
2027 Affiliate – Eugene
Top skills – Defense, deft hands
ETA – 2021
He skipped rookie ball and is playing in short season Eugene in 2017. Defensively, he is leaps and bounds above every shortstop in the system. The bat is slowly coming around and has more pop than first thought. In July, he’s hitting over .300 and improving rapidly on offense.

Trevor Clifton – Pitcher

Age: 22
2017 Affiliate – Tennessee
Top Skills – 3 plus pitches, improving command, pick-off move, pitchability, work ethic
ETA – 2018/2019
He was pretty consistent in April and May and hit a bit of a bump after the All-Star break. 2017 was easily his best start in his career. 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. He is pitching tonight for Tennessee.

Tom Hatch – Pitcher

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.

Adbert Alzolay – Pitcher

Age: 22
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – 96/97 mph fastball that he can sustain and maintain deep in the game.
ETA – 2018
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. In his AA Tennessee debut, he announced his presence with authority by striking out 10. I could see him as a back-end starter, but he would be dynamite as a reliever topping out near 100.

Jose Albertos – Pitcher

Age: 18
2017 Affiliate – Eugene
Top Skills – 97 mph fastball, command
ETA – 2020
The young 18-year-old out of Mexico throws between 95-97. He has elite command of his fastball and employs a plus changeup. The curve, when developed, will give him three plus pitches.The ball just flies out of his hand. I fell in love with him the first time I saw him pitch (last Sunday). He is just deadly with the fastball. He is extremely advanced for his age.

While this list is pitching heavy, expect that to be the trend. The Cubs have a lot of good arms who should be arriving in Chicago in 2018 and 2019. It’s not about the hitters anymore.

To see my updated Top 21 List, click here.

 

 

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
Image may contain: 1 person, sunglasses, baseball and text
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
Image may contain: 1 person, baseball
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
Image may contain: one or more people, people playing sports, baseball and text
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.