Top 21 Prospect List

A New Top 21 List Arrives: 21 Things Affecting the List

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By Todd Johnson

Redoing my Top 21 list over the past week might have been thee hardest list to evaluate. You would think that the list would not change much in just a two month span.

Well, a lot of things happened since the end of March.
1. Jose Albertos’ release point deteriorated. Once he gets things figured out, he will be back quickly and impressively. It’s just a matter of time.
2. Duane Underwood looked studly at times and not so much at other times. He needs to find some sense of consistency from start to start.
3. Thomas Hatch has been very consistent every outing. It should not be long before he finds his way to Iowa. Problem is, there is no real spot yet.
4. Nelson Velazquez debuted at South Bend this year and struggled. He is striking out at a high rate and has yet to show much power beyond BP.
5. Dillon Maples struggled at Iowa in April and early May after not making the big league club. He now seems to be much better the past three weeks. He’s allowed just 1 ER since the middle of May and only 3 BBs in his last 7 innings. He’s close.


6. David Bote went to Chicago and did very well in a utility role. He has supplanted himself as the go-to-guy position player now.
7. Wladimir Galindo struggled, was injured, struggled some more, and then caught fire.
8. Aramis Ademan looks overmatched most nights at Myrtle Beach. The Pelicans have started moving him up and down the batting order to try something different. Then again, he’s just 19 and at high A.
9. Last year’s pitching class is killing it. From Lange to Thompson to Lacy to Uelmen to Abbott, the Cubs caught a deep class.
10. No hitter was really dominant in the first two months of 2018.


11. Two months of unexpected performances from Matt Swarmer and Jhonny Pereda might constitute breakout seasons, but does not mean they should be on a prospect list? They are very close, however.
12. Brady Clark is living up to my hype of him from the past two seasons.
13. Chesny Young looks like Chesny Young of 2016. You know, the guy who falls out of bed and laces a single right Chesny Young. I like 2016 Chesny  a lot.
14. If Connor Myers can hit a little, his profile totally changes as he is a plus-plus defender and defender. Being able to hit 260-270 could carry him to the majors with his other skills being so predominant.
15. Miguel Amaya is developing into a power hitter quickly. Every at bat is becoming must see MiLB.TV.

16. Top five international pick pitcher Richard Gallardo should slide into the list once he officially signs on July 2. The question is for me, “Where do you put a 16-year-old kid that never has never thrown a pitch in professional baseball and won’t until next June?”
17. The Cubs just selected five guys in the top 100 picks of the draft. However, it is a tenth round pick I look forward to in the batter’s box the most in Luke Reynolds.
18. Jared Young has been blistering the ball lately. He started off strong, got hurt, and it took a couple weeks for him to heat back up?
19. Jason Vosler was not good for six weeks and now looks to be ready to move on actaually on pace to hit 25+ HRs this year.
20. DJ Wilson has vanished on the DL.

21. And Eugene and Mesa begin in a week. There we will get a better look at some former DSL guys, Jeremiah Estrada, and s=most of this year’s draft class.

After some discussion with some of my friends on these 21 topics and more, online and in the real world, I decided just a few changes would be in order. However, some of those changes are pretty powerful..

Top 21 List as of June 8, 2018.

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The Midweek Report: Remillard Begins 2018, Pitcher Injuries, and Top 21 Thoughts

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By Todd Johnson

It is good to see catcher Will Remillard back in action and playing all the way up at AA Tennessee. The former Midwest League All-Star missed 2.5 years due to two Tommy John surgeries. He saw his first action since 2014 last August doing some catching for the Eugene Emeralds. He spent most of this spring in extended spring training and he began playing last week in Tennessee.

His bat has acted like he never left and skipped high A baseball. Heading into Wednesday’s game, he was 5 for 11 (.455) in 3 games at AA and I am extremely happy to see him play. I love his catching skills and his leadership skills. He brings a lot of intensity to any team he is on.

In Other Injury News…
Manny Rondon made his debut last night in South Bend. He did so in relief giving up 1 unearned run and striking out 1 in 1.2 innings.

Meanwhile, Justin Steele, who was outstanding at Myrtle Beach last year before TJS in August, is back throwing after surgery.

Also, reliever Chad Hockin showed off his scar work from his Tommy John Surgery last month.

In addition…

For some weird reason, I am also thinking about June when I plan on redoing my Top 21 prospect list. At the beginning of the year, I knew that players would move up and down the list this year depending on performance. The lack of elite talent and separation between the talent in the system would cause that movement as players heated up or cooled off.

There are a few prospects who are putting together nice seasons and could be promoted at the All-Star break in mid June.

Hitters
Zack Short – After a poor July, he’s pounding the ball in May with a .698 slugging percentage and hitting above .300 this month with an OBP well over .500.
Jared Young – He did have a brief injury after hitting .400+ the first two weeks of the season. He struggled a bit after coming off the DL, but seems to have found his stroke the past four or five games.
Austin Filiere – The 2016 draft pick out of MIT hit for more power last year, but this year finds him hitting for a high average (.313)) and his usual .400+ OBP.

Pitchers
Duane Underwood was doing this best Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde impersonation for a few starts and now looks to be using all his pitches in a variety of counts to keep a batter guessing. When he’s been on, he is is amazing. When he’s off, yeesh!

I really enjoy watching Keegan Thompson pitch. I like how he works hitters and uses all of the zone and throws a variety of pitches. He’s really been impressive in May with a 2.65 in 3 starts.

Matt Swarmer, Cory Abbott, Tyler Thomas, and Javier Assad have all been impressive in spurts, but I need more data on them. Of the four, Abbott could be the most consistent and he could sneak into the back end of the list. Although, Matt Swarmer’s K totals are amazing (42 in 32.1 IP).

I don’t know how it will all shake down, but there will be an even greater number of prospects this June to add into the Top 21 mix when Eugene, Mesa, and the Dominican begin play. Jeremiah Estrada is one player pitching I am looking forward to seeing along with Outfielder Fernando Kelli and Shortstop Luis Vazquez as well as the new draft picks.

I will be writing about Adbert Alzolay in anticipation of his supposed start on Saturday. The issue is whether I will be posting it in the Six Pack on Friday or its own post on Saturday.

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.

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.