Top 21 Prospect List

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
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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
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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
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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.

The Weekly: Tight Playoff Races and the Draft Schedule

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By Todd Johnson

It is all about the draft over the next three days. Here is my plan.

Monday – Rounds 1-2
On Monday night I will be blogging live. The keyword for you will be “refresh.” That way, you can follow along as I make changes and other teams make their selections. Once the Cubs make their first pick, I will begin frantically putting together a new post for pick #27 while awaiting pick #30. Once a second round pick is made at #67, I will do my due diligence on that new prospect as well. So, there will be four posts altogether and three draft cards. I will be on Twitter most of the evening and begin blogging somewhere around 7:30 pm Central.

Tuesday – Rounds 3-10 begins at noon
I tend to like covering day number two a lot. With just 8 picks, there’s a lot less stress in between picks. That leaves me plenty of time to find information, write a brief profile, and make a card. Coverage begins at noon Central. This will be one post for the entire day. Just hit refresh to get caught up on each selection and profile, plus seeing their draft card is always a kick.

Wednesday – Rounds 11-40 begins at 11 AM
This day is a lot of fun just for the research and the cards. I tend not to do too big a blurb about each prospect. It usually starts out bigger at number 11 and by the time I get into the 30s there’s only a sentence or two about the player. For me, this is the most challenging and sometimes fun part of the draft as there’s just not a lot out there on some guys. Think about it, there are 1200 players going to be drafted over three days. My knowledge only goes to about 200-250 tops.

Top 21 List Redux
After the draft is complete, I will have a new top 21 list by the end of the week I don’t know how many draft picks will make it onto the list, but right now I’m guessing three. The Cubs pick at number 27, 30, 67, and 105 in the first three rounds. I am pretty sure the top three picks will make the cut. I think the third round pick has a chance to be in the top 21. As for the fourth round pick, I am not so sure. I think that player will definitely be in the Ala Carte portion of the list.

The Playoff Chase in the Minors
Exactly one week from today is the end of the first half of the minor league season. I cannot believe how fast it went. Three of the affiliates are still in position to earn a playoff spot.

Iowa: 2-6;  26-36
I feel bad for this team right now. They are basically down to three startIng pitchers and two relievers making spot starts. I am pretty positive this will be remedied once the first half ends for Tennessee.

Tennessee: 5-2; 35-26
The pitching is there to finish off the first half championship. They just need the bats to keep it up for one more week. Trey Martin is back patrolling centerfield and Dillon Maples will be joining the team from Myrtle Beach. Yasiel Balaguert seems to be turning it on and Charcer Burks is a model of consistency this year.

Myrtle Beach: 6-1; 36-26
Image may contain: 1 person, playing a sport and baseballWinning seven and a row has them in the first place. It’s going to come down to their offense. Their starting pitching has been outstanding and the bullpen can shut it down. Thomas Hatch and Ryan Kellogg seem to be peaking at the right time. Hopefully, it doesn’t come down to the last day, but I think it might.

South Bend: 3-3; 37-24
Last year it came down to the last day and I think the same thing is going to happen this year. I don’t think they have a shot at winning the division, but they are now tied for a wild-card spot. For that to happen their offense needs to get clicking. And with Dakota Mekkes now in Myrtle Beach, someone in the pen needs to step up as well. Isaac Paredes is hitting over .300 this month.

DSL 1: 3-3: 3-4
DSL 2: 2-4; 2-5
After another two weeks of play I will begin to take a look at some of the players who are standing out. It’s hard to get a grasp on what is happening in the DSL, but usually time wins out when looking at their statistics.  

Extended Spring Training per “The Cub Reporter”
It’s almost over! The players had to Mesa in Eugene and begin their seasons on Thursday. I’ll see if I can have the profile of each team on Thursday. I am not promising anything with the draft. It might be an afternoon post or Saturday at the latest.

Players of the Week

Card of the Week

My Posts on Other Sites This Week

Cubs Insider
Tennessee Update
Iowa Cubs Update
Michael Rucker

BP Wrigleyville
Adbert Alzolay

Prospect Lists Are Going to Be a Bit on the Messy Side to Figure Out This Year

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By Todd Johnson

The MLB Draft  is less than a month away. With that in mind, I thought I would revisit my top 21 prospect list which I last updated on March 29, 2017 at the end of spring training. I thought I would give it a cursory look as to where possible draft picks might slotted. Much to my surprise, once I begin looking at the list, I realized it’s going to be a total mess to restructure.

I don’t think my rankings were too far out of the ordinary at the end of March, but several things have happened which have thrown them into flux. Some prospects have yet to play this season because of injury. Others are having very good seasons, while others are struggling to get going. As a result I don’t quite know what is going to happen. Well a lot has happened in April, even more can happen in May.

Here are my rankings from the end of Spring Training:

1-5 Eloy, Cease, Happ, Candelario, de la Cruz

6-10 Clifton, Hatch, Zagunis, Martinez, Albertos

11-15 Caratini, Wilson, Sepulveda, Paredes, Galindo

16-17 Ademan, Moreno

18-21 Ala Carte – Reader”s choice

The Walking Wounded

Eloy still has not made it out of extended spring training. His shoulder bruise was originally going to cause him to miss a month. Well, it’s been more than a month with no sign of return. On Monday the eighth, he finally returned from a 10 day absence.

18-year-old Jose Albertos also began playing this week after missing almost all of 2016. In addition, 19-year-old Erling Moreno only has pitched in one game this season while Wladimir Galindo has missed the past two weeks at low A South Bend after a sizzling start.

Struggling/Slow Starts

Other players are off to slow starts this year. Mark Zagunis and DJ Wilson or two players who are barely hitting about .200, although Wilson is hitting .400 in the last week. Zagunis, on the other hand, is just getting his power game going as he has had three home runs in his last 10 games.

The player who I think you’ve struggled the most has been Thomas Hatch of Myrtle Beach. With an ERA close to five, Hatch has taken it on the chin in several starts. He has shown glimpses of using his four pitches  to maximum effect, but he has also shown the ability to have “the big inning.”

South Bend shortstop Isaac Paredes is hitting barely above .200. Myrtle Beach outfielder Eddy Martinez is also off to a slow start, but is improving week by week.

Knocking It Out of the Park

Three players at AAA Iowa are just knocking it out of the park, literally. Ian Happ leads the system with nine home runs while Victor Caratini is hitting over .340. Jeimer Candelario was named the Cubs minor-league hitter of the month as he led the system in RBIs.

At South Bend, Pitcher Dylan Cease is a fixating force when he takes the ball every fifth day. Oscar de la Cruz and Trevor Clifton have been pretty steady despite usually being slow starters. Meanwhile, out in Arizona, shortstop Armanis Ademan has been receiving rave reviews from scouts and bloggers alike.

As I look at these prospects in their entirety, part of me enjoys the depths of the Cubs system while the other part of me looks at the volatility of these specific prospects. In making a prospect list, I am always questioning whether I should value performance over the skills or the skills over the performance. And I think those are both valid points of view in making lists.

As the draft approaches, the Cubs will basically have two first round picks that should enter the top 21 list. There is also a pretty good chance that the second and third round picks could do the same. However, there are several prospects, who, by their own performance, could also make the list. Young players like Miguel Amaya, Joe Martarano, Michael Cruz, Bailey Clark, Dakota Mekkes, and Craig Brooks. Add in older prospects like Chesny Young, Zach Hedges, and Duane Underwood and you have quite the conundrum.

In the end, there is still a month left to be played before the draft. I don’t need to rush out and make any decisions for something that’s a month away. And even after the draft is complete, there will be three more months of baseball to go this season. Speculation and evaluation is never going to end. To be honest, that’s where the fun is in a list.

Tennessee Smokies Preview – Looking for an Elusive Title

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By Todd Johnson

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2016 in Review
Last year was a huge disappointment for the Tennessee Smokies. Their team was stacked with players who won back to back championships at Kane County and Myrtle Beach. Aside from a few individual performances, the Smokies and Manager Mark Johnson limped to a 58-81 record.

Infielder Chesney Young and outfielders Mark Zagunis and Bijan Radmacher were the highlights of the season. Zagunis and Rademacher both were promoted to Iowa in the middle of the year while Young stayed in Tennessee through the end of the season and competed for the Southern League batting title.

On the mound, injuries decimated the starting staff and a midseason trade of top pitcher Paul Blackburn to the Mariners did not help. However, there were a few things that went right that including the second halves of starter Zach Hedges and relievers James Faris and Jose Rosario.

2017 Preview
For Manager Mark Johnson, he has to be excited about the 2017 campaign. He is getting an influx of players coming off a championship of their own from Myrtle Beach. Combined with some holdovers, Tennessee could make a run at that championship that eluded them in 2016.

Zach Hedges will start the year at Tennessee, but if he pitches like he did last year in the second half, he won’t be in Kodak very long. Trevor Clifton, whose home is only about 45 minutes away, could be taking over the ace role very quickly. Both pitchers improved exponentially in 2016. Clifton with his command, and Hedges with his velocity. The former South Bend and Myrtle Beach teammates could both be in contention for 2 starting spots next year in Chicago if they can get to Iowa by August this year.

Duane Underwood will be returning to Tennessee after an injury-riddled 2016. However, it is unclear if he will be a starter or a reliever. I am hoping for a starter. Erick Leal should build upon his excellent 2016 season and might be the breakout prospect for the team this year. It would not surprise me, either, to see Preston Morrison do well at Tennessee with his whiffle ball repertoire. For Jake Stinnett, he has yet to put it together but he still has a starting spot at AA. It is close to “make it or break it” because of his age (He will be 25 in April). The bullpen might be calling sooner rather than later.

Ryan McNeil, Jordan Minch, Daury Torrez, Tommy Thorpe, and James Pugliese lead an experienced bullpen that was a key to the Pelicans championship run.

Position Players
New to Tennessee will be a few of position players who are starting to come into their own. They are not necessarily elite prospects yet, but they are excellent baseball players who could play an important role in the Cubs’ system going forward.

All winter long I thought that Ian Happ would be in Tennessee at least to begin the year. That all changed on Monday night. For the group of position players coming to Tennessee, I think they are used to it. I think they will thrive with that opportunity to play.

During last year’s championship run for Myrtle Beach, Yasiel Balaguert and David Bote both put the fear of God into every baseball the last two months of the 2016 season. Balaguert hit 19 home runs for the Pelicans in a noted pitcher’s league. Bote hit over .400 in July and August leading the Pelicans down the stretch. Bote can play all four infield positions but is best suited for second base and third base.

2015 draftee Ian Rice showed he could hit for power and also have a high on-base percentage between South Bend and Myrtle Beach last year. This spring, Rice spent more time at honing his catching skills and hopefully his bat will produce more home runs in the Southern League. I think he will be the sleeper of the year for the Smokies. His bat has a lot of power as he hit 9 dingers for Myrtle Beach in 39 games and 15 for the year. I think his bat will play better in the Southern League. It would not surprise me to see him 20+ this summer.

Gold glove outfielder Trey Martin should be patrolling centerfield and will be an asset to any pitcher on the mound for the Smokies. Hopefully, he can improve his bat as he already has major league range and defense in the outfield. Charcer Burks struggled in the first half last year at Myrtle Beach and was very good in the second half from the leadoff spot. I expect to see him do better playing above sea level, too.

Overall, this is an experienced team that will use power and the ability to get on base to score runs. They are not going to overwhelm you with the ability to hit for average, rather they will capitalize on opportunities to get the job done by doing the little things…and sometimes big things.

The pitching, on the other hand, has the potential to be something special with Clifton, Hedges, Leal, and Morrison anchoring the rotation to go along with an experienced and disciplined bullpen. I think this year Smokies team has a lot of talent whose fruition began last year at Myrtle Beach.

Breakout prospect
Erick Leal – Last year, he had the quietest 10–4 season of any pitcher in the Cubs’ system. He had a 3.23 ERA and struck out 66 batters in a little over 90 innings pitched. He might never be a power picture, but he could be a ground ball machine, which I think he is now. Leal is able to keep hitters off-balance and he works quickly to do so. He might only throw in the low 90s, but he is also able to command the bottom of the zone well. I think this year at AA will be quite the task for him and he should succeed just on pitchability factors.

Probable Lineup
LF – Charcer Burks
CF – Trey Martin
RF – Jeffrey Baez
3B – Jason Vosler
SS – Flete, Ely
2B – Bote
1B – Balaguert
C – Rice, Alberto Mineo

I still think the Smokies are going to need some help on offense. Therefore, when his bone bruise is healed, I would not be surprised to see Eloy Jimenez arrive by the end of May.

First to Be Promoted – It’s going to be a pitcher. If I had to put money on it, I would go with Zach Hedges who already has a half in at AA. If I went with my heart, I would go with Trevor Clifton. Either way, the Iowa Cubs can’t lose.

Which Cubs could break onto a top 100 list this year?

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By Todd Johnson

Most prospect lists have between three and five Cub prospects in their top 100 lists. While Eloy and Ian Happ are the only usual picks, others filtering in the lists include Dylan Cease, Jeimer Candelario, Trevor Clifton, and Albert Almora. It just depends on the list.

This got me thinking what other Cubs could make it onto lists later this year. It is more than just looking at current rankings. It includes evaluating pure talent, performance, and projection.

I think 2017 begins with Jose Albertos bursting onto the scene. We might have to wait until June to see it, or it could happen at South Bend. Fangraphs describes why Albertos is so special:

Albertos was sitting 90-94 mph in extended spring training before his fastball ticked up in the summer. He was 93-98 in his only AZL outing, throwing strikes where he wanted to at 95, and still bumping 96-plus in his fourth inning of work.

Another ascending prospect, Oscar de la Cruz, is a big, big man. He has such a dominating presence at close to 6’6″ on the mound. He can throw in the mid-90s and has a plus curve. He is still working on his change. If he can begin 2017 healthy, he could easily break onto most lists. MLB Pipeline placed him in their second 100. So, he’s close.

Depending on who you ask, evaluations very greatly on our next prospect at the plate. However, Eddy Martinez is very talented in the field. He has a great arm and, with Donnie Dewees now in Kansas City, Martinez could slide over to center this spring. I think his arm plays better in right. I think his bat will be better this after missing basically two seasons getting out of Cuba.

Wladimir Galindo and Erling Moreno are two members of the Cubs vaunted 2013 IFA class. Both missed the better part of two seasons and both were excellent in Eugene in 2016. Moreno throws in the low to mid-90s and has a devastating 12-6 curve. His WHIP was 0.70 last year. Galindo hit 9 HRs in a little over 60 games. He could hit 20+ this year at South Bend. That would put him in an elite status.

The Cubs 2016 third round pick, Thomas Hatch, did not pitch after putting in 131 IP at Oklahoma State in 2016 after missing all of 2015. It appears we will see his four-pitch mix at South Bend. And that four-pitch mix will likely overpower Midwest League hitters.

Sometimes prospects stumble, and for Duane Underwood, let’s just hope 2016 was a stumble after two years of pesky minor injuries. I am hoping he can return to form and shoot back onto most lists with a rebound season. It’s all about commanding his pitches down in the zone.

The Cubs have two first round picks and more than likely those picks will be on some top 100 lists at the end of the season, especially if they get a prep bat.

In the end, I think you have to give the best odds to de la Cruz and Albertos. With Trevor Clifton and Dylan Cease a little bit ahead on most lists, I truly think this is the year where Cubs pitchers begin to break out in a big way.

Baseball Prospectus Busts Out Its Top Prospect List – It Looks Familiar

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By Todd Johnson


I used to think that Baseball Prospectus put a little shock value into their top prospect lists for the Cubs system. In 2015, BP selected Addison Russell as the Cubs top prospect over Kris Bryant. I understand that Addison Russell has MVP type qualities, but there’s no way they should’ve selected Russell over Bryant.

In 2016, BP picked Gleyber Torres over Wilson Contreras. It wasn’t as much of a shock. Contreras had one good season at the plate at AA Tennessee. Everybody knew he could play defense, but they were unsure if his 2015 season at Tennessee was an outlier. Otherwise, Willson would have been number one. His talent though proved to be more than anyone thought it could be heading into the season.

BP had a tough decision to make for the 2017 list.  Would they follow suit with most other prognosticators and select Eloy number one? Would they go with Ian Happ? Or would they go with an outlier? In the days leading up to the list, the latter type of pick was going through my mind.

They began the list with this statement: Flags fly forever, baby! (It’s not very strong at the top, but there’s a lot of interesting young upside plays further down the list).”

I think that statement is fairly accurate. The Cubs do have a few high profile bats in the top 5 but the rest of the list is still quite young and has yet to prove its muster past low A.

eloy 85 futuresThen came the list.
1. OF Eloy Jimenez
2. 2B/OF Ian Happ
3. OF Albert Almora, Jr. (Almora has just a few at-bats before he loses his prospect status)
4. RHP Trevor Clifton
5. 3B Jeimer Candelario
6. RHP Jose Albertos
7. RHP Dylan Cease
8. RHP Oscar De La Cruz
9. OF Eddy Julio Martinez
10. RHP Thomas HatchIt’s a pretty straightforward list. It is not that much different than any other list we have been profiling the past month, or

It’s a pretty straightforward list. It is not that much different than any other list we have been profiling the past month, or mine. Nothing jumps out at you like in previous years. Cease is a little lower while Clifton and Albertos are a little higher. Hatch and Martinez are on this list but not on others. Mark Zagunis is not included in the top ten, but he gets props later at #11.

The interesting thing about the write-up by Jeffrey Paternostro is that it has a section on about what could happen to each prospect if things went south. For most, their worst case scenario ends at AA. Then again, I do not think in those measures.

Further down the article, Isaac Paredes, Donnie Dewees, and Jose Rosario got some BP love. Paredes could be the big breakout prospect this year. Paternostro even has a section on Duane Underwood. He states:

We pegged Underwood as a riser for 2016, but it didn’t quite work out that way. An elbow injury cost him some time, but even when he was on the mound, the stuff and command went in the wrong direction this year. He didn’t consistently show the mid-90s fastball of the past and the curve continued to just flash. He still struggles to throw strikes, and coupled with the recent arm woes, the Cubs might be best off moving the former second-round pick to the bullpen sooner rather than later.

While that assessment is extremely accurate, yesterday’s “Down on the Farm” segment painted a different picture of where Underwood is currently. In the video by Evan Altman, Jaron Madison discusses Duane in the very first minute.

It will be interesting to see how the players on this list, and the next five, develop over the course of the year. Some will rise, some will fall, and hopefully, some will make it Chicago for a good reason.

I should be back later today with with a post about Fangraphs’ top prospect list.

A New Prospect List for a New Year

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There are times where I don’t want to do my Top 21 Prospect List. The longer I continue with the list being on the site, the more I want to shave it down to about 10 prospects. The main reason is after about 13 or 14 prospects, I’m splitting hairs to find the differences between prospects. About a month ago, I told myself I wasn’t going to do one this winter. I would just let the list “ride” and only change it if there was a big trade.

That lasted until I get bored on Sunday night. Even though it is still technically listed as a top 21 list, it’s more like a smattering of prospects. What I’ve done this time for 15-21 is just put a bunch of names out there for the reader to either pick from and to see how ridiculously deep the system is. It’s an ala carte where the reader would pick the six they like to be on their list. I don’t really place that much emphasis on who is #21. I’d rather focus on who could be #21.

From 11-15, I broke them down with mini-stat biographies. I also included one of my wonderful homemade cards along with an ETA. As for my top 10 prospects, I put what I did for them down below. To see the whole list, go here

10. Jose Albertos – Pitcher
albertos 64 2016 az
Age: 17
2017 Affiliate – Eugene
Top Skills – 97 mph fastball, command
ETA – ?
The young 17-year-old out of Mexico throws between 95-97. He was outstanding in extended spring striking out 20 in 12 innings. Then in his first start in Arizona, He struck out 7 in 4 innings before leaving and being placed on the 60-day DL. He was supposed to be at fall instructs. He will be one of the most interesting storylines in 2017.

9. Eddy Martinez – Outfielder
eddy 85 2016 sb
Age: 21
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach/Tennessee
Top Skills – Rocket Arm, power potential
ETA – 2019
He is the perfect case of not judging the stat line. When he arrived last year, he had a big swing and a big zone of pitches at which he liked to swing. The Cubs changed that. He started taking more walks each month. I am expecting a much-improved hitter in 2017. I think he has developed enough to turn into a RBI machine next year, especially if he hits behind Eloy again.

8. Mark Zagunis – Outfielder
zagunis 85 2016 iowa
2017 Affiliate – Iowa/Chicago
Top Skills: pitch recognition, power potential, on-base machine
ETA – 2017
He was the most improved hitter last year. He destroyed AA in May hitting .333 with 3 HRs and a .444 OBP. I was extremely excited to see him promoted. In June and July, he was equally as exciting at AAA. And then came the toe injury that ended his season at Iowa. In 2017, he should get a shot to see what he can do in Chicago. Expect to see him every day in spring training with the big league club.

7. Tom Hatch – pitcher
Age: 21
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – 4 pitch repertoire, command, and control
ETA – 2019
In one draft of this list, I had him at #6. He is such a good pitcher, though, in that he has 4 very good pitches he can throw for strikes at any time. I like his command and his control as he mixes and matches to each hitter. He made his debut pitching BP in fall instructs. I can’t wait to see him pitch in a real game. He likely could be the first pitcher in the Theo Era to be fast-tracked.

6. Trevor Clifton – Pitcher
clifton 85 2016 mb
Age: 21
2017 Affiliate – Tennessee
Top Skills – 3 plus pitches, improving command, pitchability, work ethic
ETA – 2018
If he can go deeper into games, he could become a #3 pitcher quickly. All three of his pitches are there this year and his K/BB totals are very good. I like that he is much more aggressive this year throwing any of his pitches in the count for a strike and throwing inside. While his walk rates plummeted, his pitch counts were high, which is normal for a strikeout pitcher. I think 2017 sees him being more efficient and getting to the 7th inning every game.

5. Oscar de la Cruz
oscar 82 2016 sb
Age: 21
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – Commanding presence, fastball, curveball
ETA – 2018/2019
He was in Arizona the first half of 2016 nursing a sore forearm. He was supposed to start the year in South Bend. He made a three-inning start in Arizona and then a five-inning start in Eugene. He made his debut for South Bend on 7/30. He looked sharp, topping out at 96 and showing a plus curve. He continued pitching for South Bend through the playoffs. Combined, he had a 2.80 at all three levels. Still, the velocity was not quite where it was in 2015. He will start 2017 at Myrtle Beach.

4. Jeimer Candelario
jeimer 69 2016 iowa
Age 23
2017 Affiliate – Iowa
Top Skills – Switch hitting, can hit for power and average
ETA – 2017
He had a great spring training and I was taken aback when he was sent to AA. When he was promoted to Iowa in June, he took off hitting .333 with 9 HRs and 52 RBIs in the second half. Right now, there is no real place for him in Chicago. I think the young switch-hitter might be used in a deal this offseason. For now, though, he is being kept for depth.

3. Ian Happ
happ 85 2016 tenn
Age: 22
2017 Affiliate – Tennessee/Iowa
Top Skills – Switch hitting power, can play 4 positions
ETA – 2018
I am not quite sure what to make of him. In the first half, he had 7 HRs and 42 RBIs. Not bad for a second baseman. His second half was not so kind. He hit .262 with 8 HRs and 31 RBIs. In July, he hit .222, and in August, .232. He will back at Tennessee in 2017 to develop some more consistency. Still, hitting .279 with a .365 OBP along with 15 HRs with 73 RBIs is nothing to sneeze at in his first full season of pro ball for a second baseman.

2. Dylan Cease
cease 69 2016 eug
Age: 21
2017 Affiliate – South Bend
Top Skills – 100 mph fastball, plus curve, improving changeup
ETA – 2019
The Cubs controlled his outings after a forearm strain. It looked like the Northwest League challenged him to work on his secondaries and he responded well. That’s what he needed. His curve was more fluid coming out of his hand and his strikeout totals shot up after that adjustment. He still worked a lot of deep counts, something he needs to improve on in 2017.

1. Eloy Jimenez
Age: 20
2017 Affiliate: Myrtle Beach/Tennessee
Top Skills: Hit for average and power, great pitch recognition, contagious smile
ETA – 2018
In 58 games in the first half, he hit .343 with 9 HRs and 49 RBIs. Those projected out to basically 20 HRs/100 RBIs at Low-Class at A ball. Injuries in the second half cut those short to just 14 HRs and 81 RBIs. He did have a great game at the Futures Game, stealing the show. He received several accolades such as MWL Prospect of the Year and MVP, Baseball America’s Low-Class A Player of the Year, and Cubs Minor League Player of the Year. But here’s the thing – He’s nowhere close to his power potential. I still think we don’t start to see that until he hits Tennessee.