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.
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.
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.
By Todd Johnson
I was all set to begin uploading “The Weekly” on Saturday night when I thought I would jump onto Twitter to see if there was a trade or signing. I should have known better. 15 minutes later, I finished reading John Sickels’ ranking of Cubs prospects and realized I would have to write a whole new column. Damn you, John Sickels!
To begin, Sickels’ list has a different top prospect than other recent prospect lists and his contains several rankings that are quite different from Fangraphs and Baseball America.
Pitcher Adbert Alzolay is fittingly ranked number one. And not surprisingly, Sickels did not give out one grade of “A” to any of the Cub prospects. In fact, he only handed out just six Bs. That’s quite an indictment of the Cubs’ system. Then again, just three of his top 10 prospects began their season above A+ last year.
The top prospect for both Baseball America and Fangraphs, shortstop Ademan, came in at number two and 2017 draft pick Alex Lange came in at number three. Lange’s inclusion so high in the list likely has to do more with his ability to move fast through the system based on one single dominant pitch, his curveball. I really like the placement of Lange this high. I love his competitiveness just as much as his curve.
Yeah, I’ve noticed the effort issue plus mixed reports on his changeup and FB velocity. But his track record is strong and I think he may thrive in pro environment. https://t.co/TRs3tcoYYN
— johnsickels (@MinorLeagueBall) December 1, 2017
Other players to make the top 10 included Jose Albertos, Victor Caratini, Oscar de la Cruz, Thomas Hatch, Brendon Little, Jen-Ho Tseng, and Mark Zagunis. In Sickels’ second 10, his selections get a little bit more adventurous.
Coming in at number 16 is pitcher Michael Rucker. Rucker started out as a reliever at South Bend in 2017 and wound up going to Myrtle Beach mid-summer and later replaced Oscar de la Cruz in the Pelicans’ starting rotation. Based on his summer split of a 2.51 ERA in 15 starts at Myrtle Beach, Rucker doesn’t seem to be letting go of the rotation at all. It’s a pretty meteoric rise one year after being drafted. He throws a lot strikes, something the Cubs seem to lack.
Sickels also gives some love to pitcher Keegan Thompson out of Auburn at number 17. Drafted in the 4th round in 2017, Thompson pitched some in relief at Eugene last summer. After missing all of 2016, Thompson came back as a different pitcher as he relied more on experience than a purebred 95 mph fastball. Instead, command and control became his calling card. He only threw 19 innings while striking out 23 in short season ball. He did make one start, a three inning scoreless affair.
I was a little surprised to see Sickels’ list so early this offseason, even more so in the wake of Fangraphs’ list, which just came out on Thursday. Sickels’ list does prove a few things about what I thought would happen this winter. One, not every evaluator is going to agree on who the Cubs’ number one prospect is. In addition, I don’t even think there’s a consensus on who the top Cub prospects are. DJ Wilson, who came in at number nine for Fangraphs, did not even make Sickels’ top 20 and graded out of with a C+.
I’m starting to get a kick out of the differentiation amongst the lists.
Two players who I thought might see a little love just based on their 2017 performances were Ian Rice and Zack Short. Neither has yet to make a list.
Then again, while offseason lists are fun to discuss the value of prospects, I tend to prefer mid-season rankings as you tend to get a better feel for players drafted the year before. This was true last year for Short, Rucker, and pitcher Duncan Robinson. I wonder what will be said about Little, Lange, Cory Abbott, and Keegan Thompson in the middle of next summer?
No word on when MLB Pipeline or Keith Law will publish their new lists. However, Baseball Prospectus is set to drop their top 10 Cubs prospect list on December 11. Hopefully, there will be a new name on the top of that list, like… say, Ohtani. That would be great!
By Todd Johnson
Last year, I quipped that Fangraphs produced the prospect list your mother warned you about. This year, Eric Longenhagen continued the tradition of creating a list different from the mainstream. The list, which came out today, contains analysis of upwards of 50 Cub prospects in detail. Although he only ranks 22, there is still plenty of information to go through and dissect. Overall, the list is a selection of young, athletic, and unproven prospects in the top 10.
Like Baseball America, Fangraphs placed shortstop Aramis Ademan at number one followed by pitchers Adbert Alzolay and Jose Albertos. While I would probably have them in inverse order as a top three, I really can’t quibble with Longenhagen’s reasoning. For the next 18 picks, though, it is all about potential. Longenhagen states:
Trades and graduations have sliced off the head of this system, but I remain fond of its “fruit on the bottom” composition. It features a wide swath of young talent at the lower levels, mostly from Latin America. The Cubs have cast a wide net in Latin America, adding a slew of good-bodied athletes with middling tools and then just kicking back to see what the player-development staff can do with them.
Pitcher Oscar de la Cruz is still held in esteem at number four and is soon followed by Brendon Little and Alex Lange, both of whom seem to have incomplete projections about whether they will be starters or relievers if, and when, they get to Chicago
The biggest shockers in the list came in the middle with the inclusion of several young 18 to 19-year-olds. Catcher Miguel Amaya is a favorite of mine and he is situated at number nine. Pitcher Alec Mills was next at ten, even though he missed most of 2017 with bone spurs. Mills was praised for his baseball command and plus changeup.
At number 11, 2017 sixth round pick pitcher Jeremiah Estrada got a lot of love from Longenhagen for his potential despite only pitching six innings of professional ball in 2017. One of my favorite young Cub prospects, outfielder Nelson Velazquez, came in at number 13 while unheralded lefty starter Brailyn Marquez surfaced at number 14 after an up-and-down year in Mesa.
The more I got through the list, the more and more the emphasis is on potential. Former top prospect Mark Zagunis wound up at number 20 while several more established Cub prospects did not make the top 22 cut like Trevor Clifton, Chesny Young, and Duane Underwood. Even the Cubs’ reigning MiLB Pitcher of the Year Jen-Ho Tseng did not make it. It is not as if Fangraphs have tossed the old guard to the side of the road, they made way for more prospects with a higher upside. DJ Wilson, for example, is one young and athletic prospect I profiled just last week who made the top 10.
In the end, this list is just going to be one of many this offseason that could have a totally different view of the Cubs system from every other list. In the next two weeks, Baseball Prospectus is set to release their Top 10 Cubs list either late next week or the week of the 11th.
The more lists that come out, the greater the variance is going to be. It’s pretty evident that the era of consensus on who the Cubs top prospects are is over. Even though Ademan has gotten the top nod in both major lists so far, don’t expect him to get top billing in every one.
By Todd Johnson
Three weeks of next to nothing. The hot stove is very cold as nothing is happening anywhere. The only transactions the Cubs made were taking a couple of flyers on relievers Randy Rosario and Cory Mazzoni. I don’t think there’s going to be any difference this next week.
The Cubs shopping list is pretty short this off-season. They need two starters, maybe two relievers – preferably left-handed, a backup catcher, and maybe a fifth outfielder.
I think everything’s going to come down to Ohtani. He gets posted by his Japanese club next weekend and then it’s a matter of time until he signs. Once he makes his decision, then everything is going to start to fall in place. Then Darvish will sign, then Arietta. Those three will set the market.
With the Winter Meetings scheduled for the week of December 11, look for a lot to happen then.
Atlanta Braves Penalized
Commissioner Rob Manfred came down hard on the Braves and their former GM John Coppolella was banned for life and one scout for a year. They also set free 13 young international players including shortstop Kevin Maitan. The Cubs are eligible to go sign any of these players under this year’s bonus pool, or if they choose, next year’s bonus pool. Those players officially become free agents on December 5. I will have a full fledged post on this topic later this week.
Baseball America’s Ben Badler also reported the Cubs are in the lead to sign 15 -year-old SS Rafael Morel this summer during International Free Agency.
MLB and MiLB Rule 5 Lists
The Cubs finalized their 40 man roster earlier this week. They protected Adbert Alzolay, Oscar de la Cruz, and David Bote from the Rule 5 Draft by placing them on the 40 man roster. Below is the list for the major league portion of the draft and the other is for the minor-league portion of the draft. Both come from The Cub Reporter.
Rule 5 MLB Selection Only
Any of the following players selected will have to be placed on the 25 man MLB roster or returned to the Cubs. The odds are slim that any of the following players are taken on December 14. However, I could see Hanneman, Araujo, and Hancock as possibilities. Maybe Chesny Young or Bijan Rademacher have an outside chance.
C-1B Tyler Alamo, RHP Pedro Araujo, OF Luis Ayala OF Jeffrey Baez, 1B-OF Yasiel Balaguert, RHP Corey Black, OF Charcer Burks, RHP Trevor Clifton, RHP Elvis Diaz, INF Mike Freeman, RHP David Garner, LHP Yapson Gomez, RHP Justin Hancock, OF Jacob Hannemann, RHP Zach Hedges, INF Jesse Hodges, RHP Erick Leal, RHP Brad Markey, 1B-OF Joe Martarano, RHP Ryan McNeil, LHP Jordan Minch, RHP Erling Moreno, RHP James Norwood, LHP Jose Paulino, INF Carlos Penalver, C-1B Jhonny Pereda, RHP Williams Perez, OF-1B Chris Pieters, OF Bijan Rademacher, LHP Manuel Rondon, RHP Jose Rosario, LHP Carson Sands, RHP Pedro Silverio, RHP Jake Stinnett, RHP Daury Torrez, INF Jason Vosler, RHP Ryan Williams, and INF Chesny Young.
MiLB Rule 5 Only
The minor-league portion of the rule draft is a bit different. I could see anyone of these prospects being taken by another team. To be honest, the catchers are most likely to be selected. While the Cubs do have some depth there, you still hate to lose anyone.
INF Gioskar Amaya, RHP Luis Aquino, C-1B Cael Brockmeyer, INF Stephen Bruno, OF Roberto Caro, C Erick Castillo, INF Kevin Cornelius, RHP Yan de la Cruz, RHP Enrique de los Rios, INF Andrew Ely, RHP Luiz Escanio, RHP Miguel Estevez, OF Robert Garcia, RHP Mark Malave, C-1B Alberto Mineo, LHP Chris Nunn, INF Adonis Paula, C Tyler Pearson, INF Henry Pedra, RHP Stephen Perakslis, RHP James Pugliese, C Will Remillard, C Ali Solis, and LHP Tommy Thorpe.
40 man Roster Analysis
By Todd Johnson
Heading into today, the Cubs had six spots open on their 40 man roster. They could have used all six spots to protect six prospects from the Rule 5 Draft or they could have used less if they wanted. They could also release a couple guys and protect more than six.. But whatever they did, I was pretty sure the Cubs would protect their pitching assets. Namely, Adbert Alzolay and Oscar de la Cruz would be added so as not to fall into the enemy’s hands. In the end, the Cubs picked players they currently value who they think could help the team in the very near future.
Adbert Alzolay – He’s been pretty much a given since the end of the season and his standing in the organization has reached a level not seen for a Cub starting pitcher in a long time. He is far from a finished product as he still has work to do on his curve and changeup. He could make an appearance at some point this summer. Although, he hasn’t pitched over 120 innings in one season yet.
If Oscar de la Cruz ever gets healthy, he can move quickly. Then again, I have been saying that for two years. And in that timeframe, he’s barely pitched 95 innings. Still, his protection shows value. I wonder how long the Cubs are going to try to keep him as a starter if he continues to miss time.
David Bote – He tore the cover off the ball from July of 2016 to June 2017 before a minor slump in July. Still, he rebounded to do well in the Arizona Fall League to hit .333 with a .395 OBP and 4 HRs in 19 games. It helps that he played all over the field in 2017 including 12 games in the outfield. When I first saw him play in 2014, he was playing SS. His versatility is a key.
With only six spots, and some 50+ players eligible for Rule 5 selection, the Cubs cannot protect everyone. Then again if selected, the team making the choice has to keep the player on the 25 man roster or return them to the original team. The Cubs only have a few players eligible for rule five selection who could be at best bench players in the majors. To be honest, I did not see much of a gamble in whom the Cubs left off. The gamble will come by another team if they select a Cub.
Outfielder Bijan Rademacher, Charcer Burks, Chesny Young, and 3B Jason Vosler were the most notable position players left off. Trevor Clifton, Pedro Araujo, Jose Paulino, Erling Moreno, and Jake Stinnett are some of the better known pitchers.
A year ago, I said that Clifton and Young should be locks for the 40 man. In 2018, things still can change for both of them as they will make some adjustments for the upcoming season. Just because a player was not selected does not mean the Cubs are down on that prospect. Instead, it is more about 2018 than anything else. In a year from now, the Cubs will do this all over again.
In addition, the Cubs also sent Jacob Hannemann down to AAA Iowa. The roster now stands at 36.
By Todd Johnson
40 Man Decisions
Monday should be a big newsday as every major league baseball team has to turn in their 40 man roster which will include prospects that will no longer be available for other teams to take in the Rule 5 Draft. it should be interesting to see which players the Cubs protect.
With six spots on the 40 man available, I have a pretty good inkling that the Cubs’ list will be pitching heavy with Adbert Alzolay, Oscar de la Cruz, Pedro Araujo, outfielder Charcer Burks, and infielder David Bote most likely to be added. I also think that Trevor Clifton and Jake Stinnett could make the 40 man cut as well. It would be a huge gamble to leave one of the two off. Then again, the team that selects a player has to put them on the 25 man roster. It is easier to hide a pitcher in the pen than a position player on the bench. Don’t be surprised if the Cubs only select pitchers to go on the 40 man.
Major League Baseball will supposedly be handing down their punishment to the Atlanta Braves tomorrow. I expect it will be harsh and result in several prospects being named free agents, including SS Kevin Maitan. It would be wise of Maitan to wait until July 2 to resign with a new team as most teams have already spent most of their 2017 IFA pool. The 6’2” 190 pound 17-year-old would look good in Eugene this summer!
Arizona Fall League Ends
It was an up and down 6 weeks for most of the Cubs’ prospects. David Bote came on like gangbusters hitting .333 with a .395 OBP to go with 4 HRs (most in the first week). Catcher Ian Rice was pretty steady hitting .311 with a .415 OBP in just 13 games. Outfielder Charcer Burks hit .236 while Jason Vosler hit .210 with a .323 OBP and 2 HRs.
Pitcher Alec Mills had his moments as a starter but then equally struggled at times. Adbert Alzolay was used frequently and was excelling before he gave up 6 runs in 0.2 innings. However, Jake Stinnett and Pedro Araujo shined all fall with ERAs under 2 and K rates of 14+/9 IP.
The Cubs brass probably learned what they wanted to know about each prospect this fall. Tomorrow, we shall see who they value most from this bunch when some will be protected and some will not.
While Baseball America did kick off the prospect list season this week, it will be about another month before Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs do theirs. In the meantime, John Sickles will probably have his prospect list released by the end of this week or early next week.
On Wednesday this week, the off-season prospect series debuts with a profile of outfielder DJ Wilson. The series is called “Leveling Up.” The emphasis of each article will be a 2017 review and a 2018 to do list. On Friday, the position breakdown series returns as I analyze each position by ranking the top Cub prospects at that position.
Mailbag Part 2 Coming Up
The first mailbag post this week was somewhat successful. I have enough questions left over for two more posts. The second one will be out tomorrow, the other on the 27th.
Baseball Card of the Week
By Todd Johnson
Rapid ascents for prospect lists are usually rare. There is little variation from one list to the next. That is how things used to be.
With Eloy Jimenez gone, everything changes when it comes to Cubs lists and every list changes greatly. Outside of Keith Law’s, rarely does a prospect list have any surprise value to it. Today, Baseball America did not shock me with their top 10 Cubs Prospect List, but it most certainly was a major surprise.
While a subscription is required to read the breakdown of each prospect, I can tell you that Ademan was praised for his current talent and the Cubs rapid advancement of him. In fact, any prospect list should be about future performance. While current potential and current performance should be part of the evaluation process, any prospect list should be looking two to four years down the road.
As for Ademan, I like him and I understand that he is more projectable as a hitter in an organization that graduated or traded most of their elite hitters. However, Ademan’s ability to hit consistently is still in question. He did flash moments in 2017 and showed more power than anyone thought he could have, but he also had long stretches of nothingness where he was baffled by a well placed curve or change. He can turn on anything on the inner half. He is far from a finished product in the field as well. Then again, he does flash the spectacular as often as often as he bobbles the routine grounder. He is one of the top three prospects in the system and the position he plays might be in part why he got the #1 nod.
Yes, the list is predictive. Yes, the list is subjective. I would argue that Albertos has more value to the organization as a top of the rotation starting pitcher. The same could also hold true for Alzolay, especially by the middle of next year. Alex Lange is another arm who should move pretty quickly next year. I really like his value as a starter as he has a nasty competitive streak. His delivery is maximum effort and needs some smoothing out, but his curve is amazing.
I really like the aggressive ranking of the top 5 prospects. While bold, it also shows value. Hopefully, other lists will be equally surprising and equally argumentative.
In comparing the 2017 list to this year’s, only two names remain – Oscar de la Cruz and Jose Albertos. Mark Zagunis, Trevor Clifton, and DJ Wilson are still with the organization, just not “Top 10” prospects.
The move to a pitching dominated list is complete with 8 of the Cubs top 10 slated for the mound. It should be very interesting to watch them develop in 2018 and how quickly they do so.