By Todd Johnson
Last week, Baseball America released its new top 100 prospect list that included draft picks from the 2017 MLB Draft. There was not a Cub to be seen. There were three former Cubs, but no one who is currently in the system. Over the next year, I tend to believe that one or two Cubs prospects might make it onto either MLB.com’s Top 100 list or Baseball America’s Top 100. If I was to invest money into who those prospects might be, I would have a wide array of choices in which to invest.
The Cubs have a lot of prospects who are on their way up. By that I mean, they are ascending players as their skills and tools begin to improve. There are other prospects who have shown glimpses of immense talent but have not put it all together yet. They are still developing.
At first I tried to organize my investment choices into categories based on risk and reward. There were players who I thought were a high-risk vs. investing in others who were a low risk. I scrapped that idea pretty quickly.
I narrowed the categories down to three. The first one would be long-term investments. These could be recent high school pics like Luis Vazquez and Nelson Velasquez to go along with several young international free agents who are currently in the Dominican Summer League or in Mesa. It’s going to take awhile for them to approach Top 100 status.
The second category is players who could take a couple years to develop before they hit the top 100. Miguel Amaya is one player whose defensive attributes garner attention but the bat still lags behind a little bit. First-round pick Brendon Little is a perfect example of someone who is going to take a couple years to develop and a lot of that is because of his age and lack of experience. Then again, his curveball could accelerate his development.
The final category is players who I think have a decent shot at being included on a top 100 list by the middle of next summer. I call these these One Year Bets.
Jose Albertos – Currently at short season Eugene, I think the 18-year-old pitcher is the top prospect in the Cubs’ system. He should be a top 100 prospect by the middle of next year if he continues to pile up innings and gain experience. I think he’s getting that experience this year, but next year will really propel him up a list. If things go well the last month, he could make a list this winter.
Adbert Alzolay – I am extremely impressed that he has been able to maintain his velocity and health over the course of this year as a starter. He doesn’t have the biggest frame which makes his ability to sustain a 96/97 mile an hour fastball into the sixth and seventh innings that much more impressive.
Duane Underwood – Over the past month, something is happening for the 23-year-old right-hander. I don’t know what it is specifically. But I do know that he is able to command his pitches better, get more strikeouts, and work deep into games. Over the past month he has a 1.33 ERA in five starts. If he can do that at the beginning of next year for AAA Iowa, he may find himself in Chicago by the middle of the summer. He just turned 23.
Aramis Ademan – I think he has the most tools of any position player currently in the system. He’s yet to put everything together. We see have seen brief glimpses and runs of greatness as well as stretches of inconsistency. I think his bat is further along at this point then many people thought it would be and his defense has not peaked where others may have thought it should be.
Alex Lange – I really like what he brings to the table and I think once he gets going as a full-time pitcher next year, he is going to shoot up the rankings. Even though he was drafted behind Little, Lange’s experience in the SEC will move him along at a much faster rate. I would not be surprised to see him be on the list before anybody else.
Mark Zagunis – Right now, I don’t think there’s a better pure hitter and a better eye at the plate in the organization than Zagunis. He’s going to be close to a 20 home run pace this year in spite of starting the year somewhat injured. I don’t really know if he fits the mold is a top prospect, but his performance and his exceptional approach at the plate raise him high above any other prospects. The problem is not his floor, it’s his ceiling.
Kevonte Mitchell – We have seen glimpses of Kevonte busting out this season. Of the five months that make up the 2017 season, he’s had one good one, two mediocre ones, and two excellent ones. He’s been very impressive in the second half especially in August. I think if he comes into camp ready to go, he could take the Carolina League by storm next year. Physically gifted, he is an imposing figure as anyone in the Cubs system. It’s just a matter of him putting it together which he has started to do this year with better pitch recognition and approach.
Oscar de la Cruz – Injuries look they put his career in slow motion. It was a shoulder strain this season, forearm tightness last year. But when healthy, he throws 93-95 with ease. He can command a curve and a change along with his fastball. For him to make any list, he has to get healthy and put in some innings.
By Todd Johnson
This was the month of the hitters. It was also month that was hard to narrow down to just nine position players. In the past, I have sometimes had extra hitters at a position and that’s what I went to this month.
On the other hand, it was a decent month for starting pitchers in the system. Big innings, slumps, and warmer air made the ball fly a bit more. However, 7 starters found their way onto the team.
As for relievers, there was bonanza of relievers in the middle of July. At least 15 Cubs prospects had ERAs ranging from 0.00 to 1.50. By the end of the month, that was down to 7.
A lot of tough decisions had to be made including whether to add some players from the Arizona Rookie League Mesa Cubs and a couple of hot hitters from the Cubs DSL 1 team. I decided against it this month as there were so many excellent performances at the upper levels.
By Todd Johnson
The big league club went 4-1 at home this week and has won 7 out of 8 since the break. They now sit one game behind Milwaukee and are 5.5 games behind both Arizona and Colorado for a wild card spot. There are 66 games to go.That’s a lot of baseball left to be played. Jose Quintana goes tonight against the Cardinals on ESPN at 7.
That late start time for the Sunday game works great for me as I will be back in Beloit at 2 p.m. today watching South Bend play the Snappers, the A’s class A affiliate in the Midwest League. Yesterday, I got to interview reliever Wyatt Short and recent draft pick Austin Upshaw. I hope to talk to hitting coach Jeremy Farrell today about Kevonte Mitchell and Isaac Paredes. I will be going back to Beloit Monday night, but probably just as a normal fan.
I posted several pics I took last night on the Pics/Video page. You can see close up at-bats on video of Kevonte Mitchell, Isaac Paredes, Austin Upshaw, and Luis Ayala. I will add some more pics/video from today when I got home and there could be a few more on Monday.
For the month of July, I have made almost 150 baseball cards. The pictures have just been so good that I cannot stop. They are all stored on our Facebook account. It will be hard to pick just ten for the Cards of the Month.
Around the Minors This Week
Iowa: 3-5; 45-53 – Pitching still seems to be a big issue except for Jen-Ho Tseng. He went 7 IP last night and now has a 1.40 ERA in 3 starts at AAA. In a weird set of circumstances on Friday, John Andreoli was injured on one play, replaced by Bijan Radmacher, who was then injured on the very next play.
Tennessee: 2-3; 16-12 – Between the raindrops along the Gulf, the Smokies have run into some starting pitching issues. Hopefully, those can be resolved quickly as they are now tied with Montgomery for a playoff spot.
Myrtle Beach: 4-4; 12-16 – The bats have not woken up since the Eloy trade. Pitcher Michael Rucker has been amazing and Duncan Robinson had his best start since being promoted. Vimael Machin continues to hit since moving to high A.
South Bend: 3-3; 15-14 – It looks like they have their bullpen issues resolved, now they need to solidify the starting pitching. Carson Sands had 2 rough starts on his way back from having bone spurs removed this past winter. On the other hand, I have been impressed with Tyson Miller the last few starts. I will get to see his slider Monday.
Eugene: 4-3; 21-16 – Their first half ends today. If they win and Hillsboro loses, they make the playoffs. Hopefully the Emeralds can get it done. Miguel Amaya seems to have broken out of his slump the last four games and his average is up over .200 to .220. #1 draft pick Brendon Little debuts on Tuesday against Salem-Keiser. Also, Jesus Camargo looks a little too advanced for short season ball. His changeup is other wordly at this level.
Mesa: 2-4, 7-16 – It is becoming all about the draft picks. Chris Singleton seems to fit in the leadoff spot and Ramsey Romano and Cam Balego continue to rake at .400 clips. Pitcher Brendan King from Holy Cross made a start on Saturday and went 3 IP while allowing a run.
DSL 1: 2-3; 21-20
DSL 2: 2-4; 21-21 –
Draft Pick News
Alex Lange is the only draft pick that is left to be assigned to a team.
Coming Up This Week on Cubs Central
Another Jose Albertos Start
Dakota Mekkes Interview Part 2
South Bend Turning It Around
Second Half Surprises
Brendon Little’s First Start
Austin Upshaw Profile
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).
- Victor Caratini, C
- Thomas Hatch, RHP
- Jose Albertos, RHP
- Adbert Alzolay, RHP
- Isaac Paredes, SS
- Brendon Little, LHP
- Alex Lange, RHP
- Aramis Ademan, SS
- Jeimer Candelario, 3B
- 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 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.
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?”
By Todd Johnson
Tomorrow, Cubs Central will publish it’s June Minor-League All-Star team. There will be a lot of new faces on the team, but there could’ve been more. There are several players from Eugene and Arizona who could’ve easily made the team but they have only played half a month. In fact, one of Eugene’s hitters could’ve been “The Hitter of the Month.”
Today, the Six Pack looks at six Eugene hitters who have been doing really well in their first two weeks for the Cubs’ short season class A affiliate.
Joe Martarano – At 6’3″ and 240 pounds, you would think that Martarano would be some sort of big bulking hitter. He’s not. In fact, he’s far from it. He’s very patient at the plate. He likes to wait for a pitch that he can do something with. I initially thought that he would be up and down this year after not playing basically for two years. He’s shown me that he can hit for average, hit for power, and work a walk better than anyone in the Northwest League. Today, he is hitting .385 with one homerun and an on-base percentage of .478.
Miguel Amaya – He is only 18 years old and is easily the best defensive catcher in the entire system. He’s thrown out 7 out of 12 base stealers. And, he is also starting to swing a good bat. I watched him crank his first home run down the left-field line the other night. His natural swing path takes the ball to right center and right field. That’s a nice swing to have for a young player.
Gustavo Polanco – As we profiled on Tuesday, Polanco is off to a great start as a hitter. In his first game, as a catcher, he gave up seven stolen bases. I didn’t think he would catch again, but he caught an excellent game on Wednesday night. I really like him as a hitter, but I’m still not sold his him on a catcher. Then again that’s what short season ball is for.
Rafael Narea – He looks like a little wisp of a guy. There’s not much to him, but he’s already played three positions and when he moved to the leadoff spot, the Emeralds took off winning seven in a row. I think he’s aggressive as a hitter and he can spray the ball all over the field. For the future, I like his ability to also take walk. He’s hitting .326 with an excellent OBP of .436
Jhonny Bethencourt – I didn’t really see this kid coming either and man do I like him. He’s played a little third and a little second base. He hits right behind Martarano in the lineup. He’s been pretty consistent at getting on base all month (.400 OBP) which leads me to believe he is likely to continue to do so.
Aramis Ademan – Nobody got off to a worse start than Ademan. But lately, he’s been turning it on. Since manager Jesus Feliciano moved him from the leadoff into the number two spot, Ademan has been hitting .375 the past six games. He’s had a couple homeruns which I found extremely surprising because because he’s only 5’8″ and 160 pounds soaking wet. He’s pretty smooth in the field, though, but he does make little mistakes by getting a little lackadaisical throwing over to first. He’s going to need to clean that up
The pitching staff for Eugene is relatively young. I think we could be having the same conversation in a couple more weeks about their starting rotation’s talent.
By Todd Johnson
As I have said before, it is hard for a prospect to break out anymore. There is press coverage almost everywhere in addition to photographers and people who can take video. With Mesa and Eugene ready to begin play, here are some names of prospects who I think will grab a few headlines in the second half and propel themselves up several prospect lists.
I did not include top prospects Miguel Amaya and Aramis Ademan on this list. Technically, they should break out, but most people already know about them. For me, it’s just a matter of seeing them do it this summer on him MiLB.TV.
Joe Martarano – At 6’3” and close to 240 pounds, Joe is quite the presence in the batters box. I saw him for the first time on opening night at Eugene. The thing I took away from his performance was that he does have a really good eye at plate. He might be a little “roller-coastery” this summer as he gets used to playing every day after not playing for two years.
Delvin Zinn – He is beginning this year in Mesa after missing most of spring training. He’s a great athlete and it looks like he’s gonna play second base. With college draft picks coming, I think he’ll be at Mesa most of the summer.
Bailey Clark – I love this kid. While technically a bearded monster, he also has a 95 to 98 mph fastball. He is starting out at Eugene and should eventually spend most of his time this summer playing at South Bend.
Brailyn Marquez – At 6’6” and only 18 years of age, I look forward to seeing what this young left handed pitcher can do. Last year in the DSL he put up an ERA of 1.48. He struck out 48 in 54 IP in the DSL, I doubt he does that in Mesa. I am intrigued to see how he does stateside.
Faustino Carrera – He’s a bit small, so I don’t think he’s destined to be a starter, but for right now he is. He put up a 1.06 ERA in the DSL last year and, like Marquez, I wonder if he if he can do that in Mesa with the same success.
Jonathan Sierra – He looks like Darryl Strawberry, but does not have Darryl’s skills yet. Then again, Sierra is only 18. He hit .264 in the DSL last year with a .384 OBP. That shows me he has a good eye at the plate. He did not have the greatest spring training, but I am interested to see how he hits in Mesa and whether his power stroke begins to develop. Hopefully, he begins to breakout this year. If not, it could take him 2-3 years to do so.
Gustavo Polanco -Last year, he lead the Mesa Cubs in hitting at .322. He is already off to great start at Eugene. Although he started off as a catcher, the 20-year-old moved to first base and is also a designated hitter. At 6′ and 190 pounds, he is pretty much maxed out physically, but he has a great eye for the ball.
Under the Radar
I am sure there will be other players who do breakout. More than likely, most will be players the Cubs recently drafted. I wrote the following at BP Wrigleyville about two top hitters I think might fit the breakout bill.
3B Austin Filiere (eighth round pick) and OF Chris Carrier (ninth round) both have a lot of potential for power. Carrier comes from Memphis while Filiere comes from MIT—neither of which are powerhouse college programs. Carrier is a sculpted physical specimen at 6’2” and 225 pounds, while Filiere’s experience in the wooden bat Cape Cod League might give him an advantage as they begin their pro careers, most likely in Eugene.
2B Jared Young and OF Brandon Hughes are two other college names who could do the same as Filiere and Carrier.
When it comes to pitchers, the Cubs did pick some relievers. Most notable are Casey Ryan from Hawaii, Sean Barry from San Diego, and Brian Glowicki from Minnesota. The starting pitchers the Cubs draft pitch short stints (40-50 pitches) as they already have thrown a full season.