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
Some weeks in the off-season, I struggle with things to write about. This week, I had a little epiphany after reading Baseball America’s top 10 chat post. I decided, after several years, to finally do a Mailbag about questions people have about the Cubs minor league system. However, I cannot answer all the questions in one post. There will be a second set of questions to answer next week. Who knows, I might just make this a weekly thing in the off-season or, at the very least, a monthly thing overall. I will see what the response is.
Here we go…
What are your thoughts on Ian Rice? How has he developed defensively and does he have any chance at an MLB role?
I really like Ian Rice. Right now, there’s not really a place for him in Chicago and he’s getting pretty close. While his natural swing creates a lot of lift for the baseball, I am even more impressed with his plate discipline. He is not Mark Zagunis good, but he is close when it comes to getting on base. I don’t think he’s quite there defensively but he is not a detriment behind the plate anymore. Working with Mark Johnson at Tennessee improved his all-around defensive skills as he threw out 9 of 35 base stealers to go with just 8 passed balls this season. With Caratini ahead of him, and Willson at the major-league level, Rice’s power is what is going to get him to the majors. Some team is going to want to take that skill in a trade.
Ademan #1 prospect, BA? Really?
Yes, really. Then again, I don’t agree with it. While I do think he is one of the top five position player prospects in the system, I am leaning towards moving Nelson Velasquez above him on my prospect list within the next year. If Nelson had played fall season baseball last year, I might have him ahead of Ademan already. Still, Ademan does have a lot of potential as a middle of the diamond player with a bat that is still emerging.
Who are the guys that most likely will be the 40-man roster spots 26-35?
This is a great question. It has been Theo and Jed’s Modus Operandi in the past in stocking that part of the roster with AAAA players. Most of them once had a crack at the majors but just could not get over the hump. I think the Cubs’ system is now deep enough that their own prospects will make up the majority of this range. There might be 2 to 3 AAAA relievers along with Eddy Butler, Alec Mills, Jene-Ho Tseng, Rob Zastryzny, and Duane Underwood along with some bench depth. But the position player depth will mainly be staffed by outfielders Mark Zagunis and Charcer Burks and catcher Victor Caratini (if he doesn’t make the 25 man roster). Somehow the Cubs need another shortstop as they might not want to rely on Carlos Penalver in case of injury to either Addison or Javy.
I am really excited about watching Hudson pitch at Myrtle Beach in 2018! I think he’s going to break out a little bit; in fact, a lot. As for the ground ball rate, I think he’ll be able to maintain that this year and will probably slip a little bit once he gets to AA Tennessee. Hudson is starting to realize he can get the ground balls with a well placed fastball along with his plus curve.
I have several more questions in the queue already for next week from Cory Alan, Eldrad, and Rikk Carlson about Jeremiah Estrada, Wladimir Galindo, Jhon Romero, Buddy Bailey, and trading MLB talent for MLB talent. If you have a question, you can send it to me on Twitter @CubsCentral08 or you can email me at: CubsCentral2016@gmail.com.
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.
By Todd Johnson
When it comes to prospect lists this winter, beauty is definitely going to be in the eye of the beholder. As prospect lists begin to come out over the course of the next three months, you could see 20 different Cubs make a top 10 list. And you could see four or five different Cubs atop each of those lists. In a post-Eloy world, it’s going to take a long time for those lists to settle down. With the possibility that the Cubs might make another trade this offseason, more chaos could soon enter those lists.
Baseball America is getting ready to drop their latest Top 10 Cubs Prospects List on Monday or Tuesday, in addition to their top tools in the system. I thought I might beat them to the punch at their own game and come out with my prediction of their list of top MiLB tools and try to guess who they will select as their top 10 Cubs prospects.
🔸Best Hitter for Average: Victor Caratini – No one else is even close.
🔸Best Power Hitter: Nelson Velazquez – 10 HRs in 6 weeks ought to get him the title.
🔸Fastest Baserunner: DJ Wilson – Watch him hit a triple and you will see how fast he flies.
🔸Best Athlete: Jacob Hannemann is now but might not be for long. Nelson Velazquez could overtake him in a year.
🔸Best Fastball: Adbert Alzolay – Sitting at 96 in the sixth and seventh innings is pretty impressive.
🔸Best Curveball: Dillon Maples – To him, this is his fastball as he commands it and throws it in fastball counts.
🔸Best Slider: Dillon Maples – This will be the pitch that makes him a killer pro.
🔸Best Changeup: Jose Albertos barely gets the nod over Eugene teammate Jesus Camargo. Both are excellent and get some ugly, ugly swings.
🔸Best Control: Adbert Alzolay – It begins and ends with the ability to put his fastball where and when he wants. Jen-Ho Tseng comes in a close second.
🔸Best Defensive Catcher: Miguel Amaya – While blocking might be a small issue, his arm is clearly not. PJ Higgins is next. It will be interesting to watch Will Remillard come back and to see what recent international signee Alexander Guerra can do
🔸Best Defensive INF and Best INF Arm: You might think that Aramis Ademan would get the nod. However, Luis Vazquez is better and more consistent. I’ve only seen him make a few plays, but he shows much more range, fluidity, and athleticism than Ademan.
🔸Best Defensive OF: Now that Trey Martin is gone and Jake Hannemann is back, Hannemann barely gets the nod over Charcer Burks, DJ Wilson, and Nelson Velazquez. In a year, Velazquez could win almost every hitting and outfield award.
🔸Best OF Arm: Eddy Martinez – 2018 is going to be his year. Don’t be shocked to see him get a chance in Chicago later this summer.
Baseball America’s top 10 list is going to be a little bit different than mine as I do not consider Victor Caratini to still be a prospect. While he technically is, he has spent enough time in the majors to not be, just not the prerequisite 130 at-bats. After Caratini, it could be a free-for-all. It just depends on what value one sees in a prospect.
Where all these prospects are going to be ranked is a complete mystery to me. I’m having trouble reconciling whether to put Ademan in the top five and whether to include Dillon Maples in the top 10. I know other people like pitcher Adbert Alzolay a lot (as do I), but I think that Jose Albertos is a better high-end and prospect and would be my top prospect overall. I would expect the two young pitchers to be 2A and 2B.
Then, all bets are off.
In thinking of how I would do my own list, I’m half tempted to put Nelson Velasquez at number four. Just based on his little six week stint of 10 home runs in Mesa, you have to love the praise he garnered from evaluators and Jason McLeod in the Mark Gonzalez article.
There at least a dozen players who could make their way into Baseball America’s top 10. Mark Zagunis might be the most ready for the majors after Caratini. Thomas Hatch could more than likely be in the top 10 along with the Cubs two first round picks from 2017, Brendon Little and Alex Lange. MLB.com’s number one prospect, the oft-injured Oscar de la Cruz, should be in the top 10 as well as shortstop Aramis Ademan. Cases could also be made for Dillon Maples, Jen-Ho Tseng, Trevor Clifton, Duane Underwood, Jr., D.J. Wilson, and Justin Steele as top 10 prospects this winter.
Their analysis should make for some very interesting discussions in the coming week.
By Todd Johnson
Overall Record: 75-64
South Bend had the best record of any affiliate in the Cubs system in 2017 but they did not make the playoffs. Most of that was due to a poor six week stretch from late May to early July that bookended the tail end of the first half and the beginning of the second. Before and after that stretch, this team displayed the ability to get on base and showed glimpses of the ability to pitch well in pressure situations.
South Bend had a pretty gritty performance this year. They showed a lot of resolve coming back in the second half to almost nab a playoff spot before losing on the second last day of the year. Most of the team should find their way to Myrtle Beach next year but a couple players will likely begin the year back in South Bend for some more seasoning.
Here are 7 key takes about the 2017 South Bend Cubs.
1. Bryan Hudson – I really like how he is developing. It might not all be coming at once, but Hudson was a far better pitcher in 2017 than 2016. His ground ball rate skyrocketed this year and, at times, he was one of the best pitchers in the Cubs’ system. In the second half, he made 13 starts with a 3.69 ERA and a 3-1 GB ratio. He is still rather young at 20 and I hope that he gained a lot of confidence from this season. Going to Myrtle Beach, a noted pitcher’s league, Hudson and his ground ball approach are going to play extremely well.
2. DJ Wilson – Wilson is slowly getting better. He had a great July and was the Cubs’ minor league player of the month. He is an outstanding defender and covers as much ground as anybody in the system in the outfield. But his weakness has always been at the plate. Next year, at Myrtle Beach, will not be the easiest place for a hitter to thrive. However, he still can work on his approach and on spraying the ball around the field. Look for him to continue to work on his power game. Had he been healthy, he could have hit close to 20 HRs. That is excellent for a center fielder. He is going to be the first player profiled in the off-season series called “Leveling Up.”
3. Kevonte Mitchell – When I spent three days watching South Bend play in Beloit this summer, I came away extremely impressed with Mitchell’s work ethic. Nobody on the team worked harder than he did. Whether it was the tee, soft toss, or batting practice, Mitchell attacked the ball at every opportunity trying to drive it up the middle. In games, Mitchell hit much better this season and in May and July was one of the best hitters in the system. I think next year is the year that he begins to break out and I think it begins with the fact that he can clearly pick up a curveball coming out of the pitcher’s hand. He still has to decide either to lay off it or go the other way. I think that happens for him in 2018
4. Luis Ayala – He hit .366 in July and .293 in August and was promoted to the Pelicans’ playoff roster. I really like what he can do with the bat. He’s not going to hit a lot of homeruns and he is going to get on base at a regular clip. So far, he has done all of this at the bottom of the order. I wonder how he would do at the top? At fall instructs, he began to tinker with switch-hitting.
5. Andruw Monasterio – In 2016 at Eugene, he began the season on fire and was promoted to South Bend and then cooled off quite a bit. He began 2017 at Myrtle Beach and was just starting to heat up when he was returned to South Bend. He didn’t stop hitting all summer in the Midwest League. He hit .281 with a .351 OBP in 58 second half games. The fact that he played three positions this past summer only enhances his profile for 2018.
6. Jose Paulino – The first half of the season was a bit of a disappointment for him as a starter. He was demoted to the bullpen in late May and returned to have an outstanding July with an ERA of under two. In August, he looked like he was beginning to wear down in his first full season a pro ball. All his pitches are still there, but he still needs to command them better. One way for him to do that would be to attack hitters with his excellent arsenal, including his plus curve, rather than try and dance around the edge of the strike zone.
7. Aramis Ademan – Overall, it was an outstanding year for the young 18-year-old shortstop. He played two levels and showed that his bat was much further along than anyone possibly thought it could project to be. Defensively, he showed that he can make all the plays, but needs to do so on a consistent basis. When next year begins, he will be 19 and I would not be surprised to see him start at Myrtle Beach.
Bonus Sleeper Prospect – Jhon Romero – The young reliever went through three levels in 2017 based on his ability to spin a curveball. At 22, the right hander used a two pitch mix to strike out 53 batters in 41.2 IP. He put up a 0.62 WHIP and batters only managed to hit .109 against him. He quietly went about his business and he could move quickly in 2018.
South Bend Cubs to Watch in 2018
Jose Albertos – I consider him to be the number one prospect in the Cubs’ system. He will be just 19 when the 2018 season begins and I don’t envision him being in South Bend a long time. Armed with a mid to upper 90s fastball and a killer changeup, Albertos is working on developing a curveball that at times can be a wild pitch or a hammer. It just depends. I think the goal for him next year is to get to 100 innings. Whether that’s in South Bend or South Bend and Myrtle Beach, it doesn’t matter. He is going to light it up no matter where he goes.
Honorable Mention – Joe Martarano – I really dig this prospect…a lot! After watching him take BP and other assorted pregame hitting rituals, I came away extremely impressed at the sound the ball makes coming off his bat. He began the year by pounding the ball with regularity in extended spring training and that carried over to Eugene where he hit just shy of .400 in July. After a promotion to South Bend, he got off to a rough start, was sent back to Eugene, returned to South Bend and just struggled to get it going. In August, he improved greatly hitting almost .280 but it was only in 13 games. However he did lose a giant leg kick and replaced it with a toe tap and he began squaring up the ball, including his first homer for South Bend. I think he begins the year in South Bend in 2018 and I think it’s OK to cut him a little slack. The reason I say that is it has to be hard to basically miss 3 to 4 years of playing baseball. Now that it will be his full-time gig, I expect bigger things from him next year.
Sometimes, the games don’t seem so important.
Cubs Prospect Tyler Alamo was one of those in attendance last week at the shooting in Las Vegas. Tim Huwe (@tim815) first reported on this a couple of days ago. Included in Tim’s article was a link to an interview where Alamo recounts the harrowing events of that night including the loss of his friends.
Felix Pena was DFA’d this week to make room for pitcher Luke Farrell, son of Red Sox Manager John Farrell and brother of South Bend Hitting Coach Jeremy Farrell. Farrell appeared in nine games for the Reds last summer and had a 2.61 ERA in 10.1 IP, all in relief.
At fall instructs, the Cubs prospects are playing sim games but with pitching machines. Although, Koji Uehara, on a rehab assignment, did face a few batters.
The Arizona Fall League begins play on Tuesday. The Mesa Solar Sox have 7 Cubs on the roster: Relievers Pedro Araujo and Jake Stinnett, starter Alec Mills, catcher Ian Rice, infielders David Bote and Jason Vosler, and outfielder Charcer Burks. Their schedule goes through mid-November. I will try and keep up with their performances every Sunday.
Baseball America Offseason Prospect Lists
Baseball America has been publishing their top 20 prospects in each minor league the past couple of weeks. In the first week, Victor Caratini made it in the Pacific Coast League. And last week, Adbert Alzolay made it for the Carolina League. This week saw a large number of prospects make it for the Midwest League and the Northwest League. The problem was not all the prospects are still with the franchise. In the Midwest League, Isaac Paredes came in at number nine and Dylan Cease at number 11. No current South Bend Cub made the list.
For the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs hit the motherlode. Jose Albertos was ranked number four, Aramis Ademan came in at number eight, and Miguel Amaya was number 16. None of those three selections were surprising. However, at number nine, pitcher Javier Assad was a stunning selection as BA’s Michael Lananna praised Assad’s improving arsenal.
On Thursday, the Arizona League post was published. It’s not surprising that Nelson Velasquez was on the list. However, he was ranked at number 20. He is still a bit raw, but he still does have a lot of upside and room for improvement in his game.
The DSL list should be published this next week. It will be interesting to see if any young Cubs make it.
I think what the six lists do show is that the Cubs are not devoid of talent. There may not be a lot of prospects at the top of each league, but the Cubs do have several players who could be on their way up the lists.
Top 20 Chat Post
There was an interesting question in the Northwest League chat that accompanied the post. A Cub fan from Pasadena California asked about whether the Cubs should be concerned about Brendon Little’s performance in the Northwest League. Here is the response to that question:
Michael Lananna: Mildly concerned, but don’t press the panic button yet. He’s the same guy. His control was erratic throughout his college career, and that’s still going to remain his biggest hurdle to the next level. This summer was just a small snapshot of that, and I’m sure the Cubs will work with him on his strike throwing going forward. He’s still an exciting left handed arm with power stuff.
Coming Up This Week at Cubs Central
I have three posts scheduled to be published in between playoff recaps over the next five days. The Cards of the Year post should be out Monday. Later in the week, Shohei Otani and his impending free agency gets previewed. Part 2 of the State of the Cubs MiLB System will hit the Internet as well at some point in the next five days.
A Mock Draft Already?
Baseball America also posted their first mock draft for 2018. I was surprised to see that they had the Cubs selecting wiry high school pitcher Cole Wilcox at 24 considering that OF Travis Swaggerty from South Alabama was taken at number 25, I would’ve preferred the Cubs have gone with the college outfielder rather than the high school pitcher. Then again, it was only a mock draft but it is interesting to see where players are falling now and then compare that to a few months from now.