2019 Draft Grades – Still Waiting for the Second Wave of Prospects


It is hard to believe that this is the sixth year that I have been handing out draft grades. Every year things change as players come and go, especially earlier in the Theo era. While some of those first classes produced bats, no class since 2014 has a player currently on the 25 man roster. However, a year from now, that all could change.

2011 – Previous Grades – B, B+
Baez and Maples are all that is left. Last year there were 4 guys, but attrition happens quicker than you think in the minors. Still, this class is far from done. With the Vogelbach trade bringing Mike Montgomery, that adds a little more to the class. Javy amd Monty are going to be around for a at least 2 more seasons.
2019 Grade – A.

2012 Previous Grades – B+, A-, B, B-, B-
I used to think this class was going to be really special but it just did not pan out. Albert Almora still is the headliner, but David Bote really seems to be stealing the show. Duane Underwood is still hanging around the minors, but I don’t know for how long.
2019 Grade – B.

2013 Draft Class – Previous Grades – A, A, A+, A+, A+
This draft class brought a MVP, a Rookie of the Year, and a World Series title. And that’s just Kris Bryant. Down in the minors, Trevor Clifton is knocking on the door while Jake Hannemann and Charcer Burks are still plugging away at AAA and AA respectively.
2019 Grade – A+

2014 Draft Class – Previous Grades – A-, A, A, B
There are still nine guys in the system left from this draft. That’s quite a bit for 5 years, but just two are currently on the 25 man roster. Both Kyle Schwarber and Mark Zagunis play in the OF in Chicago, but most of the others are still hanging on at AA and AAA hoping for a chance.
2019 Grade – B-.

2015 Draft ClassPrevious Grades – B, B, C
12 guys remaining from this class are still in the game for the Cubs. However, the impact at the MLB level is nil this year. While Ian Happ struggled in April, May has seen some improvement by him. Meanwhile, PJ Higgins and Craig Brooks are off to great starts this year. While there is still hope for this class, they are stuck in the logjam that is the Cubs’ system now.
2019 Grade – C-

2016 Draft ClassPrevious Grades – B-, B+
16 guys still remain with many of them having a legitimate shot at Chicago in the next two years. Tyson Miller looks to be at the head of the line as a pitcher and could be the first Cubs’ draft pick in the Theo era to stick in the rotation in the next two years. Zack Short leads the hitting side, but he is probably slated more for a utility role in the future. Dakota Mekkes, Duncan Robinson, and Matt Swarmer are at AAA and the top pick, a third rounder at that, Thomas Hatch is at AA with Bailey Clark and a few others. Eventually, there could be 3-4 guys make it from this class which outpaces any class on this list.
2019 Grade – B+

2017 Draft Class  – Previous Grades – B-
In just two years, this class is all over the place. There were several cuts already, some surprises, some injuries, some trades, and some players who look close to being Chicago-ready just two years after signing. Cory Abbott, right now at least, has the makings of a rotation guy in the next two years. Some of the other big arms the Cubs took in this draft are not having their best year or a year at all in some cases. Jeremiah Estrada hopefully will be ready to go for Eugene in a few weeks and Nelson Velazquez is off to a great start at South Bend to begin this season. I am still waiting for Keegan Thompson and Erich Uelmen to start it back up this year.
2019 Grade – B-.

2018 Draft ClassThey will get their own post and grade next Tuesday. And it’s a good and very hopeful one that involves some hitting, for a change, and some surprising pitching.

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2022 Not That Far Away…

By Todd Johnson

2022. It doesn’t seem like a big year. However, it is. Yesterday, Baseball America released a projection (Subscription Required) of what they think the Cubs lineup is going to look like in 2022. My friend Cory suggested that I do my own projection on what I think the Cubs could look like in just three years. In reality, that scenario is not that far away.

Catcher – Willson Contreras is still signed through the 2022 season. He should still be with the Cubs unless there’s some dramatic drop off between now and then. However, if Miguel Amaya puts it all together in the next couple years, he could be there before and Willson could end up at another position which might improve Mr. Contreras’ bat and sustainability.

First Base– I can’t see anyone in this position other than Anthony Rizzo. He will be a free agent after 2021, but I do see the Cubs re-signing him to a short-term deal.

Second Base – I only see one person playing this position and that is 2018 first round pick Nico Hoerner. Currently, he is moving quickly through the system and could be as ready as early as late this summer or early spring 2020.

Shortstop – I think the Cubs can re-sign Javy Baez so that he can continue his career in Chicago. The hope is that the player we saw in 2018 is going to be the same player in 2022 at the age of 29.

Third Base – Kris Bryant is going to test the free-agent market at the end of the 2021 season. Even if the Cubs do sign Bryce Harper, I just don’t see Bryant sticking with the club if he gets something that’s going to better his life and his family for generations. If the Cubs do not sign Bryce Harper this off-season, maybe the team will sign Nolan Arenado next winter and Kris would move to the outfield.

Outfield – This is the most unpredictable of the everyday positions three years out. Right now, the Cubs have Jason Heyward, Ian Happ, and Albert Almora signed through 2022 and 2023. I don’t know if two or three of them are even going to be on the team when Spring Training starts this year. I can see 2018 draft picks Cole Roederer and Brennen Davis pushing for two of the spots by then. Hopefully, Harper will be in the other spot. Kyle Schwarber could be around as well. My crystal ball is little foggy here.

Starting Pitching – Yu Darvish is the only Cubs starting pitcher signed through 2022, although he can opt out after 2019. Considering the depth of starting pitching they now have in the majors and minors, the Cubs are going to try and draw from that as much as possible. I would love to see Kyle Hendricks re-signed but even that will be somewhat costly. Then again, Adbert Alzolay could be penciled in as soon as 2020 and lefty Brailyn Marquez could arrive in a couple more years. Mike Montgomery could be an arm as could the Cubs number one international free-agent signing last year, Richard Gallardo, who is polished beyond his years. Justin Steele is a thought along with Trevor Clifton, Alec Mills, Duncan Robinson, Matt Swarmer, Cory Abbott,….OK I need to stop as I could list ten more possibilities.

It was hard to project what the Cubs will look like in three years, but they will look a lot different, especially when it comes to pitching. The Cubs have shown a propensity to go out and purchase arms rather than wait for them to be developed. It’s a proven strategy considering you’re buying known quantities. But it’s also an expensive one that is curtailing their offseason efforts this year.

The Cubs still have three more drafts in which to  sign more young talent, hopefully position players who could have an impact at the major league level. Considering the Cubs don’t have much money budgeted for the roster in 2022, they can spend as much or as as little as they want to build up that roster. Right now, they have $62 million allocated for that season and 2/3 of that is Heyward and Darvish. They have a lot of money and time to budget that out.

That’ll Do Cubs, That’ll Do

By Todd Johnson

It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. The Cubs beat the Marlins 8-4 to win the first game of the year. There was a time where it was nip and tuck for a few innings, but the bullpen held the Marlins scoreless for over five innings and Kyle Schwarber and Tommy La Stella gave the club some much-needed insurance in the late innings.

Stars of the Day
Ian Happ – He had a nice little leadoff home run.

Anthony Rizzo – A two-run dinger was gone quick.

Jason Heyward – He had an RBI, got on base a couple times, and made a couple nice plays in the field.

Kyle Schwarber – His home run gave the Cubs a little breathing room and it was a no doubter.

Tommy La Stella – His nickname has been changed to “Bounce House” per the Twitterverse (aka Randall Sanders). His 2 run double sealed things.

Steve Cishek – He came in and stopped the bleeding and even got out of his own trouble.

The rest of the bullpen – They were a lot of fun to watch as they did what Theo wanted – they threw strikes. 5.2 scoreless innings will do.


There are a couple things to take away from today’s game.

One – Although Miami is probably not very good, they came out and competed. They took advantage of Jon Lester not being able to control the strike zone and to score four runs. Teams are not going to lay down and die against the Cubs. The Cubs are going to have to keep the pedal pushed down.

Two – All in all, it was a good day. It was exciting. The Cubs hit three homeruns and they came away flying the W.

Spring Training News and Notes: Baseball Is Back and Glorious!

By Todd Johnson

Big things are happening…sort of. Games are now being played. College baseball is in full swing and international players are doing showcases. The sights and sounds of spring are everywhere. With that, I enter into my so-called busy season at school. Yesterday, I had 62 students participate in the regional history fair at NIU in DeKalb. 28 of them received a superior rating and now advance to Illinois History Day in Springfield in early May. It was a good day! 

Yesterday, the Cubs announced that they signed pitcher Danny Hultzen. The former first round of Seattle is now 28 but has not pitched since a second arm surgery in 2016. In fact, the left-handed Hultzen has only pitched 10 innings since his first surgery in 2013. The deal is for a minor league contract only.

Back to spring training…

On Friday, the Cubs began playing games. Most of the players came from Iowa’s roster except for Ian Happ and Kyle Schwarber. On Saturday, most of the everyday position players got some work in with Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras hitting home runs. Luke Farrell was most impressive with 2 scoreless innings and 3 strikeouts in relief. It was also good to see Duane Underwood and Oscar de la Cruz each work a scoreless inning.

They’re only three things that need to be decided in Mesa. The first one is whether the Cubs are going to go with Chris Gimenez or Victor Caratini as the backup catcher. If it’s Gimenez, I am not so sure I like that decision. I know what Victor can do and I know that Victor is improving on the defensive side of the ball.

The second decision will be about whether Justin Grimm makes the roster or Dillon Maples. Farrell could even work his way into the conversation. Part of me wants to see Maples make it just because he has incredible nasty stuff. Even though Grimm makes $2.5 million a year, his contract is no longer guaranteed after losing his arbitration case a couple of weeks ago.

As for the “Leadoff Question,” that is not going to be solved for a while. And in all reality, it might be a yearlong thing with a variety of leadoff hitters. Ian Happ got the nod on Friday and Albert Almora stepped up first on Saturday.

International free agency

While the July 2 signing date is still three months away, there was an international showcase held in the Dominican Republic earlier in the week. With new rules in place beginning this year, every team is pretty much on a level playing field as a team cannot go over their bonus pool at all. The Cubs have been linked to a couple of high profile prospects so far.

One is a pitcher and the other is a shortstop and both have been profiled by Ben Badler of Baseball America. Due to proprietary restrictions, I can’t really go into a lot of detail because they are both subscription articles. Still, the Cubs have never really been linked to a high profile pitcher since Jen-Ho Tseng back in 2013. This might be an interesting IFA season, even if the kids are 16.

Earlier this week…

Sometimes I am perplexed by certain prospects rankings and sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. That held true this week when MLB.com’s Pipeline released their top 30 Cubs prospect listI was pleased to see Michael Rucker move all the way up to number 21. He made the backend of the top 30 list near the end of the season in 2017. What I like most about Michael is that he throws strikes. The former BYU standout started out 2017 as a reliever at South Bend and morphed into a starter at Myrtle Beach when Oscar de la Cruz went on the DL. He should be at Tennessee in 2018.

At some point in the next week, John Sickles of Minor League Ball will release his top 175 MiLB prospects. I feel pretty comfortable in saying there will be at least two Cubs on that list. If there’s more, that would be great. However, I just don’t see it happening this spring. Next year that’ll be a different story.

Coming Up on Cubs Central

With History Fair over for a while, I now have 5 Scholastic Bowl meets over the next ten days. So, I have pre written a few profiles and draft pieces. All I have to do is hit the “publish” button. Once the 8th of March gets here, my schedule becomes free and clear to keep up with the everyday happenings in the system.  Tomorrow, I have a draft piece about possible high school pitching prospects. The “Leveling Up” series continues with a look at Jonathan Sierra on Wednesday and Jared Young on Friday. And as usual, “Spring Training News and Notes” will be back next Sunday.

Baseball Card of the Week

Cubs 2018 Spring Training Preview: Just a Few Answers Still Left

By Todd Johnson

Heading into spring training, there are a few things that still need answered. Some are about roster positions, some are about roles, and some are just glimpses into the future. Considering how sloth-like the off-season went, I was finding it hard to get pumped up for spring training until Saturday’s signing. However, these answers could be very different in June and July than they are now.

1. The Yu Effect on the Bullpen
With Darvish in the rotation and Mike Montgomery heading back to the bullpen, there will be an odd man out. It could by Justin Grimm. It could be Dillon Maples. Although, Grimm’s long term future as a Cub might just a synonym for his last name and his outlook as a Cub. Clearly, Maples has MLB stuff and he’s ready to be ready. He was the minor league star of the convention. Dillon was all over the place that weekend, giving interviews, signing autographs, and taking questions. I would love to see Maples break camp and head off to Miami. He has the pitches needed to succeed. Now, he just needs the opportunity.

2. Is the backup catcher position Victor Caratini’s to lose?
At first, yes. Now with Yu in tow, I wonder if Chris Gimenez will get the roster spot. Caratini’s bat is going to play well enough for him to make the team. The only questions about Victor’s game are on the defensive end. At Iowa last year, he caught 15 out of 40 baserunners and 2 out of 6 in the majors. Those are decent enough numbers to get him the backup job.  However, the Yu signing changes things.

There just aren’t enough at-bats for three guys considering Contreras’ brilliance at the plate and behind it. I doubt if the Cubs carry both Gimenez and Caratini. It is likely one or the other. You can also add in the fact that the Cubs may need to carry an extra pitcher until arms are stretched out a bit. As a result, I think the Cubs break camp with 13 pitchers and only 2 catchers.

3. Are there going to be any kind of defined roles coming out of the pen?
This is not going to be answered for quite a while and most certainly not in spring training. In fact, the bullpen on Opening Day could be drastically different in August depending on their ability to throw strikes. Right now, Brandon Morrow is the closer. Whether he can do that on a regular basis is up in the air, but Theo Epstein is extremely confident that Morrow can. I really don’t care about who is closing games in spring training as it not a realistic setting to establish roles.

Still, a lot of the roles are going to be fluid this year. With the addition of Cishek and Morrow, Maddon can mix and match on a daily basis depending on the situation and hitter. As the summer goes on, the pen could have a new cast of characters depending on who can throw strikes.

4. Who is going to bat leadoff?
I would like to see someone consistently in that position that can get on at a decent pace for Bryant and Rizzo to drive in. Right now, I am not opposed to most of the team in that spot except for Bryant and Rizzo. In a perfect world, I would like to go with Willson at the top. Ideally, though, you want a left-handed bat to balance Bryant and Rizzo. If Willson leads off, that would require Rizzo batting second and Bryant third. I am not sure if I would like that. As a result, I am sure Maddon will go with Schwarber at several points this spring as well as Happ, Heyward, Almora, Bryant, and Baez. If you watch Joe speak, you can tell he wants Schwarber there. As well as the Cubs hit, it shouldn’t be an issue. But, it’s the issue that is not going to die.

5. Which minor-league starting pitchers are going to shine in the major league Spring Training games?
There will be several minor league arms that will get a chance this spring. Jen-Ho Tseng, Alec Mills, Duane Underwood, Eddie Butler, Luke Farrell, Rob Zastryzny, and Oscar de la Cruz could all take a couple of turns on the bump. However, the arm everyone wants to see out there is Adbert Alzolay. While Alzolay has no shot of breaking camp with the big leaguers, his spring will tell the Cubs how close he is and what he needs to work on (changeup).

As spring training goes on, I am sure more answers will be needed as events will unfold that change how the complexion of how the team looks and feels heading into the season. Who knows? There might be more answers needed at the end of spring training than at the beginning.

Prediction Convictions – Is Another Ring in Sight?

By Todd Johnson

I’m not big on prognostication. A lot of little things can happen to sway a series that no one saw coming. I remember Gene Tenace coming out of nowhere to be a World Series hero when I was a kid. I remember teams dominating like the Oakland A’s and Cincinnati Reds of the 1970s. I also remember stunners like the Nasty Boys in the early 90s. I remember upsets by both the Marlins and Diamondbacks as they defeated the “Evil Empire” less than two decades ago. And who can forget last year’s come from behind championship as the Cubs won three in a row to win their first World Series in 108 years.

Prediction Convictions

AL – You have to like the way the Cleveland is playing right now. And I like the way that Houston is annihilating teams. I think that Houston gets back to the series for the second time but Cleveland is going to give them all that they can handle. I think the ALCS is going to go seven games.

NL – I think I’m more confident in American League results than I am about the National League. I think Washington and Los Angeles have limped into the playoffs along with Colorado. As a result, I’m going to pick the Diamondbacks and Cubs to meet in the NLCS. I think it’s going to go seven games, too. I think the Cubs will get back to their second consecutive World Series as they will have home-field advantage against the DBacks. Hopefully, Arrieta and Lester will be well rested by then.

World Series

I think both teams are going to be extremely tired once the series starts. However, I think the Cubs are going to fare much better this year and are going to take it in six games. I just like the way they’re playing right now. I also like the fact that the American League has home-field which I think is an advantage for the Cubs due to their depth. It allows Schwarber to DH and for the Cubs to leave their starters in a little bit longer, which Joe has been reticent to do all season.

Last year, I was pretty nervous as a fan to watch the playoffs. This year, I think the exact opposite is true. I’m very excited to watch every game – It’s what I’ve been waiting for all year. Knowing that the Cubs have already won a World Series, there’s less pressure to win. I am really looking forward to the games beginning Friday and seeing 11 more wins for a second straight World Series championship.

Ian Happ’s Emergence Has Changed a Few Things

By Todd Johnson

The biggest surprise to happen in Chicago this year was not an injury. Rather, it has been the play of Ian Happ and the reliance of the Cubs to depend on him for 105 games so far.

After the 2016 minor league season, I did not think that Happ was ready for the majors let alone AAA. In 2016 in his first full season as a pro, he was devastating at high A Myrtle Beach and was inconsistent at AA Tennessee with a horrid August as he was physically and mentally worn down. When spring training began in 2017, Ian showed renewed vigor and looked like he belonged with the major league club on a daily basis. Had it been a different era, he probably would’ve broke camp with Chicago. Instead, he was sent back to Iowa.

Happ’s situation was far different than Kris Bryant’s from a couple years ago. During Happ’s brief 1.5 year minor league career, he definitely showed that he could hit for power. I first saw him live in Beloit, Wisconsin two months after he was drafted. I came away a bit mystified at how good of an athlete he was and how beautifully his hands went through the hitting zone.

Now that he has a good body of work in the majors, I still am perplexed by how much he has changed things in Chicago. I think his ascension has been a transformational moment for him and for a few other players. I think it’s clear the Cubs love his ability to hit from both sides of the plate and to do so with power. I think the Cubs also love the fact that he he can play all three outfield positions and second base. He was even willing to take a few grounders at third a month ago just in case Bryant’s pinky was not going to heal quickly.

It’s not as if Happ has destroyed the careers of other players on the team but he has clearly jumped ahead of them on the depth chart and on the lineup card. I just didn’t see that coming this year. At the end of last year, I thought he might be ready (keyword there is might) in the middle of 2018 if all went right.

Here is who Happ’s ascension has had a direct impact on:

1. Albert Almora – After the postseason last year, the Cubs let Dexter Fowler go I thought in part to the fact that Almora was more than likely MLB ready. In the last month, Almora has tore it up against right handed pitching. Still, Happ has been the starter in most games in center. Happ has a lot to learn defensively compared to Almora’s capabilities. I don’t think the Cubs have given up on Albert. Rather, I just don’t know if they’re ready to rely on him full-time or as much as they have relied on Happ in a variety of situations. Happ’s ability to switch hit has to be a factor in Almora’s lack of playing time. 22 HRs don’t hurt either.

2. Tommy La Stella – The fact La Stella found his way to Iowa this year says more about Happ than it does about La Stella. I have always liked Tommy’s bat, but he’s not the most athletic player and Happ’s athletic ability to switch hit with power has pushed La Stella further down the Cubs bench. As a back up, La Stella has hardly gotten much playing time this year and the future doesn’t look much brighter.

3. Kyle Schwarber – I think Happ’s rise to prominence in May made it easier to send Schwarber down to Iowa a little over a month later. Had the Cubs not gotten that kind of power and production from Happ, I don’t know if they might have let Kyle work it out in the majors. Manager Joe Maddon seems to have relied more and more on Happ the past two months than he has on Schwarber. From pinch hitting to playing late in games, Happ gets the first call.

4. Mark Zagunis and Bijan Rademacher both put up outstanding years at AAA Iowa. In the second half of the year, neither got a sniff of the majors (even in September) due in large part to Happ’s performance. Going forward, I don’t even think there’s a fifth spot for a couple of years now for them or fellow outfield prospect Charcer Burks, who should be at Iowa in 2018.

5. Ben Zobrist – I don’t know how long the Cubs are going to hang onto Zobrist now. After this season, he has two years left on his deal. I can see him hanging around now more in a bench capacity as a result of Happ’s breakout season.

I think Happ’s emergence and it’s impact will be felt even more this off-season. If the Cubs make a deal to acquire more starting pitching, the Cubs will be doing so with players that I think are not seen as valuable or as essential because of Happ. Now, I’m not saying that Almora or Schwarber will be traded this offseason. I’m saying that Happ’s rise as a Cub has made the trading of other players more probable and easier to swallow.

I am looking forward to seeing Ian in the playoffs. I hope that he can respond as well as the other players listed above him did in 2015 and 2016. I think that’s going to be the ultimate test for Cub fans. For now, though, it has been a pretty impressive rookie season.