Fangraphs Leads Off the Prospect Lists by Going Young, Very Young

By Todd Johnson

Amaya 08 2018 SB

When Fangraphs started releasing their prospect lists last week, I got a little excited. They started out with the NL Central and had three teams done by the weekend. I knew last Saturday that the Cubs would be up this week.

The list itself was somewhat surprising. Authors Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel emphasized what is becoming a system with some highly ranked youth.

The first surprise was that the two authors still hung with Miguel Amaya who ascended to the top of most Cub lists last summer. Coming in second was my favorite, Nico Hoerner. Scouts that McDaniel and Longenhagen talked to were still unsure what position Nico is going to end up playing. The scouts think Hoerner could end up at second and/or center.

After Ademan, Adbert Alzolay, and Justin Steele, the first big ripple in the list came with the placement of Cole Roederer at #6. Fangraphs’ placement of Roederer this high is very encouraging for the strength of a system. Roederer was outstanding in 36 games with a .354 OBP, 5 HRs, 24 RBI, and 13 SB after being signed in 2018.

Marquez 65 2018 EugThe Youth Movement continued to flow throughout the top half of their 31 prospects. 19-year-old lefty Brailyn Marquez came in at #7 while 17-year-old Richard Gallardo rounded out the top 10. Reivaj Garcia was the biggest surprise at #11. The 17-year-old second baseman held his own in the Arizona Rookie League last year. 19-year-old Brennan Davis could be a classic five tool guy in time and he was put on the list at #12.

Despite injuries and troubles, Jeremiah Estrada and Jose Albertos both made the list.  I don’t understand the placement of Nelson Velazquez at 28. With his power profile, Velazquez is likely a top 10 power prospect in a system devoid of power.

The biggest surprise was the inclusion of pitcher Benjamin Rodriguez at #30. He’s just 18 and still growing and was lauded for his spin rates in the Dominican Republic..

Who’s Missing: Pitching staple Trevor Clifton came up missing on the list along with the Jared Young, the Cubs MiLB Player of the Year in 2018. As well, reliever Dillon Maples and Duane Underwood were nowhere to be seen. DJ Wilson and Mark Zagunis made the other prospects portion of the list. The two outfielders were routinely in the top 10 the past four years and now, poof!

Final Thoughts

Hoerner 07 2018 SBFor the first major prospect list, Fangraphs really went hard to the young prospects. 15 of the 31 prospects on the list actually come from the international market. And 17 of the 31 are 20 or younger. That’s a lot of young guys. It still is a very heavy pitching list with just a few players with power potential.

Several of the younger prospects came across as overrated. On my own list, I am starting to trend towards not listing prospects until they have at least got some substantial time in full season ball. 15 of the 31 on Fangraphs’ list have yet to log at least a half a season at South Bend. Many have not faced a lot of pitchers or hitters with college experience yet.

In the next year, the prospects listed by Fangraphs should be lighting it up all across the system. Then again, they might not. This list is still about projection. The one thing that very few Cubs prospects did in the last year was to dominate a level. That’s what these 31 need to do. I still think they are 1-2 years away from that kind of domination by these young kids.

 

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Position Breakdown Series: Miguel Amaya Leads Off the Catchers

By Todd Johnson

 A year ago, I had Victor Caratini atop the Cubs catching prospects followed by Miguel Amaya, Ian Rice, PJ Higgins, and Will Remillard. The Cubs’ catching corps is still pretty deep this year. Only a few changes were made to the list since Victor now has a big league job.

With this year’s rankings, the top spot has to make everyone feel good. At number one, Miguel Amaya is quickly developing a potent bat to go along with his ability to be a defensive stalwart behind the plate. To have a power arm and a power bat as a catcher is a rare commodity for most organizations. The great thing about him is that he’s just going to be 20 this year and his bat is far from complete. This year‘s goal at the plate will be to continue to improve his pitch recognition skills and walk a bit more as well smack some more balls over the wall.

Jhonny Pereda had an excellent first half at Myrtle Beach and was one of the surprises of the year in the Cubs’ system. In that first half, he hit .284 with a .368 OBP and 5 HRs. As the year wore on, he kept on catching most games and slipped about 20 points in average and on-base percentage. Still, Pereda was given a ticket to the Arizona Fall League where he was decent at .276/.344. Like Rice and Higgins, he is also Rule V eligible. If he does not get taken, he should be at AA Tennessee to begin 2019. 

For now, catcher Ian Rice is firmly implanted at number three. With an on-base percentage of close to .400 year last year, Rice worked mainly on his defense while also playing first and third base a bit. While his power numbers were down, Rice also did an excellent job of managing a pitching staff at Tennessee. I am very excited to see what he can do in the Pacific Coast League while at Iowa. He could be a Cub or he could not. It all depends on whether he is taken as a Rule V pick on December 13. Some other team is going to get a guy with the potential for 20 home runs with a smooth uppercut bat path and a good eye at the plate.

At #4, PJ Higgins tore it up at Myrtle Beach in the first half of 2018. At Tennessee, he kept his head above water and was fine behind the plate as he worked with a staff that he was quite familiar with. As for his experience in the Arizona Fall League, it did not go as planned as he struggled to hit most days. Then again, his AFL experience should shape his future. It should propel him to improve in the batter’s box. More than likely, he begins 2019 back at AA Tennessee.

In his first year as a Cub, Alexander Guerra put up some nice numbers in helping to lead the Cubs 1 team in Arizona to the best record in the league. He hit .267, had an OBP of .355 with 3 HRs, and drove in a team leading 30 RBI in 46 games. Based on that successful experience, he should be at South Bend to begin 2019. 

As for Michael Cruz, he looked like he figured some things out last summer at South Bend. He hit .322 in June and .286 in July to go with 27 RBI over the two months. He was promoted to Myrtle Beach and saw action in just 12 games in August and September. Cruz should be at Myrtle Beach to start 2019.

Still a Bit Unsure
A year ago, I had Will Remillard at number five. I thought he was going to be ready after missing 2.5 years. He got some work in at Tennessee and Iowa, but 29 games is not a lot. I hope he is back healthy and ready to go in 2019.

Sleepers for 2019
Henderson Perez – He’s listed at 5’9” and 160 lbs. Those were his 16-year-old traits. He is ripped now and did well in the second half for Mesa 2 hitting .311/.386/.411 with 15 RBI in 24 games. He will be just 19 when he starts next year at Eugene.

Marcus Mastrobuoni – After leading Mesa to an AZL title in 2017, Marcus missed all of 2018 with a knee injury. After hitting .308 with a .390 OBP and 6 dingers, Mastrobuoni looked prime to break out last year for South Bend. It didn’t happen for him but it could in 2019 even at 24 years of age. 

And I Wonder…
The Cubs signed two non-drafted free agent catchers in Caleb Knight and Brennon Kaleiwahea. I wonder what kind of roles they will have this year and with whom. And in a weird twist of fate, the Cubs can still sign 2018 23rd round pick Hunter Taylor of South Carolina up until 2 weeks before the 2019 draft. Because Taylor was a senior last year, the Cubs still have that strange right.

After the Rule V Draft, we shall see if this list is still the same.

MLB Pipeline’s All-Star Team for Cubs Actually Has Power

By Todd Johnson


MLB Pipeline’s All-Star Team for Cubs’ prospects actually has some pretty good power and power potential. You would think that a system ranked in the bottom five of farm systems by several sources (Baseball America, Keith Law, Pipeline) would not have a lot of power potential. Au contraire, my friend.

Piepline’s All-Star Team begins with their #87 prospect Miguel Amaya, who cranked out 12 HRs. 1B Jared Young hammered out 17 as did 2B Trent Giambrone and SS Zack Short. Jason Vosler rounded out the infield with 23 dingers. That’s 86 infield HRs. That’s not too shabby for minor league guys.

When I make MiLB all-star teams, I normally just do them on a monthly basis, by the half, or a preseason team. This is a pretty good list for what my 2019 preseason team will look like on the infield except for maybe Nico Hoerner.

When it comes to the outfield this year, MLB Pipeline went with Mark Zagunis, Roberto Caro, and Zach Davis. All three hit well enough to deserve their spots this year with Caro and Davis doing it across two levels. What is missing, though, is power. None of three hit many extra base hits but they did get on base at a pretty good clip. Davis had a wRC+ of 111, Caro was at 186 (wow!) in 38 games at South Bend and 113 in 41 games at Myrtle Beach. Zagunis was also at 111 with just 24 XBHs on the year.

However, come next year, there could be some different names in the outfield including Nelson Velazquez along with 2018 draft picks Cole Roederer and Brennen Davis.

As for pitching, Pipeline acknowledged Cory Abbott (Cubs Central POTY) as the top right-handed starter. Eugene’s Faustino Carrera was named the top lefty this year over Brailyn Marquez and Brian Glowicki got the reliever nod over Dakota Mekkes. Those are three very different arms.

It’s an eclectic mix of players that were given the accolades. A year from now, things could change quite a bit in pitching as well. A few players will be coming back from injuries, a few could be traded this winter, and some guys might just breakout. You never know what will happen.

For this year’s group, though, their plaudits are well deserved through a mixture of performance, talent, and grinding it out.

2018 Affiliate Reviews: South Bend’s Deep Starting Staff Was the Highlight

By Todd Johnson

2018 Record
64-74

Strengths and Highlights
Starting Pitching – From the beginning of 2018, South Bend was supposed to be most exciting franchise/affiliate to watch because of its starting pitching. It didn’t start out that way as elite prospect Jose Albertos began a struggle that lasted all year. But Rollie Lacy, Erich Uelmen, Cory Abbott, Brendon Little, Javier Assad, and Ricky Tyler Thomas did do very well for the Cubs Midwest League affiliate on the mound. Later, Jesus Camargo, and Brailyn Marquez were two more solid pitching prospects to grace the bump for the Cubs. About half of the starting pitchers went on to have success at Myrtle Beach while two (Lacy and Thomas) wound up being traded in the Cole Hamels and Jesse Chavez trades.

South Bend also produced one of the top closers in the system in Brian Glowicki who turned into a bulldog on the mound in the last month of the year. He did not allow an earned run in August. Add in the success of Brendan King, Enrique de los Rios, and Garrett Kelly and it was a pretty good year for pitching for the Cubs.

At the plate, most, but not all, of the Cubs struggled. In the beginning of the year, first baseman Jared Young and catcher Miguel Amaya were a nice back-to-back power duo. Young wound up in Myrtle Beach in July while Amaya caught almost every day in July and August but still showed a burgeoning bat with 12 HRs on the year and a wRC+ of 114.. In addition, Christian Donahue and Delvin Zinn displayed they can be successful role players. Austin Filiere struggled at times in the first half of the year but seemed to rebound and was very good at the plate the last six weeks of the season.

2019 Roster
A few players who ended the season in South Bend could be back to begin the 2019 season in the Midwest League. Pitcher Brailyn Marquez is the most obvious. Outfielder Jimmy Herron, the Cubs third round pick in 2018, could return for a short stint or he could even start the year in Myrtle Beach.

However, most of the roster will be made up of players from the lower levels of the Cubs system. There are usually prerequisites to get to South Bend. First is Mesa, then Eugene. However, in recent years, some prospects have been skipping Eugene altogether and going straight from Mesa to Indiana with only a pit stop in extended spring training.

There will be no shortage of pitchers and hitters for Jaron Madison to select. There are over 100 rostered players between the two Mesa teams and Eugene to squeeze onto the 25 man roster in South Bend to begin 2019. And that’s pretty much the theme for the lower part of the system in 2019.  That competition will only benefit the Cubs in the long run and increased focus for each and every prospect.

Nelson Velazquez, Fernando Kelli, and Jonathan Sierra should be in South Bend manning the outfield on day one but will 2018 draft picks Cole Roederer, Brennen Davis, and Edmond Americaan give them a run for their money?

The most interesting battles I see coming in 2019 will be over the starting rotation. Riley Thompson is the guy I want to see most next year. Armed with a 95 mph fastball, he’s going to be facing some stiff competition with Faustino Carrera, Yovanny Cruz, Didier Vargas, Jack Patterson, Eury Ramos, Brailyn Marquez, Jesus Tejada, Peyton Remy, Blake Whitney, and more to start every sixth day.

I am not going near the bullpen at this point or who might even be in the infield. There are lot of prospects to fit in and too many questions to answer.

2019 Sleeper
He didn’t see any action in 2018 after pitching for Arkansas in the College World Series. However, that might not stop reliever Jake Reindl from doing well in 2019 with his experience at such a high-level in a power conference.

The Weekly: Bryce Rumors Begin, AFL Starts This Week, Miguel Amaya News, and a Review Preview

By Todd Johnson

It only took a few hours after the Cubs lost to the Rockies for the Bryce Harper rumors to begin anew. The sports betting company Bovada put the Cubs at even money to sign Harper when free agency begins after the World Series ends. While the Cubs do have a good shot at signing the soon-to-be free agent, it is definitely not a sure thing. Although, I sure do like the Cubs chances. You can figure out who’s going to play where later.

And in other MiLB news, the Cubs will be back at Tennessee in 2019. Considering the PDC is only for two years means that the two sides are going to be working some things out between now and 2020 or the Cubs will have a new AA home in 2021.

BA League Top 20s
Baseball America continues to release it’s top 20 prospect lists in each of the minor leagues. The Cubs did not have a top 20 prospect  in either the Pacific Coast League, the Southern League, or the Carolina League. This week, the Cubs got off the schneid as catcher Miguel Amaya was named the number 12 Prospect in the Midwest League. BA described his offensive talents well:

“Amaya took a big step forward this year with his power, as he hit nine home runs and slugged .500 in the first half of the season before wearing down in the second half. Amaya does chase out of the strike zone too often and needs to improve his ability to recognize breaking balls, but he has future average or even above-average power.”

AFL Preview
The Arizona Fall League is set to begin on Wednesday Tuesday, October 9. The Cubs have a total of nine players who will be on the roster for the Mesa Solar Sox. Most of the players played their 2018 season at Myrtle Beach.

2018 first round draft pick Nico Hoerner looks to be the prospect to watch every day. It’ll be interesting to see how he does against such advanced competition after only getting in 49 at bats as a pro this summer before an elbow injury forced him to miss the last six weeks of the season at South Bend.

I’m excited to see how well several other prospects do in this advanced setting. Reliever Bailey Clark is going to be one player I will watch with great anticipation. As well, I’m curious as to how outfielder DJ Wilson will do and hopefully he can stay healthy.

According MLB Pipeline, pitcher Justin Steele might be the Cubs’ sleeper prospect. They said, 

“Steele was just starting to come into his own when he blew out his elbow in August 2017, but he returned to the mound earlier than expected (11 months later) after Tommy John surgery. He can run his fastball up to 97 mph, also can dodge bats with his curveball and has made encouraging progress with his control and command.”

Other Cubs prospects playing in the league include pitchers Erick Leal and Manny Rondon, catchers Jhonny Pereda and PJ Higgins, and 2B Trent Giambrone.

Preview of Affiliate Reviews
Starting tomorrow, I’m going to be releasing the 2018 season reviews for each of the Cubs’ stateside affiliates. I’m going to start with AAA Iowa and work my way down to South Bend this week. Next week, I will cover Eugene and the two Mesa clubs.

While the first half of each article is technically a review of the 2018 season, The second half looks at which prospects should be promoted to the next level and which prospects should be arriving from the level below. The hardest part of projecting next season squads came down to who is going to be in the rotation at each affiliate. A lot of that still has to be determined come spring training.

Card of the Week

A New Top 21 List Drops Today With a New #1

By Todd Johnson

The last time I redid the top 21 list was back in June, shortly after the draft. I waited to do the list again because I want to see how the regular season played out. I wanted to see the newest draft picks play over longer periods of time and I wanted to see some of the Cubs’ younger players in the lower minors get longer looks. I got everything I wanted, so there are no more excuses.

At one point in the last month, I thought about having a tie atop the list at number one. While I really like Miguel Amaya, he wound up catching about 80% of South Bend’s games and was just completely worn out in August and some warts in his game began to show.

I really like SS Nico Hoerner a lot, too. Watching him play at Eugene and seeing him play in person for South Bend, and on TV, I came away extremely impressed with his size, his physicality, his athleticism, and most importantly, his potential.

The differences between Amaya and Hoerner are not big. For a while, it was going to be a straight up tie.

And then all that changed.

When the Cubs announced that Nico was going to the Arizona Fall League, I perked up quite a bit. He originally could have be ready to play somewhere at the end of August/early September. I didn’t think there was a rush to send him to play in even more games in October and November. His assignment is a clear indication of the amount of faith and trust the Cubs have in this young guy. 

Miguel Amaya will slide into number two while Adbert Alzolay drops down to number three after missing most of the 2018 season.

I thought that there would be a lot of moving and shaking this year on the list and there was. Today’s list will be completely different a year from now. This past summer’s international class will get some action. Many of this year’s draft class will get to full season ball, and a lot more action will take place.

Here is the latest incarnation of the Top 21 List.

The Weekly: Draft Picks Impress and Miguel Amaya Makes 2 Lists

By Todd Johnson

The good news for the week is that Miguel Amaya became the first Cub prospect in over a year to make onto a Top 100 list. Miguel did so at 97 for MLB Pipeline and again over on Baseball America at 100. That’s kind of exciting for a system on the rebuild. The bad news is he’s been in a slump for about two weeks. For a few days this week, Miguel was the only active catcher at South Bend. The 19-year-old has been going non-stop for two weeks since the Futures Game. He needs a little breather.

Meanwhile, Down in Mesa

The Cubs 1 team in the Arizona League brought home a first half division title and a playoff berth this week. That’s pretty exciting. The team is a mix of recent draft picks, some juco players from 2017, and several international guys. 

Draft Pick Play

Tomorrow, I am publishing my interview with 31st round pick Clayton Daniel. Daniel, who is currently at South Bend is doing fairly well through great bat-to-ball skills. But Daniel is not the only draft prospect beginning to make a name for himself.

This week, Eugene’s Zach Mort and Riley Thompson both had good starts on the mound for the Emeralds. Mort went 3 IP with 7 Ks while Thomson flashed a 95-97 mph fastball in two scoreless frames as he converts from being a reliever into a starter.

Jimmy Herron, a former Duke OF and the Cubs current 3rd Round pick, was promoted to South Bend Monday and immediately inserted in CF for the Cubs. I was there for his debut on Monday and he looked a little nervous at the plate. He calmed down over the course of the week. What I like most about Herron is that he can go get a ball in CF and he has an amazing eye at the plate. In his first three games, he was able to draw four walks by laying off pitches out of the zone. The bat should come around quickly.

Mesa OF Edmond Americaan went on a tear this past week. So far in 8 games, the former Chipola JC player, who hails from Curacao, hit .357 in that span with a .438 OBP. It will be interesting to see how fast he progresses. Americaan was signed by the Cubs on the last signing day with an overslot deal even though he was picked in the 35th round. The 6’1” lefty has room to grow and a good track record playing for one of the best JC programs in the country.

There is always a surprise. Every year. It never fails. This year, the pitching surprise goes to Blake Whitney. Whitney hails from an obscure college known as South Carolina-Upstate. But that does not matter. What does is his performance in July. He’s put up a 1.26 ERA in 5 starts for Mesa 2. In addition, Whitney has struck out 19. He has walked 8 which accounts for his 1.40 WHIP, but he is getting better every start. On Tuesday this week, he went 4.2 IP and struck out 9 in an outstanding performance.

It took him a few games, but non-drafted free agent Grant Fennell, who demolished balls in Mesa, is now in a groove for Eugene. I really like what I have seen from his bat this week along with his ability to play all over the field. He went 11 for 25 from the 22nd through the 29th. That’s pretty impressive! He earned the hitter of the week award for his efforts!

You can always check out how all the draft picks are doing here, which has their cumulative stats.

Coming This Week at Cubs Central
On Wednesday – The July All-Star Team
On Thursday – The Cards of the Month
On Friday – 40-Man Roster Considerations

Players of the Week

Card of the Week