MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Goes Big with Young Cubs

By Todd Johnson

When MLB Pipeline announced the release date of February 21 for their top 30 Cubs prospect list, I was not quite sure what to expect. Normally Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo are pretty conservative when it comes to player movement within a list. Considering Miguel Amaya was at #94 on their top 100 followed by Nico Hoerner at #100, they were going to be at the top of the list.

When last season ended, though, several young prospects had shot into their top 30. Brailyn Marquez was at #4 and Nico was at #6 while Cole Roederer and Brennen Davis were back-to-back at #14 and #15. Callis did state earlier that Tyson Miller and Richard Gallardo would be the two biggest movers on the list.

There were a few things I was interested in seeing about their list. Here’s the full list. Let’s get to the answers.

1. How much impact will the 2018 draft have on the list?
A total of 6 2018 draft picks made the list. While Nico naturally lead off the list soon followed by Cole Roeder at 5 and Brennen Davis at 7. I was still surprised to see Paul RIchan at 18 but I was ecstatic to see RHP Riley Thompson get on along with 2B/SS Andy Weber. Makybe Luke Reynolds can join them later this summer.

2. What would be the ratio of pitching to hitting be?
13 hitters made the list vs. 17 pitchers. It is still a bit lopsided, but most of the hitters haven’t seen South Bend yet. That should help the future perk up a bit. Even though he’s only played rookie ball, the insertion of Reivaj Garcia at 21 was cool to see. I wonder if he will be good enough to see South Bend at 17 years of age?

3. Would Pipeline still hold onto Duane Underwood and Oscar de la Cruz in the top 10?
They both wound up in the 20s. Trevor Clifton and DJ Wilson also fell off the list along with a couple of other pitchers and Mark Zagunis. Both Underwood and de la Cruz will likely end up in the bullpens this summer. Doing so could accelerate de la Cruz who has had injury after injury. As for Clifton and Duane, they are both still relatively young. I also was a bit surprised to not see Duncan Robinson and Matt Swarmer make the list. I think both of them could surprise some more this summer at AAA Iowa.

4. Who is going to be the biggest mover on the list?
Richard Gallardo shot up from 27 to 14 but Yovanny Cruz went from nothing to 15. It could be even more interesting to see who moves in the list they put out after the draft. RIley Thompson and Revaj Garcia are my picks to explode this spring.

I liked the turnover and emphasis on youth, but there are some players that Callis and Mayo are still struggling to let go off the list. That’s just me being picky. But since the departure of Eloy, Dylan Cease, and Isaac Paredes, things appear to be looking up with this collection of youth.

In other words, things appear to have bottomed out. The Cubs will still get more bodies this summer as things begin to move forward.

At the end of a separate article, Jim Callis graded out the best tools for Cubs Prospects.

Hit: 60 — Nico Hoerner
Power: 55 — Brennen Davis (Nelson Velazquez)
Run: 65 — Brennen Davis
Arm: 60 — Luis Verdugo (Jhonny Pereda, Andy Weber)
Defense: 60 — Miguel Amaya
Fastball: 70 — Riley Thompson
Curveball: 60 — Adbert Alzolay (Riley Thompson)
Slider: 55 — Yovanny Cruz (four others tied at 55)
Changeup: 60 — Jose Albertos
Control: 55 — Paul Richan (Cory Abbott, Keegan Thompson)


A Saturday Surprise – Keith Law Drops His Top Cubs List

By Todd Johnson

I got up today just like any other Saturday enjoying the fact that I got to sleep in and that my dogs let me. I booted around for a little bit, fed the dogs, and decided I would head to DeKalb get my medicine. When I stopped to eat breakfast on the way home, I took my phone out and I got a nice little Saturday surprise when I saw that Keith Law published his top Cubs prospect listUsually, these kinds of things don’t happen on the weekend. So, let’s take a look. The link does require a subscription. 

About a week ago, Law ranked the Cubs as having the number 29 farm system in the minors. It’s not that he doesn’t have a high regard for the Cubs, rather it’s that he doesn’t see a lot of high-end prospects right now. The Cubs currently don’t have a lot of prospects who contain that star quality that Law wants to see in a system. That could change over the next two summers. Still, I was looking forward to seeing just exactly who he put in his list.

It’s not a surprise who was at number one as Miguel Amaya made Law’s top 100 at 91 a couple weeks ago. And it’s no surprise that Nico Hoerner was at number two as he was included in Law‘s next 10 prospects.

A lot of the usual suspects filled up positions three through ten. The list included Brailyn Marquez, Adbert, Brennen Davis, Cole Roederer, and Aramis Ademan. I was mildly surprised to see Oscar de la Cruz still in the top 10 along with Erich Uelmen, who had a rough second half at Myrtle Beach.

The two biggest surprises were the inclusion of Matt Swarmer on the list and the fact that Law ranked Brennen Davis ahead of Cole Roederer. I can easily see why Law did that. Roederer does have a much higher floor while Davis’ talents are just being tapped into now that he plays baseball full time. Scouts do rave about Davis’ athleticism.

Law did go on to discuss a myriad number of pitchers in the system including Alex Lange, Tyson Miller, Yovanny Cruz, Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson, Brendon Little, Duncan Robinson, and Michael Rucker. He also professed to the talents of outfielder Nelson Velazquez, but held off on coronating the young outfielder as a prospect of the future.

There’s only one major prospect list remaining and that is MLB Pipeline’s. According to the schedule, it’ll be published the 21st February.

I’ve been keeping track of all the major prospect list rankings and it’s interesting to see the variance of where people are slotted. Here are the point totals so far with just one list left.

Prospect List Frenzy: Hoerner and Amaya Get Some Love This Week

By Todd Johnson

It has been extremely cold and snowy in northern Illinois this week. However, that didn’t stop things from happening when it came to prospect lists. Four lists were published this week and just a few remain before spring. Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America published their lists early in the week. In addition, MLB Pipeline generated their position top 10 lists over the past two weeks. Pipeline capped the prospect frenzy off last night by announcing their top 100 prospect list.

The prospect evaluation season began in December when Fangraphs and Prospects Live published their top Cubs posts. Baseball America put out their top 10 Cubs a while back, too. I published my Top 21 list back at the beginning of the year.

This week’s frenzy all began when Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus published their top 100 and top 101 list on January 23. Not one prospect from the Cubs made Baseball America’s list. That was a bit surprising. It seemed that either Miguel Amaya or Nico Hoerner could have made it. For Baseball Prospectus, Nico came in at 86 on their top 101 and Miguel came in unofficially at 102 as he lead off their next 13 list. Yes, those lists might have been disappointing, but things should change greatly for both lists by the end of 2019. 

As for Prospects Live, I have been following Jason Pennini for a while on Twitter. He did an excellent write up on the Cubs top prospects back in December. On Friday, Pennini was part of the staff that wound up placing Nico Hoerner at #55 on their top 100 list. That was a bit shocking to me considering Nico hasn’t seen much action outside of the prestigious Arizona Fall League, which I think is the reason for his placement. I like that he is on the list. However, it might seem a bit presumptuous at first, but it might also be a solid projection of his skills.

As for MLB Pipeline…
It all began on Monday the 14th with the release of their top 10 catching prospects. Miguel Amaya cracked the list at #7. That bodes well for his future. I found their evaluation of his potential to be quite positive. They said,

Amaya’s offensive potential also has grown and he has the upside of a solid hitter with power to match. He has nice feel for the barrel, is getting better at managing the strike zone and makes repeated contact from the right side of the plate. He’s developing a better understanding of how to tap into his raw power, though he’ll need to get stronger after wearing down toward the end of his first year in full-season ball.

As for Nico, he did not crack the top 10 SS list. It wais a pretty solid list filled with several top 25 players in all the minors. At that point, I still held out hope that he could make their top 100 list.

The Actual List
Both Hoerner and Amaya made MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 coming in at #100 and #94 respectively. I was actually somewhat happy to see that. I expected Amaya to be there, but I didn’t expect Miguel to drop 7 slots. As for Hoerner, he could be the big mover on the list later this year. I see him jumping over Amaya pretty quickly as the spring moves along. Pipeline said the following about Nico’s potential:

He has the sneaky power to hit 15 homers per season, not to mention the patience to draw walks and the solid to plus speed to steal bases.

Though he has the quickness and athleticism for shortstop, scouts are mixed on his ability to stay there. His instincts and reliability stand out more than his range or arm at shortstop, so he may be better suited for second base and has drawn comparisons to Ian Kinsler. His tools also should allow him to play the outfield if needed.

In the long run, second base is where I envision him playing. While the Kinsler comp is nice, it might not be the most accurate. His ability to hit for average, get on base, and all while spraying it all over with occasional power. I think he shares more in common with Dustin Pedroia rather than Kinsler.

Hopefully, the Cubs will get a couple more names on the list in a year’s time. With Cole Roederer, Brennen Davis, Brailyn Marquez, and Richard Gallardo on the horizon, the Cubs have plenty of young talent that needs time to mature, perform, and produce.

Prospects Taking the Spotlight This Weekend

By Todd Johnson

I am a bit excited and anxious at the same time. I am excited to see MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospect List get published tonight. I will sit down and watch it online tonight. Hopefully, a couple fo Cubs will make the list in Nico Hoerner and Miguel Amaya. However, you never know. The weather, on the other hand, is making me a bit anxious with the low temps and heavy snow forecasted…but I digress. Let’s get back to the prospects. They will keep me warm and busy for the next few days.

On Thursday, I got a question published in MLB Pipeline’s Inbox . I asked, “Which Cub prospect is going to move up the most on your Top 30 list next month?” The list is not due out until next month, but I thought I might try to get a sneak or a preview about the differences in their list. I really liked Jim Callis’ answer. He said,

In terms of prospects on our current Cubs Top 30, right-hander Richard Gallardo will jump from No. 27 to close to the Top 10. While Gallardo is 17 and has yet to appear in a pro game, he was the best pitcher on the international amateur market last summer and signed for $1 million out of Venezuela. He obviously has everything to prove, but he has the potential for three plus pitches and precocious feel for a teenager, so I like him more than most of Chicago’s muddled group of righties.

As for prospects not featured on the current list, right-handers Tyson Miller and Yovanny Cruz will push into the back of the Top 20. Both posted strikeout-to-walk ratios around 4/1 in 2018 with solid if not spectacular stuff. Cruz’s repertoire grades slightly better than Miller’s, though Miller starred in Class A Advanced last year and Cruz has yet to reach full-season ball.

I really liked his response. Tyson really grew a lot in terms of the quality of pitches he threw last year while still having good command. I also was excited to see Callis mention Yovanny Cruz, who I gushed about earlier this week.

While MLB Pipeline will publish their top 100 list tonight, their top 30 list for each team should be out in February. When it is released, I will be here to go over it.

In other upcoming news…
Baseball Prospectus is finally going to release their top 10 Cub prospects this week. After being pushed back and back and back, it will finally see the light of day. It is scheduled for Tuesday. I will go over the list at some point on Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning.

I have been tallying the Cubs prospect rankings so far. The #1 prospect in each list gets 10 points and so on down to #10 who gets 1. Here is the total so far. MLB Pipeline and Keith Law put theirs out next month, and hopefully John Sickels will publish his somewhere once he lands a gig.

Key: CC is Cubs Central, F is Fangraphs, PL is Prospects Live, BA is Baseball America, BP is Baseball Prospectus, and MLB is MLB Pipeline.

I will be back on Sunday (tomorrow) going over the prospect lists that have come out this week. There have been four of them. That’s a lot to digest and analyze.

Which Prospects Will Get Looks in Big League Camp?

By Todd Johnson

The Cubs are going to issue a press release here in a few days. That release will contain a few names that the team is going to invite to spring training. These players are known as NRIs or non-roster invitees. I keep thinking what that list might look like more and more these days, especially since the convention. The White Sox and a few other organizations have already put out their lists. The Cubs will follow suit any day.

All current prospects on the 40 man will be in camp. So, Adbert, Justin Steele, and Mark Zagunis will be there. In looking at other possibilities, the Cubs are going to basically fill out 2 teams for spring training and slowly whittle about 60-70 players down to 25 by the end of March. In the big scheme of things, the Cubs don’t have to send out invites to players. For some prospects, it’s a reward, for other players it might be a contractual thing if they don’t stick with the Cubs when spring training is over. That way, many AAAA-type guys can get seen playing in the spring.

As for Cub prospects, there are several who should be playing in a packed house at Sloan Park throughout March.

Starting Pitchers
Trevor Clifton, Duncan Robinson, Thomas Hatch, Keegan Thompson, Alex Lange, Cory Abbott, Michael Rucker, and Matt Swarmer are some definite names who should get the call. They could all be piggyback starters as the big league Cubs get stretched out. As well, the Cubs could also get to see how the pitchers fare against big league hitters in those crucial first two or three innings or in split squad games.

Relief Guys
The bullpen arm I want to see most in the big league camp this spring is Dakota Mekkes. The 6’7” righty has a deceptive delivery to go with an elongated stride thanks in part to his large frame. It has worked with great results at every level in the minors so far. I want to see how he does against MLB hitters.

As is the case in every spring training, the Cubs are going to need lots of catchers. Miguel Amaya is one guy I want to see get some MLB time in Mesa along with Jhonny Pereda. Both guys have very different hitting profiles but are both very solid defensively. Ian Rice and PJ Higgins should also get the call for the first couple of weeks.

I am pretty sure Nico Hoerner is going to get a lot of looks this spring at both second base and shortstop. The Cubs are going to give Nico a preview of what he could be seeing quickly. In addition, Zack Short could be a guy the Cubs want to get more ABs against MLB arms to see how Short’s amazing approach works against big league pitching. As well, Jared Young,Trent Giambrone, and Luis Vazquez will see action, but whether they get invites is up in the air. I would also love to see Luke Reynolds get some swings in as well. However they get in the games doesn’t matter. They should all get into games to show what they can do.

As we saw last year, the Cubs had several young guys get looks from time-to-time throughout the spring. Fernando Kelli played in two games despite not being a NRI. I would love to see Nelson Velazquez get in a few games to practice laying off breaking balls out of the zone.

Considering the quantity of AAAA players the Cubs signed this year, the list of NRI should be somewhere around 20 and be pitching and catching heavy. I don’t expect to see a lot of position players except middle infielders. Hopefully, the list should be out today or tomorrow.

Coming Up on Cubs Central
Friday – Organization Breakdown – Relief Pitching
Sunday – Prospect List Frenzy and other Random MiLB Notes and Signings
Next Week – Podcast #2 – If you have topics you want me to talk about, send me a tweet.

Convention Day 3 – MiLB Session Fruitful and a Podcast Pops Up

By Todd Johnson

It is always fitting and ironic that the session about the Cubs minor league sessions is always last. When I sat down in my chair to check out the festivities, I was not sure what I was going to get from Jason MacLeod, Jaron Madison, and whoever else would be on the panel (It would be just them). And I wondered what kind of questions Tennessee Broadcaster Mick Gillispie would field from the audience.

I started out watching the video feed from the Eugene Emeralds. It was tough to hear the questions, but Jason McLeod came through pretty clear. That lasted for about 16:37 before the feed cut out. After that, I relied on tweets from Evan Altman, Tony Andracki, the South Bend Cubs, and a few others.

For the first ten to twelve minutes, pitching was the main focus of the panel. McLeod said,

“After developing no pitching in 7 years and money becoming issue at the major league level, there’s definitely a sense of urgency. It’s on us. We can’t just keep celebrating Kris Bryant. It’s so obvious it’s not even an elephant in the room.”

He later added that the Cubs were too conservative in the pitchers they selected in 2012 and the he takes the blame for that. However, both McLeod and Madison feel good about where the pitching is at now and Brailyn Marquez’s name came up several times throughout the session.

As for who could help the MLB squad this year, Madison and McLeod mentioned Adbert Alzolay, Dakota Mekkes, and James Norwood. McLeod said they would all likely be used out of the pen. Duncan Robinson even got a bit of pub at one point in the conversation.

When it came to Nico, Madison quipped that Nico should move through the system quickly. The two men on the panel were also high about Hoerner’s makeup and potential leadership skills. McLeod and Madison threw out Miguel Amaya, Cole Roederer, and Brennen Davis as names to keep an eye for 2019. McLeod also said that there were several kids in the DSL but he didn’t want to name any of those hitting prospects by name just yet.

A couple of other discussions involved David Bote’s incredible work ethic along with Jason Vosler and Charcer Burks. A good sign also occured when the discussion turned to Jose Albertos.

Another aspect of their discussion I enjoyed, even though it was very brief, was that by having a second rookie league team in Mesa, it is going to allow the Cubs to be more aggressive in the draft. Last year, the Cubs signed over 30+ players including several high school and junior college picks.

Jaron Madison also spoke highly about the future for 2017 top picks in Alex Lange and Brendon Little. Madison said that Lange needs to improve his consistency. As for Little, Madison said, “He has all the upside in the world. He spent nearly the entire offseason in Arizona working his butt off and showing us what he can do.” Everyone I talk to in the system just loves Little and his desire to improve through hard work and using tech.

There was one funny bit where McLeod told how Cole Roederer in Arizona asked one guy where he played in 2018. The player responded, “Chicago, Wrigley Field.” It was Ben Zobrist.

The Baseball America Podcast
While I did find the reports and video for the session fun to listen to, I got an outsider’s perspective of the system via a podcast on Baseball America. I started checking it out as soon as Down on the Farm ended. I found it very enlightening. Kyle Glaser and Josh Norris talked about the system and several of the Cubs top prospects in detail.

The views from beyond the Cubs’ universe also like Nico Hoerner a lot. Norris sees Nico as a fast mover like many of us do. Both writers also praised Miguel Amaya for his first half of 2018 and  talked of his overuse in the second. Zack Short even got some high praise later in the podcast for his defense and power.

In addition, the head scratching seasons of Aramis Ademan and Jose Albertos were discussed in detail. I really like Glazer’s analogy of Ademan. “He looked like an 8th grader playing high school varsity football.” By that Glazer meant that Ademan had the tools to play, he’s just not physically strong enough to hang with them on a day-to-day basis.

As for Jose Albertos, Norris very much still believes in him. He stated, “I bet on upside, I bet on tools.” Norris quoted scouts who said that Albertos’ problem was more mental than physical.

The biggest plaudits in the podcast came later for 2018 pick Cole Roederer who Norris thought of putting Cole at #2 if he would be in a really aggressive mood. The Andrew Benintendi comp came up again about Cole and Norris stated he thought Cole would begin 2019 in South Bend.

Davis got a lot of praise too. While both Roederer and Davis have high ceilings, Davis’ floor is a bit lower. Based on conversations with scouts, Roederer might move a faster pace than Davis who has his own set of skills to work on that Cole has already mastered.

I will be back tomorrow with the 5 Series. This week’s prospects to be analyzed are Yovanny Cruz and Jared Young. I am not sure who goes first yet. On Friday, relief pitchers close out the organization breakdown series and hopefully Baseball Prospectus releases their Top 10 Cubs prospect list this week. Lots of good stuff coming your way.

Cubs Continuing to Make MiLB Roster Moves

By Todd Johnson

The Cubs’ major league roster has changed very little this winter. However, at the MiLB level, the Cubs let go of some long time prospects like Stephen Bruno, Bijan Rademacher, and Daury Torrez. In total, 17 Cubs were let go. Some did re-sign with the Cubs like Corey Black. However, the Cubs went out and added 19 new MiLB names.

Here’s the total so far – a few more names could be added in the next month or so.

Catchers: Rafelin Lorenzo and Francisco Arcia
Infielders: Robel Garcia, Phillip Evans, and Ryan Court,
Outfielders: Zach Borenstein, Jim Adduci, Jose (Cardona) Gonzalez, and Evan Marzilli
Pitchers: Colin Rea, Luis Lugo, Alexander Vargas, Mike Zagurski Matt Carasiti, Carlos Ramirez, Jerry Vasto, Allen Webster, and Danny Hultzen

Most of them will make the squad at Iowa and few will be assigned to Tennessee while some will not make any team this spring. However, there are a couple names who raised my eyebrow as they literally could have an impact at the MLB level.

For one, Francisco Arcia is a legitimate backup catcher candidate. He did well at AAA last summer hitting .283 with a .353 OBP in Salt Lake. He got in 40 games with the Angels and cranked out 6 HRs but failed to hit for a decent average. He is 29 and going to be competing along with Taylor Davis for that backup to the backup role.

Pitcher Carlos Ramirez really piqued my interest when he signed. He actually has some MLB experience out of the pen, but not much. But he is an arm who has done well at most every level in the Blue Jays and A’s systems. He has good size at 6’5” and 205 lbs and is 27.

I would not be surprised to see the Cubs add some more independent/Frontier League guys for some of the lower level squads late in spring training.

In Other News…
MLB Pipeline is going to have a pretty busy upcoming two weeks. Starting today, Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo begin releasing their top 10 lists at each MiLB position. Two dates to watch are Thursday the 17th and Wednesday the 23rd. Thursday should see Miguel Amaya make the top 10 catcher list while Nico Hoerner is a long shot to make the top 10 shortstop list on the 23rd.

On the 26th, Amaya should make Pipeline’s Top 100 list, considering he’s already at 87 it is a good bet. Hoerner and Adbert Alzolay will be longshots to make that list.

Pipeline will release their top 30 Cubs’ Prospect list in February.