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: Second Base As Deep As Ever

By Todd Johnson

It’s amazing how much change can happen in one year. Last year, this is how I ranked the second baseman in the Cubs’ minor-league system:
1. Carlos Sepulveda, 2. David Bote, 3. Jared Young/Austin Upshaw, 5. Chesny Young, and 6. Trent Giambrone.

What a difference a year makes. Sepulveda never played a day in 2018. Bote is now on the major-league roster while Jared Young is now the number one first baseman in the system. Austin Upshaw surprisingly struggled all year at two levels of class A. On the other hand, Chesney Young is still hanging around after having a more up year than down.

However, only two of last year’s top six are on this year‘s list.

1. To move up from number six to number one is quite an achievement for Trent Giambrone but he earned it through plate discipline and power (17 HRS at AA). He also began branching out to play more shortstop and third base and that will increase his ability to move up in the system. He even played right field once in the AFL. Playing in the PCL should increase his HR totals over 20 next year.

2. I really really like 2018 fifth round pick Andy Weber. He is 6’2” was drafted as a second baseman but also played shortstop, third, and first at Eugene. He reminds me a lot of Jared Young but is a little bit skinnier. One thing I think he has over Young is a bit more patience. Then again, his power could change with off-season conditioning. I’m really excited to see what he can do in 2019, and also where he’s going to be to start the year. He could be a guy that could skip South Bend with his patience at the plate.

3. Last year, Carlos Sepulveda was the number one second baseman on this list. He missed all of 2018 after missing most of 2017. He’s gotten some action down in the Caribbean this winter, which is a good sign. Hopefully he can come back in 2019 as a 21-year-old, which is really strange to say after missing two years. But what Sepulveda had was the ability to put the bat on the ball. Not really a power guy, but he could turn on an inside pitch and take it right down the line.

4. When I hung out with South Bend for about 10 days last summer, one of the highlights every day was just saying hey to Christian Donahue. The non-drafted free agent out of Oregon State was enjoying every single second of playing pro ball. And not only was his attitude infectious off the field, it was infectious on the field. He played multiple positions, but mostly second. He showed the ability to hit the ball all over and to take a walk. He was one of my favorite players to watch play in person last year. He should start 2019 at Myrtle Beach.

5. When Jonathan Perlaza signed in 2015, the then 16-year-old ranked not too far behind Aramis Ademan. Injuries slowed his development, but last year saw him really come on at Mesa and I got a sneak peek of him in the playoffs at Eugene. He should be at South Bend with his solid hit tool as a left-handed bat in the middle of the infield.

6. One of the fun things about August last year was the somewhat breakout performance of Delvin Zinn in an every day role. The two time Cub draftee finally got over a nagging finger injury and played almost every day throughout the infield in August as he hit .322 with a .406 OBP for the month. He’s still got some small issues on defense he’s working on. But like Donahue, he’s an infectious player to watch and to be around.

Still Some Work to Do
Jhonny Bethencourt’s bat is one of the top young bats in the system. The issue is he has a long ways to go on defense. A wrist injury caused him to miss most of final three months of 2018. Hopefully he spends his winter working on his fielding skills as well as his decision making in game situations. I don’t see him repeating South Bend. He should be at Myrtle Beach with the quality of his bat.

The One to Watch in 2019
Reivaj Garcia
hit very well for most of the season in Mesa. At 17-18 years old, he was probably playing two years above where he should’ve been. Still, the second baseman out of Mexico displayed a mature approach for such a young kid in a stateside league. Eugene will be the beneficiary of his expertise in 2019.

What If…
With Javy Baez at shortstop, the likely landing point for Nico Hoerner in the majors is at second base as a Cub. It’ll be interesting to see how much time he puts in there this year as he gets closer and closer to Chicago. If the Chicago Cubs moved him to second, he would easily be number one on this list. In spring training, we will see how many looks Hoerner gets with the big league club and just exactly where he plays.

With the AFL Season Over, What’s Ahead for Nico?

By Todd Johnson

I must admit I was surprised to see Nico Hoerner get assigned to the Arizona Fall League a few months ago. At the time of the announcement, Hoerner had only gone to the plate 49 times over his one month as a pro between Mesa, Eugene, and South Bend. Going to the AFL would be a huge jump in talent from low A South Bend.

Hoerner told MLB.com’s Jim Callis what his attitude was heading into the AFL: 

“They [the Cubs] knew I’d make the most of it, whether the results were great or not, I’d make the most of it development-wise. That was my goal going into it, and I think I did a good job of that.”

Hoerner showed everyone he could handle that jump just fine. He hit with power all over the field, he showed good base running skills, and he looked solid at the shortstop position with excellent footwork. He also impressed his teammates with his work ethic. For the six week short season, Hoerner hit .337 with a .362 OBP and an OPS of .867. Those stats were totaled over 89 ABs. And now, new and exciting questions are being asked of his future.

Where will he begin 2018? Will he stay at shortstop next year? Could he be in Chicago quickly? Is he the Cubs’ new number one prospect?

While these are interesting questions, they won’t easily be answered quickly. There is a lot of time between now and April 5, MiLB Opening Day. A lot can take place over 4.5 months. There’s off season conditioning, hitting development, weight training, and spring training.

Based on his fall, Nico should be slated to see plenty of time in Mesa in Spring Training with the big league club. It will be interesting to see just what position he plays. It could be beside Javy at second or it could be in place of Javy at shortstop. That is the most interesting question to me. Then again, it could be both and I am conditioned enough to accept that outcome, too.

Spring Training should also give a hint where Nico is going to play. However, that assignment probably is not going to come until late in camp as Nico should get plenty of time and exposure with the MLB squad. 

Before the AFL took place, I thought Nico should head to Myrtle Beach to begin 2019. Now, Tennessee seems to the most likely choice based on his success this fall. When the Cubs Convention comes in January, that is the question I want to hear answered the most.

As we have seen in the past, the Cubs tend to bring up their prospects when they think the prospect cannot develop any more in the minors; that the only place for the player to continue to grow is in the majors.

Right now, Nico’s development is moving along at the speed of light. Things will slow down the next three months. When it comes time to play baseball again in Mesa, Nico’s performance in Spring Training will answer all but one of the questions fully. We are going to have to wait until the MiLB season begins to see how quickly he can keep moving on up.

As for prospect lists, they should be arriving shortly. Expect to see Nico on top of every single one and on many top 100 lists that will soon follow.

Trying to Predict Baseball America’s Upcoming Draft Grades

By Todd Johnson

In the next week, Baseball America will be releasing the Cubs 2018 draft grades. In addition, they will also be releasing the Cubs new top 10 prospects for 2019. To get a jump start on the action, here are some predictions of what some of draft grades might be. I will recap their top 10 prospects at a later date.

BEST PURE HITTER: . Most people would think I would go with Nico here. Nico may be the most advanced hitter, but that is not quite the same as a pure natural hitter. That “pure hitter” distinction belongs to Cole Roederer, one of the Cubs two second round compensation pics. What I like most about Cole is that he’s only 18 and he has pretty good power to all fields. If you were to ask scouts in the Southwest, they might put Brennen Davis at the top of their list as he tested off the charts on pitch recognition software.

BEST POWER: Right now, this award would have to go to Luke Reynolds. In a couple years though, Roederer could take it all.

FASTEST RUNNER: Brennen Davis wins this running away with honorable mentions going to Edmond American and Roederer.

BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Cole Roederer drew a lot of raves and plaudits for his ability to go get the ball this summer in the AZL from Baseball America’s Bill Mitchell.

BEST ATHLETE: Brennen Davis might be that special athlete the Cubs have been trying to draft for the past six summers.  In addition to speed, he has pretty good height which allows him to cover a lot of ground in the outfield. Now, if he could just stay healthy.

BEST FASTBALL: Riley Thompson is a favorite of mine in large part to his 95 mile an hour fastball that devastated the Northwest League in 2018. 

BEST SECONDARY PITCH: To be determined but it has to Paul Richan’s breaking ball for now. In a year, it could be anything by Riley Thompson

BEST PRO DEBUT: Nico Hoerner. is doing well in the Arizona Fall  League which pretty much wraps this award right up. If you were to ask me about pitching, I’d have to go with Thompson who looked more and more impressive with each start.

MOST INTRIGUING BACKGROUND: Being  the nephew of a former MLB pitcher and the son of a current agent, Kohl Franklin should have some unique experiences to share in interviews the next few years.

CLOSEST TO THE MAJORS: Nico Hoerner. I don’t think I need to say anything more.

BEST LATE-ROUND PICK: Edmond Americaan was an over slot sign in the 35th round out of Chipola in Florida. I was a little surprised that the Cubs were able to get him and then he helped lead Mesa 1 to the best record in the Arizona Rookie League.

The One Who Got Away: Mitchell Parker – The 6’3” lefty starting pitcher toyed with the idea of signing with the Cubs for a while but the Cubs just could not match what he was asking. Instead, he decided to attend Tennessee.

10 Things I Think: Free Agency, $$$, Trades, Hamels, Nico, Trent, and More

By Todd Johnson

It is been a while since since I did random notes of 10 unrelated things about the organization. There are a lot of things happening with regards to free agency, payroll finances, roster decisions, and other assorted minutia that I really don’t wanna devote an entire long form post to each one. Instead, I’m just going to get a few thoughts out there.

10. I thought about doing a full article about the craziness that is going to be South Bend’s roster construction in 2019. If you take Eugene’s roster of almost 35 guys and take 10 to 15 off of each of the two Mesa teams, that’s about 55 to 65 guys who will be competing for 25 spots to play in northern Indiana come April. It is going to be quite the competition. As a result, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to try to do a preview of the team until the actual roster is released. Then again, I could see who Arizona Phil has playing on the squad during spring training. On the other hand, that Spring Training roster could be extremely fluid.

9. Mentat Theo Epstein – If the Cubs really want a certain free agent this offseason, Theo is going to go make moves to make it happen. Considering the amount of bodies that would be on the roster if certain free agents would be added, the Cubs will definitely make moves (plural) to get who they want and to get rid of who they don’t think they need anymore. It may require a few trades with both major and minor league talent to make the team more financially flexible to take on that salary. Theo has always stated what he has wanted to do. And if he wants Harper, he is going to go get him but he’s not just going to get Harper alone. The Cubs need a few bullpen arms and maybe a backup catcher. There will be several moves before and after any signing ~ plans within plans within plans.

8. Patrick Mooney of “The Athletic” floated the idea that the Cubs might not be done with Addison Russell. It’s not a good idea. Considering that the Cubs have him signed for three more years and Russell is still relatively young, I understand the need that some people may feel to correct his behavior. Not me. If the Cubs did keep Russell, the Cubs would basically go back on everything that Theo said back in September when the suspension began.

7. MiLB Free Agency – The Cubs signed a few floaters who might be considered to be AAAA players to the 40 man roster. Odds are the Cubs will try to get them through waivers so that they can outright them to Iowa. The Cubs let 17 long-term minor league guys go last Friday. I’m not surprised and I’m actually happy for a few of them because there was no hope of them getting to Chicago, considering who is playing in front of them. Hopefully, guys like Bijan Rademacher and Stephen Bruno can latch on with someone to get a shot at the majors.

6. Lots of Shortstops Questions – The Cubs are starting to get all the shortstops again. It could be the strongest position by the end of 2019 with most of that talent being at some level of class A to start the season. The most interesting aspect to the position in 2019 is  just  exactly which affiliate everyone but Zack Short is going to begin the year at. Zack will be in Iowa, but who will be at Tennessee, Myrtle Beach, and South Bend? Will Aramis Ademan do Myrtle Beach? Just how good is Luis Verdugo after his scintillating August for Mesa? And Nico…how much SS will he play in 2019?

5. I originally wanted to devote a whole article to the Cubs having a second rookie league team and what impact that that could have on the organization in 2019. I still may do it later, it could be here or over at BP Wrigleyville. The number one thing to take away from that experiment was how many more pitching prospects popped up on the radar throughout the year. Hopefully, the Cubs will continue to have two Arizona Rookie League teams and to see more positive long-term effects.

4. Nico, Nico, Nico – I am pretty sure everybody’s pretty excited about how he is doing in the Arizona Fall League. Nico is showing a penchant for hitting at the plate and he’s also played second for a game and third for another. One thing nobody talks about is that he doesn’t really walk a lot. He’s only walked 11 times in 116 plate appearances this year. Despite that, it doesn’t diminish his potential. There are some who would love to see him in Chicago by the end of 2019, but I think he really needs to get a full year in the minors working on that plate discipline. If Nico dominates, then he dominates.If he shows he belongs, then keep moving him up but it doesn’t hurt to plan for the majors at the same time.

3. I really liked that the Cubs picked up the option on pitcher Cole Hamels. The $20 million cost is well worth what Hamels can bring to the mound as a Cub. The Cubs now have the most depth of any National League starting rotation.

2. Last night, Gordon Wittenmeyer of the Sun Times tweeted out that Joe Maddon’s contract is not going to be negotiated this offseason. Instead, the issue will be revisited in the 2019 season. Despite all the problems the Cubs had in 2018, Maddon still got 95 wins out of this team. The feeling from the front office might be that he could have gotten one more in April or May that could have changed the entire postseason. That disconnect might be a reason why there has been no extension yet.

1. Trent Giambrone hasn’t played a hell of a lot in the Arizona Fall League but he’s been very impressive when he has. Not only is he hitting for average and hitting for power, he’s also an on base machine machine (.500  OBP). And he’s doing it against some pretty decent competition. When I redo my top 21 prospect list for January 1, Giambrone is more than likely going to have a top 10/15 spot.

Bonus MiLB News
*Corey Black has resigned with the Cubs for 2019 and his tries to work his way back.
*The Cubs also increased their 2018 international free agent signings up to 11 with 3 new signings last week per Arizona Phil. There is still no word on the resolution of being able to sign Mexican players and whether the Cubs can re-sign pitcher Florencio Serrano.

The Weekly: Affiliates Inked, Upcoming Lists, Travel Plans, the 40 Man, and MiLB Free Agency

By Todd Johnson

Affiliates Get All Inked
It was a bit strange to see, but the Cubs put to rest any chances of affiliate roulette by extending their five major affiliate PDCs through 2022. The Cubs extended Iowa, Myrtle Beach, and South Bend by two more years as Tennessee and Eugene just had their PDCs extended in recent months. I like the fact that the Cubs synced them up to expire all at the same time. That ends the bi-yearly carousel that has been taking place the past 6 years.

Here Come the Lists
It is getting to be that time of year as publications begin to put out their winter top prospect lists. Baseball America started with the American League East. It’ll be fun to see who has which prospect where on a list. The differentiation between the lists and who some outliers might be are also of interest.

In addition, Baseball America will also be publishing their draft grade for the Cubs for 2018. The Cubs should do alright. I look forward to seeing how they evaluate the pitching the Cubs took this year.

I was thinking of changing my Top 21 list when the AFL ends but I think I will just let it be for awhile until the trades are all done this winter.

AFL All-Star Game
Last night, Nico Hoerner played in the Arizona Fall League All-Star game. The shortstop earned his way onto the squad through fan voting. On the night, he went 1 for 2. In addition reliever Bailey Clark also saw some action out of the bullpen as he was charged with 2 runs in 2/3 of an inning. There are now just 10 games left in the AFL season

Travel Dates…
I started planning out my travel calendar to go see some ball games next spring and summer. I’ve set a tentative schedule and it looks like I will be seeing much more baseball in 2019 than I did in 2018. My trips begin in early May as I go over to Clinton, Iowa for two days. It is a little over an hour for me and I will be getting back from Illinois History Day in Springfield just in time.

Then it looks like I’ll be out in Des Moines the first week in June for a couple of days. Later that month, I will be heading over to South Bend. In July, I’ll be up in Appleton, Wisconsin for three days. After that, I will see South Bend in Beloit for three games, which is only 35-40 minutes from my house.

I am pretty excited about seeing some of the more elite players in South Bend in early May before they get promoted to Myrtle Beach. Over the past couple of summers I haven’t been to games until June or July. This next year will be fun as I get to see players before and after the draft.

Upcoming Dates – 40 Man Deadline Coming Fast
I’m going to keep an eye on November 20 which is when the Cubs have to set their 40 man roster or expose some prospects to the Rule V Draft. The two names I am keeping a lookout for are catchers PJ Higgins and Ian Rice. If either one is left off the 40 man, I feel pretty confident in saying some other team is going to snag them up on December 13th, the day of the draft.

Several things could change who the Cubs select to add to the 40 man roster and most of them will be because of who they add to be on the 25 man roster by then.

Back in August, I thought Trevor Clifton, Justin Steele, and Justin Vosler looked to be locks. I am not straying from those selections. I just wonder if the Cubs will add anyone else besides the aforementioned catchers. Lefty reliever Jordan Minch could be taken if unprotected as could fellow lefty Manny Rondon.

MiLB Free Agency Begins
The Cubs resigned a few of their own players to MiLB contracts for 2019. They inked (per Arizona Phil) Erick Castillo, Gioskar Amaya, Yasiel Balaguert, Roberto Caro, Erick Leal, Chris Pieters, and Danny Hultzen. However, the Cubs let go of Jeffrey Baez, Alberto Baldonado, Wynton Bernard, Corey Black, Stephen Bruno, Chris Coghlan, Casey Coleman, Ryan Court, Mike Freeman, Terrance Gore, Trey Martin, Cory Mazzoni, Jose Paulino, Bijan Rademacher, Jose Rosario, Kyle Ryan, and Daury Torrez. Considering the depth of the system now, letting this many players go is not surprising. Many were hanging on for a chance to get to Chicago or the big leagues. These guys still can re-sign with the Cubs.

Coming Up
There are no big plans this week. I was just going let trades and free agency drive the website for a couple of weeks until Thanksgiving. I do have a couple ideas floating around my head that I may give words to today or tomorrow to put out on Tuesday or Thursday. We shall see.

Card of the Week

State of the Cubs: MiLB System Could Have a New Hope Coming

By Todd Johnson

In years past, this article was spread out over two or three days. I would individually look at pitching, hitting, and relieving. It doesn’t need to be done that way anymore. Instead, today’s post will discuss how some parts of the system are trending.

Strengths
From AAA all the way down to rookie ball in Arizona, the Cubs have a plethora of starting pitching for 2019. It’s still a little uncertain as to who is going to pitch where next year, but the Cubs are awash with a lot of guys who could be back end of the rotation type guys. They’re only a handful of players who might be considered a 2 or a 3.  

The greatest aspect about the starting pitching strength is that the Cubs have a lot of depth. So much so, there are several arms who will be repeating AA and Iowa next year because of that depth. There are 15 names in play for the 10 spots at AA and AAA. Not everyone is going to make the cut to move up a level.

As a result, that depth is going to trickle down and create somewhat of a log jam in the lower part of the system. It’s also going to create competition and we might see better pitching as a result.

The second strength of the Cub system is its youth. The Cubs attacked the international free-agent signing periods from 2015 to 2018 with a lot of young arms and bats. Those players are just going to be reaching Eugene and South Bend in 2019. It’ll be interesting to see who keeps their head above water.

Concerns
In the summers from 2015 to 2017, the Cubs traded away a wealth of hitting and did not get any in return through the draft. As a result, they really don’t have a lot of impact bats in the system. Zack Short and Trent Giambrone are nice surprises from those drafts, as well as Jared Young, but the Cubs are hurting for hitters from Myrtle Beach on up to Iowa.

Last year saw the Cubs succeed with a few non-drafted free agents and the Cubs may be willing to go out and get more MiLB free agents to fill the middle part of their system. As well, the Cubs used three of their first four picks in the 2018 draft on Nico Hoerner, Cole Roederer, and Brennen Davis. All three, when healthy, seemed to have a pretty good first year in Mesa, Eugene, and South Bend.

The Hope
The Cubs may have one of the bottom five ranked systems in the minor leagues. They may lack your basic star impact prospects that we’ve seen in years past. But that doesn’t mean that the current crop of prospects is going to be bad. In fact, there a lot of prospects who should be MLB contributors in 2019. I can see Bailey Clark, Michael Rucker, and Dakota Mekkes pitching in the bullpen. I can see Mark Zagunis in a bench role. I can see Zack Short cranking out a home run or drawing a walk at Wrigley. There are several players who have what it takes.

The New Hope
In getting back to the youth, that’s probably where the next Cubs’ star is going to come from. Right now, Nico Hoerner is a glow-in-the-dark kind of prospect. He’s shining bright in the AFL with minimal experience against elite competition. Nico’s time in the minors could be fast-tracked.

Most of the Cubs MLB core is going to be playing on expiring contracts in 2021. The Cubs can’t sign them all so they do have some time to rebuild that system. The key is going to be the development of that youth the next two summers. Miguel Amaya, Brailyn Marquez, Cole Roederer, Nelson Velasquez, Brennen Davis, Luis Vazquez, Jonathan Sierra, Fernando Kelli, and Richard Gallardo are going to be the guys to watch turn into stars. At least that’s the hope for 2019 and 2020.