Prospect ranking gets more scientific all the time, but it remains more an art than a science. These rankings are no exception.
As always, I considered each player through the twin lenses of Projection and Risk, and ranked accordingly. The challenge in ranking prospects mid-season, regardless of methodology, is largely one of perspective. It is easy to see a guy having a perfectly normal slump and drop him down the rankings a dozen spots, and even easier to see a guy on a hot streak and jump him up. I tried to avoid that, but, in all honesty, I probably did it anyway. On that note, though, I should mention that the rankings have been set for about two weeks. Recent promotions had no impact here.
Some names have numbers in parenthesis after them; those numbers indicate the ranking for that player on the pre-season list. Any player who had not played a professional game in the United States as of that list was not eligible to appear on it. That same rule applies to this list, by the way, and means that Dylan Cease and Jake Stinnett are both absent.
Then again, so are both Justin Steele and Carson Sands, not to mention a number of other potentially worthy candidates. Once again the list of candidates for the last few slots was long, and I leaned towards players who have perhaps been overlooked a little. There are a lot of other guys, including Sands and Steele, who could easily be slotted into any of those final five slots instead.
Any player who has been in the majors for a some time this season is also absent from this list. Neil Ramirez is one example of that, but he isn’t the only one. Unsurprisingly, there were also some players who dropped off the bottom of the list. Quite a few of them, actually, given the sheer volume of new names that appear in the top half of the list.
And so, without further ado, here is the mid-season update to the 2014 Bleacher Nation Top 40 Prospects List. Enjoy.
1. Kris Bryant (2) 3B/OF
He’s the best prospect in baseball, the best slugger in the minor leagues, and one of the best minor league hitters you will ever lay eyes on. And let’s not forget the #sparkle.
2. Jorge Soler (3) OF
He has the highest floor of any of the Cubs elite hitters, and now that he is healthy he is showing off an impressive ceiling as well. We expected a lot of Soler, but he could prove to be better than we hoped.
3. Javier Baez (1) SS/2B
When a smooth fielding, homer mashing, Futures Game playing, Triple A shortstop is your third best prospect, you have an absurdly amazing farm system. The higher risk due to his contact rate knock Baez out of the top slot, but his recent adjustments have shown a ton of promise. He could yet be the best of the bunch.
4. Addison Russell SS
Russell looks like the complete package: a guy who could hit for average, has plenty of power, and could play shortstop (and play it well) in the majors. If you’re wondering, he would also fit at third base or in the outfield.
5. Jen-Ho Tseng RHP
As a nineteen year old he was sent to the full season Midwest League, and through thirteen games had posted a strikeout to walk ratio of 7.11. That is impressive.
6. Arismendy Alcantara (6) 2B/OF
If you were to design the ideal middle infielder, he would probably turn out a lot like Alcantara. The walk rate dropped in Iowa this year, but so far he looks right at home in the majors.
7. Kyle Schwarber C/OF
In the eyes of some, Schwarber went from suspect draft pick to slugging star in a matter of weeks. In the eyes of others, questions remain about his long term position. Meanwhile, Schwarber just keeps on hitting.
8. Albert Almora (5) OF
Almora got off to a slow start, but don’t let that fool you. Since his All-Star break his OPS is .900+, and he is still one of the younger hitters in the league (all the more so since his promotion). And don’t forget that his best tool, his glove, barely shows on a minor league stat sheet.
9. Kyle Hendricks (9) RHP
Very good control and very good off-speed stuff result in a guy with a very good chance to be a fixture at the back of the Cubs rotation next season.
10. C.J. Edwards (4) RHP
Shoulder soreness derailed his 2014 season, but a lack of structural damage is hopefully good news for his long term future. His stuff still has him in the picture as a future mid-rotation starter.
11. Dan Vogelbach (12) 1B
Another slow starter, Vogelbach’s power numbers surged in June before tailing off again. His lack of positional flexibility continues to hurt his stock, though, as he will have hit enough to overcome what value he doesn’t bring with his glove. Still, the bat is good enough that even in a less than awesome season he just misses the Top Ten on a stacked list.
12. Billy McKinney OF
He’s probably a left fielder long term, but he’s a left fielder who bats left handed with some quality power, some quality speed, and potentially very good defense in a corner slot. The ceiling isn’t extravagant, but he has a high floor.
13. Eloy Jimenez OF
This ranking is all about projection, but Jimenez is a very projectable guy. That he was sent to the Arizona Rookie League at the age of seventeen speaks volumes.
14. Pierce Johnson (7)RHP
Another pitcher slowed by injury, Johnson has had more trouble with his control this season than we’ve seen in the past. The ceiling remains that of a mid-rotation starter, but if the rotation gets crowded he could be a real weapon out of the bullpen.
15. Gleyber Torres SS
Another pure projection ranking, Torres joins Jimenez in the “seventeen years old in the Rookie League” club. Torres joins a deep position in the organization, but he is years away from having to fight for playing time against shortstops above him on this list.
16. Armando Rivero RHP
Rivero has dominated at both Double A and Triple A this season, and I think in time he’ll pitch pretty well in Wrigley as well. He could help make the Cubs’ closer competition a crowded one.
17. Corey Black (13) RHP
When he hold down the walks, Black looks like a future mid-rotation starter. When he doesn’t, he looks like a potentially great reliever. Either way I like his chances to have a major league future.
18. Arodys Vizcaino (10) RHP
The Vizcaino rehab tour has reached the third stop of the year. Despite some mixed results in Iowa, though, this guy still looks like a future closer in the making. Often lost in his lengthy rehab story is that he is only twenty three.
19. Gioskar Amaya (35) 2B
Amaya has not shown a lot of power this year, but he has gotten on base at a very nice rate. Should that OBP stay high, and should even a little more power show up, he could yet make a name for himself. Unless a lot of other prospects collapse, though, he is pretty thoroughly blocked.
20. Trevor Clifton RHP
Drafted as a young, raw, high school flame thrower, Clifton is starting to show flashes of possible brilliance. He has a ton of potential, but he still comes with a ton of risk.
21. Jeimer Candelario (8) 3B
After a very rough start in Daytona (a rough start that included plenty of walks), Candelario was sent back to Kane County. As a patient, powerful switch hitting third baseman there is still plenty here to dream on, and since he won’t turn twenty one until November he has plenty of time to make some improvements. Keep a close eye on this one.
22. Duane Underwood (27) RHP
He doesn’t strike out a ton of hitters and he gives up a few more walks than we’d really like (although both of those trends are improving lately), but Underwood is also very stingy with the hits. I’d not be surprised if he becomes a breakout story in 2015.
23. Eric Jokisch (24) LHP
Jokisch has pitched some great games for Iowa this summer, but he has also been inconsistent. A touch more consistency and he could emerge as a back of the rotation starter candidate for the Cubs. Otherwise, he may get a look as a bullpen lefty.
24. Jacob Hannemann (25) OF
Despite an up and down season with Kane County, Hannemann was promoted to Daytona with thirty two steals, five triples, and six home runs. He needs to be more consistent, but his combination of power and speed holds a lot of promise.
25. Marco Hernandez (39) SS
Hernandez has already set new career highs in walks and triples, but his best weapon continues to be his glove. As a left handed hitter, he could also emerge as a valuable utility guy for the right handed heavy Cubs in a few years.
26. Paul Blackburn (17) RHP
This ranking is also all about projection, but that’s not to dismiss what Blackburn has done this season. The strikeout numbers are low, but he’s induced plenty of grounders and does not give up many hits.
27. Ivan Pineyro (18) RHP
After a promising 2013, Pineyro has been largely derailed by injury this season. A back of the rotation starter is one possible future for the right hander, but he is still probably a year away.
28. Stephen Bruno (33) 2B
The Smokies second baseman has been one of the better stories of 2014. He doesn’t do anything exceptionally well (except maybe get hit by pitches), but he does enough well enough to become a fringe average offensive second baseman at the major league level if he continues to develop.
29. Dallas Beeler (21) RHP
Beeler can be a back of the rotation starter for the Cubs, but his margin for error is small. If that window closes he may get a shot out of the bullpen.
30. Rob Zastryzny (14) LHP
Daytona’s lefty starter was awful in April and May, but in June he turned the corner and raised his strikeout rate while significantly cutting back on the hits allowed. Should he maintain that improvement through the second half, this ranking probably bounces back into the high teens over the winter.
31. Tyler Skulina (29) RHP
Like so many other of the Cubs young starters, Skulina has lowish numbers in both strikeouts earned and hits allowed. His best projection is probably as a mid-rotation guy
32. Josh Conway RHP
The Cubs drafted him despite his arm surgery, and two years later they finally got him on the mound. The results have been mixed so far, but when he is at his best he already shows signs of being a great ground ball pitcher. He has one of the highest risk levels in the system, but also a very high ceiling.
33. Christian Villanueva (15) 3B
The defensive wizard scuffled at the plate in Triple A, prompting a return to Tennessee. He’ll get another crack at Iowa, though, and should eventually get a chance in the majors. His glove could make him a valuable bench piece if his bat can hold up.
34. James Pugliese (36) RHP
It can sometimes be hard to get excited about a minor league reliever. When one posts a K/9 over 10 and a BB/9 under 2 like Pugliese has, that tends to make things a little easier.
35. Bijan Rademacher (40) OF
Rademacher is having his best season as a professional, but there are asterisks in the age (he turned 23 in June) and strikeout columns. If he repeats this success at Double A he could leap up this list, but for now I see him as a potentially valuable left handed hitting fourth outfielder.
36. Dillon Maples (23) RHP
The scouts are still talking about his two plus pitches, but injuries have kept Maples mostly on the sidelines this year. I’d love to see him stick as a starter, but the Cubs may be tempted to see how fast he can move as a reliever.
37. Mark Zagunis C/OF
So far Zagunis has done just about everything I could ask of a hitter. With any young prospect, there are questions about the chances to stick at catcher, but Zagunis figures to have at least as good of a chance as Schwarber. For this year, though, I’d like to see the Cubs move him to a full season league and see how his bat handles the tougher pitching.
38. Jeffrey Baez OF
After three season in summer and rookie level leagues, Baez finally graduated to Short Season A this summer. A surprising uptick in power and a pile of steals later, he was promoted to Kane County. That mix of power and speed is very intriguing, but it remains largely a potential. Keep a close eye on Baez, but I would not get too excited yet.
39. Will Remillard C
This guy was billed a defensive catcher when the Cubs drafted him, but so far he’s proven to be pretty good at the plate as well as behind it. The high walk rate and low strikeout rate bode well for his future as a hitter, and his defense by all accounts has been as good as advertised.
40. Ryan McNeil RHP
McNeil was a promising right hander when the Cubs took him in 2012, but soon thereafter he was an injured right hander. Now on the rehab trail he is struggling, but also showing flashes of very goodness. It may be next season before the Cubs really know what they have in him.