Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

cubs azl spring training logoAs prospects graduate from eligibility and recently-drafted players get thrown into the mix, mid-season top prospect rankings are inevitably re-shuffled and are usually pretty educational. Almost a full season worth of games in the minors plus an entire draft’s worth of new athletes means things can get pretty shaken up. The Cubs, for example, entering the season as’s number one system, are now facing questions like Do the Cubs Still have a Top 10 Farm System?,* after graduating three of their top prospects – Jorge Soler, Addison Russell and Kris Bryant (plus Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara lost eligibility last year).

So when MLB Pipeline recently updated their top 100, I thought it was worth sharing the new leaders at the top, as well as some of the notable Cub inclusions.

First, we’ll start with the leaders. The Minnesota Twins are a pretty heavy favorite for the top overall farm system in baseball, as they hold the number one overall prospect (Byron Buxton – no surprise there) and number four overall prospect (Miguel Sano) in all of baseball. The Dodgers also have a strong presence at the top of this list with shortstop Corey Seager taking over the number two overall spot, and Julio Urias rounding out the top five. Nationals pitcher Lucas Giolito comes in at number three, and overall this is a relatively high-profile/familiar group of guys at the top.

The Cubs still have a very nice presence, according to MLB Pipeline, placing five prospects within the top 100. Starting from the bottom, Cubs A+ ball pitcher Duane Underwood comes in at number 80 overall, which strikes me as a fair assessment, assuming Underwood’s recent arm issue is no big deal. Drafted in 2012, Underwood turned 21 less than a month ago and has as much upside as any pitcher in the Cubs system.

After Underwood comes another pitcher, Carl Edwards Jr., at number 66 overall. Edwards came over in the Matt Garza trade, is 23 years old (nearly 24) and has been pitching out of the AAA Iowa bullpen (primarily to save his arm/work his arm strength back up). Edwards’ big league future may yet be as a starter, but he could get an opportunity to work out of the MLB pen in 2015 when rosters expand in September (assuming he recaptures his control).

Following Carl Edwards Jr. is Tennessee Smokies corner outfielder Billy McKinney – who came over with Addison Russell in the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel trade in 2014 – at number 41 overall. Promoted to AA in May, McKinney has impressed scouts with his knowledge of the strike-zone and patient approach at the plate. Over 277 PAs at AA, McKinney (20 years old) has a mere 14.8% strikeout rate.

After McKinney comes the highly-touted, extremely young, A-ball shortstop Gleyber Torres at 36. At just 18 years old, Torres has done some impressive things on offense (especially for a shortstop and double for his age) and is highly regarded on defense. Just recently, Mark Gonzales (via David Kaplan in the video here) said that some scouts consider Torres the best shortstop in the Cubs’ organization – high praise considering the presence of Addison Russell and Javier Baez, for two examples.

Last, but certainly not least, comes catcher – currently on the Cubs 25-man roster – Kyle Schwarber at number seven overall. Coming up to replace an injured Miguel Montero, Kyle Schwarber has been nothing short of fantastic in his short stint with the Chicago Cubs. He has proved that his bat is indeed major league ready, even if adjustments will eventually come, by hitting .342/.425/.605 in his 87 PAs, with an strong 11.5% BB-rate and a perfectly usable 26.4% K-rate. On the defensive side, Schwarber still may need some work, but he has looked passable behind the plate and in left field (on occasion). While there is work to be done, he is getting practice in at the highest level with some of the best coaches and teammates possible. With his reportedly strong work ethic and the ear of Miguel Montero and David Ross, the only thing standing in the way of becoming a part-to-full-time catcher is time.

(Speaking of catchers: By the end of the season, I wonder whether break out catching prospect Willson Contreras, about whom I wrote earlier today, will also be getting a look in these top 100 lists.)

It’s yet another strong showing for the Cubs’ minor league system and serves to remind us that this rebuild wasn’t a one-and-done. The Cubs’ MiLB system will be a constant work in progress. Their position among the rankings may ebb and flow as players move on or move out, but the consistency is just starting to emerge.

*If you’re wondering, Jim Callis’s answer to that question is “yes,” probably even after Kyle Schwarber graduates. Depth for miles.

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