Pitching takes center stage today, and some fairly high upside pitching at that. Young pitching is becoming a strength of the lower levels this system, but it will take time before that young pitching moves up into the mid-levels of the organization and becomes potential reinforcements for the major league team.
The list isn’t all pitchers, though, and the hitters today are indicative of the developing strength of outfielders, all kinds of outfielders, in this farm system. Defensive and slugging, speedsters and switch hitters – if you can imagine a particular make and model of outfielder, the Cubs probably have one fairly close to that in the organization somewhere. Today we take a look at two pretty interesting ones.
If you missed the introduction to this version of the Top 40, you can find it here. Monday’s edition, featuring prospects 40 through 31, can be found here. And if you want to refer back to the pre-season edition, you can find that one here. All stats were accurate as of Sunday. I updated some, but odds are good I missed a few.
30. Jeremy Null, RHP. Myrtle Beach.
Previous Ranking: Unranked.
At 6’7″ Null is an imposing figure on the mound who works in the low nineties and relentlessly attacks the strike zone. After having little difficulty with the Midwest League, the Cubs moved him up to the Carolina League where he has run into a few stumbles. His very good control has continued to produce an ultra-low walk rate (0.55 BB/9 in South Bend, 0.83 in Myrtle Beach) that I suspect will be his calling card as he continues to progress. He probably has a future as a back of the rotation starter or middle reliever in a few seasons.
29. Charcer Burks, OF. South Bend.
Previous Ranking: 40
Burks slipped into the final slot of the pre-season Top 40, and so far he has made that ranking look much too low. Despite moving up to a full season league for the first time Burks has dropped his strikeout rate to 17.8% and raised his ISO to .087 as compared to his 2014 Boise numbers. Right now he is mainly an on base (.351 OBP, 9.5% walk rate) and speed (22 steals) sort of player, but I think he’ll develop a fair amount of power before he’s ready.
28. Chesny Young, INF. Myrtle Beach.
Previous Ranking: Unranked.
Young features a smooth, contact oriented swing that can drive the ball to all fields, and he combines it with an understanding of the strike zone that is unusual at any level of the minors. These factors have led to his High A line of .328/.383/.397 and have established him as a prospect well worth monitoring. His lack of power at the plate hurts his stock to some degree, but given his on base percentage I think he could have a career despite that. Defensively he has played all of the diamond, but seems best suited to the infield. His big test will come in Tennessee next season.
27. Oscar De La Cruz, RHP. Eugene.
Previous Ranking: Not eligible (Had only played in the DSL)
Over the past two seasons De La Cruz has had success in the Dominican Summer League, but it wasn’t until the Cubs jumped him up to the Northwest League that he really emerged onto the radar. Standing 6’4″, De La Cruz has totaled 47 strikeouts in 49 innings while giving up just one home run. His walk rate, 2.57 BB/9, is also sound. I do not have much more information than what is on his stat sheet so I am unsure quite how to project him going forward, but he has definitely gotten my attention with his 2015 campaign so far. I look forward to watching his starts on MiLB.tv in South Bend next season.
26. Trevor Clifton, RHP. South Bend.
Previous Ranking: 22
Another big young pitcher with a high velocity arm, Clifton advanced to Low A South Bend this season with mixed results. He has gotten plenty of strikeouts, 76 in 79 innings to be exact, but he has also given up too many walks and posted a WHIP of 1.42. That, combined with his fly ball tendencies, has led to an ERA of 4.78 and a FIP of 4.39. He was 19 when the season started, though, and has plenty of time to refine his front of the rotation potential into repeatable success.
25.Dave Berg, RHP. Myrtle Beach.
Previous Ranking: Not eligible (2015 draftee)
This submariner is one of the best college relievers to come out of the PAC 12 conference, and somehow he lasted all the way to the Cubs in the 6th round this June. As a reliever, this guy is the total package. He attacks hitters, pounds the bottom of the strike zone, gets an absurd number of ground outs (2.67 GO/AO this season), avoids walks (1.04 BB/9 with Eugene) and gets strikeouts (8.31 K/9 with Eugene). And he is just a few months into his professional career. He may well get better from here.
Berg has some work to do yet in the minors, but I would not be surprised if he is one of the first players of the Cubs’ 2015 draft class to reach the majors. He may well arrive in the Wrigley Field bullpen late next season.
24. Carson Sands, LHP. Eugene.
Previous Ranking: 19
Sands, a big lefty with a big arm, is a product of the 2014 draft who is pitching in Eugene. He has not enjoyed a great deal of success, but despite his 4.06 ERA there is plenty of reason to be high on Sands. His GO/AO is a robust 1.44, he hasn’t given up a home run, and his walk rate is decent at 2.87 BB/9. The strikeout aren’t quite there yet, though, and that 5.73 K/9 is the reason he slid a bit in the mid-season rankings. His ceiling remains right up there with the best lefties in the system.
23. Victor Caratini, C. Myrtle Beach.
Previous Ranking: 18
To be honest, this feels low for Caratini. Not only has he given us plenty of reason to think he can stay behind the plate long term, he’s walked at an 11.6% rate and struck out just 16.7% of the time. He hasn’t shown much power in High A, though, and like most catchers he is not much of a threat on the base paths. That limited bat may keep him to a backup catcher roll in the majors. Then again, given that he is a switch hitter with good discipline, backup catcher might be the perfect spot for him.
He is only ranked 23rd, but it is a high 23. If that makes any sense. If he can show the same discipline at the plate in Double A next season he could jump up the rankings.
22. Donnie Dewees, OF. Eugene.
Previous Ranking: Not eligible (2015 draftee)
The professional numbers do not show it yet, but coming out of the draft this guy was seen as a first round talent who just happened to fall into the Cubs’ hands in the second. Two very good signs already are that, although his career has gotten off to a slow start in Eugene (.236/.292/.369), his walk rate is a healthy 7% and his strikeout rate is just 18.1%. The peripherals are there, and I think the production could soon arrive as well. I’m not sure yet if he is a center fielder or a left fielder long term, but his bat could carve him a home at either position.
21. Justin Steele, LHP. Eugene.
Previous Ranking: 27
The Cubs signed four million dollar arms in the 2014 draft, and Steele is second of that group appear on the list (Sands was the first). This lefty has handled Short Season A without much problem. His FIP of 2.97 is built on a solid strikeout rate (8.70 K/9), an acceptable walk rate (3.30 BB/9), and the fact that no homers have been allowed. His GO/AO, the ratio of ground out to air outs, is a very strong 1.82. All in all, his career is off to a great start.
Like Sands, Steele could have front of the rotation potential if things break right (although a mid-rotation future is more likely). We’ll get a better idea how he is going to project after he gets some starts in the Midwest League next year.