Now we are getting to the fun part of the Top 40. These are the players that are generally more well known and, for the most part, more likely to show up in Wrigley one day. These are also the players who have more significant trade value and could be included in key deals this winter.
After today it should be clear, I hope, who is left in the Top 10. There may be some small surprises in terms of who wound up on tomorrow’s list, but we can talk about that tomorrow. Today we have a very nice collection pitchers to run through, and a couple intriguing outfielders as well.
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. Prospects 30 through 21 were written up on Tuesday, and you can read that 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 if they needed it, but odds are good I missed a few.
20. Corey Black, RHP. Tennessee.
Previous Ranking: 16
Now a member of the bullpen, Black is striking out hitters faster than ever. His K/9 is up to 10.68 for the season, and 11.4 in relief. Unfortunately he is still plagued by some consistency issues that can result in a bad outing every now and then. Despite those consistency issues his walk rate, 4.34 BB/9, is actually down from last season. If he can solve the occasional issues that turn into rough outings, he could be a future closer in the making. If not, he’s still on track to be an asset to a major league bullpen in middle relief.
19. Dan Vogelbach, 1B. Tennessee.
Previous Ranking: 18
Going back to 2012 Vogelbach has put up double digit walk rates in every single season, and with a stunning 17.9% rate this season has been no exception. Vogelbach remains a patient, disciplined, productive hitter. But given his defensive limitations, that just isn’t going to cut it. The tantalizing power that his bat has promised since he was in high school has yet to be unlocked, and until that power emerges his future remains hard to read. Right now he is out with an oblique injury, so we will likely have to wait until next season to see if he can show more than 5 home runs and the .147 ISO he has posted in his first Double A season.
18. Jake Stinnett, RHP. South Bend.
Previous Ranking: 8
Stinnett has had something of a split season. His first half featured an ERA of 5.29 – not what we expect from a college starter with number two starter upside pitching in Low A. Somewhere along the way he turned the corner, though, and in the second half that ERA has dropped to 3.61 and falling. In two August starts (13 innings), for example, batters have hit just .178 off him and he has struck out 11 against 2 walks.
Should this success carry through the rest of 2015 and into 2016, I think Stinnett could once again be counted among the best pitching prospects in an organization that is increasingly deep in that department. The number two upside is still there, but for a middle-rotation or back of the bullpen career path are definitely in play. Remember: Stinnett became a full-time starting pitcher only half-way through college.
17. Jen-Ho Tseng, RHP. Myrtle Beach.
Previous Ranking: 10
It has definitely been a tale of two halves for Tseng. Coming off a near-historically great 2014 season, he opened the 2015 campaign with an un-Tseng like 4.59 ERA and 1.47 WHIP. Whispers abounded that the Cubs were working with him, perhaps to raise his velocity, perhaps to add a new pitch, and so we waited to see if he was work in progress or had just been exposed by High-A hitters.
The verdict is in, and he was probably a work in progress. In seven second half starts he has an ERA of 2.70 and a WHIP of 1.06. There is still a lack of strikeouts (33 in 50 second half innings), and the walks could stand to tick down as well (11 in the same span), but second half Tseng, the 2015 version, has made it very tough on opposing hitters to square up the ball. For now I still consider Tseng a potential back of the rotation starter, but the risk has gone up enough to drive him down the rankings.
16. Bijan Rademacher, OF. Tennessee.
Previous Ranking: 28
Rademacher has lost a little power in his first season in Double A (unusual, given that his High A 2014 was in power-eating Florida State League), but he has become even harder to get out than ever before. His .248/.364/.358 line is backed up by a 15.3% walk rate and a strikeout rate of just 14.7%. Not surprisingly, given those peripheral figures, the batting average and slugging numbers have been trending up to match the on base percentage as the season progresses. Keep an eye on this left-handed hitter as a possible fourth outfielder as soon as late 2016. If the power numbers rebound, he could compete for a starting or platoon role in the right situation.
15. Paul Blackburn, RHP. Myrtle Beach.
Previous Ranking: 15
Blackburn, at times, looks like a front of the rotation type of guy, but his 2015 numbers suggest his more likely future is a number three kind of guy.
His FIP this year in Myrtle Beach is quite good (2.98), and it is supported by a strikeout rate that has ticked up notably from last season (6.17 K/9). He avoids walks, avoids homers, and allowed just one earned run since in the month of July. If the strikeout rate was higher he would probably still be seen as a possible number two starter, but that just isn’t the case. We’ll see if that has changed when he gets to Double A next year.
14. Dylan Cease, RHP. Arizona.
Previous Ranking: Not eligible (Had not played a professional game)
This is pure projection ranking. Cease, taken in the 2014 draft, missed some time as he recovered from his post-draft elbow surgery, and that rust is evident on the stat sheet in the form of his 7.36 BB/9. His potential is also evident in the 8.84 K/9.
I have seen grades as high as 70 on his fastball; if that is anywhere close to accurate, then once he solves his control issue he could sail through the lower levels of the minors with little difficulty. It may be another year before we have a clearer idea just what sort of a future is in store for Cease. One of those futures may well be staff ace. For now the important thing is that the surgery apparently went well, he is working his way back, and that reports out of Arizona are that he is already hitting triple digits on the radar gun again.
13. Eloy Jimenez, OF. Eugene.
Previous Ranking: 14
This ranking is also all about projection. Jimenez is having a nice season, but his 3 home runs and line of .282/.329/389 is only about average for the league. Even for an 18 year old in Short Season A his number just aren’t noteworthy. Yet.
Jimenez is a big guy (6’4″, 205 lbs) with power to match. It will take some time for him to get his swing working, but once it is there I think we’ll see his SLG take off. We’ll need to keep an eye on his approach and discipline as he moves up the system, though. If he improves in those areas as he develops his power, he could shoot up the system, and the rankings, in a hurry.
12. Ryan Williams, RHP. Tennessee.
Previous Ranking: Unranked
Williams is the surprise pitching story of the season. No one was projecting that this 10th round pick (college senior) would dominate the Midwest League, then vault to Double A and take to it like a duck to water, but that is exactly what has happened. Assuming there’s no huge fall off, I would be very surprised if he is not named the Cubs’ organizational Pitcher of the Year.
His success is due almost entirely to his control and command of multiple pitches. His strikeout rate did tick up a bit in Double A (to 6.82 K/9), but he is not a strikeout pitcher. Instead he uses his command of his stuff to avoid walks (although his 1.56 BB/9 in Double A is creeping up) and prevent home runs (0 allowed in 2015). His Double A FIP is a tidy 2.43, and his future may well be as a back of the rotation major league starter. Due to the lack of strikeouts, though, he’ll have to prove himself anew at each and every level of the system.
11. Duane Underwood, RHP. Myrtle Beach.
Previous Ranking: 13
Underwood has not had a smooth season. On the one hand he emerged as a very effective starter in a loaded Myrtle Beach rotation, cut his walk and home run rates, and was flashing a nice and low ERA of 2.66. On the other hand his strikeout rate also went down and his FIP is over 4.00 for the second season in a row. And then he was shut down with an elbow issue.
The good news is that his elbow may just need rest, not surgery. The bad news is that he is unlikely to get too many more starts in this season and may need to repeat High A next year. His stuff remains some of the best in the system, and for now that stuff keeps him ranked just outside the top ten. This ranking also assumes, perhaps presumptuously, that he can rebound to full health and will not be any further slowed by injuries.