Five days ago, Baseball America released its Top 100 Prospect Rankings, with just three Cubs on the list. If you recall, several other publications – MLB Pipeline, Baseball Prospectus and Keith Law – had at least six Cubs prospects falling into the top 100, so this revelation was quite the disappointment.
However, the number of players that failed to make BA’s list wasn’t the only letdown. Of the four publications listed above, Baseball America was by far the lowest on the Cubs’ top trio of Gleyber Torres (41), Wilson Contreras (67) and Ian Happ (87).
While John Manuel insists he is plenty intrigued by the Cubs’ system in the lower minors, he believes that those players are too far away from MLB to be ranked any higher than they have been. On Thursday, however, Baseball America’s Josh Norris gives Cubs fans a glimmer of hope by identifying pitching prospect Dylan Cease, as well as Happ, as players he expects to make big leaps up the prospect rankings in the coming year.
Cease was selected by the Cubs out of high school in the sixth round of the 2014 MLB Draft, but, before that, he was a projected first round talent. If you’re wondering how the Cubs managed to snag him much later in the game, it’s because of an elbow injury (which ultimately resulted in Tommy John surgery shortly after the draft), greatly reducing his attractiveness relative to the rest of the high-end of the draft pool, increasing his risk, and slowing down his path to the majors. Because of the upside, though, the Cubs were happy to bet $1.5 million on the recovery of his arm.
Cease began his comeback in 2015, throwing 24 innings across 11 appearances in the Rookie-Level Arizona League. Here’s what Norris had to say about the yet untapped potential lurking in Cease’s arm: “Despite his modest frame, Cease uses a whip-quick arm to produce upper-90s heat and a low-80s curveball with the shape and bite to project as better than average.” There’s a bit more in there on Cease, including his ability to make it onto the 2017 BA Top 100, so I encourage you to give it a read.
Among the five minor leaguers already included in the Top 100 who might jump further up the list is switch-hitting second baseman/outfielder Ian Happ.
Happ, 21, split time between the short season Eugene Emeralds and the Low-A South Bend Cubs in 2015. Although he played exclusively in the outfield in 2015, Happ is expected to play primarily from second base at the beginning of next season. As a college bat entering his first full year, he is a candidate to rise quickly through the lower minors, especially if the glove takes to second base. Norris especially likes Happ’s potential and believes he displays a “polished and explosive swing from both sides of the plate.”
Like Cease, there is plenty more on Happ and his ability to rise quickly in 2016 in the article, so give it a read. The Cubs have a lot of interesting minor league story lines heading into next season, but the rise of these two prospects could top the list.