In the run up to every Major and Minor League season, we get prospect rankings from various publications. Typically, these rankings come in the form of a Top 100 overall, top 20 by team, top overall organizations, etc.
Now, with the minor league seasons well underway, the prospect rankings have largely been completed. Taking their place is one of my favorite set of annual rankings: Top Players Under 25.
I love these sort of rankings because, although they serve completely different purposes, I tend think they can tell a much bigger, more complete story of any given franchise. For example, the Cubs were very well represented on prospect rankings this rankings season, but they’re a far cry from where they were a year ago. Of course, that’s not because the organization has gotten precipitously worse or shipped out a bunch of talented prospects. Instead, it’s because players like Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler and Javier Baez have graduated beyond their former prospect status. Still, teams ranked ahead of the Cubs will boast minor league players that are older than the Cubs kids at the major league level, and their system will look artificially stronger.
That is all to say, Baseball Prospectus has released their rankings of the Top 175 Players under 25 years old, and the Cubs have done quite well. The full list is located here, and it includes a separation of tiers (something BP has started to do with all their rankings, much to my approval) with a write-up for each one.
The top two players under 25 – Mike Trout and Bryce Harper – should come as a surprise to no one. They aren’t just the top two players under 25, they’re likely just the top two players playing right now. In fact, by the end of their career, I think we’ll be judging both against the backdrop of “All-Time” and not just the era they currently occupy. Following them are Carlos Correa and Manny Machado, who also share a tier of their own. If you’re slightly surprised by how well thought of they are, go look up their stats from last season. I’m guessing that’ll surprise you more.
Now that Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward are both over 25 years old, the first Cub on the list is Kris Bryant, who comes in at number 12, overall. He is preceded by Byron Buxton and Xander Bogaerts, and is followed by Lucas Giolito and Francisco Lindor – very good company in the fourth tier. In the associated write up, the BP staff agrees that Bryant might one day hit 40 home runs in the majors and, despite an excellent 2015 season, has yet to reach his ceiling.
Addison Russell (20) and Kyle Schwarber (27) co-occupy the fifth tier, and Russell comes in for some heavy praise. According to the writers at BP, Russell’s exciting 21-year-old rookie season normally would have challenged for Rookie of the Year honors, especially due to his Gold Glove caliber defense at shortstop and second base. Unfortunately, 2015 was the year of the rookies, and Russell wasn’t even the best one on his own team!
Jorge Soler (45) is the next to appear, and I absolutely love what BP has to say (which is as prescient now as it has ever been). “If Soler was on pretty much any other club, we’d be talking about how he might be one of the true breakout candidates for 2016. Because of the depth in the Chicago outfield, that probably won’t happen, but the potential for long-term success is still here. There’s plus power and his feel for the barrel gets better every year.”
Well, as we all know, the Cubs outfield depth took a massive hit and Soler is going to get more opportunities than previously expected. If BP is right and Soler takes off, the Cubs will be happy they held onto him this offseason. Just behind him is fellow breakout candidate Javier Baez (65), whom Chris Crawford calls frustrating with undeniable upside. If Baez ever puts it together, he’ll be an MVP candidate, but, at this point, we’ll settle for a 25% strikeout rate and whatever else he has to offer.
Gleyber Torres is the Cubs’ top prospect and the first prospect to make the list (101 – tier 14). Although he may not have the upside of Bryant or Russell, says Crawford, Torres will deliver excellent defense at shortstop, hit for average and surprise fans with his power. Following Torres is Willson Contreras – arguably the top catching prospect in the majors – at 125 overall. Not unlike Jorge Soler, Contreras may have just seen his path to the majors shortened with the news that Schwarber will be out for the season. If catcher Miguel Montero is forced to miss some time, Contreras may yet get the call.
Number 140 on the list is Cubs 2015 first round draft pick Ian Happ. As a polished college bat, Happ is expected to hit well for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, but may move a bit more slowly than, say, Kris Bryant or Kyle Schwarber as he learns to play second base as a professional for the first time. Not far after him is AAA Iowa outfielder Billy McKinney (153). McKinney has the potential to play center field one day, but he’ll most likely end up in a corner spot. It’s plausible, though unlikely, that he’ll see Wrigley Field some time this year. And lastly, is fellow Iowa outfielder Albert Almora (165) who can definitely play center field and has one of the best gloves in the entire organization. He, too, has seen his chances to play at Wrigley increase because of Schwarber’s injury and I’d keep an eye out for him sooner (i.e., some point this season) rather than later.
So, that’s it for the Cubs and I’d say they did pretty well. I encourage you to take a look at the list and associated write up at Baseball Prospectus, because it’s one of the more fun and interesting types of articles every year. And, as baseball continues to get younger and younger, these rankings become all the more important.
12. Kris Bryant
20. Addison Russell
27. Kyle Schwarber
45. Jorge Soler
65. Javier Baez
101. Gleyber Torres
125. Wilson Contreras
140. Ian Happ
153. Billy McKinney
165. Albert Almora