There will be a lot of new faces on the Mid-Season Edition of the Bleacher Nation Top 40 Prospects list this year. Unlike past years, though, that is not going to be due to the draft. There will be a few draftees who make the final cut, but most of the turnover this year is due to graduations, trades, and players who have fallen off the charts for performance reasons.
A healthy percentage of the new talent arriving on the list will come from the very lowest ranks of the minors. There are so many new names, a third of the list in fact, that we could almost look at this list as the changing of the guard. We are essentially entering a new era in the Cubs farm system.
The rebuild is over, and the farm system that was geared to produce elite talent for that rebuild is a thing of the past. That farm system was spectacular, arguably the single best collection of impact minor league talent assembled in the post-strike era, and not even the tidal wave of talent the Yankees have assembled really compares to it. We may never, and I do mean never, see anything quite like it again.
But the last few players who made up the cream of that elite class of players are on the doorstep of the major leagues, if in fact they have not already arrived. That means the bulk of the talent in the system has shifted to the lowest levels. It used to be that if you wanted to see the future of the Cubs, the place to be was Tennessee or Iowa. Now the place might be Eugene or South Bend. And the updated Top 40 will reflect that.
Since so many names will have changed, I decided to recap the pre-season edition of the Top 40 before diving into the new list. Some of the players on this list are going to vanish in the new Top 40, but they are still legitimate prospects despite that. They are just being passed up on the rankings by a wave of new talent flooding out of the lowest levels of the organization.
Below is the pre-season list, from Contreras to Galindo. Those who have graduated or been traded are noted, and for the rest there is a very short update on how they have fared in 2016. This is a very stats-light approach; we’ll dive more into the numbers when we get into the new Top 40 later this week.
1. Willson Contreras, C – Graduated.
2. Gleyber Torres, SS – Traded to the Yankees. Had he remained, he might have been the new number one.
3. Ian Happ, 2B – He hit his way out of Myrtle Beach in just 69 games. Happ is a contender for the top slot.
4. Albert Almora, CF – Graduated.
5. Jeimer Candelario, 3B – Candelario in Triple A is turning in one of the best performances of his career. Oh, he didn’t look bad in his taste of the majors either.
6. Dylan Cease, RHP – He definitely throws hard, but can he stay healthy? 2016 hasn’t answered that question.
7. Billy McKinney, OF – Traded to the Yankees.
8. Pierce Johnson, RHP – Same question as for Cease. Now 25, Johnson’s future looks to be in the bullpen.
9. Jake Stinnett, RHP – Stinnett has looked better than his stats show this season. He is a tough one to rank right now.
10. Eloy Jimenez, OF – His stock is absolutely soaring. He is also a contender for the top slot.
11. Bryan Hudson, LHP – Right now, his control isn’t there. The potential, though, remains immense.
12. Oscar De Le Cruz, RHP – Injuries slowed his start, but he has been impressive since he got started.
13. Carl Edwards, RHP – Graduated.
14. Ryan Williams, RHP – Through 44 innings Williams was efficiently and unimpressive getting hitters out. But then he went on the DL and hasn’t pitched since May 19.
15. Mark Zagunis, OF – A very good season has Zagunis being mentioned among the best prospects in the organization in some circles.
16. Duane Underwood, RHP – Some innings Underwood makes hitters look silly with his fastball/changeup combo. Then he goes back to giving up walks and homers again. Right now he is very tough to rank.
17. Trevor Clifton, RHP – I’ve been waiting on his breakout for two years. I think this might be the year.
18. Justin Steele, LHP – The strikeouts say he has good stuff. The rest of his stats say he’s still learning how to use it. Give him time.
19. Dan Vogelbach, DH – Traded to the Mariners.
20. Jen-Ho Tseng, RHP – He missed nearly the entire month of May, and the gap between his strikeout rate and his walk rate is as low as it has ever been. Even so, he’s turning in a solid year.
21. Bijan Rademacher, OF – One of the greatest unsolved mysteries of our time is why Rademacher is still in Double A. Offensively, he is more overdue for a promotion than any prospect in recent memory.
22. Chesny Young, 2B – He can definitely hit Double A pitching. The bad news is he still has very little power.
23. Rob Zastryzny, LHP – Zastryzny isn’t going to wow you with raw numbers, but when we dig into his stats a bit there is a lot to like.
24. Brad Markey, RHP – Every time I think I understand baseball I go study up on Markey. Everything I think I know about pitching says he should be tossing batting practice, but somehow this guy consistently manages to stay out of trouble.
25. Dave Berg, RHP – As expected, the Cubs have promoted Berg aggressively. In Tennessee he ran into a challenge, but he’s been responding to it pretty well.
26. Donnie Dewees, OF – It turns out that twenty six is way too low to rank Dewees. I won’t make that mistake twice.
27. D.J. Wilson, OF – Wilson has a high ceiling, but there are still a lot of questions on this guy. His ability to drive the ball on a consistent basis is one of the biggest.
28. Carson Sands, LHP – Sands isn’t allowing many hits, but he’s giving up too many walks and striking out too few. I suspect learning to use his stuff is the biggest factor here, and that means he is potentially a lot better than his season indicates. Right now Sands is a tough rank.
29. Victor Caratini, C – Double A pitching holds no challenge for him. Meet Iowa’s 2017 starting catcher and Chicago’s de facto emergency call up.
30. Christian Villanueva, 3B – He was injured before his season began and hasn’t played an inning since.
31. Paul Blackburn, RHP – Traded to the Mariners.
32. Jacob Hannemann, OF – Hannemann is doing everything he needed to do this season, but not all his numbers reflect that. He is a tougher player to rank than you might think.
33. Corey Black, RHP – If he can cut back on the walks he will be a very good back of the bullpen guy. The walks, unfortunately, are still going up.
34. Daury Torrez, RHP – If it weren’t for the fact that hitters are batting .305 off him, his conversion to a full-time reliever would be a great success. Where he is ranked depends on whether you think he can cut back on his .367 BABIP against.
35. Jason Vosler, 3B – Vosler was one of my sleeper picks before the season started, but so far his High A campaign has been fairly pedestrian.
36. Taylor Davis, C – His offensive numbers from a year ago have not recurred. His value as a guy who could come to the majors in a hurry if needed remains.
37. Rashad Crawford, OF – Traded to the Yankees.
38. Felix Pena, RHP – I did not expect Pena to be one of the best relievers in Iowa’s bullpen this year, but that’s where we are.
39. Josh Conway, RHP – Walks have been a huge problem for Conway this season, but there are still reason to like him long term.
40. Wladimir Galindo, 3B – The high strikeouts mean there is a lot of risk to Galindo right now. The rest of his numbers hint at a high reward.