With the promotion of Willson Contreras, the trade of Gleyber Torres, and the presence of many formerly high-profile prospects in the Major Leagues, the Chicago Cubs Minor League system is not quite what it used to be (any system rarely is).
But that hardly means the organization is lacking in exciting young talents, even on the frequently undervalued pitching side of the game.
Take, for example, right-hander Trevor Clifton of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. He’s a lesser-known name (outside of the Cubs’ world anyway), not listed among anyone’s top 100 prospects rankings … and he was just named the Carolina League’s Pitcher of the Year. It’s a major award, indeed.
Clifton was the Cubs 12th round pick of the 2013 draft and signed for an over-slot bonus, but has remained relatively unheralded throughout his Minor League career – that is until this season. After going 3-1 with a 1.29 ERA during the month of May, Clifton was identified as the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Month. Later, he was picked as a Carolina League midseason All-Star and hasn’t slowed down since.
Through 22 starts (113.0 IP) at High-A Myrtle Beach this season, Clifton has posted a 2.87 ERA with an excellent 3.16 FIP. He struck 122 batters (25.9% K-rate) during that stretch, while walking just 41 (8.7% BB-rate). In addition, batters have had a difficult time squaring him up, as he’s allowed just a .223 average against (with a .304 BABIP) and just four home runs during the year. Clifton’s ascent through the Cubs Minor League system has been deliberate, but at just 21 years old, he’s kept a perfectly healthy pace throughout his career.
And he’s only getting better.
Clifton’s 2016 marks the third straight year of improvements, despite a consistent yearly promotion. By that I mean his peripherals have grown stronger year after year.
Take a look:
- Low-A (2014): 20.2% K-rate, 11.2% BB-rate, .252 AVG, 1.46 WHIP
- A-Ball: 22.3% K-rate, 10.2% BB-rate, .226 AVG, 1.27 WHIP
- High-A: 25.9% K-rate, 8.7% BB-rate, .223 AVG, 1.19 WHIP
In each of the past three seasons, Clifton has improved his strikeout and walk rates, working them now to very impressive levels. But he hasn’t just missed more bats, he’s allowing far fewer hits and damage, as well. What I see, based on his numbers alone, is a pitcher benefitting from professional experience and taking well to coaching as he progresses through the system. With Double-A Tennessee as the next stop on the ladder, he remains firmly someone to watch in 2017. From there, he’ll be just one stop away from Wrigley Field and the Chicago Cubs.
Not everyone comes with the pedigree of a first-rounder, but talent can be found through a team’s system. Clifton, it seems, is but one hidden gem – who remains hidden, no longer.
In the midseason top prospect update here at BN, by the way, Luke ranked Clifton as the third best pitching prospect in the system, and seventh overall.