Hooray for top Cubs prospects lists! It’s that time of year.
By now, you know the deal on why these are important, yes? Even though the Cubs have one of the very best collection of young, cost-controlled, talented players, prospects are still the lifeblood of an organization.
They can come up and surprise, fill in on the bench or as depth, and be used as currency to supplement the team in the offseason and at the trade deadline.
That last point might be especially relevant for an expectedly competitive Cubs team in 2017, who will likely once again hope to improve at the trade deadline, and also given the relatively barren crop of free agents.
With that preamble in mind, Minor League Ball has released their top 20 Chicago Cubs prospects, and there are a few surprises. So let’s take a look and see what’s up.
In addition to the list itself, which we’ll get to in just a second, Minor League Ball provides a brief writeup on every player (which you can see here) and a very useful grading system.
Using, but abridging, Minor League Ball’s own words, Grade A prospects are elite and have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers, some of which will develop into stars. And finally, Grade C prospects typically have one or two strong tools, but plenty of question marks. And, like regular school grades, minus and pluses can be included.
The Cubs have one A prospect, twelve B prospects, and seven C prospects in their group of 20. Not bad, given that even B-level prospects are not necessarily plentiful around baseball. Here’s the list:
- Eloy Jimenez, OF, A-
- Dylan Cease, RHP, B+
- Trevor Clifton, RHP, B+/B
- Ian Happ, 2B, B+/B
- Albert Almora, OF, B
- Oscar De La Cruz, RHP, B
- Mark Zagunis, OF, B-
- Jeimer Candelario, 3B, B-
- Duane Underwood, RHP, B-/C+
- Victor Caratini, C/1B, B-/C+
- Donnie Dewees, OF, B-/C+
- Jose Albertos, RHP, B-/C+
- Thomas Hatch, RHP, B-/C+
- Wladimir Galindo, 3B, C+
- Rob Zastryzny, LHP, C+
- Ryan Kellogg, LHP, C+
- Erling Moreno, RHP, C+
- Zach Hedges, RHP, C+
- Jose Paulino, LHP, C+
- D.J. Wilson, OF, C+
First, a couple of notes on the list itself. The big one, in particular, is that Minor League Ball sees a distinct line of demarcation after Thomas Hatch at 13. The top 13 are, according to them, in specific order. After that, however, the players become so similar in terms of upside, risk, and distance to the Majors that the relative order could be moved around fairly convincingly.
Also, I think it’s worth pointing out that although more than half of the list are pitchers (11), seven come outside of the top ten, and just three are considered B prospects or better.
Now, with all of that said, there are several surprises on this list. First, and most notably, Ian Happ is not considered the Cubs’ second best prospect, like many other lists will have it, and instead is listed behind each of Dylan Cease and Trevor Clifton. Minor League Ball likes his bat, calls him polished with solid-average power, but believes Happ needs another full season to iron out his fielding at second base, before reaching the Majors in 2018 (he was formerly an outfielder, so that is probably a fair assessment).
But his fourth place ranking is not surprising because of his position, but rather the unusually high ranking for one of two pitchers ahead of him, Dylan Cease.
Cease is arguably the Cubs pitching prospect with the single highest upside in the organization. And at just 20 years old, he has plenty of time to reach it (indeed, Minor League Ball is guessing 2020). But injuries have slowed his career a bit so far (he’s already had Tommy John Surgery), and questions regarding his command linger prominently. Still he can throw 100 MPH and has the potential to turn into an ace, which was not something Minor League Ball wanted to glance over. A B+ ranking is extremely exciting.
The other notable bit is Thomas Hatch’s ranking at 13th overall. Hatch was the Cubs’ top pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, but because of the draft pick compensation loss, they didn’t get him until the third round. What’s notable is that, even without pitching after being drafted in 2016, Minor League Ball calls Hatch a borderline B prospect. They love his 90-96 MPH fastball (with good low-zone action) and believe that along with his above-average slider and solid change-up, he can develop into a workhorse strike-thrower by 2019.
If that doesn’t get you too excited, I’d simply point you towards the enormous value placed on young, capable, cost-controlled starters in the Major Leagues. Even without top (or really, middle) of the rotation stuff, those types of players carry a ton of value. If the Cubs can develop a few really solid 4th/5th starter types, they’ll be awash in prospect currency.
There’s plenty of other interesting bits – far too much for me to get into right here – so be sure to head over to Minor League Ball and check it all out.
In addition to the twenty prospects above, they list another 17 players that just missed the cut, many of whom are pitchers. Minor League Ball believes that the Cubs efforts to find pitching in the last few drafts might “bear fruit soon.”
Even setting aside the stellar Major League roster, the Cubs organization remains strong as a whole.