The most recent one – and the topic for today’s discussion – is Baseball America’s ranking of the Cubs top prospects.
But being that Baseball America is quite excellent, they didn’t just reveal their list of the top ten prospects.
Instead, each player included in the rankings comes with their own write-up which included their 1) background, 2) scouting report and 3) future outlook. And alongside all of that information, BA has released a separate article (John Manuel) about the top ten in the Cubs system AND a prospect chat.
So then, there is a whole lot of information to be shared/dissected – certainly more than we’ll be able to cover in one post – so you’ll have to do some digging on your own. To kick things off, however, we’ll start with the rankings themselves:
- Eloy Jimenez, OF
- Ian Happ, 2B/OF
- Albert Almora Jr., OF
- Dylan Cease, RHP
- Oscar de la Cruz, RHP
- Mark Zagunis, OF
- Jeimer Candelario, 3B
- Trevor Clifton, RHP
- D.J. Wilson, OF
- Jose Albertos, RHP
A couple of quick notes on the list itself: There’s not much of a shock near the top of the list, as Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ took the top two spots (almost always in this order) on most recent rankings. By now, you know the story on both. Jimenez is a young, explosive outfielder who always had the potential to breakout offensive and finally did so last season. Since then, he has rocketed up various lists, and is clearly the Cubs’ top prospect.
Happ, on the other hand, was the Cubs’ last first round pick (2015), and made it all the way up to Double-A Tennessee in 2016. There, his patience and polished approach at the plate served him well in the early going, before struggling a bit late in the season. If he can find his stride early in 2017, there’s even an outside chance he’ll make an appearance at the Major League level next season, though he more than likely finishes at Triple-A.
From there, however, the lack of top prospect depth in the Cubs system – at least when compared to the recent, rebuild-boosted versions – is a bit more apparent. Albert Almora Jr. (who still maintains his prospect status) has actually moved up a bit in the minds of prospectors lately, after a pretty solid debut in the Majors. He’ll get a chance to win the center field spot this season, and figures to be the answer there in 2018 and beyond.
Rounding out the top five is Dylan Cease (first round-caliber pick who dropped due to injury concerns), who is among the Cubs’ highest-ceiling pitching prospects in recent memory, and Oscar de la Cruz who dealt with injuries in 2016 (forearm tenderness), but has been among the better pitching prospects in the Cubs system. A big season in 2017 can catapult de la Cruz onto the nation level (prospect-wise) very quickly.
In the dedicated article on the Cubs system, Manuel works through, among many things, the high and low points for the Cubs season, the notable rookies, the key transactions, the farm system and the payroll. From there, he ranks the Cubs top tools in the Minors and the Projected 2020 lineup.
As far as the top tools go, Eloy Jimenez takes the cake on the offensive side, ranked as the best hitter for average and the best hitter for power. That’s a dangerous combination and it’s very clear how well thought-of he is. In addition, you’ll be happy to see the Cubs top pick in the 2016 draft (a pick that came in the third round), Thomas Hatch is recognized for having the best slider in the organization. Almora, unsurprisingly, is the best outfield defender, but it’s semi-forgotten outfield prospect Eddy Julio Martinez who gets marks for having the best outfield arm (more on him in a bit).
Many more tools are ranked, so be sure to head over to Baseball America to dive deeper.
Before we get into the prospect chat, though, I do think it’s quite funny to point out something about the Cubs’ projected 2020 lineup (if entirely internal):
- Catcher: Willson Contreras
- First Base: Anthony Rizzo
- Second Base: Javy Baez
- Third Base: Kris Bryant
- Shortstop: Addison Russell
- Left Field: Kyle Schwarber
- Center Field: Albert Almora Jr.
- Right Field: Eloy Jimenez
- No. 1 Starter: Jon Lester
- No. 2 Starter: Kyle Hendricks
- No. 3 Starter: Mike Montgomery
Notice anything unusual? Yeah, that’s basically the Cubs current lineup plus Eloy Jimenez. With Jason Heyward’s potential opt-out after the 2018 season and Ben Zobrist’s expiring deal after the 2019 season, the Cubs lineup looks almost identical to how it does today. That is something special and serves to reinforce the swell job done by the front office to create a powerful core of position players.
Following his work with the rankings, write-ups, and system overview, John Manuel sat down to answer fan questions on the Cubs rankings and system as a whole. The result is a robust, in-depth discussion covering a wide number of angles on the health of the organization. I’ll point out a few things below, but you’re definitely going to have to read through it yourself to capture everything.
The first notable question discusses former top pitching prospect Duane Underwood Jr. Not unlike de la Cruz thus far, Underwood’s dealt with some injuries that have really limited his ascent. Unlike de la Cruz (whom BA seems to be high on) however, Manuel is not entirely optimistic about Underwood’s future.
Citing his 1) track record as an amateur, 2) lack of a consistent breaking ball and 3) injury record, Manuel believes 2017 might be something of a make or break year, in terms of his ability to start in the Major Leagues. So if you’re looking for someone to follow closely, Underwood might be that guy. He was added to the Cubs’ 40-man roster to protect him from December’s Rule 5 Draft, for what it’s worth.
Manuel also suggests that four of the Cubs’ top prospects listed above will find their way into BA’s Top 100 when it’s released. Cease and de la Cruz, as Manuel puts it, are on-the-bubble types though, because of the inherent risk they’ve already displayed (thanks primarily to injuries).
Back to Eddy Julio Martinez. The Cubs signed Martinez out of Cuba with a $3 million bonus back in October 2015. Before joining the Cubs, however, Martinez’s scouting report varied wildly from the next Mike Trout to a serviceable fourth outfielder – with reported bonuses following a similarly wide spectrum. So far during his time with the Cubs, he’s trended far closer to the latter. With that said, Manuel was very encouraged by his second half and gives him some leeway as he adjusted to playing ball stateside. I think he remains firmly a prospect to watch next year.
My favorite bit from the entire discussion, however, is about the debate between Eloy Jimenez and now former Cubs prospect Gleyber Torres.
According to Manuel, “Eloy’s bat has more potential; he could be a 6-hit, 7-power guy when it’s all said & done. That is a star, whether that’s in LF or RF.” Whereas Torres, who has as much upside as almost anyone in the Minor Leagues, might not stick at shortstop, and might not have as much potential lurking in his bat. Of course, both are great prospects and the Cubs certainly have their own, much more specific scouting report on both. It was just something to keep in mind.
And finally (well, not really, because there’s about a thousand more great bits in the chat), Manuel sees Ian Happ as an ideal trade chip for the Cubs, given his nearly ready big league bat and lack of a dedicated position. Although he spends most of his time at second base and many have compared his style of play to something *like* Ben Zobrist, Manuel believes that’s a bit of an oversell. Unlike Zobrist, who was a plus defensively at multiple positions (and had the ability to play shortstop), Happ is more of a man without a home, who is currently living at second base. The difference, apparently, is enough to scare Manuel off (relatively, that is).
So there you go. The Cubs have a brand new set of rankings and more detail on any given player than you could possibly ask for. Grab a coffee, your laptop and a seat and dive on in.