You’ve read the Prelude, you’ve pondered the Prequel, and now it’s time for the real thing. In reverse order starting at Number 40, here are the first eight names in the 2016 Pre-Season edition of the Top 40.
Today’s group is a diverse bunch. Five positions are represented (if we count starters and relievers as separate positions), as is just about every level of organization. Leading off is the youngest member of this bunch.
40. Wladimir Galindo, 3B
Likely 2016 Team: Eugene
Acquired: Signed as an International Free Agent prior to the 2014 season.
Notable Stat: League average slugging in the Arizona Rookie League was .347. Galindo slugged .522.
Galindo was on his way to a massive season when an injury stopped his year after just 19 games. His numbers come with a Sample Size Alert, but they are impressive for an 18-year-old. The strikeout rate of 20.0% is adequate for a young slugger, as is the walk rate of 5.3%. I’d like to see improvement in both numbers this season, but they aren’t red flags given his power. That power shows up in his slash line of .358/.400/.522.
Physically, Galindo is a 6’3″, 210 lb beast who might be moving to the outfield one day. His glove at third, so far as I can tell, isn’t anything to write home about. It’s the bat that is the star here. He has a lot of work to do to translate his raw abilities into sustained success, but he’s off to a great start. After a stint in extended spring training, look for him to be a large part of the Eugene Emeralds lineup this summer.
39. Josh Conway, RHP
Likely 2016 Team: Tennessee
Acquired: Drafted in the 4th round in 2012, but since has had arm surgery.
Notable Stat: Despite walking 5.3 per nine innings, he still finished with an ERA of just 2.92.
Conway was one of more notable high ceiling pitchers the Cubs drafted in 2012, but thanks to arm problems he did not get into a game until 2014. Not surprisingly, he was rusty. The Cubs let him spend all of 2015 as a reliever in High A, and by season’s end we were starting to see the pitcher the Cubs were hoping for when they took him in the fourth round.
He worked in the mid-90s before his surgery, and it seemed like he had much of that velocity back last year (minor league radar guns aren’t always the most accurate, so it is hard to say exactly what he was throwing). Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of recent video of him pitching. Hopefully that will change when he hits Double A this year.
At 24 years old he was definitely old for High A, but given the lost injury years that isn’t much of a problem in this case. It is the walk rates and lack of professional experience (just 89 innings total) that hold him down for now. I think he has Major League upside, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a chance as soon as the 2017 season.
38. Felix Pena, RHP
Likely 2016 Team: Iowa
Acquired: Pena was signed as an IFA prior to the 2009 season.
Notable Stat: His K/9 was 9.7 with Tennessee last season.
Pena quietly piled up 140 strikeouts out just 129.2 innings in Double A last year, and posted the best strikeout rate of his career in the process. The walk rate was a touch higher than I’d like (3.40 BB/9), but not enough to cause worry. His ERA (3.75) and FIP (3.40) were also perfectly respectable.
Interestingly, even though he’s been more a ground ball guy in the past, last season Pena posted the lowest GO/AO of his career at 0.71. Not surprisingly given that fly ball tendency, he also gave up 10 home runs.
2016 should be Pena’s first crack at Triple A, an opportunity that did not arrive for him until he was 26. As a starter he looks like a back of the rotation candidate, but I’m intrigued by the prospect of Pena in a super-utility pitching role. In any capacity, Pena is one of the handful of candidates to get a fill in start or two in Chicago if the opportunity appears this season.
37. Rashad Crawford, OF
Likely 2016 Team: Myrtle Beach
Acquired: Drafted in the 11th round in 2012.
Notable Stat: His .704 OPS represented a career high as well as the fourth straight year he raised it.
If you read the Prelude, here is the second of the three outfielders mentioned.
Crawford’s production has been adequate so far, but nothing special. If he adds a little more power, the special could start to show up. And at 6’3″ 185 lbs, he has the room to add the muscle that could lead to additional power.
The risk is high here, and the projection may not be much higher than a league average center fielder, but I have Crawford down as a breakout candidate for 2016. Keep an eye on him.
36. Taylor Davis, C
Likely 2016 Team: Iowa
Acquired: The Marlins drafted Davis in the 49th round in 2008, but he didn’t sign. The Cubs got him as a free agent in 2011.
Notable Stat: Just pick one. They’re all good.
I have no idea how to handle Davis. Last season he posted an absolutely beautiful line in Tennessee (152 PA, .319/.375/.500, 7.9% walk rate, 9.2% strikeout rate) as a backup catcher and was generally overlooked because he was already seen as a minor league veteran. Someone in the Cubs’ organization was paying attention, though, because in 2016 he got the majority of the starts in Triple A Iowa and hit his way to a .309/.361/.444 line with a 7.4% walk rate and a 13.1% strikeout rate.
Good walk rate, excellent strikeout rate, high value position … this guy checks all the boxes. But he turns 27 this year, and he was 25 before his bat showed up at all, and he was 26 before he really became the primary guy at his own position on his current team. That is not a conventional prospect path.
So is he a legit catching prospect, or just a minor league vet who took advantage of an opportunity to hit his way into plenty of playing time? It might be a little of both. Sometimes, though, these veteran minor league hitters are just good hitters and if you give them a chance they run off and post a wRC+ of 117 while hitting 23 homers as the starting first baseman for the Miami Marlins. I don’t expect that level of production from Davis (he doesn’t have quite that kind of power for one thing), but I would not be shocked to see him making fifty or sixty starts a year in the Major Leagues one day.
For now I have Davis down as a quality backup catcher prospect who just took an unorthodox road to prospectville. He has my attention now, perhaps belatedly, and I’ll be watching his work behind the plate much more closely this season.
35. Jason Vosler, 3B
Likely 2016 Team: Myrtle Beach, and maybe Tennessee as well.
Acquired: The Cubs drafted Vosler in the 16th round in 2014.
Notable Stat: The Carolina League is fairly pitcher friendly. Vosler posted an OPS of .829 anyway.
Vosler started the season with 69 games in South Bend where he played decently. His line of .235/.285/.341 was fairly light and the 5.4% walk rate was nothing special, but the 12.3% strikeout rate hinted that there might be a little more here than the slash line showed.
I suspect Vosler will return to Myrtle Beach to start the season, and his first order of business will be to show that those 157 plate appearances from last year were no fluke. If he clears that little hurdle, don’t be surprised if the Cubs challenge him with an early promotion to Tennessee. This front office has a history of pushing college hitters (Vosler was drafted from Northeastern) up the system about as fast as their bats will take them, and I doubt they will make an exception for Vosler.
It is when he hits Tennessee that things get interesting. Right now I see Vosler as a corner infielder with major league starter potential, but I’d feel better about that projection with a little more data to base it on. With a good start to the year, Vosler could jump up these rankings dramatically by mid-season.
34. Daury Torrez, RHP
Likely 2016 Team: Tennessee
Acquired: The Cubs signed Torrez as an IFA prior to the 2011 season.
Notable Stat: Two straight years of 130+ innings and a FIP of roughly 3.60.
In 2015 Torrez moved from the Low A Midwest League to the High Carolina League, but I’m not sure he noticed. His stats are almost identical between the two leagues. Over 134.1 innings in 2015, Torrez only managed 5.76 K/9, but thanks in part to limiting the free passes (1.41 BB/9) he managed to consistently get hitters out.
I’m not sure how much longer he can keep this up. He has just one pitch that Fangraphs grades at plus (his fastball), and he clearly isn’t a strikeout pitcher. The hard sink on that mid-90s fastball results in plenty of ground balls, but his GO/AO of 1.04 doesn’t indicate Torrez as an extreme groundball guy. Even his batting average against (.266) was unremarkable.
One of two things is going to happen when Torrez hits Double A. He is either going to show off a new weapon in his pitching arsenal that allows him to continue his run of effective seasons, or he is going to get lit up by Double A hitters. Or maybe the second one, and then the first once he adjusts (remember, the minor leagues exist for players to improve and struggles are not always a bad thing).
If Double A hitters do cast doubt on his future in the rotation, I suspect his career will have plenty of life in the bullpen. As a pitcher who can already throw consistent hard strikes while generating plenty of ground balls, he might just be a super utility pitcher waiting to happen. Add another pitch, any other pitch, to the fastball and he could be a nice asset to the bullpen one day.
But first he may get a chance to start for the Smokies, and the Cubs are probably hoping that he continues to get results as a starter. The Cubs are thin on starting pitchers with Major League potential in the high minors right now, and Torrez could still be one of those guys.
Thanks to his 5’11” frame, prospect analysts have been trying to send Black to the bullpen since the Cubs acquired him, and in 2015 the Cubs finally took a look at Black in the bullpen. The results were mixed. In one game (August 7th, for instance) he would pitch very well (two hitless innings, walked two and struck out four). And then a week or so later (say, August 16) he would get blown up (four runs on three hits and three walks). Some days he was awesome, and some days he wasn’t. The consistency just wasn’t there.
But the stuff was. Black’s fastball is a strikeout pitch, and both the breaking ball and changeup can look almost as good on their good days. The problem is his control. When Black is pitching well he is getting hitters to swing at his stuff and working ahead in the count. If the hitters aren’t swinging, he doesn’t hit the strike zone reliably enough to avoid walks. And then he really gets in trouble.
For the season his strikeout rate is about as nice as they come: 10.57 K/9. His walk rate is, well, not pretty: 4.92 BB/9. On the positive side, though, hitters only manged 74 hits off him in 86 innings. That’s not bad at all.
Black will probably move to the Pacific Coast League this season, so prepare yourself for some really ugly lines. When Black is off his game, the wily hitters of the PCL will tee off his stuff in the shoe-box sized stadiums that still litter that league, and there will be ugly, ugly box scores as a result. Ignore them. What matters right now isn’t the results, it is that Black finds enough control to be consistently effective.
If Black can harness his control just enough to consistently get ahead of hitters, he could have a future as a Major League closer. The stuff is that legitimate. If he can’t find the control, he’ll probably still spend several years in middle relief for a variety of teams. He is so close to being a dominate reliever that I have no doubt there will be plenty of pitching coaches ready and willing to try to help him over that final hump.
Should he pitch well in Iowa I think he’ll be in Chicago in September at the latest. If he pitches very well we will probably be hearing his name come up in mid-season trade rumors as well.