Previously: Introduction and 40-33.
The mid-season re-ranking of the Top 40 has a lot of pitching on it, particular in the upper tiers. While the Cubs have traded away nearly all their best offensive prospects over the past two years, with the exception of Dylan Cease and Paul Blackburn, the pitching side of things has remained largely untouched.
The Cubs have shown a few patterns in how they select pitchers in the draft and from international free agency. They generally prefer pitchers with good control, show a tendency towards tall pitchers when that height is available, like at least one pitch that grades out as plus (more is always better), and tend towards pitchers with good groundball inducing stuff. That doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions to some of all of these traits on the Top 40, there absolutely are, but these the patterns.
Not coincidentally, these are also the areas I focus on when trying to rank pitchers. You’ll see lots of guys who have a good ratio of strikeouts to walks, several who are taller than average, a number who feature one more plus pitch, and a whole lot of groundball pitchers. That’s why, when reading these player capsules, you’re going to see a whole lot of references to groundball rates.
Today we get to a guy who might have the best groundball stuff of them all. In fact, he may well be near the top of the heap when it comes to overall ceiling (which isn’t quite the same as projection – ceiling is more of a best case scenario). But before we get there, we have a few other prospects to discuss. We start with one of the better low minors stories of the season at Number Thirty Two …
32. Zack Short, SS
Level: Myrtle Beach
Acquired: 17th round of the 2016 draft.
Key Stat: 13.7% walk rate, .359 OBP.
Since being drafted last June, Short has already played in four levels and does not appear to have really been challenged yet. His walk rate has ranged from 19.6% in Eugene to 13.7% in Myrtle Beach, and the strikeout rate has gone no higher 18% (South Bend earlier this year). That walk rate could be due in part from an overly passive approach at the plate, but the relatively low K% and the solid power numbers tend to make me doubt that. More likely, I think, is that Short is a guy who is waiting for a pitch he can drive and being patient otherwise.
Defensively, I think he can stay at short. If he stays with the Cubs, though, he’s probably looking at a future as a utility guy.
31. Trey Martin, OF
Acquired: 13th round of the 2011 draft
Key Stat: His wRC+ of 89 is his best since 2012.
Martin has been around a long time, and in all that time his defense has been his best tool. Martin is a true center fielder, and I have no doubts about his ability to play center effectively at any level of professional baseball.
The bat, on the other hand, is a huge question mark. Martin makes it back onto the Top 40 because his 2017 has been something of an offensive renaissance. Last season in 239 PA with Tennessee he had a wRC+ of 40. This year that figure is a much more respectable (if still low) 89. His peripherals are a complete mess (3.5% walk rate, 25.4% strikeout rate), but his power numbers are trending up (.098 ISO, .363 SLG). There is a chance his bat breaks out enough that he can become a fourth outfielder in Chicago one day.
Martin is an odd case of a prospect that simultaneously is low risk (the glove can play now) and high risk (the bat is weak, and he’s 25). For now I’m giving a lot of credit to the glove, but the bat has to catch up soon.
30. Austin Upshaw, Inf
Level: South Bend
Acquired: 13th round of the 2017 draft
Key Stat: 12.8% strikeout rate to start his pro career.
The lefty hitting Upshaw has been one of the early success stories from the 2017 draft. He homered twice and doubled in four games in Arizona, and then went to South Bend where he just kept hitting. Through 109 PA his walk rate is a solid 7.3% and his strikeout rate is an excellent 12.8%. Power remains his calling card, and even though he has just one Midwest League homer, he is slugging just a hair under .400.
I suspect he will continue to display good (not elite) power as he moves up the system, and the early signs indicate he has the patience to not take himself out of at bats. Ceiling is a little hard to gauge this fast, but he has all the markings of a guy with a high floor.
Defensively, the Cubs have played him everyone on the infield but short. If they continue to develop him as an offensive minded utility guy, his left handed swing could be a nice complement to the Cubs lineup sometime down the road.
29, Rafael Narea, Inf
Acquired: Signed as an IFA prior to the 2015 season.
Key Stat: 14.3% walk rate, 15% strikeout rate
Narea has split his time in Eugene pretty evenly between second, third, and short, and for now he also seems likely to be developed as potential utility player. Offensively, he’s similar to Peguero, Sepulveda, and Monasterio – good patience, good contact rate, needs more power.
Narea stands out, though, because his walk rate is exceptionally high; his 14.3% this season is a career low. If that keeps up, and if the strikeout rate stays low and he adds just a little more power as he fills out his 5’10” frame, he could be moving up this list over the next couple of seasons.
28. Bryan Hudson, LHP
Level: South Bend
Acquired: 3rd round pick of the 2015 draft.
Key Stat: He has a 65.4% ground ball rate.
With Hudson, the name of the game is patience. He is a towering 6’8″ lefty who was drafted out of high school thanks to a good fastball and a really good curve. The Cubs went to work on his mechanics, and he is still a work in progress. There is still a lot of inconsistency to his game, but on some days you can really see the potential here.
Oddly for a guy with such an excellent groundball rate, Hudson is giving up quite a few homers (0.79 HR/9). Part of that is due to an unusually high Home Run per Fly Ball rate (12.5%), and part of that is because he still sometimes misses his spot and leaves balls where they can be destroyed. As he continues to improve his mechanics and develop more consistency, I think that will become a much rarer occurrence.
The risk with this guy is sky high, but so is the ceiling. He has the raw ingredients to be a good middle of the rotation starter one day. With a little luck, I think he could be better than that. This ranking is more a reflection of the risk than the potential; he could start to move up in a hurry once his mechanics come together.
27. Jacob Hannemann, OF
Acquired: 3rd round of the 2013 draft
Key Stat: In his first taste of Triple A, his strikeout is OK at 23.5%.
Thanks to missing two years prior to going to college, Hannemann has been something of an unconventional prospect since he became a professional. He has been on the old side for every level he played in, but in terms of baseball development he sometimes lagged behind other players at the same level.
Hannemann is a very good athlete with the potential to hit for near average power and steal quite a few bases as a left handed hitter. Defensively, he’s spent much of his career in the shadow of Albert Almora, and that’s unfortunate. Hannemann is a fantastic and aggressive defender in his own right. So far as the glove is concerned, he could contribute to the Chicago ball club tomorrow.
The bat is still trailing a bit. It often takes Hannemann some time to adjust to a league, and his 23.5% strikeout rate is consistent with that. I suspect that will fall a bit as he adapts to how Triple A pitchers are attacking him, and the ISO will probably tick up at the same time. His wRC+ is 76 today; in a few more months of Iowa that could be 110 or so.
Hannemann has the floor of a light hitting defensive fifth outfielder. He could fill that role right now. I think there is enough projection left in his bat to perhaps profile as an average offensive center field one day, but I suspect his most likely path to the majors will be as a defensive wizard and lefty bat off the bench.
26. Erling Moreno, RHP
Level: South Bend
Acquired: Signed as an IFA prior to 2014.
Key Stat: 65.3% ground ball rate.
Moreno is an excellent groundball pitcher, and he is already showing an ability to get some strikeouts as well. Through eight starts in South Bend his K/9 is a strong 8.25. Unfortunately, his BB/9 is not good (5.25), and despite his ability to get grounders he is giving up more homers than you want to see. His combo of sinking fastball and changeup suggest that he’ll have no trouble piling up the ground outs as he moves up the system.
But first, he has to stay on the mound. Moreno has made two trips to the disabled list already this season, and as a result he has been limited to just 36 innings. Right now he is likely working on developing a third and fourth pitch for his arsenal, and doing that requires innings. Moreno just hasn’t been able to get them.
At age 20, though, he has plenty of time. The Cubs are not going to rush him, either. Once he adds a good third pitch, he’ll have all the makings of a solid mid-rotation starter. Moreno seems likely to be one of those guys who lurks quietly in the lower levels of the farm system until those pieces come together, and then he’ll explode onto the spotlight and shoot up the rankings.
Establish your #ProspectHipster street cred now; start talking about Erling Moreno.
25. Dakota Mekkes, RHP
Level: Myrtle Beach
Acquired: 10th round of the 2016 draft.
Key Stat: He pitched 24+ innings of scoreless ball to open his High A career.
Dakota Mekkes is tough prospect to project. A 6’7″ right hander, he gets results. With Myrtle Beach he has a K/9 of 10.38 and a HR/9 of 0. That combo makes his high BB/9 of 4.15 viable and results in an ERA of just 1.04. For a long time, that ERA was 0.00.
Mekkes throws hard and has a lot of deception in his delivery; that makes it possible that his success is more due to that combination of velocity and deception instead of the overall quality of his stuff, and that more advanced hitters may be less fooled. There is also some evidence that there is quite a bit of luck involved.
For example, Mekkes is not a ground ball pitcher. His GB% is just 30.2%. This is a guy who puts plenty of balls in the air, but so far those fly balls are not leaving the yard. xFIP is calculated based on walks, strikeouts, and home runs, but the home run rate is normalized to the expected rate of home runs per fly balls. Mekkes has an xFIP of 4.04.
So what do the Cubs have in Mekkes? I have no idea. The results say he is a candidate to pitch at the back of a bullpen one day, but the peripherals say he could be a guy who struggles with walks and home runs and is probably not a candidate for high leverage work. Until he has a couple dozen innings of Double A under his belt, we probably can’t say for sure. For now, Mekkes is definitely a pitcher to be keeping an eye on.
Previously: Introduction and 40-33.