The BN Top 40 Cubs Prospects List: Three Who Just Missed

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The BN Top 40 Cubs Prospects List: Three Who Just Missed

Cubs Minor Leagues and Prospects

I know, I said the last article would be the last one in this summer’s Top 40 series. I was wrong.

The problem with ranking any farm system at any point is that you have to draw an arbitrary cutoff line. If the list runs ten deep, then odds are good that numbers eleven and twelve could arguably have been ranked tenth instead. The same problem occurs no matter where you set the cutoff line (unless, I suppose, you rank the entire system … hmm …).

The more you rank, the harder it gets. At the top of most farm system there are pretty clear tiers of prospects. Miguel Amaya, for example, is pretty clearly ahead of Jonathan Sierra despite the two being ranked just six slots apart. At the bottom of the Top 40, though, that gets a lot murkier. There are lot of players who could have slipped into the bottom third of this list, but who just missed for the smallest of reasons. This article take a look at a few of those cases. (Note, in case you were wondering: No, Oscar De La Cruz is not one of the missing names discussed here. He was ineligible for this particular installment of the Top 40 because of his PED suspension. When he returns to the mound, he will be eligible again.)

T-41. Thomas Hatch, RHP
23, Tennessee
Key Stats: 3.93 ERA

MLB Pipeline ranks Hatch all the way up at Number 19. Baseball America had him at Number Eight in the pre-season. I had him at Number Six. How did a guy with a sub-4.00 ERA fall that far in a single year? There isn’t any one factor, but there are a lot of them that add up to a troublesome picture.

Hatch’s season is marked by a collection of indicators that are all pointing in the wrong direction since his move up to AA. His K/8 is way down (6.60, down from 9.10), his BB/9 is up (4.01, up from 3.61), and his HR/9 is soaring (1.04, up from 0.14) as compared to a year ago. His ERA is down from last year, but his FIP is way over that (5.10, up from 2.98). Those aren’t just bad luck results either; his BABIP is down at .282, substantially under his 2017 figure (.347). He is giving up fewer line drives this year, but most of that difference comes out in fly balls, and about 10% of those flyballs are leaving the yard.

The picture those factors paint is not a pretty one. One concern with Hatch has always been his control, and by the looks of it, that is playing into his problems in Tennessee. I see a guy who is missing outside the zone more often, doesn’t have the sharp stuff needed to get hitters to consistently chase those pitches, and is leaving way too many pitchers where they can be hammered. It is possible that all this because he’s stopped using one of his pitches, perhaps his very good two seam fastball, to work on something else, but I don’t have any information indicating that.

If I’m going to rank a guy whose numbers suggest control problems leading to lots of walks and hard contact, I need to see something to show me how he can mitigate that. I need signs of an elite swing and miss rate, or an elite ground ball rate, or, well, something. Right now with Hatch, I don’t have that. I have some scout grades on his pitches that place them a little better than average, but I think the problem is the control. And the scouts don’t like that either.

If Hatch bounces back in the final weeks of this season, he may well sneak back into the lower tier of the Top 40. A Double A pitcher three better than average pitches is well worth paying attention to. But if locations issues keep leading to too many walks and homers, this may not change.

A move to the bullpen could do Hatch some good, but that usually doesn’t help control. Still, I suspect the Cubs will give that a shot next. For now, though, Hatch is a guy who needs to make an adjustment of some kind to get him back on a major league trajectory.

T-41. Jeffrey Baez, OF
24, Tennessee
Key Stats: 124 wRC+, .178 ISO

I’ve been accused in the past, with some justification, of highly ranking any prospect who performs well in Double A. Jeffrey Baez has a very good line in Tennessee (.280/.349/.458, 7 HR, 15 SB), and he isn’t ranked.

Baez got off to a fantastic start, putting up an OPS of 1.135 in April. And then he fell off a cliff in May (.674 OPS), got hurt in June, came back and got hurt again in July, and so far is playing well through seven games in August (.817 OPS). Unfortunately his month of April was so far out of alignment with what he has done historically that I don’t know if I should treat it as a breakout or an outlier. The following three months could have told me … had he not spent so much time on the disabled list.

That means we have a guy with very loud tools but who hasn’t yet put it together. He has one great month, one lousy month, and not much else. I’ll be the first to admit that his April could have been the start of a breakout season, but I can’t say that for sure. Factor in that his strikeout rate jumped to 28.8%, almost ten points up from last year, and I just can’t buy into the 2018 season line being the real Baez, even though his fly ball rate has jumped to 44.8% over the past season and a half. He might be a beneficiary of the fly ball revolution who is going to slug and steal his way into Chicago’s lineup in the second half of next year, but I can’t be sure of that. I just don’t have enough to rank him on that chance.

That said, I might be watching Baez more closely this month than any other prospect in Tennessee. I also think he might be at risk in the Rule 5. Anyone who takes that April line seriously could be tempted to take that bet.

T-41. Austin Filiere, 1B/3B
22, South Bend
Key Stats: 106 wRC+, 7 HR

I was high on Filiere in the pre-season (and ranked him high, at No. 16), and I am still fairly high on him. He really hasn’t done anything wrong thing year. He just really hasn’t done anything very noteworthy either.

Filiere is a study in ‘good, not great’. His line is good (.264/.344/.371, 7 HR), his walk rate is good (9.8%), his strikeout rate is not good, but not a disaster (25.5%), and his BABIP is good (.351). His line drive rate is quite good (20.4%). His defense at third is good, and he already shows some flexibility by having played at both first and short (for one game).

He’s fine. But for a guy who came out of college, being fine in Low A isn’t really something that gets you ranked. For the most part, Filiere has fallen behind players who either have louder tools or who have taken a more visible step forward. That doesn’t mean Filiere can’t. He just hasn’t yet.

But the key word is visible. I suspect Filiere is going through some mechanical tinkering with his swing, and while that is helping him to continue to square the ball up (high line drive rate, high BABIP), it’s not yet translated into the kind of power that can justify a 25.5% strikeout rate. That said, at 6’1″ and 190 lbs, there may be some room for some muscle to come. A little more power and his line could start to look a lot different in a hurry.

For now, Filiere falls off the list. When 2019 rolls around, though, I’ll be keeping an eye out for a breakout season.

I could probably list another half a dozen players who just missed the list, but then we’d get into listing the players who just missed the just missed list, and down that road lies madness.  So let’s save what’s left of my sanity and cut it off here.

And now I really, really am finished with the 2018 Mid-Season Top 40. Thanks again, everyone.

Earlier: Farm System Overview, 40 through 26, 25 through 11, 10 through 1, Full List and a Top Pitcher Not Ranked


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Author: Luke Blaize

Luke Blaize is the Minor League Editor at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @ltblaize.