Tomorrow will mark the start of my first prospect ranking here at Bleacher Nation, and in advance, I want to give you an idea of what to expect, and offer a sort of State of the System address.
Over the past few seasons, the Cubs have had three external factors limiting their abilities as drafters-and-developers:
- In 2016 and 2017, the Cubs were punitively hard-capped in international free agency for over-spending in 2015. This was a calculated decision centered around the Cubs’ confidence in that ’15 group. And it’s a defensible one: four players from that signing class find themselves in the forthcoming top 20.
- In 2016, the Cubs didn’t have a draft pick in the top 100, as the Major League team needed a few holes filled. I don’t think we mind that decision. (Though it’s necessary to say: the 2015 draft, besides the excellent Ian Happ pick, looks the weakest of the McLeod era).
- In order to plug holes from 2015-2017, the Cubs traded a bunch of really good players. Gleyber. Eloy. Cease. Godley. Candelario. Blackburn. Paredes. We can and will continue to re-litigate those trades for the next decade-plus, certainly, but we also can’t deny the success of the four years on the whole.
Those three limitations are not factors anymore. The Cubs entered the 2018 International Free Agent Signing Period and Amateur Draft with no restrictions. They went aggressively after upside, and it shows: 6 of those acquisitions appear in the top 20. Finally, neither in 2018 nor this winter did the Cubs trade a top 20 prospect.
Given the returns to normalcy on the farm, I can confidently tell you this is the Cubs best top 20 prospects we’ve seen in three years, though that’s obviously a relative statement.
Now, let me tell you about how we’ll present the list here.
The goal of the write-ups is this year is to make them easy to approach and digest. I filtered down to the simplest things: what core skills does the player possess, what does he flash an ability to do, and what is presently not in his arsenal. Or simpler: what does he have, what does he show, and what does he need? When we project a player’s outcome, aren’t we really just doing the calculus around those three factors anyway?
We’re going to try and present the reports in the way that we’d talk about these players in casual conversation. So to whet your appetites, here I’ll offer a bonus write-up, my 21st prospect in the Cubs system. (Note: at some point during the rankings I’ll also give a longer Honorable Mentions list.)
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21. Trent Giambrone, UT.
Age: 25-068. 2018 numbers (AA): .251/.333/.440, 26 SB, 10.1 BB%, 19.5 K%. Projected 2019 Assignment: Triple-A Iowa. ETA: late 2019.
Has: Is coachability a skill? Is it even a word? In each of his three years in the org, Giambrone has hit fewer and fewer groundballs: 48.5% in 2016, 46.5% in 2017, and down to 39.7% as he broke out with Tennessee in 2018. While ‘more flyballs’ doesn’t work for everyone, especially normal 5-foot-8 humans, Giambrone is strong and swings really hard with a short, direct stroke. No one in the organization hit more balls 370 feet or more. [Brett: Whoa, data point!]
Shows: The crazy thing about Giambrone’s season is that he improved in every single skill category from 2017. He walked more and more as the season went on, including 26 walks in his final 38 AA games (16.8%). He stole 19 more bases in twelve fewer games, showing an athleticism that translates to playing all over the diamond. He’s played five positions so far in the minors, but there’s no reason that can’t be seven.
Needs: This is a weird one for a right-handed hitter — he needs to hit lefties. Giambrone has hit RHPs better than southpaws at every stop in his pro career. The reverse-platoon split is 120 OPS points for his career (762 vRHP, 642 vLHP), but spiked to a 187-point split in Tennessee. As someone that profiles as a bit player at the big league level, he can’t have player types that he can’t start against.
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And finally, before I call it a wrap on the intro post, let me be up front on one more thing: there’s a lot of players that I don’t feel I have sufficient information with which to rank. When I head to Mesa in two weeks, these are the players I’ll focus on, and we’ll certainly tell you then if there’s any I feel have been snubbed.
But for the sake of transparency, here is the list of those guys (alphabetically): Edmond Americaan, Danis Correa, Rochest Cruz, Jeremiah Estrada, Kohl Franklin, Josue Huma, Jose Lopez, Joel Machado, Rafael Morel, Carlos Morfa, Yonathan Perlaza, Fabian Pertuz, Benjamin Rodriguez, Luis Rodriguez, Didier Vargas, Luis Verdugo.
I’m telling you: there’s depth.