We are ranking the top 20 prospects in the Chicago Cubs farm system as the 2019 season opens up. A state of the farm system, an introduction, and prospect number 21 are here, and prospects 20 through 16 are here.
The success of today’s group is especially important to the future health of the farm system. Hitting big on one, hopefully two, of the high-ceiling guys, and seeing them turn into consensus top 100 prospects, would be big.
15. Riley Thompson, RHP
Age: 22-234. Acquired: 11th round (2018). 2018 numbers (A-): 25.1 IP, 24 H, 2.84 ERA, 9 BB, 25 K, 1 HR-A. Projected 2019 Assignment: Low-A South Bend. ETA: 2022.
Has: The attributes. Arm. Body. Velocity. Movement. I can’t believe the Cubs landed Thompson on the draft’s third day (albeit for above slot). And I say that knowing he had a 5.92 collegiate ERA and arm injuries. I just simply can’t believe that 29 other scouts didn’t fall in love with the blank slate that Thompson presents. The fastball is a great pitch for Thompson, he gets nice downward tilt from a very over-the-top arm slot, and he sits around 94 mph with the ability to pitch up to 100 mph.
Shows: The out-pitch curveball. A few times in Eugene, Thompson snapped a few curveballs that we just haven’t seen in the Cubs minors in a long time (since friggin’ Robert Brownlie himself – I kid). It’s worth noting that I’ve also seen the pitch flatten on him, so staying on top and locating to the dirt are keys. But oh baby when it’s on:
Riley Thompson, Filthy Slider. 😷 pic.twitter.com/Snn3AKU61c
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 11, 2018
Needs: Oh, just a couple minor things: health and command. Thompson only got here because weeks before the 2015 draft, it was discovered he needed Tommy John surgery. He slipped in the draft, missed his freshman year at Louisville, and when he came back, did so with awful feel. Thompson’s ability to have even a moderately high walk rate will be what decides if he’s a starter, a reliever, or a guy who never makes it.
14. Jose Albertos, RHP
Age: 20-113. Acquired: IFA Signing ($1.5 million, 2015). 2018 numbers (A/A-): 30.1 IP, 36 H, 14.84 ERA, 65 BB, 38 K, 1 HR-A, 27 WP. Projected 2019 Assignment: Low-A South Bend. ETA: 2023.
Needs: Let’s switch the order here. You see the numbers: Albertos developed the yips in 2018, and it was the saddest thing that happened on the farm in 2018. You could see a kid standing on the mound, wishing he could hide. While visually it really seemed like a fastball release point issue, I think nowadays we can look at the Mental Skills team – not a pitching coach – as the more likely instructor to fix what ails Albertos. You want to believe that just as easily as control switched off, it can turn on. I’m not sure it’s that easy. We’ll see.
Has: The secondaries. When we saw offspeeds last year – and given that he threw just 800 pitches, mostly from behind in the count, we didn’t see many – they were still very solid. In fact, I think Albertos’ curveball improved in 2018, probably the only positive you could draw from the campaign. The changeup, long lauded as his best pitch, still looked good in a very small sample size.
Shows: Plus secondaries. Easy velocity. Now that’s not very useful when it’s bounced in front of the plate, but if Albertos’ control comes back, his pitch assortment is just fine.
13. Yovanny Cruz, RHP
Age: 19-189. Acquired: IFA Signing (2016, a really small bonus). 2018 numbers (R/A-): 49 IP, 40 H, 2.57 ERA, 13 BB, 55 K, 1 HR-A. Projected 2019 Assignment: Low-A South Bend or Short-Season Eugene. ETA: 2023.
Has: Command! As a loose arm, still-growing, fastball-with-movement teenager! Cruz walked 0 batters in 5 of his 11 starts last year. If there’s been another 18 year old to do that while throwing 93+ mph in the last decade, I haven’t found it. He seemed to get more confident as the season went on, trusting his stuff inside the zone. We have talked before about his slider (or curve, your mileage may vary on the distinction), already one of the better breaking balls in the organization.
Shows: While Cruz is not tall at 6-1, his body looks like it has room for a little more muscle. Via Arizona Phil, we know that Cruz touched 95 at some point in the desert last year, and that velocity seems an achievable goal for the future. What I’ll be looking for this year from Cruz is the movement on his sinker. It didn’t jump out in his one Eugene start, but his groundball rates have been really good. As a sinker/slider guy, the fastball is such a foundational piece that every mph and inch of movement matters extra.
Needs: Cruz is new enough, and his season good enough, that nothing jumps out here yet. He needs experience and innings to expose flaws and show his ability to make adjustments. He needs the weight room and it sure would be nice if his body would spit out another inch or two! I want to say he needs a better changeup, but I’d be lying if I said I’ve even seen it on video, and he did have a .488 OPS allowed vs left-handed batters last year, with insane 27.5 K% and 3.8 BB% peripherals.
12. Dakota Mekkes, RHRP
Age: 24-114. Acquired: 10th round (2016). 2018 numbers (AA/AAA): 53.2 IP, 36 H, 1.17 ERA, 29 BB, 71 K, 2 HR-A. Projected 2019 Assignment: Triple-A Iowa. ETA: 2019.
Has: Some of the most dominance I’ve ever seen a reliever have in the minors. His career numbers, which span all 6 levels of the Cubs farm system: 147 IP, 87 H, 1.16 ERA, 190 K, 67 BB. Insanity. Mekkes’ success comes from his weird blend of a gigantic frame mixed with a short-arm delivery. He gets good extension and as a result of all these things, hitters don’t see his fastball well at all.
Shows: When he showed me this radar gun reading, it certainly raised an eyebrow:
This might shock you, but Dakota Mekkes did not give up a hit in his first Triple-A inning. You might also like the velocity number he topped at. pic.twitter.com/PKxXWq5Ejs
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) June 6, 2018
The intel we’d had in the past was Mekkes was 91-93, but he hit 95 a handful of times in the Iowa broadcasts of his outings. At 95, you really don’t worry about how his fastball will translate to the world’s best hitters. It will.
Needs: The jump from acceptable “control” to acceptable “command”. Mekkes has been able to succeed despite high-but-not-horrible walk rates, 4.9 per nine for the season. But in the Majors, not only will free passes be a problem, but so will missing his spots. Mekkes is going to throw a lot of fastballs (maybe 70+%), so he needs that pitch to hit the catcher’s glove. We’d also like to see some improvement in his secondaries, the change and slider that both get K’s against anxious hitters, but aren’t quite late-inning caliber.
11. Brennen Davis, OF
Age: 19-118. Acquired: 2nd round (2018). 2018 numbers (R): .298/.431/.333, 6 SB. Projected 2019 Assignment: Extended Spring Training, then short-season Eugene. ETA: 2023.
Has: The kind of quick-twitch athleticism that allows scouts to dream big things. Davis was a fantastic basketball player, not a surprise as he is Reggie Theus’ son. But late in high school he decided to focus on baseball, and Cubs scouts rewarded that decision with a big seven figure bonus. Davis is a plus-plus runner, and the Cubs hope is that even if plus doesn’t come in all five tools, enough will come together for him to have a Major League floor.
Shows: Polish! I did not expect this! My expectation was that Davis would struggle mightily in the AZL upon signing, as he was billed (and his swing looked) like an extremely raw project. But I’ll tell you what raw hitters don’t do: 13.9 BB% vs 16.7 K%. This suggests that Davis sees the ball really well, which is only another feather in his Ceiling Cap.
Needs: The work has already begun, because thankfully Davis lives just a short drive from the Cubs facilities. He spent his winter working on building up muscle and redesigning his swing to have some loft. You can see some of it here:
Quickly cut up video of Brennen Davis at the Area Code Games off YouTube contrasted to video @JasonPennini got from Davis hitting off a tee at instructs today. I think it shows pretty significant development that has taken place both in the weight room and with his swing. pic.twitter.com/CfqpGaAxJx
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) January 21, 2019
Until we see that in games against live pitching, we won’t know if Davis will begin to unlock some of his power potential.
Up Next: A break in the rankings to talk about some Honorable Mentions, which will include an explanation as to why I stopped the list at 20 names this year.