As the title suggests, Baseball Prospectus has just released its mid-season top prospect list and three Cubs have made the cut.
While that, in and of itself, may not surprise you, I’ll bet that the relative ordering of those three is a bit unexpected.
But before we get to that, there are a couple of things to note about this particular top prospect list. BP has excluded all recent draftees and international prospect signings in this particular iteration. Given the freshness of the draft and the little stateside information on IFAs, including them would have been challenging. In addition, there are also no prospect-eligible players who are currently in the Major Leagues in this ranking. That means that Willson Contreras and Albert Almora – in particular – were not eligible (the latter may not have made it, but the former definitely would have).
Okay, without further adieu, here are the three Cubs that made the cut with their ranking alongside them:
28. Eloy Jimenez, RF
34. Gleyber Torres, SS
50. Ian Happ, 2B
Eloy Jimenez (2016): .330/.368/.527 10 HR (.410 wOBA); 5.6% BB, 22.4% K-rate
So, yes, it’s a bit of a (pleasant) surprise to find Eloy Jimenez six spots higher than Gleyber Torres (who is younger, a level higher, and can play shortstop). But his 2016 breakout has long been expected. When it finally happened, it seems, scouts and analysts jumped all over it. With Torres more or less in the same vicinity as he had been ranked previously (i.e., it’s not like he slipped), the leap frogging is highly encouraging all around.
So why the huge bump for Jimenez? In short, BP really loves his bat. Under each ranking, BP identifies a reason why a player may succeed and/or fail. And according to BP, Jimenez is likely to succeed, because he is “one of the two or three best young hitters in the minors.” Whoa. We knew he was supposed to be good for a while and that he was breaking out in 2016, but one of the best two or three hitters in the Minors?! That’s very high praise. If his approach continues to mature (becomes less aggressive – his biggest perceived flaw) BP sees Jimenez as a 30-homer, .300 average, good OBP type hitter in the Majors. Yes, please.
Gleyber Torres (2016): .260/.342/.409 8 HR (.349 wOBA); 10.1% BB, 21.6% K-rate
Gleyber Torres has been ranked higher than 34 before, but his placement here is certainly understandable and roughly in the tier we’ve grown accustom to. But at first blush, Torres’ numbers don’t blow you away. That is, until you realize that he’s a shortstop … a nineteen-year-old shortstop … a nineteen-year-old shortstop in High-A … a nineteen-year-old short stop in High-A with a 10.1% walk rate and a .350 wOBA. Suddenly his numbers and ranking are a lot more impressive.
According to the staff at Baseball Prospectus, Torres is ranked so aggressively for such a young player, because “there’s no real weakness to Torres’ game.” Everything – aside from power – is (or flashes) above average to plus and he has the ability to stick in the middle infield. Should that happen, BP believes he’ll turn into a first division regular in the Major Leagues. Of course, there’s always the negative side, right? Well, in Torres’ case, not so much. BP suggests that the only thing that could really stop Torres right now is if he was forced to move away from the middle infield. In that case, his bat might not carry a corner position. The thing is, they don’t believe he’ll have to move away from the middle infield, so everything’s groovy.
Ian Happ (2016): .319/.421/.507 9 HR (.421 wOBA); 15.2% BB, 21.6% K-rate
Why BP would risk ranking a Cubs switch-hitting, polished college bat with nearly identical walk/strikeout rates at Double-A in his first full professional season anything other than first overall is beyond me. I kid, of course, but Happ has done quite well for himself, and I’d argue that this ranking is actually bit low for him – especially considering his ability to play second base. Even still, making the top 50 at all is nice, and the Cubs know what they have.
Happ’s relatively lower ranking appears to be based on his (again) relatively lower ceiling. Although he does everything well (hits for average, has some pop, can steal double digit bases), it doesn’t sound like BP sees future super star stamped across his forehead, without a plus-plus tool in any one area. Even still, they believe that he’ll be a “solid, well-rounded regular with quality makeup and clubhouse contributions,” as soon as he finds a long-term defensive home. Oddly, they aren’t the only ones who feel that way. I’ve seen questions and resistance to Happ’s presence at second base at multiple publications from day one, but from most actual reports he’s done quite well for himself there. If he keeps up what he’s been doing, I suspect he’ll rocket up the boards in the offseason.
So, then, according to BP, the Cubs have a new top three – Jimenez (28), Torres (34) and Happ (50). I don’t suspect this will be the outcome for every publication, but I do suspect you’ll see a mix of these three in particular at the top for the rest of their time in the minors.