Yesterday we took a look at how the players in the Pre-Season Top 40 have fared in 2016 before saying goodbye to fourteen of them in the mid-season Top 40. That’s right, there are fourteen new faces on this list, and we’ll be talking about nine of them today.
Tomorrow will bring the top half of the Top 40, including the reveal of the new Number One. And then on Friday we’ll run one more article on the mid-season update, one that contains the entire list in one place as well as a few summary statistics on the list as a whole.
Before we dive into the prospects, though, let’s talk criteria. In order to appear on the Top 40, a player has to have played as an affiliated professional in a United States based league. Players who have not left the Dominican Summer League are not eligible (and that removed a lot of talent from consideration, because there are some very nice prospects in the DSL right now – but that’s another article).
The rankings are based very heavily on statistics with as much eyes on consideration as I can manage. Visual impressions play a role in the rankings, but the backbone of what I do here is based on statistics. With those statistics I am trying to isolate two factors: Projection, how good a player is likely to be under normal assumptions, and Risk, how likely a player is to reach that Projection.
Even though the Pre-Season and the Mid-Season lists use the same criteria, they are two fairly different lists in nature. For the Pre-Season list I have a lot of time to study up on the prospects, months in fact. That results in a list that is built on a mountain of behind the scenes math and a series of articles that can blow past 15,000 total words.
For the Mid-Season list, I just don’t have that kind of time. This list is more reactionary and probably a little more based on what I see as opposed to what I math-out. The overall rankings look very similar (after all, the same stats are the backbone of both), but you’ll probably notice a few places where a player moved quite a bit from the Pre-Season list for reasons that may not be all that clear. When I have time to do the deep dive this winter, he may go right back where he was, or move off in a different direction altogether.
And since I don’t have the bandwidth to write a 15,000 word novella for the Mid-Season list (says the guy who is writing a 500+ word introduction…), the multi-paragraph per-player analysis we’ll save for the Pre-Season. This is a lighter version of the Top 40, but it is still the Top 40.
Enough context? I hope so. Because it time to introduce Number Forty. Or, should I say, re-introduce.
40. Dillon Maples. RHP, Eugene
Key Stat: 7.71 K/9 paired with a 3.00 GO/AO
Maples has had a long and bumpy road, and a result he is still in High A at age 24. His pair of plus pitches are starting to get hitters out in relief roles, though, and if he keeps the walks under control he looks like a reliever on the rise.
39. Yasiel Balaguert. 1B, Myrtle Beach
Key Stat: His second half line (148 at bats) reads .297/.340/.486.
Balaguert is a right handed slugging first baseman who keeps looking better every time I watch him play. He got off to a slow start, but his second half is breakout material. He also has some outfield experience, so if the bat stays hot the Cubs might have some options.
38. Casey Bloomquist. RHP, South Bend
Key Stat: 87 IP, 69 K, 10 BB, and a GO/AO of 2.21.
I almost put Bloomquist on the Pre-Season list. He was one of the last players I dropped, and I started kicking myself for it almost right away. His ground ball rate is in the elite range and he avoids walks. For now he looks like a good quality back of the rotation starter candidate who could move relatively quickly.
A quick note on GO/AO, since you’re going to seeing it quite a bit. It stands for Ground Out / Air Out, and it is a measure that indicates pitches who do a very good job of getting ground ball outs. A normal GO/AO is around 0.90, and 1.30 is generally considered pretty good. The farther away from that number, the more impressive it gets for ground ball-style pitchers.
37. Isaac Paredes. SS, Arizona
Key Stat: He’s seventeen and has a line of .287/.340/.372
Signed out of Mexico, Paredes is a very young shortstop who is already holding his own among the sometimes much older pitchers in the Arizona Rookie League. His 6.8% walk rate and 15.5% strikeout rates are both fine for this level, and his .085 ISO is promising for his age. He has a long way to go, but Paredes is off to a very good start.
36. Dave Berg. RHP, Tennessee
Key Stat: High A FIP of 2.43, Double A FIP of 2.88
Berg throws from a low side arm slot and is perfectly willing to attack both right and left handers inside. His career GO/AO is a how-is-that-possible 4.54, and that goes to 5.16 in 2016. He had a rough July, but I have no worries long term. He may wind up as a seventh inning guy, but I think he has a very good shot of reaching the majors.
35. Brad Markey. RHP, Tennessee
Key Stat: He has an ERA of 2.97, 3rd in the Southern League among those with more than 100 IP.
Markey relies on locating his low 90s fastball as well as a pretty good breaking pitch to keep himself out of trouble. His peripheral numbers, all of them, are pedestrian to bad, but the end result is consistently pretty good. If he can add a third pitch he could reach the majors as a starter, and then PitchFX data may solve the Mystery of Markey’s results. Otherwise, look for him to get a shot as a middle reliever.
34. Wladimir Galindo. 3B, Eugene
Key Stat: 6 HR and a .248 ISO in 36 games.
Galindo has a strikeout problem (33.1% for the year), but the walk rate is good (7.9%) and the power is playing very well in games. Defensively he can still be inconsistent, but for now I think he has a good shot of staying at third. It his bat that is the question. If he can cut back on the strikeouts without sapping his power, he could move up twenty slots in a hurry.
33. Carson Sands. LHP, South Bend
Key Stat: 34 walks and 5 HBP in 65.2 IP
Sands has three average to plus pitches he can use, but it looks like he is still learning how to use them to get hitters out. The walk rate and the hit by pitch total indicate that he still has some wildness left. I still see him as a future back of the rotation option, but he may need some time to work out how to best leverage his arsenal.
32. Preston Morrison. RHP, Myrtle Beach
Key Stat: GO/AO of 1.75 and a K/9 over 8
Morrison started the season in South Bend, but after pitching 92.1 innings with an ERA of 2.24 and a FIP of 2.71, the Cubs sent him to Myrtle Beach. Morrison gets plenty of groundballs, plenty of strikeouts, limits the walks very well, and has allowed just two home runs over 130 professional innings. He is doing all the things we like to see pitching prospects do. Next year he will probably be doing those things in Double A.
31. Ian Rice. C, Myrtle Beach
Key Stat: In 130 PA, he has a walk rate 18.5% and an ISO of .214.
The Cubs drafted Rice in the 29th round last year, and so far it looks like a good pick. He stayed in South Bend for just 39 games before his .310/.417/.587 line earned him a promotion. His High A line isn’t quite as impressive (.243/.392/.456), but his combination of power and patience is. What remains uncertain right now is how he projects behind the plate long term. The Cubs can afford to be patient in that department, though, and have had some recent success developing catchers.
30. Felix Pena. RHP, Iowa
Key Stat: 10.97 K/9 in 53 innings of Triple A relief.
Until this season, Pena was pretty much a starter. The Cubs moved him to the pen in Iowa and he has flourished there. The strikeout rate is up, the walk rate (3.04 BB/9) is down, and the FIP is a perfectly fine 3.39. I see Pena as more of a middle reliever long term rather than a closer, but if his fly ball tendencies don’t cause him problems he could do well in the middle innings.
29. Jen-Ho Tseng. RHP, Tennessee
Key Stat: His Double A ERA is 3.06, and he won’t turn 22 until October.
Tseng has spent some time on the DL this year, but in the 82 innings he has thrown so far has looked about like we expect. Not a lot of strikeouts, not a lot of walks, not a lot of homers, and a pretty good ground ball rate. Tseng isn’t flashy, but he is consistent. And he still looks like a good candidate to be a back of the rotation starter one day.
28. Chesny Young. INF/OF, Tennessee
Key Stat: 11.7% walk rate, 11.9% strikeout rate
Young is one of the best pure hitters in the organization. He understands the strike zone, has very good patience, rarely swings at a bad pitch, and can make hard contact on a very consistent basis. Unfortunately he has very little power and not great speed. The Cubs are grooming him as a utility player, and that is probably where he fits best. His high average and walk rates should ensure he maintains a good OBP, and that could be valuable off the Cubs’ bench in a year or two.
27. Jose Paulino. LHP, South Bend
Key Stat: In 35 IP for Eugene, he had 37 K and 3 BB.
Paulino has been one of the surprises of the Cubs’ system. He just turned 21 in early April, and then cruised through the first half of the Eugene season with an ERA of 0.51. That earned him a promotion to South Bend where he gave up three runs on five hits in his first start. This is an aggressive ranking for a guy enjoying his first really good season, but his low 90s fastball and good breaking stuff bode well for his future. Keep an eye on this one.
26. Dakota Mekkes. RHP, Eugene
Key Stat: He only has seven professional innings.
Mekkes earned a lot of praise after the Cubs drafted him in the tenth round in 2016. He pitched for Michigan State as a multi-inning reliever, and in that role he piled up a lot of strikeouts (and a lot of walks). He has kept that up in his short time as a pro, totaling 11 Ks and 2 BB in his first 7 innings on the mound. Mekkes seems like a candidate who could move fairly quickly (walks permitting) and join the Cubs’ bullpen in a couple years. He has the stuff to pitch at the back of the bullpen, but the Cubs may consider slowing him down and trying his 6’7″ frame in the rotation first.
25. D.J. Wilson. OF, Eugene
Key Stat: He is faster than his 9 steals in 16 chances suggests.
Wilson is a speedy left handed hitter, an excellent athlete, and an underrated defender in the outfielder. He is also 5’8″, and that immediately raises questions about his power. So far that hasn’t been much of a problem (ISO of .103), but he’ll need to continue to drive the ball into the outfield at the higher levels if his speed is going to play on the base paths. He also has excellent plate discipline and already sports a walk rate over 10%.
24. Duane Underwood. RHP, Tennessee
Key Stat: Injuries have limited him to just 58 innings this season, with a 4.91 ERA and 5.10 FIP.
Underwood has some of the best stuff in the farm system. His fastball is excellent, and he pairs it with two more pitches that are at least plus for an arsenal that should set him up for a Number Three starter future. He hasn’t been able to stay healthy, though, and the off-and-on nature of his seasons has not helped his development any. There is a lot of promise here, but it may be time for the Cubs to see if a move to the bullpen can help keep him on the mound. He is only 22, so there is no point in giving up on him yet.
23. Rob Zastryzny. LHP, Iowa
Key Stat: With Iowa, 8.10 K/9 and a 1.50 GO/AO
After 54 innings in Double A to start the year, Zastryzny went to Iowa. Curiously, though 70 innings in Iowa, his peripheral numbers are better than what he showed in Double A. In addition to the improved strikeout and ground ball rates, his home run rate has declined, as has his batting average against. The Cubs have been waiting on this hard throwing lefty for awhile, and it looks like the pieces are starting to come together. He has an excellent chance of being the first pitcher to reach the majors purely from within the post-Theo farm system.
22. Carlos Sepulveda. SB, South Bend
Key Stat: Strikeout rate of just 10.8% at age 19.
Sepulveda will turn twenty later this month, but while a teenager in the pitching friendly Midwest League this left handed hitter has posted a line of .320/.374/.389 with a walk rate of 7.1% as well as that impressive strikeout rate. He is not showing much power or success on the base paths, but the defense has promise and time is in his favor. Sepulveda has broken out as one of the best young pure hitters in the organization.
21. Justin Steele. LHP, South Bend
Key Stat: 10.08 K/9
Steele might be a little low on this list. In addition to the strikeouts, he has done a nice job limiting the long balls with just two homers allowed in his career. Walks have been a problem (5.30 BB/9), but I suspect some of that is a matter of trying to pitch too perfectly around the edges and not trusting his stuff enough. He has mid-rotation potential, but I don’t look for the Cubs to rush him.
Tomorrow we’ll pick up with Number 20.