Every year when I do these rankings there is something that surprises me, and this year it was the number of left-handed pitching prospects I would end up ranking. Today, for example, every pitcher on the list is a lefty. And most of those lefties came in from the Cubs’ international scouting operation.
The ability of the Cubs to find prospects, pitching and otherwise, outside of the elite IFA tiers and the top of the draft is going to be extremely critical as they try to rebuild their farm system into something that can help them keep winning at the Major League level. But finding the talent is only one part of the equation. Developing it is the other half, and when we’re talking pitchers, that is the half where the Cubs have not had as much success.
As we head into the 2018 minor league season, one really big story will be how well the Cubs are able to develop their stash of pitching prospects, particularly in the low levels. If they do well, this time next year a few of these names might be rather higher on the list. And if they don’t, this may well be their only appearance on the Top 40.
Now that we’ve talked about pitching, let’s start today’s rankings with a bat …
34. Eddy Martinez, OF
Acquired: Signed as an IFA prior to the 2016 season
Projection: Decent starting outfielder or quality bench guy
The Cubs signed Martinez out of Cuba a few years ago, and so far he has been slower in adapting to the American game than some were hoping. The tools are there, though, and steady progress over the past two seasons has been there as well. There is a lot to like about Martinez, and I like what I see enough that I have him down as a potential breakout guy for 2018. It is possible to look at the numbers and see a guy who is primed to explode.
Last season in Myrtle Beach he posted a decent walk rate (6.2%), an excellent strikeout rate (15.5%), and finished with a line of .244/.297/.366. Even though he made quite a bit of contact, it wasn’t all good contact (BABIP was just .265). He has room to be a little more selective in which pitches he attacks, and I would not be surprised if that is the next step in the evolution of his game.
Defensively he projects best as a corner outfielder with enough arm to handle right, but in a part-time role he could slide over to center from time to time. The glove is probably closer to being major league ready than the bat, but right now I don’t expect either to be impact quality.
Martinez will head to Tennessee this year, and I would not be surprised if he is this year’s Double-A bat that suddenly takes dramatic strides forward and starts clobbering baseballs like there is no tomorrow. It seems like there is at least one of those guys every year. If that does happen, pencil Martinez in as a good potential starting outfielder one day, but probably not an impact guy. If he doesn’t take that next step, he’ll probably be viewed more as a fourth/fifth outfielder in the making.
33. Wyatt Short, LHP
Aquired: 13th round, 2016 draft
Projection: Reliever, perhaps with closer potential
The Cubs drafted Short out of college and immediately moved him to the back of the bullpen. He pitched 62 innings over 40 games for South Bend last year, and finished with 16 saves. His formula is simple: get grounders (52.9% GB rate), get strikeouts (9.00 K/9), avoid walks (2.90 BB/9), and avoid homers (just 2 allowed all year). It isn’t a novel formula, but it is a good one.
Short is an interesting prospect in a couple of ways. First, he’s a lot smaller than your typical pitcher (5’8″). That factor alone is likely at least part of the reason he was available for the Cubs in the 13th round. The other thing to watch is that he is one of a growing number of pitchers that the Cubs drafted and immediately set up as relievers apparently with the intent of still developing them as prospects. The minor league bullpens used to be full of piggy back starters and guy who couldn’t hack it in a rotation for whatever reason. That is not really the case anymore, and the Cubs have appeared to be more aggressive than most teams in targeting pitchers (particularly college pitchers) who can have a future as bullpen arms.
Will it work? Too early to say, at least in this case. I like what I see from Short, though, and I think that right now he is being generally overlooked in the Cubs system. I suspect he’ll be the closer for Myrtle Beach to start the year, and if that goes well the Cubs may well push him up to Tennessee by year end. If that happens, he’ll be on track for a Major League debut (if a hole appears) sometime in 2019.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a good recent video of Short.
32. Faustino Carrera, LHP
Aquired: Signed as an IFA prior to the 2016 season
Projection: Middle reliever, or maybe a fifth starter
Teenage pitchers are tough to project. Their stuff is ususally still a work in progress, sometimes their mechanics are as well, and the results are often all over the map as a result. But sometimes, as with Carrerra, trends emerge early that bode well for the future.
In the case of this southpaw, those trends are the decline in walk rate with Arizona in 2017 (down to an excellent 1.59 BB/9), and an uptick in ground ball rate (to 52.1%). A lefty who can get grounders and avoid walks, as a teenager, is starting a career from a very good foundation. And did I mention that in almost 130 professional innings he has only given up two homers? That’s nice, too.
Good reads on Carrera’s exact stuff is hard to find, so for now let’s just say he’s staying in the strike zone and getting plenty of grounders. I think he’ll head to Eugene in June, likely as a starter, and when that happens we’ll start to get plenty of good video on him.
Long term, whether or not he stays in the rotation probably comes down to his size. At 5’10”, a lot of people will assume he’s ticketed for the bullpen by default. And, for now, that’s how I’m projecting him.
Unfortunately I couldn’t find any good recent video on Carrera.
31. Andruw Monasterio, INF
Acquired: Signed as an IFA prior to the 2014 season
Projection: Utility infielder, maybe a fringe starting middle infielder
Usually listed as a shortstop, Monasterio actually played more games at third than short in 2017. That probably had more to do with a bit of a glut of middle infielders in the Cubs organization right now than it does with his own particular abilities, but it does bode well for his future versatility. That versatility might be what eventually gets this right-handed hitter to the majors.
Offensively, Monasterio’s numbers are held down a little by a lack of power. His .281/.351/.368 line in South Bend was followed by a .241/.313/.287 set of numbers in about 100 PA in Myrtle Beach. His walk rate stayed in the low 8% range and his strikeout rate in the mid-14%s at both stops; the difference was the ISO.
The fact that his peripheral numbers stayed rougly constant between the two levels is noteworthy, though. That often suggests that a batter hat not yet been particularly challenged, and for a guy who is still only 20 years old that is a very good sign indeed. Factor in that power is often the last tool to develop, and I think there is plenty of reason to dream on Monasterio.
Look for Monasterio to return to Myrtle Beach to start the year, with a possible mid-season promotion to Tennessee if things go well. Hopefully we’ll see an uptick in ISO along the way.
30. Eugenio Palma, LHP
Acquired: Signed as an IFA prior to the 2014 season
Projection: Reliever, possibly a full inning type and not just a lefty specialist
ETA: Good question. Maybe 2020?
Even if you’ve been closely following the Cubs farm system, there is a good chance you have never heard of Eugenio Palma [Brett: guilty]. And for good reason. Even though he has been in the system for four seasons, he has yet to throw a single pitch outside of Rookie ball. As a reliever, though, I think he is a guy who could move quickly and get to the majors in a hurry.
Palma has arm action somewhere in the three quarter to side arm area, and he looks like he is very quick to the plate. I can see most hitters having a hard time picking him up, particularly lefties. He is a heavy fly ball guy, but despite that gave up just one home run in 41 innings last year. His strikeout rate was good (9.58 K/9) as was his walk rate (1.31 BB/9), and hitters managed to hit just .266 off him.
If the Cubs are going to keep Palma in the bullpen, I think he should be able to handle a full season league at this point. Look for Palma to head to South Bend relatively soon, and then to be pressed up the system just as fast as he is able to go from there.
29. Austin Upshaw, INF
Acquired: 13th round, 2017 draft
Projection: Offensive utility player, or maybe a fringe starting first baseman
Some list Upshaw at the best hitter the Cubs took in the 2017 draft. I’m not prepared to go that far, but he did have one of the more impressive professional debuts. After a very short stint in Arizona the Cubs sent him to South Bend where he played all over the infield (except shortstop) and hit .290/.339/.381 from the left side of the plate.
Long term Upshaw is probably a better fit on the corner, and until we get data to the contrary I suspect first may be the only position where his glove makes sense in a full time role, but if he can keep up the defensive flexibility as he moves up the system he could provide some nice value as a left-handed bat off the bench.
The walk rate (6.1%) and strikeout rate (13.5%) were pretty much exactly what we would want to see. His .090 ISO in South Bend could be a touch concerning, but I’m content to see what he does this season before getting too worried. He’ll need a little more power than that to stay in the conversation as a starter on either infield corner.
I think Upshaw could go to Myrtle Beach as soon as opening day [Brett: Yup, rosters are now out, and that’s where he’s headed], and seems likely to spend the majority of the season there.