Recently, Baseball America released their top player rankings for a variety of best tools at the Major League level and, unsurprisingly, Javier Baez made more than his fair share of top-3 appearances (best baserunner, most exciting player, best defensive second baseman, best infielder arm, etc.).
And of course, he wasn’t the only one to make the cut (Joe Maddon, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo, and Kyle Hendricks all got some love, too). But Baseball America has moved beyond the Majors and into the Minor Leagues for a similar project.
Asking various MiLB managers (with input from their coaching staffs), Baseball America has broken down the best players in all 10 full-season Minor Leagues in wide range of categories. Here’s where you can find all of the results.
And here’s where the Cubs come in (but first, a reminder) …
Iowa Cubs (AAA) – Pacific Coast League
Tennessee Smokies (AA) – Southern League
Myrtle Beach Pelicans (A+) – Carolina League
South Bend Cubs (A) – Midwest League
The Cubs managed to land five players among the various best tool categories, and although they aren’t exactly the most exciting categories, fans of defense and fundamental baseball should be more than proud:
Terrance Gore – Fastest Runner, Pacific Coast League
Duncan Robinson – Best Control, Southern League
Zack Short – Best Defensive Shortstop, Southern League
Miguel Amaya – Best Defensive Catcher, Midwest League
Jared Young – Best Defensive 1B, Midwest League
But hey, there’s actually some really great stuff to take away from this. Let’s start at the top.
Gore, 27, is not a prospect by any means and he hasn’t even been a Cub for very long. But what he does have is blazing fast speed and a shot at helping the Cubs out down the stretch and especially in October. Gore was recently acquired by the Cubs to be their “ace-in-the-hole” burner, should the time call for it, and in that capacity he needs just one thing: speed. Looks like he’s got it.
The “best control” label isn’t something most kids dream about as little leaguers, but Cubs fans should be very happy to see it levied on one of their own. Robinson is a legitimate prospect (#16 in the Cubs system according to Luke) and the Southern League is a serious level. Indeed, Double-A is filled with legit prospects who are just a phone call away from the Majors. And when you consider that the Cubs pitching staff has the single highest combined walk rate in baseball, you’ll take “best control” any day of the week.
With everything I just said regarding the legitimacy of the Southern League, you should not be surprised to learn how exciting it is to also have the league’s best defensive shortstop. Short lands just a couple spots ahead of Robinson on Bleacher Nation’s Top 40 Mid-Season prospect rankings, and clearly for good reason. When you’re a good defender, they stick you at short. When you’re the best defensive shortstop in Double-A, you’ve got a future in the big leagues. Perhaps he’ll never be more than a defensive replacement/utility player, but defense that good doesn’t go unused. And, what do you know, the bat seems to be coming along, too. Just sayin’.
And then there’s Miguel Amaya, the Cubs’ #1 prospect. I had the privilege of seeing Amaya in person over the weekend and let me tell you, this kid is some kind of beef cake. He may be only 19 years old, but he looked like a full grown man (amongst kids), and has already shown his ability with the bat: .266/.354/.424 (121 wRC+) … as 19-YEAR-OLD catcher in full-season ball! That he also happens to be the league’s best defensive catcher, then, is nothing short of amazing. He’s a legit prospect – possibly the Cubs’ only top 100 type at the moment – and he’s getting recognition.
And finally, we’ve saved the least exciting for last. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for Jared Young, who is hitting very well this year, but winning best defensive first baseman distinction in the lowest full-season Minor League isn’t exactly sexy. With that said, Young, 23, crushed A-ball pitching to the tune of a .313/.368/.525 slash line earlier this year and earned himself a promotion to High-A, where he’s also hitting well (118 wRC+) and playing quality defense. According to Luke, Young is the Cubs’ 29th best prospect, but maybe there’s some room to grow left.