Something has become abundantly clear to me as I watched a lot of batting practice on the Mesa backfields this month: the Cubs do not have a lot of power in their system right now.
Whether due to the failings of international signees (seven figure bonus baby Kwang-min Kwon was released this week) or a focus by the amateur scouting department more on up-the-middle types, I believe this to be the biggest weakness currently on the farm. Heck, last year’s home run leader, Jason Vosler, was traded this winter for an extra Triple-A relief option (Rowan Wick).
I thought it would be illustrative to give my rankings on the highest raw power grades in the system, mostly to show: there’s really not very many swatting it over the fence.
Cole Roederer, Christopher Morel
A couple weeks ago, I arrived at the backfields a little late. As I turned onto Cubs Way off Rio Solado, a ball came over the nearby field fence, and almost hit my car! After I parked, I wasn’t surprised to learn the almost-culprit was Cole Roederer, who packs a lot of punch into a small frame. Roederer is short and quick to the ball, but combines that with a big, strong violent finish. Here’s an up-close look:
Cole Roederer with 2 singles and a lineout so far playing up with the High-A squad. Here’s his swings from his first AB. pic.twitter.com/iyDsnawDrC
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) March 17, 2019
Of course, Roederer then went and hit a home run in his first big league exhibition at-bat this spring.
We have already talked about Morel since coming out here, but I’ve really become a fan. He probably has the best bat speed in the system, and uses his hips really effectively to get the whip/torque necessary to hit home runs from such a skinny frame. You can easily dream on Morel adding 10-20 more pounds of muscle, and becoming a real home run threat.
Still, I’m not sure it’s a great sign the top two power guys in the system aren’t guaranteed to make a full-season roster out of Spring Training (both could be left in Arizona to wait out the cold Indiana April in South Bend).
Part of why I have ranked Amaya #1 is that so far, I’m more bullish on his home run potential than Nico Hoerner. His body continues to evolve and get larger (with good weight), he hits the ball very hard, and looks to elevate pull-side. Amaya is headed to Myrtle Beach, though, the hardest park in the system for power, so I don’t anticipate his home run total this year will tell the full story about what is really waiting in his bat.
Nico Hoerner, Brennen Davis
I have been a skeptic of Hoerner’s power potential, but he’s winning me over. His swing is so simple, and the Cubs have worked to add some elevation to the swing.
Nico Hoerner. Open face. Batting practice with Tennessee squad. 3/19. 1st and 4th swings in this video were home runs. pic.twitter.com/mVTR0zADI0
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) March 19, 2019
Baseball America tabbed Brennen Davis the best raw power in the system, but I’m just not there quite yet. He’s done awesome work to add a ton of muscle to his body in a short time. He’s extremely coachable; in BP, you’ll see him seek out a hitting coach after rounds of BP to talk through what just happened. However, his swing changes still are a work in progress, and I’m still seeing differences in batting practice and games. Here’s an example, where I feel like his left arm and wrists do not scream future power.
Brennen Davis line drive single to left. pic.twitter.com/aVnuBSKxhW
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) March 17, 2019
The good news: Davis hit a triple off the right field fence at one point in a intrasquad game against Riley Thompson. This grade could go up over time.
Trent Giambrone, Jared Young, Nelson Velazquez
An odd mix of body types here. Giambrone is near-fully maxed out in a short-compact body, but he swings as hard as anyone in the system. I look forward to seeing his power play in the PCL this year. Jared Young is sort of the opposite body: tall and thin, with shoulders that don’t suggest he has much room to add muscle. Young has looked fantastic this spring, and I do see more elevation in his swing. Part of what got the Cubs to successfully add power to Vosler’s game a couple years ago was working to move his contact point forward. I suspect they’re working on the same thing with Young. Here’s a look:
Jared Young, BP, Spring Training, 3/14. Last swing slo mo. pic.twitter.com/ttgrVI7XOe
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) March 15, 2019
Velazquez’ power is still coming, but he’s done a nice job adding a lot of muscle the last two years. I’m still not sold that his swing is there; for instance, one BP session I watched, he was practically swinging one-handed. We’ll be watching his South Bend performance closely this year.
Ian Rice, Jonathan Sierra, Luke Reynolds, Zack Short.
Maybe deserve inclusion: Alexander Guerra, Wladimir Galindo.
So it’s 11 names total that come in clearly at 50-or-better for me. That’s not great.
Sierra and Reynolds you want on here because you want to dream on their bodies. Sierra shows me an ability to backspin a ball that I don’t see in others, but his swing is pretty level, and he just doesn’t hit the ball very far very often. Reynolds doesn’t seem to tap into his power much, he’s more of a gap-to-gap guy with good bat control. However, based on his strength, he’s someone I anticipate will get a lot of time with coaches to bring more power into gameplay.
Short and Rice will provide pop to the Iowa Cubs lineup this year. Short’s frame doesn’t at-all scream power hitter, but he’s someone smart about cheating on a fastball and looking to pull it high and far. Rice is strong with a powerful, compact swing. I’m hoping he’ll have better luck in the Pacific Coast League, and he’d be my dark horse to lead the system in home runs.
The problem, though: that number might be less than 20 home runs this year. Not good enough, and something the Cubs will need more pointed focus at during the middle rounds of their next couple drafts. I’m hoping by the time next spring comes, my car will be threatened far more often!