If you had to pick, would you rather the system get better at the top or deeper in the middle? While I think Friday’s 21-11 breakdown showed the Cubs system hasn’t taken a huge step forward at the back this year, today will show a lot of improvement near the top of the list. This is a good group of ten.
10. Zack Short, 24, SS, Triple-A Iowa
What we’ve learned this year: Very little. Short was injured on a HBP just six (very good) games into Iowa’s season. I suppose the information gained came from Spring Training, where he spent a lot of time at second base, struggling a bit with a new position. I look forward to seeing Short’s surprising pop combine with the juiced ball of the Pacific Coast League. Could be a good match. We still don’t know when he’ll be returning, though.
Zack Short, open face slo mo, Spring Training, 3/12, 9th inn PH, single, soft liner over 2B. pic.twitter.com/ZYNE3aobmM
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) March 13, 2019
9. Tyson Miller, 23, RHP, Double-A Tennessee
What we’ve learned this year: For the second year in a row, Miller came into the season having made a sizable improvement. While Miller credits his success this year to more detailed scouting reports and information available to him internally, I believe it’s his new curveball that has successfully rounded out his arsenal. Miller has been the system’s most significant pitching breakout, and is in the process of forcing his way to Triple-A. Where we go from there is anybody’s guess. I still think there’s room for two more ticks on his fastball, and his slider will flash more bite every so often, so we’re not at his ceiling yet.
SmokiesCenter 5/1 vs Jackson: Near perfection from Tyson Miller and some late heroics make for a fun night at Smokies Stadium. pic.twitter.com/KYVTDVFLRA
— Tennessee Smokies (@smokiesbaseball) May 2, 2019
8. Cory Abbott, 23, RHP, Double-A Tennessee
What we’ve learned this year: Abbott’s stuff works at levels higher than A-ball. Abbott is a guy that I ranked in the top ten last year, and then spent the offseason talking myself out of it. That was a mistake. Abbott is the most polished pitcher in the Cubs system, a guy with a complete arsenal and a fully realized plan of attack. He’s going to struggle with home runs, probably more at every level, but he’s also going to keep getting outs with four pitches built around tunneling.
Pitching backwards and pitching in tunnels.
A 3-pitch clinic by Cory Abbott. pic.twitter.com/kI8iRNh22E
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) May 17, 2019
7. Cole Roederer, 19, OF, Low-A South Bend
What we’ve learned this year: Roederer was the first teenage player the Cubs sent to the Midwest League on Opening Day in a long, long time. They believe in his abilities, as he showed them they should in Spring Training. And he’s flashing enough things with South Bend to prove he belongs. But I think we realized that Roederer is developmentally, and even more, physically, still very raw. And that’s okay. Nothing we’ve seen yet has changed his ultimate projection. He, too, is currently out with an injury.
Former Hart OF Cole Roederer. Playing for Cubs. Yes he has power. From coach Jim Ozella. pic.twitter.com/BtrS6o23ka
— eric sondheimer (@latsondheimer) March 19, 2019
6. Brennen Davis, 19, OF, Low-A South Bend
What we’ve learned this year: The amount of development that has taken place in the last nine months is pretty incredible. Davis spent the offseason commuting from his Arizona home to the Cubs facilities to add weight, and it shows. The Cubs also worked on his swing, as we’ve talked about here quite a bit. Davis is showing patience and an opposite field approach in South Bend so far, so he’s not just some raw player, he’s got good instincts, too. If he keeps up even some facsimile of his recent play, he’s got a chance to be top 3 at season’s end.
5. Aramis Ademan, 20, SS, High-A Myrtle Beach
What we’ve learned this year: We’re into June now, and Ademan has been able to sustain a walk rate above 15%. After his age showed last year in the Carolina League, Ademan is showing a lot of maturity with a great bounceback season this year. He’s cut his groundball rate by ten percentage points, and continues to use the whole field. He’s got some pop. I believe the plan should be to let Ademan spend the entire season in Myrtle Beach, and let him walk into next season’s Double-A assignment with supreme confidence.
Aramis Ademan BP, Spring Training, 3/19. Definitely feeling some optimism about his year ahead. Expect he’ll be far more comfortable. pic.twitter.com/Fh7z5Lxrpf
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) March 20, 2019
4. Brailyn Marquez, 20, LHP, Low-A South Bend
What we’ve learned this year: While Marquez has yet to break through with that singularly dominating start, things are progressing nicely. His K% is up to a career-high 29.2% (after being 26.4% in Eugene a year ago). His groundball rate is up to 56% (after being 52.4% in Eugene). The walk rate is a problem, doubling from 7 to 14%, but I’m not too worried. Marquez is just finding himself in deeper counts this year, and it’s a maturity process to learn to trust your stuff in a 2-2 count. There was only one start where he truly lacked control.
The good news is he’s been north of 95 in every outing, up to 100 in one or two starts. I’m not sure he lets that four-seam fastball eat enough, as there’s a lot of time spent on his low 90s two-seam and his offspeed offerings. Good for development, I understand, but less so for his overall success. I also want to point out Marquez has held lefties to a .135/.304/.216 line with a 34 K%. If starting doesn’t work out, this is an absolutely devastating reliever in the makings.
Changeup delivered by #Cubs no. 3 prospect 20-year-old LHP Brailyn Marquez (6’4, 185 lbs.).
— Emily Waldon (@EmilyCWaldon) May 25, 2019
3. Adbert Alzolay, 24, RHP, Triple-A Iowa
What we’ve learned this year: The strangest thing about Alzolay’s eight starts in Iowa were his strikeout rate: a career-low 15.8%. It was a bit disorienting, as the stuff was there, and it just wasn’t really working. Well, good news: it’s working right now. Alzolay has now made just four starts in Iowa, but his K% has absolutely skyrocketed to 36.3%.
Two outings ago, Alzolay’s curveball was at its absolute best, and I bet he threw it at a 35-40% clip, dominating the New Orleans Baby Cakes with really a single pitch. In his last outing at Round Rock, Alzolay’s curveball wasn’t as good, but he showed a new slider, more movement on his fastball, threw more change-ups to lefties (who are 4-for-27 so far), and used his pitch versatility to dominate the Express. Alzolay has a lot of weapons in the toolbox.
With what we’re seeing, Alzolay is the early favorite to grab hold of next year’s number five starter job. He will help this season. He used his injury time to get better, and his work ethic is paying dividends. The more he proves that he’s not a health concern, the more he’ll rise up this list.
Adbert was at his absolute best against Kyle Tucker, the Astros great prospect.
In first: curve in the dirt, CH low and in for swinging strike, FB at 95 up for SwStr, FB at 96 up for a ball, hung a curve Tucker hit 350 feet foul, good curve in dirt, FB run high away for K.
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) June 2, 2019
2. Miguel Amaya, 20, C, High-A Myrtle Beach
What we’ve learned this year: It seems weird to say that this is Amaya’s best offensive season yet, but it’s true, he’s managed to increase his walk rate, cut down on strikeouts, and is hitting for more power. All at an insanely young age relative to his league and position. However, Amaya’s BABIP has plummeted to .234 as a result of a huge rise in groundouts. His GB% this year is up to 55.4 after getting under forty last year. If I have a concern, it’s easy groundballs against right-handed pitching.
1. Nico Hoerner, 22, SS, Double-A Tennessee
What we’ve learned this year: He was ready. It looks like so far, no matter the challenge, Hoerner is ready for it. Whether it’s his third affiliate in three weeks like it was in South Bend last year, the only 2018 draftee in the Arizona Fall League after a 3-month layoff last fall, a regular role in Major League Spring Training, or an aggressive assignment to Double-A. The impressive thing this season, what one me over to move Nico to the top spot, was that his plate approach in April was so advanced. To be just 150 professional plate appearances into your career and strike out in just 8 of your first 69 plate appearances shows real hit tool talent. I still have some doubts about the future power grade – and I expect after his wrist injury we’ll see almost no power this year – but Nico’s bat-to-ball abilities make him a no-doubt big leaguer.