Today’s portion of the Prospect List August update is easily the most fluid section. The order of these players is changing all the time, at the whims of who threw that one awesome pitch I watched last, who has me intrigued or frustrated at the moment. This is the nature of midseason prospect lists, and it’s why I implore you not to get too hung up on any particular ranking. The distance between 9 and 22 is not all-that-wide.
Thus, a grouping method.
In the offseason, I’ll be able to watch each of these guys throw 500 pitches on video sequentially, really confront my pre-existing opinions, and feel more confident in a specific order. These groupings will become far more intertwined. For now, my brain could process them most easily in this clean fashion.
By the way, Part 1 (38-23) was here.
22-12: The Pitching Depth
So as I approached these ten pitchers, you’ll see that ultimately my rankings hold pretty strongly to proximity to the Major Leagues. This seemed like the best tiebreaker in a group that all has good-not-great stuff, as we wait for who takes the next step forward in the Pitch Lab.
22. Richard Gallardo, rhp, 17, AZL
21. Erich Uelmen, rhp, 23, Tennessee
20. Yovanny Cruz, rhp, 19, AZL
19. Jack Patterson, lhp, 23, Tennessee
18. Keegan Thompson, rhp, 24, Tennessee (IL)
16. Riley Thompson, rhp, 22, South Bend
15. Cory Abbott, rhp, 23, Tennessee
14. Justin Steele, lhp, 23, Tennessee (IL)
13. Kohl Franklin, rhp, 19, Eugene
12. Tyson Miller, rhp, 23, Iowa
Franklin is the exception to the proximity-to-the-bigs rule, and that should speak to the amazing seven starts he’s had in short-season ball. His change-up is among the best pitches in the group, and there’s a lot of projectability remaining with his fastball velocity and curveball consistency. I expected Yovanny Cruz or Richard Gallardo to be the short-season breakout guys this year, but Cruz hasn’t been healthy enough, and Gallardo hasn’t been electric enough.
In my mind, health is all that’s holding Keegan Thompson back from the top ten. Last I heard, Thompson did not have surgery for shoulder soreness, and might see action (likely in the AZL) before season’s end. It would also be great to see Steele again, who is working back from a side muscle injury, and had a lot of bad luck before that. I have Steele higher just because an oblique injury is better than anything related to the arm.
Perhaps I’m grading Riley Thompson on too harsh a curve, because I was optimistic about him before the year, but I’m left wanting just a little more. The change-up has really improved, but the breaking ball has stagnated, and there hasn’t been enough dominance in South Bend. Erich Uelmen is a guy on the verge of moving up, he dominated quite a bit in Myrtle Beach, but I still worry that the bullpen is too easy a destination. The same thing is holding back Jack Patterson for now.
Cory Abbott’s battles with fastball command have me watching him closely, as that’s absolutely essential to his success at higher levels. And I’m holding strong with Miller atop the group, despite the significant struggles thus far in Iowa. Like Abbott, poor command has been a big problem for Miller, as mistakes in the zone go over the fence in the PCL. Both guys need to be lock-tight in their execution, but sustained Double-A success is hard to ignore.
11-8: Five Very Unique Infielders
There are four infielders in the system that are truly so different, totally different ways to get the job done, that I’m convinced how anyone ranks them says more about the ranker than the players: Christopher Morel, Zack Short, Aramis Ademan, Chase Strumpf.
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) July 27, 2019
17. Robel Garcia, ut, 26, Iowa
11. Zack Short, mi, 24, Iowa
10. Aramis Ademan, ss, 20, Myrtle Beach
9. Christopher Morel, 3b, 20, South Bend (IL)
8. Chase Strumpf, 2b, 21, Eugene
Garcia is simply one of the hardest people to rank I’ve ever encountered, because he has a story for which there’s no precedent. There is no ranking that won’t potentially look very stupid in three years. While obviously Garcia’s strikeouts will hamper his ceiling, I was more concerned by his Major League walk rate. You can’t be a Three True Outcomes regular if you’re unable to do one of the good two.
Strumpf for me is the top guy here simply because his offensive profile has the least warts. His upside isn’t even close to Chris Morel’s, but Strumpf is going to fly through the system. Love the way he works through at-bats with a professionalism that’s pretty rare for the Northwest League. Love the way he can backspin a baseball. Hope we see the Cubs’ second round pick in South Bend soon.
Morel’s brilliance came so quick, it didn’t give us enough time to process how raw he is. The defense at third base was exemplary, and his batting practice shows give you total confidence in the power profile. The question he has to overcome is whether he’ll even top a .300 OBP as he moves higher up the ladder. Hard to be a winning player that way.
It’s hard to know whether I have Prospect Fatigue with Ademan, because he’s been near top of lists for so long and is kind of an Unexciting Player, or if his unexcitement means we’ve been over-ranking him the whole time. I’m open to either possibility, but I still am intrigued by his bat control. Zack Short’s in a similar boat, but it’s hard to know how much we learned about him this year given the injury. The last five weeks will help inform a lot with him specifically.
So to go back to my tweet at the top of this section, what does my ranking of these four say about me? I think when it comes to position players, I like a single high-end tool more than across-the-board tools. Strumpf’s plate approach and Morel’s raw power stand out above anything that I’m seeing on Ademan or Short’s scouting report.
In Part 3 we’ll tackle the final seven, where I’m sure no one will have any strong opinions!