Some 25 years ago, my Dad coached me in basketball. We got home from tryouts, and he couldn’t stop gushing about this random kid from a town over that I’d never heard of. I still can’t tell you his name, I don’t think he wound up with 10 points for us all year. But Dad watched him box someone out, and that was it. There was no question he was getting him for our team.
This is the beautiful thing about sports. You watch for a few minutes, heck a few seconds, and an athlete can catch your eye. And just like that, you find yourself caring a little more about his or her success. The term “personal cheeseball” is one that was common in my summer at Baseball America (in 2006! why am I dating myself so deliberately?) and I’ve never forgotten it. These are the guys whose play won me over as I watched them in 2019, the guys who I’ll stan that little bit extra for in 2020.
[Note: all players in Honorable Mention will appear in alphabetical order. The age listed will be their 2020 baseball age, the affiliate is my projection at their Opening Day assignment. The first part of the list is here, if you missed it.]
Edmond Americaan, OF, 23, South Bend (Stats). Kind of a weird prospect, honestly, given the combination of age, skills and refinement. Generally speaking, a guy with this blend of tools that has barely seen Low-A might be four years younger. Americaan, who spent a couple years in junior college, hit .321/.382/.518 with 10 steals in his final 36 games last year at Eugene. He’s in the 90th percentile in the system in terms of fast-twitch athleticism, and I think he’ll play just fine in center field. The question is going to be whether the offensive approach can mature, both in terms of patience at the plate (6.7 BB%), and the type of batted ball he’s generally attempting (65.4 GB%). (Acquired: 35th Round, 2018)
— Eugene Emeralds (@EugeneEmeralds) July 10, 2019
Hunter Bigge, RH RP, 22, South Bend (Stats). There’s such an easy narrative that happened when Hunter Bigge exploded onto the prospect scene with 99 mph fastballs at Eugene last summer. Bigge was a guy that was the ace and middle of the order hitter at Harvard, and when he was relieved from all those pressures (so the narrative goes), and simply asked to pitch in a professional bullpen, he took off. I have no real clue if that’s true, but I know that Bigge was a revelation for the Emeralds, so much so that I was clamoring for the Cubs to insert him into the South Bend bullpen for their championship run. His last five outings before he was shut down: 10 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 12 K. Not sure if the plan will be piggybacking or short relief for Bigge, it’s one of the more interesting subplots for me in Mesa. (Acquired: 12th Round, 2019)
One of my favorite pitchers to watch in 2019, tho he pitched just 16 pro innings, was 12th rd pick Hunter Bigge. After a solid college career in Harvard’s rotation, Bigge unlocked elite stuff moving to the bullpen in pro ball. Got to upper 90s. RHH were 4 for 38 with 15 Ks. https://t.co/5dVwv3lgaz
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) January 2, 2020
Jeremiah Estrada, RHP, 21, Injured List (Stats). When I write this list again next year, Estrada will have been in the Cubs organization for three and a half seasons, and it’s unlikely he’ll have 40 professional innings to his name. We know already that Estrada will miss most, and potentially all, of 2020 recovering from Tommy John surgery. I also know that Estrada was showing some electric stuff in his three Eugene outings this year before his injury. The changeup had made huge strides on the Mesa backfields, the curve and fastball still showing their signs of plus life. If the stuff comes back, perhaps he’ll be moved to relief, and then things might (finally) move quickly. (Acquired: 6th Round, 2017)
A #ProspectHipster’s dream over here, just watching 2017 over slot 6th rounder Jeremiah Estrada pitching to 2018 over slot 2nd rounder Brennen Davis. You can hear the sizzle. pic.twitter.com/r4nkfnBrjU
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) March 15, 2019
Alex Guerra, C, 23, South Bend (Stats). Oh my god, people, is Hulk Guerra a fun baseball player. Signed from Cuba in 2017, Guerra is a quite short and quite stout power hitter. But it’s not a little bit of power. I mean, his home runs in the AZL last year traveled about as far as any in the Cubs system last year. Look at this hit chart! It’s unlikely Guerra will stick at catcher, but I couldn’t help myself from rewarding probably the highest raw power grade in the system. He’s probably number 69 on this list of 69, and heck, he’s probably lower if I’m being honest with myself. But that’s what a personal cheeseball is all about. (Acquired: IFA, 2017-18)
Peyton Remy, RHP, 23, Myrtle Beach (Stats). It feels to me like a breakout has happened here, it just hasn’t happened often enough for many people to notice it. In two seasons, Remy has given up 95 hits in 132.2 innings, while striking out a batter per inning. He’s a hard worker and good thinker, with good tunneling and execution the keys to his success so far. He spins breaking balls really well, and if he can add a little more velocity and command to the fastball (and I think it’s possible given his build), he’s going to pop. His last 11 outings in South Bend: 1.64 ERA. (Acquired: 17th Round, 2017)
Meet Peyton Remy. 17th round pick in 2017. Career 2.87 ERA and 10.5 K/9.
Hasn’t allowed a run in last 14.1 IP for SB. Remy, 22, still has a bit of projectability, but does damage with a FB that sits 91-92, good overhand CV and a newer slider.
Here’s a 3-pitch K featuring all 3. pic.twitter.com/tWOVGlyPJT
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) May 24, 2019
Cam Sanders, RHP, 23, Myrtle Beach (Stats). The joke I had with someone about Cam Sanders this year is that I think he might be the only guy in the Cubs organization that had a pitch touch every single number between 65 and 98 this year. Maybe Yu Darvish, too? A fastball that began the year, in the cold of South Bend, at 86-90 mph jumped as high as those upper 90s numbers (on a Midwest League stadium gun, I must point out) when summer came around. A big overhand curve that will be used more for Strike 1 than Strike 3 at higher levels, a change-up that will flash above-average, and a slider that comes and goes. He’ll need more efficiency if he’s to be a starter, more nastiness to be a reliever, but he’s got the arm to be something. (Acquired: 12th Round, 2018)
IMPORTANT #CONTENT UPDATE
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) June 23, 2019
Wyatt Short, LH RP, 25, Iowa (Stats). I have said before that Short is my favorite player to watch in the Cubs system. In every appearance, you can see the little lefty laying it all on the line. He competes. The juiced ball in Iowa was the first time he’s struggled since, well, as far back as I can see numbers (seriously, he’d never had an ERA above 3.79 before!). Short throws a really good low 90s sinker, mixes in an effective slider, and gets a ton of ground balls. He was mentioned at the Cubs Convention as a guy that might help this year, but there’s a lot of guys in that lefty relief line right now, and we don’t even know how lefty relievers will be used in the 2020s. This spot could have gone to hard-throwing Jordan Minch or Ryan Lawlor’s good curveball; the lefty that will ultimately distinguish himself hasn’t emerged yet. (Acquired: 13th Round, 2016)
Wasn't able to get to fields until late today. Only caught one pitcher. LHP Wyatt Short. pic.twitter.com/0Y5n0EtTGs
— Cubs Den (@CubsDen) March 12, 2017
Matt Swarmer, 26, Iowa (Stats). At this point, I’m thinking of Swarmer as something of a post-hype sleeper. He was the Cubs 2018 minor league pitcher of the year, of course, but I think his 5.65 ERA in Iowa last year has most assuming that was a fluky good season. I’m a little more willing to give Swarmer the benefit of the juiced ball doubt, because I think his deception, command and slider can play in a Major League bullpen. But the platoon issues are real; I think that lefties see that ball for a long time, and the fastball doesn’t play against them. He can make a career out of being a specialist, he just needs to make things a bit less extreme. (Acquired: 19th Round, 2016)