Hey, we made it through the Honorable Mentions together. There were a whopping 69 Cubs prospects that merited at least some attention, and I had to put the first 39 of those on your radar before I could dig in on the 30 I’m attempting to rank.
This week, we’ll count down the top 30 prospect in the Cubs system. If you need a general refresher on my thought process for this year’s rankings, I talked philosophy in the introduction.
The format for the ranked guys will be similar to last year’s: we’ll discuss the foundational skills the player possesses (Has), the things they flash that we hope are a hint of things to come (Shows), and what’s standing in the way of their ceiling (Needs). And new this year, we’ll talk about what led to their specific ranking (Why here). Please note the ages listed are their 2020 baseball age. Enjoy.
30. Brendon Little, LHP, 23, Myrtle Beach (Stats). Acquired: 1st round, 2017.
Has: A good enough three-pitch mix to make it as a starter. Little’s change up has really improved in the Cubs system, his curveball was always good, and his velocity (90-94) is enough for a lefty starter. The stuff is there, and that’s why the Cubs drafted him in the first round.
Shows: Mechanical consistency. This was a downfall of Little’s in the past, and while things looked better in 2019 (when he was healthy), I still don’t know that you can count on the same guy and stuff showing up every five days.
Needs: Better fastball command. Little still doesn’t have the ability to trust that in a big count, he can throw the fastball and hit a corner. He’s inefficient on the mound, and if he’s not careful, that will ultimately push him to relief.
Why Here: 2019 was more of a lost year than a disappointing one, as Little showed enough in his High-A cup of coffee to earn a bit more leash.
29. Chris Clarke, RHP, 22, South Bend (Stats). Acquired: 4th round, 2019.
Has: A mountain of a build. Clarke’s 6-foot-7 frame allows him to pitch with good tilt and produce extremely easy velocity in the 93-94 range. He also has unusually good feel for someone that size, showing command to both sides of the plate.
Shows: A plus breaking ball, which reports have labeled a curveball in the past, but seems to have more of a slider shape. It’s a one-plane breaker than he commands well, but it’s not particularly sharp, and I need to see a little more before I’m sold on it as an upper-level out pitch.
Needs: A role. Clarke bounced around various jobs at USC before settling in late relief in 2019. The Cubs seem to have some interest in stretching Clarke back out, which will mean his change up will need work. Or, if he ultimately goes back to short relief, he’ll need the fastball-breaker combo to get a little nastier.
Why Here: Clarke’s execution in his debut was fantastic and deserved recognition, but I still want to get more clarity on the Cubs plans for him moving forward.
Chris Clarke has a nice curveball. pic.twitter.com/DDas5L2mOz
— No, I'm still Rael (@thats_so_cub) July 21, 2019
28. Aramis Ademan, SS, 21, Tennessee (Stats). Acquired: IFA, 2015.
Has: The defensive actions to be successful at either middle infield position. Ademan is very smooth and has good hands and footwork, and I think would ultimately thrive in a utility infield role where his defensive instincts would play up.
Shows: A proper offensive approach. Out of the gate in 2019, Ademan showed a commitment to more patience, drawing 23 walks in his first 37 games. He was more committed to an all-fields offensive philosophy. However, those advancements eroded as the year dragged on and Ademan began to press.
Needs: The contact ability needs to guide his entire offensive game. Ademan doesn’t project for more strength and real in-game power, so he will need his hit tool to make up for it. This hasn’t happened yet, and his strikeout rate has actually trended in the opposite direction.
Why Here: Ademan was a huge IFA bonus guy, but it hasn’t shown yet, and his final 59 games in 2019 were dreadful: .168/.256/.277. This was his second go-around at Myrtle Beach, and it was not successful. I need to be won back over.
27. Erich Uelmen, RHP, 24, Tennessee (Stats). Acquired: 4th round, 2017.
Has: The sinker/slider mix down pat. Uelmen is an ultra-athletic, loose-armed right-hander with the most natural sink you can have. He made a huge improvement against left-handed hitters in 2019, with his slider becoming a consistent weapon against them for the first time. He showed a greater ability to throw the sinker on the inside half to right-handed hitters.
Shows: An ability to play with the slider. I think this will be huge for Uelmen, who has toyed with a change up and a curveball, but neither has really taken hold. Uelmen has shown the ability to throw a slider in the mid 80s with good horizontal action, and something in the high 80s with more subtle cutting action. If he can go 2-seam and 4-seam with slider and cutter, that opens things up.
Needs: Dynamite sinker command. That’s the only way this is all going to work. And when he got to Double-A this year, Uelmen’s ability to throw strikes nosedived. His groundball rate did as well, as the execution of getting the sinker down in the zone wasn’t there. The entire foundation is built on sinker execution.
Why Here: The AFL performance in a two-inning relief role really convinced me that the future here is in the bullpen. The Cubs have been so slow to green light that conversion in the past, but I really think Uelmen could take off in that role right now.
Uelmen in the AFL is up to 10 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 K.
Uelmen has allowed 23 balls in play: 12 GB (52.2%), 6 LD (26.1%), and just 5 FB, two of which have been in the infield.
Very successful fall league stint, likely has 1-2 appearances remaining.
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) October 17, 2019
26. Yohendrick Pinango, OF, 18, AZL (Stats). Acquired: IFA, 2018.
I’m going to abandon the format a bit here, because it would be disingenuous to try ti write you a full scouting report until I can get my eyes on him. Pinango, and gosh I really love that name, was a revelation in his first pro season last year as a leadoff hitter. While DSL stats can frequently deceive, he was seemingly on base two times in every single game. The consistency really stuck out. His athleticism has been praised and his plate approach looks good for a future leadoff profile. Pinango didn’t homer in the DSL, and we’ll have to see if any power can be achieved as he ages. He was recently rated one of the best prospects in the very large DSL.
25. Andy Weber, SS, 22, Myrtle Beach (Stats). Acquired: 5th round, 2018.
Has: I don’t really how else to say it, but Weber just has the IT factor. He was the most consistent and steady thing about the champion South Bend Cubs, and the game just seems to come a little bit easier for him. He glides defensively with really good footwork, getting better in a return to shortstop as the year went along.
Shows: Just enough offensively. Weber isn’t someone that exceeds in any one area with the bat, but the compilation of the average skills adds up to more than the individual skills. He hit .293/.375/.432 in his final 58 games – good for a 134 wRC+ – when he became a bit more willing to draw walks.
Needs: A little more pop. Weber has the strength and swing to be able to drive a mistake, but he’s not really doing it yet. According to Minor Graphs, Weber hit just 11 balls more than 360 feet in 2019, and so I worry about that Isolated Power number as the pitching gets more difficult. I don’t think sufficient pop is out of the question, it’s just not there yet.
Why Here: As you can tell, I really like Weber, and decided early in the process to have him over Ademan. I still need to be convinced the bat will play at higher levels.
Andy Weber might be the most underrated prospect in the #Cubs system
• 5th rd draft pick in 2018 out of UVA
• .275/.338/.400 (113 wRC+) in 2019
• Only 2 errors at SS in all of June
• System leader with 36 doubles
• Improved at the plate & in the field as the season went on pic.twitter.com/344kV6QGTK
— Greg Huss (@OutOfTheVines) November 9, 2019