In writing today’s installment of the prospect list, I really got a feel for a tier emerging. I see it between spots 23 and 22-and-up where the system takes a large step forward. Everyone 5-22 is actually pretty close, which is what I was referencing about the second vs third tier in the list’s introduction.
Today’s six names are an interesting blend of 2019 breakouts and 2019 injury disappointments. No one would have seen these six as likely to be grouped together a year ago, but this is how things go in prospecting.
24. Pedro Martinez, 2B, 19, South Bend (Stats). Acquired: IFA, 2018.
Has: A knack for hard contact. Martinez’ breakout 2019 season was built on the heels of a .440 BABIP, which is of course not sustainable, but also speaks to the 21% line drive rate he had. One of those kids who naturally barrels the ball.
Shows: Some more athleticism than I expected. With players from complex ball, I tend to try and envision the player in my head before I start seeing video of him. I was surprised when Martinez made it to Eugene to see that there’s some real fast-twitch movements in there. It’s not elite, but enough for him to stick at second base and should be enough to allow him to take to coaching adjustments well.
Needs: More offensive refinement. Martinez will need some help with his attack angle, his right-handed swing, with his contact rates. In Eugene, he was able to post an above-average wRC+ despite a 61.3 GB% and 32.1 K%. That formula won’t work for long; it demands an adjustment before his numbers do.
Why Here: I started with Martinez a little lower, as I generally try to stay cautious of BABIP-built short-season performances. But in a more ceiling-based list, I have to pay respect to Martinez’ mature-for-his-age swing.
23. Yovanny Cruz, RHP, 20, South Bend (Stats). Acquired: IFA, 2016.
Has: Really good progress in strength and velocity development. Like Brailyn Marquez the year before, Cruz was able to build up his lower half significantly between 2018 and 2019. If I can stress anything, it’s that Cruz is nothing even close to his 6-1, 190 listing. The changes resulted in his fastball bumping up to as high as 97 mph, though they took a toll on his feel.
Shows: An ability to spin a good slider. I like the shape and the ability that Cruz gets on his slider, though I do think he tips it a bit. He’s got those mature abilities to execute a backfoot breaker to left-handed hitter or throw an armside slider for a strike on the corner. Now I just need to see it look a little more like his fastball when he throws it.
Needs: He has to re-learn pitching with a new body, a less athletic profile. Cruz went from a 2.4 BB/9 in 2018 to a 7.2 BB/9 in 2019, as the two-seam just had a mind of itself, and the mechanics were a bit messy. Cruz just has to get used to his new reality.
Why Here: I’ll be honest, I felt a little stronger about a more athletic Cruz with projectability in 2018 than I did when that projection was realized some in 2019. Still, it’s a special arm, and a breakout is fully possible in 2020.
22. Jack Patterson, LHP, 24, Tennessee (Stats). Acquired: 32nd round, 2018.
Has: The ability to get tons of groundballs. Patterson, despite his age, is relatively new to pitching. His ability for sink and his gains in fastball velocity are really impressive for someone with his experience level.
Shows: Two breaking balls, which when Patterson showed a greater ability to differentiate them, his career took off. My favorite of the two is the slider you see below, which when thrown in the high 80s is a devastating pitch off his fastball.
Needs: To prove to have the stamina to keep pushing his career forward, to prove that his fastball command will be enough, to prove the curveball and slider won’t bleed into each other too much.
Why Here: Patterson has faced more than 18 hitters a total of three times as a professional. And so I feel a bit forced to evaluate Patterson mostly as a reliever. I’m excited to learn if he can be more than that.
Loved this pitch from Jack Patterson’s final outing with South Bend. It’s an 89 mph slider that was preceded by a 95 mph fastball. Cubs Pitcher of June – amazing value in round 32 of 2018 Draft. Real pitching prospect.
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) July 8, 2019
21. Keegan Thompson RHP, 25, Tennessee (Stats). Acquired: 3rd round, 2017.
Has: Two good secondaries. Thompson’s curveball has the look and feel of a Major League plus pitch. It dazzled in his season debut, which turned out to be his only real start in 2019. In the Arizona Fall League, I received a good report on the state of his change up.
Shows: Enough fastball. Reports from the AFL had Thompson up to 95 mph, and given that he’s got good feel, he should be mostly okay pitching around 93 mph. These are better numbers than we saw from Thompson in most of 2018, so that would be good.
Needs: Mound time. Thompson has essentially lost two of the last four seasons to injury, and has topped 90 innings in just two of the last six years. I view Thompson as a starter without the relief fallback, so he needs to begin showing some endurance.
Why Here: I genuinely believe Thompson was headed towards a breakout 2019 before the arm problems that took away his season reared their ugly head. There’s some urgency now, but all guys in Double-A and Triple-A should know there’s a rotation spot next year waiting for the prospect that comes and takes it.
Smokies Highlights 4/6 vs Mississippi: Keegan Thompson and Nico Hoerner led the way for the Smokies on Saturday night. pic.twitter.com/7X1A3tBu6a
— Tennessee Smokies (@smokiesbaseball) April 7, 2019
20. Zack Short, SS, 25, Iowa (Stats). Acquired: 17th round, 2016.
Has: Patience. Short’s 2019 season was a series of fits and starts, never in one location for more than a month. So it’s impressive that during that run, including in the AFL, Short never lost site of his true north as a hitter. He takes walks, and everything else flows from that. Short has way more natural power than his frame suggests, largely because he’s so good at waiting and identifying mistakes.
Shows: Impressive defense instincts. Short wasn’t always comfortable in his time at second base in 2019, but the Cubs feel confident that transition will work in time. They’re adamant that his minor league defensive numbers – using proprietary metrics, no doubt – signal a really good shortstop.
Needs: More contact. Short struck out 98 times this year in 351 plate appearances across four levels, and I know there’s some feeling that his approach needs to change a bit to be more contact-oriented.
Why Here: While I think Short will probably most likely settle in as a bench bat, and need to add some versatility to his game (CF, 2B, 3B), there’s still one more season to convince that he can be more than that.
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
19. Luis Verdugo, SS, 19, Eugene (Stats). Acquired: IFA, 2018.
Has: A really good defensive reputation. Verdugo draws raves for his work at shortstop, a total natural that the Cubs feel is a no-doubt to stay at shortstop, even as he grows a bit more.
Shows: Some pop. Verdugo struggled out of the gate in 2019, but rebounded with a .367 average in his final 36 games, and five home runs (his total for the season) in his final eight games. You see in the video below that his bat speed is above-average and he projects to add to that frame. I like the swing.
Needs: Verdugo is realistically here because of a five-week stretch where he hit the cover off the ball. In his 64 career games before that, he was below the Mendoza Line. He needs to prove the bat will play on a consistent level.
Why Here: It wouldn’t completely shock me if Verdugo is the guy that jumps onto the top 10 map, or heck, the top 5 map next season. But it won’t shock if he’s off the top 30, either.