We’re going to accelerate things up here, knocking out the rest of the top 18 in the next two days, with the top 10 prospects in the Cubs’ system coming tomorrow.
On today’s list, you’re going to see some raw upside. Some of these guys will end up on top 100 prospect lists some day, and some will end up as humorous choices, in hindsight, for as high as they were. That’s how it goes when you try to rank the raw ones …
18. Tyson Miller, RHP, 24, Iowa (Stats). Acquired: 4th round, 2016.
Has: A really good understanding of what makes him successful and what doesn’t. Miller faced both extreme ends of the spectrum in 2019, with months of sustained dominance as well as weeks of really struggling. I think this will be a really good thing in the long run, as it’s another piece of information for a guy that has thrived working the development ladder.
Shows: A full arsenal. Miller had more weapons at his disposal in 2019 than ever before, with a new curveball to complement his slider. He has up to five pitches, and a really good feel for tunneling and how to use that arsenal to get through an order multiple times.
Needs: Mechanical consistency. Whether it’s late in a start or out of the stretch, Miller needs to stay locked in to who he is. Fastball command and execution are the key tenets to which Miller’s success is built around, and as such, his margin for error is smaller than others.
Why Here: Miller has the final hurdle to climb, to prove that his stuff will be enough to face big league hitters multiple times. You can make the argument for him as high as 10 and as low as 22 and I wouldn’t argue much.
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
17. Michael McAvene, RHP, 22, South Bend (Stats). Acquired: 3rd round, 2019.
Has: My favorite skill is his slider, a pitch that he really has a knack for burying in the outside dirt to right-handed hitters. It will be his weapon for a long time. Second, McAvene has a fastball that he can throw anywhere about 94-100 with good late life. Last, McAvene has that ability to rise to a moment, as you’ll see in the first clip below.
Shows: A step forward in command this year led to McAvene’s early selection. If he can throw pitcher’s pitches while mixing in strikes when he needs to, he’ll be dangerous for a long time.
Needs: McAvene will show a change up that’s actually really solid, a pitch he throws with good arm speed that has nice fade. He just hasn’t really had to throw it, and I think that weapon will push him forward. The Cubs seem to have some inclination to stretch him out and try him in the rotation, and so he’ll need to show the ability to sustain his skills for five, six innings.
Why Here: There’s some caution in evaluating McAvene, as I wait to see what the Cubs plan is with him going forward. His projection will be very different depending upon his development path.
A video look at flame throwing 2019 third-round pick Michael McAvene. pic.twitter.com/fM0lwslUdY
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) December 5, 2019
16. Ethan Hearn, C, 19, Eugene (Stats). Acquired: 6th round, 2019.
Don’t scout the stat line here, as Hearn was an essential element of the Cubs 2019 draft. The Cubs went below-slot a couple times in their first five selections in order to save money to pay Hearn a large enough bonus to forego college. They did this because you have a kid who has a power swing with a power body profile, and whom some considered the best prep catcher in the draft.
Hearn was clearly a bit overmatched in his pro debut, with 36 strikeouts in 98 plate appearances. However, he did hit a 444-foot home run (one of the longest in the Cubs system in 2019) on August 15, providing just that hint of the power we might see down the line. He already shows a willingness to draw walks, which is a great sign. This will be a slow development, but an exciting and important one.
15. Justin Steele, LHP, 24, Tennessee (Stats). Acquired: 5th round, 2015.
Has: An absolute Major League two-pitch mix. Steele’s bread and butter is a super high-spin curveball that can be successful both in and out of the strike zone. At his best, he makes it up with a fastball that can reach 96 mph in a starting role, with velocity that plays up due to real good late life.
Shows: Steele seemed to be getting more comfortable with his change-up in 2018m, but didn’t use it much during his struggles in the first two months of 2019. There are also hints of a fourth pitch, a slider/cutter, though that hasn’t seen much game action yet. The starter’s arsenal shows up in bullpens, we just need to see it in more games.
Needs: Luck! Both in the health and batted ball departments, as I wrote about in December.
Why Here: We’re getting to the point where the Cubs might feel their hand is forced to push Steele to the bullpen a bit faster than they’d like, and the dock in ceiling that would come with a move to the pen punishes him a bit in rankings. As does the injury history.
Love this 5-pitch K from Justin Steele. Really get a feel for how tough he can be just with his preferred 2 pitches. A curve he can manipulate for strike or as chase pitch. A fastball with late life. Don’t be fooled by bad 2019 numbers, still a big league caliber arm developing. pic.twitter.com/Eol15qQthY
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) December 2, 2019
14. Richard Gallardo, RHP, 18, South Bend / Eugene (Stats). Acquired: IFA, 2018.
Since before he was signed as a 15-year-old prospect (the top pitching prospect in his IFA class), Gallardo has been praised for a pitching maturity well beyond his years. In a way, I think it’s almost detracted from people seeing his upside. I watch the video below and see significant improvements the Cubs will help him make. Mechanics that can be smoothed, better balance that can be achieved, upper body muscle that will be added, a change up that will be improved. His fastball already is up a little bit, peaking at 95 last summer. When those changes combine with his polish, it should make for a pretty special pitching prospect.
13. Ronnier Quintero, C, 17, AZL/DSL (No Stats). Acquired: IFA, 2019.
It’s so hard to find the right spots to rank guys who have never played a professional game, but I’m going to stick my neck out and put Quintero, the Cubs’ top international signing last year, pretty high. I see the swings in the video below, and I see the potential for an offensive force that would be a good first base prospect, and obviously even mores if he can stick at catcher.
If I were the Cubs development team, I would treat Quintero as someone with the potential to be a difference-making hitter someday, and I’d let his bat decide his development path, not his glove.
12. Riley Thompson, RHP, 23, Myrtle Beach (Stats). Acquired: 11th round, 2018.
Has: A real three pitch mix. Thompson’s improvements to his change up was really great news for the system, and at many times during 2019, it was actually his best pitch. It has good tumbling action, and Thompson is comfortable throwing it in big counts. Combined with his good pitcher’s frame, Thompson has all the tools necessary to make it as a starter.
Shows: The fastball you want. When Thompson was drafted, his initial appeal was pitched as this guy who had touched 100 mph at Louisville. He threw hard in Eugene, but not that hard, and it was okay because he also gets good sink to combine with his solid velocity. In South Bend, the velocity and sink played well, but neither jumped off the page. I’m perhaps most interested to see where that pitch eventually settles. To his credit, though: the command was much better than anticipated.
Needs: If I had a frustration with Thompson last year, it was that his curveball was very inconsistent, even showing as a below-average pitch in a handful of outings. He’d shown such a nice ability to spin good ones during his 2018 debut in Eugene that I’d taken it for granted. Now, I think it’s essential the Cubs need to get that pitch to plus for Thompson to reach his ceiling.
Why Here: This is a similar spot to where I had Thompson a year ago, and I still buy the future as a starter. I was probably a little early on him at this level last year, but what he showed in 2019 justified the placement. He’s one of the best pitching prospects in a system that has more of them than people think.
11. Christopher Morel, 3B, 21, Myrtle Beach (Stats). Acquired: IFA, 2015.
Has: Instincts and self belief. Morel is the player that sees the game a little bit slower, the player that believes he can get to that ball, that he can hit that pitch. That underrated skill is going to translate best defensively, where I believe Morel has the upside to be a top five defender – in Major League Baseball – at third base.
Shows: Power. Morel’s fast-twitch muscles allow him to swing the baseball bat as hard as anyone in the system, and it creates more power than you’d expect from someone of his frame (though he’s bigger now than his listing). The in-game power peeked its head out a little bit last year, but it’s still more about projection than reality right now.
Needs: Consistent approach. It’s not just about walks, though his value as a baseball player will significantly increase if he embraces drawing some. It’s about the nuance of getting through an at-bat, of seeing the spin a little earlier, of recognizing that high fastball is a bit too upstairs. The ball got big for him last summer, though, so maybe this belongs in the “shows” section?
Why Here: Morel has the chance to really pop onto the prospect scene, but as I wrote about two weeks ago, I need to see it over a larger stretch of time. And I’m concerned if High-A Myrtle Beach, with its impossible environment for right-handed hitters, is going to slow the process.
2019 Midseason Update:
The Chris Morel show is in full swing at South Bend. Maybe the most exciting player to watch in the system, he brings an energy and aggressiveness to all facets similar to Javier Baez. Here are just a handful of the defensive plays he's made at 3B this year pic.twitter.com/teG13s2Imm
— Michael Ernst (@mj_ernst) July 9, 2019