Hello there. I really like these ten baseball players. I think you will, too.
Enjoy, and thanks for reading this year’s edition of …
The Bleacher Nation Top-10 Cubs Prospects:
- Brennen Davis, OF
- Miguel Amaya, C
- Nico Hoerner, SS/2B/CF
- Brailyn Marquez, LHP
- Ryan Jensen, RHP
- Cory Abbott, RHP
- Adbert Alzolay, RHP
- Chase Strumpf, 2B
- Cole Roederer, CF
- Kohl Franklin, RHP
Has: The second best changeup in the system, behind a man you’ll read about in a couple spots. Franklin is one of the most comfortable teenagers with a change that I can remember seeing, and it’s a really good offering. Nothing to work on in that department.
Shows: Fastball projectability. Franklin has spent his winter on an eating plan designed to add weight, and I know his strength development is a real focus. The Cubs believe his body type is going to produce more velocity at some point in the next couple years. He executes the fastball well right now, and there’s no reason to believe that command and feel will worsen if the average velocity numbers tick up.
Needs: Comfort in his curveball, as it was a pitch he barely threw as an amateur, his father doing his part to keep Franklin’s arm healthy. The Cubs believe in their ability to teach curveballs, and Franklin was one of a handful of players that went to the knuckle-curve grip after time in the Pitch Lab last year. In its present form, the pitch is more big and loopy rather than sharp and nasty, but that works too.
Why Here: There’s absolutely a path for Franklin to be in the top five next season, but I just need to see the big stuff before I move him above any of the nine guys below.
#Cubs 2018 6th Rd pick Kohl Franklin, an overslot prep signing out of Oklahoma, struck out 8 batters in 4 innings last night.
Most of his success came on the back of an impressive changeup.
So, let's take a look at a minute of Franklin throwing that pitch throughout the outing. pic.twitter.com/OFF2uLB4jI
— Michael Ernst (@mj_ernst) June 22, 2019
Has: When Sahadev Sharma visited the new Cubs Director of Hitting Justin Stone at his baseball lab in Chicago, Stone talked about measuring players on a five-level mobility scale: stiff on one end, hyper-mobile on the other. When I read this, my mind jumped to Cole Roederer. If there’s a hyper mobile Cub, my guess will be it’s Roederer. He’s a plus athlete with plus bat speed on a very pretty uppercut swing. I imagine it’s a canvas the hitting coaches are anxious to paint on.
Shows: In two areas I thought Roederer really improved as 2019 went on: defense in center and patience at the plate. Roederer looked so comfortable tracking fly balls in the Midwest League playoffs, and he has enough speed to go get balls in the gap. The arm will never be elite, but that’s okay. I wrote about Roederer’s jump in walk rate in that offseason profile, but it can be such a weapon for him to grind through slumps.
Needs: I really think as Roederer becomes a little less pull-happy, his box of skills will really open up. He can drive into that left-center gap – I’ve seen it. I just want to see it more.
Why Here: There’s still absolutely the chance that Roederer ends up the best player from a really good 2018 Cubs draft. It’s just that I see the developmental hurdles a little clearer than I did a year ago. And that’s okay.
Has: A really advanced offensive approach and execution. Was well coached at UCLA and it shows; seems to understand nuanced concepts that players five years older than him often don’t.
Shows: Some swing and miss. Strumpf’s ultimate ceiling largely depends on if the power settles in more as Doubles Power or Home Run Power, and if the K rate allows him to be a .260 hitter or a .290 hitter. I’m anxious to watch him play everyday to get a handle on what’s behind those strikeouts, because it doesn’t quite match up with my other opinions of him.
Needs: To maintain the athleticism necessary to stick at second base. Strumpf’s body profile doesn’t seem like he’s a no doubt to hit enough for left field or third base, and so sticking at the keystone is where he’ll be able to maintain the most value.
Why Here: I’ll say right now that a large part of my brain expects Strumpf to be the Cubs #4 prospect at this time next year. But until we see definitive proof that he’s more the player he was as a sophomore than a junior, eight feels right.
I still laugh at my write-up about Alzolay the day he was called to the bigs. I wasn’t sure if we’d see a changeup, the curveball had been so good in the minor leagues. Then, for some reason, Alzolay’s changeup went on the best two-month stretch of his career, and it now profiles as his best pitch moving forward. I still believe in the curveball long-term as a plus offering, but the Cubs will need to help him turn his spin into something more effective. And they need to help him allow fewer home runs on the fastball, something we did see coming in that blog post the day of his call-up.
Alzolay is down here because I think there’s a real legitimate possibility he ends up in the bullpen now. This is no one’s fault, it’s the natural course of action from someone whose body has struggled to handle large workloads. I could be wrong, and it could all click this year at the perfect time. But we’re getting closer to a different kind of ceiling, and in a prospect ranking, that matters.
Has: I can see it now. Cory Abbott will make his first start for the Cubs, either this year or in 2021, and people will see him strike a batter out with his slider and say “wow, why wasn’t this pitch talked about more?” Abbott had more strikeouts in 2019 than any Cub pitching prospect had all decade, and it’s on the strength of a slider that has good movement, good location and a good tunnel.
Shows: An above-average curveball that’s really essential to everything working as a full starter’s repertoire. Abbott runs into trouble when he starts getting a little too fastball-heavy in his usage, and hitters can just focus on guessing fastball-slider. I think the curveball – when it’s working – helps the arsenal add up to be greater than the collective grades of the individual pitches.
Needs: Abbott needs to keep the walk numbers in a healthy place, and a big part of that is staying consistent in his mechanics. He talked about the changes he made midseason in my offseason profile of him. Abbott also will benefit from more comfort with his change-up, which I know was his individual focus for this winter.
Why Here: Because he’s more accomplished a minor league pitcher than the Cubs have had in a long time, and he was head and shoulders better than the Double-A level. I feel like people are going to keep wanting proof that his stuff is good enough right up until he sticks in a rotation for a decade.
Congrats to Cory Abbott on winning #Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year!
His consistently dominating season-long stats:
146.2 IP – 3.01 ERA – 1.12 WHIP – 27.8% K – .207 opp AVG pic.twitter.com/PeRw05StIy
— Greg Huss (@OutOfTheVines) September 17, 2019
We just wrote about Jensen, and so I’ll shorten things as not to repeat myself. Jensen is a small-bodied right-hander with one of the most lightning quick arms you’ll ever see. He’s a phenomenal athlete that was able to show good control at Fresno State despite a super long arm action (it’s worth noting his control was not good in his pro debut). Jensen creates ridiculous run and sink on his sinker, with excellent late life on four seamers up in the zone. His slider is really good, a pitch the Cubs R&D department really likes the advanced numbers on.
Story from that piece linked above: I asked Jensen if he remembered the last pitch he threw in college, as I’d re-visited my notes from watching that start before our phone call. He didn’t miss a beat. Yeah, it was a late-count changeup for the strikeout. “I remember because I never threw changeups.” He didn’t need to, but he’ll need to at upper professional levels if he makes it as a starter. I believe he can do exactly that.
These are recycled videos, but I don’t think I could possibly find better illustrations of the filth of Cubs first round pick Ryan Jensen’s FB/SL mix than the two ridiculous swings (⚔️) he generates here. pic.twitter.com/nPDXE3kAhQ
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) December 7, 2019
4. Brailyn Marquez, LHP, 21, Tennessee (Stats). Acquired: IFA, 2015.
Has: One of the world’s best fastballs. I’ve seen the narrative out there that Marquez’ breakout in the summer was because of a progression in his secondaries. I don’t agree. I maintain it’s because the Cubs allowed Marquez’ fastball usage to increase, and in every duel, he’s got the largest gun.
Shows: I think the secondaries are fine. The changeup was probably better more consistently in 2018 than 2019, the slider better in 2019 than 2018. They’re both enough when their sole purpose is to change speeds from what a batter is sitting there scared about.
Needs: To stay out of his own way. Make them hit you, and then adjust. I think the Cubs need to be careful not to inundate Marquez with information in the same way they are starting to do with most of their minor league pitchers. With Marquez, I vote to keep things simple. Let’s avoid nibbling with the fastball to the exact corner, let’s avoid getting cute and calling games where he’s pitching a little backwards. Nope.
Why Here: Can I tell you that I hate having Marquez in this spot. I hate that someone can call me “low man” on a guy I insisted was a top 100 prospect a year ago (and something I still believe to be easily true). Two through four are virtually indistinguishable for me, and when it came time this morning to have to put numbers next to their names, I fell back onto TINSTAAP and on the likelihood of the big lefty ending up in relief. But I am so excited to root for the team that has Brailyn’s future, and a four next to his name doesn’t change that.
I’ll keep things shorter here, because you all know Nico well by now. We can pick apart Nico’s debut; I began the winter doing exactly that. It’s something that holds him back a bit for me on this list. But one thing is undeniable: Hoerner has a spark that is infectious. He commands a spotlight, and thrives in one, as we saw in his debut in San Diego, and that first home run at Wrigley. Nico’s one of those people that teammates that spend even short times with him just absolutely dig the guy. I’ve not always been the person to believe in make-up as a thing that matters much, but I do with Hoerner, because I think his work ethic will make him a better baseball player. He might ultimately settle in closer to “good” than “great”, but he’s a pretty safe bet to be something.
Has: Maturity beyond his years. What 20-year-old catcher goes to the pitcher-friendly Carolina League, improves his walk and strikeout rate, and impresses his pitching staff and coaches. His offensive and defensive approaches are really good. He’s bought into what the Cubs have taught about waiting for your pitch, and if anything, he could probably sell out for power a little more often. He also takes his catching duties extremely seriously, and is going to be a net positive in that department.
Shows: Power. I’ve read that Amaya does not have a plus skill, and I disagree. His *raw* power is, for me, definitively plus. That it hasn’t translated to games yet is something that I believe is due to his age and the difficulty of his environments so far. I’m either going to be right or wrong on this one, but I’m going to keep speaking it into existence: I believe in his peak, Amaya will be top 3-5 among all MLB catchers in home runs.
Needs: That one last breakout. It feels to me that Amaya is on the precipice, and we see so clearly his path to being a foundational piece, but it just hasn’t fully translated on the field yet. Context-neutral statistics are fun and all, but more fun would be if the raw stats made him undeniable to everyone.
Why Here: Because if you believe in the power and defense combination like I believe in the power and defense combination, this is the right spot.
1. Brennen Davis, OF, 20, Myrtle Beach (Stats). Acquired: 2nd round, 2018.
Has: The ability to improve. And I think it makes his “odds of reaching ceiling” higher than most prospects. It’s staggering to look at where Davis was in spring 2018 as a high school player in Arizona versus where he is today. A frame that is halfway to filled out. A swing that’s been completely remodeled. And his baseball instincts are seamlessly playing out on the field. Davis’ ability to go right/right-center against pitchers three years older than him is just not a skill you see often.
Shows: Intriguing athleticism, but I’m interested in how it will continue to translate. Davis is more a slightly above-average runner than the plus-to-better one he was pitched as, and I think a corner is far likelier than CF long-term. If you’re a fantasy player, probably better to think 10-15 steals some day rather than 25-30.
Needs: The trends to continue. Davis has more muscle to add, and with it will come more realization of his power potential. If that’s teamed with a little more power-focused launch angle, that’s how things could really get special.
Why Here: Because teenagers don’t show up in the Midwest League in May and throw up a .900 OPS. It’s not a thing. If we begin with the premise that any prospect getting even a 10th place MVP vote someday is the longest of odds, I will say that Davis is by far the most likely Cubs prospect to show up on a ballot someday. That’s the gamble, at least.