The 2021 BN Cubs Top Prospects List: State of the System and Best Tools

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The 2021 BN Cubs Top Prospects List: State of the System and Best Tools

Chicago Cubs

As we enter the next era for the Chicago Cubs, the importance of the farm system reaches a place not seen in six years.  Jed Hoyer has now repeated himself, on multiple occasions, speaking to how the Cubs now have “one eye on the future.” Their actions indicate it might even be more like one and a half eyes. Hoyer, and Theo Epstein on his way out the door, both indicated their optimism about what the farm system will show when it is permitted to return to the field: the actualization of a substantially increased investment in player development.

Last year, in my introduction to the 2020 BN prospect rankings, I said the Cubs had a good first tier, nice depth in the third tier, and very little in-between. The season was, for me, about building a good second tier of prospects. Without a minor league season, I’m not sure we have the evidence necessary to make many tier movements. Adbert Alzolay jumps to the first on the back of his new pitches; I’m not sure there’s another example of someone that we can have that level of certainty about, in terms of changing tiers.

(Certainty, or lack thereof, is going to be a persistent theme this week. I’m going to try to be honest with you guys about what we do and don’t know. I’ve tried to ask at least one person about every player on this list (be it the player, a front office member, a scout, etc.), and what 2020’s weird season looked like for them, specifically. But how those developments that occurred in local parks and weight rooms translate to game play, no one knows that. This is the reality of prospect analysis in winter 2021.)

But what the Cubs do have, undeniably, is increased depth. Since last year’s prospect rankings, the Cubs added five fun prospects via the MLB Draft, four prospects via the Yu Darvish trade, and (at least) one very good one from International Free Agency. On the other side of the ledger, only Nico Hoerner graduated, and the lack of season means that no one really disappointed, either. So where my increased optimism about the system comes in 2021 is that the additions to the farm system make it only more likely that we’re going to see big steps forward from enough guys this year. Doesn’t mean it *will* happen. But it’s now more likely.

My rankings will hopefully give some indication on who I think those step-forward guys might be, but I’ll say this: a larger percent of the list could blossom into top 100 league-wide prospects some day than has been true in years. Most won’t, of course, but there are more high-ceilinged prospects than the Cubs have had around in awhile. The Cubs started acquiring much more for ceiling about three-four years ago, and it’s showing.

That said, this list is rraawww. About one-third of the list this year has yet to play a professional baseball game, and so the error bars on these rankings are the most significant I’ve ever had. We’re going to see an incredible amount of movement in these basically every month from April to October as we start to receive visual and statistical confirmation on some of the tools and/or developments that have been touted during the 2020 baseball hiatus.

As for the list itself, allow me a couple notes on my process this year, as I’ve made some changes based on the feedback from last year’s list. We’re going 40 names deep, but we’ll try to get through them a little quicker: I think I found last year had a bit too much drum-rolling (we’ll push any honorable mentions to next week, for instance). The write-ups will be a bit less in-depth than the past two years, merely because I want them to be a reflection of what I’ve heard and seen most recently. I promise, we’re going to make it up to you as these minor league seasons begin and we have more eyes-on to work with.

The Cubs farm system is loaded at shortstop and catcher, still a bit thin in the outfield, and the infield corners. There are more hard-throwers than ever before, but it might translate to more relievers than starters. We know 2021 is going to be a lot of fun, and I look forward to breaking it down with you.

Thought I’d finish today’s post out with the system’s best tools. Enjoy!

Best Contact Ability: Nelson Maldonado (Runner-Up: Yohendrick Pinango)

Best In-Game Power: Brennen Davis (Runners-Up: Matt Mervis, Trent Giambrone)

Best Raw Power: Owen Caissie (Runners-Up: Brennen Davis, Felix Stevens)

Fastest Runner: Zach Davis (Runner-Up: Juan Mora)

Best Defensive Catcher: Miguel Amaya (Runners-Up: P.J. Higgins, Caleb Knight)

Best Defensive Infielder: Andy Weber (Runners-Up: Luis Vazquez, Christopher Morel, Ed Howard)

Best Throwing Arm: Christopher Morel (Runner-Up: Owen Caissie)

Best Defensive Outfielder: Connor Myers (Runners-Up: Zach Davis, Cole Roederer)

Best Strike Zone Judgment: Bryce Windham (Runner-Up: Miguel Amaya)

Prettiest Swing: Cole Roederer (Runners-Up: Brennen Davis, Ronnier Quintero)

Best Fastball: Brailyn Marquez (Runners-Up: Burl Carraway, Luke Little)

Best Sinker: Ryan Jensen (Runners-Up: Jack Patterson, Erich Uelmen)

Best Curveball: Burl Carraway (Runners-Up: Keegan Thompson, Chris Clarke, Ryan Lawlor)

Best Slider: Cory Abbott (Runners-Up: Adbert Alzolay, Justin Steele, Michael McAvene)

Best Changeup: Kohl Franklin (Runner-Up: Jesus Camargo)

Best Other Pitch: Ethan Roberts’ cutter

Best Command/Control Combination: Matt Swarmer (Runner-Up: Ethan Roberts)

Most Fun Name: Yohendrick Pinango (Runners-Up: Edmond Americaan, Donnie Dewees)

Author: Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith is a Minor League Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @cubprospects.