The 2021 BN Top Cubs Prospect List 20-11: So. Many. New. Faces.

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The 2021 BN Top Cubs Prospect List 20-11: So. Many. New. Faces.

Chicago Cubs

So many new faces and so much upside in this stretch of Cubs prospects, as we continue our ranking of the best of the best in the system. Previously: State of the System and 40-21.

20. Ismael Mena, CF, 18, AZL Cubs. Acquired: Trade (Yu Darvish).

Skill Set: Among the best athletes in the system: fast, long, twitchy. Cubs tout the defensive instincts and the improvement they scouted with the bat at Instructs (don’t think that rough videos from his amateur days still apply here).

Developmental Focus: The playbook the Cubs used with Brennen Davis is going to be duplicated here. It’s a balance of weight room work and swing development. Like Davis once upon a time, Mena has a nice oppo-gap hitting foundation to build upon but a swing that needs more aggression.

Big League Projection: High ceiling center field prospect as a recent bonus baby IFA, bat too raw to offer a projection yet.

19. Owen Caissie, RF, 18, Myrtle Beach. Acquired: Trade (Yu Darvish).

Skill Set: The frame, the swing, it’s what the guys that hit 30 home runs are made out of. But he’s also not someone who cheats for power too often. Caissie gets high marks for his approach to baseball and self-improvement. The 2020 second rounder also has a cannon from the outfield.

Developmental Focus: I don’t expect they’ll put too much on Caissie’s plate early on. The High Performance team is underway in getting Caissie’s body filled out (weight and muscle, mind you), and the results on the field will dictate the next developmental steps.

Big League Projection: How the athleticism matures as the body fills out probably decides if the ultimate home is right, left or first. But there’s no splitting hairs that the hope is they can develop an impact bat wherever his final position is.

18. Jordan Nwogu, OF, 22, South Bend (College Stats). Acquired: 3rd round, 2020.

Skill Set: Very smart, very hard-working, and very physically gifted. It’s a pretty great trio.

Developmental Focus: Pre-draft criticism centered on Nwogu’s swing, but the Cubs downplay it, pointing to the data from process (exit velocities) and results (career .976 NCAA OPS) that he gets it done. That’s not to say the swing from his sophomore season is the swing he’ll use in the big leagues; it changed some in the winter before his junior season at Michigan, more after some time at Justin Stone’s Chicago facility in the fall, probably more after October Instructs. I can see the hands raised and pre-swing quieted, for instance, and I’m sure there’s more under the hood.

Big League Projection: The Cubs also believe Nwogu is a good defender, and I think will try him at all three outfield positions to see the best fit. I think he’ll stay at the top of the order in the minors, but if the power blossoms to the Cubs wildest hopes, the middle of the order might be the ultimate destination.

17. Burl Carraway, LHP, 22, Tennessee (College Stats). Acquired: 2nd round, 2020.

Skill Set: The first thing a Cubs official pointed out to me was what an athlete Carraway is. Went to Dallas Baptist as an outfielder, is both twitchier and stronger than you’d expect. His tempo and arm speed are so fun and elite. The second thing was the mentality. Cubs fans are going to love it. It was later that we talked about, oh yeah, 60 grades or better on fastball and curveball.

Developmental Focus: The tricks of embracing the deception that a violent, herky-jerky delivery offers while trying to find cues to improve command are for coaches far smarter than I am – but that will be the idea. Burl developed a slider a year ago that I’m sure will be developed, and the curveball and two-seam will receive Cubs analysis, but the command is everything here.

Big League Projection: I never bought Carraway as a 2020 option, but I do think he could force the issue in 2021 as a member of the bullpen. I suspect his season starts in Double-A, and he’ll move as fast as his dominance demands.

16. Yeison Santana, SS, 20, South Bend (Stats). Acquired: Trade (Yu Darvish).

Skill Set: Santana attacks baseballs, using plus bat speed and an uppercut swing path to slug above his size. To do that while maintaining a good contact rate suggests really good bat control, and he’s shown a plus batting eye. On top of that, Cubs have faith in his abilities as a shortstop.

Developmental Focus: I’ll be honest, I don’t have a feel for this yet. But I’ve told you how I’m interested in how the Cubs sort out the glut of Low-A shortstops, and whether that might mean pushing Santana to a difficult High-A assignment.

Big League Projection: There’s everyday upside, but he seems like such a good fit for the David Bote role, popping around wherever the team needs him. Will be developed in 2021 firmly as someone with everyday shortstop potential, however.

15. Riley Thompson, RHP, 24, Tennessee (Stats). Acquired: 11th round, 2018.

Skill Set: Thompson’s comfort with his changeup in 2019 is seen as a huge plus in the organization, not just because it provided the third pitch he needed to make it as a starter, but also because it shows his developmental aptitude. It’s a pitch with real diving action that he showed advanced feel for quickly. Good late life on a mid 90s four-seam fastball.

Developmental Focus: I heard the same thing from the player development staff that Greg at Ivy Futures heard from Riley: the curveball grip has been adjusted (to, of course, the Cubs spike-curve), and the returns are really promising. Also some belief that his average velocity will be higher in 2021 than it was in 2019. A key moving forward will be the command of his two-seam fastball, which I think will really play out of his over-the-top release point.

Big League Projection: Would be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft next December, so he’s pitching for a 40-man spot, and setting himself up for 2022 MLB starts. I think both of these are doable. Mid-rotation starter ceiling.

14. Kevin Made, SS, 18, AZL Cubs. Acquired: IFA, 2019.

Skill Set: Really made an impression in Arizona in October, showing development that suggested 2020 was not a lost year for Kevin. Had grown a little bit. Checked all the boxes defensively to stick at shortstop for awhile, and showed the ability to hit even advanced pitching. The raw power grade even took a step forward.

Developmental Focus: Made is in the “more of everything” camp. More weight room time, more at-bats against pro breaking balls, more time with defensive fundamentals. You know, the usual coaching to take someone from great potential to just plain great.

Big League Projection: I was given an All-Star shortstop ceiling from a source, and who am I to argue with that?

13. Christopher Morel, 3B, 22, Tennessee (Stats). Acquired: IFA, 2016.

Skill Set: Quick-twitch and instinctual, plus bat speed and plus throwing arm. Fun to watch, and I’ve been told he’s an excellent teammate.

Developmental Focus: Approach was a big focus for Chris in South Bend, exposing him to pitchers with plus breaking balls, working on the muscle memory of not chasing those pitches. Added muscle, but the frame can only go so far, and he remains on the slight side. Morel also got a little run at other positions, though I’m not sure he’ll bounce off third much in 2021.

Big League Projection: I think he can be a defense-first above-average third baseman if he makes enough contact.

12. Cole Roederer, CF, 21, South Bend (Stats). Acquired: 2nd round, 2018.

Skill Set: Good baseball instincts, good first step in center field, where I found him to be a plus defender in 2019. Beautiful upper-cut swing with easy pull-side power. Plus runner. Good batting eye. Gets huge credit within the organization for playing every day in South Bend in 2019, which was not an easy ask for a teenager from a warm climate.

Developmental Focus: Roederer has done a fantastic job adding bulk in the last 18 months, but there is not concern that it’s cost him anything athletically. The Cubs want Cole to not get pull-happy, as they love the hitter he is when he utilizes left-centerfield.

Big League Projection: I love PECOTA’s top comp as the type of player that Roederer could become: Trent Grisham.

11. Reggie Preciado, SS, 18, AZL Cubs. Acquired: Trade (Yu Darvish).

Skill Set: Cubs are really excited to get their hands on Preciado, because he’s so unique. He’s really tall now, skinny as a rail (read: projectable), switch-hitter, loose athlete, moves well laterally. The progress he’s made adding muscle and adding aggression to his swing both are really good signs. Got praise for bat control at Instructs in October. Has received lofty comps.

Developmental Focus: He’s going to be a huge focus of every aspect of the player development team. Needs nutritional help to put on weight. Needs individualized weight training work. Will need infield coaching, wherever he ends up. And both swings, particularly the right side, will need focus from Justin Stone’s team.

Big League Projection: I think it’s third base all the way, but there’s no reason to rush anything. The growth of his body, and the development of his bat, will make those decisions naturally. The Cubs know they are chasing a biiiiig ceiling here.

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Up next: The Top Ten …

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Author: Bryan Smith

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