The latest top 100 prospects list is out, and I could say the Cubs landed just one prospect on the list, but that isn’t quite correct. They landed three. But, also, they aren’t quite in the top 100, because the new FanGraphs 2021 top 100 prospects list includes 133 names.
Well, it actually makes a lot of sense: Eric Longenhagen at FanGraphs ranks 100 prospects, like most services, but because FanGraphs gives each prospect a final Future Value (FV) grade, the guys at the end of the list are all 50-grade prospects – and there are so many of them that you have to get out to 133 to include all 50-grade prospects in the game. Since the grade matters a whole lot more than the ordering among the guys at a particular grade, it wouldn’t really make sense to chop off 33 guys who are, roughly speaking as good of a prospect as the guy at number 100.
So, then, do we get to say the Cubs have three top 100 prospects, according to FanGraphs? Kinda! Here are the three, with a new face sneaking in just under the wire:
41. Brennen Davis, CF, 55 FV
113. Brailyn Marquez, LHP (listed as reliever), 50 FV
133. Reggie Preciado, SS (listed as 3B), 50 FV
Given that Preciado has yet to play a game thanks to the pandemic, having him on this list at all is very high praise, relative to other IFAs. Also, the fact that he’ll be ranked the third best prospect in the Cubs’ system is also very high praise (albeit also a sleight to the rest of the system).
In general, this is roughly the story we’ve seen in rankings season: everyone agrees that Davis and Marquez are top 100 type prospects, and where you rank them is kind of an eye-of-the-beholder situation, given how young/far-away/etc. they are. Behind those top two, there is variability, with some seeing Miguel Amaya as a top 100, with others seeing Ed Howard as the next best prospect, and others could make a case for Adbert Alzolay before he graduates. Without a 2020 season, and with a system where most of the top talent is so young, this is just how it’s going to be. I have no beef with it.
Personally, I’ll just enjoy the write-up on Preciado:
The Padres gave Preciado a $1.3 million bonus in 2019, a record for a Panamanian prospect because he had the overt physical traits that teams have traditionally coveted on the international market. He’s a big-framed (about 6-foot-4) switch-hitter who is athletic enough to stay on the infield. Players like this have a wide range of potential outcomes, with one being that their body develops in the Goldilocks Zone where they remain agile enough to stay at shortstop, and also become big and strong enough to hit for impact power. Though some teams have shown evidence of a philosophical shift in this area, prospects like Preciado are the ones who typically get paid the most money on the international market.
When Preciado came to the States for 2019 instructs, he looked like you’d expect a 16-year-old his size to look: raw and uncoordinated. He still had not gained athletic dominion over his frame, and he looked much more like a third base defender than a shortstop. Fast forward a year (because there was no minor league season) to the Fall of 2020 and Preciado now has a batting stance and swing that look an awful lot like Corey Seager’s. It allows him to be relatively short to the baseball despite his lever length, and whether it had to do with the swing change or not, he looked much more comfortable in the box this Fall than he did last year. Because of the missing minor league season, most teams in Arizona brought an older contingent of player to instructs than they usually would, and still Preciado (who is still just 17) was striking the ball with precision and power from both sides of the plate when he made contact. He had real issues recognizing breaking balls during the Fall and his ability to adjust to those will be key moving forward, but I’m willing to bet it was a symptom of him being 17 and facing unusually advanced pitching after not having seen any live pitching at all for much of the year. I still think he ends up at third, but there’s rare hit/power combination potential here and it just takes confidence in one’s eyes to see it might already have arrived.
Preciado, who drew a physical/age/level comp to Kris Bryant from the Cubs, could easily be a monster climber on prospect lists this year, since he’ll be making his debut after some clear physical development. FanGraphs is getting on that train a little early.
As for Davis and Marquez, head over to FG to see the write-ups. The potential upside in Davis is “considerable,” though he just needs to play more games. And the questions about Marquez’s ability to get his mechanics consistently in sync in order to stay a starter persist.