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Scouting the New Cubs Prospects From Friday’s Deadline: PCA, Canario, Kilian, Espinoza

Chicago Cubs

I want to jump right in here, because I’ve been getting lots of questions on my thoughts on these four names over the last 36 hours. These are the four new prospects the Cubs acquired on Friday at the Trade Deadline

Pete Crow-Armstrong

Description: Out for the year following labrum surgery to his non-throwing shoulder. Crow-Armstrong played in just six games before the injury, none of them on video, so the information in here is more sourced than I’d otherwise like. Listed at 6-0. 184, it’s never going to be a big frame, so the key will be just maintaining athleticism and flexibility as he gains what muscle is left. The Harvard-Westlake product has a sweet, level swing with plus bat speed.

Skills you’re excited about: True centerfielder that covers more ground than his above-average foot speed would suggest thanks to a really good first step and instincts. At the plate, PCA gets credit for amazing hands, allowing him to get the barrel on the ball and hit line drives on pitches in any quadrant. Should boast really good walk-to-strikeout ratios. I was given a Steve Finley comp that I think is really fun.

Development that needs to happen: He needs the reps. We’ve seen from Ed Howard this year what it looks like when you don’t get competitive game play for 20 months, and PCA will be looking at something similar, save this year’s brief sample. His bat-to-ball path is so simple that I don’t anticipate the same hit tool hiccups, but I do think those next developmental steps (beginning to hunt for power, hitting left-handed pitching, spitting on 97+ mph high fastballs) will just take a bit longer than the Mets night have hoped for when he was drafted.

Trying to contextualize him in the system: I think you can throw the names of Owen Caissie, Reggie Preciado, Cristian Hernandez, PCA, Ed Howard and maybe Kevin Alcantara in a hat, pick them out, and have just as good a chance at organizing them in the ultimate right prospect order as any scout. My instinct is I would have Crow-Armstrong third in those group of names, which is probably around fifth in the system, but I don’t feel super strong about it.

Caleb Kilian

Description: An eighth-round pick out of Texas Tech in 2019, Kilian has some enormous numbers this year (96 K’s versus 9 BB’s). Listed at 6-4, 180, Kilian has that classic pitcher’s build with long, strong legs. A little upper body muscle development projection remains. What jumps out on tape is the absolute and complete ease that big-time velocity comes from, utilizing a simple, clean delivery to pop up to 98 mph. The build and “just playing catch” feel of his fastball reminded me very distinctly of one player: Zack Wheeler.

Skills you’re excited about: The velocity gain to the fastballs (both 4- and 2-seam) this year are first and foremost, as I watched starts where Kilian was holding 95-96 and touching 97 in sixth innings. But I think the thing that surprised me on film was that Kilian in recent starts is throwing his cutter more often than any other offering. The pitch is 88-92, sometimes looking like a cut-fastball and other times like a full-on slider, and Kilian appears to have some ability to manipulate it how he wants to. If you’re looking for why left-handed hitters are slashing .159/.197/.177 off him, it’s the plus cutter. And overall, for a hard-thrower, Kilian has elite control … with above-average command, too. Kilian is also insanely efficient — he’s out there to throw strikes and attack hitters.

Development that needs to happen: I feel like the curveball shape has evolved even during this season, and I suspect the Giants have been playing with getting it where it needs to go. The feel for the pitch, 75-80 mph, is really good, but I don’t think the work is done in finding a movement profile that works best off his harder stuff. I also think the changeup is a fine offering, occasionally showing a little bit of proper fade. I’ll be interested how the Cubs play with the pitch mix, as I feel like the four seamer could definitely handle a heavier workload.

Trying to contextualize him in the system: If you can’t tell, I’m really high on Kilian. He doesn’t pose the same reliever risk as the other top pitching prospects in the system, and even if the raw stuff isn’t quite consistently as high as some elite pitching prospects, it’s plenty when combined with his feel. He’s top 8 in the system for me, and I literally can hear arguments all the way up to 4.

Alexander Canario

Description: Canario was nervously added to the 40-man roster by the Giants last year, who didn’t want to risk losing someone with his exit velocities in the Rule 5 Draft. The 21-year-old has played league average ball this year in his first taste of full-season ball, and I give him credit for being in the lineup everyday (his second game in the Cubs organization will be a new career-high in games played during a season). Canario is listed at 6-1, 165, but that undersells the work he’s done adding muscle in the last two years. I’m not going to say Canario’s swing reminds me of Gary Sheffield – that would be absolute sacrilege – but I think the person that taught Canario to swing is a fan of Gary’s. He has busy hands pre-swing, seems moderately controlled through the zone, has to stay careful with that front hip and utilizes natural strength and plus bat speed to produce power.

Skills you’re excited about: When this young man gets his arms extended and connects, the ball is likely to be a rocket. I saw mostly only pull power, and it’s mostly that approach. He seems to do a pretty good job of discerning strike versus ball, and doesn’t seem any more anxious to pull the trigger with two strikes as he does early in the count. I got him a hair over 4.2 seconds home-to-first, so that’s an above-average to plus runner.

Development that needs to happen: If Canario is going to hit at the Major League level, he simply needs to make contact on in-zone pitches at a higher rate. My guess is there is something happening with the vertical bat angle at certain heights of the zone, as he’s underneath balls too often, but that’s a bit above my pay grade.

Trying to contextualize him in the system: I’m going to slot him right next to Christopher Morel, who has fallen in my recent mock-ups to the 10-15 range of the system with all the recent additions. Both guys are on the 40-man, have lots of swing and miss, but can hit the heck out of the ball. And both have significantly upped their walk rates in 2021! Canario is more physical, Morel is more twitchy and versatile, so pick your poison between those two.

Anderson Espinoza

Description: Strange combination of biographical details: Espinoza is 23, on the 40-man roster, had never pitched above Low-A entering the season, and has recovered from two separate Tommy John surgeries. So he’s clearly a hard-worker, and I think you can tell by his build that he spent a good portion of those lost seasons in the weight room; he’s listed at 6-0, 190 but I feel pretty confident weighs more than that. Body type reminds me of a young Yusmeiro Petit. Espinoza has a tall-and-fall delivery and over-the-top arm slot.

Skills you’re excited about: It’s pretty remarkable how Espinoza was able to retain his stuff despite not pitching competitively from 2017-2020. He’s been about 94-97 on the High-A Fort Wayne broadcast gun, touching 98 in certain outings, though the fastball has just average life. I think the two-seam fastball generally has a better movement profile. The secondaries flash enough good things that I look at him with still some optimism that he could make it as a starting pitcher.

Development that needs to happen: Secondary consistency. Espinoza has starts with a good changeup, but it’s everywhere from 85-90 mph on videos I watch, and the fade he achieves on his best ones isn’t always there. I get the feeling it just needs more reps. I can tell you from reading the signs of the catcher that he has two different breaking balls, though they’re not super distinct, both around 80-82 mph with varying sharpness depending on Espinoza’s intent at release. I do think in his last outing I saw the curveball seemed slower and loopier, while the slider had some more horizontal action, so I think the Padres pitching coaches were working on making those more unique from each other. Not meaning to sound negative when discussing the breaking balls, because I saw enough plus ones that it seems he’ll eventually figure out the right way to spin it.

Trying to contextualize him in the system: I’ll probably slot Espinoza slightly after Alexander Vizcaino, and probably pretty close to Max Bain … another 23-year-old with similar fastball velocity that’s learning a proper secondary mix. My guess is that’s right around 27-32 in the system but haven’t quite gone that far in even rough draft form yet.



Author: Bryan Smith

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