A nice surprise today, as FanGraphs has released its top Cubs prospects list for the offseason, with 49 ranked prospects (plus another 23 “Prospects of Note” getting some discussion). Loaded with scouting reports, tools grades, eyes-on info, the evolution on thinking with certain players, etc. It’s a must-read if you are at all into Cubs prospect stuff.
A whopping 25 prospects get the 40+ grade or better (and another 24 were 35+ or 40):
As you can see, FanGraphs is very high on the young positional guys, especially the Alcantara-Caissie-Triantos-Preciado group. At the midseason update, there were 112 prospects at a 50 FV grade or better, so essentially, FanGraphs is saying the Cubs have at least five top 100ish prospects right now. Pretty good bet that they will be the high service on the Cubs’ system this offseason.
One thing that jumped out to me was the drop in FV for Brennen Davis, from a 60 at their midseason update down to 55. To be sure, the 60 – which put Davis in the top 10-15 prospects in the game, with the same grade as tip-top outfield prospects like Julio Rodriguez and Riley Greene – was surprisingly strong, and Davis also had ranked as the lowest of the 60s at the time. So, in the realm of “grade drops,” this is probably as soft as it can possibly get. Hence the explanation, which was tied to Davis showing continued swing-and-miss after the Triple-A promotion (despite his gaudy numbers there): “We’ve hit the brakes on Davis’ FV a little bit, waiting to see adjustment to his upper-level issues with swing-and-miss before we slap a 60 on him, but obviously Davis has the aptitude to make those adjustments as he’s made several others already.” Note, by the way, that Davis’s strikeout rate at Triple-A dropped to just 22.1%, but (1) that doesn’t always tell you everything about swing-and-miss issues, and (2) I’m fine with saying you want to see him do it for more than 15 games at Triple-A before you put him back in that inner-circle 60 FV range.
Other notable bits:
⇒ As expected, huge jumps in ranking and grade for Nelson Velazquez, Caleb Kilian, and D.J. Herz. You could count James Triantos as a huge jump, too, given that he was a late second rounder who is now already top four in the system with top 100 overall consideration.
⇒ It sounds like FanGraphs isn’t ready to project much of a hitter out of Pete Crow-Armstrong until he gets back on the field. Contrast with Ed Howard, also a superlative 19-year-old defender, who did not hit much at all this year, but ranked five spots higher. On Howard, FanGraphs doesn’t see a big breakout coming, but they still think the floor is mighty high for such a young, inexperienced player:
His steep learning curve in that regard isn’t surprising at this stage: While his approach was already advanced when he was drafted, he was a Midwestern high schooler at the time, and as with any cold weather hitter, it’s reasonable to allow some added time for his approach to fully adjust to professional pitching. He best squares up pitches at the bottom of the strike zone, so his adjustment to pro arms has been a challenge given pitchers’ penchant for fastballs up in the zone. Despite his lack of offense, Howard’s defense at shortstop didn’t falter, standing out in a system overflowing with middle infielders. He continues to project as a second-division everyday big league shortstop or high-end utility man, and is more likely to reach that outcome than most teenage shortstop prospects because of his defense.
⇒ Alexander Vizcaino as the Cubs’ third best pitching prospect is another way to underscore the concern about the pitching in the system. A ton of compelling relief prospects – and “multi-inning weapon” types – but not so much on the starting side.
⇒ How about that Zac Leigh ranking, eh? Huge praise for the Cubs’ 16th rounder this year. He was impressing everyone late in the year.
⇒ No love for Chase Strumpf because of his lack of a good defensive position, or for Kevin Made because of the lack of power.
⇒ Brailyn Marquez sank like a stone because of the injuries and missed time, all of which only serve to increase the chances he can’t stick in a rotation. It’s crazy to see him ranked at 20 on one list, and THREE on the BA list. To me, it says a lot not only about Marquez’s upside versus risks, but also a lot about this range of prospects in the Cubs’ system – you can make arguments for so many of them to be much higher or much lower.
⇒ All five of the Cubs’ 2020 draft picks (as well as an undrafted signing in Ben Leeper) make the list, so that seems like a good sign to have held up through a year and a half, especially when you consider how many new names have been brought into the system since then. Typically you’d expect some obvious whiffs by this point.
⇒ The overall system comments include this section, which really rings true:
The trade deadline and the velocity development of many pitchers gave this farm system a huge lift in 2021, though the latter seemed to come at the cost of several injuries ….
If there’s a common thread running through the Cubs’ acquisitions on the pro side during the rebuild’s crescendo, it’s that, with the exception of Bryce Ball, the players they acquired are toolsy, traditional scouting types. Some of them have statistical yellow flags (Alcantara, Canario, everyone from the Darvish trade, PCA) or had barely generated any data at all (Palencia, some of the Darvish trade, PCA again) when acquired. It’s an indication this org is still thirsty for big tools and upside even when it comes with risk.
⇒ It’s not hard to see that there’s a striking absence of signed-and-developed IFA prospects who are rising up the rankings for the Cubs. That side has been a problem throughout the Epstein/Hoyer era if we’re being honest. Some big hits on a couple big-money prospects, but that’s about it.