Whatever happens with the lockout in relation to Spring Training – the signals, they aren’t great! – the offseason has proceeded normally with respect to minor leaguers, and Spring Training figures to do the same. With the Cubs’ prospect depth reaching extreme levels, and with player development so critical going forward, I’m really looking forward to minor league Spring Training.
Building the excitement is the string of top prospects lists that come out this time of year. The latest is from Baseball Prospectus, which just dropped its top Cubs prospect list:
— Baseball Prospectus (@baseballpro) January 7, 2022
No surprise there at the top for the Cubs, as Brennen Davis is the only sure-fire, upper-level, impact-type prospect the Cubs have right now. Those are the guys who get top 50 overall consideration, and Davis is clearly that type. Most top 100s will have him in the top 25 by the time the season begins.
From there, the top ten includes many of the names you’d expect, albeit in another unique order: Owen Caissie, Reggie Preciado, James Triantos, Kevin Alcantara, Pete Crow-Armstrong, Jordan Wicks, Brailyn Marquez, Alexander Canario, Caleb Kilian. (That’s kinda the story of this system after Davis – tons of prospects worth of top five consideration in the system, but pretty hard to delineate among them until they get more experience.) There’s a scouting report on every listed prospect, along with grades, projections, and commentary. There is also discussion of another nine prospects who didn’t make the top ten cut, as well as the top talents in the organization under 25 years old (Nick Madrigal at the top, interestingly enough). You’ll want to check it out.
Generally speaking, BP seems to be particularly high on the ACL group – which we are, too – but that speaks to the state of the system. When the top prospects in your system are almost all still shy of full season ball, it means you have a LOT of risk (and a LOT of development work to do). I love the depth and the upside in the Cubs’ system, but the variance in possible projection outcomes at this time next year? It’s all over the map.
You probably will notice a name that is missing from the top prospects, and that’s shortstop Cristian Hernandez. Although we know he’s a top international talent, the fact that he hasn’t yet played stateside ball is a threshold issue for some prospect pundits (BP included). Some folks just want to see what a guy does over in the States, where the scouting is a little more comprehensive, and the data available is much more robust. Hernandez is as close as it gets to an exception, but I respect anyone who just doesn’t hype a prospect until they at least play in Arizona or Florida. (I struggle with where I would rank Hernandez for that very reason. I think the scouting reports and the Cubs’ internal belief in him is enough for me that I’d have him in the top ten. But where, precisely? It’s hard!)
Hernandez, who just turned 18, did everything you’d want him to do in his debut in the Dominican Summer League. The numbers were good, but you can’t take too much away from them. The main thing is that it seemed like he wasn’t overwhelmed or anything like that, and is ready to come to Arizona this Spring, and then likely play in the Arizona Complex League (formerly Rookie League) this year. I’d say he has a very outside chance of reaching Low-A like Kevin Made did, but it won’t be a knock against him if he doesn’t. That’s pretty rarified air for a first-time-Stateside 18-year-old (which, by the way, should remind you how high the Cubs are on Made!).
If Hernandez performs well in the ACL (or looks good to scouts), that’s when he’d really start rocketing up the system list, and get more top 100 consideration. He’s definitely that type of prospect, but he’s so young and so far away. Caution and patience is fine.
In the arms, I think it’s worth pointing out that BP remains high on Ryan Jensen, even if he was outside the top 10. It’s nice to see at least one service still on the Cubs’ 2019 first rounder. I know Bryan is still a big fan.
It’s easy to forget that, because of an ugly down period of a few weeks that he had during the season, and because he didn’t show out in the AFL, Jensen went through multiple stretches where he was unhittable (often literally). A lack of experience remains an open issue, but the bigger question remains whether he can command the one-seamer and the slider well enough to at least be an impact reliever in the big leagues (when he does command them, they are stupid good), and whether he can throw the curveball and/or the changeup passably well enough as a third pitch to stay in the rotation.
Jensen, 24, is probably going to head back to Double-A Tennessee to open the 2022 season (he made just four starts there last year), but his path to reaching the Triple-A Iowa rotation is wide open, and then contributing at the big league level in the second half (perhaps get him a spot start and/or some time in the bullpen?) is very realistic. Managing the 40-man roster might be the question at that point, but he’s got the kind of stuff where you might not be able to even worry about that.