The 2022 BN Top Cubs Prospect List - Honorable Mentions

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The 2022 BN Top Cubs Prospect List – Honorable Mentions

Chicago Cubs

Minor league spring training games begin today across backfields in Arizona, which makes for a fine excuse to (finally!) drop the honorable mention(s) for the BN Top 50 Prospect List. If you missed it, I previously wrote up the top 10, 11-25 and 26-50.

I wanted to add another 50 names to that, because (you’re a huge prospect nerd? – Michael) I believe that a great organization is one that (1) can prioritize player development throughout their system and (2) unearth the diamonds in the rough at a higher rate than other organizations. These players (all minor leaguers) have value, and they deserve their recognition!

Pablo Aliendo, C, 21, South Bend. Breakout 2021 season behind good bat speed and solid athleticism behind the plate. Infectious personality portends to catching position. The ceiling on the bat is limited a bit by a slighter frame.

Brayan Altuve, IF/OF, 19, Arizona. Presence at Instructs in fall signals the Cubs still have belief in Altuve as a project. No longer a catcher, played infield last season but a shift to outfield is likely ahead. Could become solid power prospect in two more seasons.

Moises Ballesteros, C, 18, Arizona. In the 51-53 range. Gets credit for being an extremely hard worker, looking to turn bad weight into good in an attempt to keep hope of a future at catcher. Fantastic bat-to-ball skills, solid plate approach, enough hope for power still.

Hunter Bigge, RP, 23, South Bend. The weight room work for a full-time move to pitching sapped Bigge of some athleticism in 2021, throwing his delivery and command out of whack. This offseason was spent correcting that issue, and Bigge is one of the favorites for a Ueckert-like breakout in 2022.

Josh Burgmann, P, 24, South Bend. One of a dozen pitchers that came into camp in 2021 throwing really well, but suffered an injury during the ramp-up to the season. Make-or-break season ahead, but optimism was really high a year ago.

Jeremiah Estrada, RP, 23, South Bend. Dominant when healthy, which has been true for his entire career, remained true in 2021. Showed solid command of 93 mph fastball, plus curveball and good changeup. Hurt when pitch counts went from 20-40 to 40-70. Time to go full-time reliever.

Miguel Fabrizio, C, 21, Myrtle Beach. Huge breakout in the AZL last year — I hadn’t heard of him prior to the season — earning a September cup of coffee to Low-A on the heels of his 1.025 OPS in Mesa. Really good upper body muscular development, solid bat speed with upper cut swing path.  Can he access power soon enough to have success with high strikeout rates against good off speed stuff?

Dom Hambley, P, 19, Arizona. Cubs were really proud to get Hambley signed, and will treat 2022 as a complete developmental season. Body is way more developed than your average 19 year old pitcher, key is command development with every offering.

Ethan Hearn, C, 21, Myrtle Beach. Struggled with both high fastballs and low off speed in 2021, with some of system’s worst contact rates. Good catcher with tons of passion and dedication to that side of the ball. Strong with good raw power. Everything hinges on the bat meeting the ball more often.

Alexis Hernandez, SS, 17, DSL. Recent signing and brother to our #2 prospect. I outlined why he’s a different type of prospect than his brother, but an exciting foundation of tools nonetheless. Check back in 2-3 years.

Darius Hill, OF, 24, Tennessee. A fixture in Five Stars write ups in the beginning of the year, Hill has one of the smartest plate approaches in the system, even if that doesn’t translate to big walk numbers. Still a bit of a tweener, profiles more as a bench/end of 40-man player than anything else.

Porter Hodge, P, 21, Myrtle Beach. There’s some stuff to like: a big 6-foot-4 frame with a low release height, a really sweep-y slider he has a lot of comfort with, solid overall control and a 1.35 ERA in his final five appearances. For now the fastball quality (topping in low 90s, cut movement that got him into occasional trouble) isn’t enough to justify a higher ranking, but given the age and the frame, there’s reason to hope it will get there.

Bailey Horn, RP, 24, Tennessee. The Cubs stretched Horn out at the end of last season in South Bend, but we don’t yet know if that was by necessity or design. I can’t really squint and see a starter’s arsenal that can work at the upper level, but I can imagine a scenario where he blows out the fastball velocity, works to maximize the sweep on the slider, and makes it in relief.

Bryan Hudson, RP, 25, Iowa. Fantastic summer in Tennessee with 2.25 ERA in final three months in Double-A once the command came around. Ran out of steam at the end of the year, fastball down to 91-92 and the breaking ball lacking Major League bite. There’s big league bullpen upside when you have a giant frame, a heaviness to your ball and 95+ mph in your history.

Levi Jordan, IF, 26, Iowa. Surprise breakout power season in 2021, and one of the better Cubs minor leaguers last year against left-handed pitching. Showed good defense at third base, and key will be showing that he can be a plus defender at second and short whenever called upon, too.

Scott Kobos, RP, 24, Tennessee. Incredibly allowed one hit and no walks against 22 Double-A batters in what was his third stop of the year (we don’t have to talk as much about the fourth stop that went badly). Intelligent low-slot lefty that understands his strength and weaknesses and has a good feel for how to utilize his two breaking balls for success against right-handed hitters.

Nelson Maldonado, 1B, 25, Iowa. The fear is that he’s a tweener, not quite athletic enough for a non-1B defensive home, not big enough to profile for home run beyond about 12 bombs a year. If he can solve either of those puzzles then he’s a big leaguer, because what he does have is a no-doubt big league hit tool.

Riley Martin, RP, 24, South Bend. The underslot sixth-round selection draws good marks for his work ethic and demeanor, and he showed a nasty curveball during his time with Myrtle Beach last year. Will have to show that he has enough fastball to get it by right-handed hitters.

Michael McAvene, P, 24, South Bend. There was fear last summer that McAvene might require his second Tommy John surgery, but he was able to avoid it, and returned by the end of the season. The reports from Instructs were not great, but they’ve been stronger this spring. I think it’s probably time to return McAvene to the bullpen, but I do want to see the full four-pitch mix he’s worked so hard to develop since we last saw him.

Matt Mervis, 1B, 24, South Bend. One of my favorite swings in the system, Mervis did not have the year I thought he would have in Low-A. But I remain a believer, because a guy with 24% line drive rate should not have a .236 BABIP, and we know how the Myrtle ballpark suppresses power numbers. Big, dare I call it make-or-break, season ahead for the Duke product.

Rafael Morel, IF, 20, Arizona. The overall season line was not good, but take out the first 15 games and you get a batting line of .269/.363/.448. Less raw tools than his brother, but stronger at his age than Chris was, and gets credit for some of the same instinctual stuff.

Joe Nahas, P, 22, Tennessee. Fantastic season last year, drawing tons of compliments for his versatility and readiness as his role and affiliate kept changing. My favorite Nahas outings were when the breaking ball command was locked in, allowing him to pitch backwards, with curveballs for strike one and sliders for strike three. The over-the-top arm slot isn’t really en vogue in baseball anymore, but I think Nahas gets some good deception from it. If that fastball quality improves — and he’s an extremely dedicated weight room guy — watch out.

Eduarniel Nunez, RP, 23, Tennessee. Did we ever think the Cubs would have a minor league pitcher throwing 99 mph that would be a complete unknown to even devoted followers of the system? I’d argue that Nunez, who had a 1.59 ERA in the final two months at High-A last season, is that guy. Consistency with fastball control and breaking ball bite (which did make progress in 2021) are needed to get his lightning quick arm to Wrigley.

Casey Opitz, C, 23, South Bend. In the 51-55 range. There is an overwhelming confidence from people that have seen a lot of Opitz that he will have a big league career. Pitchers like throwing to him, he works really hard to understand game-planning, and his skills behind the plate are Major League caliber. A long career as a back-up hinges on the bat just getting to passable.

Jack Patterson, P, 26, Tennessee. Should be the first of the pitchers that had Tommy John surgery in 2021 to return to the field in 2022. Patterson deserves a healthy season after years of tough luck, but he’ll also find that the left-handed relief depth in the organization has really blossomed since he last pitched. One of my favorite pitchers and stories of the 2019 season, I’m hoping for a big return to form this spring.

Ronnier Quintero, C, 19, Arizona. 2021 was not a good year for Quintero, on or off the field, but it would seem too early to begin writing off his prospect status now. The Cubs have spent a ton of Quintero’s developmental time on his work behind the plate, so it will be nice for him to have a few months here in Extended Spring Training to work with Rachel Folden and company on maximizing the potential in his offensive approach.

Pedro Ramirez, SS, 18, Arizona. Just missed the top 50. Incredible season in the DSL last year, but I always try to be careful with guys that benefit from high BABIPs on groundballs being the thing that leads their stat line. You love the contact rate he showed, and I like the strength-athleticism balance he has, but it’s too early to be able to project his future.

Eury Ramos, RP, 24, Tennessee. Remade his body during 2020, and the velocity followed, reaching the high 90s early in the year. I do wonder if the added bulk came at the cost of some athleticism, or more specifically, some endurance. Needs to show a consistent out pitch to strike out AA-and-better hitters.

Bailey Reid, RP, 23, South Bend. Your favorite Cubs pitching prospect’s favorite Cubs pitching prospect. I can’t tell you how many guys have gone out of their way to talk about Bailey Reid’s slider. It’s really good, perhaps the best single pitch of a guy in this piece. Did not trust himself enough last season to throw pitches in the zone, but should find his stuff is good enough to do so. 2-3 extra mph would be huge.

Peyton Remy, P, 25, Tennessee. Showed up in Spring Training last year with a changeup that he’d developed from fringe to plus during the lost 2020. It’s now his best pitch, but he’s going to need more than that to get the necessary swing-and-miss at the upper levels. Did something else jump a grade this winter?

Ben Rodriguez, P, 22, Myrtle Beach. It’s looking like we’re going to get a long-awaited healthy season from Rodriguez, a high-spin guy that we heard got a velocity boost just before a shoulder injury shut him down. Hard worker with high character, keep your eye on him as a sleeper.

Jefferson Rojas, SS, 17, DSL. The de facto number three prospect from the Cubs most recent IFA class, we really only have grainy video and still frames to go on with Rojas. But if the Cubs international scouts and Baseball America’s Ben Badler both see a player worthy of a large bonus, who am I to argue?

Andricson Salvador, P, 21, Myrtle Beach. A bit of a mystery man, but I’m choosing him here on the back end of this list over Luis Rodriguez, another lefty with big success at the complex levels. Salvador has a strong frame and has walked just 20 in 75 innings, and was on a crazy hot streak when an injury cut his season short.

Yeison Santana, MI, 21, Myrtle Beach. Just missed the top 50, despite a rough year, because I really like the bat speed and the energy he plays with. The tape didn’t show a skill, besides speed, that was close enough to plus for my liking, but that was a tough stretch to play in the Low-A Southeast. Big season for Santana to show improved swing decisions.

Frankie Scalzo Jr, RP, 22, South Bend. A skinny and solid-mustached reliever with a fastball that can run up to the 96-97 range, and you do wonder if there’s another tick or two from a professional strength program. I liked the changeup over the breaker in my viewings, so I’d imagine the Cubs focus has been finding a better breaking ball grip and shape.

Liam Spence, IF, 24, South Bend. It was kind of shocking how many strikeouts Spence had after joining the organization, considering his billing as a guy whose bat-to-ball skills were his most marketable skill. In my viewings, Spence missed plenty of hittable pitches in the zone, so my instinct has been to write it off and judge him in 2022 with a clean slate.

Felix Stevens, 1B, 22, Myrtle Beach. Extremely strong, extremely powerful, but with a long swing that — in its current state — will be exposed at upper levels. The Cubs will try to do for Stevens what they did for Nelson Velazquez, but without the same natural athleticism, it’s fair to have less confidence those changes will work.

Sam Thoresen, SP, 23, South Bend. Had he stayed healthy last season, I’m confident that Thoresen would have finished the year in the top 50. The curveball he was showing in Myrtle Beach early in the season was among the best in the organization, and he gets it to about 96 mph with a short arm action. Needs the innings to try and get into a strike-throwing groove.

Luis Vazquez, SS, 22, Tennessee. Just missed the top 50. Vazquez is the type of talent that inspires believers that can’t understand how he wouldn’t be in the top 40. He’s the best defensive shortstop in the system, a plus arm, good footwork and stays focused even on the routine. The bat

Luis Verdugo, IF, 21, Myrtle Beach. I had high hopes for Verdugo a year ago, which may have been built on the flimsy case of four great weeks in the Arizona Complex League in 2019. Because the 2021 season was a nightmare one, one that really didn’t offer anything positive to say. But, stubborn as I may be, I still see some projection in the body and still think it’s a pretty swing. Let’s give it another year.

Chase Watkins, RP, 22, South Bend. Frequently mentioned as a breakout candidate inside the organization, as the propensity for spin is really good, and the Cubs believe they can add velocity in time. Wouldn’t be shocked if he’s even tried out as a starter at some point.

Andy Weber, SS, 24, Tennessee. Something of a lost regular season, with an odd number of defensive miscues, was redeemed with a really good Arizona Fall League performance. It’s a utility infield profile that I think works if Weber can make himself average-to-plus at three positions and keep the walk rate north of about 8%.

Jacob Wetzel, OF, 22, South Bend. Really fun prospect starter set here: quite strong, good bat speed, decent plate approach, better runner than you’d expect. But it’s a near-maxed out body that seems destined for left field. Kind of reminds me of Kole Calhoun. I would think the focus here is on contact point, where he can begin elevating the ball and tapping into his power more often.

Bryce Windham, C, 25, Tennessee. Believe it or not, just missed the top 50. While Windham didn’t catch after a midseason injury last year, I’ve been told the catcher experiment is back on in 2022, and there’s some optimism that it’s going to work. Power is never going to be a thing, but his swing decisions and bat-to-ball skills might be the best in the organization. There’s a fun 26th man, with 8-position versatility, to be had here.

Jared Young, 1B/LF, 26, Iowa. Really fantastic 2021 season where he showed improvements in plate discipline and ability to access his power. The offensive approach will always be a little rough around the edges, but it’s a picture-perfect swing with good hand-eye coordination. Limited by position, limited by upside.

(Six guys on the older end of the prospect definition that I didn’t see as proper fits for this list, but I do think are interesting: Derek Casey, Ben Hecht, Dakota Mekkes, Matt Swarmer, Erich Uelmen, Dauris Valdez)


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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.