Cubs Prospect Notes: Who Deserves To Jump a Tier In Rankings Already?

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Cubs Prospect Notes: Who Deserves To Jump a Tier In Rankings Already?

Chicago Cubs

In my phone’s notes app, I always have a live-running page of prospect rankings that I mess around with for fun when I’m waiting around somewhere. Generally, radical early-season changes are nothing more than an overreaction, but we have reached a point in the season where you can tell a few players have made meaningful changes to their scouting report. Let’s give those early risers some love.

Into The Top Three: Pete Crow-Armstrong

To be fair, some offseason rankings already had PCA as high as number two on their Cubs lists, but I had him at seven. Credit to those outlets for more clearly seeing Crow-Armstrong’s ceiling than I did, but I’m absolutely willing to eat crow(-armstrong) and make the adjustment quickly here.

After some offseason swing changes, the 20-year-old center fielder is one of the few offensive Cubs prospects to not be hitting everything on the ground so far this year, with a line drive rate of 34.3% after 11 games. It’s not even so much that one skill has particularly popped yet, but it’s that every skill has showed up and proven not to have been overstated: plus defense, plus speed, plus bat-to-ball skills, good patience. For me, he’s already up to third, and passing Cristian Hernández for the two-spot this year isn’t out of the question (though Cristian’s had a nice start at Extended Spring Training, too).

Into The Top Ten: Kohl Franklin

With no other perfect candidates for this spot, I thought this would be a good space to update Franklin’s progress after writing his preseason bullish profile.

Franklin’s numbers in three short starts this season are admittedly not great (4.1 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 5 BB, 8 K), but I do believe I’m still seeing a top ten prospect here. We have to forgive some early season command shakiness due to rust and adrenaline, especially since we saw a more controlled Franklin in his last outing. The fastball has been 94-100 mph, and I particularly have liked the arm side movement seen on the occasional two seamer. The changeup continues to be his best secondary, and if anything, remains underutilized so far this season as they work on the fastball-curve combination. I’m probably not calling the curve a plus offering yet, but it’s better than it was in 2019. Right now I have Franklin in the eight to ten area on my top 10.

(Just outside but getting mighty close is Nelson Velázquez, who was incredible last week, but you want to see that success span multiple pitching staffs before jumping him a tier.)

Into the Top Twenty: Riley Thompson

I actually wrote about Franklin and Thompson together after the 2019 season as breakout candidates, and they then both spent 2021 rehabbing shoulder injuries together in Arizona. Thompson has been a revelation out of the gate in Double-A, with 17 strikeouts and just two walks after 32 batters faced so far.

The story for me is Thompson showing perhaps the system’s best curveball, which had been his best offering in 2018 but lacked consistency in 2019. It plays really well off the high-96 mph fastballs that the right-hander has been showcasing as well. Thompson will turn 26 in July, has been succeeding on pretty much just two pitches (fastball-curve) at the Double-A level, and is Rule 5 eligible after the season, so I think the Cubs would do well to be fairly aggressive with promoting him if success continues through May. I have him as the sixth or seventh best pitching prospect in the system right now.

Into the Top 40: Brandon Hughes

I talked about Hughes yesterday on the CHGO podcast, as he’s the first Cubs prospect to earn a promotion this year, moving up to Triple-A after 6.1 ridiculous innings to start the year in Tennessee.

The good news about Hughes, a lefty reliever, is that I’m seeing improvement in his changeup from last year, which he’s used to strike out half the right-handed hitters he’s faced in 2022. We’re still seeing the loose arm that can reach back for mid 90s heat (I do think the early season radar reading of 99 mph was false), and one of the better sweeping sliders in the system. It’s been a slow start for Ben Leeper and Cayne Ueckert at Triple-A, so it’s possible that Hughes could jump them and become the first relief prospect to go from Iowa to Chicago.

Into the Top 50: Fabián Pertuz

In a month that has been defined by the Cubs top hitting prospects seeing rising ground ball rates, Pertuz is the rare example of someone who is making better contact in 2022. The 21-year-old infielder is listed at six-foot and 156 lbs still, but I saw him in person a few weeks ago and confirm those are outdated now. I also heard some strong exit velocity numbers during a batting practice, which signal we’re seeing more pop here than most middle infielders in the system possess. The Howard-Pertuz middle infield double play combination has been a good one for South Bend, and I think the hope would be Pertuz could be someone viable at every infield position as a utility infield option.

(I’d also note that Luis Vazquez has risen up to top 50 now for me, as he continues to show really good patience in Double-A. But his rise is less dramatic, as he just missed the top 50 in the offseason.)

Into the Honorable Mention: Nick Padilla

Padilla entered the Cubs organization in December 2020 in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft, but due to an injury, didn’t make his organizational debut until April 12, 2022. It’s been a really good first month in Cubbie blue, with just one hit allowed in his first five innings. He’s showing a top five or so curveball in the system that turns opponents bats into fly swatters, and South Bend broadcaster Brendan King told me Padilla was north of 95 mph on the Fort Wayne stadium gun. In addition, I’m seeing a better changeup than I reviewed after his acquisition, which all leads to a pretty solid relief prospect. He’s 25 and a minor league free agent at year’s end, so like with Thompson above, the Cubs should be particularly aggressive with testing him in 2022.

(A few other relievers that have come up in recent Five Stars and deserve placement here: Dalton Stambaugh, Blake Whitney, Manny Espinoza.)


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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.