Cubs Prospect Notes: Thompson on the Radar, Top Tools, New Top 100, Paciolla, Horton, Jensen, More

The four Cubs full season affiliates get back to action today, which means there will be a lot of prospect goodness to get into tomorrow. But even before then, I had some tabbed bits to share today …

  • We were recently talking about Cubs pitching prospect Riley Thompson getting the rapid bump to Triple-A Iowa this year, despite having pitched so little professionally before this season (injuries and the pandemic). Folks who’ve seen him throw the last couple years swear by the stuff, and his first outing at Iowa was really quite good. Now for another data point on how good the stuff is, and why the Cubs clearly believe the upside is there:
  • We’ll give it some more time to see if Thompson stays near the top of a list like that – which is wild! – but, again, you can tell by the Cubs’ behavior that they see something special in Thompson. The 26-year-old righty is not yet on the 40-man roster, but figures to be among the depth starting options later this year if he stays healthy and succeeds (because, at that point, you’d already be thinking about putting him on the 40-man roster after the season anyway).
  • Baseball America put out a list of the top tools in the minor leagues, and the Cubs are very well represented. Alexander Canario was an honorable mention for best power, Pablo Aliendo was the third best defensive catcher, Kevin Made was the fifth best defensive shortstop (and honorable mention for best infield arm), Pete Crow-Armstrong was the best defensive outfielder, Daniel Palencia was an honorable mention for best fastball, and Ben Brown was an honorable mention for best breaking ball (curve).
  • Arizona Phil reports that Cubs third round pick Christopher Paciolla left an extended spring training game after being hit on the wrist by a pitch. The young third baseman figures to begin this year in rookie ball with the Arizona Complex League Cubs, which wouldn’t be until summer. Hopefully there are no issues here with the wrist, and his expected developmental year is unaffected.
  • Joe Doyle is a prospect writer whose opinion I’ve come to appreciate. So when he put together his own top 100 list, I was definitely interested in checking it out. You can say he is officially the high man on Cade Horton:
  • 17. Pete Crow-Armstrong
    53. Cade Horton
    54. Kevin Alcántara
    91. Brennen Davis

  • Horton, who just slipped onto MLB Pipeline’s top 100, should be making his Cubs debut any day now. He was set to make it on Saturday with the Low-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans, but that game was rained out. Then the Pelicans had two scheduled off-days, so I am guessing the Cubs decided to just have Horton throw on the side and then make his next scheduled start. So maybe something like Thursday or Friday? I AM EAGER.
  • Speaking of prospect lists, I reiterate that you really have to check out Lance Brozdowski’s top 30 list at Marquee, because it’s one of the deeper dives you’ll find on Cubs prospects. Among the MANY interesting tidbits in there, a bit of data to underscore just how unique Ryan Jensen is as a pitching prospect. The guy throws SIX pitches of just about average or better quality, with three of them well above average, and the fastball the best of all. Without any other context, you’d think that is the best pitching prospect in baseball. And then you see the other numbers listed:
  • Four-Seam: 120 Stuff+, 47% In-Zone
    Sinker: 95 Stuff+, 56% In-Zone
    Cutter: 112 Stuff+. 43% In-Zone
    Changeup: 99 Stuff+, 32% In-Zone
    Slider: 116 Stuff+, 40% In-Zone
    Curveball: 101 Stuff+, 40% In-Zone

  • We knew Jensen had control issues, but the disparity between the caliber of his stuff and his (in)ability to control it is just so remarkable. Here’s how Brozdowski put it:
  • There is, however, a baseline level of command a pitcher needs to get to in order to be a reliever at the major league level. That level is higher if you want to be a starting pitcher. Sitting below that reliever level of command, which you could argue is where Jensen currently sits, calls into question major league viability. But man, the stuff is so good here that I’m looking past the smaller issues with finding the zone ….

    The ability to fix a pitcher’s command is still something that feels pretty ambiguous, like correcting swing decisions for a hitter. It’s probably connected to repeatability mechanics (which maybe has a lower weight than the industry seems to think). It’s probably also related to velocity and movement (more velocity, more movement, harder to command). Some teams have internal command models that project what command should be based on the biomechanical factors of a pitcher and other variables. I’m unsure if the Cubs have something like this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did given their investment in markerless motion capture devices and the troves of information they probably have.

    Jensen’s future rides on his ability to get his pitches into better locations. My bet is that the Cubs get him to the bare minimum for reliever command.

  • I would love to believe there’s a floor there as an impact reliever, given the quality of the stuff. But Jensen wouldn’t be the first pitching prospect we’ve seen with OVERWHELMINGLY good stuff, but simply not enough control to use it. The Cubs put Jensen on the 40-man last fall for a reason, so they believe there’s a floor there. And the Cubs also sent Jensen back to Double-A Tennessee to open this season still in the rotation, so again, they must believe there’s a chance there.
  • written by

    Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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