5 early surprise Cubs prospects: Late rounders and small bonus signings that have outperformed expectations

5 early surprise Cubs prospects: Late rounders and small bonus signings that have outperformed expectations
Will Remillard

Every year prospects disappoint.  They get hurt, they don't perform up to expectations, and some are simply errors in judgment.   It goes with the territory.

At the same time, you will get your surprises, the "pop-up" prospects who didn't make any Top 20 (or even my own top 35) prospect lists this pre-season.   These are not your bonus babies.  They aren't even significant late round overslots.  In fact. none of these guys even got more than a $150K signing bonues...yet here they are putting themselves in position to fight for a big league job someday.

These are the fun guys for scouts to find.  Picking Kris Bryant second overall  is exciting and will almost certainly have a much more profound impact on the organization, but sometimes it's more satisfying to unearth these diamonds in the rough.

Will Remillard, C

Jason McLeod had a sort of wry smile when asked once about the Cubs dearth of catching prospects.  Maybe he was thinking of Remillard, a catcher they picked in the 19th round and signed to a modest $150,000 overslot (slot was $10oK).

An early report I got on Remillard is that he had some bat potential but tended to let his swing get long at times -- well, either that report was wrong or he's obviously fixed that because I haven't seen it.  If anything, he's been short and direct to the ball, making consistent hard line drive contact almost from day one.  Through 99 PAs he has struck out just 12.1% of the time.  He couples that good contact ability with a very good approach, walking 9.1% of the time.  One thing we haven't seen is HR power (just one this season), but Remillard has hit plenty of doubles and has put up a respectable .163 ISO (Isolated Power Rate) in a tough hitters league where even a respected power hitting prospect like Dan Vogelbach put up a .160 mark.  Remillard should develop double digit HR power as he matures as a hitter.

The fact that he's putting up these kind of numbers as a good defensive catcher makes it even more encouraging.  Remillard has a strong arm and quick release that should help him control the running game.  Like all young catchers, he's still working on the nuances of the position, but that's nitpicking -- there are MLB catchers still mastering the nuances.

Stephen Bruno, 2B

When you are 5'9" and picked in the 7th round, nobody hands you anything at the pro level.  You have to go out and get it. So that is exactly what Bruno is doing.   All Bruno does is hit.  He did it at Virginia and he has done it at every level as a pro.  In 513 PAs, Bruno has hit .349/.433/.502 with 40 doubles and 6 HRs.  This year he is at AA Tennessee despite having played just 86 games as a pro prior to this season.  Bruno has not been overwhelmed at all, hitting .317/.413/.528.

Despite his size, Bruno is no punch and judy contact  hitter.  He can drive the ball and is able to hit any fastball with a short, line drive swing path that stays in the strike zone a long time.  If there is a minus, it's that he is an aggressive hitter who doesn't take a lot of walks, though he supplements his OBP by getting plunked by an uncanny amount of pitches, including 10 already this season.

As for defense, the Cubs have tried to find alternate places for him to play -- even experimenting with him at catcher, but 2B appears to be his best position.  He's a decent athlete and a good runner, so he may have some utility off the bench if he doesn't start.  But don't count him out as far as sneaking into  a starting role at some point.  His bat is going to make it tough to keep him out of the lineup.

I had the chance to briefly speak with Bruno a couple years back and he is a good kid, very polite, and with a good sense of humor.  On top of that, no one doubts his strong work ethic, so he checks off the mental makeup box as well.  If Bruno doesn't reach the majors in some capacity, I'll be very surprised.

Bijan Rademacher, OF

A 13th round pick, most teams wanted Rademacher for his strong left-handed throwing arm as he has reportedly reached as high as 95 off the mound as an amateur.  But Rademacher wanted to hit and the Cubs promised him the chance to let him do that.  So far they can't be disappointed.  Rademacher has hit .349/.430/.528 at Daytona this year and while he hasn't hit for much HR power (9 HRs since mid 2012) yet in his pro career, he has hit for some extra base pop this year, posting a career high .179 ISO.  He has decent size at 6'0, 200 lbs., so some HR power might develop down the road.  We spoke with Rademacher a while back and he is a thoughtful, intelligent player with a good approach to hitting,

My approach really is to stay within myself and get a quality pitch to drive, but other times it depends on the pitcher.  For example, if the pitcher doesn't really have a plus strikeout pitch, I'll go up there looking for a fastball in a small zone knowing that this pitcher can't beat me if I get to two strikes.

Rademacher is a solid athlete with that strong arm and can handle RF defensively.  The question right now is whether he will have enough power to start there.  If not, Rademacher could make a good 4th OFer (the only drawback is that he doesn't play CF) who can provide a solid LH bat off the bench -- and maybe even some emergency relief.

Daury Torrez, RHP

Torrez signed for just $25,000 out of the Dominican Republic.  That appears to have been a bargain,  Torrez has shown advanced command and a 91-94 mph fastball with some sink and arm-side run.  He's athletic and repeats his delivery well, able to locate his fastball consistently -- and thus uses it to pound the lower part of the zone or run it in on RH hitters and break some bats,   It's such a good pitch that Torrez relies on it heavily to induce weak contact consistently, forcing a good share of groundballs (1.5 GO to AO ratio).

Torrez also throws a hard slider and a change, but both are still developing and have not yet evolved into pitches he can trust with any regularity.  He has a feel for both pitches, however, so there is some promise in that regard.  There is also some projectability left in that lean frame.  Right now, however, it's all about the FB, particularly the movement and the command - and that in it of itself will take him a long way, but if he can develop a consistently good breaking ball to keep hitters honest, he could find himself in an MLB starting rotation down the road.

Zack Godley, RHP

Out of all the players on this list, Godley surprised me the most.  He is an older pitcher (24) who was drafted as a college senior, has a physically maxed body, and really just seemed like organizational filler to me when he was drafted and signed for just $35,000.  My assumption was the Cubs drafted him that high so that they could re-allocate bonus money to overslot picks.

While that was part of the plan I'm sure, the Cubs must have seen something else in Godley.  He threw 88-90  mph as a starter at Tennessee, but he was throwing in the 93-95 range low in the zone out of the bullpen when I saw him at Kane County.  He has also dumped his curveball for an 86-88 mph slider that ran away from RH hitters.    It's definitely an upgrade from the reports I'd read from him out of college.  What's more, he showed good command of both pitches that night, effectively working along two planes.

I was at a game with Mauricio and Jordan Gorosh, who were there for Baseball Prospectus and Jordan remarked what a guy like that was doing at the low A ball level (where he had 15Ks per 9 IP, 1.80 ERA, 1.69 FIP at Kane County).  Just a couple of days later, he was promoted to Daytona, where he has pitched well in his first couple of appearances.

I later asked a scout familiar with Godley to make sure I wasn't off base here, but he told me that he saw Godley as a legit bullpen prospect, perhaps as a 7th inning reliever.

Not a bad find at $35K in the 10th round.

So...are any of these guys, future all-stars?  Probably not, but a good organization doesn't just draft impact at the top of the draft, they also find useful role players and perhaps a starter or two later in the draft, or in the case of Torrez, the group outside the hyped up IFA bonus babies.

These are 5 guys who have caught my eye this year -- any players catch yours?

Filed under: prospects


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  • How much did guys like Encarnacion and Balaguert sign for?

  • In reply to NathanE:

    Balaguert was 400K don't know on Encarnacion>

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Probably too much to be considered in this article ;)

  • In reply to NathanE:

    Yes ;)

  • Hey John,

    Not sure if you saw but Keith Law published his (I believe) first mock draft, and he had the top three going Aiken-Jackson-Kolek, with Rodon falling to the Cubs at #4 and saying that it would be the team's "dream scenario". He says that Hoffman's injury affected the Cubs more than any other team in the draft, and if one of the "top three" pitchers falls to them, it's theirs.

    I was a little surprised by Jackson at #2, but he says that word from the Marlins camp is that they are focusing heavily on bats throughout the draft and given the fact that they have the most money to spend and picks, they'll try to save a little bit as well in that slot. Interesting strategy (same as the Astros).

    I want Rodon to the Cubs as much as the next guy, but I truly fear that his workload and pitch count (as well as dependence on his slider) is a foreshadow of a devastating injury ahead.

  • fb_avatar

    Kris Bryant was picked in the second round? (small typo John but another fantastic article)

    If you started charging a subscription fee it would be well worth it at any price!

  • In reply to Daniel Rosenberg:

    Ha! thanks!

  • Keith Law has the Cubs getting Rodon.

  • In reply to Fire Flame:

    I just saw that , he also mentioned the Cubs might pull a shocker and draft Max Pentecost , the catcher.

  • In reply to Fire Flame:

    I saw that, we'll cover that later today.

  • In reply to Fire Flame:

    That would be sweet.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Fire Flame:

    And then proceeded to announce that Rodon is overrated and will never get out of the rookie leagues. But he doesn't have anything against Cubs prospects.

  • John, beside Bryant has any other prospects done so bad that
    making the team 2015 is now not happening

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    I assume you meant Baez, but I wouldn't rule out anyone for 2015. Mike Olt had about as bad a 2013 season as you can imagine and he made the team in 2014.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    If you keep in mind Baez' spring numbers with his rough start in Iowa, his performance is not so bad. His BB% is right in line with what we could realistically hoped for.

  • Off topic, but how has Erick Leal looked so far this season?

  • In reply to JB88:

    He's only been in ext. ST si hard to say. Numbers are the usual for him but tough to gauge by numbers in complex leagues like Ex ST, Rookie ball, DSL, VSL. Should be at Boise this year. Less upside than Torrez but certainly a guy who could end up as a 4 type starter if he develops.

  • You've definitely covered the cream of the bargain basement prospects there but the Cubs have plenty others. Cael Brockmeyer is another catcher lighting it up at KC thus far and Charles Cutler- although not a prospect by any means at 28 years old- is a catcher that has done nothing but hit for a .400 OBP as a pro. In fact, the notion that the Cubs are light on catching in the organization is quite mistaken since we also have guys like Rafael Lopez and a couple of kids in Venezuela that look damn good. It's just that they're not in AAA.

    Two pitchers with a good chance to be promoted later this season appear to be P.J. Francescon- who looks like a Schlitter clone- and Andrew McKirihan. As a lefty I think McKirihan has some real upside value- he's certainly been more effective as a pro than James Russell was at similar levels.

  • In reply to Paulson:

    Yes, those are all guys I considered, but wanted to limit to 5 and make longer write ups.

    I like McKirahan, decent low 90s FB and good breaking ball. Quirky personality that keeps clubhouse loose too.

    Francescon is a grinder as far as pitchers go. Solid stuff and a good idea of what he wants to do up there, tough competitor.

    Lopez, Cutler have limited upside but good backup value as lefty hitting catchers with good OBP skills.

    Brockemeyer has an interesting bat, but much less chance to stick at catcher than Remillard.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Hopefully, the DH will be coming to the NL sometime soon.

    This would allow us to utilize some of these types of guys like Brockemeyer, Vogelbach etc, who have a good hit tool, but may lack top skills at a position, to help boost our offense.

    We could use the extra offense.

  • I don't wanna say Stephen Bruno is a HOF in the making, he's by no means a HOF... But... His game style and hitting reminds me of Craig Biggio... Small, gritty guy, not afraid to get hit by a pitch, good bat control and line drive hitter from gap to gap... One can only hope he has half of the career Biggio had.

  • Being a well under 6' guy myself I just love Bruno. He has as you said John, hit everywhere he's been at a really high level. He started out so bad this year I am surprised he has gotten his line up so high. He has been on fire. I think he is an up an comming fan favorite.

  • In reply to Bilbo161:

    I am on the shorter side as well, but I defined the term "Punch and Judy hitter". :)

  • Rademacher has a beautiful swing. He doesn't have much power, but he can generate plenty of line drives. Not a typical RF profile, but I think he could end up as a Michael Tucker type player.

  • OT, but love these shift busting bunts by Rizzo. Castro's HR was nice too!

  • John,, great article. Could you include AGE in the future?

  • In reply to rakmessiah:

    I assume AGE refers to how old the player is and not some acronym for a new metric ;)

    All players are age appropriate for their leagues, in the 21-23 range off the top\ of my head.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    How about the new AGE+ stat, which accounts for number of years playing baseball since childhood lol

  • In reply to Peter Chicago:


  • Great read, thanks John!

  • In reply to SFToby:

    You're welcome. I figured this one would be right up your alley!

  • Great read John! This is the kind of article you can only get at the Cubs Den, nobody else goes as deep into the Cubs organization as you guys. Love it, Keep up the good work.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    Thanks. We don't just dabble here :) I think prospects and the draft is what we do best.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    And no one does a game recap like Felzz!

  • In reply to TTP:


  • I've read a lot about the Cubs lack of catching prospects. However, it seems like this year the Cubs have several catchers (including Remillard) that are exceeding expectations. I get that they don't have any catchers banging down their top 10 list, but it seems like all of the sudden they've got several guys at that position that are interesting. I'm not sure many organizations could boast that right now. Is this anyone else's opinion?

  • In reply to KSCubsFan:

    I agree, just look at the Kane County Cougars, Cael Brockmeyer has a slash line of .393/.452/.464 and yet he has only played in 8 games because he has Will Remillard slashing .343/.395/.486 in 25 games and is taking playing time from Ben Carhart who has started 27 games to this point. I believe Carhart was a conversion as well.

  • I love the Torrez write-up ;)

    Can only find this type of article here at Cubs Den, and Bruno reminds me of a Jose Altuve type player. Plus hit tool, decent but doubles-only power, won't necessarily hurt you defensively but frame limits range, non-plus athleticism.

  • In reply to nmu’catsbball:

    I did use a thing or two from your observations, the velo was definitely better than my older report and I had heard he had a hard slider and a solid change, but haven't seen him, so didn't know he was using them so sparingly.

    I think Bruno can probably start somewhere.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    The change-up I saw did look good. I was pretty puzzled by the lack of use. And the breaking ball looked really bad, mostly coming off of his hand poorly. It was freezing that night, so I would venture a guess that had a lot to do with it.

    I did go again last night and Paniagua looked pretty impressive for the first three innings, but had some lapses of command mixed in that were overcome because of his good stuff. It caught up to him and the command got even sloppier, leading to deep counts, walks, and balls over the plate.

    The first thing you notice about him in person: he's all levers. Loooong arms and legs. I'm convinced he's ticketed for the pen, but very optimistic about it. His stuff plays so much better there. He added and subtracted from the fastball throughout the game. When behind and early in the count he used a 91-93 mph, but ahead and late in the count he was 93 all the way up to 96. This was an obvious effort to gain some command, which yielded questionable results. I think he's better off pitching full velo and not trying to dial back and aim. The breaking ball (78-82) has command issues as well, but is without a doubt a future out pitch for him. He threw it quite often with positive results. It has late bite and generates a lot of swing and miss and buckled knees, but as I said he has trouble getting it close often enough to really be effective at this point. The change-up (85-86) he didn't throw as often. I don't remember any really impressive one, usually it missed way low and was taken without interest.

    I don't see him ever sticking in a rotation. The reason I'm still optimistic about him is how easily I think he transitions to the bullpen. Scrap the change-up, let the FB rip to 96 over short stints, hide the control issues in shorter appearances, don't expose him to the lineup for the second time through. There's a major league reliever in him. If you see him in person, it's clear to even untrained eyes that he his stuff is at Least a level above Torrez. But it's also evident why they're still at the same level. Torrez has a better shot to make a big league rotation as a 4-5 guy, but Paniagua has a better shot to make it to the big leagues overall as a reliever.

    The hitting was pretty stagnant again. No Remillard. Brockmeyer looks gargantuan behind the plate. I never noticed he was 6'5. Jordan Hankins is growing on me. Really non-ideal frame, but a good eye and a direct swing. Serious range and athleticism in that outfield between Hannemann and Martin.

    My comments on the other batters the last two days still stand. Overall, I'm still very convinced no impact bats come from this team. The pitching is another story. At least 3 big league pitchers are on this roster. Amlung is interesting. Threw a Bronson Arroyo-esque 50% breaking balls. Can't tell if he's just an org arm or a future long man in the pen. You have to think he'd be 5th in the rotation there if there weren't already 7 legit starter prospects.

  • In reply to nmu’catsbball:

    Great stuff MMU -- I very much agree on Paniagua. He and Tseng are the only starters I've seen so far this year.

    I had trouble getting past the frame on Hankins but I agree he can hit and has a good idea what he wants to do up there.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Yeah, the first two days I saw Hankins I said to myself, what? There's no way they're serious about him being a baseball player.. And while he's got very little chance to make it to the top, he's a guy like Carhart who does things right and you find yourself rooting for.

  • In reply to nmu’catsbball:

    NMU... I'm developing something of a Cubs Den man crush... hee hee.

    Your reports are nearly Arguello-like in their depth. I lubs it!!! Please keep them coming. Maybe our fearless leader will have you do a guest post on a Beloit/KC game in the "near" future. (Hint, hint... John!!)

  • In reply to MoneyBoy:

    MMU is always welcome to do a guest post.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I'm actually heading back up to school for the summer, but I'll be at the Kane County v. Wisconsin Timberrattler games in Appleton later this summer.

  • In reply to nmu’catsbball:

    Sounds good.

  • Great stuff, John! Remember the 90's when 150k was first round money? Wow...

  • In reply to Ben20:

    Times have changed!

  • I love reading about these "under the radar" type prospects. Depth, depth, and more depth. Can't get enough of that. I'll tell you what else is exciting and that is seeing actual development happening in the organization. It's not by accident that we see players like these getting better and actually giving hope for major league futures. Hats off to you, John, for pouring out this info, and hats off to the entire development process we were promised.

  • Great info guys!!!!

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