The Cubs system is so much better than it was just 3 years ago. The progress can only be described as astonishing. We have covered the first 15 prospects over 2 days but today we will look at a few prospects who look to join that status in the very near future.
Sweet swinging infielders
Gioskar Amaya and these two players just missed the cut for my top 15 and all have a chance to be at least top 20 prospects by the time we roll around to our offseason list.
He's 17 years old and already playing at Rookie Level Arizona. That may not seem like much but consider that a lot of recent draftees participate in that league, including some from the college ranks. Even the high school draftees are older. Torres is more than holding his own, showing patience and a line drive swing that has him hitting .313/.410/.469 in his first 8 games. Torres is usually thought of as the second IFA the Cubs signed but many scouts will tell you they liked Torres better than consensus #1 prospect Eloy Jimenez. The question with Torres is whether he is athletic enough to stay at SS. The Cubs think he is and what he lacks in athleticism, he makes up for in instincts. If he does, he will provide an excellent bat for the position.
Nearly 6 years older, Bruno is such a seasoned hitter that he has barely needed any development time at the lower levels, skipping low A and getting just 19 ABs in advanced A ball. He is hitting .288/.365/.428 at Tennessee. Bruno is a better athlete than he is given credit and the Cubs have experimented with him at 3B, OF, and catcher, but 2B is easily his best defensive position. The issue there is that the Cubs have a line forming there with Arismendy Alcantara and possibly Javier Baez ahead of him and Amaya and maybe Torres behind him, but Bruno's bat will eventually land him in the big leagues in one way or another.
Clifton was a raw high school prospect when the Cubs tabbed him in the 13th round and signed him to an over slot deal. The Cubs liked the physical skills he had to work with: the athleticism, the arm strength, and the hand speed to go with the 6'4" height and projectable frame. That's pretty much how you would start to build a pitcher if you had to do it from scratch. The arm strength already manifested itself with Clifton's velocity, which has reached as high as 97 mph, but the hand speed gives him a shot to develop plus breaking stuff, and the athleticism will help him to smooth out and repeat his delivery, which should lead to better command. It all means nothing however, if the pitcher doesn't have the work ethic, coachability and the overall mental makeup to make the best use of those gifts. As you now by now, the Cubs carefully evaluate all of those things and Clifton fills all the desired boxes there as well. He has already made great progress in a short period of time working with the Cubs development staff. Keep in mind that he is still just 19 and still has lots of work to do, but he is a protoypical upside play. So far it has gone as well as the Cubs could ask. After shaking off some first start jitters, Clifton has dominated his last two starts, walking just 3 in 10 innings while striking out 12 over 10 innings.
It's hard to believe Underwood has not turned 20 yet. This is his 3rd year in the organization and his first in full season ball. Underwood features a smooth, athletic deliver with tremendous arm speed, making it seem like the ball just explodes out of his hand. He has trouble maintaining that arm speed for longer stints. He also slows it down noticeably when he throws his secondaries. The curveball is a big breaker with potential but it tends to get loopy at times. The command is an issue and it is improving but he is still walking about 4 batters per 9 IP. Underwood doesn't miss many bats despite his mid 90s FB in part because he lacks the consistent command and secondaries to keep hitters honest. He has come a long way already but he still has a lot of work to do, but you don't get a lot of pitchers with his raw talent. My gut feeling right now is he ends up in the pen for all the reasons stated above, but he has plenty of time to develop and be much more.
He doesn't have the raw arm strength of the other pitchers in this group but he has a good fastball that has reached 94 and features good arm side run. When he locates well he can bore it in on RH hitters and induce weak contact or run it away from lefties. The rest of his stuff is average to fringe average right now but solid command, an intelligent approach, and a fastball with solid velo and good movement can take you a long way. Dallas Beeler is an example of that. Torrez still has time to develop those secondaries but even if they only end up as average, he has a shot to be a 5th starter.
A 6'7" RHP who can bear down on you with 97 mph fastballs is scary enough in itself but Mejia also adds an advanced change-up that misses bats, plus a solid curveball which gives him a 3rd potential plus pitch. He is dominating the Rookie league right now and will probably head to Boise soon given that he will be 20 next month. His athleticism isn't special but he is beginning to get those arms and legs all working together. The ability to repeat his mechanics will be key to his development. I hope to see both Mejia and Clifton at Kane County next season, where it's going to be a lot of fun sitting behind home plate for the second straight year.
What's in the Tool Shed?
Torres isn't the only 17 year old playing Rookie ball. Jimenez's tremendous physical skills and sound swing has the Cubs thinking he can handle the advanced competition as well. He hasn't shown up games as early and often as Torres had in his amateur career and has been brought about a bit more slowly because of that. He just got his first start last night. Jimenez is an enormous player with athleticism and tremendous raw power. His swing, however, is currently more conducive to line drives, the bat stays in the zone a long time. and he should be able to hit for average. It's possible the Cubs may tweak his swing a bit over time and add more lift to take better advantage of his raw power. He could eventually become a classic RF with the ability to hit for average and power while also being a solid defender with a strong arm.
Burks came on late in the draft process and the Cubs saw him hold his own against more advanced pitchers in workouts. He has a knack for barreling up the baseball though he isn't a big player and he doesn't have elite bat speed, so he probably won't hit for much power. He is a player, however, who could hit for average, extra base power and be a big asset on the bases. He is one of the faster players in the organization, running a 6.5 60 yard dash. He is an aggressive hitter at this point and he'll eventually need to supplement his hit tool with walks so he can utilize his speed more often on the bases. He profiles best as a CF.
Like Burks, Baez is one of the fastest players in the organization but he has a more advanced approach and a bit more pop in his bat. Baez has already hit 4 HRs in Boise to go with his 8 SBs. giving a glimpse of his power/speed combo. There is some swing and miss to his game and he doesn't barrel up as easily as Burks does, so I don't think he is going to hit for a high average, but his other skills could make him a dynamic all-around offensive player. Baez probably fits best if he can stick at CF but the emerging power may make him viable at one of the corners.
Remillard isn't as fast as the other two players ahead of him here, of course, but as a catcher he doesn't need it. He has tools more appropriate for his position. He's rated as the best defensive catcher in the organization, he has a good arm, a disciplined approach and the ability to square up the baseball. He should develop some power over time and has the chance to be a good all-around catcher if he continues to develop. He's probably the best catching prospect in the system right now, though 3rd round pick Mark Zagunis may challenge him for that distinction soon.
The Late Bloomer
Lopez isn't your typical fast riser but considering he was a 15th round pick after switching to catcher in college, was in low A ball two years ago, had his ascent slowed by injuries -- and is already knocking on the door to the big leagues, we will make an exception. The only difference is he didn't start his rise until he was 24 years old. Lopez is a solid defender who has improved his ability to throw out base stealers. He provides a lefty bat with a patient approach, a line drive bat, and some gap power. He profiles more as a backup catcher, but considering his late start, that's a remarkable achievement in itself.
The bullpen arms
The Cubs strategy to draft or sign power arms early, late, and everywhere in between has resulted in a steady stream of potential bullpen contributors. Here's the skinny on a few who have improved their prospect status this year...
- Armando Rivero, AAA: He has overmatched minor league hitters but must improve FB command if he expects to do the same in the big leagues.
- Andrew McKirahan,AA: lefties with fastballs that sit low 90s, touch mid 90s, with swing and miss breaking balls tend to get a chance in this league.
- Juan Paniagua, A: One of the best arms in the system, Paniagua is starting now but will probably end up in the bullpen
- Hunter Cervenka, AA: Power lefty with low 90s FB with sink and tail, a hard 80s cutter, and slider. Command is the issue.
- Zach Godley, A: Another power pitcher who surprises with low to mid 90s heat and a high 80s cutter/slider.
- James Pugliese, A: Has a starter's repertoire and mentality but his fastball has moved up a few ticks out of the pen, giving him a chance to be a well-rounded RP.
- Starling Peralta, A+: He broke out 2 years ago and he is coming back again, hitting 97 with an occasional wipeout slider, and the best command of his career.
- Marcus Hatley, AAA: The pitching version of the late bloomer, the former OF has added good command to his 92-95 mph heat and power curve.