We did the creme de la creme yesterday but the Cubs prospect cache runs pretty deep. There is both impact and depth in the system even beyond the top 6. Not all of them will make it of course, but some of them will become role players, some will be traded, and some may step up to the next level in the next year or two. We had a run on hitters last time, now we have a run on pitchers
7. C.J. Edwards, 22, RHP, AA, Tennessee
Edwards made just 4 starts before going down with a shoulder injury that, thankfully, showed no structural damage. The Cubs say his shoulder is fine and he is making tremendous progress working out in Mesa. Before going down, Edwards was picking up where he left off in Iowa, posting a 2.61 ERA (3.08 FIP). When he is healthy, Edwards throws an easy 92-95 mph FB with outstanding late life and a knee-buckling curve, giving him two legit out pitches and a change-up which gives him 3 plus pitches. The delivery is sound, the make-up is off the charts...so why is he just #7? The slender build is one concern, causing some to question his durability. He also needs to improve his fastball command so that he can better set up his devastating curve. If Edwards turns into a #3 starter, the Cubs should and will be very happy, and as long as he is healthy he has a good chance of doing that.
ETA: 2016 or possibly late 2015
8. Jen-Ho Tseng, 19, RHP, A, Kane County
Tseng has emerged as one of the Cubs better pitching prospects and despite being just 19, may have the best fastball command of the Cubs top 3 pitching prospects. He doesn't have the velocity (90-92, touches 94) or the movement of Edwards or Pierce Johnson does on the FB, but he locates it very well, setting up his devastating curve, which is a legitimate swing and miss pitch. Tseng also has the makings of a good change, has a great feel for pitching, and is yet another Cubs prospect with great makeup, often lauded for his poise on the mound. That was pretty evident as Tseng would often get into trouble early in games and calmly work his way out of it, then settle down and dominate the rest of the way. the Cubs have been careful to limit his workload (50.1 IP so far) and shut him down when he felt some very slight shoulder discomfort, But he quickly returned and has been pitching as well as ever. He is a well-rounded pitcher already and should move quickly. I think he has a #3 profile right now but there are some scouts out there who think he can be more than that. If he can get his velo consistently in the 92-94 range, then we can't rule out the possibility that he can be a TOR starter.
9. Pierce Johnson. 23, RHP, AA, Tennessee
Johnson has struggled with a hamstring injury and has not pitched much this year. He struggled with his command at AA but seemed to find it in his last rehab start at Kane County. Johnson features a 92-94 mph FB that can reach as high as 96 when he needs it. The FB has some good arm-side run. He complements that pitch with a high 80s cutter that has horizontal break toward his glove side, something I didn't see much of his first time at Kane County. It gives him an effective 4th pitch to go with a power curve ball and a change. The curve is his best pitch. It's a legit swing and miss offering with a sharp break that he can throw when ahead in the count. It wasn't there for him the last time I saw him pitch so he relied more on the cutter as his secondary. The change-up is average but the quality of his top 3 pitches make up for it. The command is what will hold him back from being a front line starter, but the big athletic body, the stuff and tremendous makeup give him a shot at the #3 slot in a good rotation, though he may just end up a #4 if he doesn't sharpen the command.
ETA: 2016 or late 2015
Hendricks fooled many scouts because there just didn't have an out pitch or the kind of physical projectability you look for in pitchers, but the Cubs saw a tremendous aptitude for the game and the ability to adapt and add to his arsenal as the competition has gotten better. Hendricks dominated AA last season and has been nearly as good at AAA since his midseason promotion, going 12-6 with a 3.21 ERA in 134.1 AAA innings since last season. He has upped his K rate to a career high 22.5% (8.2 per 9 IP) while showing his usual great control (6%, 2.2 BB/9 IP). Hendricks won't be a strikeout guy at the MLB level but he works very effectively down in the strike zone, keeping the ball on the ground (an excellent 1.8 GO/AO ratio) and in the park (0.38 HR per 9 IP). Hendricks works with an 89-92 mph FB that can touch as high as 95. a solid curve, cutter, and a very good change. His command and feel for pitching are his greatest assets and it gives him the ceiling of a #4 starter and his floor appears to be at least as a #5 guy. He still struggles a bit more with lefties and I suspect MLB lineups will stack their lineups that way, so Hendricks will have to continue to grow in that area.
11. Paul Blackburn, 20, RHP, A, Kane County
Blackburn has good athleticism, a tremendous feel for pitching, and the potential for average stuff or better across the board. The fastball has been 88-92 this year and he has flashed a good curve and a solid change at times. The command has improved as Blackburn is throwing strikes (2.12 BB per 9 IP) and keeping the ball down, generating ground ball and HR rates at above average levels this year. Blackburn doesn't do anything exceptionally well but he also has no glaring weaknesses. There is still projection left in terms of refining his curve and developing it as more of a swing and miss offering, but even on his current trajectory could end up as a #4 though a #5 might be more realistic.
Vizcaino is an MLB reliever right now who is simply in the minors so the Cubs can control his appearances in an environment where development supercedes W-L record. He has touched 98 mph with regularity this year and mixes in a power curve that gives him a swing and miss offering. Vizcaino has a change, which gives him a 3rd weapon, particularly vs. LH hitters. His command is good, enough for him to fit as a high leverage, late inning reliever, very possibly a closer. I don't see him returning to the rotation for the foreseeable future.
ETA: September 2014
It seems like Vogelbach is having an off year but he actually has a higher wOBA and RC+ than he did last year at Kane County. Vogelbach has tremendous upper body strength and plus-plus power potential but he hasn't shown it consistently yet in full season ball. He has worked hard to slim down and become an adequate first baseman on defense, but it is his bat that is his ticket to the majors. But don't think that Vogelbach is some sort of meathead slugger. He has an intelligent approach at the plate, working the count, drawing walks, and taking the ball the other way when necessary. He is essentially a two tool player, much like #5 prospect Kyle Schwarber, but Vogelbach isn't as athletic and is relegated to 1B, making it essential that he continue to develop his skills as a hitter, particularly his power. His future as a Cub is in question, as the Cubs have 24 year old Anthony Rizzo having a breakout/all-star type season and is signed through 2019.
14. Jacob Hannemann, 23, OF, A Kane County
Hannemann is a toolsy player with great makeup and unusually good instincts for a player who has missed so much time. He struggled early on as he shook off rust and battled nagging injuries, but he is beginning to hit on all cylinders now. Since a 2-week span where Hannemann went 1 for 36 (and 0 for 27) in early May, Hannemann has hit .321/.372/.479 with 3 HRs, 16 SBs in 18 tries. He has a pretty good eye at the plate, walking 8.7% of the time and is the fastest player in the system. He has better bat speed than you might think for a "speed" player. He has some pop in his bat. His CF defense needs work and I'm not crazy about his two strike swing, but Hannemann has shown the work ethic and the aptitude to improve quickly. I think the Cubs will let Hannemann settle in at Kane for most of the year with perhaps a late season promotion to Daytona to get his feet wet. He could also go to the AZ Fall League to get much needed reps. He's 23 and the Cubs may not have the luxury of moving him one level at a time, so that works against him, but outside the big six, he is the most intriguing position player in the system right now in terms of potential impact.
At first glance, you wouldn't expect a guy who is 1-6 with a 5.31 ERA to make this list but those numbers are deceiving. Zastryzny was an example of a pitcher with good control but mediocre command early in the season. He often left the ball up and without having the sheer velocity to get away with it, he got hit hard. But his control was still good, he continued to throw strikes, and his stuff still had plenty of swing and miss. Overall Zastryzny has struck out 9.1 batters per 9 IP while walking hitters at just a 2.3 rate. Zastryzny works with an average fastball (89-91), a much improved slider, and a change-up which is probably his best pitch. Zastryzny's greatest skill may be his feel for pitching and with a repertoire that is at least average across the board, he can be at least a #4, possibly more if he regains the velocity he showed late in his amateur career.
Just missed the cut:
- Gioskar Amaya, 2B, A, Daytona
- Stephen Bruno, 2B, AA, Tennessee
Amaya has had a good start to the season. He can hit any fastball and has a good approach that continues to mature as he moves up. His defense is a potential plus and he has gap power that hasn't shown up this year. He has the potential to be a starting 2B in the big leagues. Bruno is one of the best pure hitters in the system, but we will talk about him in our next piece on fast rising prospects, along with a few others who just missed the cut.
Dropping off the list:
- Christian Villanueva, 3B, AA, Tennessee
- Jeimer Candelario, 3B, A, Kane County
Two 3Bs who struggled and were reassigned to a lower league. Both still have talent to be big league ballplayers. Villanueva is a doubles power hitter with average HR power and plus to plus-plus defense. Candelario is also a doubles power type with average HR power, but he has a better approach and a better overall hit tool than Villanueva. His defense, on the other hand, is about average, but he has shown great improvement in the past 2 years.
Tomorrow: Fast Rising Prospects