I will be writing a bit more about the Cubs minor leagues even as the MLB team flourishes. I'm enjoying the MLB success as much as anyone, but to stay successful, you have to remember how you got their in the first place and just as importantly, how to stay there. Today we're going with one of the big recent amateur investments of the organization -- the 2015 international free agent class in which the Cubs, as they did in 2013, blew away the imposed limits set by the CBA, preferring to procure as much talent as possible at whatever the cost, including heavy penalties.
Other than the monetary fines, the the Cubs were not able to invest more than #250,000 on any one prospect in the 2014 class, and while they did still manage to unearth some talent, we are going to focus on the larger, more highly rated 2015 class.
We know the 2013 list is already paying off as SS Gleyber Torres entered the season as the consensus top Cubs prospect and classmate Eloy Jimenez, looks like he'll be another top 5 prospect by year's end. The Cubs have also gotten solid returns from Jen Ho Tseng, who projects as a bottom of the rotation type, as does Erling Moreno when he is healthy. Another pitcher, Jefferson Mejia, was the key piece used in obtaining starting catcher Miguel Montero.
The Cubs signed another good class in 2015 but this was more a combination of quality and quantity, so whether it has the same star power as 2013's top rated signings remains to be seen. Nevertheless there are some players to keep an eye on.
Eddy Julio Martinez, OF
Age: 21 (Jan. 18, 1995) – 6-foot-2, 195 pounds – Bats: R Throws R (Cuba)
Martinez is the most heralded of the 2015 IFA signees as some considered him the top overall prospect in the class and a true 5 tool talent. The jury is still out on that but the Cubs believed in him enough to sign him to a $3M bonus, highest in this class. Martinez has an all-fields approach and some present HR power to his pull side. There is a slight hitch to his swing so there may always be some swing and miss but he has greatly improved his approach since early this spring, when he was susceptible to breaking balls low and away. The better plate discipline and line drive, all-fields approach give his hit tool plus potential and his quick bat could lead to more power with a little more lift. Martinez is a fast runner but I don't see him as plus-plus as some have him graded. To me he sometimes runs a bit back on his heels which slows him down a tick. At some point the Cubs will have to decide whether he will be a line drive hitting CFer, a power hitting corner OFer, or somewhere in between. He certainly has the arm to be a right fielder. He's 21 so there isn't a lot of room for physical growth but he still has upside as he refines his approach and mechanics.
Aramis Ademan, SS
Age: 17 (Sept. 13, 1998) – 5-foot-10, 150 pounds – Bats: L Throws R (Dominican Republic)
Ademan is perhaps my favorite player in this class. He impressed last year but seems to have added a bit of strength and physical maturity to his small frame. Ademan has true SS actions. He is more quick than fast, flowing through the ball and possessing soft hands to go with an average arm that should improve as he continues to mature and gain strength, though he more than compensates with a quick release ala Addison Russell. Ademan has advanced pitch recognition and good plate discipline to go with a fluid swing from both sides of the plate, tailor-made for easy contact and squares up for consistent line drives to all fields. I think he'll hit for average and he is starting to answer some question about what some felt could be a lack of pop. Ademan has shown ability to drive the ball to both gaps and even pulled one for a HR last week. If he can get pitchers to respect that extra base pop, then he should be able to translate some of that plate discipline to walks and enhance his OBP numbers. Apart from his physical skills, he has impressed me with his maturity, often staying late after practice and asking questions of both coaches and more experienced players. The Cubs like him a lot as well, signing him to a $2M bonus but I think that investment has a good chance to pay off. As far as I'm concerned, this kid has potential major league ballplayer written all over him.
Isaac Paredes, SS
Age 17 (Feb. 18th, 1999), 6 feet, 175 lbs - Bats R Throws R (Mexico)
Paredes has a thick frame and appears slightly bigger than that 175 lbs. listing and at his young age, it's reasonable to believe he may soon outgrow SS. For now, however, the plays the position well, getting good reads and compensating for no better than average speed with quick feet and good reflexes. It's hard to see him sticking at SS, though we have seen similar-bodied players like Jhonny Peralta make it work. If he does have to move to 3B, he does look like he may have the bat to carry the position. Paredes has good strength and a quick bat, geared mostly for line drives but with the potential for some pull power. He recognizes pitches well and has good hand-eye coordination. It isn't hard to project him to have an above average hit tool with solid OBP skills. He was unheralded player in this class but appears to have been a good find. He's not the guy who catches your eye walking off the bus, but he is hard not to watch once he gets between the lines. This kid can hit. He just has that knack for barreling up the ball. As with players like Jeimer Candelario, he will have to be mindful of his physical conditioning but if he does, he has a chance to be a solid all-around infielder.
Yonathan Perlaza, 2B
Age: 17 (Nov. 10, 1998) – 5-foot-8, 175 pounds – Bats: S Throws R (Venezuela)
Perlaza is just 5'8" but has a strong, muscular build, particularly his lower half, which he incorporates well in his swing. He has perhaps the best bat speed of any player on this list, certainly of the teenage group. When he connects, he hits loud line drives with power potential and some feel for going the other way. He is a bit more advanced from the left side right now. He plays hard on every play, though he is not as polished as Ademan either at the plate, where he can get aggressive, or in the field, where despite good speed and athleticism, he lacks the same fluid actions and soft hands. A move to 2B is likely and, in fact, he is already seeing more time there than SS. In some ways he reminds me a bit of Frandy De La Rosa, whom the Cubs have recently dealt for RP Spencer Patton. MLB.com compares him to Martin Prado and it is easy to see him perhaps being a multi-positional player (2B, 3B, OF) whose greatest value comes from his bat. The Cubs signed him to a $1M bonus.
Miguel Amaya, C (Panama)
Age: 17 (March 9, 1999) – 6-foot, 160 pounds – Bats: L Throws R
What stands out about Amaya is the maturity of his game. He is an advanced receiver who has a good feel for handling pitchers and some natural leadership qualities. He is not afraid to go out and take charge even as the youngest player on this list. He has smooth mechanics both at the plate and behind the plate. He blocks well and has a quick release, but his arm strength is just average. Amaya needs to get stronger overall, but as a player who just turned 17 this spring, that is not a big suprise. He probably won't hit for a lot of power, but could be a solid average hitter who provides a ton of value at the position because of his receiving potential. An interesting prospect, but one to file away for now until his physical maturity catches up with his mental approach.
Jonathan Sierra, OF (Dominican Republic)
Age: 17 (Oct. 17, 1998) – 6-foot-4, 190 pounds – Bats: L Throws L
Sierra has the sweetest swing in his class. He has a left-handed stroke from a tall, thin frame that has plenty of room to fill out. Sierra drew some mixed reviews but that is partly due to only a handful of teams getting an extended good look before he signed. The Cubs were one of those teams and saw enough in him to ink him to a $2.5M deal, more than anyone in this class except for Martinez. Sierra has a right fielder's frame, arm, and athleticism with the power potential to match. He has already shown raw power in BP but it may be a while before it shows in games. He is extremely coachable with a respectful demeanor. Good kid. I have often seen him asking questions of Eloy Jimenez, for example, and that is probably the player with the most similar skill set in camp. Perhaps that shows best in his surprisingly disciplined approach at such a young age. Sierra rarely chases bad pitches at this level. Much will depend on his physical development.
Jose Albertos RHP (Mexico)
Age: 17 (Nov. 11, 1998) -- 6'1", 190 -- Bats R Throws R
The only pitcher on this list, Albertos is another player who came in with little fanfare but like Sierra and Paredes, it may have just been a case of a player slipping through the cracks. The Cubs signed him for $1.5M, though much of that money goes to his team in Mexico. The Cubs are using the kid gloves with Albertos, throwing him an inning at a time or two at most and he will likely start in the DSL where he can work in relief until he is ready to take on a full load. He certainly has dynamic arm strength. He has an easy, athletic delivery that generates consistent 94-96 mph heat and flashes a plus mid 70s CB. He does struggle with command and will need to build stamina -- but hey, this kid is just 17. He has all the time in the world right now.
Others to watch
- Kwang-Min Kwon, OF: He has good size and strength and is just 18 and he is more athletic than most give him credit for. He's also a quiet competitor who works hard at his game. Perhaps most famous for winning the Cubs instructional league HR derby, he has shown much more swing and miss than I expected and I have some concerns about his bat speed and ability to hit good fastballs. He will need to make adjustments to his swing without sacrificing power, which will be the key to his success as a prospect.
- Kevin Zamudio, C: More of an offensive-minded catcher with some power though he does show some potential to control the running game with a good arm and a quicker release than I expected. The question is whether he can handle the receiving aspect as he matures physically as he already has a big, strong build.
- Yunior Perez, RHP: Can bring it up to 94 mph and not much else, but that arm strength and a 6'3" athletic, projectable frame is a good place to start.
Complete 2016 list via AZ Phil
Jose Albertos (Mexico) - age 16
Maikel Aguiar (Venezuela) - age 19
Javier Assad (Mexico) - age 17
* Faustino Carrera (Mexico) - age 16
Carlos Ocampo (Colombia) - age 17
* Brailyn Marquez (Dominican Republic) - age 16
Hector Matos (Dominican Republic) - age 16
Yunior Perez (Dominican Republic) - age 16
* Jose MacDonna (Dominican Republic) - age 19
Edison Novas (Dominican Republic) - age 18
Miguel Amaya (Panama) - age 16
Henderson Perez (Venezuela) - age 16
# Herson Perez (Venezuela) - age 18
Kevin Zamudio (Mexico) - age 17
* Aramis Ademan (Dominican Republic) - age 16
Luis Diaz (Dominican Republic) - age 16
* Christopher Morel (Dominican Republic) - age 16
Orian Nunez (Dominican Republic) - age 17
# Yonathan Perlaza (Venezuela) - age 16
Isaac Paredes (Mexico) - age 16
NOTE: Five of the six 2015-16 IFA infielders were signed as shortstops (Nunez was signed as a second-baseman)
# Jose Gutierrez (Venezuela) - age 16
* Kwang-Min Kwon (South Korea) - age 17
Fernando Kelli (Venezuela) - age 17
Eddy Julio Martinez (Cuba) - age 20
* Ruben Reyes (Mexico) - age 19
* Abraham Rodriguez (Panama) - age 16
* Jonathan Sierra (Dominican Republic) - age 16