There is still one high ceiling high risk player and he shows up at #8, but after that we're getting down to the prospects with higher probability of becoming major league regulars.
- Position: Pitcher
- Bats/Throws: R/R
- Age: 18
- Last level reached: Rookie (AZL)
Albertos just turned 18 last month. He's also coming off a season ending injury but he appears to be just fine now. Even still, those two things add up to quite a bit of risk for a spot this high. A lot of things can happen on the road to the big leagues. So to be ranked this high, you have to like Albertos' upside.
There are some guys that just sort of surprise you. Albertos isn't physically imposing. He has an average build of 6'1", 185 lbs. There isn't really any room for projection there. But while he isn't cut out of granite like Dylan Cease and won't be growing into an Oscar De La Cruz kind of monster, the stuff is already there. Much of the time I saw Albertos he was in the 94-95 mph range but as the spring wore on and perhaps the adrenaline of live games kicked in, that fastball kicked up a few more notches, hitting 97 mph on several occasions in his first and only appearance for the AZL Cubs.
And before you think this is just an 18 year old (17 at the time) kid rearing back and throwing as hard as he can with little else, you'd be mistaken. Albertos was surprisingly polished. He was able to throw that fastball for strikes, even showing some command in terms of location. He also backed that up with solid secondaries. His best secondary in his first game was his change-up and he used it to keep hitters off balance when he didn't have a feel for his breaking ball. On other days on the backfields, I have seen a 77-78 mph curve used effectively as his out pitch and he'll throw an occasional slider as well.
What makes him additionally interesting is that he reaches that high velocity without a lot of effort, which in turn gives hope that a) he can sustain that velocity deep into games and b) he can be consistent with his mechanics and continue to improve his already advanced command.
All the parts are there for Albertos to be a frontline starter and his advanced command and feel for pitching suggests he could move quickly. The Cubs have already shown they will be cautious with him, however. They just don't have a lot of arms like this in their system right now.
7. Mark Zagunis
- Position: Outfield
- Bats/Throws: R/R
- Age: 23
- Last level reached: AAA (Iowa)
Zagunis has some of the best plate discipline in the Cubs system, if not the entire minor leagues. He's an above average hitter with fringe average game power, but his raw power is a tick above. If he can translate that to games then he becomes a much more valuable LFer.
Zagunis is a good athlete and an average runner, though he lacks the fluid movement of a CF and the footwork of an infielder. The arm strength is average and fits best in LF, though he has played some RF in the minors as well. He may fit best on a team that values OBP, which is his strength as an offensive player. I do believe Zagunis can be a 15-18 HR guy and if he puts up OBPs in the .350 range then you have yourself a solid, if unspectacular regular player. His defense and arm strength are average.
If the average or better power does not develop, then we're probably looking at a 4th outfielder or part-time starter because there is no other standout skill in his game other than his ability to get on base. Zagunis is more of a moderate ceiling/high floor player and he finds himself behind corner outfielders Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward, not to mention the Cubs top two hitting prospects in Ian Happ and Eloy Jimenez. Like Candelario, Zagunis finds himself in a tough position trying to crack the roster of a very talented, young team. He may end up being dealt and while he is not a headliner, his high floor should attract teams as a solid secondary piece. He could also go in a smaller deal the way Dan Vogelbach did -- though that trade has turned out pretty well so far considering what Mike Montgomery provided in the postseason. For now he provides OF depth at the minor league level, which may be his greatest value right now, especially with Schwarber coming off of an injury.
- Position: Pitcher
- Bats/Throws: R/R
- Age: 21
- Last level reached: Advanced A (Myrtle Beach)
We always wondered what would happen if Clifton started putting all those tools together and we finally caught a glimpse in 2016. Clifton was dominant at times in his Carolina League all-star season.
Clifton has ideal size (6'4", 210 lbs) and good athleticism. He has good hand strength and that allows him to spin the ball well, giving his curve plus potential. He also has a good fastball, often in the 93-94 range but maxes out a tick or two higher.
Where Clifton has really improved has been with his mechanics. He had a somewhat violent delivery with head movement that would cause him to temporarily lose sight of home plate. That has been cleaned up and Clifton's delivery looks much more clean and effortless than when he first arrived to Cubs camp. Those smoother mechanics have helped him throw with much better control. He averaged just over 3 walks per 9 IP but had 18 games in which he walked two or less and 6 starts where he did not walk a single batter. That is a huge improvement over what we have seen in the past -- especially if those glimpses of pinpoint control become the norm.
Another big improvement this past season has been with his change-up, which now rates as a solid average pitch and increases his chances of sticking as a starter. If he does stick as a starter and continues to become more consistent with his control, then he has the makings of a #3 starter. If not, he can be a power arm out of the bullpen, where his fastball may tick up even more.
- Position: Third Base
- Bats/Throws: S/R
- Age: 23
- Last level reached: MLB
The lone holdover from the Hendry era in these rankings, it's hard to believe Candelario is still just 23. There isn't much left to say about Candelario that we don't already know. He has good plate discipline, he's a doubles machine with 15-20 HR power, but he has the strength, smooth stroke, and feel for the barrel to surpass that with time. Candelario has vastly improved on defense to where most believe he can stick at 3B long term. He possesses a strong arm. About the only thing he doesn't do average or better is run.
Candelario's biggest obstacle to becoming a major league regular right now is opportunity. The MVP of the National League happens to hold his position in Chicago and he still has 5 years of cost control remaining. Candelario could also play 1st, but that is the domain of Anthony Rizzo. There aren't many other options. Candelario could learn to play the OF but with below average speed, it isn't a great fit. And the Cubs have Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward in the corners right now. It appears his best opportunity with the Cubs may come with an injury somewhere and even then, he'll be stuck at 3B behind stellar defender Javier Baez.
It's a tough spot for Candelario and it appears that his opportunity may come elsewhere. He still hasn't had a full year at AAA, so there is still no rush to move him. In the meantime, he'll try to build on an impressive half season at Iowa and serve as depth in case of injury.