Cubs Top Prospects: 5 - 8

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.

8. Jose Albertos

  • 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.

6. Trevor Clifton

  • 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.

5. Jeimer Candelario

  • 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.


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  • Could Candelario make it as a bench player who backs up 1st and 3rd and pinch hit? His switch hitting would seem to make him valuable.

  • In reply to John57:

    Certainly, but that takes a position away from Baez to get ABs (3B). I think the AL where he can play 3B, 1B, and DH is ideal for him, but he'd be useful for the Cubs right now if god forbid one of the infielders got hurt.

  • You would think Zagunis being a former college catcher would have a stronger arm than average but I will take it given his OBP.

    I wonder if he could get some reps in at 1B to give him more positional flexibility like Rademacher did last year.

  • In reply to Gator:

    His arm was always his biggest question mark at catcher and one of the main reasons he had to move.

  • In reply to Gator:

    I have no doubt that Zagunis could pick up 1B if needed, but Zagunis projects as a starting OF so positional flexibility is less important in his toolbox. Rademacher is far more likely to top out as a deserve OF so any additional skills he can show will improve his chances.

  • And I would like to say I really like this format. There is tons of information here. I enjoyed reading about Jose Albertos because I know almost nothing about him. He sounds very interesting.

  • In reply to John57:

    Thanks. I tried focusing and writing a bit more on players that may be more unfamiliar.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    As Albertos (and I admittedly knew close to nothing about him before this mention as well) is only 18,.... assuming best case scenario - how long might we have to wait to see him in Wrigley?

    Obviously - he's not likely to start out this year any higher than low A/short-season - as I'm sure they want to make sure the injury issue doesn't slow him down. Maybe jump a level each season and we see him get a cup of coffee at age 22-23?

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    In reply to John57:

    I'm with John57. I don't know anything about Albertos, but two words jumped out at me in your write up: frontline starter. We haven't seen that description too often for the kids coming up.

  • Merry Christmas everybody. Is it true that the Cubs 2 of the first
    31 picks in the draft.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    As it stands now the. Ins get the 28th & 30th picks. 28th being their own and the 30th is compensation for Fowler. If the Indians Encarnacion Deal goes forward then those picks move up 1 as Cleveland then forfeits its 1st rounder @ 25

  • In reply to Gator:

    I thought we got the Cards pick because it is not top 10 protected? I haven't followed that close enough apparently. LOL.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    The Cardinals lose their first round pick but the Cubs don't get that first round pick but the compensation round selection instead.

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    In reply to Gator:

    Unless I'm mistaken, we now have the 27th and the 30th pick. The Indians will lose the 25th pick, and the Blue Jay's will gain the 29th.

  • John, could you say a bit more about the season ending injury that Albertos dealt with? Was it arm related?
    And Merry Christmas to all......

  • In reply to cubbustible:

    It was kept rather quiet. I believe it was elbow/forearm but nobody I talked to seemed all that concerned.

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    John, we're reading about more and more pitchers in your top prospects and that is a change from a few years ago. We talk about velocity with pitchers, but more important is location, change of speed and control. If Albertos can throw a mid-90's FB and then throw a mid 70's CB his is going to fool a lot of batters. That is almost unheard of. Chapman threw 100+ but his slider was still in the 90's. I'm now really excited to see him.
    Is Zagunis a Billy Mckinney comp? Both hit well but have so-so arms and speed. Could Jeimer replace Tommy LST with the Cubs. He has a higher OBP, although that was in the minors but seems to be a better defensive player and more versatile.
    I can't wait for the rest although it's pretty easy to figure out who they are, but what's fascinating is your take on their talents and in seeing them in person. Thanks again.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    They've put a focus on getting more arms and there are quite a bit more we'll talk about after the rankings portion. Zagunis is a bit like a RH McKinney. Best skill is OBP, decent athletiicsm, average across the board on most tools.

    Jeimer may eventually replace TLS but going to be hard for him to get playing time if everyone stays healthy.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    One advantage Mckinney has over Zagunis is that McKinney had a very accurate arm. It is not powerful but he has knack for delivering throws to 3b right on the money and that helps him play a better RF than Zagunis. But Zagunis has the advantage as a hitter despite being right handed. Better plate discipline, better hit tool, and he has more natural strength which should allow him to tap into his power easier down the road.

  • I really appreciate these prospect stories, thanks. It would be great to see someone come up and break into the 2017 rotation. And if Candelario could get another Mike Montgomery type, I'd be a happy Cubs fan. Ho, ho, ho.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    I really mean 2018 rotation.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    Clifton really came on in August of last year. In 5 starts, all of them 6 innings or longer, he threw 31.2 innings, allowed 19 hits, 5 walks while striking out 34 for a 0.85 ERA and a 0.76 WHIP.

    His change-up was really keeping left-handed hitters off-balance, and that was a new development over the course of 2016. As John mentioned, his command/control also improved last season. He walked 11 batters in just 18 IP in April and 30 in the 101 IP that followed (and just 5 in his final 37.2 innings).

    If Clifton picks up where he left off in his last 5 starts of 2016, he will likely finish the year in Iowa. That might, MIGHT, make him a candidate for the 2018 rotation. A lot can happen, both good and bad, between now and then though.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    Duane Underwood is more of a longshot. He has a lot more to prove than Clifton. Even though he already as nearly 60 IP at the AA level, he's had so many health problems that he seems more likely a future bullpen piece than rotation option.

    BUT, if he stays healthy in this coming season AND pitches well, he could be given a long look in spring training in 2017.

    Another longshot, but perhaps less of one than Underwood, is Thomas Hatch. He hasn't pitched a professional inning yet and will likely start in South Bend next year, but if he pitches like he did in the College World Series last summer, he could move quickly.

    Fast enough to be in play for the 2018 rotation? Probably not. (Like I said, it's a longshot.) But we've seen college arms reach the majors in one year before. It will depend on his performance and ability to meet the benchmarks the Cubs developmental staff lay out for him at each level.

    All three pitchers, Clifton, Underwood and Hatch, will also have to deal with the fact that the Cubs are in a championship window that the front office will not want to monkey around with. It's just as likely, if not more so, that one or more of these guys could be traded for a more major league ready pitcher (with other prospects like Candelario, Happ and Zagunis) than they would be to make the 2018 staff.

    My sense is the Cubs will trade for a young, controllable, established starter with upside before the 2018 season begins. They are also likely to sign a veteran FA (perhaps even bringing back Lackey on a 1-year deal) to round out their 2018 rotation.

    Lester, Hendricks, (Trade), Montgomery, (Veteran FA on a short term deal) is just as likely what the 2018 rotation will look like than anyone of those 3 guys on it.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    The real excitement for future Cubs rotations comes in John's next installment. Dylan Cease and Oscar De La Cruz won't be ready until late 2019 and more likely 2020 but those guys, especially Cease, have #1 or #2 upside.

    Cease took himself out of the game in the 5th inning on July 11th after feeling discomfort and calling his manager to the mound. It was scary when I heard about it but it turned out to be not a major injury as he returned to the mound 18 days later. In that game, he was very wild, walking 4 of the 5 batters he faced. In his next outing, he pitched just 1.2 innings as he slowly worked his way back.

    After that, though, it was on. In his last 5 outings, he held batters to a .101 batting average. In 21 IP, he allowed 17 guys to reach base and picked off 2 of them. He gave up 7 hits (4 singles, 3 doubles) and walked 10 and but struck out 39 of the 78 batters he faced. That's a 50% K-rate and 16.7 Ks per 9.

    Cease has held opposing batters to averages of .145 and .175 in his first 2 seasons and pitched just under 70 innings between extended spring training and Eugene last year, so he is in line to reach 100 IP in 2017.

    I think there's a 50/50 chance he skips South Bend and starts in Myrtle Beach this season. He's mature enough and has the make-up to handle any struggles that might come and clearly hasn't been challenged by his opposition yet. Plus, avoiding the cold April games in South Bend will be wise.

    A Myrtle Beach rotation fronted by Cease and De La Cruz and rounded out with lefties Justin Steele and Ryan Kellogg (plus likely joined by Hatch at some point) should be fun to watch.

  • In reply to Quedub:


  • In reply to Quedub:

    Quedub--excellent points. What are your takes on Morrison as a contributor in 2018? I am sure he will be discussed in the 16-40 grouping. But he has been pretty effective.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    Preston Morrison was surprisingly effective last season. He's a different pitcher than Ryan Williams and Kyle Hendricks but follows in the mold of location over velocity arms. He will be in either the AA or High-A rotation to start 2017. Tennessee's rotation is pretty jammed up right now so it's difficult to see how everything will fall out.

    He is also a possibility for 2018, but, in my lack of infinite wisdom, I have him with a lower ceiling than Clifton, Underwood and Hatch. If he impresses this coming year in AA and AAA like he did in 2016, he could be in the mix for 5th starter come spring training of 2018.

  • John, thanks for a great inside view but saddened by the results. The Cubs have a long reach of a pitcher, an infielder and outfielder without significant abilities with no place to play and a pitcher that may become a #3 starter. For a 5-8 group it's easy to see why other teams are not really interested in trading with the Cubs. Happy that our MLB lineup is loaded.

  • In reply to veteran:

    That is rather a pessimistic view. Most of if not all teams' 5-8 prospects are everything you just described. They are called prospects not sure things. This is a solid group for guys in the 5-8 range.

    We have been spoiled by a historic migration of our system in Bryant, Baez, Schwarbs, Hendricks, Russell. Typically teams have only 1 guy out of 4 who turn out as good players.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    Exactly. This is what a normal farm system looks like. And those two blocked position players also happen to be at AAA already so there isn't much projection left on them and they have the appeal for any team acquiring them that they can step into a mlb lineup immediately. Vogelbach would not have been able to return Montgomery if he had still been in A ball.

    The Cubs system also has another element which isn't highlighted in theses rankings which is that there is very little difference between the 16th and 40th prospect in the Cubs system. That is one of the reasons that numerical rankings are always something I've avoided. The Cubs have tremendous depth throughout their system with a ton of "maybe" guys that other teams don't. And the good thing about that is it increases the odds of hitting on one of those maybes.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Well said, Michael.

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    The other thing that stands out in the Cubs system is that the players that are blocking these prospects are almost all AS players and still in their young to mid 20's. I do agree that no one stands out like Schwarbs or KB or Russell or Javy but how many prospects do?
    There will be someone who comes up and surprises us (like Willson did last year) but I don't have a clue yet. Maybe Happ or Hatch, but someone will be up in the 2017 season and it will be fun to watch who that will be.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Hatch is probably the more likely to have an impact in 2018 IMO, when there is an open rotation spot post Lackey and/or Arrieta.

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    I'm hopeful about Clifton possibly making the rotation in 2018, especially with his improved secondaries. I'm wondering, however, about his build. You list him as 6'4" 210. Baseball Reference has him at 6'1" 170. Are the BR numbers from when he was drafted?

  • Barring injury there are no needs besides pitching.

  • I have concerns about Clifton's long-term health due to mediocre to poor mechanics. If he can clean up the timing of his delivery to reduce the stress on his arm, I would feel more bullish.

    As many know I follow Chris O'Leary pretty close as I believe in his views. To my surprise, he has Clifton as a high injury candidate due to what he terms "flat arm syndrome" which is when the throwing arm is in a palm down position as the stride foot lands. Arm should be at least at 55 degrees vertical at that point, not facing down. This position places huge stress on the shoulder and elbow. O'Leary has accurately called injuries for pitchers who throw like this for years and most notably called this out for Joae Fernandez before he blew his elbow. This is something I will be watching with Clifton.

    The stuff is legit in Clifton. I hope he can avoid a major injury as he could be a big-time contributor by 2018/2019.

  • I like the fact that quality guys at age 23 like Zagunis and Candelario are there in Iowa and could step in if needed,... That's a luxury that a lot of teams don't have. Let's hope they are not needed this season.

    I'm guessing that one or both of them are traded during the next 12-14 months to somewhere they get a chance to play, and in return for some young arms.

  • John, thanks. Really like the in-depth looks on fewer guys per article format. When you mentioned Clifton losing sight of home plate during his delivery I couldn't help thinking of Fernando Valenzuela. I remember he rolled his eyes up toward the clouds in the middle of his wind-up. To bad that means absolutely nothing! :)

  • I'd like to see the Cubs extent a couple of their young major leaguers like Schwarber, Russell, Baez, Almora, Contreras, and Hendricks before too long. It gives security($$) to the players and the team the security of knowing that at least some of the core will be around longer. I doubt that the Cubs can afford them all, but it would give the organization a better idea of which prospects will remain redundant. I left out Bryant because Kris has so much worth that he will most likely will want to test free agency. Personally I'd extent all six if they are agreeable.

  • extend

  • John great work on the Top 16 with detailed write ups. Good idea.
    I'm excited about the Draft strategy for the upcoming year. I am glad we did not lose the first pick and added the 31st for Dex. I trust our Draft strategy and process where we may be adding some combination of a top pitching prospect and top college position player or 2 top pitching prospects. This will help build depth and both should be in your Top 16 next year. Pretty exciting. We have so much potential in the top 16 this year compared to BT. Before Theo.

  • Amazing that seemly all the sudden, we got several TOR pitchers who might be at Wrigley the season after next. After years of coal, Santa has been good to the Cubs. And . . .

    Merry Christmas, John! As always, thank you so much for what you've done for all us die-hard Cub fans. This has been the most joyous of years, and you and your Cubs Den have been a big part of make it even more special. Your the best!

    And Merry Christmas to all my fellow Denizens! I love this site because of all of you.

    Merry and Happy!



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