2017-18 Offseason Cubs Prospect Rankings: Tier 2 Scouting Reports

Last week I released my prospect rankings including an organizational watch list of well over one hundred players. It also included my full scouting report on the Cubs lone Tier 1 prospect, Jose Albertos. Today, I examine the next tier of prospects, comprised of five potential mid-rotation starters and three position players capable of securing long term everyday jobs.

I've condensed the main list into a table for reference below. The names in bold are members of the 40-man roster. The four italicized players, including Nelson Velazquez who we dig into today, are young players that I have yet to see myself so the scouting notes provided will be less detailed and based in part off reports from outside sources. I have broken up each tier into two distinct groups, one that includes the more advanced prospects with a higher probability of success, and then a second set of raw or boom/bust prospects designated by a lighter shade of color.
2017_18_prospect_tiersWhile Albertos was an extended spring training darling the past two years, the eight prospects highlighted today have garnered attention in the spotlight at various times as well. Oscar De La Cruz moved to the top of the Cubs MLB.com prospect rankings last season after the graduation of Ian Happ and the trade of Eloy Jimenez. Adbert Alzolay was the organization's breakout star in 2017. His hype extended into the offseason as the young righty made waves in the Arizona Fall League, then received a mention in the front office's postseason presser as a potential contributor down the stretch in 2018. Brendon Little and Alex Lange were both first round draft picks last June and Thomas Hatch was the club's top pick the previous summer, albeit in the 3rd round.

A surprising entry comes in the form of another 2017 draft selection, the aforementioned 5th rounder Nelson Velazquez, whose power outburst after signing propelled the AZL Cubs to the league championship crown. More recently, shortstop Aramis Ademan claimed the top spot in both the Baseball America and Fangraphs prospect rankings.

Miguel Amaya

Miguel Amaya

The one top prospect that has escaped national, and even much local attention, happens to be a personal favorite of mine, Miguel Amaya. It is easy to understand why fans and even reporters overlook his potential. Catchers known more for their glove than their bat are maybe the least sexy prospect type. But that does not diminish their true value or the organizational impact a player like Amaya can have down the road.

We know the front office values pitch framing and glove work behind the dish very highly. Willson Contreras may be entrenched at the position for a long time, and for good reason, but the front office has shown the value of possessing starting caliber players on the bench and Joe Maddon continually shows a willingness to get creative in order to get his best players on the field with regularity and in the best position to see them succeed.

Since we have more scouting reports to get to in this segment, without further ado, lets begin digging in.

adbertalzolayreport17_18 oscardelacruzreport17_18 thomashatchreport17_18 alexlangereport17_18 aramisademanreport17_18 miguelamayareport17_18 brendonlittlereport17_18 nelsonvelazquezreport17_18
As I mentioned in part one of this series I am still working out a clean method of incorporating video for some or all of the prospects discussed. My plan for now is to simply pick one of the prospects in each article and embed a short video segment to give readers a taste of the best, or in the case today, the player they may have seen the least:

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  • Thanks Michael. Other than Alzolay and maybe Hatch, all these pitchers have substantial question marks. Would love to see the Cubs do a better job developing young pitchers.

  • In reply to October:

    To be fair, the Cubs haven't really had a chance to develop Lange or Little yet, De La Cruz's only question mark is health and I do not see anything in his mechanics that is a red flag, he just has run into bad luck. And Albertos is just a teenager and developing nicely so far.

    The Cubs have made some mistakes drafting/developing pitchers over the years. They were too focused on fastball usage and command when Johnson was the coordinator IMO. It set back guys like Maples who perform better when pitching backwards. You can't be one size fits all as an org. They also took the draft philosophy that they could teach guys to throw a breaking ball. I prefer to see a natural feel for spinning a ball and then refining it.

    They have changed course on both fronts in recent years, guys like Maples have more freedom it seems to pitch to their strength when necessary while still working on their deficiencies. And the latest draft definitely shows the team is more focused on finding guys with the ability to throw breaking balls. Lange, Little and Thompson all have above average to plus curves. Abbott and Hecht have great sliders, and so forth.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I’m glad to hear that. Hopefully that greater freedom will pay off down the road. Thanks again for this incredible overview. I can’t even think of a question to ask - it’s all covered!

  • In reply to October:

    You're welcome. And thank you for the kind words.

  • Wow, what an informative run down on the the farm. Thanks! The state of the Cubs minor leagues sounds pretty good. No big impact types like Bryant or can't miss pitching, but lots of upside.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Thanks. The state of health system depends on your expectations.

    If you believe that having plenty of options to come up and plug holes in the MLB roster is valuable than the system is strong.

    If you think that a system is weak unless it regularly produces potential stars then the Cubs system is not for you.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Well, we traded our potential stars for the pitching help that wasn't on the farm.

  • It’s a shame we couldn’t get any better video on Velazquez. :-). A K, 2 pop outs, and a BB was not exciting to watch.

    I’m anxious to see what he does. To hit 8 HR in 126 at bats in AZ with wood bats on ML Fields is incredible.

    I am not as high on Little as you. We have discussed this before. His ranking is solely draft pedigree at this point. He was a train wreck after signing. Regardless of any tweaking done, his performance as a 1st round college draftee in the NWL should have been much better, IMO. He would have been a notch or two below for me. Abbott would be higher on my list.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    I'm definitely taking Little on a little faith here. He was unimpressive with Eugene, but it was just 6 games, in a new environment, while he was making changes, and he was expected to be a bit of a project. Definitely more focused on his upside than production at this point. I did put him in the raw/high risk grouping for a reason. I share your concerns, just not the conviction in writing him off yet.

    My main concern with Little is he did not strike me as an athlete. Slow and stiff compared to other prospects on this list. That doesn't inspire great confidence that he will be able to lock in the adjustments he needs to make.

    I do like Abbott a lot. If I were to place money on who ends up the best player from the 2017 draft class, it would be him. I was on the fence about including him in this tier or the next. Made a great first impression. Good command/control. Good slider. Decent athletebwith strong lower body. Lange's hammer curve and Little's potential three pitch mix (and left handedness) give them slightly higher upside but I think Abbott has the highest floor and lowest risk of the trio.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    You hit the nail on the head, Michael. He is very stiff for a pitcher. Do not see a smooth athlete in him. Looks like a more tightly wound body builder than a pitcher. Very good call.

    He was drafted that high for a reason, so we all hope he develops. I still cannot believe we didn’t grab Nate Pearson. That was my 1 guy I wanted heading into the draft.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    John handled the draft coverage last year so I'm not up to speed on the other options that were available. I see some Sean Marshall in Little's stuff so I am hopeful and would be pleased with that type of outcome from a late 1st round pick. I will say I find it a little weird they went with Little before Lange even. But then again, there just are not many lefties available that have shown mid-90s fastball capability and the Cubs system is lacking lefty arms so may have been a role of the dice to potentially fill an organizational hole.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Abbott was the toughest cut from this group and may well join it by mid-season if he continues down the path he is on on right now.

    Clifton was another difficult decision. The upside is still there to be included with these guys but man, last year was rough on him. There has always been reliever concern with him, but I am not ready to write him off as a starter yet.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    If you search YouTube there is a draft video with Velazquez making some hard contact in BP and exhibition games. I wanted to include this one because it was him as a pro and he looks to have filled out a bit more compared to other video. Also I wanted to support the site that shot the video, Baseball Census, who have been putting out a bunch of stuff from the Arizona complexes for all teams of late, and I want them to continue doing that since I have so little access down there.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I only saw two highlights of him and they were during the playoffs. The one that stood out was his game-breaking Triple (bases loaded if I recall correctly). I saw a lightning fast bat and the ball exploded off his bat into the RF corner. And then got to see him run and looked very good running.

    We are at the mercy of limited resources for sure in the AZ league.

  • I see that Bleacher Report has come out with their 2018 Farm System Rankings. http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2751590-bleacher-reports-updated-farm-system-rankings-at-the-start-of-2018
    They have the Cubs ranked 27th. Not that Bleacher Report is the best source for these sort of things but it does give a good indication of where the Cubs system is at currently. I suspect when the big boys (Baseball America, Fangraphs etc..) come out with their ranks the Cubs will be in the bottom 3rd. Hopefully some of these players will take big steps forward this year.

  • In reply to rockey20:

    Definitely a bottom third system. It is important to note that while all nine of the guys I have covered so far are talented enough to be "Top 100" prospects at some point, only Alzolay among them has actually completed more than a season in full season ball. De La Cruz has missed time due to injury the past two years and Hatch has just one year of experience. The other six spent all or part of last year in short season ball. The Cubs top guys simply do not have long track records which makes it difficult to project them with great conviction.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    On top of that, the majority of the Cubs prospects are pitchers, an inherently less stable and reliable commodity in comparison to position players.

  • In reply to rockey20:

    The Cubs farm being rated 27th out of 30 seems a bit low to me. They don't have the high end talent like Bryant/Schwarber/Baez but have a lot of depth. I guess farm rankings are not really important, it is how much MLB talent they produce.

  • BTW Mike, when Yadi Molina first came up to the Cards, in 2006 he hit 2006, yet his defense led the Dirty Birds to a championship. It took Yadi 4-5 years before his offense showed any real improvement, so maybe one can look at Miguel Amaya in a similiar light.

  • Bruce Levine says the cubs have made a 3 year offer for lorenzo cain. They're goal is cain & cobb or yelich and arrieta also greg holland and reed are in play for closer this is what levine said today on the radio. I think almora or happ(possibly both might be traded)

  • In reply to bolla:

    *Their

  • In reply to bolla:

    Specifically levine said if the cubs sign darvish/arrieta then they'll try to trade for yelich. If the cubs can get cobb for less than 20 mil a year then cain will be their next target.It all depends on the 1st pitching domino to fall.This from a radio appearance thursday

  • In reply to bolla:

    Idk the validity of that rumor, but either option would fit. If Baez is to play second the lineup is going to need left side bats most days in the outfield. Also, it would give the lineup a leadoff and the first 5 batters would be strong.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    IDK about that rumor too. Our FO is very secretive. No way all of that information would get out there if that was indeed their plan.

  • In reply to John57:

    Ha, who cares? I just like to gab about the Cubs.

  • In reply to bolla:

    I believe the Cubs deal for Machado is Yu/Jake is signed. I don’t believe Yellich is available at the right price for the Cubs. Unless Jeter wants to give us a sweetheart deal like he did for the Yanks—Happ and a couple of A ball starters?

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    In reply to rbrucato:

    The Orioles want too much for 1 season of Machado. Also, he hasn't played SS in a long time.

  • In reply to Ray:

    He played 50 games in 2016 and is 25 years old. There is no reason to think he couldn’t play a very good SS. Has great hands, great feet, and a phenomenal arm. 45 days in ST and 20+ games will be all he needs. He was a SS his entire life before the major league team needed and moved him.

    Whether they want too much—that’s entirely possible. We won’t really know until we see what BAL would get in a deal.

  • In reply to bolla:

    Those were Levine's speculation - nothing he got from the front office or other sources.

  • In reply to bolla:

    Levine never said the Cubs made an offer for Cain. He speculated he could be a fit for the Cubs.

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    Would like to see Yelich as a Cub, Cain not so much.

  • In reply to Ray:

    Don’t like the cost of players it would take to acquire Yelich. Cain would just cost money. The trade bullets could be used elsewhere when/if needed.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    There are too many after Yelich. It will cost. I concur Cain is only money, a decent player in his own right and would free up an asset to be used for other needs.

  • In reply to Hubbs16:

    Cain doesn’t fit the model of what Thee stated which is pay for guys enetering “peak” years not past years. Cain is over 30 and over that hump. I just don’t see the fit unless you unload Almora and Happ for a Salazar, for example.

    Also Cain had been an every other year guy. 360 OBP followed by .339. That .339 guys doesn’t play so well for what the Cubs need. Especially at the cost which then prohibits a run at Machado/Harper. I firmly believe the Cubs are thinking of one or both of them. I really do. They would have already locked up Jake/Yu if not. They are trying to get another good/great pitcher without have to shell out $25MM per year.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    I think that that is accurate. Cain just is not an ideal fit. Too old, too right handed, and too much like younger guys that we already have. On the plus side he does run the bases well. I'd pass.

    I quick solution would be if Jason Heyward would become what he once was with Atlanta and St. Louis. Instead he has played like a 4th outfielder.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Theo signed Ben Zobrist at age 35... Cain 31, coming off a .300/.363/.803, 15 HR & 26 SB season. They don’t have to sign him for 7 years... The window is now & he won’t cost the boat load of players that Yelich would. Yelich would be a Cub already if the price was in line.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    I see your point, Milk. I m just not convinced that Cain make much difference. I guess I'm just saying I'd pass.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    That’s fair. I don’t even have a problem letting AlmoraHapp share CF again with that combo or a Almora/Zobrist combo leading off. I’m not stumping for signing Cain, moreso my points is not to use our trade ammo for a CF when we could possibly use them for a greater need while a decent CF is a FA & could be had for just money. That’s all.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    I've been lobbying on here for Yelich because I really think that he would round out the holes in the lineup. I agree that the cost might make Yelich unaffordable or unattainable.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    He definitely would look good in a Cub uniform hitting at the top of the order. No doubt.But as of now, w/out a true closer & a possible ToR need, using the ammo to get Yelich would drain them of valuable resources.

  • fb_avatar

    I was expecting more from Brandon Hughes and Chris Singleton. Both are CFs with skills but didn't translate on the field. Hopefully they can advance and learn and get better results this year.
    Thanks for all the work and the detailed descriptions of each player Michael. It puts everything in perspective. My only quibble would be with Maples. He made such a huge leap last year and if that is sustainable he would be a difference maker in our bullpen.
    6 weeks to go before pitchers and catchers report. I can't wait.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    They are good players that are depth. I am watching the Kelli youngster in the DSL.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    My dark horse to watch is Austin Upshaw. Maybe not for a Cubs MLB spot but more so trade bait as he moves the chain & prospect list...

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    He can hot. I'm not sure about his position. He is best at 1B but they have tried him elsewhere in the infield as well. More pressure on the bat if he seems up as 1B only.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Yeah I remember reading about him when he 1st started out (probably your guys MiLB reports) & wasn’t sure where he’d wind up settling in at. Is he better at fielding 1B than Vogelbach was?

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    Without a doubt. No issues at first. But if that is his only position he'll need to develop power. If he can play some 2B or 3B it will put less pressure on the bat.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    Agree there on Upshaw. I watched him a couple of times last year at South Bend last year and he just looked better than that level despite being young for the league.

    Also the feedback from a couple of stewards about him was very good - I always find time to chat to the stewards at MILB games as these guys are tuned into the guys coming up and making a noise.

  • In reply to Hustlelikereed:

    Yeah, I remember, he got off the draft bus hitting. But that’s cool you get to see the games & talk to guys who know the Cubs system.

  • fb_avatar

    My comment was just eaten. If someone could release it I'd appreciate it.

  • I dont care how low these prospects are in the farm system
    it is better than what we had in the past

  • I dont care how low these prospects are in the farm system
    it is better than what we had in the past

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    MLB network is replaying the 2016 WS from 10-12am now. It's 2-1 Cleveland going into the 4 game. Every time I see this I get worried.
    It never gets old--just nerve-wracking until the final out!

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Just finished watching (DVR version). I still tear up. Probably always will.

  • fb_avatar

    Yup.

  • Very interesting report. I'm curious though. Given the very strong year reliever Daury Torrez posted last year at AA Tennessee, why isn't he considered a Cubs Top 50 prospect. He's not a strikeout pitcher but a 1.40 ERA, 0.918 WHIP and very low walk and HR rate suggests a ML middle relief candidate. Given he's a command pitcher, he almost seems the bullpen version of Kyle Hendricks -- who never made any ML top 100 Prospect lists. But maybe you have some extra inside information you can share.

    P.S. -- Just for kicks, here's Fangraph's 2013 review of Hendricks not long after his promotion to Iowa from AA Tennessee. Got to love the definitiveness of that last line:

    "Kyle Hendricks' numbers immediately jump out: 1.85 ERA, 107 hits allowed in 126.1 innings (7.72 H/9) and just 26 walks (1.85 BB/9). The catch with Hendricks, though, is that he has a fringe-average fastball in the 87-91 mph range. He’s dominated hitters in the minors due to above-average control and command of his four-pitch repertoire (fastball, curveball, cutter, changeup)... Hendricks is definitely not the type of pitcher that’s going to arrive in the Majors and produce... top-of-the-rotation numbers."

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    In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Excellent points!

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Agree with you on Torrez. He isn't just a thumber either. He has a fastball that can hit 93.94 at times. Hope he gets a ST invite.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    On top of the Daury Torrez omission, I'd like to lobby for the inclusion of RHRP Jhon Romero.

    I watched Romero pitch via MiLB.tv last season and he's not overpowering but he's got very good control and was very effective. His FB was 91-93 so he's not a soft-tosser. I can't recall his secondaries off hand (I should've kept notes, but even if I had my computer went haywire and I'm currently waiting to see if they can recover the data).

    Romero is the same age as Bailey (a month and a half younger) but lacks his size (6'4") or draft pedigree. Bailey is a 5th round pick while Romero is 5'10" and an unheralded IFA signee back in 2014 so I can understand him being overlooked. But what he did last season was pretty impressive.

    After two either underused or injury-riddled seasons in '15 and '16 in which he pitched a total of 10.1 innings, Romero started in the AZL and got promoted twice getting better at each level.

    He finished the season giving up just 15 hits, 0 HRs, walking 11 while striking out 53 in 41.2 IP for an ERA of 0.86 and a WHIP of 0.62.

    His numbers in South Bend were even better. 25.2 IP, 7 hits, 5 walks, 34 Ks, 0.35 ERA, 0.43 WHIP. Midwest League hitters batted .085 against him.

    I concede Clark might have a higher ceiling but he needs to regain the velocity and form he had back in college. His control was terrible last year walking 36 in 49 innings, so he's got a ways to go to get back to the type of player he was at Duke.

    Romero is currently much better than him, and this isn't a case of scouting the box scores because the stuff and command is real if not plus. And there's something to be said for consistency. In 22 appearances last season, Romero had 3 games in which he allowed an earned run (2 games in which he allowed 1 and in the other he allowed 2).

    I'm totally nitpicking and would understand you wanting to wait to see what he does in the CL, but I'd certainly have him in the MIR category along with Torrez. But, hey, you gotta draw the line somewhere...

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    I am not speaking for Michael & the guys by no means... But I could see him on their bubble to have made the top 50 & maybe that changes w/another good year &/or regression/continued regression of some others that made it. Stinnett, sepulveda etc...

    The problem I can see them having is splitting the hairs on guys with MIR/bench ceilings. Those 2 ceilings alone can drop their prospect status. If that was their floor then maybe different story.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    All good points. Always tough creating these lists. A player with a strong chance to have a ML career as a bench player is almost always valued far less than a prospect with lots unharnessed high-ceiling skills and no guarantee of "putting it all together." I concede it is hard NOT to rank higher prospects with high ceilings. But on a Top 50 list you'd think there would be room for both the refined grinder and the unrefined raw potential prospect.

    That said, my question on Daury Torrez was an honest one. He was not protected in Rule 5, and no team -- not even one of the many, many tanking teams -- claimed him. Makes you wonder if there is more to the story. Injury? Team player? Etc.

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