2017-18 Offseason Cubs Prospect Rankings: Tier 3 Pitchers

I am going to keep this intro to a minimum due to the amount of player reports contained in this post but be sure to check out my previous installments of this series, beginning with a rundown of the Cubs system and a breakdown of the one potential top-of-the-rotation starter, as well as five middle-of-the-rotation starters and three teenage position players. 

2017_18_prospect_tiers_updatedLast week, I took a look into nine position players from the system with the potential to be regulars or semi-regulars in a Major League lineup. Today, I move on to the pitchers from this tier of my rankings, composed of 17 arms with back-of-the-rotation (BOR) or late inning reliever (LIR) upside.

coryabbottreport17_18 trevorcliftonreport17_18bryanhudsonreport17_18dillonmaplesreport17_18 alecmillsreport17_18 michaelruckerreport_17_18 justinsteelereport17_18 keeganthompsonreport17_18 jenhotsengreport17_18 duaneunderwoodjrreport17_18 javierassadreport17_18baileyclarkreport17_18jeremiahestradareport17_18brailynmarquezreport17_18dakotamekkesreport17_18erlingmorenoreport17_18erichuelmenreport17_18


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  • From all of the non-40-man roster SP we have signed during the
    last 3 months which have any promise

  • From all of the non-40-man roster SP we have signed during the
    last 3 months which have any promise

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    I'm most intrigued by Daniel Camarena, who we signed away from the Yankees org as a 6-year Minor League FA. He is just 25, and kind of has that classic BOR lefty 4 pitch mix, relying on a sinker, good changeup and mixing in his breaking balls. I haven't taken a long look at his 2017 yet, but my first impression tell me there might be something useful there.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    He’s also a NRI on the list posted the other day.

  • Mike, where are you getting your requirements for a scouting scale?

  • In reply to KGallo:

    I'm not clear what you are asking. Are you asking if I am pulling the scouting grades from another source? Or are you asking what criteria I am using to judge their pitches?

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    If you are asking me, for instance, about how I am grading their fastballs, I was always taught that 90-91 was the average velo for a RHP (1-2 MPH less for lefties), although in this day and age with velo trending up I've been leaning toward the higher end of the scale recently. I am then applying my own interpretations regarding the movement of the pitch, as well as factoring in deception and extension. Since I don't have the advanced pitch tracking info available for minor leaguers I have to go off estimates of perceived velo and also off the hitter's reaction.

    You can also probably tell that I am not a big believer in half grades. I don't like the use of 45/55/65 as I believe it is a crutch that allows for too much interpretation and is essentially a way for the evaluator to hedge their bet instead of making call. But that is just personal choice, and you can see that I do use the below average/above average in descriptions of the pitches to give a little more context.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    There is the thing scouting is hard and very detailed. But there are 2 catigories where there is truly baselines. Those are fastballs and speed. 45, 55, 65 and so on are not half grades they are true scouting grades. Yes I know and have known scouts that have grade lower and higher. But they justify with the FB has outstanding movement or is very flat. If this is coming off has being critica or bashing you I am not meaning it too. I scouted for 3 years just giving you some advice. The rest of your reports are great.

  • In reply to KGallo:

    Thanks Kevin. I know you were a scout. And I did not think you were trying to be critical. I absolutely appreciate any advice you can give.

    I know fastballs and running speed have particular baselines that are used in the industry. In regard to fastballs I have to say that I've never understood why it is so rigid though. Movement plays such a big part. Perceived velocity is also now not just a thing that we understood to exist, but can actually track (though not in MiLB yet). Velocity is also something that is inconsistent, both due to natural factors as well as intentional ones by the pitcher himself. And since I do not have access to ask pitchers if they are working on new grips or tinkering in some other way in some starts it can make it difficult to evaluate when fluctuations occur.

    Plus, since average velocity does seem to be increasing across the league, especially out of the pen, I've considered whether teams have chosen internally to make an adjustment to that scale. And since I'm not affiliated with a team and these are not being used as a cross check by other scouts where an agreed upon scale is necessary I've chosen to allow my own preferences to override the scale in these reports and I've treated the pitch more like I do the secondaries.

    Also, just from a technical standpoint, since I did not get to see most of these guys in person last year and aren't getting my own readings off a gun, I am reliant on the game broadcasts as well as my own eyeball estimates of velocity since I simply do not have access to pitch by pitch radar readings. So just that factor alone makes it difficult for me to stick too strictly to the true scale since I am having to rely on my own interpretation anyway.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Long story short, since this is meant mostly to be an informative series, rather than straight scouting, I've chosen to grade fastballs based more on potential MLB effectiveness rather than arm strength.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I figure some readers will focus more on the numberical grades than textual analysis so I wanted to better contextualize how the pitch plays in the numerical grade rather than give false impressions based solely on velo.

  • In reply to KGallo:

    There is the rest of your work, too, Michael. You see, I am a writer, and I would be happy to give you my expert opinions on being a good writer, because I am a writer. You are a good writer, but you would be a better writer if you listened to me, because I am a writer, and did I mention I am a writer? Have I not mentioned in every comment I've ever made that I am a writer, so every other reader hear who imagines themselves a writer is not worthy of being a writer, because I am a writer. You are not a good writer, because I am a writer. Did I mention I am a writer?

    Sorry, everyone. This is something that gets under my skin.

    Thank you, Michael. One thing I totally respect out of you and John was your humility in admitting you are not scouts. I trust your opinions more than someone who constantly beats his own drum and looks down on your work.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    Sorry, KGallo. That comment was not meant to you. I was talking to the rest of the Cubs Den community. We are really hurting, because we are not scouts. Our opinions are pretty weak because we are not scouts, and you are a scout, so you teach us, because we are not scouts, and you are a scout.

    I would cherish the opportunity to sit with you at a game full of kids. I would learn something from you, and I would teach you things.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    BP, Love ya brother, but I think you are a little harsh here. I believe Kevin was only sharing with Michael that what Michael deemed a “half grade” he was not comfortable using was a true scouting grade. I think they both shared their position and articulated it well.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    You're right. I had a bad day, a few beers, and an opinion.

    I know Michael doesn't need my help, but it's just in my nature to protect people.

    KGallo, I didn't mean any disrespect, but I would also like to see some respect. I've read your comments for years. We know you are a scout. I do take offense at how you use that title to dismiss other people's opinions. There are many knowledgeable people here, and many have played ball or scouted teams. I'm almost 50 and I can still sling a ball about 80 MPH, and I got a wicked slider. Just saying that I respect everyone's opinion no matter where they come from.

    A few words to mellow a tense situation that was my fault:

    "Spent my days with a woman, unkind.
    Smoked my stuff and drank all my wine."

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    In reply to BarleyPop:

    59 in two weeks and can still throw hard and toss a football 50 yards. . I enjoy your posts. have a good one Barley.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    Thanks, Ironman. But again, sorry to you, KGallo. Just a little misplaced aggression on my part. Had a bad day and a buzz. But I don't like anyone dismissing anyone else's opinion because they feel they are superior.

  • This is great stuff Michael, thanks for putting these together. Hopefully a pitcher or two will exceed expectations in the near future.

  • We need good young SP pitcher from any source they are our
    future. Signing FA SP costs to much money

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    I do believe that Alzolay will be ready before too long. He can potentially be a guy that you feel comfortable giving the ball to in a playoff game.

    Hatch and De La Cruz (assuming he can stay healthy) are right behind him. Hatch is a solid BOR guy and potentially more if he can take another step forward in his command and consistency. De La Cruz has the same upside as Alzolay, but has to be considered a health risk at this point despite having avoided the knife up to this point.

    That is 3 guys that are all going to be knocking on the door in the next year and a half to two years. Just getting one of them to meet expectations would go a long way.

    From the group covered in this post, I also have a good feeling about Cory Abbott. I think he can move quick and get the impression he could exceed expectations.

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    Another great job Michael. I can't imagine all he work it takes to bring this all together, so thank you.
    I am very intrigued by Hatch. It seems like he had periods of great control and then not. As you said, he can be a very good pitcher IF he can be more consistent, but maybe settling in can help, as well as a new pitching coach. My feeling is that he will and that we will see him up with the Cubs during the 2018 season.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Hatch got off to rough start with his control which was out of character. He made some mechanical adjustments to his arm path throughout the season which made a difference but he never did seem to settle into much consistency. I'm hoping he is more locked in this year. If so, I think he could see a sizeable jump and wouldn't be surprised if he pushes his way on to the roster come September.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Michael, are the Cubs in some way to blame for Hatch’s rough 2017? Seems like they’ve had some missteps developing pitchers, and i’m wondering if this is another example. And thanks for all your work on this - great piece!

  • In reply to October:

    I don't think so. This was Hatch's first pro season, and considering he missed one of his college seasons due to injury some inconsistency was expected. There was even a big positive from last year in the development of his changeup. Hatch was apparently pretty much FB/SL in college, enough so that scouts thought he might end up in the pen. But Hatch's changeup developed into a strong pitch in 2017, IMO it can be better than his slider. He now has three average or better pitches and I think most of that relief concern has evaporated. Now just needs to prove he can stay healthy, consistent and handle the workload. I think he can.

  • In reply to October:

    I think the developmental missteps made have been overblown. I can nitpick a few things, but the root of the issue is mostly the lack of premier talent. The Cubs didn't prioritize pitchers in the draft or IFA. On top of that, in the players they did draft/sign I think they went a little too far into toward prioritizing guys with certain physical traits and good projected health, and rarely rolled the dice on guys with just pure arm strength or talent to spin a breaking ball. You need to strike a balance in that regard and I think the Cubs tilted too much on the "safe" end of that spectrum for a few years and didn't give themselves enough lottery ticket types.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    If you are looking for something positive out of what I just described, the guys the Cubs have brought in have stayed relatively healthy on the whole. Very few major injuries, so the physical and kinesthetic traits they have been prioritizing may have some validity.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Thanks Michael. That’s good to hear. I actually think we may be set up nicely for pitching in 2019, with a healthy Smyly and hopefully one or two of the prospects breaking through.

  • Michael, hats off for a fine, detailed and comprehensive report. I look at various clubs minor league systems as in relation to the big club's window for playoffs/world series entries. Some place the Cubs WS window out to 2021 but that is fantasy unless this roster adds/subtracts significantly next winter. It actually is more like 2019 with playoffs running to 2020. Also it is quite a feat that the Cubs built a lot from their system and now are in FA fill in land.

    To review around the diamond where I count system players that include trades for minor league players = *, C, 1B*, 2B, SS*, 3B*, LF*, CF, reserve IF*, OF, C* or on the diamond 2 FA, (+ reserve catcher). Starters are one, while bullpen possesses just two system developed relievers.

    But in this position Cubs have pretty much used up their trade assets bar a possible Caratini who appears cemented to being groomed as a PT/platoon bench player at C and the IF. So trades will be difficult to manufacture where now the system has create a couple diamonds in the rough, plus draft a smart pick or two. It is why Darvish is so valuable in that he does not cost develop position and allows them to pick up Arrieta's supplemental draft position. It appears to be a grind with smart IFA acquisitions and sound drafts.

    What I am trying to say is the Cubs have to rebuild their system. That will be the story of the next two to three years.

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    I disagree with the 2019 window assessment. I do believe the Cubs system is strong enough to begin supplementing the pitching staff beyond 2019. Alzolay, Hatch, De La Cruz, Maples are all good bets to factor in by that time and there are plenty of complimentary pieces as well.

    The system is going to see a huge influx of talent this year. They are going to be out of the penalty period in IFA so watch for them to bring in a big haul. They also will have extra pick and draft capital once Arrieta signs elsewhere so the incoming draft class should be good as well.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Extra draft pick from Davis as well.

    There is going to be a huge influx of talent later this year.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    good to know, but pessimistic until it all emerges in the real at AAA and AA. I can see Maples in the pen, replace Grimm's position this year, maybe after ST as Grimm probably dealt to save a few millions. Like to see one of your three really push to be there when the inevitable injury comes along. this summer. Surprise us with a couple good outings.

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    I disagree with the 2019 window assessment also. Almost all the position players are under team control through 2021. Looks like ther is some promising pitching coming up from the minors. Also, should have 4 picks before the 3rd round in this years draft.

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    Michael, nice job on the updates of the minors as usual.

  • Ditto the good jobs Michael. Thank you.

    The window is there thru the signing or leaving of our big gun core guys & development/trading of existing & soon to be draft picks &/or current players. I wouldn’t put an end year on it. A possible end year sure. But you can’t write em all off. Getting a Harper &/or Machado after this season, depending on years signed, actually extends or opens the window wider. There’s a lot of variables before determining that window closing. I see it like 2016 & Michael as a minimum of 2021, but for me, hopefully beyond like the Braves run w/Smoltz, Glavine, Maddux etc..

  • It’ll be interesting to see what happens after 2021. Can the Cubs stay competitive? Or do we become like the Phillies, Giants, Tigers - another team that winds down its window with several years of big contracts, aging players, and a depleted system? Theo and Jed set such an example with a great rebuild. Could they do the same with keeping the window open?

  • In reply to October:

    I have little doubt they can remain competitive because this group of hitters should age well and remain productive beyond that time. They will obviously need help from the system to replace guys they lose but a few current prospects will be ready by then, as well as last year's draft class (which I like) and any college players they bring in this upcoming July should as well.

  • Michael........as always, great information. To understand how difficult it is for any team to draft and develop pitchers, below is a little information since this FO took over with the Cubs.

    MLB 2012 Draft: 5 pitchers with Career WAR of 5.0 or better

    MLB 2013 Draft: 2 pitchers with Career WAR of 5.0 or better

    MLB 2014 Draft: 1 pitcher with Career WAR of 5.0 or better

    MLB 2015 Draft: 1 pitcher with Career WAR of 0.1 or better (yes, 0.1)

    MLB 2016 & 2017 Drafts: No pitchers to register a WAR reading

    While there are very few MOR-TOR pitchers that have been drafted and developed through the MLB draft in baseball, there are quite afew useful bullpen arms that have been drafted by various teams since 2012. There just arn't as many as we may all think.

    Now, I expect out FO to be better than any other FO.

    However, when the top 3 WAR pitchers drafted since 2012 are Marcus Stroman (10.8 WAR), Alex Wood (10.4 WAR) and Kevin Gausman (8.0 WAR), it seems to me that everyone has trouble in this area.

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    In reply to TexasCubsFan:

    Thanks Texas, that really puts things in perspective. We gripe here about our lack of pitching development and talent but it seems like it's hard for everyone. Also, look at the Mets a few years ago--everyone envied their pitching staff and it couldn't stay healthy. Everyone thought Mark Appel was terrific and he has yet to see the majors. I wanted Jon Gray instead of KB and he has been good (a 5.5 WAR) but KB has been outstanding with a WAR of 19.7. This FO knows it's position players and although our pitchers are coming it will be at least a few more years before our top prospects are here, if they even make it.

  • In reply to TexasCubsFan:

    Excellent point, TCF.
    Pitching is hard!

  • Nice job Michael with all of the information. After reading it I am guarded optimistic. There seems like a good amount of talent there. We just have to see how much percolates to the majors.

  • Great work!

    I'm gonna beat the old Sean Marshall horse for a bit.

    Dillon Maples was drafted as a starter and from scouting reports had the physicality of a guy who could cover the workload.
    I understand there were some injuries in the beginning and virtually zero success as a starter. I understand the argument that he found his niche in the pen and the desire to allow him to succeed in that role.
    Maples appears to have incredible talent that teams would want to pitch as many innings as possible. Isn't the upside worth the chance? The pen is crowded and he can always revert back a relief role if that's what the team needs.
    Am I alone here?

  • In reply to bwitty:

    No, not alone. Some of the best relievers were starters 1st. That’s why I cringe a little when a starter who pitched well in low A, A, then high A, struggles some at AA & gets labeled only a reliever if he can make majors... I use Underwood as an example & Edwards (to a lesser extent because of his slight frame)... Both Had so much promise as ToR potential. The former is being talked about as a future BP piece & the latter already is.

    So I agree. Keep em starting until needed to be groomed as a reliever or an injury forces call up.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    Yes you do want to have them start as long as possible. It forces them to work on their full repertoire and can also speed up their development because it gets them innings and experience quicker.

    They are currently doing the same with Bailey Clark who very likely ends up in the pen eventually. Others like Clifton, Rucker, Uelmen have better chances to remain starters but pen still more likely

  • In reply to bwitty:

    Dillon Maples cannot start. He would run up huge pitch counts and would not be able to get deep into games. He could regularly rack up 100 pitches to get through 4-5 innings. His control is just not good enough for that role.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Yeah, you're right. He would need to be able to throw many more strikes than he is currently doing though there has been improvement.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Yeah, good point on Maples. I believe he had an awkward delivery when 1st drafted as well. I knew he threw hard.

  • I hope we have our full amount of money for the July international
    draft. If so, should be able to get many great prospects

  • I hope we have our full amount of money for the July international
    draft. If so, should be able to get many great prospects

  • Ditto, ditto.

  • Great stuff Michael. You've put in a ton of work on this and it's nice to see where some of the prospects are projected with their current talent level, etc.

    One question though. You said in Justin Steele's profile that "Before Steele's injury his ceiling" and didn't complete the thought. I was curious as to what his ceiling was projected to be before the injury.

  • Would it be possible to include the date with each column? I can't always read every day and that would help me understand the context of the posts and comments.


  • The Cubs announced their Non Roster Invites. Will be cool to see Young & Vosler in ST along w/some of the pitchers. See what they have in Camarena & Ryan for LH depth & how Hatch looks facing advanced hitters.

  • Great series Michael, appreciate all your work.

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    MLB trade rumors reported that the Cubs just signed......1B/OF Efren Navarro. I just don't understand this signing. He's 31, strikes out at a 30% clip, not fast, and a low OBP. I would play Caratini every day over Navarro and I would think that the Cubs would have many like him in the minors.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Ask Bolla. He has inside information on the Cubs. If you don't believe me just look at what he said about the Cubs signing Darvish last Friday ... oh never mind.

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    You can mock me all you want. I'll have the last laugh

  • In reply to bolla:

    You said he was signing last Friday. You said "bet the house on it". How can you have the last laugh?

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    I actually did bet my house and now I'm homeless. Thanks, bolla

  • In reply to Kramerica20:


  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    Does it really matter? Darvish to the cubs is 99% happening.Unless another team like the dodgers or yankees make a last second push nobody left will outbid the cubs. So If I was off a few days it oh well. The most important thing is signing the best starting pitcher on the free agent market and the cubs are about to do that.

  • Ouch, tough break Kramerica20.

  • The cubs farm sucks. Not one tier 1 prospect on any level. I hope theo seriously replenishes the farm and some guys like de la cruz,ademan,amaya,albertos make major strides. I'm sorry the botes and voslers of the worlds aren't gonna get it done

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    Thanks for your work Michael! Still fun for me to read about the next crop even if it's not as glamorous as a few years ago. Anyone know when and how the Cubs will announce level assignments?

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