2017-18 Offseason Cubs Prospect Rankings: Rookie Level Prospects to Watch

We already discussed a few of the most exciting players deployed in the lower levels of the system in previous installments. Starting pitchers Jeremiah Estrada and Brailyn Marquez have been praised by many outlets for their MOR upside. Two other teenagers, athletic outfielders Nelson Velazquez and Jonathan Sierra possess as much raw power as any prospects currently in the system, and Velazquez was already making it translate on the field in the months after being chosen in the 2017 draft.

Prospect Series Links: TOR/All-Star Regular, MOR/Above Avg Regular, BOR/LIR, Avg Regular/Semi-Regular, Swing Starter/MIR/Bench Player

A few of these names are undoubtedly familiar to followers of the Minor league coverage on this site. Throughout July and August it seemed Fernando Kelli became a fixture in the daily recaps. DSL breakout performers Luis Hidalgo and Didier Vargas became frequent topics as well.

rookielevelprospects_17_18Kelli (.320/.437/.447) became one of the biggest stories in the system during the second half of the season thanks to a huge step forward at the plate in his second DSL campaign. He also began translating his athleticism and plus speed on the basepaths. Finishing the year among the league leaders in most statistical categories, he blew away the competition in the stolen base department. His 58 stolen bases were 23 more than his nearest competitor. During one 35 game stretch Kelli swiped 44 bases in 51 attempts.

Fernando Kelli

Fernando Kelli

While many of his fellow 2013 IFA signees such as Eloy Jimenez, Gleyber Torres and Jen-Ho Tseng are knocking on the door of Major League rosters, Luis Hidalgo saw his first action stateside when he was called up from the DSL to help the Cubs win the AZL championship. It may not seem like a 21-year old in that situation bears much attention, but Hidalgo made an impressive 2014 debut in the VSL after signing as an athletic C/OF before a severe leg injury sidetracked his career. Hidalgo struggled in limited action the following two seasons in the VSL and DSL. When he returned to the island last spring, frankly I had given up on him, but Hidalgo did not share that outlook. Hidalgo began to hit as the season progressed and never stopped, not even after he arrived in Mesa. Hidalgo will be an interesting follow in 2018, especially if they try to push him to South Bend to begin the season.

Panama proved fruitful for the Cubs in 2015 when they snagged top catching prospect Miguel Amaya with a modest signing bonus. They may have found another diamond in the rough in 2016 with left handed starter Didier Vargas. Secured with a $60K signing bonus, Vargas is good athlete who throws in the low-90s, and made an immediate impact in the DSL. As we have discussed throughout the season DSL numbers are not always indicative of future success, so enthusiasm should remain tempered, but a 0.99 ERA is a 0.99 ERA regardless of what level it came at.

A couple of hard throwers to point out are Danis Correa and Yunior Perez. Both are capable of reaching the upper 90s but at this point are little more than arm strength prospects still in need of rounding out the rest of their repertoire. Eury Ramos has drawn some praise as potential bullpen piece down the road as well.

Yonathan Perlaza was a high profile member of the 2015 IFA class that so far has been outshined by many in that group. There is still good bat speed and strength that could one day translate into increased offense though. He is and example of the type of player that would have benefited from the extra playing offered by a second AZL team. I am glad the Cubs have taken the steps to remedy the situation beginning this year and hopefully will continue to field two teams in that league every year moving forward.

Yonathan Perlaza

Yonathan Perlaza

Other infielders to keep an eye on include Christopher Morel, a player who missed his first season after a household accident, but caught John's eye leading up to last season. His pro debut proved inconsistent but he still managed to flash statistically at times. After being selected in the 14th round of last year's draft, 18-year old Luis Vazquez debuted in Mesa down the stretch, showing some slick hands at shortstop. Orian Nunez is undersized, and isn't considered a great defender, but his bat might put him on the map one day.

Finally, a handful of 2017 IFA signings round out the list. Despite still being in the penalty phase after their 2015 IFA splurge, and thus limited to signing bonuses of no more than $300K, the front office still managed to reel in a pair of Top 40 talents from the class. And they did it by dipping once again into a non-traditional market, Mexico, where the players are already property of a professional league. MLB teams must compensate the Mexican club on top of the signing bonus required in order to sign a player. This fact keeps some competing teams away, despite those funds not counting against the IFA spending limits,  because it in essence means you get less bang for the buck. But for a club like the Cubs with plenty of cash and looking to restock the farm with as much talent as possible it has proven an attractive "loophole." It has yielded in recent years not only my top prospect in the system, Jose Albertos, but also Isaac Paredes, a key trade piece at last year's deadline.

Orian Nunez

Orian Nunez

Hopefully athletic shortstop Luis Verdugo and right handed starter Florencio Serrano can follow in their footsteps this coming season. The pair were considered the top two prospects from Mexico and the Cubs secured both. Verdugo is a bit undersized at this point, without much speed or power, but according to Baseball America is instinctive, with a strong arm and smooth hands in the field, and possesses some upside with his hit tool. Already fluent in English, Serrano's traits include a fastball that has touched 94, some feel for a changeup, but most exciting is the potential for a plus power curveball.

The Cubs continued to look to other non-traditional markets as well. They committed a maximum bonus to Colombian SS Fabian Pertuz. Cuba would likely be considered a traditional market along with the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, but due to the nature of players needing to defect, and like Mexico the prospects getting exposure to a professional league before departing, the route many of the players take is certainly not traditional. Such is the case with 20-year old catcher Alexander Guerra. He began playing in the Serie Nacional as a 17-year old in 2015 (.152/.219/.248 in 49 games) before making big strides at the plate as an 18-year old the following year (.267/.375/.465). He sat out last season after defecting. Given his age and prior experience it seems possible that Guerra will begin next year with a full season affiliate despite his time away, but if he requires time to adjust to the language and/or culture we may see him begin the season in extended spring training.

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  • fb_avatar

    Hope springs Eternal Michael. These are some of my favorite articles and again thank you for all the work you do to put these together.
    I am really excited to see how Kelli does here in the US. If he can succeed he could be our answer to a lead-off man with speed and defense. I see a lot of promise but maybe not the elite prospects we had in the past, but then again Contreras came from "nowhere" and is now a vital core with the Cubs. Who else will do that?
    It's an exciting time for Cubs fans.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Thanks. I have either barely seen, or in many cases not seen, the players in this article. So it offers me the opportunity to dream that maybe there is a diamond in the rough that is just waiting to break out into a star.

  • Do you see the Cubs opening up a 2nd academy somewhere else? Mexico or Columbia?

  • In reply to Gator:

    I doubt it. At least not any time soon. Mexico has an established professional league that already offers young players a path. I don't think there is enough volume for Columbia or Panama yet. There are private academies that train players and send them to the major events right now. For instance, Fabian Pertuz, who the Cubs signed out of Columbia last year trained at an academy run by former big league shortstop Orlando Cabrera.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Gator:

    With family members from the country I just wanted to note it is Colombia and not Columbia. No insult intended. Just want to give a shout out to something that is a pet peeve to Colombians.

  • In reply to Dave Sampsell:

    Ha. I spelled it right in the article, then did it wrong in the comments.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Thanks for pointing it out

  • In reply to Dave Sampsell:

    Yes I just saw that. I am sorry. I normally catch that

  • Articles like this one are really fun to read. I would not be surprised if one or two make an impact on the Cubs.

  • Yeah, thanks Michael!

    With the Cubs winning now & promoting/trading their best prospects is that it’s created a lot of new opportunities for those under the radar guys to attempt to fill the voids created.

    With that, I also like the fact of them being the under dogs ranked near the bottom of the league for their minors. You know Theo, Jed n Jason see this as a new challenge, along w/getting MLB Cubs back to WS, to move back up the MiLB ladder w/out “tanking” the big club. There’s just something about their competiveness & confidence that I know they’ll surprise the industry w/that 2nd rebuild to be back sooner rather than later.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    The main reason that I do not worry about the system right now is that their MLB team should remain stable for the near future. Position players rarely suffer career altering injuries. Pitching is a concern, but they have 6 MLB quality SPs under contract, and another (Smyly) that could be ready for next year. Plus, the Cubs do have a lot of pitching depth in their system, even if they don't have a ton of potential TOR options. Bullpen will see some turnover in coming years, but those spots should be easier to fill internally, especially if the SPs stay healthy and guys like Alzolay/De La Cruz/Hatch/Lange/etc. need to break into the majors out of the pen because there isn't room in the rotation.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I agree. But eventually they’re going to need in season trade ammo in case of injury, declining, performances, players not living up to expectations &/or a “go for it” type move... & offseason for upgrading team. Yes they’ll have FA, but if they’re near the luxary cap w/raises, arbs etc, due existing roster, they may not be able to go that route.

    I just think it’s their new challenge for them & they’re just the guys to pull it off sooner rather than later. Whether it’s some of these guys in your article here & in the others making huge strides may be a big part of that along w/new IFAs, drafts & maybe other under the radar, to most, type moves... I see this FO surprising people.

  • fb_avatar

    Really cool article. Thanks for writing it. So many of these guys are just so young you can't be certain who will suddenly pop up. Not exactly the same thing but I recall years ago someone on this site writing about Candelario and it just felt like he would eventually find his way to the majors. A few years later and there he is, ready to help Detroit. A few of these guys sound like they may have a legit shot!

  • Thanks Michael really looking forward to Spring training this year especially when the minors league ST games get started.

  • Can't wait to see how we improve our farm system after the draft
    (3 picks in the first 2 rounds) and the international market.
    Mexico seems to our new place to sign intermational players

  • Can't wait to see how we improve our farm system after the draft
    (3 picks in the first 2 rounds) and the international market.
    Mexico seems to our new place to sign intermational players

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to emartinezjr:

    Not only that, but I believe that on July 1 we can sign IFA again. I trust our scouts to find talented players out there too.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    If Arrieta signs it will be 4 picks in the first 2 rounds.

  • Can't wait to see how we improve our farm system after the draft
    (3 picks in the first 2 rounds) and the international market.
    Mexico seems to our new place to sign intermational players

  • Another great installment, Michael. Thank you. No offense intended, maybe it's the Valentine's Day vibe in the air, but damn I miss John. We are excited by pitchers and catchers reporting; he'd be experiencing it and sharing with us all. There is nothing that equals that first-hand experience. Couple that with John's unique baseball acumen, ability and hunger to share, and his burgeoning photographic talents, and we are all less fortunate this time around. I am thankful John was able to live his dream, howere briefly.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    No need to apologize for those sentiments

  • A little filter help? Thanks.

  • Slightly off topic but since we are being enlightened on players most of us know very little about, Cubs signed Shae Simmons to a minor league deal. Looks like he had good numbers in both minors and majors (small sample) pre-Tommy John and Mariners gave up on him. Any additional G2?

  • In reply to charactercounts:

    He still has a big fastball (95-97), but hasn't been able to stay healthy the past three years (missed all of 2015 with TJS). Before injury he was expected to be a big part of the back of the Braves bullpen post-Kimbrel. Good success in 2014 for Atlanta. Missed time in 2017 with strained elbow. His breaking ball is kind of slurvy and his control has suffered since returning, but they may be in part because he hasn't been able to stay on the mound and get consistent work.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Very true, and I am beginning to notice a pattern of this FO of targeting pitchers who are two (or so) years out from TJ surgery. The MO for several years has been to target top-end bats, and attack pitching through quantity. We can debate the strategy, but the results (and the ring) work for me.

    Simmons seems to be more of the same: strong arm, high pedigree, post-surgery. Low risk and high upside. I like it, and it fits the pattern.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to BarleyPop:

    Sounds like a low risk how reward signing. If he recovers he could be a big part of the BP going forward; if not, there's no problem. I like the fact that Theo is always trying to find talent and it doesn't matter if he has to wait a year or two for it to shine.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Yes. I like the flyer signings as well, taking shots. Of course they aren’t all going to work out, but who knows, a relief stud, set up or a MoR/BoR swingman, could emerge... & could even become trade material. It seems they have a stash of these kind of guys. Worse case, no problem like you said.

    They can still try to win now with Darvish, Morrow etc. signings while keeping an eye toward the future. It does not have to be one or the other.

  • Signing young player how had an iinjury in the past is a good gamble

  • Hmmmm..........4 players on the list that were born in 2000. I guess I better get used to seeing 2000-something birth years on our players.

  • In reply to TexasCubsFan:

    Very young talent might just be as good

  • In reply to TexasCubsFan:

    I count 5 players born in 2000.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John57:

    I have socks older than that! The years fly by...

  • fb_avatar

    I just saw that Junior Lake was signed to a minor league deal by he Mariners. He's still just 28 but his career never took off like we thought.
    He was one of the original core too. I wish him well.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    I was hoping they would move him to a closer role to take advantage of his ticket arm. He was never going to stick as an everyday hitter. Lots of raw talent in that guy.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    Rocket arm—how does auto correct do that. Jeez.

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