In previous entries I took you on a tour of the higher upside players throughout the Cubs system.
In today's installment we focus on the players with ceilings likely to top out as spot or swing starters, middle relievers or bench players. It is a group that may not excite the masses, but these players can still make valuable contributions to the club in the future. After the 16 full prospect reports below I also take a quick run through a group of fringe prospects throughout the system, including a few prospects once rated highly looking to return to form after injuries have sidetracked their careers in recent seasons.
Included in today's reports are names very familiar to regular readers of the Minor League coverage on Cubs Den, and several players that have received invites to Major League camp this spring. It is always possible that a couple of these players exceed my expectations, be it a reliever with borderline electric stuff like Craig Brooks, assuming he can harness his control. Or maybe Duncan Robinson can mix-and-match enough with his five pitch arsenal to grab a full time rotation spot down the line. If you are looking for a potential sleeper on offense, 2017 draftee Austin Upshaw already made a strong impression and jumped into full season ball after signing last year.
In the final installment of this series next week I will examine some of the raw prospects the Cubs had developing in the Rookie Level complexes in Arizona and the Dominican Republic, as well as some of the higher profile IFA signings from last year's class that will be debuting this season. It is a group of players that I have little data on, and even less first hand knowledge of, but as they begin percolating up the system into short and full season ball this year I will draw a more complete picture of each.
Before we leave the full season affiliates however, I want to touch on a handful of fringe prospects that just missed my rankings. In particular, there are three pitchers working their way back from injury that have shown up in previous offseason rankings lists: relievers Corey Black and Jose Rosario, as well as starter Ryan Williams.
Black is completing rehab from his second career TJS this offseason, and there have been encouraging reports from Black himself, who says he is throwing pain free for the first time in years, as well as Cubs Director of Player Development Jaron Madison. Once a Top 10-15 prospect, when healthy the 5'11" righty features a mid-90s fastball, above average slider and average changeup. It is a solid starter's repertoire, but his stature, high effort delivery and lack of command always held him back in that role. Now a full time reliever, Black could work his way back into the picture as bullpen contributor if he performs well in Iowa upon returning.
In 2016, Jose Rosario pulled off the same feat Dillon Maples did last season in starting the year as an afterthought in the Myrtle Beach bullpen before catapulting himself on to the 40 man roster. Maples capped his campaign by making his MLB debut in September, while Rosario had to settle for finishing 2016 in Iowa. He was expected to compete for a bullpen job last spring, but nagging injury and a bout with major control issues ruined his season and he found himself removed from the 40 man roster and unclaimed on waivers by the end of the year. But if he can recapture his mid-to-upper 90s gas and power curve, he to could draw consideration once again.
The future is less certain for Ryan Williams. Once a fast mover through the system and a prime candidate to replace John Lackey at the back of the Chicago rotation, shoulder injuries the past two seasons put his career in doubt. I will continue to root for him to one day regain his plus command and heavy sinking fastball that once made him so intriguing, but the Cubs have signed a number of veteran options to fill out the Iowa rotation this year, so it seems the club is not counting on any contributions from him this season.
There are additional arms listed below that remain interesting follows. I am particularly intrigued by a pair of 2017 draftees: Ricky Tyler Thomas and Ben Hecht. Both possess potential plus secondaries, a changeup for Thomas and slider for Hecht, that could one day make them exciting bullpen options. Thomas could prove especially valuable given the Cubs lack of left handed relief options throughout their system.
The Cubs have also collected a number of athletic middle infielders that may one day develop into useful utility players. Yeiler Peguero made his full season debut in South Bend at just 19 years of age, and actually made the MWL All-Star team at midseason, but his play quickly fell off. Look for him to repeat that level this season, or at least begin the year there, as he looks to get his career back on the fast track. Beyond the athletic up-the-middle-infielders the Cubs also drafted an intriguing corner man out of MIT of all places last season. Austin Filiere shows some range, but lacks ideal fluidity in the field. His career will be determined by his bat however. Right now he is a three true outcomes (power, walks, strikeouts) hitter that needs to learn how to make contact with good breaking balls.
In addition to the athletic infielders, the Cubs also have a bunch of prime physical specimens in the outfield that they are trying to round into true prospects. Speedy Zach Davis learned switch hitting on the fly last season, showing many positive signs. Former pitcher Chris Pieters and former football player Joe Martarano are a pair of big and strong athletes with untapped potential.
Starters: Zach Hedges, Rollie Lacy, Eric Leal, Tyson Miller, Peyton Remy, Manny Rondon, Ryan Williams
Relievers: Luis Aquino, Corey Black, Scott Effross, David Garner, Yapson Gomez, Justin Hancock, Ben Hecht, Chad Hockin, Marc Huberman, Mark Malave, Brad Markey, James Norwood, Manny Rodriguez, Jhon Romero, Jose Rosario, Wyatt Short, Ricky Tyler Thomas, Daury Torrez
Catchers: Tyler Alamo, Michael Cruz, Jhonny Pereda, Will Remillard
Infielders: Jhonny Bethencourt, Austin Filiere, Vimael Machin, Andruw Monasterio, Rafael Narea, Yeiler Peguero, Jared Young, Delvin Zinn
Outfielders: Zach Davis, Brandon Hughes, Kwang-Min Kwon, Joe Martarano, Chris Pieters