Spring Training Prospect Notes: Who's the next Isaac Paredes?

Jonathan Sierra

Jonathan Sierra

I'm not a fan of entitling articles by asking a question, but I promise you my intention behind the choice was not meant as click bait. There is competition playing out in Minor League camp among some of the Cubs young prospects for an opportunity to skip a level in the system and put themselves on the fast track and I don't know which will end up earning it, if any. Had I been interested in the most click baity title I would have gone with "who's the next Gleyber Torres?" But none of the players involved this year have quite the same pedigree, so I prefer to set expectations properly with the more realistic (and recent) example, Issac Paredes.

If a position player shows an advanced feel at a young age, the Cubs have shown no hesitation in challenging them. Torres not only skipped the Dominican Summer League completely, but he essentially skipped the Northwest League as well, appearing in just 7 games at the level near the end of 2014 after spending most of his first professional season in the Arizona League. He began the following year in the full season Midwest League as an 18-year old. Eloy Jimenez did spend one season each in Mesa and Eugene, but like Torres he never toiled in the DSL, and despite his one extra year in short season, still debuted in the MWL as a teenager in 2016.

Carlos Sepulveda

Carlos Sepulveda

The trend extends beyond just their high profile signings. Carlos Sepulveda went from the AZL in 2015, to the MWL in 2016 at the age of 19. Yeiler Peguero made the same transition in 2017. Paredes also debuted in South Bend last year, but as an 18-year old. While he did play for Eugene the year before, he did so because he skipped over the AZL in 2016.

Last season saw two other prime examples. A pair of 18-year olds, Aramis Ademan and Miguel Amaya, both debuted stateside in Eugene after spending the previous summer in the DSL. Ademan showed enough in his short time there to earn a promotion to South Bend for the final month and is even being given the opportunity to start 2018 with Myrtle Beach. It is a good bet that Amaya will spend most, if not all of 2018 in South Bend at age 19.

Aramis Ademan (photo by Stephanie Lynn)

Aramis Ademan (photo by Stephanie Lynn)

There are fewer examples of high school draft picks, given the Cubs emphasis on drafting collegiate position players with their premium picks, but they did handle their most advanced prep pick in the same manner as their international signings. Albert Almora Jr. split his only short season campaign between Mesa and Boise after signing in 2012, before beginning his first full season as a pro in the Midwest League at 19-years old.

So which teenagers in the system should we expect to skip a level this season, or to debut in April when South Bend begins their 2018 schedule?

The most likely candidates appear to be 19-year old outfielders Nelson Velazquez and Jonathan Sierra. Both were key players in Mesa as the AZL club captured the league title last fall and are receiving first team reps with South Bend this spring. I find it unlikely the Cubs would open the season with both players on the roster, as South Bend does have several older prospects competing for time in the outfield corners as well, but when your high ceiling prospects show they are ready, you make room for them.

Velazquez is raw, but a potential five-tool player who already flashed plus power last season (.236/.333/.536 with 8 HR, 5 SB), even if it is was combined with scary strikeout rates (31.0%). Still, it proved an impressive debut for the 2017 5th round pick. If Velazquez shows he is ready to make more frequent contact the club will undoubtedly want to see his dynamic abilities play out over the course of a full season.

Receiving a $2.5M bonus as part of the 2015 IFA class, Sierra was expected to be a long term project, but one that could eventually pay off with a premier left handed power hitter. He was a lanky 16-year old at the time of his signing with natural pop that reminded some of Darryl Strawberry. Over the past two years, Sierra has filled out his frame and is now built more like a bull than a beanpole.

While he possesses impressive batting practice power he has been unable to translate that raw strength into game situations due to issues identifying breaking balls away and a swing featuring long levers that might remind some of Jason Heyward. There is a ton of upside though if he can get everything straightened out. Once it clicks for Sierra he's the type of athlete that could move quickly. Whether that time is now is the open question. Extended spring training and then Eugene may be the better course.

Breakout DSL star Fernando Kelli is also a good bet to debut stateside in Eugene rather than the AZL, but as a player turning 20 at midseason, it isn't as much of a leap. There is the possibility that the Emeralds end up with an exciting outfield containing all three players but I believe it is becoming more likely that Kelli but only one or neither of the two corner guys play there.

Luis Diaz

Luis Diaz

Turning our attention to the infield, an assignment to South Bend is likely a bridge too far for 18-year old infielder Luis Diaz, but he is participating with that group this spring. Undersized, but possessing a polished bat, Diaz made a significant leap at the plate (.273/.374/.466 with 8 HR) in his second DSL campaign in 2017. It seems a good bet he will skip the AZL and fill either the starting 2B or 3B job at Eugene.

Keep a close eye on Christopher Morel as well. He won't turn 19 until June, and the SS/3B spent 2017 in the DSL (.220/332/.359 with 7 HRs) after he missed the entire 2016 season recovering from a household accident, so you would expect the Cubs to be taking a slower approach with his development. However, like Sierra he is another player that could be poised for breakout now that his body is maturing.

Christopher Morel

Christopher Morel

Despite his wiry frame, the way the ball jumped off his bat intrigued John immensely last spring. Given the first team reps Morel is receiving with South Bend it seems quite possible John identified one final under-the-radar prospect with big upside for us to observe moving forward. His usage indicates he will at the very least skip over the AZL and join Diaz with Eugene, with the potential to see the MWL in the final month, just as Ademan did. But it is not out of the realm of possibility Morel cracks the South Bend lineup come April, especially if Ademan jumps to Myrtle Beach.

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  • Michael "Click Bait" Ernst. It just doesn't sound or feel right considering what you do. We all appreciate it, and thank you.

    I won't pretend to know what you do about the youngsters in the system and their potential impact, but there has been a lot of speculation here about next year's free agent class, the availability of impact positional talent in the coming years, and how they may influence some near-term decisions. We have several picks in this year's amateur draft in the 2nd-3rd round-range thanks to Arrieta and Davis, and some decisions to make. I've seen people comment that we should gamble on younger guys with higher ceilings, but I believe we sbould try to grab a couple more established college bats to help ease the transition of when this positional core begins to break up.

    If some of these guys you've just mentioned can fill those roles in the next 2-3 seasons, great. But this FO always has a multi-year plan. The pitchers coming along should help fill the void as our signed big-league staff begin to expire and depart, so the pendulum has swung in that direction. But I am beginning to see a need on the positional side, although it is 3-4 years away.

    I have faith in the FO.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    My guess is they refocus on college bats. They've gone so pitching heavy the last couple of years that they literally don't have enough rotation spots at SB and MB to handle all of them.

    Obviously it will all depend on who ends up being available, but they have 5 relatively high picks, and my guess is they grab 1-2 college bats. And then it wouldn't shock me if they grabbed a couple prep bats as well. I bet they only end up with 1-2 pitchers with those picks.

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    I am very much looking forward to the draft and the IFA signings that we are now free to do. With our scouting staff I hope that we can get a few highly thought of IFA--who wouldn't want to play for the Cubs. We don't have an elite talent in the system now that I see. Of course, there might be a Willson Contreras in there that the light hasn't gone off for yet, but even he had a very strong arm and his SO rate wasn't 30%. Why can't the Cubs sign a Moncada or Robert like the Sox did?
    With the number of picks we have I look forward to this draft, although we won't know for a few years what exactly we have.
    Thanks for these names to watch Michael. This is what I loved John doing too.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Cubs were in the penalty when Moncada/Robert were available and couldn't sign anyone above a 300K bonus. Had they not, I can almost guarantee they would have been involved.

    They snagged Soler. Torres/Jimenez were considered 2 of the top 3 guys available in 2013. The club chose to spread the 2015 IFA money around a bit more, grabbing like a half a dozen of the Top 30.

    They've been linked to a couple of the top players on the IFA market this coming year. Both are expected to command near 1M bonuses, one an OF and the other a RHP, which would eat up about 40% of their bonus pool.

    Whenever they've been allowed to spend this FO has delivered in the IFA market.

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    I just saw that Cubs minor leaguer David Garner is suspended 50 games for drug violations, this according to Josh Timmers. This isn't for performance enhancing drugs but more like weed or cocaine, etc. The first offense isn't penalized so this must be his 2nd. I hope that this makes him realize how precious baseball is and that he can get clean and back to playing baseball.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    It is indeed his 2nd violation for a drug of abuse (unspecified). He will be unavailable until sometime in June.

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    Michael,
    Thank you for a well written and informative piece on some of the lower tier prospects. Some I knew about, Valazquez and Sierra, and have been keeping an eye on, most I didn't.

    I'm looking forward to the draft and like you expect them to be after some position players in the first few picks, unless a can't miss top pitching prospect some how magically falls to the 24th pick.

  • Morrow taken out after an infield hit and a walk starting the 7th inning. Is there a problem here?

  • In reply to veteran:

    Apparently not. According to report I saw the plan was for him to have a short outing, they just wanted to get him a taste of working consecutive days

  • This years top 5 picks in the draft and the July international market
    should fill many holes in our system. Lets hope many gems slip
    to us to sign

  • This years top 5 picks in the draft and the July international market
    should fill many holes in our system. Lets hope many gems slip
    to us to sign

  • Pay attention to 21 year old Jhonny Bethencourt. An offensive machine looking for a spot to play on the diamond.

  • In reply to Tom U:

    Good hitter with solid plate discipline and all fields approach. Really struggled at 3B/SS last year. Think it would do him good to settle in at 2B for a year and just concentrate on solidifying his offense and one defensive position. Then they can try moving him around again.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Absolutely agree, but the Cubs had him play a lot of shortstop this spring.

  • Good luck Bourjos.

    Looks like the Orioles are going to stash Araujo in the back of their pen. I wouldn’t mind seeing him back in our system.

    In other former Cub news, Giants released Andres Blanco.

  • Who will our 40th roster spot go to?

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Probably Gimenez & a NRi pitcher that impressed... Bass maybe.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    However they can still cut & add if they choose. Maybe a targeted waiver claim that falls to them.

    Smyly was put on the 60 day DL, that’s why there’s 2 spots available.

  • Well done, Michael, and I loved the title. Luis Diaz has had my interest piqued since his power outbreak last summer. John had originally remarked on his speed as his main asset so to see an IF who's just 5'9" and 160 lbs. slug .466 was eye-opening. And, as you stated, I've had my hopes for Morel since John commented on him two years ago.

    Having both those guys in Eugene would be fun. As you pointed out (and much to my pleasant surprise) Morel is still listed as a 3B with South Bend. There are still some NRI infielders not officially assigned to AAA yet (namely Ryan Court) who could push Morel down a level, but if Christopher breaks with South Bend and hits well enough to stay, he's the best candidate to be the next Paredes.

    Once again, great work and thanks.

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