Cubs Prospect Roundup: Pre-Draft look at my most recent prospect rankings

Miguel Amaya (photo by Rikk Carlson)

Miguel Amaya (photo by Rikk Carlson)

A day from now the Cubs will have new prospects added to their pipeline via 2018 MLB Draft which begins tonight (5 CST, MLBN, Stream on MLB.com). The short season leagues are also getting into gear already (DSL) or in the near future (AZL and NWL). This will add mean new names being added to my prospect list so before that happens, lets take a look at where it stands now.

Adbert Alzolay

Adbert Alzolay

Prospect development is a marathon, not a sprint. One of my pet peeves regarding most prospect rankings is the wild fluctuations that crop up even over relatively small spans of time. Every once in a while there are unexpected breakout performances that must be accounted for, Adbert Alzolay is a good example from last season, that will require a reassessment of a player's potential.

It can happen when a pitcher learns a new pitch (Dillon Maples: slider), or a hitter alters his approach (Jason Vosler, David Bote: launch angle). Career altering injury (Ryan Williams: shoulder) or the discovery of a flaw to be exploited (Arismendy Alcantara: susceptibility to changeups) can diminish a prospect's ceiling. But these circumstances generally only crop up a handful of times per season barring a rash of arm injuries to pitching prospects. You can see from the examples that I didn't even have an example of each to pull from last season.

Duane Underwood

Duane Underwood

Anyone that has followed my contributions, first in the comments and then as a writer for Cubs Den probably realizes a good descriptor for me would be: patient. If you'll forgive the pun, I consider it my one plus tool. I warned everyone they would come to regret their doubts concerning every bad month Javy Baez had in high-A (and AA and AAA) and then again during his disastrous two-month MLB debut. While most others wrote off prospects such as Duane Underwood, Oscar De La Cruz and Trevor Clifton as they suffered through minor injury or bad season(s), my stance regarding each barely altered. Sure, risk and probability goes up and down, especially with pitchers, but upside rarely changes unless altered by injury.

So with that in mind, here is my updated prospect rankings for the Cubs organization. It will look a little different than my offseason list, not because my opinion on many of the players has changed, but because I am still trying out methods of relaying information from my brain into text and pictures in as clear a manner as possible. In other words, I'm experimenting and learning right along with young players in the Cubs system, just in a different craft.

The tiered approach I have used in my previous listings for the site returns, but I have further stratified it in an effort to clarify when a player's "ranking" is based more on projection and less on evidence. I realize different readers prioritize different things when they are evaluating prospects which may not always line up with my own. The left column is reserved for players with a higher probability and longer track record of success, the rightmost for players that are either extremely raw or have some other circumstance such as injury or lack of size/strength that call their upside into question. So if you are against the boom/bust kind of prospects you likely won't like many of the players on the right side of the chart. It is structured so that "movement" is far more likely to occur laterally. As a prospect advances and solidifies his ultimate upside (left) or new questions/injuries raise the risk of him reaching his potential (right).

NOTES: I have a longer list that includes additional potential bench and bullpen pieces, but I didn't want to let this expand beyond reasonable consumption for this piece. The list below only includes players who have made their full season debut or played in a large enough sample of games in Eugene for me to get a feel for them, so no Jeremiah Estrada, Brailyn Marquez or any of the recent IFA signings. Bold indicates players on the 40-man roster, red is for players recovering from long-term injury. Players who have exhausted their rookie eligibility (Caratini and Zastryzny) are no longer included. I have also limited it to players aged 26-and-under, so even those with potential MLB futures with their rookie eligibility intact have fallen off because at some point a player is no longer a "prospect" and should be considered more of a Minor League veteran. I have chosen 27-years old as my arbitrary cutoff point. Players within each section are simply ordered alphabetically.

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As for which players have made a move in my rankings since the start of the year, there are a few. Starting from the top, there is the whole Jose Albertos... thing. I still believe Albertos has the greatest upside among Cubs prospects, but my main concern with him heading into the year was a question regarding his athleticism and whether he would be able to repeat his delivery consistently enough to master his command. His stuff flashed well enough in my eyes that I could envision #2 starter type down the road, assuming he could throw enough quality strikes.

Jose Albertos

Jose Albertos

His complete breakdown of control this season appears in my eye to be more mental than physical, but Albertos also did not make any noticeable improvements to his less than ideal body since last year and it has been enough to temper my expectations in that regard. I was essentially on the fence in the offseason and ended up giving him the benefit of the doubt. I can't do that anymore, at least for the time being, so I have dropped him from my top tier down to my second tier along with the rest of the Cubs top prospects.

Moving on to the positive developments, I have bumped a pair of hitters and a pair of pitchers from the fringe pool into greater standing. The two hitters are catcher Jhonny Pereda and first baseman/left fielder Jared Young. Both are still more likely to top out as bench players, but they've done enough to improve their power profiles since last year that I no longer put that ceiling on them.

Jhonny Pereda (photo by Stephanie Lynn)

Jhonny Pereda (photo by Stephanie Lynn)

Pereda intrigued me as a strong-armed catcher who made a lot of hard contact in 2017, but he lacked strength, and his approach at the plate was extremely limited. He would try to hit every pitch the other way and most would end up as ground balls. While he still favors the oppo approach he has gotten stronger, is hitting more line drives into the gaps and most importantly, showed a willingness to turn on and drive mistakes left up in the zone to left field.

Young is a bit more risky at this point as concerns regarding his arm strength have left the club experimenting with him at 1B/LF instead of the more demanding infield positions he played in college. What has me intrigued, however, is developing power in his left handed stroke to go along with flashes of solid plate discipline and an all-fields approach. He can still add mass to his lanky frame which could provide even more of a power boost down the road. Twenty-plus home runs is not out of the realm of possibility.

Matt Swarmer (photo by Stephanie Lynn)

Matt Swarmer (photo by Stephanie Lynn)

The other two major breakouts are players I have covered in greater detail in the daily recaps. Matt Swarmer has been the biggest. Always a good strike thrower with a deceptive over-the-top-delivery, Swarmer has begun filling out his 6'5" frame and seen a velocity bump to go with it. He has gone from 88-92 to 90-94, and pairs it with a solid slider that he has had all along. With the greater velocity, Swarmer is also benefiting from increased confidence. He received a trio emergency starts in AA and AAA last season and has used a 7-inning shutout performance for Iowa as a jumping off point heading into this past offseason. He is pitching with purpose and no one in the system is better at consistently making quality pitches on the black than Swarmer. With further refinement of his changeup possible in the near future, there is back-of-the-rotation upside for the tall righty instead of the potential reliever-only profile I saw last year.

Tyson Miller (photo by Stephanie Lynn)

Tyson Miller (photo by Stephanie Lynn)

A pitcher having a similar breakout due to a increased strength and corresponding velo jump is Swarmer's teammate Tyson Miller. Considered an upside play and work-in-progress when taken as a 4th rounder in 2016, I will admit, I had never been impressed with Miller in my previous viewings. I saw him in person with Eugene back in 2016, then again on a couple of occasions with South Bend last year and he was always in the high-80s, touching 91-ish, with a soft slider, although I noted he was always around the plate and his thin frame had yet to fill out so a potential velocity jump was possible. Well, that has occurred this season. He now sits in the low-90s, touching 94-95, and his fastball has late life that makes the pitch difficult for hitters to time up. His slider has more consistent bite as well. There is rotation potential depending on how the secondaries develop, with late-inning reliever fallback if not. Potential for yet another velo spike is possible too, especially if he converts to the pen down the road.

Before all of you jump into the comments and proclaim "What about Miguel Amaya?!?!?!?!?"

I fully realize how good of a season he is having. And yes, it has surprised me with how quickly he has adapted to the MWL, and no I did not expect this type of production so soon. But I did expect it eventually. I've made no secret of my belief in him as a player. I might be the only one out there who had him rated this high before the season began, which means I don't feel the need to make any adjustments. He was a high probability, above-average starting caliber catcher in my eyes before the season. He is still a high probability, above-average starting caliber catcher now.

Filed under: Top Prospects Lists

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  • Thanks for all of the effort you put into these lists Michael! I prefer your system to the ones provided by fangraphs and mlb.com.

    If Caratini and Zastryzny hadn't exhausted their rookie statuses, where would you have ranked them? I personally see Caratini in the far left orange group, and Zastryzny as more of a specialist

  • In reply to CubbieInfantry2327:

    Caratini would be in the same group as Bote. Zastryzny would have been in the bench/specialist/AAA depth group.

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    I agree with a thank you for all this work--it's greatly appreciated! To me one of the most improved player ever in the system was Willson Contreras. At one point he was exposed to the Rule 5 draft and then something clicked within him, and the position change too, and he is now one of the best catchers in baseball.
    I love prospects and I have to admit I follow mock drafts for months, not just in baseball but for each sport. There is so much hope in these picks, and I'll be saying "oh, why didn't they pick him" or "yes! a great pick" but patience is so important in baseball. At the earliest we'll see any of these draft picks in a year or two and most likely 3 or more years from now.
    Thanks again for the updates on our prospects. It will be interesting to see in maybe 3 years who of this list is on ML roster and contributing.

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    My pick for #24 is either Ethan Hankins or Xavier Edwards. FWIW.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    I'd be cool with either of those two.

  • I'm ok with those 2 as well. I've seen some mocks where McClanahan plummets. If he's still available, I don't see the FO passing him up. Even if he ends up in relief, lefties with a fastball that hits triple digits and a plus slider are as rare as they come. Another name to watch is Brice Turang. He was projected to go 1:1 last year, and didn't really impress in the cape cod league, plus his senior year wasn't spectacular. It will be interesting to see if he plummets as well

  • In reply to CubbieInfantry2327:

    I figure both of those guys will be off the board for the exact reasons you mentioned.

  • In reply to CubbieInfantry2327:

    Turang is off the board.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    yep. saw brewcrew grabbed him. i was going back and fourth on which would be more annoying; the crew grabbing him at 21, or the yankees at 23 lol. oh well. still a lot of players available. will be happy if Rolison, Walker, McClanahan, or Hankins

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    looks like the rox nabbed Rolison. McClanahan still on the board

  • In reply to CubbieInfantry2327:

    McClanahan had a TJ surgery. But the kid can fling it.

  • Hey guys in light of tonight's draft I was just wondering if anyone knows Which mock drafts are the most reliable based on your experience. I know no mock drafts perfect but I like seeing how the 1st rds projected

  • In reply to kkhiavi:

    There are no reliable MLB mock drafts

  • As always, quality work Michael!

  • In reply to Tom U:

    Thanks, Tom

  • I'd like to see a college bat with our first pick to address an area of weakness in our system. The young core will be breaking up in a couple years, and a polished, impact bat would fit that timeline nicely.

    I have to say it: I want Beer!

    He seems to have a legit bat and should be available around #24. I know he lacks a true position, but I've also read he's actually quite athletic yet somehow that athleticism doesn't translate into the baseball field. I recall the FO saying in years past they could overlook some shortcomings because they believed they could coach that into a player.

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    In reply to BarleyPop:

    From the reports I've seen Beer comps a lot to Schwarber--a great bat but no real position and he doesn't seem like as much an athlete as Kyle.
    When I saw the line "I want Beer" I knew there could only be one Denizen to write that!

  • I wouldn't be upset with Beer, especially if he is willing to go underslot. Maybe I'm drunk off of the FO's koolaide, but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to first round picks

  • Real good work. Cannot critique your organization or methods. Well done.

  • When evaluating these young players, many clichés are thrown around. "Light-tower" power is common. That certainly fits Eloy, as he took out a few more bulbs during a BP session today.

  • Yanks pick then Cubs. Kowar & McClanahan still there.

  • I like Kowar, Hankins and Rocker. Can't have too much pitching.

  • In reply to John57:

    I would like a polished college bat, but a lot of pitchers are slipping.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    Barley are you a fan of Steele Walker?

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    You got one...

  • In reply to John57:

    i would be happy with any of those 3, or McClanahan

  • In reply to John57:

    Signability for Rocker could be an issue but we’ll see... (committed to Vandy as of now). They’re up, so we’ll see but I’m a guess Hankins or Kowar.

  • In reply to John57:

    I guess the FO wanted a SS more.

  • Drum roll Cubs are up

  • I was hoping for Seigler (though I admittedly know almost nothing about these kids).

  • Who is Moody's pick?

  • Nico Hoerner...

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    SS out of Stanford.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    Remember when the Cubs had "too many" young SS's?

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    Ha ha! SS are good to have “too many of” besides pitching.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    Nobody saw that pick coming but I wouldn't bet against Theo & company.
    I think its terrible Jake Arrieta is upset. Will someone call Scott Boras to punish the Giants ? NO !

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    WOW.... i hate to doubt the FO, but I absolutely despise this pick at 24th overall. maybe they plan on a massive underslot, and they will attempt to sign several players with strong college commitments, but this is a head scratcher. Oh well... Wasn't a fan of the Scwarber pick either, so what do i really know

  • In reply to CubbieInfantry2327:

    I was wrong about the Schwarber pick too He's turning out to be pretty good.

  • Thought it would be Edwards.

  • Hmmm. Tells me Theo and Jed really like Pedroia. Kid won't be a SS. Second baseman. College kid so think quick riser. Tells me Theo and Jed really like Javy at SS.

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    Not a fan. Every report shows a good hit, not a strong arm maybe above average speed, someone you want on your club and gap power. It seems like a reach.
    This FO knows what it’s doing but there were some difference makers still on the board. He reminds me of Mark DeRosa, a good ball player but not a 24 th pick.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    If he turned into the Mark DeRosa from 2007-2008, I'd be more than happy with that.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    I was hoping we'd take a shot on someone who slipped and has a high ceiling, since guys with Hoerner's profile seem to be available in later rounds. A lot of the scouting reports I've been pulling up don't think he will even play short in the majors. Maybe they feel his floor is high enough to justify a reach.

  • Seems to be a utility player, not a game changer with bat or glove.
    Makes good contact suspect player average tools across thew board. Plays SS but many project his future at 2B. Doesn't str4ike out much at the college level.

  • In reply to CubFanStuckInStl:

    I don’t know... They must see maybe OBP & possibly top of the order w/him. Seems fast in the videos I’ve watched since they drafted him. But MLB had him ranked 52.

  • I just watched a five minute highlight clip of Nico Hoerner and read some tweets and decided it’s probably a good pick.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    I like the fact he's been a good contact guy. Would like it better if he was a LH hitter.

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    They might be underslotting him too so they can afford someone later to pay more, especially if they’ve committed to a school and want to change their mind. Still, I wanted Hawkins (still available) or Edwards or Alex Thomas a CF from Chicago.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    That was my 1st thought as well. Hopefully one of those 3 is left, though I'm not holding my breath they will be there at 62

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    Thank you Michael! Always love the prospect lists and updates. Maybe if we're both good and lucky we'll get someone from this draft to fill one of those green boxes for you in a couple years :-)

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    I've seen Niko play one time and in that small sample, he looked pretty good.
    After all the success these guys have had in multiple organizations, it would be foolish not to trust their judgement.
    I remember being pissed that the Cubs picked KB instead of Jon Gray. Who would have thought Theo knew more about baseball than me...go figure.

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