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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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