Cubs Den Top Prospects: 15-24

Jared Young (photo by Rikk Carlson)

Jared Young (photo by Rikk Carlson)

Today we will cover a diverse cast of prospects. They all possess the talent to make an impact in the Majors but they are either raw or have some other major roadblock ahead on their development path. Several certainly fall into the boom-or-bust category. So, if you are risk averse or value production over potential most of the prospects being covered today will not be your cup of tea. A theme common to today's proceeding will be uncertainty. For many of the prospects below, it is simply too early in their development to pin down exactly what they will become. What they all are, however, is intriguing.

15. Jared Young

jaredyoung_miniOffseason Prospect Overview    -    Twitter Thread

The Cubs don't have many power hitters in the upper levels of their system which makes Jared Young one of the prospects that fans most need to follow heading into 2019. He broke out offensively in his first full professional season, eventually being named the organization's Minor League Player of the Year. His 16 home runs are a somewhat modest total, but considering Young was also asked to learn two new defensive positions while also missing some time early in the year due to injury, it was quite an accomplishment. Not bad for a relatively unheralded 15th round pick.

Adapting to new environments and circumstances is something Young has needed to master. Originally from British Columbia, he navigated through three different colleges in his three years, facing increasing levels of competition each time. He's continued to show off that ability to adapt as a pro as evidenced by the Cubs changing his defensive home during the 2018 season.

I also think there is more offense to come with Young. He was overly aggressive at times and is still learning to lift the ball with increased regularity. If he waits for a pitch to drive instead of attacking the first thing in the zone, I think we could be looking at the potential for 20-25 home runs with plenty of extra base power to all fields as well.

The reason I still consider Young a bit of a risk as a prospect is because of his defensive profile. He adapted remarkably well to first base but didn't look very comfortable in his introduction to the outfield. Obviously, developing the versatility to handle both will open up options for Young to earn a big league job but if he is limited to those two positions there is little room for failure with the bat. He will be forced to improve his plate discipline and increase his power production.

16. Yovanny Cruz

yovannycruz_miniOffseason Prospect Overview    -    Twitter Thread

When examining his career so far, he has hit all the right notes and produced positive results in each of his two professional seasons. So, why the concern? Well, first of all he's a pitcher. And a teenager. And only has one game of experience above rookie ball. That means he carries a ton of risk. On top of that he may not have a true plus pitch. I think there is a chance he could develop one, maybe even two, but he isn't the biggest guy and I'm not sure how much more physical projection remains. As a rookie ball pitcher I like his odds better than most but his ceiling is difficult to identify right now.

The sinker-slider profile for starting pitchers is less common now as the four seamer and curveball have come into vogue as a means to combat the hitters looking to hit the ball in the air. Cruz certainly falls into the classic profile, and at least so far, has excelled using it. If he can master command of his three pitches I can envision more than a back of the rotation potential for Cruz.

17. Jose Albertos

josealbertos_miniOffseason Prospect Overview    -    Twitter Thread

Without a doubt the prospect with the highest ceiling in this group is Jose Albertos.

Without a doubt the prospect with the greatest risk in this group is Jose Albertos.

He entered 2018 rivaling any arm in the system, then proceeded to battle a case of the yips throughout the season, and exited 2018 with his entire future in doubt.

There is no question he has the chance to develop two plus pitches. His changeup could even end up plus-plus. If he recovers Albertos has Top 5 talent in this system. I'm patient when it comes to prospects. Albertos was likely three or more years away from contributing in Chicago even under the best of circumstances, so a setback, even one as significant as his 2018 may not alter his career trajectory too much. Plenty of prospects have recovered from lost seasons. Assuming there is no long-term damage to either his physical or mental health nothing from last season alters his ceiling.

How Albertos throws is one of the main storylines I will be following this spring.

18. Brendon Little

brendonlittle_miniOffseason Prospect Overview    -    Twitter Thread

I know most fans are disappointed in the early returns from 2017 1st round pick Brendon Little. I would warn everyone not to be scared off just yet. Little threw less than 90 collegiate innings before the Cubs took him as a 20-year old draft-eligible JUCO. They knew Little would face a longer development process than Alex Lange and Keegan Thompson. Inconsistency has been the main issue holding Little back in his first year and a half in pro ball, but the highs are good enough (8 starts allowing 0-1 earned runs) to remain encouraged about his upside. There just aren't many lefties flashing mid-90s that can also spin a curveball like him.

My biggest concern with Little is I am just not convinced he is a fluid athlete. I worry that is the reason he struggles at repeating his mechanics and maintaining peak velocity. If that is the case, he may never reach his potential as a starter, and will eventually force him to the bullpen.

19. Nelson Velazquez

nelsonvelazquez_miniOffseason Prospect Overview    -    Twitter Thread

Nelson Velazquez is very raw as a baseball player. He can be overly aggressive at the plate. His work in the outfield can be an adventure. Despite those issues, Velazquez has one major thing going for him: his tools are already translating. He may be far from a finished project, but there have been plenty of guys with greater bat speed and more raw strength that failed to immediately produce extra base and home run power the way Velazquez has done so far as a professional.

The first half experiment sending Velazquez to South Bend proved to be a bridge too far but I'm willing to bet he will be more prepared to make an impact there in 2019.

20. Riley Thompson

rileythompson_miniOffseason Prospect Overview    -    Twitter Thread

He wasn't a 1st round pick, but 2018 11th rounder Riley Thompson certainly shows off a 1st round caliber arm. His fastball is explosive, capable of touching triple digits in relief, while showing late life. His breaking ball is equally impressive, albeit far less consistent. I also came away with a positive first impression of his changeup during his stint with Eugene. All of the tools are there.

Tommy John surgery and an inability to throw strikes on a consistent basis prevented Thompson from ever gaining traction during his collegiate career, but he showed vastly improved fastball control after the draft. The next step will be harnessing his offspeed pitches. He compares favorably to Oscar de la Cruz because he has ideal size for a starter and the high-end stuff which projects to hold up multiple times through a big league lineup. Thompson isn't the strike thrower de la Cruz was earlier in his career, but there is the potential for as much, or even a touch more juice on his fastball-curve combination. I lean more toward Thompson eventually becoming a reliever but he could be shutdown guy in that role.

21. Christopher Morel

christophermorel_miniOffseason Prospect Overview    -    Twitter Thread

Christopher Morel doesn't look very powerful with his long, lanky frame but he is a quick twitch athlete with explosive movement capabilities. He combines plus bat speed and arm strength with an energetic personality. Considered a big part of the Cubs 2015 IFA class Morel is playing a bit of catch up with his contemporaries as he missed his first professional season because of a laceration he suffered off the field.

There is still a ton of development he needs to do in terms of plate discipline, but Morel profiles nicely at the hot corner, and could even maintain the versatility to play across the infield as well as the outfield. With the way the ball jumps off his bat, 20+ homers are not out of the question. The Cubs have shown plenty of confidence in his abilities and despite his struggles in Eugene last year I do expect Morel will battle for a job in South Bend out of spring training.

Place Holders (22-24)

As I did with several rookie level players last season (including Nelson Velazquez and Brailyn Marquez) I am going to insert three names into the rankings at this point with the caveat that I have not seen them play myself. The grades and scouting reports for the players below are not my own, but rather a melding of comments made by scouts and national publications about them. They have created enough positive buzz as teenagers that in order to give a complete picture of the Cubs system beyond just the players I can watch regularly on video I feel it wouldn't be right to exclude them given they regularly show up in other Top 30 lists.

Richard Gallardo

richardgallardo_miniTwitter Thread

He hasn't thrown professional pitch, so I really hesitated to place him in the list at all, but Richard Gallardo is a consensus Top 10 player from the latest the IFA class, making him the organization's biggest get since signing Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez in 2013. He is also the highest rated IFA pitcher this front office has hauled in during their entire tenure. A good athlete who receives high marks for his intangibles, Gallardo was already hitting 93 on the gun as a 16-year old and doing so with a measure of control unusual for his age. He projects to add additional velocity and shows a good feel for a curve and changeup already as well.

Reivaj Garcia

reivajgarcia_miniOffseason Prospect Overview    -    Twitter Thread

Overachieving second baseman are my kryptonite when it comes to grading prospects. I've been burned several times before and have even told myself "never again" because their path to success is arduous and often requires them to reach their full ceiling in order to make it in the Majors. But given just how well Garcia performed at such a young age in 2018 I am allowing myself to get my hopes up a little. His athletic profile doesn't wow anyone, but everyone seems to come away very impressed with not just his hit tool, but his instincts in every facet of the game.

The youngest player in any of the U.S. Minor Leagues last year, all Garcia did was go out and hit over .300. You really couldn't really ask for a better season out of a 16-year old. Just winning a job in the AZL wasn't impressive enough, and Garcia also proved to be remarkably consistent at the plate throughout the year by hitting at least .280 in every month.

 

Luis Verdugo

luisverdugo_miniOffseason Prospect Overview    -    Twitter Thread

The Cubs highest profile IFA signing in 2017. Luis Verdugo arrived from Mexico with stellar defensive reputation and the expectation that he would need to make some adjustments at the plate, especially if he was pushed to the AZL like the Cubs did with the 17-year old in 2018. Verdugo did indeed fail to produce much at the plate during the season, but he also got better as the year went along, with the final month being his best by far. The overall numbers aren't pretty, but Verdugo is praised for his ability to make hard contact to all fields. He is still growing into his body and down the road is expected to develop good power for a shortstop.

Scouts do not seem to doubt Verdugo's hands or arm. I am curious to check out his range considering his speed is considered fringe average already. It seems possible he could outgrow the position, but Addison Russell was similarly built at this age and he managed to maintain enough range thanks to good reads and a quick first step. It is something to keep an eye on though, because if he is forced to third base it means Verdugo will need to reach his full offensive potential.

Comments

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  • This is the group we could really use 3-5 of these guys to break out and establish themselves. I am excited to follow these guys. I like and agree with your lists so far, Michael. Nice work. You obviously spent a lot of time on it.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    Thanks, Bob. This the group where we hopefully see the Cubs emphasis on character and work ethic play a big role. The Cubs place a lot of emphasis on finding players that love baseball and they believe that is a big part of what separates the players that capitalize on their talent from those that don't. This is also the group that is a big test for the player development department. And especially in the case of Albertos, the mental skills department.

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    Thanks for all the work Michael. I can't imagine all the work that you've done for these reports, and I feel the love for these prospects. These prospects, like many others, have a "what if" factor. What if they can control the strike zone when pitching, when batting, etc. These prospects as well as some of the ones before and the ones coming up, and I'm sure the ones coming up have some elite qualities and if one or two or three can progress that's very good.
    I'm looking especially at Gallardo, Thompson and Albertos to break through.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    I'm glad you are enjoying them, Jonathan.

    Those three arms you mentioned, if even one of them breaks through they are the type of arms that can make a significant impact at the MLB level, not just in terms of performance, but also help the Cubs redirect some of the money currently used on veteran pitchers toward the arbitration raises and hopefully some long term extensions for their young position players (and Hendricks).

  • Darvish was lighting up the radar with 95-96 velocity 1st spring training start. Soooo glad the cubs signed him over that declining overrated hillbilly jake.arrieta. and darvish is doing all his interviews in english!! his English is very impressive

  • In reply to bolla:

    As important as the velocity readings for Darvish was the fact that he also threw all of the various pitches in his arsenal. If he was still nursing an injury I doubt he would have done that.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Yea he said he wanted to use more of his pitches this year and would talk to borzello about implementing that into the game plan.

  • In reply to bolla:

    Good point. Some cub fans are already trash talking the guy for giving up 4 mostly unearned runs but that was mainly because Efross came in and got roughed up with Yu's inherited runners on base. To me the fact he's healthy and the velocity is strong are the most important things at play here. He clearly passed the test from a physical standpoint and I think that's by far the most important thing here. The cubs signed Darvish because he's a physical specimen and as long as the stuff is there he's going to be difficult to hit. The team needs a Darvish bounce back with all the talk about our older starters as regression candidates by projection sites like PECOTA

  • In reply to kkhiavi:

    It was his 1st start vs mlb hitters since may 2018, and he was amped up so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt for lack of command.The most important thing to me is darvish's mind state, he's happy,healthy & much more comfortable and he's ready to prove himself to the doubters.Regardless of how the negative cubs fans feel about him darvish has the best stuff of any of the cubs starters.

  • In reply to bolla:

    Why so much hate for Arrieta, who arguably gave the Cubs one of the greatest pitching years of all time, who was nothing but excellent and a great teammate the entire time he pitched with the Cubs. Are you really a Cubs fan, or only a fan of certain players?

  • In reply to HefCA:

    He's an overrated pitcher who thought he was an ace based off 1 great year who had declining peripherals and velocity after 2015.If you look at arrietas resume besides 2015 it's not impressive. I said I'm glad the cubs let him walk and signed darvish instead, not sure where or how you got hate out of that.Btw arrieta pitched great in the '15 regular season & wc game vs a pirates team he owned. then gave up 8 earned runs in the nlds and nlcs starts.The cubs won the nlds start because it was a slugfest where they hit like 4-5 hr's.

  • In reply to bolla:

    Arietta was excellent almost the entire time he was a Cub. Look at his stats again while in Cubby blue. You called him a hillbilly, that's an insult, and seems like a personal hostility you've created for yourself with him.

  • In reply to bolla:

    I'd say Arrieta would've been a great pitcher if he was younger he was in 2014-15 I think his mechanics are just difficult to sustain as a pitcher ages and enters their physical decline. I have nothing but love and respect for what he did for this team and how he handled himself in the clubhouse. That said I truly don't get how cub fans in general are so obsessive about this guys every start since he left. People act like they made such a mistake letting him go but he had an ugly 2nd half last season and by all accounts is declining physically compared to where he was in 2014-15.

    Now if I'm being honest I wish they didn't sign either Darvish or Arrieta I'll easily take Bryce Harper and rid myself of paying either pitcher. That said I think despite all the heavy criticism Darvish gets I think he'll age more gracefully then Arrieta. Arrieta is showing pretty significant physical decline while Darvish's stuff looks the same to me as 4 years ago. But I have no animosity towards Jake he's a stubborn negotiator but I can understand why he'd want to come away with a nice payday before retirement given his status as a late bloomer.

  • In reply to kkhiavi:

    THANK YOU, logic on this blog is rapidly decreasing.Too much worshiping of players.I recall several cub fans who wanted wade davis back lol.Some of these people should stick to singing go cubs go and take me out to the ballgame.

    I agree about harper. Latest news is dodgers,giants and phillies all are submitting bids for harper giants and phillies willing to offer 10 years, dodgers high aav 3-4 year contract.If he dodgers get harper the cubs window will slam shut

  • In reply to bolla:

    Please stop knocking fans on this site. It's childish. It's called a "fan" for a reason and they have every right to be "fanatical" about a player and certainly the Cubs. You can make your points without being so personal. You can disagree with someone and make your point without the digs. It's ok for someone to have wanted to keep Jake. They loved what he did for the team. And you could disagree with them saying he is not right for the future. But you don't need to always get a shot in on people here at Cubs Den. You are better than that. You make many very good points that get lost when things turn personal. FWIW, I agree with you 100% on Jake as do many in here, but you are the only one taking shots at other folks who wanted to keep him. And this isn't the only subject that this happens too frequently. I'm asking nicely as a long term Cubs Den follower to end the insults.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    I agree with you 100% rbrucato, but would add (at least for myself, probably for many others here), I certainly wasn't advocating that Jake should have been resigned by the Cubs. I preferred the Darvish signing myself, all things considered. I'm just not happy that a so-called Cubs fan thinks it's OK to insult a player like Jake who did so much freaking good for this team.

    This is not about Jake vs. Yu, this is about not smearing one of the great Cubs to play for the team. Have some respect for his accomplishments. It's not OK to insult him personally just because he is no longer a Cub. As a diehard Cub fan, there is no way I'll let those comments slide by.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    A Cy Young Award, a Rookie of the Year Award and a Most Valuable Player Award mean nothing to him.....all we get from him is the juvenile “over rated” narrative.
    We’re tired of you junior.....tired of the rascism, tired of the name calling, tired of your diviseness, you bring nothing to this forum and I can guarentee you there are more here than you realize that feel the same. Bolla......you can kick rocks.....

  • In reply to HefCA:

    And agreed that cub fans should look at arrietas tenure as a resounding success the guy gave us a cy young season and they got him for the price of Scott Feldman. He also won 2 WS games I was merely referring to the segment of cub fans that don’t drop this topic of discussion now that the darvish news has been trending around cub nation

  • In reply to HefCA:

    Well said HefCA. Jake doesn't deserve any insults. He played his butt off and gave his all every time he took the hill. And he wanted to get his pay day. Can't blame him. We should remember his legendary seasons in Cubs gear.

  • In reply to kkhiavi:

    You can have Harper. He is good but certainly no superstar and he and Boras want superstar money. Good riddance.

  • In reply to kkhiavi:

    Who is obsessive about all of Arrieta's starts since he left the Cubs? I don't know of anyone on this blog who is, other than those who are quick to criticize him when he pitches poorly.

    I understand that Big Jake is probably not going to reproduce those 3-4 awesome years he had when he first joined the Cubs. But for anybody who calls himself or herself a Cubs fan, and now starts insulting the guy because he may be declining in performance, that makes no sense at all to me. I think most Cubs fans are grateful that Jake pitched for them when he did. That's not blind worship, that's based on facts and love for what he did for the team. Which is a whole lot of good.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    Not referring to you at all hef but the whole darvish/arrieta discussion is one of the more hotly contested topics on the athletic or social media. In general I’d say darvish is by far the biggest lightning rod for criticism although the ricketts family is also a big source of discussion recently. And I do appreciate what arrietas done for this franchise as well I have no ill will against him

  • In reply to HefCA:

    Keep in mind too hef that this site has a strong culture of intelligent and balanced Cubs talk compared with other sites ahd you and others contribute to that. But believe me on other sites it’s not the same way I regularly have to argue with folks on the athletic who actually believe that it’s in the organizations best interests to move on from Theo or they think he’s not a good executive it’s ridiculous

  • In reply to kkhiavi:

    Thanks for clarifying kkhiavi. Yeah it's tough to get all excited about the Darvish signing now due to his injury last year. But I see it as just a speed bump. If he stays healthy this year, a lot of that discussion will go away real quick.

  • Thanks for the great insight, Michael.

    Former prospect Jason Vosler just can't catch a break. Poor guy gets traded to SD, who had a need at 3B, and then they sign Machado. I know he isn't the second coming of Greg Nettles, but I was rooting for him.

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