Cubs Den Top Prospects: 6-14

Justin Steele (photo by Stephanie Lynn)

Justin Steele (photo by Stephanie Lynn)

We've now reached a group of players who, barring injury or something unexpected, should receive more than just a cursory look in the Majors. They include versatile power arms that could develop into valuable mid-rotation starters or high-leverage relievers, a pair of premium defenders at shortstop with offensive upside, and a few high-probability backend starters that also have utility as multi-inning relievers if all else fails.

The Cubs are unlikely to find a star among these ranks, but they are the type of players that can become significant factors for an organization, especially if they become reliable performers during their pre-arbitration years. We've seen the organization struggle to find internal options to fill out the rotation and bullpen, forcing them into the trade and free agent markets, which will become increasingly more difficult as their young, core hitters continue to get more expensive. Hopefully, these are the players who can reverse that trend.

6. Adbert Alzolayadbertalzolay_mini2

Offseason Prospect Overview    -    Twitter Thread

Two separate injuries sidetracked Adbert Alzolay in 2018. First, an ankle injury late in spring training kept him off the mound the first month of the season. Then, a lat injury put him on the shelf for the rest of the year after he made just 8 starts. He never reached mid-season form and never got the chance to lock in the work he had done last offseason to improve his changeup.

His overall numbers don't pop, but Alzolay was dominant on multiple occasions, taking a no-hitter through 4 innings or beyond three times. His game against Omaha on April 30th featured 7 shutout innings with just one hit allowed. He had just completed his 4th perfect inning in his final start before the lat strain forced him from the game.

I did see enough improvement in his changeup during the brief time he was on the mound that I now feel comfortable projecting it to become an average offering. His handful of rough starts also provide a lesson because it showed Alzolay he could not consistently blow his 95-97 fastball by more advanced hitters at the top of the zone the way he could in High-A. He'll need to diversify his approach and be more willing to change locations. Alzolay is consistently praised as an intelligent game planner with an ability to adapt so I expect he will learn from both his successes and failures in 2018.

7. Justin Steelejustinsteele_mini

Offseason Prospect Overview    -    Twitter Thread

It hasn't been easy for Justin Steele. He battled mechanical issues with South Bend in 2016, then just as he seemed to be getting into a groove with Myrtle Beach the following season he went down with an elbow injury that required Tommy John. Steele did not allow the surgery to slow him down. His rehab progressed far ahead of schedule. He made rehab appearances within ten months of the procedure, then returned to Myrtle Beach just under a year removed from his last start there.

His stuff is as good, or better than it ever has been, which leads me to believe his struggles during the 2016 campaign where in part due to existing damage in the elbow. Regardless, you couldn't ask for a better recovery. Steele picked up right where he left off in terms of his development and has now positioned himself as one of the key in-house arms ready to compete any vacancies in the rotation come 2020. In the meantime, with the Chicago pen unsettled and the team lacking a power arm from the left side after the departure of Justin Wilson, Steele has the potential to contribute at the MLB level down the stretch in 2019. It wouldn't even shock me to see him force his way into postseason roster consideration.

8. Aramis Ademanaramisademan_mini

Offseason Prospect Overview    -    Twitter Thread

Aramis Ademan's 2018 season was rough. There is no denying that. It is also fair to say that the Cubs did not set him up to succeed given they pushed him to High-A Myrtle Beach at the age of 19. The move was particularly puzzling given Ademan received only a late promotion to South Bend the year before and didn't perform particularly well when did. The Cubs pushed forward and stuck with the decision all year, relying on Ademan's mental maturity and advanced approach to see him through the challenges he faced. To Ademan's credit, I never saw him take his troubles at the plate out into the field, and I never saw any signs of discouragement from him.

I do expect Ademan will be tasked with a return to Myrtle Beach, where hopefully he can put together a run of success before the Cubs consider pushing him up to AA. His lack of size does make me wonder whether he can hold up under an everyday workload in the Major Leagues but I still see the potential for an above average defender at shortstop with the potential for a league average bat.

9. Cory Abbottcoryabbott_mini

Offseason Prospect Overview - Twitter Thread

If you need an example of what getting a little stronger and developing a new pitch can do for a guy's career, Cory Abbott is good one. Heading into his draft season Abbott had little buzz but a couple of extra MPHs on his fastball and the addition of a slider that he tried after watching a segment on Noah Syndergaard gave him an out pitch he had previously lacked and it made all the difference. He eventually worked his way into early round consideration.

In his first full season in 2018 Abbott kept up the momentum. He limited hard contact and missed bats at both the A and High-A levels. The hard slider/cutter is still his best pitch, but he rounded out his arsenal a bit more by improving his curve and change as well. He doesn't light up the radar gun, but his fastball has some late sink that makes it tough to barrel up and everything he throws tunnels well off it. Abbott does a good job mixing his offerings each time through the order without becoming overly reliant on any one pitch.

10. Dakota Mekkesdakotamekkes_mini

Offseason Prospect Overview    -    Twitter Thread

Extension and deception. Those two factors are what makes Dakota Mekkes so effective and allows him to consistently outperform expectations. Hitters just do not get a good read on the ball out of his hand thanks to his unorthodox arm slot and the way he launches his 6'7" body off the mound. This delivery cuts the distance the ball must travel to reach the plate, which messes with a hitter's perception, and leads to a ton of weak contact and late swings that you would not expect given Mekkes regularly sits in the 91-94 range with his fastball. He also made strides with his changeup and slider to the point where both are effective pitches against right and left-handed batters.

One of the key prospects to watch this season, Mekkes provides versatility in a number of roles, from multi-inning outings, to platoon matchups, to setup or even closing. It has taken some time for observers to catch on to just how effective Mekkes could be at the Major League level, but that is beginning to change. I fully expect Mekkes to get his first shot in the Majors at some point this season.

11. Zack Shortzackshort_mini2

Offseason Prospect Overview    -    Twitter Thread

An up-and-down collegiate career led Zack Short to slide until the 17th round of the 2016 draft. It hasn't taken him long to reward the Cubs for their faith in him. Short is a prime example of the modern hitter. His patience at the plate as he waits for a pitch to drive is on par with any in the system. And his ability to consistently hit the ball in the air creates plenty of impact plays, maximizing his average raw power.

His game is not all about offense either. Short is a slick fielding shortstop with the arm to make plays deep in the hole and the athleticism to play anywhere on the field if necessary. His combination of defense at a premium position and ability to due considerable damage against left-handed pitchers makes Zack Short a good bet to become a Major Leaguer. He'll need to prove he can hit righties in order to earn a starting role, but even if he settles in as a matchup piece off the bench he can provide plenty of value given his versatility and ability to get on base.

12. Alex Langealexlange_mini

Offseason Prospect Overview - Twitter Thread

I always worry when a pitcher's worst pitch is his fastball. That is indeed the case with Alex Lange, and while I admit it does give me pause, I am not as put off as I normally would be because I have become a believer in Lange's offspeed offerings. His curve has always been a good pitch for him, stretching back to his hallowed days at LSU. Out of nowhere though last year Lange developed a changeup that in some games rivaled his curve and given additional time to refine it I believe it could become a plus pitch. Lange should be able to ride the wave of those two pitches to the Major League level.

The question then becomes will his fastball hold up well enough multiple times through an order to remain effective as a starter. This is where the changeup becomes so vitally important. If Lange can take another step forward with that pitch I do believe it will keep hitters off his fastball enough for him to carve out a role as a back-end starter.

I do hold out some hope for his fastball as well. His quick, violent delivery not only affects his command a bit, but it is possible that with some work the Cubs can smooth Lange out and maybe help him rediscover a couple of the MPH he has lost the past two years. If not, at least the delivery does create a little deception. Despite the lack of pinpoint accuracy, Lange will attack the edges of the strike zone both vertically and horizontally. Even more importantly, he also shows a willingness to pitch backwards, and doesn't consistently give in when he faces fastball counts. Next season in AA will be a big test.

13. Keegan Thompsonkeeganthompson_mini

Offseason Prospect Overview    -    Twitter Thread

A 2016 TJS at Auburn forced Keegan Thompson from "thrower" to "pitcher" as his velocity was a little slow to come back. He now mixes five pitches, works both sides of the plate, and is willing to throw any pitch in just about any count. He is without a doubt the most advanced of the Cubs college pitching heavy 2017 draft class. It also appeared at times last season his lost velocity may be returning as there were reports of Thompson touching mid-90s with his four-seamer in some starts.

Thompson always seems to keep hitters off balance. Many successful Major League pitchers are migrating away from a first-pitch fastball approach and Thompson is one of the few starters in the system who regularly executes this type of game plan. He may lack a plus pitch but is one of those guys that is greater than the sum of his parts. There will be some bad outings mixed in when Thompson just catches too much of the plate though. Fits into a similar mold as Duncan Robinson where I'm not sure his stuff will play as a full-time starter, but I can certainly see filling a swing role, as Thompson just has a knack for eating innings.

14. Tyson Millertysonmiller_mini

Offseason Prospect Overview    -    Twitter Thread

Miller made across-the-board improvements in 2018, finishing as one of the top pitchers in the Carolina League and one of the top breakout performers in the Cubs system. He added good weight to his 6'5" frame and it led to increased velocity and stamina. Miller also learned to utilize the high spin rates on his fastball as he began working up in the zone more frequently as the year progressed. The pitch has natural cutting action (think C.J. Edwards, though perhaps not to same degree).

Miller led the Carolina League in multiple categories (K, K%, K-BB%, SwStr%, AVG, WHIP) and ranked near the top in many others. The most impressive aspect of his season was his reliability. Miller managed to go 5+ IP in 22 of his 23 starts, including his final 21 outings, despite adhering to the organizational 90-pitch limit. His combination of consistency and efficiency, along with solid fastball command gives Miller the makings of a back-of-the-rotation workhorse if he can fine tune and grow more confident with his secondary offerings. Giving Miller's best pitch an extra bump of velocity in relief offers a nice fallback if his secondaries fail to take the next step.

Comments

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  • Another solid piece of work here, Michael. I really like your list. I may quibble a bit with Ademan, but that is my preference to see production with the bat.

    Your first sentence in the 2nd paragraph nails it. Well written. It’s conceivable that 4-6 of these guys become contributors. Instead of Theo having to turn to FA to fill roles, these guys assuming those spots could save anywhere from $25-$50 million in payroll. That type of flexibility would be huge for our FO to work with.

    Thanks for digging in and bribing us great articles.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    Ademan is still so young and the Cubs really haven't put him in situations to succeed so I give him plenty of slack. He was young for the NWL when he was named an All-Star there and they didn't even let him finish the season despite the fact that he just seemed to be heating up. He struggled in South Bend, but just as with Myrtle Beach last year, he was just too young (and not physically matured enough) to expect him to produce. They've certainly taken the process over production track with him, but I really hope they let him slow down a bit this year.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I would agree. At a certain point a mounting body of poor work could work against him mentally where he always thinks he is a poor hitter. Slow him down and let him experience some success would be wise. This really is a big year for him to show he can be an offensive player. Glove only types are a dime a dozen. Hitting a baseball is the hardest skill in all of sports, so at some point a player needs to show aptitude being able to hit. Look forward to tracking his progress this season.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Yeah, he’s only going to be 20 in September. I think he was hyped so young & maybe they wanted us to forget about Gleyber, Ha Ha. I think this year it would be nice for him to show more results, letting everyone see why he was a top Cub prospect at 1 time & maybe regain a top 5 w/Amaya, Marquez & Hoerner.

  • Thanks again Michael. Really good list of pitching prospects in this group. Love how Mekkes continues to defy the opposition with his delivery. Looking forward to seeing how he and Maples perform during ST and probably the minors to start the season. But very optimistic the Cubs have some solid role players being developed either as the bench or BP/SP4-5 depth with these 9 players.

  • the more young pitchers the better.
    Cant wait to see which ones make the 2000
    team

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    You could google to see which ones made the 2000 team

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    I think you meant 2019? Wouldn't it be great to see a couple of these prospects nailing down the bullpen for the Cubs this year? My favorite is Steele - he could be a big help from the left side and has the potential to grow into a starter role when needed.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    I was thinking he meant 2020 after a few of these contracts are up.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Leiber, Tapani, Wood, Todd Van Poppel, Farnzy, Aguilera, just to name a few ;o)

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    Farnsworth! I'll never forget his "Racky-tack" of Paul Wilson!

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Yeah, that was classic. The good ole days... :-o

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Alzolay and Mekkes are the two guys with the best chance to open 2020 in Chicago. Steele would be next, but I could see them starting him in Iowa to keep him stretched out in the first half and then using him as the guy to fill any hole in the rotation or bullpen depending on what demands require. Robinson, Thompson, Hatch and Lange would be the rest of the rotation depth in AAA.

    Then, just hope a couple out of the Maples/de la Cruz/Underwood/Mills/Norwood/Clifton/Swarmer/Rucker/Leal group emerges to provide bullpen depth. If you can get even one reliable, full-time MLB reliever from them that would be a huge boost to the club.

  • the more young pitchers the better.
    Cant wait to see which ones make the 2000
    team

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    You could google to see which ones made the 2000 team.

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    Why do I feel like this is deja vu?

  • fb_avatar

    Kerry Wood and Scott downs were OK. Reuben Quevedo was not. Depending on what you consider "Young" Jon Lieber was OK.

    LOL

  • Excellent player analysis, Michael. I'm excited that I'll probably be seeing some of these guys with the Cubs this season. The pitchers in this group provide a lot of hope that the youth explosion is not yet over for our team.

  • Bryce Harper to the phillies contract deals unknown. At least he didn't go to the dodgers and I imagine he must have gotten a really nice payday from philly

  • In reply to kkhiavi:

    I read that in addition to an obscene amount of money, the city of Philadelphia has agreed to give him the Liberty Bell, which he will move to Vegas. MLB players grumbling that it's still not enough.

  • In reply to kkhiavi:

    Apparently the Dodgers would not go to 10 years, but matched the AAV. Not sure anyone would want to spend 10 years in Philly, but apparently Harper does. LMAO. He may hit 50 HR this year in that bandbox of a park.

    I bet there are a couple of opt outs after 3 and 5 years with full no trade clause.

  • $330 mil for 13 years, no opt outs.

  • In reply to ps577:

    link?

    That is $25 million and change per year. Not buying that.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    Passan is confirming it. No opt outs is shocking.

  • In reply to TC154:

    This is even more frustrating. How can Rickett's and Theo with a straight face tell the fans they couldn't afford a player like Harper for $25.3MM?

    Goes to show how silly the Chatwood and Darvish contracts were to take the Cubs out of a deal to get Harper. Hard to believe a Kintzler, Strop, and Chatwood trio equal a Harper.

    I am stunned. Those internal improvements better work out. :-)

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    I still like the team, but I'm pretty disgusted they didn't play on Harper. this is the kind of player that you pay. Oh well, there's no crying in baseball right?

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    It is not just Chatwood & Darvish. It is all the contracts that make up a $226 million dollar payroll. The Cubs have spent enough and do not need to fill needs by spending huge contracts.

  • In reply to WaitUntilNextYear:

    Heyward was the really bad one, IMO. I was good with the Lester, Zobrist, and Morrow deals at the time. I said Darvish was ok if it didn't cost a shot at Harper/Machado. Chatwood was a head scratcher. And his awful performance made them pick up Hamels at $20 million. The payroll is also because of increased rates in arbitration. They only have 1 terrible deal which is Heyward.

    So essentially Darvish and Chatwood for 2018 cost us a Harper in 2019. I am not good with that because of the trade off. We still have 3 near automatic outs in the lineup and if Contreras, Almora, and Schwarbs continue from their 2nd half we have 5-6 near automatic outs. The money should have been invested in Hitters, not pitchers IMO.

    Now it is on the players to perform. Hope they do work out because we just lost a shot at adding 1 to 2 26 year-olds who will be HOF'ers one day. The NL is shaping up to be really tough. NYM, ATL, and WAS just let out loud expletive-laiden screams when Harper signed with PHL.

  • In reply to ps577:

    There are opt outs I guess they revised that and the deal is front loaded. Honestly not even as crazy as I thought I expected at least 10/330

  • In reply to kkhiavi:

    No, just heard it again. 13/$330 no opt outs, full no trade for the life of the deal. From the AP

    "The agreed-on pact is for 13 years and $330 million with no opt-outs, making it the biggest contract in baseball history, besting Giancarlo Stanton’s $325 million deal. The $25 million per year comes up short of the highest average annual record for a position player, which Nolan Arenado boasts with $32.5 million per year."

  • mlb.com reports it

  • In reply to ps577:

    just saw it -- MLB.com didn't have the years. And then after a refresh they did.

  • sorry. mlbtraderumors.com.

  • Charles the Cat is reporting that there is one opt out. Harper would have to exercise before the start of the season, and only if he is will to sign a one-year deal with the Cubs. So still hope!

  • While I’ve been hoping for a long time that the Cubs would sign Harper, I’m OK with missing out on this 13-year deal.

  • THIRTEEN Years??!! NO trade??!! The AAV is less than expected, but do or die the Phillies are stuck with him.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    the end could resemble a Ryan Howard or Albert Pujols deal, but I bet they will be very happy for 6-8 years of this contract.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    This is true. I'm still shocked by the amount. He got $30 million more than the Nat's offered for three more years. Does anyone think his 35-38 seasons will be worth (at 2029 prices) only $10 million per year? He must have REALLY wanted out of Washington. Or, maybe this is a fail for the Boras team? There has to be more coming that we don't know about yet....

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Boras got what he wanted, the biggest (330M) contract ever. Philly now has at least two Boras clients, Jake and Bryce.

  • In reply to John57:

    Stephen Strasburg is another Boras client. So is Anthony Rendon who will be getting big money.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Yes, but 13 years in PHI will feel like a lot longer if gets on the wrong side of the fans there....

  • In reply to CubsFanInNorway:

    First slump, they'll be able to hear the booing from Washington D.C.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    They are clearing counting on the DH coming to the NL eventually. And they are likely just writing off the last couple of years of the contract as sunk cost. The extra years help them keep the contract more palatable for the luxury tax threshold.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Great points. If Harper's production stays high - even more likely if the DH comes to the NL, years from now they'll be talking about what a great deal this was.

  • Philly will be hamstrung. Too many years. Per year $$ will work for awhile. I'm glad
    It's not the Cubs.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Anyway, Schwarbs has gone back to his old stance. Remember when he use to rake? If Joe can keep him out of the leadoff spot, Kyle will be back to his old self. He is a real DH.

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