First off, I apologize to Dillon Maples and Alec Mills. They still hold rookie eligibility in the Majors, so technically they should still be considered prospects, but they are both 27-years old this season. At some point a prospect becomes a veteran. It is certainly arbitrary, but I make the rules around here, and I chose that age as the cutoff.
Apologies also go out to Erick Leal and D.J. Wilson. Throughout the process of putting together my top prospect list both were right there near the end and I had every intention of including him. But when it came down to it, I had to cut off the list somewhere, and after plenty of waffling back-and-forth I took the easy way out chose a round number. Again, arbitrary.
Leal fits a similar mold to Alex Lange as a guy with a questionable fastball but good changeup. The difference between the two is I think Lange's curveball is better, even though Leal did surprise me this season by returning from TJS with a better version of that pitch. It wouldn't shock me to see Leal get a shot as a Big Leaguer at some point down the road but the Cubs have a ton of similar players ahead of him and I have trouble seeing a path to a 40-man roster spot for him in this org. He'll be a Minor League free agent at the end of the year.
As for Wilson, I still love the athleticism and potential. He's a potential plus defender at a premium position. I also haven't given up on his bat. Until he fixes his setup at the plate, settles on an approach, and most importantly stays healthy I couldn't justify pushing him up the list.
There are a handful of other prospects in the upper levels who could find themselves putting on a Major League uniform at some point. Jen-Ho Tseng already has, and I do still like his changeup, but longtime readers know I've never been a fan of his fastball or his curve, and then last year his command regressed a bit. There's a chance he can help as a middle reliever down the road, but his time is running out to prove himself with the Cubs. His 40-man roster spot may be the most precarious in the org. When Addison Russell and Oscar de la Cruz return from suspension in May, Tseng could find himself on the chopping block. Although if he does not show some improvement over last season there is a good chance Tseng would clear waivers.
Charcer Burks received his third NRI to spring training. Maybe this means the Cubs will finally give him a shot in AAA. Although the presence of Mark Zagunis makes that difficult. Burks is a very good left fielder but his arm limits him to that position. He is a solid hitter as well, but just isn't impactful enough given his lack of defensive versatility. Eddy Martinez is another athletic corner outfielder who has also stalled in AA. He has always appeared too stiff in the field and at the plate to me. His patience wavers, but he did begin hitting the ball in the air in 2018, so at least there is a chance he develops into a low average, 20-HR type.
Ian Rice looks like he will get his first crack at a job in Iowa this season. He's a tweener C/1B with a good approach and some power, but is it enough to carry his average (at best) skills behind the plate? I've always viewed him as one of those AAAA players in the mold of Jake Fox. P.J. Higgins is a solid defender with a good eye, but there just isn't much juice in his bat, and I'm not sure his defense is so good that it would carry him in the Majors in spite of a lack of offensive production. A catcher a little further down the system that could end up a combination of the two is Michael Cruz, but honestly, I don't have a great read on him.
Among the relief corps in Iowa, Craig Brooks still possesses his plus slider, but his fastball is straight as an arrow and doesn't have the command to spot it often enough to get ahead of hitters and set up his slider. Alberto Baldonado has better stuff than a ton of lefties who have put on the Cubs uniform in my lifetime, but those pitchers weren't around when the Cubs were World Series contenders.
I haven't taken much of a look at offseason acquisition Ian Clarkin. The former first rounder may deserve consideration, but I just couldn't delay putting the list out any longer to research him. Among the other potential left-handed specialists, Wyatt Short is my favorite. His sinker/slider combo generates a ton of ground balls and misses just enough bats that he may be able to carve out a role as the second lefty in a MLB pen. Manuel Rondon, Jordan Minch and Ryan Lawlor all flash at times as well but I have difficulty seeing any developing the consistency needed for a full-time gig.
Moving down the ladder in the system, a guy who has seemingly been around forever is Erling Moreno. Injuries have really slowed his progress but he still carries one of the top power sinkers in the org. The 2013 IFA signing continues to battle mechanical issues which lead to wavering command and inconsistencies with his curve and change. There is talent there, but it looks like a transition to relief is inevitable.
His approach is very unrefined, and I think he needs a ton of work on his swing, but Wladimir Galindo does have above average raw strength. Unfortunately, it is often wasted with an inside out swing that generates a launch angle directed about three feet in front of home plate. In the field he elicits plenty of groans from observers (and his own pitchers) when he fails to make routine plays. Then, every few weeks he'll pull off a highlight worthy play that makes you wonder... why don't we see that more often. He's an enigma.
A teammate of Galindo in Myrtle Beach, Bryan Hudson is a former 3rd round pick that received a big bonus. The 6'8" lefty was always going to be a long-term project. Guys as tall as he is almost always are. It just takes a while for them to synchronize their bodies into a repeatable delivery. Hudson has indeed struggled in that regard and it has led to wild variances in stuff, control and results. In the past I told interested fans to not even pay attention to him for a few years because all Hudson was going to do was drive you insane. Now may be the first time where we should expect to see some progress out of him as he is likely to return to High-A.
Kevonte Mitchell falls into a similar category. A two-sport star in high school, Mitchell lacked baseball experience as he entered pro ball. Few in the system can match him physically though. There is 20/20 potential if he ever puts it all together. Like Hudson, Mitchell will probably return to Myrtle Beach and it's time to start expecting potential to turn into production on the field.
In South Bend, righty Javier Assad is advanced for his age but likely tops out as a middle reliever. Delvin Zinn started hitting line drives all over the field in the 2nd half of last season. His defense and offensive approach are still rough, but I have a fondness for second baseman with a good hit tool, even if their MLB prospects tend to be a long shot. I still hold out hope for Carlos Sepulveda despite his past two seasons being ruined by injury. Yeiler Peguero fits a similar profile as well.
Someone I gave a lot of thought to was 2018 10th round pick Luke Reynolds. The left-hand hitter showed off the defensive skills to handle both corners, a good eye at the plate, and solid power. I do have concerns about how well he can handle pitches up in the zone, but the main reason I am hesitant is his age. He transferred schools a couple of times and is already 24 years old. In the end I felt like I needed to see him compete in High-A or some other age-appropriate level.
Outfielder D.J. Artis was another member of the 2018 class who could garner consideration down the road. Infielder Jake Slaughter also flashed at times. On the pitching side, Cam Sanders has a power arm but will need to harness it and throw more strikes. Ethan Roberts has a nice cutter. There's a couple other potential relief arms as well. I was really impressed with depth the Cubs drew out of the draft last year, and there are still several big players from the class that I haven't seen because they remained in the AZL last year.
Jonathan Sierra was the Cubs most expensive signing in the 2015 IFA class. He certainly looks the part as a big and powerful athlete. It hasn't translated well on to the field as of yet, however. Sierra has held his own as a teenager in both the AZL and NWL the past two years, but his swing and approach still need work, and the flashes of the impact player the Cubs expected him to become are just too infrequent for me at this point. At the plate he just never seems to be in synch or on time to the ball. His approach may be less refined, but I see more explosive movement ability in Christopher Morel from the same IFA class. Sierra certainly possesses the physical profile to make me look silly for doubting him though.
There is no one in the system capable of matching the speed of Fernando Kelli. A 70 runner, he really tested his limits early last season in Eugene, attempting to steal at every opportunity. He even tried to swipe bags on throws from the catcher back to the pitcher. The results were mixed, but hopefully he takes the lessons into account and it helps him build a better plan moving forward. Kelli isn't just a thin framed speedster either. He does have a little bat speed and decent strength to back it up at the plate, so I'm not ready to discount his chances of being more than just a future pinch runner.
Another teenager from the 2018 Eugene squad worth keeping an eye on is Luis Vazquez. A lanky, but fluid shortstop, Vazquez can make all the plays at the position. Offensive production has been elusive, but he does make frequent contact. My hope is some of the weak contact he makes now may start finding holes once he fills out a bit.
You know what, let's stick with the same theme. Catcher Jonathan Soto was yet another teenager who opened the 2018 short season in Eugene before eventually returning to Mesa. The left-handed hitter is not a big guy but he does have gap power. His skills behind the plate looked pretty solid for a prospect his age as well. Definitely a sleeper catching prospect in the organization.
Yonathan Perlaza signed for a high bonus in 2015, then got off to a slow start in his career, while also missing some time because of a knee injury. He returned in 2018 and finally broke out at the plate. He is short, but powerfully built. Perlaza also runs pretty well. Unfortunately, the reports on his defense at 2B and 3B are not kind and he could be forced to the outfield. His prospect hopes likely rest on his ability as a utility man so making strides on his infield defense will be paramount.
A couple of the young arms that threw to Soto last year, Faustino Carrera and Eury Ramos, are both currently working as starters but will ultimately transition to relief roles in my view. The lefty Carrera was particularly tough against same side hitters so keep him in mind as a potential specialist down the road. Peyton Remy made a late appearance in Eugene and struck me as a guy with some middle relief potential as well.