We are now one month into the Minor League season, which began on April 6th. Hitters are surpassing 100+ plate appearances, pitchers are surpassing 25+ innings, so the sample sizes are becoming significant enough (for the players who haven't missed time) to give indications for areas of progress or regression in a prospect's game. Although it should be noted that although Major League performance will often stabilize over this sample size, prospect performance is far more variable over the course of a season, especially once promotions begin.
Many of the Cubs top prospects are young for the league they play in, so context needs to be applied to several performances below. The Cubs were just as aggressive with their postings last season, but unlike 2018 when we saw prospects such as Nelson Velazquez, Christopher Morel and others struggle before being moved down to more age-appropriate levels, all of the players are holding their own so far in 2019, even if some are not excelling.
Nico Hoerner entered the year as the top prospect in the system, and all he did in April simply solidified that standing. Jumping from A ball to AA (after a stint in the AFL), the shortstop is showing why he is the most advanced bat from the 2019 draft.
Moving on to the younger prospects, the 2015 IFA duo of Aramis Ademan and Miguel Amaya are making strides in the difficult Carolina League, thanks in large part to excellent plate discipline. Both players showed signs of improvement with this facet of their game last season, but have taken it to new levels so far in 2019. Their walk rates currently rank 4th and 7th respectively in the CL.
There are a couple of hitters where plate discipline remains an issue, however. Jared Young still flashes power, but his low walk rate and tendency to hit a lot of balls on the ground continue to hold him back from fulfilling his potential. If he can solve even one of those two issues, he will become a much more certain prospect. The same goes for youngster Christopher Morel. He is perhaps the most aggressive hitter in the system, and while that held him back in a major way last year, he is at least making frequent (soft) contact this year. If he waited for better pitches though, he could use his impressive bat speed to do far more damage. The surprise among the group struggling to reach base is Andy Weber. He wasn't consistent in that department last year, but with the exception of a recent short hot streak, he hasn't looked comfortable at the plate.
Cole Roederer got off to a slow start in the Midwest League, but has come on of late, hitting his first home run this past week while seeing his OBP rise. He's essentially been a league-average hitter as one of the youngest players in the league.
The Cubs have also seen some nice work from a pair of contact hitters that have upped their patience game. Neither Jhonny Pereda or Jimmy Herron have had much BABIP luck so far, but their averages have begun to rise, and they remained useful offensive players for their teams in the interim thanks to their ability to draw walks. They aren't high upside prospects, but down the road they can be useful bench pieces who do a lot of little things right for your ball club.
A you can see, the veterans in AAA and AA are killing it right now. I've discussed Robel Garcia's surprise breakout several times already, but make sure to take a gander at just how much damage he is doing. Also be sure to take note of that 14.7 SwStr% which encapsulates the one concern I have with labeling him a legitimate prospect. He is old for his level and whiffing a ton. His uppercut swing plays a big part of his success but is also the reason that success may not hold up once he faces better pitchers.
Donnie Dewees is quickly closing in on him as the system's surprise breakout performer. Traditionally a high contact hitter with little patience, Dewees has morphed into a highly patient, and even more pinpoint contact hitter. He's waiting for better pitches, and then not missing them when he gets them. Too bad he doesn't have better power in order to do more damage. He is certainly putting himself in the conversation to challenge Mark Zagunis as the Iowa shuttle outfielder moving forward. Remember, Zagunis will be out of options next year, so Dewees could put himself into a position to take advantage of that opportunity if he keeps this new approach up all season.
It is difficult to know what to make of the Iowa hitters right now. The PCL is notoriously hitter friendly, and this year the league is also using MLB baseballs for the first time. So if you believe the MLB balls are "juiced," and there is some evidence to suggest they are playing different, then much of the production being put up needs to be
I'm not going to go as in-depth into the pitchers, as too many have simply been banged up, suspended or just haven't managed to rack up many innings thanks to a couple of stinker outings.
One guy I would like to highlight is Tyson Miller. He has carried his 2018 breakout right on over into 2019 without skipping a beat. In fact, he may be even better, as he has developed a better understanding of what parts of his arsenal work most effectively and he is relentlessly attacking hitters right now. Just today the Cubs named him their Minor League Plitcher of the Month for April (Robel Garcia earned the Player honor).
Tyson Miller - 2018 Carolina League Ranks
1st in K, K%, SwStr%, K-BB%, WHIP, AVG
3rd in K/BB
4th in FIP
5th in ERA, xFIP
8th in BB%, IP
Tyson Miller - 2019 Southern League Ranks
2nd in WHIP, AVG
3rd in ERA, FIP
8th in K%, K-BB%
— Michael Ernst (@mj_ernst) May 6, 2019
Cory Abbott and Riley Thompson have also carried over their 2018 success into 2019. They've been two of the best performers in the system. And it is nice to see Trevor Clifton bouncing back, learning to miss bats once again, after his stuff had backed up the previous two seasons. He's developed a hard slider that has made an impact for him.
Here is breakdown of the veteran depth in the upper levels, as well as some recent draft picks and prospects in the lower levels who didn't make the offseason prospect rankings: