Chicago Cubs Mid-Season Top 20 Prospect List

Chicago Cubs Mid-Season Top 20 Prospect List
(Photo credit: Ken Inness/MiLB.com)

The Cubs Prospect Watch crew is back in action with our second installment of the Mid-Season Top 20 Prospect list. Compiling a list is never an easy task, especially in the middle of the season. Do you ignore a slow start? Is that hot streak just a fluke or has the player figured it out? There are just so many variables to consider. The recent addition of Addison Russell and Billy McKinney also shook up the top 15 a bit, which speaks volumes to how deep this system really is. Without further ado here is our Top 20 list, we look forward to your comments.

1. Kris Bryant

Age: 22
Height: 6’5” Weight: 215 lb.
Position: 3B
Bats: R, Throws: R

Stats

Opposing pitchers fear him and his dreamy blue eyes. Cubs fans adore him for his ability to crush baseballs. The power is real; in fact, Bryant has posted an OPS over 1.000 at every stop he’s made. That’s #rig. People are going to have to accept that the strikeouts will be a part of his game. That could change down the road, but for now don’t expect it to.

That’s fine though because Bryant drives the ball and walks at a solid clip. It’s not certain where he will play when he makes it to the Bigs, but he could play third or a corner outfield spot. At third, he won’t be a Gold Glover, but he’ll be serviceable and make the routine plays; his bat should help make up for the defense. Bryant is athletic and played some centerfield in his college days. In the outfield, he should be average to slightly above average and would get to show off his arm. At the end of the day, Bryant is the Cubs #1 prospect.

2. Addison Russell

Age: 20
Height: 6’0” Weight: 215 lb.
Position: SS
Bats: R, Throws: R

Stats

The centerpiece of the Samardzija/Hammel trade, Russell suffered through a torn hamstring for most of the first half of the season. Already an above-average defender, Russell has the hands, footwork, and arm to become the Cubs everyday shortstop. At the plate, he projects as a plus hitter with plus power potential and his ceiling is a perennial All-Star.

Russell is still a tender 20 years of age and has only played 20 games above the A+ level, so he still has plenty of time to convert his raw power to in-game power. Expect him to finish the year off at Tennessee, and, barring any setbacks, to start 2015 with the Iowa Cubs, with a mid-season promotion likely.

3. Javier Baez

Age: 21
Height: 6’0” Weight: 190 lb.
Position:SS/2B
Bats: R, Throws: R

Stats

After struggling early on in the season, Baez has accepted a position change in stride. In the month of July, Baez is batting .310 with 8 HRs. He has decreased his strikeout rate in July from 30% to just below 21%, and has also seen a slight increase in his walk rate. Lately Baez has received much acclaim from both John Arguello of Cubs Den and freelancer Sahadev Sharma.

Arguello wrote an interesting article asking whether readers would rather have Baez or Jorge Soler . In the article, he described Baez’s intensity as “palpable,” saying that “He'd like nothing more than to beat [the pitcher] and if he can embellish that with a 500 foot HR with contact so loud that it makes your ears bleed, then so much the better.”

Sharma wrote a column questioning whether Soler or Baez may arrive in Chicago soon. In it, Sharma points to Baez’s increased performance in the field and the aforementioned improvement in his slash line to prove that a promotion would make sense developmentally, but not necessarily monetarily.

4. Jorge Soler

Age: 22
Height: 6’4” Weight: 215 lb.
Position: RF
Bats: R, Throws: R

Stats

Ahead of fellow outfielder Albert Almora and behind former No. 1 prospect Javier Baez, Soler is starting to show why he comes with the high-risk, high-reward tag. Having played just 22 games in Double-A Tennessee, Soler was recently promoted to Triple-A Iowa, a task that he can no doubt handle.

Evidenced by his work at Tennessee (.415/.494/.862/1.356), Soler is an absolute stud when healthy. Striking out less will likely be the main focus for Soler at Iowa, while he will also look to work on his opposite field approach. On the bright side, he seems to have made up for the time he lost this year and last while he was injured, and according to multiple sources, including CSN reporter Patrick Mooney, Soler has positioned himself for a September call-up this year.

5. Arismendy Alcantara

Age: 22
Height: 5’10” Weight 170 lb.
Position: 2B/CF
Bats: R, Throws: R

Stats

By the end of the season Alcantara won’t be eligible for this list, but he’s ranked 5th because of how far he has come. One of the biggest improvements in Alcantara’s game has been his ability to drive the ball. He has hit fewer ground balls and more line drives. Couple his pop with his speed and you have a guy that’s going to gather a lot of extra-base-hits.

Another promising sign has been his ability to adjust rapidly. Last season in Double-A he stumbled a little bit out of the gate, but his K% stabilized and his BB% rose. The same goes for the 2014 season. Last season Alcantara was forced over to second base due to the arrival of Baez, and this season he has experimented playing centerfield. Both times, he made the transition seamlessly. Right now, he ranks ahead of Almora due to the fact that he is playing in the majors.

6. Albert Almora

Age: 20
Height: 6’2” Weight: 180 lb.
Position: CF
Bats: R, Throws: R

Stats

Like Baez, Almora has overcome early-season struggles. Almora struggled earlier in the year because of a change in his stance and approach at the plate. The Cubs’ front office gave Almora a treatment similar to Starlin Castro. They helped him take pitches and find ones he can drive to all parts of the field, rather than being such a free swinger. He also has modified his stance at the plate.

He has widened his feet, bent his knees more, and, most importantly, decreased the huge kick in his left foot. All of these changes have led to Almora’s improvement, and it’s that improvement, both at the plate and on the field, that has earned him a promotion to AA Tennessee.

7. Kyle Schwarber

Age: 21
Height: 6’0” Weight: 235 lb.
Position: C/LF
Bats: L, Throws: R

Stats

Already at High-A Daytona, Kyle Schwarber has more than proven that he was worth the No. 4 pick in this year’s draft. Schwarber has been raking since joining pro baseball, and already has 9 homers in 130 at-bats. In an even more promising a sign, he’s managed to go error-less through his first 16 games in left field.

And while he’s made 3 errors in his 12 games catching, those who’ve watched him have noted how he’s been progressing well behind the plate, and will certainly force the Cubs’ hand when it comes to a position change. While having Schwarber catch is most certainly the more valuable option, if the Cubs want him at Wrigley sooner rather than later, they’ll make the switch to LF, allowing his bat to develop and foregoing any thought of him catching.

8. Billy McKinney

Age: 19
Height: 6’1” Weight: 195 lb.
Position: OF
Bats: L, Throws: L

Stats

Acquired via the Samardzija/Hammel trade, McKinney was the 1st-round choice of the Athletics last year and promptly started this season in High-A as just a 19-year-old. McKinney ranks as a subpar CF and has been playing RF/LF for Daytona due to his below-average arm. His bread-and-butter though is his hit tool and eye at the plate. He’s been hitting for some power this year with 11 HR’s, and is also sporting a robust 11% walk rate. McKinney should spend the rest of the year in High-A, developing his power and defense in LF.

9. C.J. Edwards

Age: 22
Height: 6’2” Weight: 155 lb.
Position: SP
Throws: R

Stats

Though he’s been injured for most of the 2014 campaign, in the 20.2 innings he’s compiled he’s allowed 14 hits while striking out 20. Edwards just recently got back onto the bump, pitching for the Cubs Arizona League team. While he will return to the Smokies soon, reports indicate that he could spend time in the ‘pen to finish up the year, all towards the goal of preserving his arm.

All in all, Edwards, like fellow prospect Soler, has seen his career trajectory careen off the road a bit because of injuries, but expect him to continue pitching well once he returns. A 2015 September call-up isn’t out of the question for the young righty, but it all hinges on his ability to bounce back from the injury.

10. Jen-Ho Tseng

Age: 19
Height: 6’ 1” Weight: 210 lb.
Position: SP
Throws: R

Stats

One of the headliners of last year’s International Free Agent spending spree, Tseng has gotten off to a dream start in the States. His numbers have been superb at Kane County, as he has a 2.86 FIP and a 21.7% K-BB%. But this is due in large part to his advanced command and feel for his pitches against Low-A hitters.

Tseng features a fastball in the 91-92 range which can reach 94 mph as well as a plus changeup and a developing curveball. The Cubs were being a little cautious with Tseng earlier in the year as a result of a shoulder injury, but he’s healthy now and projects as a middle-of-the-rotation-type starter.

11. Kyle Hendricks

Age: 24
Height: 6’3” Weight: 190 lb.
Position: SP
Throws: R

Stats

Kyle Hendricks, along with Christian Villanueva, was acquired in a trade in 2012 for 12 starts of Ryan Dempster (in which Dempster posted a plus-five ERA). This year Hendricks has been absolutely solid.

If you gave me Pitcher “X” with numbers identical to Hendricks’ in AAA Iowa, he would be many teams number three starter and on most teams he’d be a number four starter. Hendricks consistently hits 90-91 and can ramp it up to 95 when he needs it with his fastball. Hendricks doesn’t pop the glove by any means; his game is centered around control/command and feel of his pitches. In a very small sample size in the big leagues, Hendricks has shown that he should stay.

12. Pierce Johnson

Age: 23
Height: 6’3” Weight: 170 lb.
Position: SP
Throws: R

Stats

2014 has been a rough year for Johnson. He’s missed significant time due to injuries, none of which have been arm- or shoulder-related thankfully. Some may look at his 6.13 BB/9 and say, “Whoa, what happened?” While his walks have been up, his BB/9 number has been inflated because of two really rough starts; otherwise he has been very solid.

Everything else across the line has been promising. Johnson has slipped on our list only because of the injuries and added depth. The projection remains the same though, and if everything comes together he could be a solid #3, and if it doesn’t he could be a #4/5 type of guy.

13. Paul Blackburn

Age: 20
Height: 6’ 2” Weight: 185 lb.
Position: SP
Throws: R

Stats

Blackburn has had a solid season at Kane County this year. He has a 3.82 FIP and 17.4% K%. His fastball tends to be in the high 80’s to low 90’s range and has shown great command this year. His changeup and curveball are both below-average pitches at the moment, but Blackburn has time to develop. If everything comes together, Blackburn could be a back-of-the-rotation-type pitcher.

14. Eloy Jimenez

Age: 17
Height: 6’4” Weight: 205 lb.
Position: OF
Bats: R, Throws: R

Stats

At first glance, many would assume Jimenez, 17, is 22 years old and has been playing professionally for years. However, the 205-pound youngster has played just 18 games in the AZL. Skipping the Dominican League and heading straight to the Arizona League was quite a jump for the 17-year old, and he’s certainly showing the Cubs what he needs to work on.

For one, over 50% of Jimenez’s batted balls have been grounders, including 13 which have been hit directly to short. As expected, he is reluctant to take many pitches; his 2 homers thus far have been hit on the first pitch of the at-bat. Even more troublesome is the 20.3% K-rate that Eloy has put up. Nevertheless, Jimenez has quite a bit of good to go along with the flaws, and while it’ll take time, he will continue to make his way up through the system level by level.

15. Daniel Vogelbach

Age: 21
Height: 6’0” Weight: 250 lb.
Position: 1B/DH
Bats: L, Throws: R

Stats

After slow start to the year, Dan Vogelbach has started to put it all together. In the same way that some of the best power hitters in MLB today can hit the ball to the opposite field, so can Vogelbach. Of his 11 home runs this year, 5 have been to left field, a promising sign. Even more so, 23% of his hits are to center, and 19% are to left, proving that Vogelbach is looking to hit the ball to the opposite field when he can do so.

Even with a K-rate above 16%, he maintains an 11% BB-rate, and while there is certainly room for improvement, Vogelbach has continued to show why his bat is consistently in the lineup. His defense remains well below average, with 16 errors at first base this year, but he’s continued to work hard and trim down in an attempt to increase his value to the Cubs. Vogelbach has fallen on our list due to his increasing platoon split and the addition of new talent to the system. Double-A will be the next big leap for him, but it’s not likely to happen until 2015.

A few weeks ago, Evan Altman of Cubs Insider, interviewed Dan.

16. Jacob Hannemann

Age: 23
Height: 6’1” Weight: 195 lb.
Position: CF
Bats: L, Throws: L

Stats

Jacob Hannemann is a special case. It should first be noted that he is still somewhat raw. One of the biggest reasons for this is that he was away on a Mormon mission before entering college. In 2013, he was the Cubs’ third round draft pick out of BYU. In 2013 Hannemann played in Arizona and Boise, and this year he started the year in Kane County before recently being moved to Daytona. Hannemann has the ability to develop many raw tools: power, speed, arm, and bat. His strikeout rate is under 20% and his walk rate hovers around 8%.

17. Rob Zastryzny

Age: 22
Height: 6’3” Weight: 205 lb.
Postion: SP
Throws: L

Stats

Rob has been challenged this season to say the least, but he has started to come around lately. It’s easy to forget that he was drafted last season and made only 11 appearances between Boise and Kane County. We remain bullish on Zastryzny due to his peripheral stats. Currently he is sporting a K/9 of 8.84, a BB/9 of 2.68, and a 3.69 FIP. His BABIP is .355 and he’s given up quite a few hits. The optimisms stems from the fact he was still somewhat of a raw product out of college, and that he is still developing. His changeup remains his best secondary pitch.

18. Corey Black

Age: 22
Height: 5’11” Weight: 175 lb.
Postion: SP
Throws: R

Stats

Corey Black was the prized piece the Cubs got in return from Alfonso Soriano. From the bullpen, Black has been known to hit 99 or 100, while starting he sits near 94-95. The Chicago Tribune’s Mark Gonzales reported in April that it is not unreasonable to see Black in a Cubbie uniform in 2015, but he only way we could see this happening is if the front office moves him to the bullpen. Corey Black is one of the more intriguing arms the Cubs have in their arsenal. We are huge fans of Black due to his drive to get better and prove to his critics that he can be a starter.

19. Jeimer Candelario

Age: 20
Height: 6’ 1” Weight: 180 lb.
Position: 3B
Bats: S, Throws: R

Stats

The switch-hitting Candelario got off to a very slow start in Daytona and was bumped back down to Kane County to regain his stroke. A .212 BABIP didn’t do him any favors at Daytona, but he still had a 9.4% BB% while struggling, which is always promising. Candelario has shown great bat speed along with a mature approach at the plate, but is likely to switch to an outfield position as his range and glove are below-average at 3B. The hope is that Candelario bounces back and finishes the year back at High-A.

20. Jake Stinnett

Age: 22
Height: 6’4” Weight: 202 lb.
Position: SP
Throws: R

Stats

Stinnett was this year’s 45th pick in the draft. While he has yet to pitch in the Cubs organization, that will change in August. However, don’t expect him to toss very many innings, as the Cubs have already said that they will limit him due to his college workload this season. Despite being a senior draft pick, Stinnett is intriguing and has quite a bit of upside.

He’s still fairly new to pitching full-time, as he was just moved there in 2013, working out of the ‘pen for Maryland. In 2014, he made huge improvements across the board, and that’s why the Cubs drafted him. His fastball tops out at 97 mph, but he usually sits in the low-to-mid 90’s. His slider is his second-best pitch and still requires some work, but his changeup requires even more.

Honorable Mentions:
Arodys Vizcaino Stats
Duane Underwood Stats
Stephen Bruno Stats
Christian Villanueva Stats
Dallas Beeler Stats
Gleyber Torres Stats

We would also like to give a huge shout out to Daren Willman for allowing us to link to his site, MLBfarm.com for player stats.

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    Great work and great list. I think you have McKinney a little too high and I think Vizcaino is top 20 worth.

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    Thanks for the reply Jim! McKinney was the A's #2/#4 prospect dependeding on what preseason list you look at. The fact that he's 19 and holding his own in High-A is impressive. He's a tricky one as some have had him in their top 10 and others have not. As a group we decided that he was top 10 worthy to us.

    As for Vizcaino. He made out preseason top 30, and was a top 20 guy on that list. This time around we prefered guys that were still capable of starting, over bullpen arms.

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