Chicago Cubs Mid-Season Top 20 Prospect List 2015

Chicago Cubs Mid-Season Top 20 Prospect List 2015

We are back with another group effort from the Cubs Prospect Watch team. It has been an eventful season thus far with the call ups of Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Kyle Schwarber. You will notice that despite the recent graduations of Kris Bryant and Addison Russell that the Chicago Cubs still have a very solid and deep group of prospects making their way through the pipeline. The list is headlined by none other than Kyle Schwarber, and to boot, we have some quick risers and recent draftees on the list this time around. So, without further ado, here is our Chicago Cubs mid-season top 20 prospect list for 2015.

1. Kyle Schwarber

Age: 22

Height: 6’0” Weight: 235 lb.

Position: C/OF

Bats: L Throws: R

Stats

Kyle Schwarber at number one is a no brainer. His bat is monstrous, there’s absolutely no doubt about that. On the season he owns a combined .323/.430/.591 slash line between Double-A and Triple-A. He has racked up 83 hits in 257 at bats, clubbed 16 home runs, and owns a 49:72 BB:K ratio. Offensive force: Check.

Coming into the season the biggest question surrounding Schwarber is where he would ultimately end up in the field. Early in the season, he struggled with his defense behind the plate, but as the season has moved on, he has looked better and better behind the dish. He has certainly been much better than he was in college, but still has a lot to improve upon, most notably his receiving. Overall, we see Schwarber being able to stick behind the plate for at least a few days a week.

He won’t be the greatest defender back there, likely below average, but his bat will make up for his defensive shortcomings and then some.

2. Gleyber Torres

Age: 18

Height: 6’1” Weight: 175 lb.

Position: SS

Bats: R Throws: R

Stats

At just 18-years of age and in full season ball, Torres has gotten off to a great start at South Bend, which has propelled him to our #2 spot as well as helped him receive national attention. The Venezuelan complements his smooth fielding actions with a plus arm that may allow him to stay at short, though he doesn’t have the most range for the position. Where he really stands out is his bat, with an approach and feel for the barrel well beyond his years. For the season, he’s hitting .316/.380/.413 with 73 K’s and 34 walks. From my viewing of him a few weeks back, he looks advanced for the league and can put his bat on almost any pitch. However, he is still just 18 and susceptible to getting beat on chase pitches such as a high fastball or slider out of the zone. If he continues this remarkable form, he could see Myrtle Beach as soon as the end of this year.

3. Billy McKinney

Age: 20

Height: 6’1” Weight: 205 lb.

Position: OF

Bats: L Throws: L

Stats

Billy McKinney will be 20-years-old for another whole month. Wait… Are we talking about the same Billy McKinney? The kid who tore up the Carolina League and hasn’t slowed down much in the Southern League? Yup, that is the Billy McKinney we are talking about. McKinney has jumped up prospect lists this season. He gained more than 50 places on Baseball America’s list from 83 to 30 and placed 47th and 28th on Law and Sickels’ list, respectively. One major improvement for McKinney has been his extra base power. He’s on pace to hit close to the same homeruns as last year (11), but his gap power and 22 doubles this season speak for themselves.

He will soon eclipse his doubles total from all of last season of 24. Recently, Brett Taylor of Bleacher Nation dropped a Chris Coghlan with better defense comp on McKinney and that seems extremely fair. Coghlan did win NL ROY and at times has been the most consistent bat in the Cubs lineup. McKinney has been complimented on his smooth swing from the left side of the plate and advanced approach. That is what will carry him to the big leagues. Add another tally to a successful find for Theo and Jed.

Interview with McKinney

4. Duane Underwood Jr.

Age: 21

Height: 6’2” Weight: 215 lb.

Position: SP

Throws: R

Stats

Currently, Duane Underwood is recovering from elbow inflammation, but that has little to do with him being ranked fourth on our list. One look at Underwood’s stats might cause you to question this ranking. On the year, he has tossed 64.1 innings, walked 20, and has only struck out 42. He owns a 2.66 ERA and 4.11 FIP on the season.

While it’s true, the results aren’t spectacular, it’s easy to forget that Underwood just turned 21-years-old, and that the minors are more than just about what the statline says. When he was drafted he was referred to as raw, meaning he needed refinement in many areas of his game. When players work on commanding a pitch or becoming more consistent with a pitch, they might throw that pitch more, but that also means that pitch might get hit more because hitters are seeing it more often. This has been the case for Underwood and his fastball, and that’s why his numbers don’t really reflect how good of a pitcher he really is. The fastball command has come a great ways since his days in Kane, and he’ll need to continue refining it to move up the latter.

5. Carl Edwards Jr.

Age: 23

Height: 6’3” Weight: 170 lb.

Position: P

Throws: R

Stats

After an injury ended his season last year prematurely, the Cubs decided to limit Edwards’ innings this year. Their strategy has been to move him to the bullpen, and so far it has worked. Earlier in the year Hoyer said, “(The Cubs) can make an assessment as we get into the year, (figure out) which way we want to go with it (starting or relief).” Well now that we are halfway through the season, I think it’s fair to say we will continue to see Edwards come out of the bullpen, for this season at least. I don’t think it’s overzealous to believe it will be this year as well. Edwards’ stuff has played up in the bullpen.

His SO/9 is a flashy 11.7 in Iowa and 12.8 overall this season. If Edwards can hone his fastball command and reduce his robust 6.5 BB/9, he could become a high leverage, late innings reliever, but that’s a big “if”. Many scouts still see Edwards upside as a number 2 or 3 starter and I think that is a fair evaluation. After this season the Cubs could look to stretch him back out into a starter and give him a shot in the rotation.

6. Ian Happ

Age: 20

Height: 6’0” Weight: 205 lb.

Position: 2B/OF

Bats: S Throws: R

Stats

Ian Happ was the Cubs first round draft pick just last month. In college, he was known for his switch-hitting ability, but not so much his defense. It seems as if the Cubs are not afraid of players that have question marks surrounding their defensive ability (See Kyle Schwarber and Billy McKinney) as long as they can hit. Since joining the Cubs, Ian Happ has started in center field for the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs Low-A short-season affiliate. While it’s not clear if Happ will stick there, it’s worth a shot to get him acquainted with the position. If it proves too much for him, he could end up in left field, or back at second base, where the organization plans to work with him in the offseason.

With the Emeralds, Happ has hit .283/.408/.899 with a BB:K of 23:28 in 106 at bats. He has launched four home runs and has been perfect in the stolen base department, nine for nine. Happ has played well and should find his way to South Bend in the near future. Depending on how he finishes out the season, he could start next season at High-A Myrtle Beach.

7. Albert Almora

Age: 21

Height: 6’2” Weight: 180 lb.

Position: CF

Bats: R Throws: R

Stats

Almora came roaring out of the gate during Spring Training, when he hit .345/.367/.815 during his 17 games with the Cubs. He appeared to be much more patient at the plate, attempting to correct what has been to this point in his career his most obvious weakness: his plate discipline, or lack thereof. As scouts continue to note regarding Almora, his pure hitting ability is rather impressive, it just depends on whether he can be patient enough at the plate to see his pitch.

So far, through 62 games at Double-A Tennessee, Almora’s slash line doesn’t exactly aid his case of being more patient in 2015. He has hit .249, managed just a .294 OBP, and posted an OPS below his career average. Yet at the same time, he’s averaged over 3.4 pitches per plate appearance this year, and has seen his BABIP at around the .260 mark – well below his career average. If Almora continues to see pitches like he has and learns to stop chasing pitches, his average, OBP, and season at the plate are bound to turn around.

On the other side of the ball, Almora has continued his track to be a Gold Glove Major League center fielder, as scouts continue to rave about his great first-step, his masterful route accuracy, and his improving arm. One scout likened him to the defensive tool set of Rick Ankiel, the former Cardinal who dazzled with his amazing catches and fantastic arm.

While his bat still needs a little work, Almora is as advanced defensively has any centerfielder the Cubs have had in quite some time. If and when his BABIP improves, Almora will see some progress to validate his recent changes at the plate. While he’s fallen behind the likes of Schwarber, Torres, and McKinney in our rankings, at just 21 years-old, Almora is still on track to be the Cubs center fielder a year or two down the road.

8. Daniel Vogelbach

Age: 22

Height: 6’0” Weight: 250 lb.

Position: 1B/DH

Bats: L Throws: R

Stats

The Prince Fielder-like lefty is known by scouts for his massive homeruns – and by his girth. But for another year Vogelbach was praised for his hitting and attacked for his lack of defensive prowess.

Through his 61 games this year at Double-A Tennessee, Vogelbach has put up some rather promising numbers. He’s smashed five homers and driven in 34, but owns a slash line that looks like this: .284/.410/.431. His patience and ability to hit for contact, not just power, have proved to be success for the 22-year-old. He has even held his own at first base, putting up a .992 fielding percentage over his 60 games there. However, the four errors he’s made likely stem from his physical restraints at any defensive position. Although he may have modeled Prince Fielder’s bat, he never quite picked up on his cat-like reflexes – something that Cubs fans should remember from his days in Milwaukee.

Some here at Cubs Prospect Watch will likely be very devastated when Dan Vogelbach is inevitably shipped off to some rebuilding team who passes on to the Cubs a promising ace for their rotation. The question is not ‘if’ we will ever see a home run flying on to Sheffield and Vogelbach rounding first, but instead, what jersey will he be wearing.

9. Pierce Johnson

Age:  24

Height: 6’3” Weight: 200 lb.

Position: SP

Bats: R Throws: R

Stats

After reports surfaced in April that Johnson was taking it slow following a strained lat muscle during Spring Training, he has shown no signs that he was affected by the injury. Starting out in Double-A Tennessee, Johnson has pitched marvelously up to this point, posting a 1.26 ERA over six games started. He’s allowed just four earned runs through 28.2 innings pitched, spreading those four runs out over his past four games started. Johnson has never been a big strikeout pitcher, and that has certainly been validated this year – yet more so than ever, Johnson has been troubled by walks, including four in his most recent start.

Johnson is taking a much different path to the majors than fellow prospect C.J. Edwards, who has been pitching out of the ‘pen at Triple-A. At 24, Johnson isn’t far behind Edwards, but considering he may be the Cubs best starting pitcher in the minors, they’re not likely to rush him. A promotion to Triple-A at some point during this season isn’t out of the picture, but the goal is to continue to develop him (and his fastball command) as a future number three or four starter.

10. Eloy Jimenez

Age: 18

Height: 6’4” Weight: 205 lb.

Position: OF

Bats: R Throws: R

Stats

After spending all of last season with the Cubs Arizona League team, Jimenez was placed in Short-Season Eugene and has started rather strong out of the gate. Still only 18-years-old, Jimenez has impressed thus far, posting a .302 batting average and a .413 slugging percentage over his 63 at-bats in Short-Season ball.

Of his 19 hits, two have been homers, and there’s a good chance we see Jimenez moving past Short-Season this year. His defense has remained above-average, and he continues to show why his arm could fit in right field. He has yet to disappoint the Cubs or show that his $2.8 million signing bonus was undeserved. There are still questions regarding his patience at the plate, and whether he can cut down on his strikeouts. Overall, his development has begun to quicken and he has managed to keep up with his fellow international-signee Gleyber Torres.

11. Carson Sands

Age: 20

Height: 6’3” Weight: 205 lb.

Position: SP

Throws: L

Stats

Sands was the fourth round pick of the Cubs in the 2014 draft, deemed to be one of three “million dollar arms”. At the time, Sands was a high school draftee from North Florida Christian High School in Tallahassee. In addition, Sands helped the 18U USA team win gold in 2012. Sands consistently sits 91-94 but can top out at 96. Due to his 6 foot 3 inch, 200-pound frame, Sands has significant projection left to build upon. His fastball has life to it and his changeup is his best secondary pitch by far. Last year, Sands started in the Arizona League and struck out 20 over 19 innings pitched, sporting a 1.89 ERA. This year, he started in the Northwest League and has struggled for the Eugene Emeralds. So far, through six games, he has a 6.26 ERA, but that is inflated by his last start where he only got one out and allowed nine earned runs.

12. Corey Black

Age: 23

Height: 5’11” Weight: 175 lb.

Position: SP/RP

Throws: R

Stats

Recently moved to the pen, Black has the pure stuff to excel there. It’s just a matter of getting all of his pitches under control. In the bullpen, his stuff plays up, complementing a mid 90’s fastball with an average to slightly above slider and an okay changeup. He led the Southern League in the first half of the season in K/9 with a 10.41 clip. I was able to interview him while at Tennessee, which you can check out here, and he’s an awesome person to talk to and has a great work ethic. Expect him to spend a little more time at AA honing his control now that he is max effort out of the bullpen, and a late season promotion to Iowa may be in order. Within the next year, he should be in the majors, and now it’s just a matter of what the front office wants to do with his arm.

13. Jen-Ho Tseng

Age: 20

Height: 6’1” Weight: 210 lb.

Position: SP

Throws: R

Stats

Considering his age and advanced pitch-ability, Tseng has struggled this year in Myrtle Beach. His FIP still stands at a solid 3.67, but his K/9 is down to just 5.57. Although he hasn’t had the best season, I came away impressed of my viewing of him a month ago. In it, he was sitting 91-93 mph, T95 with movement, as well as a curveball that had tight spin and good horizontal movement. In that game, he got five of his six strikeouts with the curve, and it could be an above-average pitch in the majors. He also threw in an inconsistent changeup that had some late fade to it. Overall, he has the potential for three average to better pitches and knows how to sequence. Keep an eye on him the second half as his numbers should improve, which would vault him back into our top 10.

14. Willson Contreras

Age: 23

Height: 6’1” Weight: 175 lb.

Position: C

Bats: R Throws: R

Stats

Contreras is the definition of a breakout player. Coming into the season, Contreras wasn’t thought of as a top prospect, but his .317/.394/.472 line has quickly changed that thinking. An argument can be made that he should be higher and an argument can be made that he should be lower. Right here is a happy medium. Despite his performance this season, there is still some skepticism if this is a legitimate breakout because he has never hit like this at any other level of the minors. In fact, he’s been pretty weak in the hitting department until this season. We will have to see if he can carry his performance into the second half, and into next season. Defensively, he has a strong throwing arm and profiles to be a solid catcher.

Observations

15. Mark Zagunis

Age: 22

Height: 6’0” Weight: 205 lb.

Position: OF

Bats: R Throws: R

Stats

Zagunis, the Cubs third round draftee in the ’14 draft, has started the year off well in High-A Myrtle Beach, playing only the outfield to start the year. In his 80 games thus far, he’s put up a very respectable slash line (.291/.424/.858), and an impressive 56 walks to 56 strikeouts. Zagunis has a knack for striking out and walking the same amount of times – essentially matching each walk with a K, and vice versa. His career 1:1 walk-to-strikeout ratio (98:98) further extends the notion that Zagunis is a very patient hitter who has no problem taking walks – something this Cubs regime is in love with regarding Zagunis.

His five homers this year and career 26 stolen bases (10 this year) add to his expanding set of tools at the plate and on the base paths, making him a rather valuable prospect. However, it seems unlikely that Zagunis will be the future catcher the Cubs may need, as instead it looks like the outfield will be his new position. He’s shown that he has the arm and ability to stick in right field, and has played in right for the majority of the 2015 season. If he continues to hit as he has, the 22-year-old could soon find himself in Tennessee.

16. Justin Steele

Age: 20

Height: 6’2” Weight: 195

Position: SP

Throws: L

Stats

Justin Steele was a part of the big three (Dylan Cease, Carson Sands, Justin Steele) that the Cubs drafted in the middle rounds of the first ten rounds in 2014. While Steele doesn’t offer much in the way of physical projection, he has already shown that a little refinement can go a long way.

Coming into the season, Steele’s best pitch was his low 90’s fastball, however, we have already seen improvement in his curveball, which features sharp breaking action that can be thrown for strikes or as a chase pitch. He also features a changeup, but it is now the laggard of the bunch. He’ll need to work on becoming more consistent with it. On the season for the Emeralds, Steele has a 1.08 ERA in 25 innings pitched. He has a 29 punch-outs and eight free passes, good for a 20.4% K-BB%. If all of the stars align for Steele, he could top out as a number three starter.

17. Jeimer Candelario

Age: 21

Height: 6’1” Weight: 210 lb.

Position: 3B

Bats: S Throws: R

Stats

Candelario is a great example of the saying development isn’t linear. After really struggling in his first taste of High-A and getting demoted last year, Candelario is back at the level and performing quite well. His season slash line is .271/.319/.414 and he is just starting to heat up. He has a smooth, contact-oriented swing, which has limited his power production, though he does have the body and strength to increase it. At third, he moves slowly but has great hands and a plus arm to make up for it. Into his late-20’s I can see him being a solid third baseman, though a move to first is likely to happen as he gets older. I was able to interview him here, and he has really picked it up this season. Look for him to finish out the year at Myrtle Beach, with him likely to start the following year with the Smokies.

18. Victor Caratini

Age: 21

Height:6'1" Weight: 215 lb.

Position : C

Bats: S Throws: R

Stats

Caratini was the return for Bonifacio and J. Russell at the deadline last year. Before converting to full time catcher last season, Caratini played some third base. Scouting reports claim that he was barely average at third base, so focusing on catching was most likely for the better. Interestingly enough, this year, Caratini has played three games at first base. A switch-hitting C/1B can be extremely valuable in a bench role at the big league level. That is the role I see for Caratini’s future.

While he does not have much power (nine homeruns in three seasons), Caratini does understand the strike zone, and it is evident that he has made that a priority with the Cubs organization. Since last year, Caratini’s BB/K ratio has gone from 38:69 to 37:49. His OBP is nearly .100 points higher than his BA, but his mid .200 batting average and lack of power or projectable power is what will likely keep him from becoming a major league regular.

19. Dylan Cease

Age: 19

Height: 6’1” Weight: 175 lb.

Position: SP

Throws: R

Stats

Dylan Cease easily has the highest ceiling out of any pitcher within the Cubs system. Currently, he’s working his way back from Tommy John Surgery that he had just after the draft last summer. Reports have been good and it seems that his stuff has returned immediately, which is excellent news. His fastball has been clocked hitting 99 mph, but he generally sits in the mid-upper 90’s. Right now, the goal for Cease is to learn to harness his fastball. Eventually, he will start mixing his curveball and changeup in more, probably as soon as next season.

In 11.2 innings for the Arizona Cubs, Cease has given up four hits, two earned runs, walked four, and struck out 10. His path to the majors will be a long one, but if everything comes together for Cease, he could be that number one starter the Cubs have been looking to develop. There’s a lot of risk here, but the upside is immense.

20. Ryan Williams

Age: 23

Height: 6’4” Weight: 220 lb.

Position: SP

Bats: R Throws: R

Stats

Williams, drafted back in 2014, had no problem getting hitters out at Low-A South Bend, and as a result skipped High-A and headed straight for Tennessee. He earned the Cubs Pitcher of the Month award for May, and has put up a 1.50 ERA over 14 games started this year. Since making the jump to Double-A, Williams hasn’t skipped a beat, allowing just 28 hits in his 36.2 IP at Tennessee. Scouts describe him as a contact pitcher, as he uses his three pitches (slider, fastball, and curveball) to make his defense work. He pounds the strike zone every at-bat, and isn’t a stranger to six to eight pitch innings. His delivery may face some questions as he works his way up the organizational ladder, as it seems to create some stress on his arm. Nevertheless, Williams could be a valuable piece for the Cubs in the next few seasons.

HM: Tyler Skulina - This may come as a bit of a surprise, especially given his struggles last year, but Skulina has made some real improvements this year. He seemed to lack movement on any of his pitches and has been plagued by injuries his last couple of years. Healthy at Myrtle Beach this year, he has put up a 3.05 ERA and has gotten 8.56 K/9. At the moment he is still walking too many batters, but from my look at him he was solid and made me believe he could develop into a back-end type starter. In that game, his fastball sat 89-91 mph with cut to it as well as a solid curveball with lots of horizontal movement to it. He should finish out the year at Myrtle, and if he stays healthy, he should find his way back onto lists at the end of the season.

Stats

HM: Charcer Burks - Drafted in the ninth round in 2013 out of high school, Burks has enjoyed a real solid campaign in his first taste of full-season ball. He has hit .277/.346/.354 and has just started to heat up at the plate. He has a knack for putting the barrel on the ball, and should be able to play CF as he rises up the ranks. Check out an interview with him here.

Stats

HM: Chesny Young - Drafted out of Mercer in the 14th round last year, all Young has done in pro-ball is hit. Naturally, a 3B, Young has been playing a lot of 2B this year and the front office is trying to increase his versatility. As he has now played 2B,SS,3B,LF, and RF. From my looks at him, he has an advanced approach and a great feel for the barrel. What limits him as a prospect is his lack of power, but he has been working on getting stronger and may be able to increase his home run total the next few years. He is slashing .348/.417/.413 at Myrtle Beach this season. Here's Ted's interview with Young.

Stats

HM: Jeremy Null - Null was a 15th Round draft pick in 2014 joined an already impressive class that included: Carson Sands, Justin Steele, and Dylan Cease, but Null went much later. At 6’7” tall, Null has a higher perceived velocity than he throws due to the downward plane he pitches on. Null sits 91-93, but for a guy with crazy extension towards the plate, the perceived velocity on his pitches could add a couple ticks on the fastball.

After great success in the Northwest League in 2014, Null showed no signs of slowing down this year in South Bend. While Null’s SO rate has decreased, both his BB rate and fly ball rate have decreased, thus he is inducing much weaker contact while still attacking the zone. Null was also named NWL MVP of the ASG, going one inning while striking out three of the four batters he faced on only 16 pitches.

Stats

HM: Donnie Dewees - fell into the Cubs lap this year in the second round. He has the perfect profile of the typical Cubs pick; left handed bat and up the middle defender. He has yet to play any center field in his professional career, which is most likely due to Ian Happ and the Cubs figuring out if Happ can stay in center. Dewees has gotten off to a slow start for Eugene, which can be attributed to the bump in competition he is facing. While he hit over .400 in college, he was facing rather mediocre pitching in the Atlantic Sun conference. Now in his professional career he is facing some of the best pitching he has ever seen. Good baseball players adjust, hopefully Dewees will do the same.

Stats

As always with a list, especially when it's a group effort, compromises have to be made. Each one of us that contributed to the list have our own personal rankings, which means we might have players higher or lower than they are reflected on this list. Feel free to ask questions in the comment section or on our social media accounts. You can follow us on twitter @CubsFutures and like us on FaceBook here.

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  • Nice job on the list. It might be interesting to think that if Sands, Steele, & Cease develop; last year's class could be remembered more for it's pitching than Schwarber.

  • great list

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