We move on to the second part of the list, Tier 3. In this group there is a mixture of young, unrefined arms with potential as well as high floor players in the upper-minors. The unique part about this system is the amount of depth the Cubs have. Unlike in past years when the Cubs have had a star at the top of the rankings, they now have depth in many positions throughout the minors that makes up for that lack of star-power. The depth in this tier is the reason the Cubs will have another Top-10 system in the majors again.
12. Justin Steele
Height: 6'2” Weight: 195 lb.
Throws: L (FV 45+)
After being drafted out of high school in 2014, Steele spent 2015 with the short-season Eugene Emeralds where he pitched to a 2.66 ERA over 40 2/3 innings. Over that period, he struck out 38 batters and allowed no home runs. Steele throws a plus fastball which sits in the low 90s and has late two seam movement. Steele has gotten the fastball up as high as 95 which could come about more consistently with age. In addition to the fastball, Steele throws a curveball and a changeup. The curveball has late, sharp breaking action and projects as another plus pitch. The changeup is a work in progress, but Steele will have time to iron out the wrinkles as he is still just 20 years-old.
As is the case with most pitching prospects, Steele's fate as a starting pitcher will be contingent upon his ability to develop his changeup and consistency. We can look forward to watching Steele work on polishing his curveball and developing his changeup in 2016. If all goes right, Steele has potential as a middle of the rotation arm two or three years down the road. - Joe
13. Carson Sands
Height: 6’3” Weight: 205 lb.
Throws: L (FV 45+)
The 2015 season didn’t go as well as the 20 year-old southpaw might have wanted, but his year was far from a lost cause. Sands spent all season pitching for the Eugene Emeralds, which the Cubs Low-A (short-season) affiliate. He tossed 57.1 innings, surrendered 62 hits, 25 earned runs, walked 21, and struck out 41. His ERA on the season was 3.92 and his FIP was 3.58. One thing that stands out is his decreased strikeout rate, which was 6.47 K/9 on the season.
The lack of strikeouts can mean three things. First, he was working on individual pitches in an attempt to refine them. Second, his stuff isn’t as good as once thought. Third, a combination of one and two were going on. Because of the level Sands is at, the third option is the most likely. Often young pitchers will throw one of a certain pitch more in an attempt to get more reps. When this happens, the strikeout numbers tend to dry up because hitters know that they’re going to see that pitch. Sands features a fastball that sits in the low 90’s with arm side run along with 12-6 curveball and solid changeup. He has a smooth delivery that he repeats well. Sands has a long way to go, but with refinement he could end up being a number three or four starter. He should spend next season with the South Bend Cubs (Low-A). - Cameron
14. Carl Edwards Jr.
Height: 6'3" Weight: 170 lb.
Throws: R (FV 45+)
The South Carolina native moved down the list because of his move to the bullpen, but he still has an electric arm and should not be forgotten. The string-bean slinger has great arm speed in his delivery which helps him generate a fastball that rests in the mid 90's. He pairs that with a plus curveball that has sharp dip to it, and also an okay changeup. The big drawback with Edwards is his command. He had a 2.77 ERA over 55.1 innings, and struck out 75 batters, but he also walked 41 hitters. It's imperative that Edwards improves his control in the future, and if he's able to do that he has the stuff of a closer. If not, he still has the pitches to get major league batters out so he'll bounce around bullpens, hoping a tweak here and there will fix it. With a strong showing in spring-training Edwards could start the year in the Cubs bullpen, although an assignment to Iowa where he can work on his control in less stressful situations is more likely. - Ted
15. Donnie Dewees
Height: 5’11” Weight: 180 lb.
Bats: L Throws: L (FV 45)
Donnie Dewees was taken in the second round in the 2015 draft after an outstanding finish to his college career. In his Junior season at North Florida, the talented lefty finished first in hits, runs, and total bases in all of Division One. He is obviously comfortable with the bat and although there isn’t much power behind it, he is able to hit the ball to all fields. Where Dewees especially excels is with his feet both on the bases and in the field. In 66 games with Eugene in 2015, he swiped 19 bags and played above average in the outfield committing only four errors all season at center. He doesn’t quite possess enough arm strength to man right field so center field and left field are his best bets moving forward.
You find Dewees here in the middle of the pack because although his defense and base running abilities are great, he struggles to hit for power. He was only able to produce a .320 wOBA and his BB:K was 14:54, although that should improve next season. Keith Law compared him to Brett Gardner coming out of college so his potential to produce at the big league level is definitely there. It wouldn’t surprise me to find him in South Bend to start the season, with a mid-season promotion to Myrtle Beach likely. The chance for him to face better competition on the mound could be paramount for his growth at the plate. If there is a cut in strikeouts and a gain in walks, his OBP will certainly climb and he could be the table-setter the Cubs are looking for. Dewees has the talent to move through the minors quickly, the bat just needs to come along for the ride. - Josh
16. Ryan Williams
Height: 6’4” 220 lb.
Throws: R (FV 40+)
Ryan Williams is the definition of a breakout player. Williams started the 2015 season as a much thought-after 10th rounder out of ECU, and pitched incredibly well with the South Bend Cubs. In 53.2 innings, he gave up 36 hits, 7 earned runs, 2 walks, and struck out 37, while posting a 1.17/2.24 ERA/FIP. The Cubs liked what they saw so much that he skipped High-A Myrtle Beach and was sent to the Double-A Tennessee Smokies. With the Smokies, Williams continued to roll. He tossed an additional 88 innings, gave up 73 hits, 27 earned runs, walked 18, and struck out 61. He posted ERA of 2.76 and a FIP of 2.86.
Williams has drawn comparisons to Cubs’ starter, Kyle Hendricks. Williams doesn’t strikeout very many batters, and he doesn’t walk many, but what he’s really good at is getting them to ground out. He has a very good feel for pitching and works with what he has. He won’t blow anyone away and he won’t make very many hitters look silly, but what he will do is attack hitters and induce weak contact. Williams features a three-pitch arsenal, fastball, curveball, and slider. His fastball sits in the low 90’s, curve in the low 80’s, slider in the upper 70’s to low 80’s. His curveball is his bread-and-butter pitch. It’s very possible that Williams could turn out to be a very solid number four starter. - Cameron
17. Daniel Vogelbach
Height: 6’0” Weight: 250 lb.
Bats: L Throws: R (FV 45)
Long considered one of the most impressive power-hitters in the Chicago Cubs system, Dan Vogelbach has garnered comparisons to Prince Fielder, as opposed to Mark Reynolds or Adam Dunn. Unfortunately for Cubs fans, last year they didn’t get to see Vogelbach play much down in Double-A Tennessee, as he was limited to just 76 games thanks to injuries to his hamstring, and later his oblique. That being said, when he was on the field, Vogelbach put up an impressive on-base percentage of .403 and slugged 7 homers, on route to a fairly successful season. In the field he has worked hard to improve his defense, but he grades out as below-average at first. He uses in all-fields approach at the plate, preferring to spray line-drives than mash home runs. Were it not for injuries Vogelbach may have seen some time at Triple-A last year, but will instead likely start 2016 at Double-A again. After that, it’s tough to say whether Dan will be with the Cubs or headed to another teams system. With the Cubs in ‘Win’ mode, and Anthony Rizzo stationed at first base for the foreseeable future, it looks like Vogelbach will have to put on his best Prince Fielder impression for another fan base. Luckily for the Cubs, considering he doesn’t mirror the home run heavy approaches of Reynolds or Dunn, multiple teams should be excited to acquire such a well-suited DH or first baseman, and will likely send back a decent return. - Dan
18. Darryl Wilson
Height: 5'9” Weight: 177 lb.
Bats: L Throws: L (FV 40+)
The Cubs took DJ Wilson as a 4th round pick out of high school this year, stealing him away from Vanderbilt. Not much was known about him coming out of the draft, but the Ohio native impressed in his time in Arizona. Wilson's best tools are his speed and athleticism, and he profiles as a center fielder (a position which the Cubs seem to be stocking up on). Spending each of his professional appearances in center field this summer without recording an error, he has the instincts, athleticism, and enough of an arm to stay at the position going forward. Wilson has a quick and direct contact swing, frequently putting the ball in play. From there, his legs should be able to take over. As a speed guy, his ability to limit fly balls to this point has been promising; of his 67 batted balls this year in the Arizona League, 32.8% were fly balls and 9% were pop ups. With youth on his side, Wilson will be fun to follow in his first full year of pro ball, and could quickly rise up the system with a strong showing next season. - Joe
Via John Arguello
19. Mark Zagunis
Height: 6’0” Weight: 180 lb.
Bats: R Throws: R (FV 40)
At number 19 on our list we come to Mark Zagunis, a talented college catcher the Cubs took in the 3rd round of the 2014 draft. Though he made his name behind the plate in college, the Cubs have transitioned him to the outfield full-time. This move really speaks to his athleticism and his all around talent with the glove. Where I am especially intrigued by Zagunis is at the plate. There isn’t much power to speak of as he has only hit 10 homeruns in 172 minor league games, but the guy knows how to get on base. He has produced an impressive .411 OBP and has an outstanding BB:K of 122:128.
The advanced stats seem to really favor Zagunis at the plate even without gaudy power numbers. He has had two seasons with a wRC+ above 145 and three seasons with a wOBA over .390. The reason it his hard to project Zagunis at the next level is where he fits on the field. With OF prospects like Almora and Jimenez ahead of him and what the Cubs already have at the major league level, it will be easy for him to be left out. He has made it harder though with the rate at which he gets on base, which is the best in the Cubs farm system. It will be interesting to see if he can continue to do so when he faces better competition in AA. If he develops power, he could become an average corner outfielder, though a 4th outfielder role is likely his future role. - Josh
20. Christian Villanueva
Height: 5’11” Weight: 210 lb.
Bats: R Throws: R (FV 40)
The scouting report for Villanueva has pretty much all been said and done. Since signing with the Texas Rangers in 2009 at age 18, he has put together a solid minor league career. The Cubs acquired him in 2012 in a trade that sent Ryan Dempster to Texas. He is known for his defense first with the bat not too far behind. The third baseman spent most of his 2015 season in Iowa slashing .259/.313/.437 which are all on par with his career averages in the minors. He has put together some decent power numbers amassing 82 homeruns and 171 doubles in almost 700 games. There is more swing and miss in his bat than you would like to see as he has more than double the strikeouts than walks in his career. But he has worked to improve his approach, and Ted liked what he saw when he had a look at him this past season.
In my opinion for Villanueva to make the big league roster in 2016, he will have to come off of the bench or fill in for an injury. There is just too much talent ahead of him in both the minors and the majors. That isn’t to lessen his value because he could be a much-needed option for teams that can afford to play him all of the time in the majors, which is why a trade could be in his future. The most likely spot for him in 2016 will be Iowa again where he will continue to face the best pitchers he can while waiting to make his Major League debut with Chicago. - Josh
21. Jen-Ho Tseng
Height: 6’1” Weight: 210 lb.
Throws: R (FV 40)
The Taiwanese native was signed for $1.625 million as an 18-year-old, and continued his progression of a level a year. Tseng had an up-and-down time pitching in the Carolina league this past season, but still managed to log 119 innings and showed the stuff of a back-end starter. Although he didn’t produce the outstanding numbers that he did at Kane County, Tseng still put up a 3.55 ERA at the age of 20.
Tseng is maxed out physically, but this year he made a concerted effort to add more velocity to his fastball. Rather than sitting at 90-91mph like he did in 2014, in my viewing Tseng’s fastball sat 91-93mph and touched 95 with good tailing action. His curveball, a little slurvy, features great horizontal movement with decent vertical movement. It has the potential to be an average or slightly higher pitch in the big leagues. He also has a changeup with some fading action that sat 82-84. He’ll need to throw the pitch more in the bottom of the zone, but overall Tseng has the stuff to start. He’ll continue his trek through the minors next season in the Smokies rotation, but he has all of the makings of a back-of-the-rotation/long man in the bullpen future. - Ted
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