Our 2016 Chicago Cubs Top Prospect list continues with the release of prospects 5-11. It's quite impressive to look at this list and realize how much talent it really has, even without the likes of Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, or Kyle Schwarber. While it's true that the top talent in the system doesn't compare to years past, there are still a lot of bright futures left in the system. We want to make note of one prospect that we have left off our list. Eddy Julio Martinez, who was a top prospect out of Cuba, has been left off our list simply because there's very little information out there about him. For that reason we felt it was best to leave him out until our next list. By then we should have more information about him. Hopefully you will understand our reasoning. Here are your Tier 2 prospects:
5. Albert Almora
Height: 6’2” Weight: 180 lb.
Bats: R Throws: R (FV 50)
After struggling through the first half of his season in Double-A Tennessee, the 21-year-old put up a strong showing in the second half of the season, apparently impressing many in the Cubs front office. Among a multitude of improvements at the back-end of the season, Almora lifted his walk rate up to 8.8% and kept his strikeout rate at a very respectable 10.3%. Both of these improvements come after what many had called a stump in his development and add some much needed reassurance to doubts regarding his approach at the plate. On the other side of the ball, Almora continues to be arguably one of the best defensive prospects in the game of baseball, reacting with exceptional first steps on batted balls, and maintaining the baseball IQ in centerfield of someone like Jim Edmonds.
Although Almora has an invitation to Spring Training, it’s extremely unlikely the young outfielder breaks camp with the team, as it seems his next challenge will be Triple-A Iowa. As Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer would explain, Almora needs to dominate at every level he plays at before his development can progress. In other words, don’t expect to see Albert Almora at Wrigley Field before the tail end of 2016, where he might find himself enjoying a nice cup of coffee with the Cubs in September. He might not provide much pop down the road, but adding a defensively minded outfielder to the roster has never been an impediment for any team in a playoff race. And to be clear, even with Jason Heyward signed to a long-term contract, he has multiple opt-outs which could provide the Cubs with leverage if and when they feel that Almora is ready to patrol center field at Wrigley on a daily basis. - Dan
6. Billy McKinney
Height: 6'1” Weight: 195 lb.
Bats: L Throws: L (FV 50)
As most know, McKinney was a supplemental piece in the 2014 Addison Russell for Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel trade, and his stock has been rising ever since. McKinney made the jump to the AA Smokies in May, and immediately proved his aptitude at the plate. McKinney has a knack for making solid contact in many at bats, and he isn't afraid to work the count. Additionally, McKinney struck out just 15.3% of the time in 308 ABs with the Smokies leading many to believe in him as a high OBP guy going forward. At the moment, McKinney has to work a bit on his at-bats against lefties having hit just .192 against southpaws compared to .306 against righties. Despite a large frame, McKinney has not yet shown much in game power. At present, I don't see McKinney's power potential as much better than average which is just fine because he is able to drive the ball into the gaps and hit for a high average. His bat will certainly play at a major league level at some point in the future.
Onward to his defensive profile. I wrote a few months ago about the Cubs' future at the center field position and, like I said then, I don't think McKinney will be much of a factor at the position going forward. Though he was slotted in at center for much of 2015, McKinney doesn't have the plus speed necessary to effectively cover the gaps. Coupling his average speed with an average (at best) arm, it would seem McKinney is destined for left. That being said, even when playing center, the athletic McKinney has shown an ability to read the ball well of off bats which should make him an above average defender in left if that is indeed his position going forward. Look for McKinney to spend much of 2016 between AA and AAA at the comparatively young age of 21. - Joe
7. Pierce Johnson
Height: 6’3” Weight: 200 lb.
Throws: R (FV 45+)
In 2015, Pierce Johnson had to once again deal with a couple of injuries. However, his season was not lost. He spent his entire season pitching for the Double-A Tennessee Smokies, where he put up solid numbers. He tossed 95 innings, gave up 76 hits, surrendered 21 earned runs, walked 32, and struck out 72. His ERA was 2.08 and his FIP was 3.47. Johnson came into the season a bit erratic, and while he did have success limiting walks this season, his strikeout rate suffered. There is still room for refinement, and Johnson is going to have to make that a priority moving forward. His fastball sits in the low to mid 90’s and he features a sharp curveball that is his best pitch. His changeup is slightly above average on the right day. In terms of stuff, Johnson has it, the questions are will he be able to throw enough strikes and be able to stay healthy. Johnson has the ceiling of a number three starter, but a number four is a more likely outcome if his control doesn’t sharpen up. On the low end, he could be similar to Neil Ramirez or Justin Grimm out of the pen. He’ll get a chance to prove himself with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs in 2016. - Cameron
Via Shaun Kernahan
8. Jeimer Candelario
Height: 6’1” Weight: 210 lb.
Bats: S, Throws: R (FV 50)
The “Candy Man” struggled through a rough 2014 season where he hit .223/.288/.379, but followed it up with a good showing at Myrtle Beach before his promotion to the Smokies. There, Candelario caught fire, finishing the season up with a .277/.339/.431 slash line with ten home runs. Jeimer also improved his defense at the hot corner, and will stay there as long as he is adequate.
The New York born and Dominican raised prospect was signed for $500,000 as an international free agent in 2010, and his bat has kept on progressing. He’s a switch-hitter who uses the same, consistent approach from both sides of the plate. His swing is line-drive oriented, and towards the end of the year he began tapping into more of his power. He has the potential to produce 15 homers a year with strong on-base skills. At third, he made a ton of improvement and could be average at the position in the future thanks to a plus arm and good hands. I still have questions on whether his footwork will allow him to stay at third long-term, but in the interim he won’t hurt the Cubs in the field. We expect Candelario to start the year with the Smokies, and with a strong showing he should end the year with the Iowa Cubs. The Candy Man is a great example of why progression is not linear for prospects. - Ted
9. Eloy Jimenez
Height: 6’4” Weight: 205 lb.
Bats: R Throws: R (FV 45+)
Just settling in to professional ball last year, Jimenez hit well at Low-A Eugene, with a slash line of .284/.328/.418. Signed by the Cubs at the age of 16, Jimenez has slowly progressed to the point where his development is moving along quite nicely. Once he fills out his tall frame, most scouts expect to see a huge uptick in power from Eloy, as currently he couples raw power with a relatively impressive set of hitting tools. Willing to take walks and use the entire field, Jimenez has a ton of offensive potential that he has yet to realize. Already he’s the biggest player on the field, and he’s not yet done growing. In the field, his size does little to deter his defensive ability in right field, which includes a laser arm that has drawn comparison to…Jorge Soler. Although it may be a bit of stretch, Jimenez does have a fantastic throwing ability and can certainly stick in right field down the road.
Barring any setbacks due to injuries, the Cubs will likely start Jimenez at South Bend next season. Assuming he masters each level of play sufficiently, he could find himself in Wrigley within the next few years, but not nearly as quickly as one would hope. This is just the beginning for Eloy Jimenez, and Cubs fans should look forward to watching his name rise on prospect boards as he continues to showcase his future potential. - Dan
Via John Arguello
10. Dylan Cease
Height: 6’1” Weight: 175 lb.
Throws: R (FV 50)
Dylan Cease was a highly touted flame throwing high school prospect out of Georgia in 2014. Injury concerns and reports of the high dollar amount it would take to sign him led to the Cubs snatching him in the 6th round of the 2014 draft. Those injury concerns would turn out to have merit as Cease underwent Tommy John surgery in June. After bouncing back, he made his highly anticipated 2015 season debut with the Cubs Arizona Rookie League team. He produced a 2.62 ERA with 25 strikeouts in only 24 innings pitched.
The sample size was small and while his numbers were promising the real promise was Cease getting back on the mound and still possessing his electric fastball. He was reported touching 100 MPH while consistently sitting in the mid-nineties. The most important thing he needs to work on is finding consistency in his secondary pitches. There are some control issues with his curveball and fastball that led to a higher walk rate than strikeout rate in Arizona. Cease just turned 20 this past December and is still very raw and will most likely continue to fill out his frame. The Cubs took a chance on him for a reason and he will continue to try and prove that it was a wise choice. We might see Cease start out in Eugene in 2016 with the opportunity to work on his command and not just get by with his fastball. - Josh
Via Tanner Shurtz
11. Oscar de la Cruz
Height: 6’4” Weight: 200 lb.
Throws: R (FV 45+)
De la Cruz was the big pop-up pitching prospect for the Cubs this season. The big-bodied Dominican was signed for $85,000 as a 17-year-old in 2012 and made his stateside debut this season. He jumped from the Arizona League into the Emeralds rotation, and their he shined, posting a 2.84 ERA and striking out 73 batters in 73 innings.
Due to his body type, de la Cruz can still add some strength to his already large frame. His fastball sat 90-93mph last season and touched 97. The pitch has sink to it, and he controlled it relatively well. The big positive with his season in Eugene was that he only walked 2.10 hitters per nine innings, as he often got ahead of hitters thanks to the fastball. He also showed off a curveball in the low 80’s that flashed plus and a nascent changeup. De la Cruz will start next season at South Bend, and if you’re in the area you’ll have to watch him pitch. He has a chance to jump into the top 5 with a strong showing in his first taste of full-season ball. - Ted
You can find previous entries for our Chicago Cubs 2016 Top Prospects List below:
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