We roll on with our prospects list and today we have a group of hitters with starting potential and an undersized pitcher who may be very underrated.
To catch-up with the rest of the series, see our 2014 Cubs Top Prospects Page.
Also be sure to check out MiCubs and Boys of Spring who have done great work providing an extra dimension to this years prospect list. Brian Bedo’s podcast and Tim Sheridan’s video are at the bottom of this article.
25. Gioskar Amaya, 2B, R/R
- Age: 21
- 5’11’, 175 lbs.
- Expected 2014 level: Daytona (high A)
- Key 2013 stats: .252/.329/.369, 8.1% walk rate
I’m probably a little too low here on Amaya, who I believe projects as an everyday 2B. If there is an issue here, it’s that his floor is a little lower because he doesn’t play SS, so if he doesn’t make it as a starter then he’ll have a hard time securing a 25 man roster spot as a 2B with average speed, below average power, and limited defensive versatility.
I asked a rival scout about some of his favorite Kane County players last year and the first player he mentioned was Gioskar Amaya. Forget the stats, one has to watch Amaya closely to appreciate him. He’s a true 2B with good range, quick hands, and a SS level arm. He makes the pivot on the double play easily. I’ve talked about his partner at SS, Marco Hernandez earlier in the list but Amaya plays the field with more consistency. He makes all the plays he is supposed to make and it seemed like every game he made at least one play that potentially saved a hit, erased a baserunner, or prevented a player from taking an extra base. I think he’s going to be a well above average 2B in the majors.
At the plate, Amaya shows improving discipline and excellent bat to ball skills. He struggled to start the season but showed a few stretches where he was simply the best hitter on the team. His ceiling is as a plus defender who hits for average and gets on base. He isn’t going to steal bases but he shows enough speed and skill to be an asset on the base paths.
Amaya is a sleeper candidate to break out in 2014 under the tutelage of the Daytona coaching staff. It wouldn’t surprise me if my end of season list has him back in the top 15.
24. Yasiel Balaguert, OF, R/R
- Age 21
- 6’2″, 215 lbs.
- Expected 2014 Level: Kane County
- Key 2013 Stats: .172 ISO, 9.7% walk rate, .361 wOBA, 26% strikeout rate
Before Javier Baez got promoted to Peoria two years ago, there were 2 guys that were fun to watch in batting practice. One of them was Balaguert, who showed a nice clean stroke with good bat speed. He is a strong kid and has the explosive hands/wrists to generate power down the road. Unfortunately that year, Balaguert started the season out of shape and the Cubs may have been a bit too ambitious starting a 19 year old defector from Cuba in the MWL. Balaguert got a fresh start at Boise in the NWL last year. He looked like he was in better shape and showed tremendous improvement with his plate discipline. In 63 games he hit for 15 doubles, a triple, and 8 HRs but that could just be scratching the surface. For Balaguert to take his game to the next level, he’s going to have to make better contact. His 26% K rate at the short season level is a concern but that was due in part to needing work on recognizing breaking pitches better. He is a good athlete for his size but also has a thick body and though he made progress last season, he did seem to wear down as the season went on. He’s going to have to be mindful about keeping himself in shape.
If he can control the strikeouts, Balaguert could hit well enough to comfortably carry a corner OF position at the MLB level. If he keeps the weight under control, he has enough athleticism and arm strength to be a solid defender as well.
23. Shawon Dunston, Jr., CF, L/R
- Age: 21
- 6’2″, 170 lbs.
- Expected 2014 Level: Kane County (A)
- Key 2013 Stats: .290/.378/.358, 12.6% walk rate, 11.2% K rate
Dunston gets some mixed opinion because he was a lot more raw than some expected after he was drafted and because there is some question as to whether he can develop power. He does continue to make progress, however, and last year accomplished a relatively rare feat, posting a higher walk rate than a strikeout rate. His swing mechanics and plate discipline has improved significantly since he was drafted, but Dunston isn’t just a guy with an intelligent approach. Like his father he has quick hands and the hand/eye coordination to make consistent contact (people forget that dad had a very solid 15.9% K rate as a major leaguer) — and he’s a fast (6.55 in the 60), athletic player with a strong arm who has the chance to be a plus center fielder in time.
The one thing he lacks right now is consistent extra base power, but he has a wiry build and those quick hands, so there is some thought he can hit for average or better power down the road. That will likely determine whether Dunston can be a quality everyday CF’er in the majors or become a 4th outfielder type.
22. Corey Black, RHP
- Age: 22
- 5’11”, 175 lbs.
- Expected 2014 Level: Tennessee (AA)
- Key 2013 Stats: 10.08 Ks/9 IP (26.7%); 3.6 BB/9 IP; 4-0, 2.88 ERA (3.96 FIP)
Like many players on this particular portion of this list, there is some significant mixed opinion. There are some that see the great stuff, the 3 quality pitches (including a fastball that he can throw in the 95-97 range, slider, change) and his aptitude for pitching and they see a potential starter. Others are concerned by his lack of size and feel his durability will someday relegate him to a relief role, though the big fastball gives him a chance to be a high leverage reliever if he can cut down on the walks. There is some hope for that as Black is a good athlete and repeats his delivery well. He’s also shown he can quickly make mechanical adjustments.
The Cubs have every incentive to keep him as a starter until he proves he can’t handle the role. Most people I’ve talked to think he’ll end up in relief, where he can be a 7th or 8th inning guy — but Black has the stuff to be a starter and still has time to prove he can sustain velocity late into the game and over the course of a long season.
21. Jacob Hannemann, CF, L/L
- Age: 22
- 6’1″, 195 lbs.
- Expected 2014 Level: Kane County
- Key 2013 Stats: .290/.313/.468, 17 total games between rookie level AZ and short season Boise
The Cubs are a little higher on Hanneman than most other teams, drafting him as an overslot in the 3rd round. The Cubs have a plethora of CF’ers but Hanneman may have the best speed and athleticism in the bunch. He combines that with excellent natural instincts. The Cubs were impressed with his ability to adapt so quickly after a 2 year hiatus due to a Mormon mission. Thus what he has in athleticism and instincts, he lacks in experience. It didn’t help that he couldn’t stay on the field last year. He’ll have to be healthy because Hanneman will be 23 by the end of April and will likely be at the class A level to start the season. He’s going to have to hit the ground running and you have to hope he adapts to pro ball as quickly as he did to the college game. The ideal is for him to reach Daytona midseason and be knocking on the door to Tennessee by the beginning of next year.
If he reaches his ceiling, he has the skills to be an everyday CF’er in the big leagues, providing speed, OBP skills and extra base power at the top of a lineup while being a potential plus defender in CF. Right now, however, it’s almost entirely about projection with Hanneman. He’ll have to show performance on the field in 2014.
Video from Tim Sheridan of Boys of Spring
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Filed under: 2014 Top Cubs Prospects