Cubs midseason top prospects and the folly of list-making

I have a huge list of players that I have broken down into tiers, so feel free to ask about anyone not in the DSL or VSL.  I wasn’t sure if I’d do a list or tiers for the published version, so I compromised and modified my personal tiers to something that is more list friendly.  I am doing a top 14 because that is where I feel I want to stop with the rankings.  And besides, I’ve never been much of  a round numbers guy anyway.

So, this is my incomplete list as it stands today…

The cream of the crop…high floors, high ceilings.  Potential all-stars

1. Kyle Schwarber, C, Iowa:  Still some work to do before he is a major league catcher but he’s made progress.  There is no doubt that bat will fit somewhere in the middle of the Cubs lineup no matter where he plays.  There is an increasing number of scouts who believe he can catch, but many of those converts are now simultaneously wondering if he should.  The Cubs see great value in him as a catcher but they will have to weigh that with MLB need and what is best for Schwarber long term.  We know he can hit — and he may just have the best hit tool on the Cubs when all is said and done, which is saying something.  The bat speed is plus and is right up there with anyone not named Javy, so the power will be there too, of course, as will the tremendous discipline that will allow him to put up big OBPs.

2. Gleyber Torres, SS South Bend: Polished as a hitter and defender, Torres is succeeding as an 18 year old against players that are often 3-4 years older.  He doesn’t have crazy upside, but there is all-star level talent.  He’s a dependable middle infielder with better than expected range who gives you high OBP with gap power and perhaps 8-10 HRs per season.  The only question right now is whether he is a SS or a 2B long term.

High floor players with chances to be good MLB starters 

3. Billy McKinney, OF, Tennessee:  His lack of power limits his upside but he can provide average power and good OBP numbers with potentially good corner OF defense.  He may be the Cubs best candidate to leadoff.  He’s a smart hitter with a plan from the first pitch to the last and exemplifies what this front office means when it wants grinders at the plate.

4. Ian Happ, OF-2B, Eugene:  I don’t know where he is going to end up defensively and there is some talk he’ll play some 2B in instructs.  The Cubs are likely just keeping their options open in that regard.  Happ is a switch hitter with a good speed and power combo to go with excellent plate discipline.  Has some swing and miss in his game and he’s not the star-level prospect that Bryant and Russell were and Schwarber is, but he has a chance to be a well-above average offensive player somewhere in the middle of the field.

The intriguing young arms long on potential and with long roads to travel

5. Dylan Cease, RHP. AZ Rookie Cubs: Possessing great, natural arm speed, Cease can touch 99 but he is best at 96-97 where he works rather easily and creates better run on his FB.  The curveball has a chance to be plus as well, giving him two swing and miss offerings at the very top of his arsenal.   You may think of Cease as pure power but his change-up is surprisingly advanced considering his age and lack of reps at the pro level so far.  He doesn’t really throw it in games as much as he does on the side, but he does show pretty good arm speed on it and I believe it can be an average pitch, which is more than enough considering the potential ceiling of his primary  offerings.  The arm action is pretty clean and the delivery, as mentioned, doesn’t show a lot of effort, though there is a very slight hitch at the top that I don’t see as a concern.  It may even add a little bit of deception.  There is still a question of whether he will start (I think he can) and there is the issue of him being so far away right now, so many things can happen — especially since the TJ history makes him even more risky.  But Cease’s ceiling is as high as those in the first tier of this list.

6. Duane Underwood, RHP, Myrtle Beach:  I am hesitating a bit on Underwood because of the recent injury  but he has been the Cubs best pitcher for most of the season.  He can sit 94-95 and occasionally touch 97, adds a plus curve, and what is becoming an above average command.  Where Underwood has made his biggest strides however are his fastball command and feel for the craft of pitching.   I’ve had Underwood in the top 5 for most of the year and if he proves healthy you can make an argument that he still belongs there because he is further along than Cease.

7. Justin Steele, LHP, Eugene: I knew a lot more about Carson Sands going in and I debated between those two for this spot, but I really like what I have seen from Steele in my time at Mesa.  He’s 91-93 and touches 94 with room for growth and flashes a plus curve.  But I kind of knew that already going in,  What I like about Steele are A) his delivery, which features clean arm action and a nice combination of arm speed, leverage, and some deception.  Hitters seem to have a hard time picking up the ball and an even harder time squaring up; and B) he has a much better feel for pitching than I gave him credit for.  I had always given the edge to Sands because of feel, but Steele has it too and I like his swing and miss potential better; and C) his command has been a bit better in the early going.

8. Carson Sands, LHP, Eugene: I like Sands a lot because of his all-around game.  He has the potential for 3 above pitches with average or better command, which would make him a 3rd starter if it all turns out well.  He has more of an ideal pitcher’s frame than Steele, which makes him less of a risk and perhaps more of a candidate to carry a mid-rotation starter’s load.  If you want to call Sands the better prospect, I wouldn’t argue there.  I tend to go against the grain sometimes on these lists and part of it is just personal preference on my part.

9. Carl Edwards, Jr., RHP, Tennessee:  Edwards stuff is about as good or better than any other pitcher on this list but consistent command and a slight build remain concerns and it is increasingly looking like he will be a bullpen arm.  If he throws strikes, he can be a very good, late inning leverage arm with a mid 90s FB that features late life, a knee-buckling curve and a solid change.  Edwards represents a sort of intermediary or transition prospect for the next tier.  You could make an argument he fits in both places and he fits best in this group if the Cubs stretch him out again or becomes a closer.

The mid-range prospects

10. Mark Zagunis, C, Myrtle Beach:  I went against the grain in my pre-season preview and aggressively ranked him 10th and I am going to keep him there for now.  I was a bit disappointed that he did not stick at catcher but that passed when Zagunis quickly developed as an athletic, OBP oriented OF.  In some ways he is a right-handed version of McKinney in that he lacks the power you want from a corner, but McKinney gets the nod because he is younger and doing it at a higher level.

11. Pierce Johnson, AA, Tennessee:  The stuff is still crisp (91-94 FB, cutter, curve, change) but the command still wavers and he needs to stay healthy.  I am not sure he’ll stay as a starter at this point, but in one or two inning stints, his FB could tick up and he can complement that with his power breaking ball.  The change will keep LH hitters honest and he’ll be able to mix in a cutter on some days.

12. Willson Contreras, C, Tennessee: After years of talking about him, he’s had a breakthrough season and is getting some attention in the mainstream.  Good tools defensively (strong arm, mobility and quickness behind the dish).  Offensively he’s always had quick, strong wrists but improved discipline and an all fields approach have taken his offense to the next level.

13. Donnie Dewees, OF, Eugene: 2nd round pick with leadoff potential and a chance to play CF.  Some have compared him to Brett Gardner but he is not as fast. He is, however, a good hitter with the swing plane to hit line drives, the discipline to get on base, and perhaps enough strength for gap power/double digit HRs.

The high ceiling, high risk:  Potential all-star, but enough bust potential to hedge our bets and not rank him too highly just yet:  

A party of one…

14. Eloy Jimenez, OF, Eugene: We call him “Baby Soler” and he resembles him in terms of his size, quiet demeanor, ridiculous raw power and a surprisingly good feel for hitting.  Also like Soler, he needs work on defense but has a strong arm and enough speed to be at least average out there.  He’s a good kid who is still adjusting to live games and a new culture, but he is an intelligent, respectful young man, so he is already adapting quickly.  If you have a high risk tolerance, you can make an argument to rank him in the top 10 — and I am good with that, but I tend to be a bit too risk averse to do that right now.  Let’s check back at the end of the year and see where we stand.

A necessarily finite list of more prospects to watch…

The wavering on Jimenez’s ranking tells me I am already past the point where lists have much meaning to me, so we’ll just put the rest in groups.  Do not assume that Ryan Williams is #18 and Jacob Hannemann is #43, for example.  The top to bottom order from here on out is random.  It makes no sense in my opinion to call one of these guys #37 and another guy #38.

High Floor players with a shot to be MLB regulars/contributors/role players

  • Dan Vogelbach, 1B, Tennessee: Good hitter, raw power but not consistent in games yet, great approach, limited defensively.
  • Reinaldo Almora, Jr. , CF, Tennessee: Grinder with tools, approach has held down OBP and power since he doesn’t often wait for pitches to drive.  Excellent CF defender.
  • Jake Stinnett, RHP, South Bend: Great movement, low 90s velo but could play up in pen.  Needs to improve command to have shot at starting, but stuff is intriguing.
  • Ryan Williams, RHP, Tennessee:  Excellent command, knows how to pitch, plays up average stuff which may have ticked up since signing (90-92 in most recent start, good CB)
  • Jeremy Null, RHP, Myrtle Beach:  Tall kid (6’7″) who got healthy and then started throwing low 90s with hard, downward plane that helps him draw weak contact.  Great command.
  • Corey Black, RHP, Tennessee:  Black can touch 97 out of the pen and adds a very good slider.  He’s a max effort guy and with iffy command, he may not profile as more than a 7th inning guy.

 In no particular order, some players with nice ceilings but high risk/low floors

  • Frandy  De La Rosa, 2B, Eugene: Good bat speed, average athleticism, good pop, improving approach
  • Oscar De La Cruz, RHP, Eugene: Tall pitcher whose velo ticked up and touched mid 90s, works low 90s. Secondaries lag.
  • Charcer Burks, OF, South Bend: Small, fast player with quick hands and the ability to square up
  • Trevor Clifton, RHP, South Bend: Ideal size, good makeup, low 90s velo, good CB, improving mechanics.
  • Wladimir Galindo, 3B, AZ: Strong hands, good bat speed, raw power, defense needs a lot of work.
  • Erling Moreno, RHP, AZ: Tall pitcher who has been in 88-92 range as he recovers from TJ, Great plane; flashes good CB.  Needs to stay healthy, more of a 2016 guy.
  • Austyn Willis, RHP, AZ: Young, but polished.  Great makeup.  88-90 on FB with good plane and room for more.
  • Bryan Hudson,LHP, AZ: Tall, thin LHP who generates high 80s heat now but a chance for that velo to explode as gets stronger.
  • DJ Wilson, CF, AZ: Fast, quick-twitch athlete with some strength despite lack of ideal physical size.  Can go get it in CF. Hit tool a question.

 The deep, deep sleeper

I often like to find unknown or unheralded players that surprise me with their tools/skills.  Zagunis, Contreras, Young, De La Rosa, Galindo, Moreno are some recent favorites that have graduated from the Arguello favorite sleeper list.  Check back in 2 or 3 years…I will either look like a genius or I will pretend it never happened.

  • Andruw Monasterio, SS, AZ: Thin but athletic build, quick hands, fluid infield actions, surprising pop.  Brings Arismendy Alcantara to mind, but not as quick twitch.  Maybe De La Rosa with more speed/fluid athleticism and less current pop.

A sample of notable players with solid floors and MLB Potential…

  • Chesny Young, IF, Myrtle Beach: Excellent hands and hand-eye coordination at the plate, average athlete, no power, some versatility
  • Bijan Rademacher, OF, Tennessee: Solid athlete with RF arm, intelligent approach, average power, average speed.  Good makeup.
  • Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Myrtle Beach: Switch-hitter with strong hands, line drive swing plane, good pitch recognition, improved defense
  • Gioskar Amaya, C, South Bend: Convert to catcher, line drive bat, average tools, good approach, good makeup
  • Christian Villanueva, 3B, Iowa: Defensively oriented player with average hit tool, power, but fringy OBP skills.
  • Juan Paniagua, RHP, Myrtle Beach:  Sits 93-94 though has hit triple digits in past.  Good slider, change.  Older and needs to move quickly.
  • David Berg, RHP, Myrtle Beach: Sidearmer with good command, feel, some moxie, and a history of beating the odds and producing.
  • Jonathan Martinez, RHP, Myrtle Beach:  Good change, low 90s FB, pitch to contact, fly ball pitcher, generally throws strikes but command wavers.
  • Jen-Ho Tseng, RHP, Myrtle Beach: Maxed out physically at 88-92 FB, good curve, poise, feel for pitching.
  • Ivan Pineyro, RHP, Tennessee: Another pitcher with a low 90s FB, change, and command.  Average stuff, good makeup
  • Paul Blackburn, RHP, Myrtle Beach: Mostly in high 80s, has reached low 90s, CB, change.
  • Shawon Dunston, Jr., OF, Myrtle Beach: Quick hands at the plate, above average speed, being able to play CF would help his chances.
  • Jacob Hannemann, OF, Tennessee: Among fastest players in the system, highlight reel defender, great makeup, questionable hit tool.
  • Victor Caratini, C, Myrtle Beach.  Good line drive bat from both sides.  Should stick as average defensive caatcher.

That’s a solid 43 (have I mentioned I don’t care for round numbers?) and I have to cut off the list somewhere.  No matter how big I make the list, there are always guys I want to mention who have intriguing qualities but either not enough background (i.e. many of this year’s mid round draftees that I like ( such as RHPs Ryan Kellogg, Scott Effross, Craig Brooks, and 1B-3B  Matt Rose), or are oft-injured (i,e, John Andreoli, Josh Conway, Ryan McNeil), or they’re good ballplayer/defender/athlete with questionable hit tool (Rashad Crawford, Carlos Penalver, Ho-Young Son, Trey Martin, Daniel Lockhart) or that lack ideal MLB size (Pin-Chieh Chen, Stephen Bruno, Robert Garcia) or are considered too old for their league (Jacob Rogers, Elliot Soto, PJ Francescon) or a good low level hitter that doesn’t have a defensive position (Yasiel Balaguert) and all kinds of pitchers with MLB quality stuff and command issues to fix  (Daury Torrez, Erick Leal, Jose Paulino, Scott Frazier, James Norwood, Starling Peralta, Michael Jensen, Zach Cates, Gerardo Concepcion, David Garner, Alex Santana, Greyfer Eregua, Dillon Maples,  etc. etc).   And what do I do about pitching converts like Mark Malave and Jae-Hoon Ha, both of whom have pitched well so far?  And sometimes there’s a guy like Luis Hernandez who suddenly and repeatedly does this out of nowhere…


…and I really just don’t know what to make of him yet.  In fact, he looked even better the next time I saw him (hit 96 a few times, got swings and misses with his slurvy breaking ball).

That makes…what?  79?  Okay, we’ll stop there.  Probably.  Wait, did I mention Cael Brockmeyer?  I mean, he can hit pretty well for a catcher and he is well-regarded in terms of how he handles a staff.  That means he’ll probably stick around for awhile…and as long as you can stick around, you make it more likely that the big club will need you someday.  What about Kevonte Mitchell?  He’s really struggling this year but he has all kinds of tools.


And what of Tyler Skulina?  He’s healthier and throwing harder again (90-94) and the slider has regained some bite.  Former top prospect Trey McNutt is working hard to come back from a devastating shoulder injury and has ticked up with each performance, topping out at 91 last time.  I think teammates and coaches here in AZ are audibly rooting as for McNutt as they are for anyone else at this stage, which is nice to hear.  Or Rob Zastryzny, a 2nd rounder with a history of solid perpherals but so-so results.


This is why I am not a list guy.  It presumes that there is order, a beginning and end that simply doesn’t exist at this stage.  The wide range of numbers forces us to presume large gaps in talent when that is not the case.  It makes you want to have hope for the guy at #17 but dismiss the guy at #71.

As the longtime scout who once looked at me like I was deranged once said…”Everybody’s got a chance.”  Whether it is a once-stalled prospect like Josh Donaldson or a so-called org player like Justin Bour, you just can’t dismiss players all too easily.  So, whether he makes the list or not, if there is a player you want to ask about, ask away.

But don’t ask me to rank him.

Filed under: 2015 Top Prospects


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  • John,
    This is an absurdly comprehensive and excellent piece of work. Extraordinary, even by Cubs Den's own high standards. Kudos.

  • In reply to djbk:

    Ditto. Amazing work. Thanks for the update, John. I'm gonna print and save this one.

    One tiny quibble: I'm surprised that Chesny Young is not in that second group with Almora (Reinaldo?), let alone the third. That kid just hits and keeps on hitting. .326/.392./395 MiLB career stats.

  • In reply to TTP:

    Has Almora fallen so far from grace? He was projected as the next big thing in center and now he may be a contributing outfielder "someday"? I feel the tears welling up, what happened to this top prospects chances and can he reclaim his position as a top prospect? Will we see Almora claim his throne in center at the Friendly Confines in the next year or two??

  • In reply to DFunk:

    He still has a chance. He's just not in my top 14 right now. Isn't that the whole point of this?

    Has to change his approach and he has been reluctant to do so to this point.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Absolutely John, not a critcism of your list at all, just one Cub fan's desire to see his favorite prospect make it to the big leagues and be the star I know he can be. His play dictates his ranking and you are not alone in placing him in a lower "tier" than he used to be. Kudos on the work you do, I look forward to reading it ;)

  • In reply to DFunk:

    I am rooting for him. I'm an Almora fan. Love the way he plays CF, love the grit, and love the presence on the field. He has a sweet swing as well, just swings at too many pitcher's pitches right now.

  • In reply to DFunk:

    The surprise to me is not that Almora has fallen out of "top prospect" status, but that so many of the cubs "top prospects" have NOT fallen from grace.

    If you look at the Cubs "super prospects" in the last few years, Bryant, Soler, Russell and Schwarber are still considered to be nearing their projected ceilings. Only almora and Baez have fallen by the wayside, and neither of them can yet be counted out. Most teams have more "Vitters" in their past development programs than "Trouts or Harpers".

    Olt has suffered, but he already had a lot of questions by the time the Cubs got him. And Alcantara certainly has declined as a prospect. But if we use John's "tier" rating system, I would never have placed Alcantara in the same tier as Bryant or Schwarber.

    It should be expected that each tier has a lower long term success rate. But it should be fun to watch the new groups as they progress.

  • In reply to TTP:

    I am not exactly sure where to place Young yet, but you're right can make a case for him on that tier. He's a guy I want to see in AA. Almora has struggled there but his defense is valuable enough to make him at least a role player. Not sure we can say that for Young if he doesn't hit once he is up against advanced, not to mention bigger, more physical players. He's borderline though.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    no Javy?

  • In reply to Ceez:

    No longer a prospect. He has exhausted rookie status.

  • In reply to TTP:

    I thought the same thing. I've seen Young play a few times and he was noticeable each time.

    If the Cubs make a bigger deal at either deadline. I would look to include C.Young, J Candelario or Brockmeyer as pieces if I was an opposing GM. These are guys who are blocked but have talent.

    But great work John

  • In reply to WarningTrack:

    I am a huge fan of Young. I always tell the story of how I raved about his hitting skills when I first saw him live -- and he went 0 for 4 that day. And I immediately got a response from a scout, saying I had just hit the nail on the head, he was a guy the Cubs loved internally and considered a sleeper. I imagine he will make BAs top 30 list next year if he sustains his performance.

    I was conservative on his tier because of his lack of size and power, which can really catch up to a hitter at the AA level, so I am waiting it out one more year with him before I put him on the next higher tier -- but I can see the case for him there.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Stephen Bruno strikes me as maybe a good example of how a smaller player with contact skills can get swamped at higher levels. I also would like to see Chesny in AA before we get too excited.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    That's what gives me pause too.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I like him BECASUE he doesn't have power. The Cubs have enough swing and miss / power tools to make Bob Villa jealous. They need a little glue. I also hope McKinney does well too. Softball teams can't win in MLB. 1-8 power lineup would be tough to watch. But I'm an old man who likes the fundamentals

  • In reply to WarningTrack:

    Haha! Everyone likes fundamentals. The only concern I have about lack of power is that it can get exposed at the higher levels. You need the threat of extra base power and the occasional dinger to keep pitchers honest. If he can at least do that, I'll be happy.

  • In reply to djbk:

    Thanks, djbk! Absurdly comprehensive....I like that!

  • Ummm, they said there would be no math.... :-)

  • In reply to SteveBB:


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    Good article! Over on MinorLeagueBall, Sickel's site, they also have a post up that asks if the Cubs are still the top overall system in baseball, despite graduating all of our top guys (Bryant, Russell, Soler). Answer: No, but still top-5, which is amazing. Dodgers are top (Seager and Urias are both consensus top-5 overall)

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I'd agree with that. And after Schwarber is gone, all of the top ceiling guys will be in A ball or below.

  • Good stuff as usual John –
    A few thoughts:

    As regards McKinney – the more I read about his upside and skill set – the more he kind of reminds me of the kind of player that Nick Markakis has been for the Orioles most of the last several years. Good corner OF defense. Good on base skills. Fundamentally sound – but with a limited power projection. One of those guys who will give you a 0.290/0.350/0.425-ish lines with 10-20 HR. A solid #2 type hitter rather than a #1 hitter type = that most teams would look for. How apt might that comparison be?

    The issue for McKinney might be more how does he compete for playing time in the OF corners when he’s likely to go up against Soler, or potentially Bryant or Schwarber for playing time.

    But what I must admit I am most interested in seeing as they move up the Farm-system food-chain are how Johnson, Underwood, Steele, Sands, Stinnett, Cease and Carl Edwards play out. Edwards is likely to get a look come September – but the others are probably 2 years or more from making some impact at Wrigley. Ryan Williams has been a pleasant surprise so far, and I like the idea of Null making batters beat his IF defense in Wrigley with a steady diet of ground-balls. They could be helping out next year or the year after with luck.

    The hitting prospects are (obviously) already starting to make an impact,…. Now time to see the arms start stepping forward.

    But mostly,…. I just love the depth and quality of that MiL depth that the management has built up in such a short time. Just think,…. A couple of years ago the ‘best’ prospects in the Cubs system were Brett Jackson and Vitters – and almost nobody worth mentioning in the pitching category.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    I always think of Markakis for McKinley too.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    Markakis had a really strong arm, which helped him become a good RF before his range deteriorated. McKinney's arm is actually below average, which is why most peg him as LF only.

    But at the plate, yes, Markakis seems a good comp

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Thanks for the input guys.

  • Most notably not appearing in this real in-depth article is Almora. Has his star fallen in your eyes to this extent?

  • In reply to Wild Bill:

    He is there Bill right after the Top 15. Remember, he changed his name to Reinaldo.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    Silly me. I thought that would be real strange if not listed. And yes I recall the name change, but did not sink in. I should had realized it was him from the write up however.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    His birth name is Reinaldo, changed it to Albert to fit in.

  • In reply to Wild Bill:

    almora is there. he's hiding.

  • Excellent body of work, thank you

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    Thank you.

  • Very well done. Big picture, I'm surprised to read that you are risk averse, but so many of your top ranked players are in the lowest levels? Thoughts?

  • In reply to bzalisko:

    Jimenez presents more risk to me than the pitchers because they all have good enough stuff to be quality relievers if they don't make it. If Eloy's raw power doesn't translate and his defense remains below average, he's not going to be useful. Floor is lower than the arms and very low compared to hitters ahead of him.

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    I really like the idea of "tiers" more than "lists." It sidesteps some of the debate over which player should be #13 and which one #14 (just to pull numbers out of the air) when the two are, more or less, interchangeable. It also gives an idea what to expect from them. If there is just a "list" there is an inference that the progression/regression is linear. #3 is as close to #4 as it is to #2 for instance. That is almost NEVER the case.

    Great list and looking forward to reading the debates/comments.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Thanks. My thoughts as well. I think we have a good idea who the top 4 are in any given year and it immediately starts to get foggy after that. After 14, I thought it wasn't even worth trying anymore :)

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    I agree. I really like the tier way of looking at it and (from what I recall) a lot of teams do that with drafting as well... set up tiers (and then maybe ranks within those tiers for larger drafts like the NFL).

    This was well done and really helps us get an idea of where certain players project for the future... though you never know when someone will just break out.

  • In reply to Pura Vida:

    Thanks, that was exactly what I as shooting for.

  • Really nice write up here and great news for the Cubs...thanks for all the great work you do regarding the prospects...I love coming to this site and reading the consistently detailed and comprehensive analysis done by the writers...and especially your work John.

    What I really like is seeing all the pitching talent in the system...and 5 of the top 9 are pitchers which is great news.

  • In reply to Gingerbread Man:

    You are welcome...and thanks!

  • Fun read, John.

    As a guy who does his own list 2x a year, gets to 50 and then feels like I'm missing 20+ guys, I feel your pain. I like order, so I like lists. But they're definitely imperfect and they break something complex down into oversimplified terms.

    Anyway: I'm interested by what you did with Gleyber. We're all on board with Schwarber at #1 (anybody want to fight on that point? No? Good.), but Gleyber at #2 intrigues me because of these seemingly opposing statements:

    1. He's listed in a category called "high floors, high ceilings...potential All-Stars," but also...
    2. "He doesn't have crazy upside, but there is All-Star level talent."

    I fully understand and that Gleyber can both have All-Star level talent and not have crazy upside given how advanced he is. In that sense, the statements can be read in sync with each other.

    But that doesn't get us to the truly interesting part of the equation, which is this: what do you, John, see Gleyber becoming? Is he a .300/.350/.400 second baseman? Or is he a .320/.400/.470 shortstop? What do you see as the ceiling?

    I've been knocking his ceiling for a couple of years now while simultaneously pumping him up. It has started to feel really weird.

    I gave him the following tool grades a month ago:

    65 hit, 45 power, 70 discipline, 60 glove, 55 arm, 55 run, 70 durability

    (I like to grade for discipline and durability because, while not tools in the traditional sense, they're both absolutely essential to the profile)

    I probably should have gone 40 power, but maybe it should be a 70 hit?

    I get that everyone wants to be cautious with guys in the low minors, but that's why we have risk grades, right? His raw tools are both loud and polished enough to show up in games.

    Now I'm rambling: what do you see Gleyber becoming?

  • In reply to Rob Huff:

    I see those grades as optimistic but not unrealistic as a ceiling. I like the Freddy Sanchez (2006-2007 version) comp with better plate discipline and a better chance to stick at SS. Could see him being a 4-5 WAR player more consistently than Sanchez was (who only did it once, of course)

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Interesting reference, John. I like it (2006-07 Sanchez, that is).

    Looks like Gleyber should walk more than Freddy ever did, but he should also strikeout out more.

    I sure am loving watching his development!

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Sanchez was a good player, good contact and pitch recognition skills, and defensively versatile,.... would have had a much more solid career though if he could have just stayed healthy.

    Hard to play when you have only got one functioning shoulder and then that career ending back problem.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    I agree. He was a good hitter. Always seemed undervalued.

  • That list of young future starters makes a trade for Hamels, Schields, or other over thirty established mlb seem less risky for the spending our $$. I may be over enthusiastic, but the Cub look to be just a player or two away to me.

  • Thanks, John. How do you rank Fraziers stuff against some of the high ceiling pitchers. If he can get his command in line do you think of him as either a potential starter or reliever.

  • In reply to CubsBuck22:

    Frazier's FB is one of the best in the system. He has hit 99 down here and is consistently 96-98 and his height gives him scary plane. He's switching to a curve for his secondary so that lags behind and his command has been his biggest issue.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Does he project as a starter?

  • In reply to CubsBuck22:

    No, strictly a reliever.

  • Excellent work as always John!
    It is amazing the amount of talent & organizational/piece players this front office has put together in the 4-5 years.

  • In reply to Rusty Becker:

    It's a deep system and they really know how to put together a mix of players. We all know a small percentage of these guys will be impact players, so any org has to be mindful of the types of players and people they bring in.

  • In reply to Rusty Becker:

    It has been about 3.5 years. 2015 is their 4th year and it is not over yet. Pretty amazing!!

  • Awesome list. So much excitement. I will be honest that I am surprised Kevonte Mitchell did not even get a mention at all. Not even in the rumblings part haha. I know there are so many, but he seems to be a pretty legit prospect. OBviously, the start this year has been horrendous, but it is SSS.

  • In reply to jswick23:

    He is mentioned in the article near the end.

  • In reply to jswick23:

    More of an oversight but I have been disappointed so far. Still, don't want to give up on him so I added him in. I may add Robert Garcia in as well, who is hitting .400 down here but that is padded by bunt singles.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    No problem, was just curious. Figured hit tools alone would make him worth a mention at the least.

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    Thank you John. This is one of the reasons this blog is so good. You go behind the numbers and give us information about everyone. I especially like the scout's comment that "everyone can make it. You never know when the light goes on or the work someone puts in.
    Thanks again.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Thanks, Jonathan. I am fortunate to see a lot of these players so I get a good feel beyond the numbers, which can be especially misleading down at the low levels.

    Never know when the light goes on and there is the flip side, the guy who just keeps hanging around until he gets a chance.

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    Thank you again John..... one of the best articles for rankings that i have seen from you. I enjoy the tiers much more than the actual rankings as well. I think Mckinney could surprise and compete for top tier by next yr though.. I am very high on him and think he could be our LF of the future

  • In reply to rynofan74:

    Thanks...I made a partial list as a compromise and I may shorten up that portion in the future. So this was kind of my first foray into this kind of list. I appreciate the feedback. Will keep the tiers for the future and while I won't use the same headings, groups that i use internally, I think they are more fun the way I presented them here.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    We appreciate it.... And i do believe that tiers might actually present more debate and discussion on here as well. We all know there is a top 2 or 3 in every organization usually.... It is what is behind those that always spark the most interest and hopes... Like others i have enjoyed seeing Young, Mckinney, and Zagunis in the minors so far and think Conteras could be someone that makes the FO wonder about in a few yrs if his offensive prowess continues to improve..... Good times and a hopeful future for us

  • Had a nice post trying to see if others saw a similarity between what McKinney projects to be, and what Nick Markakis, formerly of Baltimore now of Atlanta brings to the table,.... that has apparently disappeared into the spam-filter ether.

    Good stuff though John - love the summary.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    Just fished it out. Thanks. I get them all eventually :)

  • In reply to John Arguello:


  • John, I know that Baez is technically not a prospect anymore but I still think of him as one. By category description he would fit in with Eloy Jimenez, but he is much more proven. Would you put him in his own category below the first one if you were to include him?

  • In reply to RachOp18:

    Yes, Baez is so much in his own category in so many senses. Unique playerr

  • In reply to RachOp18:

    He has nowhere near the risk that Jimenez does, simply because Jimenez is still so far from the majors. Javy is knocking on the door.

  • Is Matt Szczur too old to be a prospect? He seems to continue getting better.

  • In reply to John57:

    I didn't include him because he is right at the cusp of being a rookie if he isn't already. He'd be in that High floor MLB Contributor group

  • Nice, nice article. Best line that made me smile, "...end that simply doesn't exist at this stage." There is no end to our prospects! I guess my specific player questions would be mostly on guys you may have had a chance to see enough down there. Is Galindo a Balaguert clone or can we expect more? Seems like Balaguert is losing positional value but his bat is picking it up a bit lately.

  • Monasterio!

  • In reply to Pura Vida:

    My new super sleeper :) He went 0 for 4 yesterday but once again squared up a couple of times. You don't see a lot of that here where there are many infield hits and bloop doubles. Also made a slick defensive play (don't see a lot of that either).

  • In reply to Pura Vida:

    I'm rooting for him just on name value alone.

  • I realize it depends on the return, but if a GM has a piece the MLB club needs now, and is more than a rental (controllable through 2016 at a minimum), where is the cut-off that you just hang up? All of the top 14, or just the top 1-2, or 1-4?
    Who is "untouchable?"
    Not a silly "Trout for McKinney" question, but a innings eating starter that would be MOR elsewhere, slot into 5 spot for us, or a platoon outfield bat. Realistic question for the level of talent rumored to be in play.

  • In reply to charactercounts:

    Schwarber is untouchable (along with Rizzo/Bryant). No one else is, or should be.

    To acquire a BOR starter or platoon OF bat with a couple of years of control I think you would have to include one of the mid tier (10-13) guys.

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    I am well aware of the BPA draft strategy and getting lower risk college hitters as the draft strategy of late and I am not going to argue the merits of that strategy. It certainly seems to be working with the recent class of home grown players that I have never seen in Cubs history.
    That said, it seems to my albeit notice eyes of the farm system is there needs to be some high risk high reward pitching added to the mix.
    Has there been any indication that the Cubs strategy on the farm will evolve as the MLB team has evolved so much over the past 4 years? It doesn't HAVE to be a talent collection any more.

  • In reply to Eli Roth:

    Why change when it is obviously working?

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    In reply to John57:

    I am not advocating a change, just curious if there is anything on the record that indicates a change in strategy as the organization grows and becomes more mature. All organizations evolve. Certainly picking in the top 10 overall vs the end of the first round will require at least minor strategic adjustments when it comes to talent collection.

  • In reply to Eli Roth:

    Cease, Steele, Underwood, and Sands are all high risk/high reward. All in my top 10. Some intriguing guys down the line like De La Cruz, Moreno, and Willis. And now Luis Hernandez might be added to that list after he was easily hitting 95-96 yesterday.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    John, where did Luis Hernandez come from? He doesn't even have a Baseball Reference page! IFA sign I assume, but must have been a low profile one.

    All I know about him is he is a guy Arguello says throws mid-90s....

  • In reply to Zonk:

    He had been hurt for 3 months and before that he was 90-91 here in AZ. Looked like just a guy -- and he already looked maxed out. Then all of the sudden...boom! I was sitting with scouts yesterday and they were all surprised...and intrigued.

  • Good article. Predicting who will succeed and who will fail is just impossible. :)

    Scouts can measure the heart and drive of a player. I see a lot of players in the Cubs system who will likely have MLB careers. Maybe not stars or even for the Cubs... but they will make a good living helping some MLB team in the future.

    I've been a Cubs fan for over 50 years and have never seen this much potential in the system.

  • They used to say that you had to run a new car a couple of thousand miles to get the motor broken in so it runs smoothly. That's what this season is all about with the Cubs, particularly for Russell, Soler, Bryant and Schwarber. The Cubs need to find out what they have in order to decide what they need for the future. If Schwarber can't catch and Bryant has to move to the OF, then plans change considerably but the path to consistent winning baseball is still very much in play. It's going to be a lot of fun finding out what we've got here while simultaniously having a shot at the playoffs this year. At the end of the year we should know if Schwarber can catch, if Bryant can remain at third and have a solid look at Soler, Russell, Castro and hopefully Baez. With this info, the Cubs should be able to assemble a roster next season that is tailor made to win and win big.

  • Thanks John,

    These are my favorite type of articles and I always look forward to the them !!

    Did you mean to leave off T. Skulina ? He seems to be healthy and having success at MB.

    Thanks again !!

  • Now that's a solid left handed list!

  • In reply to Jason Diedrich:

    Ha! Maybe that explains the quirkiness of it :)

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    I like the pairing of Zagunis and McKinney and I agree that they seem like R/L versions of eachother. The team forecasts to have plenty of power so having a guy just plain "get on base" in a corner OF position might not be that bad. Imagine the platoon splits on these guys, though.

    I would like to see Zagunis do a little more catching in the minor leagues as having a guy that can be an emergency catcher in a pinch can be valuable if he can play something else as their primary position. For instance, let's say our regular catching duo is Schwarber and Ross (or Contreras if you like). Let's say we have want Schwarber to PH to continue a rally in the 7th inning. We could do that and either have him come in as catcher OR, if we prefer, we can leave Ross there and if he gets injured we can put Zagunis out there for a couple innings to close out the game. Isn't fear of injury the reason we usually don't see the back up catcher used as a pinch hitter earlier in the game. I am not thinking of him as a 1/week catcher. I am saying, could he fill in to give Maddon a little extra flexibility with how he handles a roster.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    He's not going to catch, Joel. Trust me on that one :)

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    What were the weak areas he had with catching? Bad at calling the game? Pitch framing? Blocking balls in the dirt? All of the above?

  • In reply to Pura Vida:

    Unfortunately not something I can comment on specifically. I will just have to ask you guys to trust me on that. I'll just say he wasn't making as much progress quickly enough.

  • Great overview John!

    Looking over the Cubs minor league staff I see names I recognize, such as Carmelo Martinez and Ron Villone at Mesa, Storm Davis and Buddy Bailey at Tennessee and Marty Pevey and Brian Harper at Iowa. I never paid much attention to the minor league staff before. But obviously, they play an important role in player development.

    Do you believe that the kids making their way through the minors now are receiving better coaching and instruction than was the case in the past?

  • In reply to Karl Pagel Blues:

    Most minor league systems have recognizable names like that. I think there is a more consistent focus on certain things (plate discipline for hitters, fastball command for pitchers, etc) that was lacking before. Not sure you can really chalk that up to coaching as much as it is an overall organizational commitment to develop everyone with the same guidelines (the "Cubs Way"). This FO is also seems less inclined to rush guys through the system. And there is also more statistical and video information available to the young players then there was under the old regime.

  • John, great work on this overview of the Cub prospects and how you rate them. I do think you may have missed probably the second best catcher after Schwarber in the current system , Victor Caratini at A+ in Myrtle Beach. He has performed very well defensively and the switch hitter at age 21 is holding his own. Also in comparing Jonathan Martinez stats with those of Underwood they are almost identical. The WHIP in particular at .094 is very impressive, and his K/BB ratio is as good as Underwood.

  • Great article/prospect report...very extensive. One guy who I think still deserves prospect status is Victor Caratini who is only 21, 6'1, 215 lb Switch hitting Catcher with gap power, and chance to be at least average defensively. Considering he was a 2nd round pick as recently as 2013, I think he still has a good chance at least as a MLB backup.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    Yikes. How did I forget Caratini? Agreed. And thanks. Will add him in.

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    It is good to see Bour and Rusin performing well for other teams.

  • In reply to Tyler Brown:

    I'm glad Marcus Mateo is finally healthy again and pitching effectively for the Padres. (8 games, 10 IP, 13K, 2 BB, 1.10 WHIP)

    Talk about a guy who has been fighting the injury bug forever!

  • In reply to Tyler Brown:

    Always nice to see guys make it. Rusin was a good soldier that did the Iowa shuttle for a few years and helped eat some innings whenever needed. Glad to see him secure a full time gig.

  • In reply to Tyler Brown:

    Yes, sometimes all these guys need is consistent reps.

  • With regard to Happ, any idea why 2B and not CF? The cubs seem loaded in the MI with Castro/Russell in MLB, Baez/Alcantara in AAA, Bruno in AA while not a star could be a 2nd division starter at some point, and they have various other guys like Young, Lockhart, Torres, De La Rosa in the various A levels. I don't watch many minor league games so it's possible Happ just isn't good enough in CF. Scouting reports prior to the draft seemed to indicate he was a corner guy. But, the minors write ups hadn't really mentioned his defense negatively

  • The one thing that seems to be lacking in the organization is a high OBP with above average speed leading off. As for size, if Altuve can survive at 5'6", the right guy can make a big difference at the top with our monster hitters following him. Who stands the best chance to fill that role in the near future.
    Denard Span might be a decent free agent to pursue this winter.

  • In reply to tharr:

    McKinney, Zagunis, DJ Wilson, Donnie Dewees all have that potential. Maybe Ian Happ too. That said, they may need someone in the short term if Fowler doesn't turn it around.

  • In reply to tharr:

    Speed is nice bonus if you can find it, but they just need to get someone to consistently get on base. It could be McKinney, or Zagunis, or a sleeper like Young.

  • Jen-Ho Tseng was our 2014 MiLB Pitcher of the year.

    This year, playing at a higher level, his numbers are not quite as good (WHIP and BB per 9IP are up, K / BB and K per 9IP are down).
    He's still very young, however, being 3 years younger than the league average. Very unlikely he'll be considered for MiLB pitcher of the year again.

    Any word on whether he is working on something new or is this a matter of not catching up to the league yet?

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    He is sort of maxed out physically. I don't think there is anywhere he can go from a physical standpoint, so it is going to have to be about tightening secondaries and tuning command for him. That limits his upside despite his young age.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Your description of Jen-Ho sounds eerily similar to that of our 2013 MiLB pitcher of the year.

    Maybe Jen-Ho can follow in Kyle's footsteps.

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    I am sure the Cubs (as would we all) be thrilled to see that happen.

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    His command last year was very advanced for the MWL and hitters just couldn't handle it well. Lots of weak contact early in the count. It appears he has not been as finely tuned this year and he doesn't have the pure stuff to overcome that.

    He's been much better lately so maybe he is starting to get into a groove.

  • Not to create an echo, but this article is both tremendously informative as well as a pleasure to read.

    I see a movement from lists to tiers across other sites that I frequent (Simmons' s NBA Trade Value novella is particularly fun), and I think it removes unnecessary scrutiny as I read. This is particularly helpful for me when digesting the Cease/Underwood/Steele/Sands bucket. If the order of those four was the emphasis of the article, I would have spent time trying to analyze why the risks involved with #5 were smaller than those with #8 (for example). Instead, I'm able to focus on the state of the system at a sort of prospect-agnostic view.

    I do think it's important for the actual (not armchair) GMs to maintain a tighter ranking. If Amaro called Theo up and said Hamels can be had for Torres and one of the pitchers listed above (no chance) -- I sure hope Theo can determine within a matter of minutes which prospect among that group the org considers the least valuable.

  • In reply to kmokeefe:

    Thank you. I think you are exactly right on that. At some point specific rankings become a distraction over content, which is what I wouldn't want.

    And I am sure there is some internal order and preference, though I don't know if I would call it all that clear. We know. for example, that as the draft progresses, FOs start to drift from boards in favor of specific positional needs, experienced/high makeup players needed for the organization (i.e., so-called "organizational talents") -- or even the salesmanship of (or trust in) the scout may have a factor in the decision.

    Sometimes there is an internal debate within the system. This was said to be the case in regard to specifically giving up Andrew Cashner in exchange for Anthony Rizzo. Some of the FO was for it, some against. The 'fors' won that debate, of course, but others wanted to give up other players. We also know this was the case in the Hendry regime. There was internal debate in two separate areas of the Matt Garza trade. There was a split on McNutt/Archer, which seems silly in hindsight but at the time McNutt was outperforming him in some respects and had comparable stuff. There was also some difference in opinion as to who was better Welington Cstillo or Robinson Chirinos, so ultimately they let the Rays choose on that one (and they chose Chirinos, of course). The majority wanted to give up McNutt over Archer, but when it threatened to quash the deal, the Cubs, sadly, ceded on Archer. I think this FO is in a different position and almost certainly would have held their ground on that, but the Hendry FO was starting to feel a little heat after their near misses and subsequent dropoff. But I guess the point I am making is that it can get very complicated and an intelligent FO would understand that they are not smart enough to know who will make it between Sands and Steele. They may have a preference, but even then it can become a question of whether the degree of that preference outweighs the need to come to consensus on a trade.

  • As I sit here I am still thinking about players I could have mentioned -- Kevin Encarnacion, Trey McNutt, Greyfer Eregua, Andin Diaz, Trey Masek...

    I need to stop.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Can't stop wont stop rockafella records

  • In reply to beckdawg:

    I need to listen to more hip-hop. I had to look up this reference :)

  • In reply to John Arguello:


    Thoughts on T. Skulina ?

    Command Issues or Solid MLB floor ?


  • In reply to SouthsideB:

    Will add him to the list. Should not have forgotten original list is enormous and I was bound to forget a few key names. Much improved this year, velo up, slider better.

  • Love the article!
    Highlight of the day.

    Thought I'd throw this out there in case John or anyone else was interested- I live in the DC area and will be going to see the Pelicans face off against Giolito tonight for the Potomac Nationals (where Werth is also rehabbing). If anyone is interested in pictures/videos of our team clobbering baseball's top pitching prospect, I'd be happy to take some and send them in.

  • In reply to Cubkatz06:

    Send them over, we'd love to see them. You can email them to me if you like and I will post and credit.

  • I am hoping that the "easy arm action" referenced for Cease is a byproduct of him retooling his delivery to avoid future TJ surgery. I find that unlikely because it is a player's natural tendency to use the pitching motion that got them there in the first place.

  • In reply to Senator Blutarski:

    I've seen Cease since high school and the arm action was always pretty clean. He had some funk in his delivery, but he's cleaned that up a little. Do you see anything to be concerned with in this recent video I took?

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Well - he throws so damn fast the arm action is a bit of a blur...

    As a preface, my son pitched for a number of years and through high school until two football injuries and lack of fast twitch muscle fiber doomed his career at 17. While he was in grade and high school, I read and watched numerous video on preventing pitching arm injuries. My son was just starting to pitch when Mark Prior - he of the perfect pitching motion according to Tom House - had his first injury. That led me to the research and conclusions that I will share (since you asked).

    My opinion is that when a pitcher finishes is motion by wrapping his arm around his opposite side hip, his forearm is 'flying out' (forearm approaching horizontal) during his pitching motion. Also my opinion that UCL damage occurs microscopically every time this motion occurs. (Chris Sale is the poster child for this. I think it is a matter of time before elbow problems for him. Now's the best time to trade him). The way Cease wraps his arm around his hip leads me to believe more elbow problems. I hope I'm wrong.

    I also believe that the more a pitcher points his shoulder to the opposite side fielder (second baseman in the case of a RHP) the risk of shoulder injury increases. He does this also. Again, I hope I'm wrong.

  • In reply to Senator Blutarski:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on that. Obviously we all hope you're wrong :) Time will tell, I suppose.

  • The thanks hoes to you for operating this website. there is more and better Cubs information here than any other website I have come across.

  • In reply to Senator Blutarski:

    Thank you. I appreciate that.

  • In reply to Senator Blutarski:


    Damn iPhone.

  • John,

    From a casual fan perspective, I really like the "these guys in this bucket" approach you took here, much better than just trying to rank them, which as you say is fairly pointless after the top 5 or so anyway.

    The idea (comment referring to offsite article) that the Cubs may have a top 5 system after graduating most of our elite guys to MLB is ... astonishing.

    Anyway, loved the article!

  • John, Great stuff as always. We seem to be building up a fair number of '4 A' players. Curious if you see them ultimately 'graduating,' or if they have any trade value (probably for low-level prospects). While some of these may no longer qualify as 'prospects':

    J. Lake, A. Alcatara, M. Olt, C. Valaika, M. Szczur, D. Beeler, B. Schlitter,

  • John how about another pitcher ......R. Zastryzny ?

  • In reply to SouthsideB:

    Good one. Let's add him to the list...after the Cubs game, though.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Ahh, what the heck, added him during pitching change.

  • I know Rivero is older but I think he could help some in September maybe? We are stacked sooo much with position players i expect at least 5 deal and we will be fine. Our 30th best hitters would be knocking on the door of top 8 in some organizations.

  • Wow, this is an amazing piece of work! Very insightful stuff. I'm new to the site. I wonder if you have any opinion on the "other" Paniagua guy playing in the AZL now. I've seen him at 1B and corner OF. He looks good (athletic looking with a nice swing). Do you see any advancement potential there?

  • Really excellent work, John. And I'm glad to see Brockmeyer get some attention. I watched him in ST, and before I knew his name, I was quite impressed with his "gym rat" mentality--seemed the be everywhere with his equipment on. Also was banging them off the walls with Bryant, Schwarber, et al. In my viewing admittedly limited game action since, he has shown defensive command and a laser arm, as well as good plate discipline, power and OBP. What's not to like?

    But the topper for me was at the end of the last day of ST, when the players were awaiting assignments and leaving the field, he was patiently talking with an older lady (his grandmother?), and seemed the be quite comfortable with it. Somehow that really struck me. The last person I would have been talking to in that situation would have been my grandmother!

    Prediction--Even if he doesn't make it as a player, he'd be an excellent coach/manager, or a success in other aspects of life.

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