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