Cubs Den Top Prospects: 1-5

Nico Hoerner (photo by Rikk Carlson)

Nico Hoerner (photo by Rikk Carlson)

Take your pick at the top

Call them 1A and 1B. Nico Hoerner and Miguel Amaya have a strong case as the top prospect in the system. Hoerner is the more advanced of the two and the older, safer bet to be a consistent MLB contributor and starter, but he may also end up at second base as opposed to shortstop, where as Amaya is a lock to remain at the more valuable catcher position. Hoerner projects as the better hitter, but Amaya for more power. You see where I’m going here? They are both good, but in different ways, so comparisons are difficult.

What do I love most about the two players though? Something they have in common. Not only have I never heard a single bad thing about either player in regard to their intangibles and work ethic, I’ve never even heard anything but praise. Coaches, players, scouts, fans… everyone raves about these guys after watching and interacting with them.

Nothing is guaranteed when it comes to prospects, but Hoerner and Amaya are the type of high floor players where it becomes easy to pencil them into future roster projections. Neither may end up a star, but both are solid bets to be regularly show up in future lineup cards.

1. Nico Hoernernicohoerner_mini

Offseason Prospect Overview    –    Twitter Thread

The selection of Nico Hoerner was criticized by some, due mostly to Baseball America and MLB Pipeline not having a 1st round grade on him heading into the draft, but it didn’t take long for him to quiet most detractors. He raked at every level. Only an elbow injury slowed his ascent through the Cubs system. Hoerner appeared in a handful of games for both of the Cubs short season affiliates before becoming the 2nd member of the 2018 draft class to reach A-ball. After the season he became the only member to go to the Arizona Fall League. All he did there was finish T-1st in 3B (4), T-3rd in TB (35), T-10th in AVG (.337) and 11th in SLG (.506).

Hoerner is blessed with good bat speed and barrel control which allows him to easily make hard contact. His paltry power numbers at Stanford led some to believe that Hoerner lacked over-the-fence power, but the Cubs saw differently. There is no shortage of raw strength with the 6’1″, 200 pound Hoerner. A willingness to turn on the ball as a pro that he didn’t show consistently in college helped him tie his collegiate season total (2) in just 14 games before his injury. If he is willing to make adjustments to put the ball in the air more frequently there is potential for 15+ HR.

Whether the home runs come or not, Hoerner should remain a high-contact hitter and potential top of the order threat the Cubs have been missing since Dexter Folwer departed. Hoerner runs well. Double digit stolen base totals are expected. His OBP will likely be average-driven, as Hoerner does have a solid idea of the strike zone, but his high contact rates could prevent him from posting high walk rates.

In the field, Hoerner is not the prettiest defender at shortstop you’ll lay your eyes on. His range and arm are only average and he exerts a lot of energy. Second base would certainly be his best position, but Hoerner would not hurt a Major League team if they played him full-time at short. The Cubs could even deploy Hoerner all over the field the way they have with Ian Happ if they so choose.

2. Miguel Amayamiguelamaya_mini

Offseason Prospect Overview    –    Twitter Thread

I was happy to see so many jump on the Miguel Amaya hype train last season. He stuck out to me as a potential above average receiver during his stateside debut with Eugene in 2017. His offensive production was lacking but his solid strength and bat control were apparent and I figured it was only a matter of time until Amaya began to hit. I’m pretty sure I had him rated higher than anyone last season, but now my ranking him behind Hoerner puts me on the low end, as many publications have Amaya slightly ahead.

As certain as I was that Amaya would eventually breakthrough offensively, even I wasn’t prepared for his 2018 first half. The 19-year old’s bat broke out in a big way (.280/.348/.478 thru 7/12), leading to a Futures Game invite, and appearances on multiple midseason Top 100 prospect lists. His production dipped precipitously as the season wound down (.198/.351/.223 after 7/12), but just as his 2017 numbers were not an indictment of his abilities, Amaya was carrying a heavy load behind the plate (95 G / 92 GS) in his first full season. Much of the fall off can be attributed to wearing down. Amaya does possess the frame and strength to eventually hold up as an everyday catcher though. Even with the second half fall off, Amaya still finished as one of three teenagers in the Midwest League with a BB% > 10.0 and a ISO > .140.

Amaya is not the same caliber of athlete as Willson Contreras. He won’t make as many amazing plays. A good comp would actually be Miguel Montero, who was a consistent 15-20 HR hitter with solid plate discipline, and above average defense behind the plate during his peak with the Diamondbacks. Amaya’s framing skills are pretty advanced for a teenager, so I do expect he can provide an upgrade in that facet of the game once he finishes his development.

Wishing for a star

The Cubs lack high-end talent in their prospect pipeline. That is no secret. It has been true since the team dealt away Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease coming out of the 2017 All-Star Break. It is why the system has justifiably been ranked among the bottom third in baseball since that day.

But we are starting to see some shine return to lower levels of the system. Now, it is too early to get too excited, but a trio of teenagers have stepped to the forefront flashing the type of ceiling necessary to breakthrough as key contributors on a World Series contender. Hope has returned, but we need only to remember that Jose Albertos showed off similar upside as a 19-year old in 2017 before his development careened out of control once 2018 began.

So, with the warnings out of the way, lets get back to the hype. And lets start with a guy that may have been the hardest throwing left-handed teenager in the Minors last year:

3. Brailyn Marquezbrailynmarquez_mini

Offseason Prospect Overview    –    Twitter Thread

There are a lot of impressive stats in the chart above but I want you to focus on one in particular: 17.2 SwStr%. Not only was that figure better than any pitcher (min. 40 IP) in the Northwest League last year, no one else finished above 15%. It is one of the best marks in that league the past few seasons and no one throwing from the left side has rivaled it. Brailyn Marquez misses bats.

If you are left-handed and capable of throwing upper-90s anywhere near the strike zone you are going to get a shot in the Majors. Develop a good offspeed pitch to pair with it? You’ve got yourself the makings of a dominant late inning reliever or mid-rotation starter depending on stamina. What encourages me most in regards to Marquez is the positive signs I saw with his changeup late in the season. He was maintaining good arm speed and it baffled hitters on occasion.

I honestly don’t even know if his breaking ball is a power curve or a slider. If there is one aspect of his game that tempers my enthusiasm it is that I feel that Marquez has not gotten the feel for it yet. Considering how good his fastball is a decent breaking ball should play more effectively than what I’ve seen thus far.

Place Holders (4-5) – Based on scouting reports from other sources

Brennen Davis and Cole Roederer seem destined to remain linked in prospect conversations for the foreseeable future. Both were athletic prep outfielders projected to impact baseball games in multiple facets. Both went in the same round of the draft and signed for similar money. Both made an immediate impact in the AZL debut seasons.

They each have their individual strengths and weaknesses, one hits from the right side and the other the left, but it could remain difficult to separate Davis and Roederer (or is it Roederer and Davis?) in the minds of fans. And hey, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility these two end up patrolling the same outfield for the Cubs one day soon.

Brennen Davisbrennendavis_mini

Offseason Prospect Overview    –    Twitter Thread

It is difficult to get overlooked when you put up a 132 wRC+, an insane 13.9 BB%, an extremely encouraging 16.7 K% and finish with a .431 OBP. But that is exactly what happened to Brennen Davis in his professional debut last season. The reason it occurred is because fellow 2nd round prep outfielder Cole Roederer put up similar numbers in many categories, but also added some power to the mix. And power gets attention. Davis on the other hand rarely put the ball in the air while settling mostly for singles. It also didn’t help that Davis missed a couple of weeks with an injury.

The athletic tools Brennen Davis possesses are second to none in the Cubs system. He is the son of former Bulls 1st round pick Reggie Theus, a two-time NBA All-Star, and Davis himself was an accomplished prep hoops player. Named Arizona Defensive Player of the Year as a junior, Davis is long and lithe like a basketball player but you can already tell in footage from this winter and spring that he is adding weight and beginning to fill out his frame.

Once he fully matures Davis is expected to possess plus raw strength. It seems reasonable to expect that power to eventually translate as well. His swing was clearly geared for contact heading into pro ball, but the Cubs are working with him to get his upper and lower body in sync throughout, and Davis clearly has a feel for the barrel already given his high average and high contact rate.

The other exciting aspect is that Davis is projected to remain in centerfield. He should maintain plenty of speed for the position even as he grows bigger and also features a strong arm.

It may take a little time, and a top five rating may be premature for Davis (Roederer as well), but it is also possible Davis is not quite as raw as we were meant to believe coming out of the draft. The ceiling is certainly there.

Cole Roederercoleroederer_mini

Offseason Prospect Overview    –    Twitter Thread

Roederer became an immediate star in the AZL after signing. He began his career with a 12-game on-base streak and finished with an impressive 11.2 BB%. He was the only teenager in the league to finish with an ISO as high as .190 while carrying a K% below 25. Oh yeah, he also swiped 13 bags. By all accounts he impacted games in every manner possible as an offensive player.

Bringing it at the plate will be a big factor for Roederer as he is considered fringy in centerfield. Some scouts rate his speed as average and it seems many doubt his arm. Even if he does maintain the ability to play there it seems the consensus is that left is going to be his best spot in the outfield. Roederer regularly draws comparisons to Andrew Benintendi due to his similar size, athleticism and above average power from the left side of the plate.


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  • Thanks for your work on this great list.

  • There are some exciting players coming on... It's gonna get interesting as the team considers replacing current players as arbitration years dwindle, especially in the outfield. If / when Davis is ready, for example, Almora could bring a decent haul, especially with a couple of years of control remaining. We'll see...Marquez is a beast. Depending on his development, we could be looking at a future closer.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    With the years left before tree agency with the Cubs core and the promise in the outfielders at the lower minors, the sting of losing Eloy is reduced. Part of the equation was that there was no spot for him on a full roster anyway.

  • Awesome work Michael. I think you nailed it. This very list is why the Cubs are so far down the rankings. We don't have one of our Top 5 who have played a full season in High-A ball. If a couple of these guys were through a AA season, we would probably be a middle of the pack farm system.

    I am really excited to see Roderer and Marquez this year. I think those are two legit top prospects. I expect Marquez to dominate and shoot up prospect lists. Hoerner is a solid addition and should give Theo some flexibility when having to decide on his middle IF as arb numbers get big. Amaya worries me a bit with the drastic fall off. Let's see him rebound to cement his status as an elite backstop.

    I am one who feels pretty good about where the system stands knowing we do not need contributors today, but in 2020 for pitching and then beyond for complimentary hitters as the cost rises for the current players.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    Thanks, Bob.

    Yes, the Cubs are still short on high ceiling players, and the ones they do have are almost all teenagers or new arrivals with little to no track records. That about sums up where they are at. If a couple of those guys breakthrough over the next year or so, it will give the system a huge boost. Also, it is important to keep in mind the Cubs are no longer going to be in the up-and-down cycle with IFA classes. With teams no longer able to go over the limit, there will no longer be any penalty years.

    I wouldn't worry too much about Amaya. His swing is compact and powerful. He wore down, and had a little trouble with offspeed stuff in the second half, but I think it was mostly due to the fatigue taking him out of an all fields approach.

    Anyway, the thing with Amaya (and Ademan) is that you really aren't going to be counting on them to hit in the top half of your lineup. They are not impact type of offensive players at those positions the way Contreras and Baez are. They project more as good defenders at important positions that you can slot in the 6-8 slots in the lineup and give you solid ABs.

    I do think the Cubs will be able to open 2020 with Hoerner replacing Zobrist on the roster, Mekkes replacing Cishek in the pen, and Alzolay as either the 5th starter (replacing Hamels) or key setup man (replacing Kintzler). Those are the projections I feel secure about.

    Zack Short and Trent Giambrone can provide depth in Iowa and/or potential replacements for Russell/Bote/Descalso if necessary.

    Justin Steele could certainly fill a role similar to Alzolay, and I can even envision the two of them sharing the 5th starter/long reliever role the way Butler/Monty did in 2017. He'd also offer an option as a late inning lefty, but I think they were prefer to keep him stretched out, at least early in the year.

    Beyond that I just keep my fingers crossed that one of the power arms (Maples, Norwood, de la Cruz, Underwood, Wick) emerges as a reliable arm to fortify the pen. If they can replace another arm in that pen with a younger, more explosive (and cheaper) option it really opens up more FA/Trade possibilities next year.

  • Thank you SO MUCH for your hard work and dedication regarding educating us on the Cubs farm system. I still feel like there is a significant shortage of players that will play at a high level in the majors, but here's hoping some surprise us. Still missing Eloy and Dylan tremendously !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Marquez seems to have a smooth delivery, certainly not a max effort guy. If he can throw mid 90’s with that delivery that would be encouraging.

    Question, why do call Davis and Roederer p
    “Place holders”?

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    Ah, I probably didn't clarify in this post the way I did when I discussed Gallardo, Garcia, Verdugo the other day. I haven't seen Davis or Roederer play in person or even a full game on video so those reports are based off of the opinions of others, mixed in a little with my impressions from the bits of them I've seen. So, I'm taking a little bit of a leap of faith with those five players in regards to where to "rank" them.

    All of the grades/scouting reports on the other 35 players are completely based on my own judgement.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I went ahead and updated the post to include a bit of clarification, and also added the full top 40 at the end.

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    Again, thanks for all the work Michael. It is fun and helpful to read these descriptions of all our prospects worth talking about right now.
    You said we don't have any elite prospects but several could be. Marquez could be, he has the stuff. InSaluki said he still misses Eloy and Dylan and I do too--I though it was a good trade at the time, and both prospects haven't seen a day in the majors, but if they are as good as we think they might be, this would be one of the worst trades in our history--but again, I would do it again at the time. We know that prospects are just that, just as ours are. Time will tell, but after reading all these reports that you've done Michael I am actually feeling better about our system. Most are at least 2 years away, but even then most of our major leaguers will be 30 or under. We still have a young team. I'd like to see more team speed, but I always want that.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    I believe there are several useful arms and position players that can breakthrough in the next two years, but the next star player is at least 2 years away.

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    Just a question (clarification) on your comments for Hoerner. You say that his OBP will likely be BA driven but that he has a solid idea of the strike zone. Would this be something like Albert Almora where he can simply make contact so well that he is likely to swing at--and make contact with--pitches outside the strike zone and possibly get hits where another player might draw a BB. I am NOT "comping" him with Almora but simply asking and using Almora as an example.

    And, if so, do you think he will develop the ability to lay off pitches outside the zone? Or would that even be desirable? Are we better off with a guy who swings at and makes contact with pitches outside the zone consistently and have some of them turn into hits than we are with the same player taking it for a ball and "waiting for a pitch to drive" and taking the subsequent BB that go with that (knowing that hits of any kind, even singles, are better than BB and extra base hits are REALLY valuable).

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Hoerner is similar to Almora, but he makes hard contact more frequently, and I think his selectivity is a little better so he won't chase borderline and pitches off the plate as much. Basically, Hoerner probably ends up being the player we all hoped Almora would become.

  • Nice cap to the series here Michael - I have really enjoyed reading this set of articles.

    Yes - the Cubs 'depleted' their high-end prospect pool over the last few years between trades and a set of guys who are now filling out the current MLB lineup,... but it was worth it to get to the consistently level of good play we have seen the last few years.

    Also yes - it's good to see some new potential Cubs starting to move up again. We're going to be needing some of those guys - especially the pitchers - sooner rather than later.

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