Chicago Cubs Top 20 Prospects for 2016
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2016 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders for the book, so order early and order often!
All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS
Grade A prospects are the elite. In theory, they have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Theoretically, most Grade A prospects develop into stars or at least major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don’t intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don’t make it at all.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for the full analysis about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
1) Gleyber Torres, SS, Grade B+: Age 19, hit .293/.353/.386 with three homers, 22 steals, 43 walks, 108 strikeouts in 464 at-bats in Low-A. Across the board tools with speed and perhaps more power potential than is commonly realized, still somewhat raw with running and defense, unsure if he will remain at shortstop. Hit well against older competition, high-ceiling talent clearly but uncertain in what direction skills will go. Could end up as a high-average hitter with doubles pop, or perhaps show more isolated power than expected but a lower average.
2) Ian Happ, OF-2B, Grade B: Age 21, 2015 first round pick from University of Cincinnati, hit .283/.408/.491 in Northwest League then .241/.315/.448 in Midwest League, switch-hitter with impressive strike zone judgment, power, speed, played second base in instructional league. Long-term position unclear but should be a strong secondary average hitter.
3) Billy McKinney, OF, Grade B: Age 21, hit combined .300/.371/.454 with seven homers, 44 walks, 60 strikeouts in 377 at-bats between High-A and Double-A. Average tools in most respects but has always hit well against older competition and a favorite of scouts due to excellent makeup, still some risk he ends up as a "tweener" without ideal power for a corner.
4) Willson Contreras, C, Grade B-/B: Age 23, hit .333/.414/.478 with 34 doubles, eight homers, 57 walks, 62 strikeouts in 454 at-bats in Double-A. Excellent season, led Southern League in batting average but has never played that well before and it is not unanimous that he can keep it up. Good BB/K/PA ratio is in his favor. Defense is erratic and he needs another year in the minors to refine it, has the tools but still needs more polish. Non-Cubs sources not as sanguine on him as Cubs-oriented sources.
5) Duane Underwood, RHP, Grade B-: Age 21, posted 2.58 ERA with 48/24 K/BB in 73 innings in High-A, missed much of the summer with sore elbow but recovered without complications, can hit 95-96, change-up and curve both flash plus but are still inconsistent, reflected in relatively low strikeout rate. Maturing emotionally, has made considerable progress over the last two seasons. Number three starter upside.
6) Carl Edwards Jr, RHP, Grade B-: Age 24, 2.77 ERA with 75/41 K/BB in 55 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, just 26 hits allowed. Too many walks but stuff fits perfectly in the bullpen, 93-97 MPH with movement, curve and change both strong. Stock down some now that he is a reliever but can close games eventually if the walks come down.
7) Oscar De La Cruz, RHP, Grade B-: Age 20, excellent summer in Northwest League, 2.84 ERA with 73/17 K/BB in 73 innings, 56 hits, 92-96 MPH, above-average breaking ball, change-up needs work but also has above-average potential, throws strikes, strong body should lead to durability, real bargain with $85,000 bonus in 2012. Key now is transition to full-season ball and building up workload, but could be top pitching prospect in the system six months from now.
8) Eloy Jimenez, OF, Grade B-: Age 19, hit .284/.328/.418 with seven homers, 15 walks, 43 strikeouts in 232 at-bats in Northwest League, bonus baby ($2,800,000) signed in 2013 was greatly improved compared to ’14, got to power more often. Still needs polish with plate discipline and defense but has progressed. Like De La Cruz, he can leap towards the top of the list if transition to full-season ball goes well.
9) Albert Almora, OF, Grade B-: Age 21, hit .272/.327/.400 with 32 walks, 47 strikeouts in 405 at-bats in Double-A. Draws praise for excellent defensive outfield skills but hitting hasn’t matched expectations, makes contact but swing doesn’t result in much power production. May wind up as fourth outfielder.
10) Pierce Johnson, RHP, Grade B-: Posted 2.08 ERA with 72/32 K/BB in 95 innings in Double-A, 76 hits, missed much of season with strained lat. History of nagging injuries leads to role questions but features four pitches (92-95 fastball, curve, cutter, change) and usually throws strikes. Beware Prospect Fatigue unfairly lowering stock but there are legit questions about how he fits on roster.
11) Dylan Cease, RHP, Grade B-/C+: Age 20, posted 2.63 ERA with 25/16 K/BB in 24 innings in rookie ball, recovering from Tommy John surgery. Hit 95-97 post-surgery and is leaping up prospect lists, no question about his natural talent but control problems have to be addressed. Beware Shiny New Toy syndrome in the short run but upside is excellent.
12) Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Grade B-/C+: Age 22, hit .270/.318/.415 in High-A then .291/.379/.462 in Double-A, switch hitter with good approach, moderate power. Very good with glove at third base but doesn’t have range for other infield spots nor run well enough for the outfield. A good role player for someone.
13) Dan Vogelbach, 1B, Grade B-/C+: Age 23, hit .272/.403/.425 with seven homers, 57 walks, 61 strikeouts in 254 at-bats in Double-A. Excellent strike zone judgment with loads of power potential, but limited to first base/DH defensively by 250 pound body. Trade bait barring lots of injuries ahead of him.
14) Ryan Williams, RHP, Grade C+: Age 24, sleeper prospect, control artist went 14-3, 2.16 with 98/18 K/BB in 142 innings between Low-A and Double-A, just 109 hits allowed. 10th round pick in 2014 from East Carolina University, doesn’t burn radar but throws quality strikes with 88-91 heater, adequate-to-average curve, slider, change-up, all play up due to command and consistency. Could be inning-eating workhorse.
15) Victor Caratini, C, Grade C+: Age 22, hit .257/.342/.372 with four homers, 49 walks, 75 strikeouts in 393 at-bats in High-A, tools to be a strong defender, good plate discipline, not much home run power.
16) Donnie Dewees, OF, Grade C+: Age 22, second round pick from University of North Florida hit .266/.306/.376 in pro debut in Northwest League, five homers, 19 steals, 14 walks, 54 strikeouts in 282 at-bats. Good speed with more power potential than early stats indicate, will need to tighten up strike zone.
17) Trevor Clifton, RHP, Grade C+: Age 20, posted 3.98 ERA with 103/47 K/BB in 109 innings in Low-A, 92-96 fastball, curve can be nasty, still working on command and change-up, potential breakout candidate with mid-rotation upside.
18) Carson Sands, LHP, Grade C+: Age 20, fourth round pick in 2014, posted 3.92 ERA with 41/21 K/BB in 57 innings in Northwest League, 62 hits. Erratic, at his best shows 90-95 fastball with plus curve and solid change-up, but secondary pitches come and go and command needs work. Another possible number three starter eventually.
19) Bryan Hudson, LHP, Grade C+: Age 18, huge 6-8 lefty from Illinois high school drafted in third round in 2015, just getting started, currently throws 86-92 but heat should improve in time, already has a strong curveball. High ceiling.
20) Ryan Kellogg, LHP, Grade C+: Age 21, Canadian lefty was fifth round pick out of Arizona State, didn’t thrive in pro debut (4.98 ERA, 14/8 K/BB in 22 innings) but one of my picks for a breakout candidate. Big guy (6-6, 230) with clean delivery, throws strikes with breaking ball and change-up, fastball velocity was not special in college. My guess is that the fastball MPH improves in pro ball and he emerges as another mid-rotation candidate.
OTHER GRADE C+ (more or less interchangeable with spots 14-20): Corey Black, RHP; Eddy Martinez, OF; Justin Steele, LHP; Jen-Ho Tseng, RHP; Mark Zagunis, OF
OTHERS OF NOTE: Pedro Araujo, RHP; David Berg, RHP; Paul Blackburn, RHP; Wladimir Galdino, 3B; Preston Morrison, RHP; Jake Stinnett, RHP; Kyle Twomey, LHP; Christian Villanueva, INF; Darryl Wilson, OF; Chesny Young, 2B
Graduations have thinned the upper levels of this system, but I still like what the Cubs have down on the farm. Many of the B- guys have breakout upside potential, notably De La Cruz, Jimenez, and Cease. Sands, Hudson, and Kellogg along with Justin Steele and Kyle Twomey give five legitimate southpaw prospects at the A-ball level who could develop into major league starting pitchers.