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Chicago Cubs Top 20 prospects for 2018

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The Cubs farm system has thinned but is not devoid of talent

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-All Star Game
Adbert Alzolay
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Cubs Top 20 Prospects for 2018

(this list was updated December 18th, 2017)

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. All of these grades are subject to change as the winter progresses.

The final grades will be finished sometime in February when all 30 teams are complete.

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. 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) Adbert Alzolay, RHP, Grade B: Age 22, signed out of Venezuela in 2012, breakthrough season with 2.99 ERA, 108/34 K/BB in 114 innings, 92 hits between High-A and Double-A; fastball reported anywhere between 91 and 97 MPH, around 93-94 consistently; aggressive about throwing strikes and looks confident; curveball above-average; change-up needs more work but there’s enough there to project him as a number three starter. ETA 2019.

2) Aramis Ademan, SS, Grade B: Age 19, signed out of Dominican Republic in 2015 for $2,000,000; hit .267/.324/.427 in 288 at-bats between Northwest and Midwest Leagues, very young for the levels, playing the season at age 18; lefty bat with wiry strength that may result in unexpected pop down the line, gap power at least; runs well, could steal 15-20 bases per year; has the tools to stay at shortstop and is more reliable than most infielders his age; will need time to lock down the strike zone but I think he projects very well. ETA 2021.

3) Alex Lange, RHP, Grade B: Age 22, first round pick in 2017 from Louisiana State; went 10-5, 2.97 in 19 starts for LSU with 150/48 K/BB in 124 innings, 106 hits; fanned 13 in nine innings of work in the Northwest League; dominant statistically in college but scouting reports were mixed; can hit 96 but fastball dipped some last spring and he relied heavily on his excellent curveball; change-up not as good as the first two pitches; there’s some effort in his delivery; some observers project him as a reliever but I think the change has enough potential that he can start; it’s possible he is actually under-rated; ETA 2019.

4) Jose Albertos, RHP, Grade B: Age 19, signed out of Mexico in 2015, has been used sparingly thus far and durability concerns are the main “hold back factor” with his grade; 3.14 ERA with 48/17 K/BB in 43 innings between rookie ball and Northwest League, 30 hits, zero homers allowed; heavy fastball up to 95-97, mixed with plus change-up but inconsistent breaking stuff; good mound presence and command for his age; could be a number three starter if the slider comes around and if the durability is there, or a dominant reliever if those issues remain in play. ETA 2021.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Chicago Cubs
Victor Caratini
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

5) Victor Caratini, C-1B, Grade B: Age 24, second round pick by Braves in 2013 from Miami Dade JC, traded to Cubs in 2014, hit .342/.393/.558 with 10 homers, 27 walks, 48 strikeouts in 292 at-bats in Triple-A, then .254/.333/.356 in 59 at-bats in the majors; switch-hitter with impressive feel for hitting, raw power not rated as special but had big production boost in ’16 with career-highs in most categories; has a good eye and walk totals should increase in time; defensive tools aren’t naturally outstanding but he’s developed into a steady and reliable receiver through hard work, also playable at first base; fits profile of player who has offensive surge in his late 20s. ETA 2018.

ANALYST NOTE: Alzolay, Ademan, Lange, Albertos, and Caratini were all at the top of various versions of the list.

6) Oscar De La Cruz, RHP, Grade B/B-: Age 22, signed out of Dominican Republic as an infielder in 2012; posted 3.46 ERA with 47/13 K/BB in 55 innings in High-A, missing much of the year with nagging injuries; clocked as high as 96 but his velocity was reportedly down somewhat in ’17; flashes plus curveball and change-up but needs more consistency; like Albertos, the main concern is durability which could impact his future role; no question about his talent but still unclear if he starts or relieves. ETA 2020.

7) Thomas Hatch, RHP, Grade B-/C+: Age 23, third round pick in 2016 from Oklahoma State, posted 4.04 ERA with 126/50 K/BB in 125 innings in High-A, 126 hits; I expected better but I’m staying with the B-/C+ I gave him last year, for now; 90-95 fastball that often plays up, along with a plus slider; some progress with the change-up but it is still a third pitch for him, needs to improve command as well; gave up only two homers all season; I still think he has breakthrough potential. ETA 2020.

8) Brendon Little, LHP, Grade B-/C+: Age 21, first round pick in 2017 from State Junior College of Florida; posted 9.37 ERA with 12/9 K/BB in 16 innings in Northwest League pro debut; sample small of course but scouting reports matched what he showed in college: a live arm with a fastball up to 90-95, a very nasty plus curve, but problems with his delivery/mechanics, shaky change-up, and overall command; high ceiling but will need time. ETA late 2020.

MLB: New York Mets at Chicago Cubs
Jen-Ho Tseng
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

9) Jen-Ho Tseng, RHP, Grade B-/C+: Age 23, signed out of Taiwan in 2013; posted 2.54 ERA in 145 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, 122/38 K/BB, 127 hits; looked quite good for Triple-A Iowa late in the year; low-90s fastball isn’t a blazer but he uses it well, mixes in curveball, cutter, change-up; nothing really plus but nothing bad, either, and command, mound presence add to the package; does not have the ceiling of the pitchers above him but is the closest to the majors. ETA 2018.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

10) Mark Zagunis, OF, Grade C+: Age 24, third round pick in 2014 from Virginia Tech; hit .267/.404/.455 with 13 homers, 70 walks, 93 strikeouts in 330 at-bats in Triple-A; physical tools average in all respects but he grows on you as you watch him play; very good feel for the strike zone, generally hits to all fields; competent at outfield corners but doesn’t run well enough for center; should be a useful role player but not sure where. ETA 2018.

11) Duane Underwood, RHP, Grade C+: Age 23, second round pick in 2012 from high school in Georgia; has been on prospect lists for years now but still young; 4.43 ERA with 98/50 K/BB in 138 innings in Double-A, 130 hits; on the right day looks like a number two starter with fastball up to 97, double-plus curveball, workable change-up; on the wrong day he looks like, well, not very good, with fastball velocity sagging, flat change-up and a loopy, mediocre curve; this has been his pattern since he signed and I have no idea if it will change; watch for any improvement in K/BB ratio; ETA late 2018.

12) Nelson Velazquez, OF, Grade C+: Age 18, fifth round pick in 2017 from high school in Carolina, Puerto Rico; hit .236/.333/.536 with eight homers, 15 walks, 39 strikeouts in 110 at-bats in Arizona Rookie League; bat needs polish and experience but he has 60-grade power and is not just a brute slugger; arm and speed fit well in right field; long way off but has substantial potential and should be tracked closely. ETA 2022.

13) Alec Mills, RHP, Grade C+: Age 26, acquired last spring from Kansas City Royals for outfielder Donnie Dewees; missed most of 2017 with bone chips but pitched well in rehab assignments, 2.57 ERA with 20/5 K/BB in 28 innings finishing at three levels; followed by 3.91 ERA in 23 innings in Arizona Fall League, 20/6 K/BB; 90-95 fastball, good solid change-up, mixes in decent enough curve, throws strikes, very polished, ready for a full trial. ETA 2018.

14) Charcer Burks, OF, Grade C+: Age 22, ninth round pick in 2013 from high school in Texas; hit .270/.370/.395 with 10 homers, 16 steals, 69 walks, 107 strikeouts in 456 at-bats in Double-A; 60-speed and his power is improving too; draws praise for defensive skills, though arm is a bit short for right field; can handle left or center very well; feel for hitting has improved; probably a fourth outfielder but could be a good one. ETA 2019.

15) Cory Abbott, RHP, Grade C+: Age 22, second round pick in 2017 from Loyola Marymount; spectacular spring with 1.74 ERA in 98 innings, 130/28 K/BB, just 61 hits; pitched 14 pro innings in the Northwest League with 18/3 K/BB, 3.86 ERA; advanced pitchability with low-90s fastball, curve, change-up, cutter; the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts; potential number four starter on paper but these guys can surprise you. ETA 2020.

16) Michael Rucker, RHP, Grade C+: Age 23, 11th round pick in 2016 from BYU; posted 2.38 ERA with 114/21 K/BB in 106 innings between Low-A and High-A, 89 hits; another Cubs arm with low-90s fastball, very good curveball, change-up improved some, throws strikes and in general had little trouble with A-ball hitters; possible number four starter. ETA late 2019.

17) Keegan Thompson, RHP, Grade C+: Age 22, third round pick out of Auburn; missed 2016 with Tommy John, came back strong last spring with 2.41 ER, 75/17 K/BB in 93 innings; good pro debut with 2.37 ERA, 23/4 K/BB in 19 innings in Northwest League; another pitchability college arm with 90 MPH fastball, plus curveball, average change-up, consistent strike throwing ability, general profile similar to Rucker and Abbott. ETA 2020.

18) Bryan Hudson, LHP, Grade C+: Age 20, third round pick in 2015 from high school in Illinois; more of an upside arm than the guys ahead of him but lacks polish, 3.91 ERA with 81/52 K/BB in 124 innings in Low-A; Midwest League sources like his size (6-8, 220) but mechanics come and go, as does his velocity; overpowering at times but fastball velocity as well as secondary pitches are not consistent; watch for any spike in his strikeout rate. ETA 2021.

Milwaukee Brewers v Chicago Cubs
Dillon Maples
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

19) Dillon Maples, RHP, Grade C+: Age 25, 14th round pick in 2011 from high school in Southern Pines, North Carolina; career looked ruined by control problems and injuries but the Cubs didn’t give up and he turned things around in ’17, posting 2.27 ERA with 100/37 K/BB in 63 innings at three minor league levels and making his major league debut; can hit 100 and has a plus breaking ball; still has mechanical issues but control has improved from atrocious to below average, which was enough to leap him forward; good example why teams are loathe to give up on a live arm; could be a closer if he makes any more command improvements. ETA 2018.

20) Wladimir Galindo, INF, Grade C+: Age 21, signed out of Venezuela in 2013; hit .290/.350/.432 with four homers, 14 walks, 40 strikeouts in 162 at-bats in Low-A; missed much of the season with shoulder injury then a broken leg that ended campaign in June, too bad because he was having what looked like a breakout; shows pop to all fields; ETA 2021.

OTHER GRADE C+: David Bote, INF; Jesus Camargo, RHP; Trevor Clifton, RHP; Jeremiah Estrada, RHP; Fernando Kelli, OF; Eddy Martinez, OF; Erling Moreno, RHP; Jose Paulino; LHP; Duncan Robinson, RHP; Randy Rosario, LHP; Justin Steele, LHP; Jason Vosler, INF; D.J Wilson, OF; Rob Zastryzny, LHP

Most of the Grade C+ guys could slot in the 15-20 range.

OTHERS OF NOTE: Luis Aquino, RHP; Tyler Alamo, C; Miguel Amaya, C; Javier Assad, RHP; Luis Ayala, OF; Yasiel Balaguert, 1B-OF; Jhonny Bethencourt, 2B; Corey Black, RHP; Craig Brooks, RHP; Matt Carasiti, RHP; Michael Cruz, C; Taylor Davis, C; Emilio Ferrebus, RHP; Austin Filiere, 3B; Yapson Gomez, LHP; Jacob Hannemann, OF; Ben Hecht, RHP; Chad Hockin, RHP; Ryan Kellogg, LHP; Erick Leal, RHP; Vimael Machin, 2B; Mark Malave, RHP Dakota Mekkes, RHP; Tyson Miller, RHP; Kevonte Mitchell, OF; Andruw Monasterio, INF James Norwood, RHP; Yeiler Peguero, 2B; Stephen Perakslis, RHP; James Pugliese, RHP; Bijan Rademacher, OF; Ian Rice, C; Manuel Rodriguez, RHP; Jhon Romero, RHP; Carlos Sepulveda, 2B; Zack Short, SS; Chris Singleton, OF; Jake Steffens, RHP; Jake Stinnett, RHP; Daury Torrez, RHP; Erich Uelmen, RHP; Austin Upshaw, INF; Chesny Young, OF-INF

As is typical with the Grade C+ types, they could be numbered in any order of ways so it is useful to think of the players in tiers or groups.

I will answer questions in the comments section.