Four years ago, the Chicago Cubs had the top farm system in baseball. Premier prospects such as Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Addison Russell had all the makings of future key producers at the major league level.
Four years, three NLCS appearances, and one World Series Championship later, the Chicago Cubs farm system is a much different story.
The current Cubs farm system consists of zero top-100 prospects, while the 2014 system had six top-100 prospects. Times have changed on the North Side however, as the team is in win-now mode, and has sacrificed several top prospects in order to improve the major league team.
To sum it all up, the Chicago Cubs do not exactly have a great farm system. However, that certainly doesn't mean that there can't be sleepers within the farm system, even past the top-30 prospects.
The only qualification to be included on this list is the prospect cannot currently be on the Cubs top-30 prospects list. This is cause for some deep digging, but there is serious talent deep in the Cubs system nonetheless.
Single-A Sleeper Prospect: Brendan King
The Single-A South Bend Cubs finished the first-half of the 2018 season at just 34-35, but had five players selected the the Midwest League All-Star game from their roster.
Of the five All-Stars, just two are top-30 prospects in the Cubs farm system. Pretty impressive for a system with a glaring lack of depth.
The most productive of these All-Stars is Brendan King. The 23 year-old reliever has a 4.36 ERA in 33 innings for South Bend in the first-half. Drafted in the 20th round out of Holy Cross in 2017, King made the jump to South Bend after starting 2018 with extended spring training.
King has shown potential to handle high-leverage situations, striking out 34 batters in 33 innings. King started the season as a starter but has since shifted to the bullpen, making 14 relief appearances after making just five all of last season.
As for his future outlook, King can expect a promotion to High-A in the coming weeks. Minor league relievers don't need too much development, and especially given King’s age, it wouldn't be totally out of the question to see him in Wrigley as soon as early 2020 if all goes well on the mound.
Another first-half All-Star, Jared Young was arguably the most productive of the South Bend Cubs during the first-half. The 22 year-old hit .302 in 53 games at first-base, hitting eight home runs and driving in 42 in the process. The issue with Young is obvious, as star first baseman Anthony Rizzo figures to stay at first base for the foreseeable future on the North Side.
Rollie Lacy had a spectacular first-half for the Cubs, recording a 2.40 ERA with 63 strikeouts, splitting time between the bullpen and the rotation. Lacy made just 13 total appearances for the South Bend Cubs, and has struggled staying healthy, as the former Creighton Blue Jay pitched just 29.1 innings in the minors last season.
⭐️⭐️⭐️— Myrtle Beach Pelicans (@Pelicanbaseball) June 11, 2018
Congratulations to @aramis_ademan, Jhonny Pereda and Tyler Peyton, who will each represent Myrtle Beach at the 2018 All-Star Classic!
READ MORE ➡️ https://t.co/inhJ6zR94n pic.twitter.com/iw4fKkrRH9
High-A Sleeper Prospect: Jhonny Pereda
The High-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans did a solid job of producing All-Star talent in their own right, having three players named to the All-Star game.
Of the three, two are not listed among the Cubs top-30 prospects. That makes it five of eight A-level all stars not ranked within the top-30, so the current lack of depth in the Cubs farm system looks to be slowly improving.
Of the trio of Pelicans all-stars, catcher Jhonny Pereda has been the biggest producer. The 22 year-old Venezuelan backstop is hitting .284 in 57 games behind the plate. Pereda has driven in 36 runs, and has hit five round-trippers in 204 at-bats this season.
While Willson Contreras is undoubtedly the catcher of the future for the Cubs, if theres one position that lacks the most depth on the present Cubs roster it’s catcher, as Victor Caratini has recorded just 65 at-bats on the year.
Pereda is fairly young and 22 and will need more developing, but anytime a catcher can stick behind the plate and show some potential with the bat, theres a solid chance they’ll get an opportunity at the major league level at some point. Pereda will have to stay consistent from this point forward, but if he can keep his average up, the Cubs certainly have a hidden gem in the young catcher.
Drafted out of Iowa in 2017, Tyler Peyton has had a spectacular season out of the bullpen for the Pelicans. The righty has a 2.34 ERA with 32 strikeouts in 34.2 innings on the year. Peyton has yet to allow a home run this season, and has saved six ballgames. However Peyton has struggled with control, as 14 walks in 34.2 innings could use some work.
Double-A Sleeper Prospect: Dakota Mekkes
Despite lacking premier prospects, the Cubs farm system has continued to produce All-Stars in their respective leagues, continuing with the Double-A Tennessee Smokies.
Four Smokies were named Southern League All-Stars, including two non top-30 prospects. Of the two non top-30 guys, reliever Dakota Mekkes stood out as a major sleeper.
Quite possibly the most productive reliever in the entire Cubs system, Mekkes put up eye-popping numbers in the first-half of the season for the Smokies. The 6-foot-7 righty allowed just two earned runs in 22.1 innings out of the bullpen, striking out 30 batters in the process.
Mekkes currently possesses a 3-0 record with a 0.81 ERA for the Smokies. Once the Southern League All-Star game is completed you can expect a promotion to Triple-A for Mekkes, as the Cubs can use some bullpen help down the stretch.
Through two-and-a-half seasons in the minors, Mekkes has never had an ERA at or above 2. Mekkes experience and consistency make him a serious candidate to be a September call-up if all goes well in Triple-A.
The second non top-30 All-Star for the Smokies, Jeffrey Baez has shown some serious pop in the first-half of the season. The Venezuelan right fielder has a .294 average in 55 games, and has hit six home runs and driven in 24 runs to go along with the impressive batting average. Baez, ironically like the major-league Baez, has struggled with plate discipline, striking out 49 times in 160 at-bats.
June 15 Game Notes at Reno.— Iowa Cubs (@IowaCubs) June 15, 2018
Through his last 14 games, Jacob Hannemann has wielded a bat, hitting .348 (15-for-43) with three 2B, two HRs and six RBI. He's SO just twice with five BBs in 39 plate appearances.
Game Notes >> https://t.co/ILQ6OULyst pic.twitter.com/yBt2Udwm06
Triple-A Sleeper Prospect: Jacob Hannemann
The Iowa Cubs have had a horrible season, sitting at 25-44 as the first-half winds down.
While the current Iowa roster consistent of a mix between veterans and fringe-major league youngsters, one young prospect that has stood out as a potential surprise major league contributor is Jacob Hannemann
Acquired from the Seattle Mariners during the offseason, the 27 year-old was originally drafted by the Cubs in the third round of the 2013 draft.
Hannemann has a .264 batting average with three home runs in 55 games for the Iowa Cubs in 2018. Hannemann really stood out in Spring Training of 2017, hitting .333 with a home run and six RBIs in 17 games.
Hannemann will likely see a few at-bats at the major league level come September, but likely won't be a major league producer for the Cubs. If Hannemann continues to produce at Triple-A, the Cubs could decide to flip him via trade, where he can find playing time in a less-crowded outfield.
Hannemann has played just eleven games in the majors, so its pretty hard to tell where he projects to play in the majors. As aforementioned, that place likely isn't with the Cubs, but it'll be interesting to see the production of Hannemann if and when he gets an opportunity once the rosters expand.
Another productive reliever within the Cubs system, the left-handed Alberto Baldonado has quietly had a very productive minor league career. The Panamanian lefty spent the first eight seasons of his minor league career with the New York Mets before spending the first-half of 2018 with the Iowa Cubs, recording a 3.52 ERA throughout eight-and-a-half seasons, with 415 strikeouts in 386.1 innings primarily out of the bullpen.