The Next Wave: The Changing State of the Cubs Top Prospect Lists
Baseball Prospectus released their mid-season Top 50 Prospect List today. There has been a lot of change as many of the top prospects in baseball are now playing in the majors, including Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, Miguel Sano, and Byron Buxton (DL). The same is true of the Cubs. When the year began, Bryant, Jorge Soler, and Addison Russell were all in the top 50, actually top 20, on most prospect lists.
Gone from the BP list are Carl Edwards, Jr. and Albert Almora, Jr. – both of whom are valued differently this year. Edwards lost a lot of value when he was shifted to a reliever; add in the fact that he has a high walk ratio and injury concerns, and it is no wonder he plummeted. Albert Almora is only batting .249 on the year; he is still a top defender, but his inability to adjust at the plate at AA lowered his value.
Six Cubs are on MLB.com’s Top 100, which will updated soon. Those names are Carl Edwards, Jr., Kyle Schwarber, Billy McKinney, Albert Almora, Duane Underwood, and Gleyber Torres. However, none of them are in the top 30. In fact, they are clumped in threes in the 40’s and 90’s.
Cubs Den recently listed their top five Cub prospects mid-season last week. They went:
- Kyle Schwarber
- Gleyber Torres
- Duane Underwood
- Billy McKinney
- Ian Happ
The Cub Junction also listed their Top 21 Prospect List after International Free Agency and had Schwarber, Torres, McKinney, Underwood, and Happ at the top, followed by Eloy Jimenez, Pierce Johnson, Justin Steele, Mark Zagunis, and Dylan Cease. Edwards came in #11 and Almora came in at #13 in that list. Injuries have played a role in Edwards’ free fall from the top of the rankings, but it is just a ranking. If Edwards gets his command in order and Almora hits for a higher average and takes more walks, then their ratings will rise.
For the Cubs today, only two prospects made the BP Top 50 – Kyle Schwarber at #8 and Gleyber Torres at #50. Eloy Jimenez just missed it. This marks a huge shift in the evaluation of talent in the Cubs system. Don’t worry though, there is a second wave of talent coming, it is just a little behind the first one.
What is happening is a combination of things.
Prospects get to the majors – For years we were used to seeing Alcantara, Baez, and Soler at the top of the prospect lists year in and year out. Add in Almora, Bryant, and Schwarber from the 2012-14 drafts and you had one elite prospect list. However, prospects don’t stay prospects forever. Prospects began advancing to the majors starting with Baez, Alcantara, Hendricks, and Soler last year, Bryant, Rosscup, and Russell this year, and next year we could see Schwarber and Edwards to name just two
The Draft – When Theo came aboard, Epstein, Hoyer, and McLeod turned a bereft farm system into one of the top systems in the league. The three have filled the Cubs system with some high end bats and a lot of pitchers who have mid—rotation potential. Just look what is happening at the lower level of the Cubs system: Justin Steele, Carson Sands, and Oscar De La Cruz are throwing darts in Eugene. Add in the bats of Happ, Eloy Jimenez, Donnie Dewees, and Matt Rose and that is a dangerous team at short season A. That’s 5 of the Cubs’ top 30 prospects on a short season A ball team! Add in some risky picks like Dylan Cease and sleepers like Chesny Young, Jeremy Null, and Ryan Williams and you have a bevy of prospects across all levels.
Development – Some prospects, particularly pitchers, take time to develop. Duane Underwood is currently one. Last year at Kane County, Underwood had an outstanding year. Still, he is far from a finished prospect. He is working on developing a third and fourth pitch to go with his mid-90s fastball and plus curve. He was off to a great season again this year before elbow inflammation recently sidelined him. In spite of his injury, he is still valued as the top starting pitching prospect in the Cubs’ minor league system.
Depth – The Cubs do have a lot of prospects. We are just now starting to see some of them in a better light without the shadows of Kris Bryant or Javy Baez covering them up. While Edwards may be having a so-so year compared to his own past record, other prospects are now getting some light shed on them. In 2017-18, you could see the second wave of prospects that are filling up all three Class A teams and the Arizona rookie league. Names like Torres, Jimenez, Zagunis, Young, Clifton, Stinnett, Happ, and Dewees.
International Free Agency – It is safe to say, so far, the Cubs knocked it out of the park with the 2013 International Free Agent class. That talent, signed at 16 years old, is just beginning to blossom. Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez, and Jen-Ho Tseng have become well known prospects in the past year. 3B Wladimir Galindo, also 18, is an OPS machine (.925) now in rookie league in Arizona. SP Erling Moreno is coming off TJS and doing well in rookie league. This year, the Cubs signed 5 players off MLB.com’s Top 30 International Prospect List and are in negotiations for two more top 30 free agents. It will be one-two more years before most of last week’s signees are stateside.
The Cubs will likely drop a little in the farm system rankings this year because they do not have high end talent ready to enter the majors aside from Schwarber. But give it a year and a half. Theo & Company have the cupboards well stocked with talent. In fact, beginning in the winter of 2016, I would not be surprised to see them go on a multi-year run of having the best farm system in the majors.