Even though it seems that the minor league season just ended, the Cubs began their Fall instructs this past week. Over 92 prospects are receiving instruction and trying to improve their game in Arizona. In addition, several players will be participating in the Arizona Fall League and some more advanced prospects are already playing games on a team with the Angels’ top prospects.
While the more advanced group had an actual game, the younger prospects had a home run derby, won by recent international signee Kwang-Min Kwon. There’s been a lot of buzz about certain prospects. Part of that began with their play in August and early September, but a lot of it has been about their rapid growth in instructs and the possibility of what they could become in 2016.
Here is my list of 10 Cubs prospects from instructs to keep an eye on in the coming year:
1. Dylan Cease
Earlier in the week, baseball America began listing its top 20 prospects in each league in the minors. In the Arizona rookie league, pitcher Cease was ranked number two behind Milwaukee’s Trent Clark. For Cease, who spent the year in the Arizona Rookie League rehabbing his right arm after undergoing Tommy John surgery shortly after being drafted by the Cubs in 2014, this is quite an honor.
Cease threw his fastball between 95 and 100 most of the summer but had trouble commanding it along with the secondary pitches, a curve and a change up. Cease is in instructs this month and will likely be limited to 2-3 inning outings. As for 2016, I don’t think you’ll see any restrictions on his arm. He will likely be at short-season Eugene to work on his command and control. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him make the jump to South Bend in July of next year to catch up with his draft class if he can get his control down.
2. Eloy Jimenez
Even though he only hit seven home runs in 57 games at Eugene this year, a lot is expected of Jimenez next year at South Bend. If he can stay healthy for an entire year it is not inconceivable for him to hit 20 to 25 home runs against low-A pitching. The issue is whether he can stay healthy for the entire summer. The 18 year old out of the Dominican showed a deft bat this year and lead the team in RBI despite missing 21 games due to assorted minor injuries. Coming into this season, his weakness was gameplay…or a lack thereof. That’s not a weakness any more. And to think, he and Gleyber Torres — and many others on this list — are only 18 years old.
3. Kwang-Min Kwon
The 17-year-old South Korean is a bit of a mystery. The left-handed hitter looks big, he swings big, and he will probably start next year in the Arizona Rookie League. I don’t think there’s a better way to make an introduction to your tenure in the United States than by winning a home run derby in instructs. While it is just a little exhibition, it does give you a little bit of a peek into the possibility that this young kid could hit for power. That might be wishful thinking on my part. Still, you don’t just show up and win a home run derby without some skills.
4. Yonathan Sierra
In a similar twist, the 16-year-old Sierra made his debut in instructs this week. The 6’3” left-handed hitting outfielder drew raves for his gap to gap power. Sierra, one of the Cubs’ 2015 international signees, will likely make his debut in the Arizona Rookie League next summer. The Cubs have been pretty careful with their international signees, or at least their top-dollar signees, in recent years. Both Jimenez and Gleyber Torres played in the rookie league the summer following their signing. I expect Sierra to do the same and it should be interesting to see how the young kid handles playing stateside at such a young age. So far, it seems to be working for Jimenez and Torres.
5. PJ Higgins
The last Cubs’ draft pick in the 2015 class to sign on July 17, Higgins, a second baseman out of Old Dominion, made up for lost time quickly hitting almost .300 across two levels at Arizona and Eugene. The right-handed-hitting infielder also showed some power and the ability to play multiple positions. I think the big thing for Higgins to overcome is that many have already compared him to Chesney Young. I can see that comparison but I also see Higgins as having much, much more power than Young while not hitting for as high an average. Higgins should start next year at low-A South Bend.
6. Darryl Wilson
A young toolsy outfielder, Wilson is the prospect I would like to see most next year. He has been drawing rave reviews in instructs for his play and finished second in Saturday’s home run derby. There may be more pop in his bat than previously thought. I have heard that Wilson does have the potential for a nice bat, but his main attributes are his plus-plus speed and plus-plus defense in center. However, I am reading his athleticism and demeanor might be similar to that of Javy Baez. Now I can’t wait to see him play in 2016.
DJ Wilson was HR derby runner up. Quick-twitch, very good bat speed, makes hard, loud contact. Something Javy-esque about him, confident kid
— John Arguello (@CubsDen) October 3, 2015
7. Bryan Hudson.
The 6’7” lefty pitcher was drafted one spot ahead of Wilson and got a little bit of action in the summer in Arizona and is getting more time this fall in instructs. I can’t wait to see him unleashed upon the world in Eugene next summer. The Cubs handled him with kid gloves — as they should have — after he pitched a full season of high school ball. While Hudson already has 2 solid pitches in a good high 80s/low 90s fastball and a devastating curve, he will need to develop a third pitch if he’s going to make it as a starter. I’m looking forward to seeing what that third pitch will be. For my money, it should be the change up, as it’s the easiest pitch to teach. If he develops a slider…oh, my!
8. Wladimir Galindo
When the Arizona rookie league begin play this summer, the 18-year-old Galindo tore it up for about two weeks. While he did not hit any home runs, Galindo was spraying the ball all over the field with doubles and triples. A wrist injury robbed him of most of the season but he is back in instructs in Arizona. In just 19 games in Arizona this summer, he hit .358 with a .522 slugging percentage and a .922 OPS with seven doubles, two triples, and 11 RBIs. It’s a pretty impressive debut and I can’t wait to see how he rebounds in 2016 at Eugene.
9. Erling Moreno
Like Cease, Moreno also underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014. Unlike Cease, Moreno struggled to get playing time this year in Arizona, as the 2013 international free agent only saw action in three games while pitching 4.2 innings. In just that brief action, he had a 1.93 ERA. He’s back at it in instructs this fall and I look forward to what he can do next year. He’s only 18 but has a live arm and can throw in the low 90s and still has some projection left in the 6 ‘3″ frame. I think he’ll begin the year in Arizona and the Cubs will keep a close eye on him as he continues to rehab
10. Oscar de la Cruz
While most of the players on this list will be in Arizona or Eugene next summer, a few — Jimenez and Higgins — will be in South Bend. Joining them will be an army of pitchers with lots of potential in Justin Steele, Carson Sands, Preston Morrison, Kyle Twomey, and probably de la Cruz, the prospect I most want to see pitch live or on MiLB.TV. The young hurler was rumored to be closing in on 6’6” and he threw in the low to mid 90s most of the summer at Eugene in 2015. He was the healthiest pitcher on the staff as he threw 73 innings and struck out 73 with a 2.87 ERA. I could be duped into thinking he might be something special, but he likely is if he’s continuing to grow. I was a little excited at the beginning of 2015 to get to see Jake Stinnett and Trevor Clifton pitch almost every start. I might be more excited to see next year’s South Bend pitchers even more.
The young 3B surprised me most out of all the prospects this summer from South Bend. He was promoted mid-summer from South Bend to Myrtle Beach. While he was underwhelming at South Bend (.238, 4 HRs, 20 RBIs in 69 games), he was a gamer at Myrtle Beach with several key hits late in games (.244, 6 HRs, 20 RBIs in 38 games). And now in instructs, he is getting plaudits for his approach at the plate and his burgeoning power stroke. It will be interesting to see if he goes to AA Tennessee or starts 2016 at Myrtle Beach.
My Own Personal Favorite Prospects to See in 2016
I think several prospects finished very strong in 2015 and that should carry over into 2016. Several players I am looking for big seasons next year include:
Trevor Clifton, Justin Steele, Alex Bautista, Donnie Dewees, Ian Happ, Carlos Sepulveda, Austyn Willis, Preston Morrison, Kyle Twomey, Scott Effross, Jake Stinnett, and Casey Bloomquist.
It should be very exciting to watch all of these young players develop in 2016. After losing Bryant, Schwarber, Russell and Soler to the big league team, the Cubs still have the fourth highest ranked farm system according to MLB.Pipeline.com.
In the coming months, we will profile the depth at each position in the Cubs minor league system. Up first next week, first base.