The past two weeks have been pretty busy over at Baseball America, as they recently released their rankings of the Top 20 prospects in each league in the minors over that time period. Several Cubs’ prospects made it, but not as many as you might think.
Let’s begin in Rookie League in Arizona…
The Cubs only had one rookie make the top 20 list and that is pitcher Dylan Cease. The 19-year-old right-hander is coming off Tommy John surgery and has the velocity back on his fastball (95-100) but not the command. He still needs to work on the command of his secondary pitches as well. However, 2016 will find Cease with no innings limits as his rehab is complete.
Northwest League – Eugene Emeralds
Seven, count ‘em, seven Cubs prospects made the list in the short-season league! Leading the way were Ian Happ and Eloy Jimenez at #2 and #3. Donnie Dewees, Justin Steele, and Carson Sands went 11-13, pitcher Oscar De La Cruz came in at 16, and pitcher Pedro Araujo finished it off at 19. That’s a pretty good haul for a team that didn’t make the postseason. I thought Preston Morrison should have been on the list, as well as reliever Greyfer Eregua. Next summer in South Bend should be pretty exciting.
Midwest League – South Bend Cubs
No surprise here: Gleyber Torres was the #1 ranked prospect in the league. Beloit Manager Fran Riordan said of Torres, “He has an unbelievable arm and great instincts. He was the best shortstop in the league. He was special. He put together solid, pro at-bats. He was a tough out and he made plays in the hole you don’t see.”
Ian Happ came in at #6 after only playing only one month and Rashad Crawford did get some recognition for best speed. Ryan Williams got best command for his month of duty, and Jeffrey Baez got second in best power/speed combo.
Carolina League – Myrtle Beach Pelicans
Despite winning the Carolina League in convincing fashion, the Pelicans placed only Duane Underwood at #7 and Jeimer Candelario at #13. No Chesny Young, who won the batting title by 27 points. No Johnathan Martinez, who won the league ERA crown. And no Mark Zagunis, who had the highest OBP in the league. Zagunis did get a nod for being a well-rounded player and Billy McKinney (who only played a month there) got the nod for best prospect to not qualify for the top 20. The Pelicans were also the best offensive team in the league according to Baseball America.
Southern League – Tennessee Smokies
Three Smokies made the list, with Kyle Schwarber at #4, Willson Contreras at #11, and Albert Almora at #19. I found a comment on Almora most interesting:
Almora makes a ton of contact—just two players who qualified for this ranking struck out less often—so the Cubs have stressed that a more patient approach would benefit him by allowing him to see more hitter’s counts and draw more free passes. On that note, Almora walked in a career-high 7 percent of plate appearances in 2015. Scouts love his competitive makeup and his ability to focus in big spots, but some don’t see a plus tool outside of his glove, viewing him as more of an outfield extra.
I have always thought the higher Almora went in the system, the better he would hit as those pitchers would be around the plate more. That hasn’t happened yet. 2016 will be a big year as he finally makes his way to Iowa and begins knocking on Chicago’s door.
OF Billy McKinney fell short of the top 20 as did Dan Vogelbach. Pitcher Felix Pena got a nod for having best command
Pacific Coast League – Iowa Cubs
Considering Bryant, Russell, and Schwarber left Iowa after short stints, the Cubs did not place one player in the top 20 in this league. Pitcher Carlos Pimentel was named Pitcher of the Year in the league as he went 12-6 with a 2.95 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 143 innings.
Overall, 14 Cubs made the list in 6 different leagues. Half of the list were at Eugene and that is to be expected since most of the Cubs top five prospects from 2014 are now in the majors. While the Cubs do have a lot depth in their system, they will be focusing more on acquiring higher-end talent like Eddy Julio Martinez. The Cubs could parlay some of their depth in the minors this off season by trading some players who are blocked by Bryant, Russell, and Rizzo for some of that high end talent.
It should be interesting this winter to see what happens with prospects that make it to the 40 man roster, those who end up in the rule 5 draft, and those who get traded for other prospects.