Over the last several years, not many organizations have churned out more hitting talent from their own system than the Chicago Cubs. It’s actually astonishing when you look at all the former Cubs prospects making an impact in the Majors right now. You have 2016 NL MVP Kris Bryant at the hot corner, 2018 MVP finalist Javier Baez, and others like Ian Happ, Willson Contreras, and Kyle Schwarber.
Pitching has been another story, but that’s an impressive list of hitters to all come up within a few years of each other. I’m sorry to inform you Cubs fans, it’s going to be a bit before you get the next wave of impact prospects. This system is one of the worst in baseball, but there’s still some upside plays here. You just have to dig around for them like trying to find a small toy in one of my children’s toy boxes. It requires plenty of patience, but you’ll find it eventually.
Overall System Grade: D
Minor League Affiliates
Triple-A: Iowa – Pacific Coast League
Double-A: Tennessee – Southern League
Single-A (Advanced): Myrtle Beach – Carolina League
Single-A (Full): South Bend – Midwest League
Short-season Single-A: Eugene – Northwest League
Rookie: Two teams each in the Arizona League and Dominican Summer League
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New Top 25 Chicago Cubs Prospects
1. Nico Hoerner, SS, Bats: R, DOB: 5/13/97, ETA 2020
2018 Stats (RK): .327/.450/.571/1.021, 2 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 6 SB, 15.0 BB%, 6.7 K%, 49 AB
This ranking magnifies two things. First, Hoerner is a damn good hitter and high upside prospect. Secondly, this Cubs farm system isn’t good. Hoerner has just 49 professional at-bats under his belt after being selected in the first round back in June, but is already making a name for himself in the industry and with other players.
Asked Jahmai Jones & he pointed to Nico.
For a player still at the grass roots level of his career, Nico has collected massive respect.
— Emily Waldon (@EmilyCWaldon) November 5, 2018
A lot was made about Nick Madrigal’s streak of not striking out and overall minuscule K rate, but Hoerner was right there with him. With only four strikeouts in 60 plate appearances, Hoerner’s strikeout rate was a mere 6.7% this season. That’s a small sample size for sure and likely unsustainable at that level. However, Hoerner has plus contact skills, plate coverage, and hand-eye coordination with a quick and clean swing path so striking out should never be an issue for him. Due to a line-drive-oriented swing, the power will never be overly high here, but Hoerner makes enough hard contact to pop out 10-15 homers annually. Add in his plus speed and you have a bonafide top of the order hitter. He’ll stick at short for now, but is average there at best and might need to slide over to second base long-term.
2. Cole Roederer, OF, Bats: L, DOB: 9/24/99, ETA 2022
2018 Stats (RK): .275/.354/.465/.819, 4 2B, 4 3B, 5 HR, 13 SB, 11.2 BB%, 23.0 K%, 142 AB
A second-round pick in 2018, Roederer has wasted little time showing off his advanced skillset. Plus speed is the first tool that sticks out. Roederer is a threat on the bases and uses that speed well in center field where he has above-average range. His throwing arm is average, but shouldn’t force him out of center any time soon. But defense isn’t what’s going to make Roederer an overall solid Major Leaguer.
— Prep Baseball Report (@prepbaseball) June 5, 2018
In addition to the plus speed, Roederer shows an advanced approach at the plate with a quick left-handed swing and plenty of bat speed. The swing is fluid and timed with a moderate leg kick. The bat waggle he had in high school has been toned down and there’s now barely any pre-pitch movement. Roederer stays balanced at the plate the contact skills are above-average with plus potential with some development. Don’t expect a ton of power, but there’s enough bat speed, strength, and leverage for Roederer to routinely hit 15-20 home runs.
3. Miguel Amaya, C, Bats: R, DOB: 3/9/99, ETA 2021
2018 Stats (A): .256/.349/.403/.752, 21 2B, 12 HR, 1 SB, 10.4 BB%, 19.0 K%, 414 AB
There’s no doubt in my mind that this 19-year-old Panamanian backstop is going to be a starting Major League catcher some day. He’s a good defensive catcher with a strong arm and receiving skills. The only question is how good can he be offensively? After a slow start to his professional career, Amaya turned in his best season yet in 2018, hitting three times as many home runs as he did in his first two seasons (in 436 AB) and improving his walk rate. While Amaya has yet to hit for a “put it on the refrigerator” batting average, the contact skills are solid, hinting at greener pastures in the batting average department. Amaya doesn’t have a ton of load in his swing, but generates some leverage with his swing and should at least have double-digit pop moving forward with the power ceiling being around 20-25.
4. Brennen Davis, OF, Bats: R, DOB: 11/2/99, ETA 2023
2018 Stats (RK): .298/.431/.333/.764, 2 2B, 0 HR, 6 SB, 13.9 BB%, 16.7 K%, 57 AB
One of the Cubs three second-round picks in 2018, Davis is the rawest of the trio, but has intriguing upside due to his plus-plus speed. He’s already becoming a threat on the bases and exhibits solid range in center field as well with an above-average throwing arm. How quickly he moves up the system and how good overall he becomes rests on his hit tool. While those numbers above look fine, it was only 57 at-bats. Currently, Davis has below average contact skills, but his quick swing and good hand-eye coordination hint at development there. The power is minimal, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him grow into double-digit pop. Definitely one to monitor due to the speed upside.
5. Brailyn Marquez, LHP, DOB: 1/30/99, ETA 2021
2018 Stats (A-/A): 54.2 IP, 3.13 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 2.6 BB/9, 9.7 K/9, .257 AVG
You could make a case for a few different pitchers as the best one in this system, but my vote goes to Brailyn Marquez. It is voting season after all. The soon to be 20-year-old Dominican southpaw attacks hitters with a three pitch arsenal, highlighted by a mid-90’s fastball and a developing curveball with good break that flashed plus at times. The changeup is a work in progress, but if he can develop that into at least an average pitch and keep his decent control in check, Marquez has the upside of a solid #3 Major League hurler.
6. Alex Lange, RHP, DOB: 10/2/95, ETA, 2020
2018 Stats (A+): 120.1 IP, 3.74 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 2.8 BB/9, 7.6 K/9, .234 AVG
If you want to flip-flop Alex Lange and Marquez, I wouldn’t have any problem with it. They’re actually similar pitchers if you ignore which arm they throw with. Like Marquez, Lange’s best offerings are his fastball and curveball, with the curve grading as plus to plus-plus due to the downward break and Lange’s command of the pitch. His fastball isn’t as quick as Marquez’s, sitting in the 91-95 range with some arm side run. Even his change-up is coming along nicely and coule become a third above-average to plus pitch for Lange.
7. Rochest Cruz, 2B/3B/SS, Bats: L, DOB: 6/24/99, ETA 2022
2018 Stats (RK): .302/.420/.404/.824, 9 2B, 4 3B, 2 HR, 56 SB, 15.5 BB%, 10.4 K%, 225 AB
This is an upside ranking. Cruz cannot find a home defensively, spending time at second, third, and short this season, but will likely find a home near the top of the order someday if he continues on this developmental path. Cruz’s speed and plate approach are the reasons for that. He does a great job at limiting his strikeouts and making consistent contact with a quick, line-drive-oriented swing. There’s little to no power to speak of here, but Cruz makes up for that with blazing speed that led to 56 steals in just 65 DSL games this season. He’s one to monitor as he climbs to Single-A in 2019.
8. Nelson Velasquez, OF, Bats: R, DOB: 12/26/99, ETA 2022
2018 Stats (A+/A): .231/.299/.380/.679, 19 2B, 11 HR, 15 SB, 7.3 BB%, 30.0 K%, 376 AB
If you gave Velazquez Nico Hoerner’s hit tool, we’d have a different player sitting atop these rankings. First and foremost, Velasquez is strong with an uppercut swing built for power. However, the raw power outshines the game power right now due to a pull-happy approach that saw him pull the ball 50.7% of the time in the Midwest League. In addition, Velasquez has a hard time recognizing spin and laying off pitches outside the zone, leading to an even 30.0% strikeout rate in 2019. Currently, the speed is above-average but figures to regress some as Velasquez develops physically. If he can make some gains with his contact skills and plate approach, Velasquez will fit the mold of a slugging corner outfielder with double-digit stolen base upside to boot.
9. Adbert Alzolay, RHP, DOB: 3/1/95, ETA, 2019
2018 Stats (AAA): 39.2 IP, 4.76 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 2.9 BB/9, 6.1 K/9, .281 AVG
Some Cubs prospects lists you read might have Alzolay ahead of Marquez and Lange. It’s not preposterous, but I also don’t agree with it. Alzolay simply doesn’t miss enough bats and becomes too hittable at times. His fastball sits in the mid-90’s with some run and he offsets that with a plus curve with good shape and a serviceable, yet inconsistent changeup. The solid arsenal and command give Alzolay a fairly high floor as a #3/#4 starter, but the upside here isn’t overly high.
10. Aramis Ademan, SS, Bats: L, DOB: 9/3/98, ETA 2021
2018 Stats (A+): .207/.291/.273/.564, 11, 2B, 3 HR, 9 SB. 8.4 BB%, 21.0 K%, 396 AB
Here’s another one of these Cubs prospects that I’m likely lower on than most in the industry. I still have Ademan inside the top-10 here, so there is some upside, but nothing about his profile excites me. Defensively, he’s solid at shortstop with a decent throwing and has the ability to stay there long-term or slide to second base if needed. But offensively? Meh. Ademan does limit his strikeouts and displays above-average contact skills, but there’s not a lot of hard contact here. At most, I can see him hitting 8-10 home runs over a full season, but that’s it. He’s not overly strong and doesn’t generate much loft. The speed is average at best so don’t expect much more than 15-20 steals out of him.
11. Richard Gallardo, RHP, DOB: 9/6/01, ETA 2024
2018 Stats: DID NOT PITCH
It was easy to see why Gallardo was the most coveted pitcher in 2018 international market. Three above-average or better pitches and solid command of his entire arsenal give Gallardo a high floor along with a fairly high ceiling as well. There’s a ton of projectability here, too. Gallardo is wont even be 18 until next September and figures to fill out more physically which should make his fastball and curveball even more effective than they already are. He’s a ways away, but Gallardo has the upside to become the best pitching prospect from this current contingent of Cubs prospects. In first-year players drafts, he’s worthy of a top-50 overall selection and top-10 in international drafts.
12. Pedro Martinez, SS/2B, Bats: S, DOB: 1/28/01, ETA 2024
2018 Stats (RK): .310/.398/.406/.804, 3 2B, 5 3B, 2 HR, 31 SB, 11.4 BB%, 11.4 K%, 197 AB
No, not that Pedro Martinez. No relation as far as I’m aware. This particular Pedro Martinez is a switch-hitting Venezuelan middle infielder with plus-speed and contact skills. He knows his power limitations and doesn’t try and be something he’s not, hitting 57.9% of his batted balls on the ground. That’s what Martinez needs to continue doing; hit the ball on the ground and utilize his speed. Martinez barely strikes out and uses the whole field incredibly well. Any time he’s on base, catchers need to be on their toes.
13. Justin Steele, LHP, DOB: 7/11/95, ETA 2020
2018 Stats (RK/A+/AA): 46.1 IP, 2.31 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 2.5 BB/9, 10.2 K/9, .176 AVG
If you’re looking for a safe, mid-rotation starter, then let me introduce you to Justin Steele. The 23-year-old southpaw features a plus fastball/curveball combination with a serviceable change-up and clean, repeatable mechanics. The fastball sits in the low to mid-90’s with sink and there’s good depth on his curveball. Command has been a slight issue in the past, but Steele made gains in that area this season.
14. Jose Lopez, OF, Bats: L, DOB: 1/4/02, ETA 2024
2018 Stats: DID NOT PLAY
Gallardo wasn’t the only big name international prospect to sign with the Cubs this summer. In early-August, the Cubs dished out 1.5 million to acquire the toolsy outfielder from the Dominican Republic. You got to be intrigued by the overall power/speed upside here, but man, I hate his swing. Okay, hate is a strong word as there’s some potential in Lopez’s swing. He starts out with a quiet setup and loads well onto his back leg with a decent leg kick. The hands come down, back, and then WAY up. This creates added length to his swing which makes him susceptible to higher velocity. If he can simplify that swing, Lopez could blossom into a hitter that hits for both average and power.
15. Brendon Little, LHP, DOB: 8/11/96, ETA 2020
2018 Stats (A): 101.1 IP, 5.15 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 3.8 BB/9, 8.0 K/9, .264 AVG
Little might have been drafted ahead of Lange in the 2017 amateur draft, but the upside isn’t nearly as high here. Little features a solid fastball/curveball mix with a fringe change-up and inconsistent command. The curveball is the best of the bunch, thrown in the low-80’s with hard downward tilt. While the changeup needs development, that’s not what’s holding Little back and limiting his upside. You can thank his high-effort delivery and spotty command for that. I’m not 100% certain he remains a starter longterm.
16. Oscar De La Cruz, RHP, DOB: 3/4/95, ETA 2020
2018 Stats (AA): 77.1 IP, 5.24 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 3.6 BB/9, 8.5 K/9, .259 AVG
Overall, De La Cruz has one of the best arsenals in the system. Both the mid-90’s running heater and curve are plus pitches and he’s made good strides with his changeup over the last 12 months or so. The problem is inconsistent command that made him very hittable at times in Double-A this season. If De La Cruz can locate his pitches better, there’s mid-rotation upside here.
17. D.J. Wilson, OF, Bats: L, DOB: 10/8/96, ETA 2021
2018 Stats (A+): .219/.315/.287/.602, 9 2B, 1 HR, 10 SB, 11.8 BB%, 26.1 K%, 238 AB
The Cubs have a ton of prospects that possess impressive raw tools, but have one gaping hole that limits their overall upside. D.J. Wilson is no exception to that. Both the speed and raw power are above-average to plus, but Wilson struggles to make consistent contact to tap into that power and his lower OBP limits his SB upside. At least he has solid pitch recognition and can draw a walk when needed. If the hit tool improves, so does Wilson’s ranking here.
18. Trent Giambrone, 2B, Bats: R, DOB: 12/20/93, ETA 2019/2020
2018 Stats (AA): .251/.333/.440/.773, 20 2B, 17 HR, 26 SB, 10.1 BB%, 19.5 K%, 398 AB
The added speed was a nice little surprise this season. Giambrone has displayed a patient plate approach and a budding power stroke but never had anything to go along with that. Is the speed for real? Somewhat. I wouldn’t expect a 35 steal pace like he was on in 2018, but 15-20 annually seems about right. Giambrone’s quick right-handed swing generates solid loft and 15-20 home runs should be expected most seasons. After the best minor league season of his career, Giambrone has carried that success over into the Arizona Fall League where he currently is hitting .375 to lead Mesa with two homers in 32 at-bats. The only question is where does he fit on the diamond. His defense is adequate at second base, but there’s really no spot for him right now.
19. Duane Underwood Jr., RHP, DOB: 7/20/94, ETA Debuted in 2018
2018 Stats (AAA): 119.1 IP, 4.53 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 2.8 BB/9, 7.9 K/9, .275 AVG
Not a fan. There are a lot of red flags here. Firstly, the command needs work. Underwood has a problem locating his pitches, often leaving them over the heart of the plate to get demolished. Outside of his fastball and curveball, Underwood has struggled to develop a consistent third offering. His changeup has some fade to it, but lacks consistency and usage. There’s also durability concerns as Underwood has battled various arm ailments over the years. The long-term upside here isn’t anything more than a back-end rotation starter.
20. Fabian Pertuz, SS, Bats: R DOB: 9/1/00, ETA 2023
2018 Stats (RK): .298/.419/.427/.846, 10 2B, 6 3B, 2 HR, 36 SB, 14.1 BB%, 11.9 K%, 218 AB
Another upside play. Pertuz is a Columbian speedster with an advanced plate approach and strong contact skills. He walked more than he struck out in the DSL this season and swiped 36 bags in just 62 games. Take these numbers with a grain of salt as it’s the DSL, but there’s some decent upside here worth monitoring.
21. Jeremiah Estrada, RHP, DOB: 11/1/98, ETA 2022
2018 Stats: DID NOT PITCH
Elbow soreness caused the Cubs to shut down their 2017 6th round pick for the entire 2018 season. The four-pitch repertoire is solid, with a low to mid-90’s fastball and fading changeup, but I have my doubts about him remaining a starter long term. There’s plenty of effort in his delivery.
22. Jose Albertos, RHP, DOB: 11/7/98, ETA 2022
2018 Stats (A-/A): 30.1 IP, 14.84 ERA, 3.33 WHIP, 19.3 BB/9, 11.3 K/9, .300 AVG
Wow. Just, wow. You almost have to try to pitch badly to end up with the atrocious numbers you see above. Some of that has to due with a forearm injury suffered early in the season, but even without that to fall back on, there’s a ridiculous amount of development that needs to take place here. While the control downright stinks, Albertos’ arsenal isn’t half bad. It’s actually pretty good. A 93-96 mph fastball and plus-plus change-up highlight the arsenal with a curve that flashes above-average potential rounding it out. Don’t forget about him entirely, but he’s not one to target right now in any dynasty format.
23. Mark Zagunis, OF, Bats: R, DOB: 2/5/93, ETA 2019
2018 Stats (AAA): .272/.395/.375/.769, 17 2B, 7 HR, 11 SB, 15.5 BB%, 22.3 K%, 371 AB
Zagunis has always shown a strong plate approach throughout his minor league career, but not much else to go along with it. The power and speed are both capped in the 10-15 range and Zagunis is a below average defensive outfielder. Has the makings of a solid bench bat, but likely not a starting option.
24. Jason Vosler, 3B, Bats: L, DOB: 9/6/93, ETA 2019
2018 Stats (AA/AAA): .251/.330/.467/.797, 29 2B, 23 HR, 1 SB, 9.4 BB%, 27.9 K%, 471 AB
Over the last two seasons, Vosler has really begun tapping into his above-average raw power, swatting a combined 44 home runs. However, the contact skills are below average and there’s no spot for him in Chicago.
25. Paul Richan, RHP, DOB: 3/26/97, ETA 2021
2018 Stats (A-): 29.2 IP, 2.12 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 1.5 BB/9, 9.4 K/9, .179 AVG
The Cubs 2nd-round pick in 2018, Richan doesn’t have an overpowering arsenal, but mixes his pitches well and has a good feel for pitching. His arsenal consists of four pitches, with an above-average slider being his only noteworthy secondary offering. Both his curve and changeup are fringe offerings at the moment. Richan has been successful so far due to mixing pitches, but he’ll really have to develop a third pitch, ideally his change-up, if he wants to continue to perform well at the upper levels.
Others to Monitor
Eddy Martinez, OF – Soon to be 24-year-old Dominican outfielder with plus raw power, but has struggled to translate that into game power.
Dillon Maples, RHP – The reliever equivalent to Albertos above. Maples has a blazing fastball two plus breaking balls, but can’t control any of them worth a damn. Walked 39 in 38.2 innings this season. Has the upside of a electric late-inning reliever if control improves. I wouldn’t hold your breath though.
Up – Nico Hoerner (SS), Trent Giambrone (2B)
Down – Dillon Maples (RHP), Aramis Ademan (SS)
Other Team Prospect Reports
Eric Cross is the lead MLB writer and prospect analyst here on FantraxHQ and has been with the site since March 2017. In the past, he wrote for FantasyPros and FanSided. He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). For more from Eric, check out his author page and follow him on Twitter @EricCross04.
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