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Weekly Prospect Update: Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs saw their crop of top prospects from the past few years win a championship last season. They continued that success in 2017 by winning their division but falling short of another trip to the World Series. While the Cubs will be a very good, young team for the foreseeable future, they still have even more talent waiting for a shot.

10. Justin Steele, LHP

  • Age: 22
  • Drafted: 2014, Round 5(139) – CHC
2017 stats: (High-A Myrtle Beach): 98.2 IP, 6-7, 2.92 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 82 K, 36 BB.

After struggling earlier on in his career, Steele put together his best season as a professional in 2017. He started 20 games for the Pelicans and posted an ERA of 2.92 and WHIP of 1.38 in 98.2 innings. His newfound success can be attributed to his refined delivery, which has also helped improve his command. Steele doesn’t have any overpowering stuff, but he’s turning more and more into a pitcher that can outsmart hitters.

9. Trevor Clifton, RHP

  • Age: 22
  • Drafted: 2013, Round 12(348) – CHC
2017 stats: (Double-A Tennessee): 5-8, 100.1 IP, 5.20 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 86 K, 45 BB. 

Clifton’s follow-up to a 2016 campaign in which he won multiple pitchers of the year awards didn’t quite go as planned. After dominating High-A last season, he was sent to Double-A to start 2017 but struggled out of the gate. While there were bright spots among his 21 starts with the Smokies, his season as a whole was not great. He posted a 5.20 ERA and 1.56 WHIP in 100.1 innings while failing to maintain his great walk rate from last year. Clifton may have just had a hard time adjusting to the better competition and should bounce back next season.

8. Mark Zagunis, OF

  • Age: 24
  • Drafted: 2014, Round 3(78) – CHC
2017 stats: (Triple-A Iowa): 97 games, .267/.404/.455, 13 HR, 55 RBI, 59 R, 4 SB, 70 BB, 93 K. (MLB Chicago): 7 games, .000/.222/.000, 1 RBI, 2 SB, 4 BB, 6 K. 

Few players in the Cubs’ farm system have plate discipline as good as Zagunis’. He has excellent control of the strike zone and very rarely chases pitches out of it. In 97 games at Triple-A, he managed to work 70 walks while batting .267. He won’t put up crazy numbers at the plate, but he’s shown that he can get the job done by working his walk and finding ways to get on base. His great eye helped him earn his first cup of coffee with the Cubs in 2017. While he didn’t record his first Major League hit, he did work four walks and stole two bags in seven games.

7. Thomas Hatch, RHP

  • Age: 23
  • Drafted: 2016, Round 3(104) – CHC
2017 stats: (High-A Myrtle Beach): 124.2 IP, 5-11, 4.04 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 126 K, 50 BB.

The Cubs have been cautious with Hatch after he experienced elbow issues and a heavy workload in his last two years of college. They took him in the third-round of last year’s Draft, but he didn’t make his professional debut until the start of this season. Hatch was pretty much let loose after his half a year off and performed well for High-A Myrtle Beach. In 124.2 innings, he had an ERA of just over 4.00 and struck out 126 batters. Hatch adjusted his arm angle in college, and it has helped improve his stuff immensely. He’ll continue to get better and already handles himself well on the mound.

6. Victor Caratini, C/1B

  • Age: 24
  • Drafted: 2013, Round 2(65) – ATL
  • Acquired by trade in 2014
  • lists: Top 10 Catcher Prospects (#7)
2017 stats: (Triple-A Iowa): 83 games, .342/.393/.558, 10 HR, 61 RBI, 50 R, 27 BB, 48 K. (MLB Chicago): 31 games, .254/.333/.356, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 6 R, 4 BB, 13 K.  

Caratini basically forced his way onto the Major League roster with a great first half at Triple-A. In 83 games, he batted .342 with 10 homers and 61 RBI while splitting time at first base and behind the plate. He made his Major League debut on June 28. Caratini proved to be very serviceable for the Cubs, as they called him up on three different occasions to fill in. He finished the season off in Chicago and should at least get some consideration for a backup role come Spring Training.

5. Brendon Little, LHP

  • Age: 21
  • Drafted: 2017, Round 1(27) 
2017 stats: (Low-A Eugene): 16.1 IP, 0-2, 9.37 ERA, 1.84 WHIP, 12 K, 9 BB. 

The Cubs took Little as one of two first-round selections in this year’s Draft. They liked what they saw from the lefty in his last year of college, enough to sign him for $2.2 million. Little’s fastball sits in the mid-90s, but his curveball is his best pitch. He didn’t have a great professional debut, starting six games for the Emeralds in Short-A. In those six starts, he amassed 16.1 innings and posted an unsightly 9.37 ERA and 1.84 WHIP. He also allowed batters to bat .300 against him. Little’s future as a starter is still uncertain, but his stuff could allow him to be a very good reliever in the future.

4. Alex Lange, RHP

  • Age: 22
  • Drafted: 2017, Round 1(30) – CHC 
2017 stats: (Low-A Eugene): 9.1 IP, 0-1, 4.82 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 13 K, 3 BB.

Lange was the second of the two first-round picks made by the Cubs in this year’s Draft. Unlike his teammate, Lange throws from the right side and relies more heavily on his fastball. When Lange is on, he’s one of the best pitchers in the system, but he’s had consistency problems late in his college career and early in his professional career. In four starts with the Emeralds, he posted a 4.82 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. Most impressively, he struck out 13 batters while walking just three.

3. Adbert Alzolay, RHP

  • Age: 22
  • Signed out of Venezuela in 2012 – CHC
2017 stats: (High-A Myrtle Beach): 81.2 IP, 7-1, 2.98 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 78 K, 22 BB. (Double-A Tennessee): 32.2 IP, 0-3, 3.03 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 30 K, 12 BB. 

After four seasons as a professional, Alzolay broke out in a big way in 2017. He spent the first half of the season at High-A, where he had an ERA below 3.00 and a WHIP of 1.07 WHIP in 15 starts. He pitched to a 7-1 record and threw 81.2 innings with Myrtle Beach. He pitched well enough to earn a promotion to Double-A, where he was unphased by the better competition. In seven starts he had a 3.03 ERA and 1.19 WHIP while keeping batters to a .229 average. Alzolay has already improved immensely in his five years as a professional and looks well on his way to being a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter.

2. Jose Albertos, RHP

  • Age: 18
  • Signed out of Mexico in 2015 – CHC
2017 stats: (RK-AZL): 8.1 IP, 4.32 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 6 K, 3 BB. (Low-A Eugene): 34.2 IP, 2-1, 2.86 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 42 K, 14 BB.

Albertos hasn’t actually pitched much in his professional career, but when he has he’s been very impressive. His fastball can reach 97 and is made better by his ability to locate it. At just 18 years old, Albertos already has a great feel for pitching and is a competitor on the mound. After two starts in Rookie ball, Albertos made eight starts with Short-A Eugene. He was able to limit hard contact and kept hitters batting .180 over 34.2 innings. He also didn’t allow a homer and posted a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 42:14. Albertos still has plenty of development ahead of him but could very well be a top-of-the-rotation starter in the future.

1. Oscar De La Cruz, RHP

  • Age: 22
  • Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2012 – CHC
2017 stats: (High-A Myrtle Beach): 54.2 IP, 4-3, 3.46 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 47 K, 13 BB.

In a system that’s full of pitching prospects, none has more upside than De La Cruz. He’s had his fair share of injuries over his professional career, but when healthy, Cruz’s stuff is dominant. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and has plenty of movement. His curveball is equally as impressive and is his go-to pitch for getting batters out. He performed well at High-A Myrtle Beach this year even though his numbers aren’t jaw-dropping. De La Cruz has plenty of projection left, so he should only get better as he develops.

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