One interesting highlight of the minor league offseason happened on Friday. Baseball America released its annual top 10 list of prospects in the Cubs organization. They listed Gleyber Torres at number one, which was pretty much expected. That’s when things got a little different than previous lists. Willson Contreras rose to number 2, followed by Ian Happ at 3. Duane Underwood, Dylan Cease, Albert Almora, Billy McKinney, Oscar De La Cruz, Eloy Jimenez, and Jeimer Candelario completed the list. The aggressive ranking of Oscar De La Cruz is noteworthy, as is moving Contreras all the way up to 2. Neither was even in the top 30 to begin the year.
I like the fact that Jimenez made it into the top ten as he flashed some exciting skills at Eugene this summer (in between injuries). He also had a great instructs, according to several reports from Arizona Phil and John Arguello. I think Eloy is primed to take off next year. If his power profile comes through, as expected, he could be sitting at number one a year from now.
It’s also interesting to see who is who is not on the list. After three years, Dan Vogebach, Pierce Johnson, and Carl Edwards, Jr. are gone. In the chat that followed the list’s release, John Manuel explained that none of the trio have not lived up to their potential. He went on to explain how Johnson has had a poor showing in the fall league while Vogelbach has never exhibited the power expected from him. Manuel had this to say of Johnson’s fall from grace:
“[I] talked to a scout who saw him recently in the Arizona Fall league, and it wasn’t pretty. The reports of the stuff have backed up and the durability has not improved.”
After four years in the system, more has been expected of them. Vogelbach had two 17-HR seasons in low A but has not come close to that since, while Edwards is now a reliever. The three still can make it to the majors. All hope for them is not lost, but there are others who supplanted them as far as potential goes.
I think that is the key thing to take away from the list – POTENTIAL.
Oscar De La Cruz wasn’t even a blip on the radar a year ago. A continued physical maturation and a strong work ethic have propelled him into the Cubs top ten. Oh, the 95 mph fastball didn’t hurt either. Dylan Cease has yet to pitch more than three innings in one start, yet he is set at number five after coming back from Tommy John surgery. Cubs VP Jason McLeod intimated this week that Cease might be at South Bend next year, skipping short-season Eugene even though he needs to work on his secondary pitches.
The Cubs have a lot of exciting prospects, five of whom will be at South Bend and Eugene in 2015. It will be illuminating to see them play a full season of baseball. Of the ten prospects on the list, 4 will be at AA or higher and 1 at high-A Myrtle Beach. One prospect Manuel looked forward to seeing next summer to get a better gauge on was pitcher Bryan Hudson.
Here are a few key snippets I liked in the chat
DJ Wilson, their 4th-round pick, could jump high into the top 10 if his workout tools translate into full-season production.
On Albert Almora…
Larry Young (Dallas Texas): With a lot of outfield prospects, which one excited you the most? Eloy Jimenez?
John Manuel: Honestly, I’d say Almora, because I think he’s starting to get it. I like my Aaron Rowand comp for his career going forward — grinder, good CF on defense, 6-hole hitter type, not a star but a solid-average regular, good teammate, glue guy, etc.
On Pitcher Brad Markey…
He will make it, interesting guy, liked him as an amateur, think he has a shot as a reliever and might even start. Short, sharp breaking ball, I saw him up to 94 when he was at Va. Tech, and he’s pitched well as a pro. Pretty long track record too going back to Santa Fe (Fla.) CC. Nice sleeper.
With Bryant, Schwarber, Russell, and Baez now at the major league level, there is a lot of shaking out to do with Cubs prospects. The rapid rise of Willson Contreras is one example of what could happen. I think next year could also see pitcher Rob Zastryzny finally figure it out, at AAA no less. He is having a pretty good season in the Arizona Fall League, unlike Pierce Johnson, who seems to be struggling. I think Baseball America accurately illustrated the tip of the spear of what’s going down in the minors.
In addition to these rankings, GM Jed Hoyer made this statement this past week:
“We will look to add multiple starting pitchers at various levels of the organization. That’s the best way to say it.”
There’s a lot to bite off and chew in this statement. When applied to the minors, we’re hearing that the Cubs will go out and find more pitchers to stock the AA and AAA levels this winter. They could be castoffs like yesterday’s signee, Ryan Cook. Or, the Cubs could trade some hitting prospects for pitching prospects who are in the upper levels of other organizations.
I think the Cubs will also continue to go after several Cuban pitcher who are still on the market. 24 year old Yasiel Sierra (who might be MLB ready now), 21 year old Vladimir Gutierrez, and 21 year old Norge Luis Ruiz — all of them right-handed — are the most well known and highly thought of pitchers available in free agency. It would be costly, in that the Cubs would have to pay a dollar for dollar penalty for all but Sierra, but it might be more affordable to spend $40-$50 million (that includes MLB penalties) on three pitchers who you would control through their prime years.
There are three young outfielders available in Jorge Ona (19), Yusniel Diaz (19), and the prodigy Lazaro Robersy Armenteros Arango (16), aka Lazarito, as well. All three have received good reports from Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com and Ben Badler from Baseball America. They are all eligible to be signed this winter and would fit in nicely alongside recent signee Eddy Julio Martinez and top outfield prospects Darryl Wilson and Donnie Dewees.
It would hefty price tag to sign all the young Cubans. However, the investment could pay off in the long run. Maybe the Cubs could sign just one…or two…maybe three. Alright, four, but that’s as high as I’m going…OK, five…