In the wee hours of the morning on Thursday, MLB.com’s Pipeline (aka Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo) simultaneously released their Top 100 Prospect List and a Top 30 Prospect List for each team. The Cubs did okay, placing three in the Top 100. Willson Contreras (who only has 13 at-bats left before his prospect tag is removed) came in at 23 and former Cub farmhand Gleyber Torres came in at 26. Current Cubs Ian Happ and Eloy Jimenez were assigned the 31 and 33 positions, respectively.
I think those rankings are pretty fair and in line with other lists (BP and BA) that we talked about a couple of weeks ago. I would have put Jimenez ahead of Happ, but that’s my personal opinion. While Happ is very good, I have watched Jimenez all season and he has become very selective while his power is still emerging. He could improve as a fielder, but what Class A outfielder couldn’t?
For the most part, Cub fans have been spoiled by having four, five, or even six prospects on the Pipeline list. It may take a couple years to get back to those numbers, and I agree with only placing three Cubs in the Top 100. However, I think their Top 30 list is a bit out of touch with what is happening in the system. The back end of the list,in particular, is filled with prospects who have underperformed or have reached their peak. There are a lot of young players who, in my opinion, have a lot of upside that were left off the list, likely because they are so young. Callis and Mayo tend to go with more established prospects, which is their purview.
What Callis and Mayo got right
Their assessment of the top 9 is pretty dead on. I like that fact that their are so many pitchers here, including Trevor Clifton, who is having a good year at Myrtle Beach. One might fidget with the order a bit, but therein lies the fun of a prospect list. Here are their top 9 Cubs Prospects:
1. Willson Contreras
2. Ian Happ
3. Eloy Jimenez
4. Jeimer Candelario
5. Dylan Cease
6. Mark Zagunis
7. Duane Underwood
8. Oscar de la Cruz
9. Trevor Clifton
Callis and Mayo captured some of the significant youth movement in the Cubs’ system by listing 17-year-old Jose Albertos (#10), 18-year-old Bryan Hudson (#11), and 20-year-old Dylan Cease (#4). On the other hand, the list did not include any young hitters outside of Darryl Wilson (#13).
One prospect I was glad to see them include is PJ Higgins. A catcher who converted to second and third in college but has now converted back to catcher as a pro, Higgins is the best defensive backstop in the farm system. If you ever watch him throw to second, you know why. His arm is on par with Contreras. His bat is okay, too. He has a good eye and doesn’t strike out much. His average has fluctuated between .275 and .300 all year, but his OBP has always been .380+.
I was glad to see Jose Rosario make the list, as his conversion to a relief role after Tommy John Surgery has been remarkable. Throwing in the mid-to-upper 90’s, Rosario went through three levels this year, from High-A to AAA. I think he stands a good shot of competing for a spot on the roster next spring. When you throw that hard, the Cubs have to take a look.
Parts of the list that concern me
Ranked at 15, I think Martinez is showing that he is a top ten prospect in the organization. After sitting out the better part of two years escaping from Cuba, setting up residence, and getting certified as a free agent, Martinez missed a lot of playing time. While his April was horrid, he began to adjust slowly and has been hitting over .300 since June, including .358 in July. He has shown power, speed, a huge arm, and might be seeing more time in center with Donnie Dewees now in Myrtle Beach.
There are a handful of name who were once top 10 prospects but who have been in the system for several years and have since faded. I don’t know if they have underperformed, reached their ceiling, are dealing with injuries, or are just having bad years. The familiar names are Corey Black, Rob Zastryzny, Pierce Johnson, and Jake Hannemann. Three of the four have struggled to make a go of it at AAA, while Hannemann cannot get above .250 at AA Tennessee. He can still put it together for ten-game spurts, shows some power, and always is a plus defender, he just lacks consistency. More has been expected of these four in general.
The Lower Levels Not Represented
Two names come to mind: Carlos Sepulveda and Isaac Paredes. Sepulveda, just 19, is doing extremely well at South Bend, hitting .317. Paredes is 17 (and will be until 2017) and is beating balls around all over the Arizona Rookie League. With a .282 average (after missing a month), Paredes was placed right in the middle of the order and delivered 14 RBI in 24 games. That includes a pair of 4-hit games.
Two Young Pitchers Missing
Preston Morrison put up a 0.79 ERA in June and a 0.49 in July. He has really come on, adding muscle, gaining MPH, and moving from the left side of the rubber to the right which completely changed the looks hitters got on his pitches. He was the Cubs’ June Pitcher of the Month and is likely to repeat in July. Jose Paulino is a young lefty who mixes fastball command with a nice slider and a developing change. He had a sub-1.00 ERA at Eugene before being promoted to South Bend earlier this week.
I think these lists will change quite a bit by the time January rolls around. As the younger players mature and advance through the system, they might catch the eyes of Callis and Mayo more. For now, though, I don’t think anyone can complain too much. Once you get past 11 or 12, the prospects do tend to blend together. Sometimes it just takes a while to shake things out.