Strange things sometimes happen in the offseason for the minor leagues and the past two weeks were no exception. With instructional leagues underway, Baseball America began producing a series of articles about the top 20 prospects in each league throughout the minors. This is quite different from a top 100 or top 200 list, considering there are 15 different leagues to analyze.
Just based on these lists, there’s going to be a restructuring of the top prospects in the Cubs system this winter. Because the Cubs have promoted a good deal of their most prized prospects (except for Gleyber Torres, who was traded), the cupboard was a little bare at the beginning of 2016. Still, it’s interesting to see how these prospects are filling out and just where the talent is in the system.
None of the Cubs prospects in the Arizona Rookie League made the top 20, but four Eugene Emeralds made the cut in the Northwest League. Dylan Cease (3), Wladimir Galindo (10), DJ Wilson (13), and Chris Pieters (16) were all in the top 20. The most interesting name in this foursome was not Cease, it was Galindo. While ranked as the number 10 prospect in the league, I think it portends his status as a potential fast riser come 2017.
When it came to the Midwest League, Eloy Jimenez was the only South Bend Cubs prospect to make the list. In what might come as a bit of a surprise, he came in at number two behind Cincinnati’s Nick Senzel, who displayed massive power in his short time in the league. The expectations for Jimenez going forward revolve around his ability to hit for power, though that might need to be tempered until he hits 21 years of age. Though he is still only 19, he is, in my opinion at least, the number one Cubs prospect.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans pitcher Trevor Clifton was the only current Cubs prospect on the Carolina League, coming in at 10. Ian Happ was the lone representative from AA Tennessee in the Southern League at number 9. In the AAA Pacific Coast league, the Iowa Cubs placed three prospects on the list. Two of them, Willson Contreras and Albert Almora, Jr, just played a role in helping the big league club advance to the NLCS. The third, Jeimer Candelario, came in at number 17.
When the regular season ended, the Cubs were down to only two names — Ian Happ (26) and Eloy Jimenez (28) — on MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects List. It is a far cry from the days of 2014-15 when the Cubs had six or seven dotting those ranks. In September, two more Cubs made it onto the Top 100 List in Dylan Cease and Jeimer Candelario.
Based on the info from both Baseball America and MLB.com, I see prospect lists changing quite a bit over the course of the winter. Certain prospects will be moving up while others will be falling down. Here are my takes on some things the above lists foreshadow.
When the lists come in January, Jimenez should be number one on most, but not all. At 19, he is just beginning to tap into his potential. What surprised many this year was that he hit for a high average.
He looked amazing down the stretch and in the playoffs for Eugene. A 4.2 IP affair with 10 K’s was the highlight of the season. I could see Cease at #2 in many polls, #3 at the worst. His fastball/curve combo by the end of the year was stunning. He still has work to do on his change, which paled in comparison to the other two pitches this year. He should be in South Bend until the end of June in 2017.
What a difference one year makes. Over the course of 2017, Clifton mastered his fastball command and just punished hitters in the Carolina League with his curve and improved changeup. The change might be his best pitch at the end of 2017 if he continues to work on it and use it frequently. If that happens, he will fly up most prospect lists. It would not surprise me to see him at 5 on some lists this winter, but I think 7 or 8 will be the most appropriate landing spot.
Who hits .600 with a .750 OBP for three weeks and then under .230 in the second half? That would be Ian Happ. I still like Happ as a prospect because he has such impeccable balance and great hands through the zone. His problem is that he is a streaky hitter. I don’t think he keeps the top spot on most lists, but he could be anywhere in the top 4.
I still find it hard to believe he is just 22 years old. He seems like he has been a prospect forever. I think Candelario has value moving forward, I just don’t know if it will be as a Cub. Like Dan Vogelbach before him, Candelario is blocked at the MLB level by an All-Star.
I think he breaks out as the Cubs next big hitting prospect in 2017. He could hit 20 HR’s in the Midwest League, but his batting average and OBP are what will propel him up the prospect lists next summer. I don’t think Galindo will move much this offseason, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him make some of the larger lists with over 20 prospects. Like Jimenez, Galindo is also 19 years old and could shift to 1B or LF in the future.
Two prospects missing from any of these rolls tell the tale of what is happening in the Cubs system. I thought Donnie Dewees should have made the Midwest League top 20. His play at Myrtle Beach and now on the Cubs co-op Fall Instructs Advanced Team show what a great talent he is becoming. Duane Underwood shows how the mighty have fallen. For most of the last two summers, the power-pitching rightty has struggled to stay healthy and I am beginning to question whether he will even be a starter a year from now.
Most websites and talent evaluators usually come out with their new prospect lists after the winter meetings and on through early February, just before spring training. It will be interesting to see how these new “top” prospects shake out when those updates are published.