“The best part of our farm system right now is at the lower levels, where the talent is emerging, and at the big leagues, where they’re all wearing rings.”
That was Theo Epstein’s response to those questioning the strength of a system that wasn’t viewed with as much esteem as before. That best part of the farm system he’s talking about consists mostly of international players with raw talent who are still in the midst of their early developmental stages. FanGraphs’ recent top 22 prospect list highlights much of the Cubs’ lower-level Latin talent and includes several pitchers who could lock up MLB innings in 2018.
Aramis Ademan leads the pack of youngsters atop the rankings. As a left-handed hitting shortstop, the 19-year-old Ademan has moved through the system at a pace most teenagers don’t match. Quick and wiry, he hit .286 with a 16.7 percent strikeout rate and .180 ISO while playing for short-season Eugene before being promoted to South Bend.
Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs compared Ademan’s quiet hitting mechanics to former Phillies great, Jimmy Rollins.
“Ademan is similarly cool with a bat in his hands, taking quiet, comfortable swings that resemble the left-handed swing of Jimmy Rollins,” the FanGraphs writer explained. “The swing has some natural loft the leads to lots of pull-side doubles, and Ademan might be strong enough to yank out about 15 homers annually at physical maturity while making an above-average rate of contact, assuming his pull-happy approach isn’t picked apart at upper levels. That’s an above-average regular at shortstop.”
After Ademan is a group of pitching prospects I would not be surprised to toeing the Wrigley Field rubber next season. Adbert Alzolay, for example, is ranked second on the leaderboard and is the most likely candidate to be called upon by Joe Maddon in 2018.
Then there is Jose Albertos, “a risky teenage arm with All-Star upside if he can learn to locate consistently” who is one of many prized players the Cubs signed out of Mexico. Scouts gush about his delivery and electric stuff, but a minor arm scare halted his playing time in 2016 and delayed his start last season.
Oscar De La Cruz, another international pitcher, also experienced arm injuries, but might be fast-tracked to Wrigley because of his advanced stuff if he can stay healthy. Brendan Little and Alex Lange, who were both first-round draftees, round out the top six prospects.
Victor Caratini could be a significant part of the 2018 Cubs if the team decides to lean on the catcher as a backup to Willson Contreras. The 24-year-old showed an impressive hit tool at Triple-A by slashing .342/.393/.558 while striking out in fewer than 15 percent of his plate appearances. Despite gaudy offensive numbers, however, scouts are skeptical about his defensive abilities, which is the predominant reason why the switch-hitting backstop is ranked seventh on FanGraphs’ list.
Talented lower-level hitters make up the majority of FanGraphs’ remaining rankings. In particular, Miguel Amaya (9), Nelson Velazquez (13), and Wladimir Galindo (16) all boast the kind of ability at the plate that makes you take a second look. Velazquez, who Cubs Insider’s Todd Johnson considers the best pure hitter in the Cubs system, is very intriguing
Near the bottom of the rankings are Jason Vosler (19), Mark Zagunis (20), and Eddy Martinez (22). Vosler, a third baseman, smacked 21 homers in Double-A last season, but being 24 years old makes talent evaluators skeptical about his ability to perform against advanced competition. Zagunis, also 24, had a cup of coffee with the Cubs last season, but failed to notch a single hit in 18 plate appearances. Still, scouts rave about his plate discipline, which is not surprising considering he had a 17.2 percent walk rate at Triple-A.
Ranked last behind the two older prospects, the 23-year-old (in January) Martinez received a lofty $3 million signing bonus in 2015, but has progressed slowly through the system and finished 2017 in Advanced-A Myrtle Beach.
While there is concern about the state of the Cubs farm system, SVP of scouting and player development Jason McLeod has overseen an aggressive approach largely based on acquiring international talent. Many of those players are not even known to the majority of MLB fans because they are just coming stateside.
Because much of the current talent is in the lower levels and is so nascent, trading for top-tier major league players will be difficult to accomplish with prospects alone. But since most of the 2016 World Series champions are under team control through 2021, many of the 18- and 19-year-olds who have yet to break out could be knocking on Wrigley’s door as 23- and 24-year-olds, perpetuating the Cubs’ standing as one of MLB’s best franchises.
For full write-ups, along with KATOH valuations and Mahalanobis comps, on the top 22, check out the original post. Also included are short profiles of another 25 prospects and a brief system overview that name-drops several others. See below for the basics of the rankings:
|4||Oscar De La Cruz||22||A+||RHP||2019||45|
|22||Eddy Julio Martinez||22||A+||OF||2019||40|