This is easily the hardest position to rank this offseason. The Cubs system has a lot of outfielders who could be elite talents someday, it’s just that their tools have not clicked for some reason. In fact, that pretty much sums up the farm in general. There’s a lot of depth, just not elite talent. However, that could all change greatly over the next two years.
A year ago, Eloy Jimenez was the Cubs’ top outfield prospect, followed by Mark Zagunis, Eddy Martinez, Donnie Dewees, and DJ Wilson. Two of those five are gone. And while Zagunis did have a pretty good season in 2018, other prospects have struggled to sustain solid performance for an entire season.
Now that we’ve dispensed with pleasantries, here are my picks for the current top seven outfielders the Cubs have in their system heading into the 2018 season.
7. Jonathan Sierra might be at the bottom of this list again next year or he could be No. 1, I am just waiting for him to get it going. Hopefully, this will be the year the homers start to flow. In reality, though, the power will show itself more gradually for him at South Bend. He as all the tools and the right approach at the plate, it is just a matter of game experience and tapping into his 6’ 3” frame and beautiful swing.
6. Kevonte Mitchell is physical specimen and could be an absolute beast. He showed this past season that he could carry a club for a week or two at a time. Mitchell should be at Myrtle Beach in 2018 and he could begin to fulfill his power potential. His hard work hard, even in pre-game activities, bodes well for him as he grinds it out.
5. Eddy Martinez could’ve easily come in at any of the next few spots here. That’s what is hardest about this group; there’s depth but not much differentiation of talent. Martinez was pretty good in the second half last year, hitting .276 with 7 home runs. Already a defensive stalwart, he just needs to walk more and strike out less. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, though actually seeing it happen isn’t quite another thing.
4. DJ Wilson is an amazing athlete who I think should break out this year at Myrtle Beach. Now 21 years old and in his fourth season as a Cub, the time has come for him to put it together. The lack of a any kind of a sustained performance could be a concern very soon. He has all the skills, it’s just a matter of achieving some sort of consistency on daily basis.
3. Charcer Burks had a great first half at AA Tennessee and I thought for sure he was going to earn a promotion to AAA in late June. He got off to a great start in spring training with the big league club and never let up until the middle of June, when he seemed to take a step back. His performance in the Arizona Fall League was alright, but he didn’t necessarily knock anyone’s socks off. All told, 2017 saw a huge step in the right direction that truly began the second half of 2016 at Myrtle Beach. Burks should be fine at AAA, where his power game might actually improve. After hitting 10 home runs at AA, I would not be surprised if he hit 15 in the Pacific Coast League.
2. Mark Zagunis doesn’t have much left to prove at AAA. His power and batting average improved last year and his on-base percentage is always spectacular. All he needs is a place to play every day.
1. Nelson Velasquez has off-the-charts power potential. In one six-week span during the rookie league regular season and playoffs, he cranked out 11 home runs. He still has some swing-and-miss to his game (30% K-rate), so I think the Cubs are going to be pretty patient with him. It will be interesting to see how he does in Eugene, which is not a place where home runs come easy. While others are more experienced and advanced, there’s just too much talent to not rank Velasquez No. 1 just based on potential.
Other names to watch
Out of all the position lists from this winter, the outfield could see the most dramatic change in one year’s time. In fact, the Cubs could pick up another college outfielder or two in the top three to four rounds of the draft next summer and totally reshape these rankings. Add in some amazing athletes in rookie league and short season that are young and unproven for a full season, and the system becomes much more dynamic.
Fernando Kelli leads the list and should be making his stateside debut along with Carlos Pacheco. Both played in the Dominican last year and they could start anywhere from Mesa to South Bend. Meanwhile, Brandon Hughes begins his first full season after being drafted last summer. A switch-hitter, Hughes is an amazing athlete with the build to hit for power, though he has never been asked to do so. Chris Carrier, another 2017 draft pick, struggled at Eugene but has legit physical tools.
Jose Gutierrez is another young and athletic outfielder who was the leadoff man on Mesa’s championship team. He hit .354 down the stretch in August to set the table for the rookie league Cubs.
Regardless of what else happens, one thing about this class of outfielders from Mesa to Eugene to South Bend is that they are not going to be dull.
If you’re so inclined, here are the rankings of the other positions we’ve covered so far: