In the first part of this breakdown, I talked about the depth of right-handed pitching in the Cubs’ system. They have 34 righty starters in all, but there would not be much of a difference between numbers 13-30 at this point. So the earlier piece ranked the bottom half of the top 12 as I see them at this point.
Even that group has some room for a little fluctuation, but the top six righties in the system really set themselves apart from the pack with their talent.
6. Jen-Ho Tseng was named Cubs MiLB Pitcher of the Year for the second time in four seasons for his 2017 performance. There probably won’t be a third such award because he’s pretty much ready and should see decent time in Chicago. With a plus curve and a plus change, he can baffle hitters as long as he can command his fastball. If he doesn’t make the 25-man in the pen out of spring training, he will begin 2018 in Iowa as a starter.
5. Oscar De la Cruz did not pitch 50 innings last year, which is a concern. In fact, he hasn’t pitched 100 innings combined over the last two years. As such, it is easy to question whether he is built to be a starter. He definitely has the stuff, but he keeps breaking down. Last year was a shoulder strain and the year before, a forearm strain. He was all set to pitch in the Arizona Fall League in 2017 before the Cubs yanked him. There are a lot of questions remaining that only his performance and health can answer. Spring training will give us the first look.
4. Thomas Hatch may have been thrown to wolves a bit last year, but he dominated as much as he struggled. After a 0.98 ERA in five June starts, I thought he was headed to Tennessee. That didn’t happen. He stayed healthy for the entire year, though and struck out 126 batters over 124 innings. Hatch only pitched more than five innings five times, most likely as a precaution. Being more efficient is key, but his four-pitch mix should play well at AA as long he can find the zone.
3. Alex Lange has an amazing curve and when his fastball command is on, he is almost unhittable. I just love to watch this young man pitch. The problem for him at this point is the lack of a third pitch, which is something he’ll need to change if he dreams of being a starter in Chicago. He got only nine innings of work last summer to acclimate himself a bit to the minors and I’d like to see him in South Bend to get a taste of a Great Lakes spring in 2018. Jaron Madison, the Cubs’ director of player development, confirmed that is where Lange will likely start.
2. Adbert Alzolay needs to refine his secondaries some more this year. He should begin 2018 at AAA Iowa and he could be in Chicago quickly if he ever gets the changeup figured out. Alzolay will probably make several starts with the big league club during spring training, so it’ll be fun to see how he matches up with major league hitters. Part of me wants to see him in the bullpen in Chicago late in the year cranking it up to 97, which is a very real possibility as the season wears on.
1. Jose Albertos has so much potential that I labeled him as the Cubs’ top prospect once Eloy Jimenez was traded. Barely 19 years old, he’s got a mid-90’s fastball and a wicked plus changeup. He’s fighting through some grip issues with the curve, but his ceiling is incredibly high if he gets that pitch figured out. He just needs to keep building innings and arm strength after being shut down four innings into his pro career in 2016. He put in 60+ last year if you include extended spring training. The goal for 2018 should probably be 100 innings, then 120-130 in 2019 to get him ready for 160 big league innings in 2020.
More names to watch
Jesus Camargo has an excellent changeup. He had a good 2017 coming off of TJS and was one of my favorites to watch last year.
Alec Mills needs to show me more. Several lists have him as a top 10 prospect, but I haven’t seen it yet.
Jeremiah Estrada is young and malleable and was a stud in 2016 on the summer circuit. His 2017 high school season was a downer but the Cubs took the talented flamethrower in the sixth round and dissuaded him from going to UCLA. There’s no rush with him.
Bailey Clark should be in for a good year, as it sounds like he is working hard this offseason and building up strength to get back into the mid-90’s. He destroyed the Northwest League in August with a 1.69 ERA.
Erick Leal missed all of 2017, but should be at Tennessee to get his first crack at AA.
Erling Moreno would really be something if he could only stay healthy. He missed the better part of two months in 2017 after missing most of 2014-15. When his plus curve is on, he’s very good. When it’s not, it is not pretty.
Keegan Thompson is a 2017 draft pick from Auburn and he should be set free from Day 1 with no restrictions. The former flamethrower said surgery turned him into more of a pitcher. I look forward to seeing him in South Bend.
Erich Uelmen didn’t get a lot of work in after being drafted last year, but he should be in a rotation somewhere in 2018. He can throw in the low-to-mid 90’s with somewhat of a sidearm style.
Jesus Tejada was the hottest Cubs pitcher in August but that was down in the Dominican. He should be stateside this year, and I think he will probably start out in Eugene.
Brendan King was the ace of the Mesa staff after being drafted last summer. He made four starts for the Rookie League champs, striking out 28 in 22 innings. The kid from Holy Cross should get a crack at South Bend’s 2018 rotation.
Other Posts in this series: