The first half of the MiLB season always goes quick, but it especially flew by in June. I finished teaching on May 24 and I will have been on summer vacation four weeks as of the time this post drops. I got some things done around the house, mostly in the yard and on the deck, and I had plenty of time to think while working.
For example, I put in three small trees on the west side of the yard. While I was shoveling and moving dirt, I wondered to myself, “If I was to rank the Cubs’ system by position strength, how would that look? Which group would be the deepest, which would be the most talented, and which would be filled with the most projection?”
So, here is how that list turned out, with No. 1 being the top position area. And yes, this list includes recent draft picks.
Key Prospects – Adbert Alzolay, Alex Lange, Oscar de la Cruz, Trevor Clifton
The Cubs targeted pitching in the 2016 and 2017 drafts and that has spread across the system from South Bend all the way up to Iowa already. In putting together my first-half All-Star team, there were nine pitchers who had an ERA of 3.25 or lower and another three between 3.26 and 3.50. That’s some pretty good depth for just four affiliates. At AAA Iowa alone, there are four starting pitchers who are 23 years old: Clifton, Tseng, Alzolay, and Underwood. So the pitching is still relatively young but playing at a high level.
Key Prospects – Victor Caratini, Taylor Davis, Ian Rice, Jhonny Pereda, PJ Higgins, Miguel Amaya
After the Eloy Jimenez trade, this became the deepest and most productive everyday position in the Cubs’ system. If the Cubs were to make a trade this summer, you can be pretty sure that one of their many backstops would be included. If Caratini was still eligible to be on a prospect list, he would be at the top with Miguel Amaya close behind at number three. That’s pretty deep.
3. Relief Pitchers
Key Prospects – Dillon Maples, Dakota Mekkes, Wyatt Short, James Norwood, Tyler Peyton, Ethan Roberts, and Mike Glowicki
This group of players made the biggest jump from last season. Part of their high ranking is due to the fact that they have two players who are basically ready to head to Chicago at a moment’s notice in Maples and Mekkes. I am also excited to see what recent draft pick Roberts can do when he steps onto the mound for Eugene in the next couple of weeks. Layne Looney, another draftee, might be another one worth watching.
Key Players – Aramis Ademan, Zack Short, Luis Vazquez, Luis Verdugo, Fabian Pertuz, Nico Hoerner
This is easily the youngest group and the one that could shoot up the rankings the fastest. While Short is at AA and Ademan at high-A, the rest are all playing short-season ball and are 18 or younger. Well, except for Hoerner, who was just drafted. It will be interesting to see how quickly he moves in the system in relation to Ademan and whether they both play a mix of short and second from here on out. With Vazquez, Verdugo, and Pertuz starting in short-season ball, this should be the number one everyday position in two or three years.
5. Third Base
Key Players – Jason Vosler, Wladimir Galindo, Jesse Hodges, Luke Reynolds, Austin Filiere
Four years ago, the Cubs had some great third base prospects in the system. While this position has the most power in the system now, it’s still a bit uneven as it doesn’t have the most depth. I like what Vosler has been doing for the past month at Tennessee and I am interested to see how well Reynolds does this summer in Eugene and South Bend. If Galindo can stay healthy, this position gets a lot stronger because of the impact of his bat.
6. First Base
Key Players – Jared Young, Yasiel Balaguert, Tyler Alamo, Austin Upshaw, Luis Hidalgo, Tyler Durna
The Cubs have drafted just two first baseman in the Theo Epstein era, and one of those came this month. First has been a position where everybody tends to be sent to get some at-bats. Young has really taken off at the plate by showing more power sooner than I thought he would. He leads the system in RBI and wRC+ in the fist half. It’ll be interesting to see how Durna, that recent draft pick, does when he suits up in Eugene.
7. Second Base
Key Players – David Bote, Chesny Young, Andruw Monasterio, Trent Giambrone, Vimael Machin, Christian Donahue
Outside of Bote, this is a position that lacks impact in terms of power. However, there are some players who can hit well for average and get on base.
Key Players – Mark Zagunis, Bijan Rademacher, Charcer Burks, Kevonte Mitchell, DJ Wilson, Fernando Kelli, Nelson Velazquez, Jonathan Sierra
There’s potential here but not many of these guys outside of Rademacher and Mitchell are having good years. Zagunis and Burks have struggled and the lack of home runs from this position is a little disconcerting. There are plenty of young players in A ball on down who can hit and get on base while also showing some solid glovework, but the power is shy there, too. The future looks to be brightest in Eugene with Kelli, Sierra, and Velazquez starting every day.
If I redo this list in September or a year from now, the rankings will no doubt change because of the impact at the lower levels. I don’t expect a lot of change from the prospects in Tennessee and Iowa, but the young kids could give some hope to each position.
Pitching will be No. 1 again as it is just too strong and getting better. With several young Latin pitchers getting ready to start their seasons in Eugene and Mesa, the starting pitching is only going to get stronger.