One common theme being reinforced by all the prospect lists being dropped lately is that Cubs lack a lot of top-end talent. They’ve had only three minor leaguers named in the top 100 by MLB Pipeline, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and Keith Law, but that trio hasn’t been the same in each publication. While Pete Crow-Armstrong, Brennen Davis, and Kevin Alcántara are most commonly ranked, BP swapped Matt Mervis and Owen Caissie for the latter two.
Another theme I’ve noted is that the Cubs would have a good deal more prospects showing up if the lists extended to 150 players or more. The system is more about depth than obvious star power at this point, though I think that perception could shift a bit as the season goes along.
We get further evidence of this in the latest list from ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel, which again features three Cubs prospects in the top 100 and a bunch more in the honorable mention section. Crow-Armstrong shows up first at No. 36, the lowest ranking we’ve seen to this point. McDaniel doesn’t seem quite as bullish on the elite glove that got an 80 grade from Pipeline, tempering expectations a bit by putting the floor at “a low-end starter at minimum.”
The first big surprise comes 15 slots later with lefty Jordan Wicks popping up at No. 51 on the strength of improved velo and excellent secondaries. McDaniel believes Wicks could be ready for Chicago by midseason and has a floor of being a back-end starter with mid-rotation potential.
Alcántara shows up at No. 77 and there’s not much to say about the evaluation that hasn’t already been mentioned several dozen times.
Things get more interesting for prospect perverts in the honorable mention section featuring 29 additional 50 future value-grade players. The Cubs have four more in this section and probably have several others knocking at the door. McDaniel names Caissie, Cristian Hernandez, James Triantos, and Hayden Wesneski in no particular order (he’ll reveal that once individual team rankings are released) and with no analysis or explanation for any of them.
If you’re going back to scan this piece or McDaniel’s list because you didn’t see either Davis or Mervis, you’re not alone. I double- and triple-checked just to make sure I hadn’t missed something or forgotten how to count. It’s borderline shocking that Davis isn’t included, though McDaniel may simply be very skeptical of the long-term repercussions of that stress reaction and all the missed developmental time.
Mervis is limited positionally and his age is a big factor for many evaluators, so he often gets dinged for having a limited ceiling. I tend to disagree because I believe both his hit tool and power will play at the highest level, while his athleticism should allow him to improve enough at first base to be a solid everyday option there. Thing is, prospect lists don’t determine what actually happens on the field.
To that end, McDaniel’s rankings might give us the best look yet at how deep the Cubs’ system really is. Having seven players out of 129 with neither Davis nor Mervis among them says quite a bit about the potential impact coming through the pipeline. And we haven’t even mentioned Cade Horton, Jackson Ferris, or Ben Brown on the pitching side.
I’m not suggesting the Cubs are a juggernaut in waiting or that the front office should simply build from within, but I firmly believe the farm is set to continue producing contributors for years to come.