When your farm system graduates four top 100 prospects in one season, like the Cubs did, it’s only natural that your overall minors grade takes a hit the following year. After coming into 2015 with one of the most talented groups in recent memory the 2016 version is a bit of a letdown. Don’t misunderstand me, the Cubs system is still head and shoulders above the last two systems we previewed, but it’s a far cry from the level it’s been the previous two springs. There’s still a solid group of hitters left and some upside arms with ETA’s a year or two out. So there’s still a lot to discuss, but none of the current crop has the through the roof tools of Bryant, Russell, Soler, or Baez. In closing its not the prospect pants tent of yesteryear, but it hasn’t dipped to Angelic levels either.
Tier 1: Specs On The Beach
Potential stars. Consensus T100 prospects with premium fantasy ceilings
Gleybar Torres, SS| Age: 19 | ETA: 2018 | 2015 Level: A/A+
2015 Stats: 538 PA, .287/.346/.376, 3 HR, 22 SB, 8.17% BB, 21.3% K
After following up a strong 2014 with an even better 2015, Torres finds himself at the top of several organizational prospect lists, and it’s tough to knock the ranking. As is, Torres brings four tools to the table with untapped raw power potential. This type of evaluation leaves many projecting the finished product to be a .280 hitter with 20/15 upside. Keep in mind, he’s a ways off, and is facing a hard pros-block with Russell locked in at short and newly signed Ben Zobrist at the keystone. So whether he ever gets to hit in a stacked Cubs lineup is a clear uncertainty. Don’t be shocked if Torres is in another teams system this time next year. Regardless of those factors he’s been within the top 50 of nearly every prospect list this offseason.
Ian Happ, OF/2B | Age: 21 | ETA: 2017 | 2015 Level: A
2015 Stats: 295 PA, .259/.356/.466, 9 HR, 10 SB, 13.5% BB, 22.7% K
Arguably the best collegiate hitter in the 2015 draft, Happ is a switch hitter with power and speed. He absolutely raked in short season ball before struggling a bit at low A. It will be interesting to see if he starts the season at AA or not. He played all over the field in college, but spent his debut season in the outfield. A return to second hasn’t been ruled out, and the promise of multi position eligibility only adds to the allure. In first year player drafts I personally like Happ over Bregman and after Rodgers, Benintendi, and Swanson.
Tier 2: Floorboreds
Lacking the “star” upside. They might have some warts, but their ETAs are on the horizon.
Willson Contreras, C | Age: 23 | ETA: 2016 | 2015 Level:
2015 Stats: 521 PA, .333/.413/.478, 8 HR, 4 SB, 10.9% BB, 11.9% K
After a huge year at AA Tennessee, Contreras’ stock has skyrocketed from overlooked low minors catcher, to the top rated backstop on many prospect lists. In 2015 he led the Southern League in batting average and finished second in OBP. He should start the season in AAA, but a call up to replace an injured Montero or Ross is almost a certainty at some point. He showed a much improved hit tool and approach at AA, and many scouts say it was an improvement in pitch selection. Some really don’t buy the Contreras hype, citing the .370 BABIP, and a general rawness with the bat. His lack of experience at catcher (he moved to the position in 2012) means his receiving skills are raw. Leading many to wonder if he’ll ever reach the big leagues as a full time catcher.
Billy McKinney, OF | Age: 21 | ETA: 2017 | 2015 Level: A/AA
2015 Stats: 433 PA, .300/.371/.454, 7 HR, 0 SB, 10.1% BB, 13.8% K
The other piece in the Addison Russell-Jeff Samardzija trade, McKinney is an above average contact hitter with plus on base skills. His power leaves something to be desired, and he struggles against lefties, but his hit tool is excellent. He profiles as a future .300 hitter, with some believing there’s 20 homer power in his bat. He’s had injury issues throughout his pro career and that’s obviously a huge concern. Still worth a flier in leagues with 100+ minor leaguers owned.
Albert Almora, OF | Age: 21 | ETA: 2017 | 2015 Level: AA
2015 Stats: 452 PA, .272/.327/.400, 6 HR, 8 SB, 7.0% BB, 10.3% K
A high draft pick in the 2012 draft Almora is a good ball player in real life terms. He’s never going to be an offensive/fantasy star, but he’ll hit .280 chip in 10-15 homers and play a hell of a centerfield. The problem is, the Cubs signed Jason Heyward, for a very long time. He’s going to need a trade or a long term injury to get any run when he’s ready next season. The previous statement is a pretty easy conclusion to draw, with Heyward in tow, and Schwarber and Soler handling the other outfield spots. Almora is a true floorboard.
Jeimer Candelario, 3B | Age: 22 | ETA: 2017 | 2015 Level: A+/AA
2015 Stats: 525 PA, .277/.339/.431, 10 HR, 0 SB, 8% BB, 15.8% K
The past season was one of redemption for Candelario. He ranked very highly in the Cubs system during his early pro days, before a rough 2014 hurt his stock. He regained his top prospect status last season after he reached AA and showed plus skills at the plate. He’s a switch hitter with equal skills from each side, and developing power. Probably won’t ever compete for a batting title but shouldn’t be an average killer either. He’s an excellent defensive third baseman, which will push his ETA as long as his bat continues to blossom. Most scouts believe Candelario’s floor to be an everyday third baseman, with some of the more positive evaluations foreseeing stardom.
Mark Zagunis, OF | Age: 23 | ETA: 2017 | 2015 Level: A+
2015 Stats: 512 PA, .271/.406/.412, 8 HR, 12 SB, 15.6% BB, 16.7% K
A former catcher Zagunis, boasts one of the best on base tools in the minors. Over his last 170 games Zagunis has posted a .411 OBP, which leads many to peg the former Hoakie as a future leadoff man. He’s an average base stealer and the power is average at best. Some think he has untapped power potential due to his ability to hit balls in the air, but I don’t fall into that camp.
Dan Vogelbach, 1B | Age: 23 | ETA: 2017 | 2015 Level: RK/AA
2015 Stats: 265 PA, .279/.415/.434, 7 HR, 1 SB, 19.0% BB, 18.7% K
2016 is a big year for Vogelbach’s development, after dealing with nagging injuries in 2015, the big man needs to stay healthy and show the rumored plus-plus power some think he can develop. He’s pros-blocked by Rizzo at the major league level, but seems like the perfect trade chip for a swap with an American League club. The pluses are obvious when you look at his stateline, he has shown power in the lower minors, walks more or as much as he strikeouts, and has a pluse hit tool. The minuses on Vogelbach are, he struggles against lefties, has yet to flash elite power for his size, and struggles in the field and on the base paths. It feels lazy to compare him to Matt Adams, but he’s a lot like Matt Adams. The potential development of his power upside could spare him that fate.
Carl Edwards, RHP | Age: 24 | ETA: 2016 | 2015 Level: AA/AAA/MLB
2015 Stats: 55.1 IP, 2.77 ERA, 6.7 BB/9, 12.2 K/9
Throughout his pro career “The String Bean Slinger” has posted big K rates, but an injury shortened 2014 due to shoulder fatigue prompted a move to the bullpen. Command issues and durability concerns have taken the shine off his prospect rose. There’s still some fantasy potential in Edwards as a late inning reliever with high K/9 totals, but when you’re rolling with Bb/9 totals in the 5’s and 6’s it’s tough to trust you in high pressure spots. If some how in the the offseason Edwards figured out how to control his stuff, he could be in for significant role in the Chicago pen.
Donnie Dewees, OF | Age: 22 | ETA: 2018 | 2015 Level: A
2015 Stats: 303 PA, .266/.306/.376, 5 HR, 19 SB, 4.6% BB, 17.8% K
The Cubs took the decorated college hitter out of North Florida in the 2nd round of last year’s draft. In his first pro season at Eugene in the NWL, Dewees showed good speed and a little pop. Hitting 5 homers and stealing 19 bases in 66 games. He looks like an potential impact guy on the base paths, but doesn’t walk enough to be an ideal leadoff candidate. Not a bad option toward the end of of your first year player drafts to add minors depth in leagues with 20-30 MiLB spots.
Tier 3: Long Shot Lolitas
Sexy ceilings, but these youngsters also come with risks and distant ETAs
Eloy Jimenez, OF | Age: 19 | ETA: 2019 | 2015 Level: A
2015 Stats: 250 PA, .284/.328/.418, 7 HR, 3 SB, 6.0% BB, 17.2% K
A power hitting teenage outfielder signed by the Cubs in 2013, many project Jimenez to be a future power hitting corner infielder, with a plus hit tool, and the ability to avoid strikeouts. He’s still particularly raw, and hasn’t played a game above low A, but the skill set is one that could very much play in fantasy. Especially when he’s showing power and the ability to not swing and miss as a teenager.
Dylan Cease, RHP | Age: 20 | ETA: 2019| 2015 Level: RK
2015 Stats: 24.0 IP, 2.62 ERA, 6.0 BB/9, 9.4 K/9
The Cubs got a discount on draft day in 2014 due to an elbow injury, and subsequent Tommy John surgery. Had it not been for this many believe Cease was a first round spec arm. 2015 was his first year pitching professionally after missing all of 2014, and he didn’t disappoint. The fastball was sitting 95-96, with reports of his mechanics showing significant improvement. If he performs in 2016 expect to see Cease’s name plastered all over top 100 lists come 2017.
Eddy Julio Martinez, OF | Age: | ETA: 2020 | 2015 Level: N/A
2015 Stats: N/A
To say we know what we’re going to get with EJM is at it’s core a lie. Reports have said everything from a five tool stud, to a player with above average hit tool, speed, and power. Whether we’re getting a future star or a solid player is up in the air until we have some actual game action to review. Many rankings listed Martinez as the top J2 hitter, others had him below Yusinel Diaz, Vlad Guerrero Jr., and Lucius Fox. This is a true wait and see, and a risk/reward pick in first year player drafts.
Duane Underwood, RHP | Age: 21 | ETA: 2018 | 2015 Level: RK/A+
2015 Stats: 78.1 IP, 2.41 ERA, 2.8 BB/9, 6.2 K/9
Underwood is a probably the closest of any of the Cubs arms in this tier, but concerns about his makeup and a previous elbow injury are red flags. On paper he has everything we look for in a mid-rotation starter, a mid-90’s fastball with good run, a curveball that many believe will grade at a 70 when all is said and done, and a developing change. Many are split on whether Underwood, De la Cruz, or Cease is the top pitching prospect in the organization.
Oscar De La Cruz, RHP | Age: 20 | ETA: 2018 | 2015 Level: A
2015 Stats: 73 IP, 2.84 ERA, 2.1 BB/9, 9.0 K/9
A converted shortstop with probably the highest ceiling of any of the Cubs arms in the lower levels. Last year De la Cruz showed great commmand of his fastball, and continued to make strides with secondary offerings. Many evaluators place him top 5 in the organization, and as the top Cubs pitching prospect. I fully agree with the later, but would like to see how things develop over the next year before committing to him as a future front of the rotation type.