The once mighty Cubs system is no more. What was once the premier talent pool of young prospects, is now little more than a glorified waiting room for long shot arms, and future fringe MLB regulars. Not to be confused with Future’s M.O.B Regulators, which is a mix tape made entirely in Future’s bathroom following an aggressive lunch at a local Chi-Fil-A. In fact if you listen hard enough, you’ll catch a half dozen flushes between mumbled vocals. That’s all besides the point though, you’re here to get up to speed on the Cubs farm system, and the never-ending list of projectable starting pitchers that litter their list at the moment. So this begs the question… Am I low on the Cubs system? Ahhhh, does a frog bump it’s ass when it hops? Of course I’m low on the Cubs system it’s a bunch of projectable arms! Have you even read me before brah? I hate projectable arms for fantasy! Cause they’re always projecting, and breaking, and breaking, and projecting!! Then again after spending the better part of the week digging into it, there are some bright spots, as well as a handful of breakout candidates. It’s the Top Cubs Prospects for 2018 Fantasy Baseball.
1) Jose Albertos, RHP | Level: A- | Age: 19 | 2017 Stats: 2-1, 43 IP, 3.14 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 48 Ks, 17 Bb
There’s a strong case for Albertos to be listed as the top prospect in the Cubs system, but there’s many that feel the risk outweighs the upside. As you may well know, I’m not one to be scared away from upside by risk. In that vein, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying that Albertos is the only prospect with potential superstar upside in the Cubbies system. Signed for $1.5 Million back in 2015, Albertos combines a plus-plus changeup, plus fastball, with plus control and command. A smooth athletic delivery, clean arm action, and advanced feel for his pitches give Albertos a tantalizing combo of pitchability and stuff, so rare with teenage pitching prospects. He worked primarily in the 93-94 range this season with his four-seamer, but ramped it up to 97 when needed. The action and arm speed of his changeup drive the double plus grades, and hint at his massive ceiling. Albertos needs to improve his breaking ball, and show he can throw the pitch for strikes. Outside of the development of his slider, the questions regarding Albertos really center around his ability to shoulder the workload expected of a front end starter. ETA: 2020
2) Aramis Ademan, SS | Level: A | Age: 19 | 2017 Stats: .267/.324/.427, 7 HR, 42 RBI, 14 SB
Signed in August of 2015 for $2 million, Ademan is the Cubs top positional prospect by default. It’s not that he isn’t a talented player, but years of graduations and trades to fortify the MLB roster have sucked the star power from the Cubbies farm. As an offensive player Ademan, has above average power, with the ability to consistently make barrel contact. His approach is pretty advanced for a teenager in a full-season league, and his smooth swing allows him to manage the strike zone well. A peak line somewhere in the neighborhood of .280/.330/.450 with 18 homers, and 10 steals seems possible. A solid talent, but not the superstar we’ve grown accustomed to when it comes to top Cubs prospects. ETA: 2020
3) Adbert Alzolay, RHP | Level: AA | Age: 22 | 2017 Stats: 7-4, 114 IP, 2.99 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 108 Ks, 34 Bb
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say Alzolay was the breakout prospect of 2017 for the Cubs, as the righty rose from relative obscurity to the edge of Top 100 lists. The marked improvement with his fastball led Alzolay’s rise, as he consistently worked 93-95, touching 96 when he reached back for it. Over the off-season Alzolay worked with the club’s development team to streamline his mechanics and get more drive from his lower half. The changes worked, and Alzolay’s velocity increase pushed his already well controlled fastball into plus grade territory. His secondaries are still a work in progress however, the curveball is an average offering, sitting in the low 80’s with the ability to be thrown for strikes. His changeup is rumored to be the focus of his off-season, with the Cubs feeling the improvement of his third pitch might lead to a possible future as a strong mid-rotation arm. Alzolay had some rough moments in the Arizona Fall League, particularly his Halloween start, but wasn’t nearly as bad as his numbers indicate. My personal belief is Alzolay’s more floor than ceiling, and his lack of size and a third pitch call his ultimate outcome into question. That said he’s not devoid of upside, and an improved changeup could go a long way towards exceeding my expectations. ETA: 2018
4) Oscar De La Cruz, RHP | Level: A+ | Age: 22 | 2017 Stats: 4-3, 54.2 IP, 3.46 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 47 Ks, 13 BB
A power pitcher with the ability to fascinate and frustrate on an almost pitch to pitch basis. De La Cruz is big at 6’4, 200 lbs, and has the velocity, control, and stuff to project as mid-rotation arm. His fastball sits 92-95 consistently touching 96 at times, with some tail. The secondaries consist of an above average curveball and improving changeup; the curveball is inconsistent, but the more consistent of the two offerings. But to be fair, he has demonstrated more feel for the changeup over the last year. The biggest question surrounding De La Cruz is health, in the last two seasons he dealt with a laundry list of ailments, including an elbow flare up, and a pectoral injury that saw him back out of the Arizona Fall League. To summarize, De La Cruz has all the things you can’t teach, size, velocity, and some feel to pitch, while working on the things you can, specifically changeup development. Unfortunately De La Cruz is another talented “if he could stay healthy” pitching prospect. ETA: 2019
5) Victor Caratini, C | Level: AAA | Age: 24 | 2017 Stats: .342/.393/.558, 10 HR, 61 RBI, 1 SB
From a numbers perspective Caratini looks like a future fantasy superstar catcher in the making. Originally drafted by the Braves, the catcher has always been a solid hit tool limited power type, until 2017. Prior to his breakout last season, the highest slugging percentage he ever put up at any one stop was .430 at rookie level Danville. I’m unaware of any approach changes in 2017, or if he simply took advantage of the friendly confines of the PCL’s hitting havens. That said, Caratini is a switch-hitter, with good bat speed from both sides of the plate, a polished professional approach, and the size to grow into more power. From strictly a profile standpoint Caratini is relevant in most dynasty leagues, the problem is his access to available playing time. Unless there’s an injury to Willson Contreras, Caratini is destined to be limited to a backup role at best. ETA: 2018
6) Alex Lange, RHP | Level: A- | Age: 22 | 2017 Stats: 0-1, 9.1 IP, 4.82 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 13 Ks, 3 Bb
A highly successful career at LSU should have setup Lange as a possible top 20 pick, but some red flags with his mechanics, have raised questions about his ability to throw strikes consistently to MLB hitters. Troubling medicals following the draft didn’t exactly help his prospect stock either, though reports say he performed okay in his limited pro debut. All of that aside, I really like Lange’s plus mid-90’s fastball, and plus plus hook. Despite his flaws Lange has the upside of a solid mid-rotation arm, and the floor of above average middle reliever. Health permitting Lange should move quickly, particularly if he ends up in a relief role to limit his innings. ETA: 2019
7) Thomas Hatch, RHP | Level: A+ | Age: 23 | 2017 Stats: 5-11, 124.2 IP, 4.04 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 126 Ks, 50 Bb
After an injury to his UCL in 2015, Hatch missed his entire sophomore season at Oklahoma State, choosing to forego Tommy John surgery in favor of a platelet-rich injection. He returned in 2016, went 9-3 with a 2.14 ERA, 1.08 WHIP over 130 innings, as Hatch led OSU to the College World Series. Due to the workload coming off the injury the Cubs were cautious with him coming out of the draft, holding off on his pro debut until 2017. Over 124 innings in high A Myrtle Beach this season, Hatch was solid, but inconsistent. He diversified from his slider/sinker approach in college, mixing in a mid-90’s four-seamer, and changeup. His sinker and slider are both above average offerings, pointing to a middle relief floor if he can’t develop a third pitch. The biggest issue that plagues Hatch is his ability to throw strikes consistently. The walks were a problem this year, and the command is a red flag on any scouting reports you read. ETA: 2019
8) Nelson Velazquez, OF | Level: Rk | Age: 18 | 2017 Stats: .236/.333/.536, 8 HR, 17 RBI, 5 SB
One of my favorite sleepers of the off-season, as this is the third time I’ve written about Velazquez since the season ended. He made my dynasty sleepers for 2018 post, and ranked 47th in my Top 50 for first year player drafts. Here’s what I said about Velazquez a month back, “A 5th round pick out of PJ Education School in Puerto Rico, Velasquez brings an exciting power hitting profile for a relative unknown. He generates great bat speed, hits the ball in the air a ton, and at just 18, is getting to very real game power (.300 ISO). At the moment he’s more power than contact, but he looks like he has the tools to refine his approach, and ultimately become a well rounded hitter. Was already awarded Cubs minor league player of the month back in August, and looks like a worthy target later in your first year player drafts.” An off the radar favorite of mine that not a ton of people are talking about. ETA: 2021
9) Brendon Little, LHP | Level: A- | Age: 21 | 2017 Stats: 0-2, 16.1 IP, 9.37 ERA, 1.84 WHIP, 12 Ks, 9 Bb
The 27th pick in June’s draft ranks 46th on my most recent edition of my first year player draft rankings. Here’s what I said about Little just under a month ago; “A mid-90’s fastball that touched 97 at times during his one season at the State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota (that’s a mouthful). He works mostly off his fastball and an above average 12-6 curve, he incorporates a changeup too, but it’s still fringe. Scouts report that Little’s fastball is inconsistent with control, and velocity, which might be the culprit for his rough first go through pro-ball. Granted it was a very small sample, to come to any sweeping conclusions. Even giving Little the benefit of the doubt, there’s a fair amount of risk for a first round college lefty.” ETA: 2020
10) Wladimir Galindo, 1B/3B | Level: A | Age: 21 | 2017 Stats: .290/.350/.432, 4 HR, 19 RBI, 1 SB
A favorite sleeper of my former podcast-mate Michael Halpern, Galindo brings plus raw power, above average plate approach, and feel to hit. He hits the ball in the air, flashes opposite field power, and has yet to be over matched at any stop. A string of freak injuries have delayed his development, but a strong camp, and a good showing in the Carolina League could lead to a breakout season in 2018 for Galindo. Then again I said the same thing about the third baseman this time a year ago. Despite being on my radar for a few years he’ll be just 21 for all of 2018. ETA: 2020
11) Jen-Ho Tseng, RHP | Level: AAA | Age: 23 | 2017 Stats: 13-4, 145 IP, 2.54 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 122 Ks, 38 Bb
Part of the same 2013 international class that included the since jettisoned duo of Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez, Tseng is a high floor back of the rotation starter. He earned Organizational Pitcher of the Year honors for the Cubs in 2017 after posting great numbers across two levels, including a 1.80 ERA in 9 PCL starts. Tseng even earned his major league debut in September, but seems more likely to be traded this off-season than to find his way into a regular spot in the Cubs rotation. The Taiwanese righthander credits his breakout 2017 to trusting his catchers more, and his ability to throw any of his pitches for strikes in any count. Tseng’s best pitch is his above average changeup, while his fastball sits in the low 90’s, but plays up due to how well he locates. His arsenal is rounded out by an average curveball, and fringe cutter/slider, but he doesn’t shy away from throwing any of his pitches in any count. A plus control starter with a well rounded arsenal, and confidence to trust his stuff, is more valuable in real life than fantasy, but he’s an interesting depth arm in deeper dynasty formats. ETA: 2018
12) D.J. Wilson, OF | Level: A | Age: 21 | 2017 Stats: .236/.318/.453, 12 HR, 50 RBI, 16 SB
A diminutive burner with plus bat speed, Wilson is an under the radar 5 tool type, whose long term upside is limited by contact issues. Despite being just 5’8, Wilson’s plus bat speed leads to lots of pullside power to rightfield, while the loft in his swing leads to a flyball heavy approach. This combination will never lead to a high batting average, but it provides an above average power floor, which paired with 60 grade speed gives him some fantasy upside. The first half of the season was a struggle followed by a six-week DL stint, however upon returning Wilson slugged .462 with a .217 ISO the rest of the way. Contact issues will always plague him, but the 20/20 upside is a rare skillset. ETA: 2020
13) Mark Zagunis, OF | Level: AAA | Age: 24 | 2017 Stats: .267/.404/.455, 13 HR, 55 RBI, 4 SB
I’m not sure what to make of Zagunis, he’s an on base machine with some power, but he has no defensive home, and the bats not quite good enough to earn him an everyday DH gig with an AL club. His swing is more geared to a line drive approach, and he hits the ball on the ground too much. He has plus-plus plate approach, and could be a solid player in OBP formats, but he’ll have to earn an everyday role, and that’s highly unlikely in Chicago. Might end up a shuttle guy/AAAA type between the majors and AAA. ETA: 2018
14) Jeremiah Estrada, RHP | Level: Rk | Age: 19 | 2017 Stats: 0-0, 6.1 IP, 1.42 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, 6 Ks, 6 Bb
A 6th round pick signed for $1 million out of the California prep ranks with considerable upside. He’s an excellent athlete and it shines through in his delivery, Estrada works mostly low 90’s with his fastball, and mixes an above average changeup, and two average breaking balls with distinctively different breaks. He flashed two plus pitches in his fastball and changeup over the summer circuit in 2016, but his fastball velocity was down a few ticks in the spring, and he relied on his slider in lieu of his changeup over that period as well. I’m not sure why, but I’m confident he can regain his velo, and rediscover his offspeed stuff. Very limited professional track record, due to throwing just 6.1 innings in his debut, but he should see an assignment to the short-season Northwest League Affiliate Eugene. ETA: 2021
15) David Bote, 1B/2B/OF | Level: AA | Age: 24 | 2017 Stats: .272/.353/.438, 14 HR, 59 RBI, 5 SB
The early star of the Arizona Fall League, Bote is a hit-first utility type who may end up a 2nd division regular if everything breaks right. His carrying tool is his approach, paired with above average contact ability, and game power. He’s not a prospect that should be owned outside 18+ team leagues where over 250 prospects are owned. Bote’s ceiling is probably Jed Lowrie type, while his floor is fringe major leaguer. ETA: 2018
16) Eddy Martinez, OF | Level: A+ | Age: 22 | 2017 Stats: .244/.297/.366, 14 HR, 61 RBI, 6 SB
The Cubs might have done the Giants a solid, when they swooped in at the last minute back in 2015, signing Martinez for $3 million. Once billed as a top talent in that 2015 class (Vlad Jr., Juan Soto, Yadier Alvarez, Jhailyn Ortiz, and Starling Heredia), Martinez has failed to live up to his billing. He does possess plus speed, a quick righty swing, and some untapped power ceiling. If Martinez can get it all together he has the ability to be a solid top of the order, centerfield type, with 15/20 upside. ETA: 2019
17) Keegan Thompson, RHP | Level: A- | Age: 22 | 2017 Stats: 1-2, 19 IP, 2.37 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 23 Ks, 4 Bb
A polished college starter, the Cubs drafted Thompson out of Auburn in the 3rd round. The righty mixes a plus curveball, and an above average changeup with two variations of his fastball, a low to mid 90’s four-seamer, and a high 80’s sinker. He looked great in his pro debut and might be a fast mover, due to his polished strike-throwing profile, and mix of a developed changeup and plus breaking ball. Low risk pick later on in first year player drafts with mid-rotation ceiling, and middle relief floor. ETA: 2019
Find all of the 30 Minor League Previews, and Offseason Rankings on the Minor League Index
On Twitter as @ProspectJesus
Crab TROn dot BOT
Bot. Tron. CRab
Domo arigato, Mr. Ralphboto
@Jack Deth: I crushed the Bots!
@Ralph Ohtani: I want to become a cyborg, half man half bot, one fantasy force
@Jack Deth: That’s the description of half of Fangraphs staff.
@Ralph Ohtani: are you calling me a douchey geek?
@Jack Deth: Well, I mean there’s ways to finesse the persona of Fantasy Cyborg and still maintain your relatability.
@Ralph Fantasy Cyborg: finesse the persona? Like keeping my sack in my pants? I here that’s a faux pas these days
Not very impressed by this bunch, most of them seem old for there level.
The one I like is Jose Albertos. I like young power pitchers. Who is your comp for him? Martinez of the Cards?
He kind of sounds like Sixto Sanchez of the Phillies. Lots of potential, but need developing.
@Jose: Agreed, no surefire Top 100 types, no high end teenage hitting talents, just a lot of pitching depth and bats on the fringe.
Albertos is comparable to a lot of those high end stuff small righties. Needs to stay healthy and improve his breaking ball, and he could be a stud. De La Cruz could make a leap and be a legit pitching prospect too. Estrada has some tools.
Nice to see some cold water on the Alzolay hype train. Still love me some DJ Wilson I’d get him in the top 10. Thanks for the write up Ralph.
@Miketron: I sort of want to get Wilson in the Top 10 but they have 8 arms that are all of equal value. It’s like picking the best Big Mac. They’re all homogenous with slight variations of bun placement.
@Ralph THE BOT!!!: is Mr. Albright aware that BOTs are now being used to scout prospects? Probably not in his ivory tower. This programming malfeasance must be stopped if there is fair and equitable prospecting for all!
@Miketron: Here comes Ohtani the conquerors music!
@Ralph Ohtani: Shohei Ohtani vs the Razz BOTs was a solid Flaming Lips album
@Miketron: Underrated work