Cubs affiliates spent 2019 enjoying the most minor league talent they’ve seen in a while—a welcome sign for a fan base whose dynasty dreams have died a little each year.
The developmental wing of the organization has been realigned this off-season, so we don’t know much about how the new team will help (or hurt) the players. I’m betting they help, especially the enhanced focus on nutrition and strength training. I think an argument could be made that four hours in a weight room combined with healthy food intake would help teenage players almost as much as four hours at the ballpark. Might be safe to say a whole-human approach would be best in most endeavors where you’re betting on said humans to improve over time.
1. OF Brennen Davis | 20 | A | 2023
Nestled comfortably among our game’s top prospects, Davis surprised early by showing up the Spring after his draft year looking like a new man. He’d been a little scrawny while winning the defensive player of the year on a class 6A Arizona state championship basketball team, but he bulked up a bit during his first off-season as a professional and found himself blasting opposite-field home runs and slashing .305/.381/.525 in the Midwest League, where he was 2.2 years younger than the average player.
2. LHP Brailyn Marquez | 20 | A+ | Mid 2021
3. SS Nico Hoerner | 22 | MLB | Mid 2020
“Marquez might not crack the top 100 on most lists, which makes plenty of sense because I fade pitching at every turn, but it also feels weird: how humdrum can we be about a 20-year-old lefty dominating high-A with a hundred mile-an-hour heater? I can’t even remember the last lefty who threw this hard. (Marquez has been clocked at 102 mph). Randy Johnson, maybe? Aroldis Chapman, I guess, and heck, if that’s what you get from Marquez, you’ll take it, but I don’t think that’s the outcome. His arm speed and age-to-level opens the door to immense off-speed development.”
When Nico Hoerner got called up, I said he “hasn’t lit the minor leagues aflame this season, but I think you can basically ignore his AA numbers. Hit-tool prospects benefit most from the juiced ball, and this 2018 first-round pick is just that, striking out in 10.5 percent of his 294 plate appearances across 70 AA games. He had been scheduled for a repeat trip to the Arizona Fall League, but that’s probably off due to Javy Baez’s injury, so Nico gets a chance at a Major League mic drop. Maybe he can’t save the day for the city of Chicago or your fantasy team, but he’s talented enough to chip in some solid box scores down the stretch and enhance his fantasy profile heading into 2020. I suspect he’s exactly the type to ride a few hot weeks to an off-season value boost.”
Eat your heart out, Nostradamus! That’s exactly what happened! Hoerner’s shown nothing to indicate his three home runs in 82 plate appearances is sustainable, but his .282 batting average was closer to real than mirage, and I don’t think anyone would be surprised to see a 20 HR upside from him in the juiced ball era.
4. C Miguel Amaya | 21 | A+ | Mid 2022
Amaya turned heads in the Arizona Fall League, launching long bombs in batting practice and double-punching his ticket to list-season extravaganza even as a catcher who’s a few years away—perhaps the least valued dynasty asset after non-elite pitching prospects.
5. SS Pedro Martinez | 19 | A- | 2024
6. SS Yohendrick Pinango | 17 | R | 2024
7. SS Luis Verdugo | 19 | R | 2024
A smooth-actioned switch-hitter, Pedro Martinez is on the escalator now, having picked up some name-value by autumn. With a loud turn in full-season ball next year, he’ll rocket up the prospect lists.
In most organizations, a guy like Yohendrick Pinango cruising through the DSL would be a candidate for a promotion, but the Cubs chose to let him hit .395 over his last month at a level he’d mastered. He stole ten bases, walked seven times and struck out seven times.
More physically mature than most of his same-age peers, Pinango’s season will be downplayed in scouting circles, but as I said in the into, I think a good body is at least half the battle, so I’m hesitant to ding a guy like Jasson Dominguez because he’s ahead of the game in an absolutely critical area. I realize that might diminish projections, but I think that’s at least something of a fool’s errand.
When I saw Mike Trout in the Midwest League, he was the same size he is today: a physical freak among his peers and a linebacker in center field. Juan Soto was likewise thick for his age. If he were in A ball, some scouts would be knocking his topside because he’s so physically developed. I’m not saying Pinango is anything like these players; I just think the paint-by-numbers model of diminishing the upside of players simply because they already have facets of their grown-man bodies in place might be outdated and has always been a little shortsighted.
Luis Verdugo’s Arizona League roster spot would’ve been a good place for Pinango to spend August. Verdugo was repeating the level and slashed .371/.410/.608 that final month, hitting five homers and stealing six bags without getting caught.
8. OF Cole Roederer | 20 | A | 2023
9. RHP Adbert Alzolay | 25 | MLB | Early 2020
10. RHP Cory Abbott | 24 | AA | Late 2020
While Brennen Davis was smashing balls in South Bend, Cole Roederer was busy volunteering for the Mayor Pete campaign. Exhausted after long days cold-calling potential donors, Roederer did pretty well to post a .319 OBP and 16 steals as a 19-year-old in a tough environment for offense.
When he made his debut as the bulk-innings guy following Tyler Chatwood, Adbert Alzolay was electric, and Cub fans were geeked. Chatwood covered four innings before Alzolay cruised through four and handed the club a pretty easy win that rested a tired, injured bullpen. And that was that for the Chatwood/Alzolay plan. One-for-one with sterling results and retired forever.
Maddon next deployed Alzolay as a starter against the white-hot Atlanta Braves. He pitched well after allowing a lead off home run to Ronald Acuña Jr. but was pulled in the fifth inning of a tough loss. Alzolay might have the arsenal or command at present to go deep into games, but here’s hoping we see Alzolay following Chatwood become a thing in 2020. Neither guy is particularly valuable as a late-inning piece or even as a middle reliever, but their powers combined might equal a solid number three starter.
Cory Abbott found a plus cutter in 2019 and used it to eviscerate AA hitters. He also started spiking his curveball and saw instant results there. A tinkering pitcher getting results is an interesting pitcher here at Itch industries. Maybe a mediocre fastball holds Abbott back; maybe he pitches off the cutter and makes it work well enough to carve out a big league gig in 2020. I’m betting on the latter in part because he kept improving throughout the season, rocking a 1.17 ERA and a 0.71 WHIP over his last nine starts. Should the then 23-year-old have been promoted to AAA? Who can say? Certainly not the Cubs.
This system is deep enough that I have about 15 names in the running for this spot, but we can eliminate SS Aramis Ademan because he’s not a flier and RHP Rowan Wick because he’s been in the majors. Can probably cross off RHP Keegan Thompson too as he’s been around a minute and has gotten his fair share of publicity. As has kid catcher Ronnier Quintero, whose 2.9 million dollar international signing bonus was the highest such number in club history. 2B Chase Strumpf fits the bill in the sense that I want someone here with legitimate fantasy topside, but he was a 2nd round pick in 2019, and I’d like to dig a little deeper, which leads me to 19-year-old SS Fabian Pertuz. He’s posted wRC+ scores of 147 and 126 across two years in the AZL and would give his stock a healthy boost with a solid season in A ball.