Written by: Kevin Will
Follow him on Twitter: @CubsProspector
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When Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over the Cubs prior to the 2012 season, they inherited one of the worst minor league systems in all of baseball. The system wasn’t just bad in 2011. It had been for decades. Barely any use of analytics. The smallest scouting staff in the MLB. No overriding developmental philosophy. It was a mess.
And yet, Theo and Jed’s rebuild was right on schedule, winning it all in their 5th year at the helm. They built the Cubs 2016 World Series Championship team from some excellent trades (Rizzo, Hendricks, Arrieta, Russell, Strop), big-monied free agent signings (Lester, Zobrist, Heyward, Fowler), developing prospects that were there when they came aboard (Baez, Contreras) and not missing on their highest 1st round picks (Bryant, Schwarber).
They also made some desperate trades. Getting Aroldis Chapman for Gleyber Torres and 3 others was only “worth it” because things fell the Cubs way after an infamous 17-minute rain delay late in game 7. The Cubs further depleted their farm system a few months later trading Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease for dependable southpaw Jose Quintana. With Ian Happ graduating to the majors shortly thereafter, a 2016 draft without a 1st or 2nd round pick and a terrible 2017 draft, the Cubs system was once again ranked near the bottom.
At least they have a World Series ring to show for it.
The Rebuild, part deux, started in 2018 with a new approach to evaluating and developing pitchers and the selection of Stanford SS Nico Hoerner in the 1st round, who was the first member of his draft class to make it to the show and has now graduated from his rookie status. As a result, their current system is quite young. Throw in the effects of a pandemic shutting down the 2020 minor league season and some players ranked below haven’t even played a professional game yet, and only a few have played a game above Low-A. With so much development left for these players and so much projection required, to say this list is open to interpretation would be, well… highly accurate. It’s also the reason why there are so many 40+ grades. With that said, let’s get started.
**Right below is the Cubs Top 20 list simplified. Scroll further down for FULL Present/Future Grades, FV, ETA, and summaries on EACH PLAYER ranked in the system! Tons of Statistics on each player as well! Some player highlights, future outlooks and more enjoy!**
|1.||Brennen Davis||OF||2018 Draft – 2nd Round|
|2.||Brailyn Marquez||LHP||2015 International Signing|
|3.||Miguel Amaya||C||2015 International Signing|
|4.||Ed Howard||SS||2020 Draft – 1st Round: 16 Overall|
|5.||Cristian Hernandez||SS||2020 International Signing|
|6.||Adbert Alzolay||RHP||2012 International Signing|
|7||Cole Roederer||OF||2018 Draft – 2nd Round|
|8||Chase Strumpf||2B||2019 Draft – 2nd Round|
|9||Kohl Franklin||RHP||2018 Draft – 6th Round|
|10||Ryan Jensen||RHP||2019 Draft – 1st Round: 27th Overall|
|11||Christopher Morel||3B||2015 International Signing|
|12||Riley Thompson||RHP||2018 Draft – 11 Round|
|13||Burl Carraway||LHP||2020 Draft – 2nd Round|
|14||Kevin Made||SS||2019 International Signing|
|15||Ronnier Quintero||C||2019 International Signing|
|16||Cory Abbott||RHP||2017 Draft – 2nd Round|
|17||Ethan Hearn||C||2019 Draft – 6th Round|
|18||Mike McAvene||RHP||2019 Draft – 3rd Round|
|19||Yohendrick Pinango||OF||2018 International Signing|
|20||Chris Clarke||RHP||2018 Draft – 4th Round|
1. Brennen Davis OF – South Bend Cubs (Low-A)
20 years old – Throw: R – Bat: R – 6’4″ 190 lbs. – ETA 2022
After his 1st full pro season, Davis had so impressed the Cubs front office that he was made the youngest member of their 2020 60-man roster and was one of a handful of prospects at the Cubs alternate training site in South Bend, Indiana. Cubs AAA manager Marty Pevey oversees the the camp and had this to say about Davis:
“I’ve never — and this is the god’s honest truth — I have never seen power like this kid’s going to have. I’m not talking about pull power. I’m talking about just raw, leverage power — like Dale Murphy driving the ball to right-center early in his career. Holy smokes, he’s got some pop.”
It’s not just Davis’s power that’s impressive. His arm and speed are plus. He’s still a little inexperienced with his routes in the OF but has the ability to stick in CF. His hit tool was the most suspect when he was drafted, but he just hit .305 in Low-A as a 19-year-old so I think he’s answered his critics there. In short, Davis has it all. I expect his FV will rise from his current 50+ in the coming years. The only reason why it’s that low right now is he’s only played in 68 professional games (276 PAs). With the experience he’s gaining in pro camp this summer, he’ll probably start next season (assuming there is one) in AA.
2. Brailyn Marquez LHP – Myrtle Beach Pelicans (High-A)
21 years old – Throw: L – Bat: L – 6’4″ 195 lbs. – ETA 2021
Marquez had been showing consistent upper-90s velocity since 2018, but in July 2019, he put it all together. His strike rate on his 97-100 mph fastball jumped up during the final two months of last season. At the same time, his slider and change-up also improved allowing him to dominate hitters in both the Midwest and Carolina Leagues to the tune of:
53.2 IP, 38 H, 15 BB, 67 K for a 1.68 ERA, a WHIP of 0.99, and an opponent’s slash line of .195/.254/.292 in his final 10 starts.
Marquez made his major league debut in the final game of the season. He was clearly nervous having never pitched above A-ball. His FB control was way off, though the velocity was there. His 84-86 slider and his 90-91 CU looked quite good, however. I’d expect Brailyn to start 2021 in AA with a possible call up based on consistency of performance.
3. Miguel Amaya C – Myrtle Beach Pelicans (High-A)
21 years old – Throw: R – Bat: R – 6’2″ 230 lbs. – ETA 2022
Amaya’s numbers at the plate may seem underwhelming at first glance, but keep in mind the Carolina League is a pitcher’s league, and he was a year younger than the typical prospect for that level. His .753 OPS is higher than average in the CL as his 122 wRC+ indicates. Plus, he’s always been stronger behind the plate than at it. Amaya’s defense is what is going to carry him to the majors. Even as a teenager, he displayed the natural leadership qualities required of a catcher while his receiving, game-calling and run-stopping abilities have improved each year.
His selectivity at the plate has also improved each season with K% dropping and BB% rising 3 years in a row. With a well above average contact rate, raw power and developing in game power (he topped out at 108 mph exit velo in 2019), a starting catcher’s role at the major league level seems only a matter of time.
4. Ed Howard SS – Has yet to play
19 years old – Throw: R – Bat: R – 6’2″ 185 lbs. – ETA 2024
NO PROFESSIONAL STATS
Taken 16th overall in June of this year, Howard was universally considered the best prep SS prospect in the draft. He’s a lock to stay at SS and by all accounts will be above average defensively. He receives high marks for his footwork, athleticism and an already strong, accurate arm. His strongest attribute might be his make-up. His work ethic is unparalleled and he shows great maturity for his age. In the time between being drafted in June and showing up for fall instructs, Howard had clearly put on muscle in shoulders and back.
The only knock on him right now is his bat. The swing has no major hitches and is fluid with current raw power for his age, but his offensive tools aren’t considered elite. Obviously, he’s got plenty of time to develop at the plate and is currently participating in the Cubs Fall Instructional League in Mesa, AZ.
5. Cristian Hernandez – Has yet to play
16 years old – Throw: R – Bat: R – 6’2″ 175 lbs. – ETA 2025
NO PROFESSIONAL STATS
I’m sure I’m breaking a rule by including a prospect who isn’t officially signed by his team yet, but hopefully my editors will be merciful as the only reason why he isn’t signed is because MLB pushed back the official IFA signing date from July 2nd to January 15th this year due to the coronavirus. Hernandez is already referring to himself as a Cub on social media and is working out in Cubs gear.
Experts rank Hernandez and Howard very closely. Hernandez is considered to have the better bat with more power while Howard gets the edge defensively but not by much. His speed is real. Hernandez was recently clocked at 6.5 seconds in the 60 yard dash (MLB average is 6.9) and isn’t expected to slow down much as he fills out. Comps for a 16-year-olds should be taken lightly, but scouts have compared him to Manny Machado and Alex Rodriguez. Cristian’s nickname is A-Rod.
If both Howard and Hernandez develop as expected, and one of these two is moved to 3rd base eventually, the future of the left side of the Cubs infield looks very, very bright.
6. Adbert Alzolay RHP – Chicago Cubs (MLB)
25 years old – Throw: R – Bat: R – 6’1″ 208 lbs. – ETA 2020
Alzolay broke out an above average slider in his last two outings for the Cubs this year, and it changed everything. He now has a 5-pitch mix (4-seamer, 2-seamer, slider, curve and change) and has established himself as a likely member in the Cubs rotation going forward though his innings will be limited. His FB sits 94-97 with good armside run and good control. The curveball which he can consistently throw for strikes has an elite spin rate and a sharp 12-to-6 break at 80-81 mph. His 84-86 slider was getting a lot of swings and misses in his final two appearances.
In 21.1 IP, Alzolay compiled a 33.3% K% with a 2.95 ERA, 3.62 xFIP and a 1.17 WHIP with the Cubs this season. But it is his last two outings in which he unveiled his slider that we should pay the most attention. 9 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB and 15 K. That’s a 2.00 ERA and 0.89 WHIP. He completed 5 innings twice out of his 4 starts and did so on 70 and 82 pitches, leaving plenty of gas in the tank to go into the 6th, and he maintained velocity throughout those starts. It remains to be seen how many innings he can rack up over the course of a 162 game schedule, but he has shown vast improvements this season, and I expect him to either be in the rotation or be the primary long man out of the pen in 2021.
7. Cole Roederer CF – South Bend Cubs (Low-A)
21 years old – Throw: L – Bat: L – 6’0″ 175 lbs. – ETA 2023
Roederer was league average at the plate as a 19-year-old in Low-A. He showed good pull power for a teenager of his slight build along with solid plate discipline. Since then, Cole has added some muscle and coaches have been working with him to focus on hitting middle away and allowing his natural pull power to occur organically.
Despite stealing 16 bases with a 76% success rate, he possesses only average speed. While he has shown the ability to play an above average CF, his lack of speed and arm strength might have him wind up in LF. If so, he will likely need to reach his ceiling with the bat in order to start at the major league level. He profiles as a good 4th OFer if he progresses as expected.
8. Chase Strumpf 2B – South Bend Cubs (Low-A)
22 years old – Throw: R – Bat: R – 6’1″ 190 lbs. – ETA 2022
Chase is going to have to hit to make it to the show. He’s strictly a 2B and an average one at that. Luckily, his bat gets rave reviews, and he’s been raking in the 2020 Instructional League in Arizona. After being selected in the 2nd round of the 2019 draft, Strumpf hit well enough in Short-Season Low-A Eugene to get called up to the Cubs Midwest League affiliate in South Bend. Unfortunately, he sustained a back injury shortly thereafter, compiling only 28 plate appearances. Scouts love his hit tool grading him above average at pitch recognition and bat control.
His ceiling is that of a .280-.300 hitter who should draw walks and hit 10-15 HRs in a starting role. With this lost minor league season, it’s difficult to know where his development stands now, but he should start in High-A Myrtle Beach and has the ability to be a fast riser.
9. Kohl Franklin RHP – South Bend Cubs (Low-A)
21 years old – Throw: R – Bat: R – 6’4″ 190 lbs. – ETA 2023
Last we saw Kohl Franklin, he was a 19-year-old making his 1st (and only) start in Low-A South Bend following a late season promotion. He had just finished dominating the Northwest League just one year removed from high school. Franklin sports what some scouts consider the best change-up in the Cubs organization. He already was throwing his FB in the low-90s, touching 95. With his 6’4″ frame, he is expected to add velocity from there. With solid athleticism, MLB bloodlines and youth on his side, he should continue to improve his command of it as well. Already possessing an average curve that has a well above average spin rate (2700 rpm) and a killer change-up, Franklin is one of the safer bets in the Cubs system to become mid-rotation starter with expected development over the coming years.
10. Ryan Jensen RHP – Eugene Emeralds (Short-Season Low-A)
22 years old – Throw: R – Bat: R – 6’0″ 180 lbs. – ETA 2023
Ryan Jensen’s 2019 stats don’t tell the whole story. He’s got much better control than he showed in his pro debut which came after an almost 2-month long layoff after pitching 100 innings for Fresno State that year. Jensen’s slider and change-up are works in progress, probably because his fastball is so good he never really needed to develop them. Jensen’s FB sits in the upper-90s with an above average spin rate. The fact that 45.5% of contact went to the opposite field tells you hitters were playing catch up. The Cubs 2019 1st round pick has a slight build and could wind up a high leverage reliever. The progression of his secondaries will determine his future usage.
11. Christopher Morel 3B – South Bend Cubs (Low-A)
21 years old – Throw: R – Bat: R – 6’0″ 155 lbs. – ETA 2023
Morel is all projection right now, but he’s got plenty to work with, and the Cubs have been working with him. He was the 2nd youngest prospect to make the 60-man roster this year and spent the summer working with the Cubs top coaches at the alternate training site in South Bend. While I wouldn’t describe the wiry, former shortstop as remarkably athletic, he does show quick reactions and good hands at the hot corner with a very strong arm. At the plate, he needs to improve his selectivity, but he makes consistent, hard contact generating excellent bat speed with consistent exit velocities in the 100s during camp this summer. It says a lot that the Cubs didn’t want to lose a year of development for this unique prospect. They see a high ceiling for Morel.
12. Riley Thompson RHP – South Bend Cubs (Low-A)
24 years old – Throw: R – Bat: R – 6’3″ 205 lbs. – ETA 2022
When Riley was drafted in the 11th round in 2018, he was fireballing reliever who had touched 100 on his FB. But the Cubs wanted to try him as a starter. His velocity dipped as a result (91-95, T96), but he’s developed an above average curve with elite spin (~3000 rpm) and an improving change up that flashes plus. If Thompson can regain some of the velocity on his fastball as he builds strength and endurance, it will make all 3 of his pitches play up. Scouts believe his floor is a middle reliever with a ceiling of a 4th or 5th starter.
13. Burl Carraway LHP – Has yet to play
21 years old – Throw: L – Bat: L – 6’0″ 175 lbs. – ETA 2021
NO PROFESSIONAL STATS
Carraway, the Cubs 2nd round pick in this year’s draft, was purely a reliever in college (Dallas Baptist). Disregarded as a freshman, he remade himself into a power lefty, shutdown closer after becoming a devotee to the latest technology in pitch analysis. Subsequently, he added both velocity and spin to his two-pitch arsenal and exploded onto the national scene. Carraway recorded the second highest FB spin rate (2,708 rpm) amongst college pitchers this spring and the 8th highest spin rate (2,883 rpm) with his hammer curve.
Some scouts ranked his upper-90s fastball as the best in the draft. He is absolutely a max effort guy, and as such, he has struggled with command. It appears the Cubs aren’t even attempting to stretch him out into a starter, and the hope is that he will spend some time refining his control and join the major league bullpen at some point in 2021.
14. Kevin Made SS – Has yet to play
18 years old – Throw: R – Bat: R 6’1″ 160 lbs. – ETA 2024
NO PROFESSIONAL STATS
Kevin signed for $1.5 million as a 2019 IFA. He has the athleticism, quickness and arm to stick at SS, with his arm being his greatest asset. At the plate, scouts praise his ability to put the barrel of the bat where he wants it, and that has shown up in the instructional league this fall hitting .357 thus far. His performance at the plate will determine how far he goes. If he can hit at all at the upper levels, his floor will be that of a back up middle infielder. If he can hit with 15-20 HR power, his ceiling would be a 1st division starter at SS. Along with Howard and Hernandez, Made gives the Cubs 3 high end teenagers at SS.
15. Ronnier Quintero C – Has yet to play
17 years old – Throw: R – Bat: L – 6’0″ 180 lbs. – ETA 2025
NO PROFESSIONAL STATS
Quintero was the highest ranked catcher in the 2019 IFA class and signed the highest bonus ever given out by the Cubs ($2.9 million). The reports out of minor league spring training (before it was shut down) was that the bat looked advanced. So it comes as no surprise that Ronnier is working exclusively on his receiving during fall instructs. Typically, the defensive side of the game is what takes catchers so long to reach the majors anyway. Quintero has a ceiling similar to his fellow Venezuelan Willson Contreras and is a part of strong group of Cubs catching prospects.
Along with Miguel Amaya and Quintero, the Cubs have Ethan Hearn, who you’ll read about next, Brayan Altuve (who signed for $1 million in the same class as Quintero), incoming 2020 IFA signee Moises Ballesteros and super sleeper Pablo Aliendo.
16. Cory Abbott RHP – Tennessee Smokies (AA)
25 years old – Throw: R – Bat: R – 6’2″ 215 lbs. – ETA 2021
Abbott’s future success relies on his continued ability to tunnel and command his pitches. No one offering in his mix is an out pitch. Instead, he keeps hitters guessing by having a consistent release point for all 5 of his average or better offerings. This, along with his ability to command the location of his pitches, makes all of them play up.
His FB (90-93) looks faster to hitters because they have to spend a little bit longer identifying each pitch. The breaks on his slider and curve get on a hitter a bit quicker for the same reason. But Abbott’s margin for error is razor thin. If his command or release point is just a little off, he can be hit around. Luckily for Abbott, that hasn’t happened very often in his career to date. Out of 26 starts in 2019, he allowed more than 3 ERs in only 3 of them. In 2018, he allowed more than 3 ERs only twice in 22 starts. Going into 2021, Abbott is expected to be one of the top AAA depth starters for the Cubs with an outside shot at making the back end of the rotation out of spring training.
17. Ethan Hearn C – AZL Cubs (Rookie League)
20 years old – Throw: R – Bat: L – 6’0″ 200 lbs. – ETA 2024
Hearn was the highest ranked prep catcher in the 2019 draft. Even though he was selected in the 6th round, he signed for 2nd round money. He’s got all the tools to stick at catcher and be a good one. His bat is the bigger question mark at this point, though the stats you see above don’t tell the whole story. He was 18 and getting his first taste of pro ball when he put those up. His power from the left side is real, but there’s development needed with his contact skills. Having just turned 20, he’s got plenty of time to develop despite the lost minor league season.
18. Mike McAvene RHP – Eugene Emeralds (Short-Season Low-A)
23 years old – Throw: R – Bat: R – 6’3″ 210 lbs. – ETA 2022
McAvene has a lot in common with the prospect who came in 14th on this list. Both he and Riley Thompson were drafted as righty relievers out of Louisville with the intention of turning them into starters. Both had hit 100 mph in college, and both are 6’3″ at right around 210 lbs. Thompson is a year ahead of McAvene in his development which is why he’s a bit higher on this list, but McAvene has the higher ceiling. His FB is a plus-plus pitch. The slider is already average with room to grow and a change up is solidifying.
Unlike Thompson, McAvene didn’t lose any velocity after turning pro, but he’s only pitched in 2 inning stints. He’s got the body for it, but it’s yet to be seen how he will hold up with a starter’s workload. One thing does seem clear, he’s got the floor of a high leverage reliever if he can improve his command in the next couple of years.
19. Yohendrick Pinango OF – (DSL)
18 years old – Throw: L – Bat: L – 5’11” 170 lbs. – ETA 2024
Pinango didn’t receive the highest bonus of the Cubs 2018 IFA class ($400,000), but he put up the best numbers. Any stats from the DSL should be taken with a grain of salt, but Yohendrick’s were pretty impressive. Don’t read too much into the lack of HRs. He put up that production has a player who had just turned 17 and doesn’t have the most powerful build. What is noteworthy is that Pinango hit 20 doubles, good enough for 2nd in the league. His game power may develop as he fills out into his 20s, but scouts already rate his pitch selection and bat control average or better. Though he has well above average speed, Pinango only played corner outfield in his inaugural season. If he shows he can play CF and keeps hitting, his prospect status will take a significant jump.
20. Chris Clarke RHP – Eugene Emeralds (Short-Season Low-A) 22 years old – Throw: R – Bat: R 6’7″ 235 lbs. – ETA 2023
Clarke is another college reliever the Cubs are intent on turning into a starter. Unlike Mike McAvene (who was taken one round ahead of Clarke in 2019), Chris already has a 4-pitch mix, though the change up is still developing. Whereas McAvene could move quickly as a bullpen arm, Clarke is expected to stay in the rotation partially due to his starter’s build and his lack of an elite FB. What Clarke does have is the best curve in the organization. A 12-to-6 hammer that is paired with a solid slider and a heavy, sinking FB (92-94, T96). His command is considered average at this point in his development, but with the Cubs recent investment in the latest pitching technology, that could change. If it does, he has the ceiling of a middle of the rotation starter and a floor of a middle inning reliever.
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