The Cubs have the best farm system in baseball. The Dodgers, Red Sox and Twins may dispute that, but the Cubs are going to put three players in the Baseball America Top Ten Prospects list this season. Only two other teams, the 2011 Royals (Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Wil Myers) and the 1994 Blue Jays ( , Carlos Delgado and Jose Silva), have accomplished that feat in the history of that list, which dates back to 1990. Beyond the strength at the top, the Cubs have depth of prospects. It’s likely that they’ll place seven or eight prospects in the BA Top 100. Even the second ten on this list would have made a fine top ten list for the Cubs five years ago.
Of course, I shouldn’t have to remind you that there are no guarantees. Just looking over that Blue Jays list from 1994, there’s one superstar, one decent everyday player and one bust. The Royals list is still a work in progress, but those three players had a combined 0.3 WAR last season. But when you have so many prospects, it seems impossible that several of them won’t end up being quality ballplayers. Indeed, Royals prospects in 2011 who did not make their overall Top Ten included Danny Duffy, Salvador Perez, Tim Collins, Kelvin Herrera and Yordano Ventura. We all know what those players did last season.
Over this week, I am going to present the Bleed Cubbie Blue Top 20 prospects list. Each day I will present five more prospects so that we will get through the list by Thursday. This list is mine and has all of my idiosyncrasies in it.
To be eligible for this list, you have to be eligible to win the 2015 Rookie of the Year Award. So that means having fewer than 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched and/or 45 days on an active roster. So Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara and Kyle Hendricks fall off the list this season.
16. Carson Sands. LHP. 6'3", 195 lbs. DOB: 03/28/95. 4th Round (2014). North Florida Christian HS.
It looks like the Cubs had a really good draft in 2014. Not only did the Cubs get Kyle Schwarber and Jake Stinnett with their first two picks, they got both at a considerable discount off of their slot values. With part of those savings, the Cubs invested $1.1 million in the fourth round on Carson Sands, a Florida high school left-hander.
Sands is still a raw product. Despite being a little older than most high school draftees at 19, scouts still think that Sands has a lot of room to develop. Currently his fastball sits at 90-92, but he's touched higher than that and the thinking is that he can add a few miles an hour onto it as he gets older. His curveball and change are works-in-progress, as you'd expect from any high school pitcher, but both have the potential to be at least average and maybe better than that. He already shows good command for someone his age and he's been praised for his poise and mound presence. Sands definitely has the size and strength to be a starting pitcher. How good a one he's going to be will depend on how much velocity he can add, how much more bite he can get on his curve and how good his change gets.
Sands only pitched 19 innings last year in Arizona, so right now he'smostly projection. But the Cubs really believed in Sands and made a major investment in him. When he did take the mound, he lived up to the hype. Because of his age and maturity, it wouldn't surprise me to see the Cubs start Sands out in South Bend. But even if they don't, it will be a major disappointment if he doesn't make it to Indiana some time this summer.
17. Bijan Rademacher. OF. 6'0", 200 lbs. DOB: 06/15/91. 13th Round (2012). Orange Coast CC (CA)
Probably no one rose more in the system this past season than Bijan Rademacher. Considered more of a fringe prospect before last season, Rademacher turned in a great season in the tough environment of the Florida State League. hitting .280/.363/.448 with 10 home runs. Rademacher's .811 OPS was second in the league, behind only Dwight Smith, Jr.
Rademacher was a two-way player out of Orange Coast Community College when the Cubs drafted him in 2012, and most teams looking at him wanted to make him a pitcher. But the Cubs liked his potential as a outfielder and let him loose. He did well enough in Kane County in 2013 to earn a midseason promotion to Daytona. But it was really this past season that he finally seemed to blossom as a hitter. Perhaps the most promising sign for Rademacher was the development of his power as the season went on. Seven of the ten home runs he hit this season were in the final two months of the season. Also before this season, Rademacher was pretty helpless against left-handed pitching, but in 2014 he was actually better against lefties than right-handed pitching. He hit four of his ten home runs against left handers in fewer than half as many plate appearances.
As a converted pitcher, you'd probably figure that he has a pretty good outfield arm and you'd be right. Last season he had 10 outfield assists in 100 games. In 2013, it was nine in 93.
The big issue with Rademacher is one that his Daytona teammate Billy McKinney has, only more so. Unless his power develops even more, he's a corner outfielder with moderate power and average speed. That's not going to earn a starting job on a contender. The Cubs haven't even tried him in center field, so that's probably not an option. His ceiling is probably the season that Chris Coghlan had last year, except better at defense and with a plus arm. That has value, but if you're fighting for playing time with guys like Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara or prospects like McKinney or even Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber, that's not going to get it done.
Rademacher should spend the summer in Tennessee.
18. Rob Zastryzny. LHP. 6'3", 205 lbs. DOB: 03/26/92. 2nd Round (2013). Missouri.
A superficial look at Zastryzny's statistics in 2014 might indicate that he had a bad year with a 4.66 ERA in Daytona. And in a sense he did have a bad year, but digging deeper and you can see a lot of positives. For one, in 110 innings over 22 starts, Zastryzny struck out 110 batters and walked only 33. When he was on, he did a good job at inducing ground balls when the batter did make contact.
The story on Zastryzny is the same one that it was when the Cubs drafted him in the second round out fo Missouri in 2013: change speeds. While Zastryzny's fastball only tops out around 90 mph, he's able to throw it for at 85-86 to keep hitters off-balance. On top of that, his best pitch is probably his changeup, which is even slower. Hitters simply have trouble timing Zastryzny when he's on.
One problem that Zastryzny had last season is the home-run ball, giving up 10 last year. When his control is off, a fastball doesn't sink enough or he leaves a curve up in the zone. Without velocity, you can imagine what happens to those pitches.
Overall, Zastryzny just needs to develop more consistent control. If he does that, he should be a quality pitcher.
19. Kevonte Mitchell OF. 6'4", 185 lbs. DOB: 08/12/95. 13th Round (2014). Kennett HS (MO)
I'm going to admit this is an aggressive placement and I may look stupid or brilliant for ranking Mitchell this high in a year. But the people who saw him play down in Mesa last summer just raved about him. Mitchell is here for his upside, which appears to be pretty high at the moment.
Mitchell was a 13th-round pick out of Kennett High School in the Missouri Bootheel last year. It's not hard to imagine that someone from there could get overlooked. The Cubs did have to pay him a $200,000 bonus to get him to sign, which is double the allotted slot for any player drafted after the 10th round. So there was certainly something there that they liked.
One thing the Cubs certainly liked was his size and athleticism. The 6'4" Mitchell was a two-sport star in high school and if you search online for information about him, you'll find that he was an All-State basketball player and a lot of talk about schools recruiting him for basketball, although in the end, Mitchell committed to Southeast Missouri State to play baseball.
Down in Mesa, that pure athleticism showed, but he also demonstrated a surprisingly advanced approach at the plate for someone so young. Mitchell hit .294/.374/.371 with 19 steals in 20 attempts. That speed also showed in that four of his 42 hits were triples. In fact, he hit more triples than doubles. Mitchell played third base in high school, but the Cubs wanted to use his speed more and moved him to center field.
Now it's easy to draw walks in rookie ball if you're just waiting out pitchers with bad control, but no one thought that Mitchell was just a passive hitter. But it is something to watch for as he moves up the ladder. Mitchell will likely play next season in Eugene.
Corey Black's 2014 season in the Southern League couldn't quite live up to the promise of his impressive performance in High-A the year before. His strikeouts were down, but more worrisome, his walk total went way up, walking 71 batters in 124 innings. He allowed 13 home runs. His ERA was a respectable 3.47 over 26 appearances, but the underlying numbers were troubling.
Having said that, Black still throws hard and has a mid-90s fastball. It's too soon to give up on him as a starter after only one bad season, but you have to wonder how hard he would throw if he only had to throw one inning per game. Plus there is the old wisdom that short right-handers have an uphill battle to remain as starters, and Black's major league future may be in the bullpen.
If Black can't start, he might become a really good reliever. I certainly want to know how hard he'd throw out of the pen. He'll either repeat Tennessee or move to Iowa, most likely dependent upon roster needs.