This news is a few weeks old, but honestly, we've been a little distracted by the exploits of the major league team to look over the minor league system this month. But the process of building a champion that can compete year after year continues down on the farm.
The Cubs probably don't have the best farm system in baseball anymore. It's hard to lose four top prospects to the majors and still be the best around. But the Cubs still have one of the top systems in baseball with several prospects who project to be quality major leaguers and Baseball America acknowledges this in their rankings of prospects within each league.
In order to qualify for these lists, the player must have spent at least a third of the season in the league. Players who have graduated to the majors and have exhausted their rookie eligibility this season are still eligible.
The players who made a Baseball America Top 20 League Prospects list were:
Pacific Coast League -- Iowa Cubs
None. No one stayed there long enough to qualify.
Southern League -- Tennessee Smokies:
4. Kyle Schwarber
11. Willson Contreras
19. Albert Almora
I know fourth seems low to rank Schwarber but remember this is based solely on what he did in the Southern League. Also, the players ranked ahead of him are Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton and Brewers top prospect Orlando Arcia.
But yes, evaluators in the SL don't think Schwarber can be a regular major league catcher. That's not true of Contreras, whom they think can be a solid defensive catcher at the major league level, along with the ability to make lots of contact and drive the ball into the gaps.
Almora drew some mixed reviews, with everyone loving his glove but some questioning whether he'll hit enough (and be patient enough) to contribute at the plate. And yes, BA mentioned that most scouts like Almora better than Billy McKinney. McKinney was knocked as lacking in four of the five tools, really. The hit tool was OK, but defense, arm, power and speed were not where observers would want them to be for a major league outfielder. However, they did add that no one should give up on McKinney and he could still improve.
Carolina League -- Myrtle Beach Pelicans
7. Duane Underwood
13. Jeimer Candelario
15. Mark Zagunis
Underwood is the top pitching prospect in the Cubs system at the moment. They love his mid-90s fastball and his curve and change are both potentially at least major-league average. If they both get there, he's a mid-rotation starter. If they don't, he's a power reliever.
Baseball America said that many evaluators liked other Cubs pitchers such as Jen-Ho Tseng, Tyler Skulina and Paul Blackburn, but not enough for them to make this list.
Candelario put himself back on the prospect map with a strong 2015. His projection is back to where it was earlier in his career: a solid switch-hitting third baseman with solid-average defensive skills. Candelario has a good shot of being a solid major league regular, but it will probably have to be in a different organization.
Scouts loved Zagunis' on-base skills. They questioned his power and defensive skills, but they think both could improve.
Midwest League -- South Bend Cubs:
1. Gleyber Torres
6. Ian Happ
Torres was the youngest player in the Midwest League for much of the season and one of the best, which leads to his number one ranking in the Midwest League and the Cubs system, no doubt. There wasn't much about Torres that evaluators didn't love. His power, I guess, but even there some think he could grow into some. At the moment, he's more of an opposite-field hitter.
The big question for Happ is what position he's going to play, because the scouts don't think he can handle center field in the majors. Left field or second base is more likely. But while the stat line wasn't all that impressive for Happ in the Midwest League, people still loved his hitting. They see him as a guy who can combine a high average and on-base percentage with at least average power and solid speed.
Northwest League -- Eugene Emeralds
2. Ian Happ
3. Eloy Jimenez
11. Donnie Dewees
12. Justin Steele
13. Carson Sands
16. Oscar De La Cruz
19. Pedro Araujo
Do be aware that it's a bit easier to make the Northwest League list than it is is some other leagues (fewer teams, lower eligibility requirement, many top prospects skip the league) but that's still an impressive total for the Ems.
As far as Jimenez goes, the report was that he did well there at a young age. He's still mostly potential at this point, but he's getting better all the time. Scouts loved Dewees' speed and athleticism. A lack of power and a weak arm means he'll need to stick in center field to be a solid major league regular.
For the pitchers, lefties Steele and Sands already throw hard. Steele edged Sands in the rankings thanks in part because of better command of his curve. De La Cruz is someone who already throws 92-93 and evaluators think he could add a bit to that. Araujo is a reliever and potentially has a good curveball.
Arizona League -- Cubs
2. Dylan Cease
Cease was ranked only behind Brewers' number one draft pick Trent Clark. They noted that Cease was still recovering from Tommy John surgery, but that his fastball was mid-90s and could touch higher. The control of his off-speed pitches wasn't there yet, but that's why he was in rookie ball.