It's been a wild ride in the minor leagues so far this season. The Cubs entered the season as the consensus top farm system in baseball with three prospects (Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Jorge Soler) ranked in pretty much everyone's Top 20 prospects. On top of all that, as the Cubs system started the season with three new affiliates this year: Myrtle Beach, South Bend and Eugene.
The minors are nothing if not fluid. All three of those top prospects quickly found themselves in the majors, some a little earlier than expected. Mid-seaon is as good a time as any to see where the Cubs system stands and who the top prospects are now. Clearly the Cubs no longer have the best farm system in baseball, but for all the right reasons. I still think it's one of the top seven or eight collections of minor league talent even after subtracting Bryant, Russell and Soler.
So what follows is an updated top 10 prospect list for the midseason. The list is entirely my own and reflects my biases and idiosyncrasies. I don't claim it's better than other lists. But it is mine. If it turns out to be crap, you can blame me.
Clicking on the names will take you to the player's milb.com page.
Who else? I'll take Schwarber's bat over any other prospect in the minors. At the plate, he can do it all--hit for power, hit for average, draw a walk and even bunt against the shift. The defense behind the plate is still an issue, but he's athletic enough that he should be able to play left field if necessary. Maybe he can catch in the end, but the question becomes: Do you want to keep his bat in the minors long enough for him to learn to catch? The Nationals faced the same question with Bryce Harper and I don't think they regret their answer. The Cubs will face the same question shortly because the bat is ready to help the major league team today.
I'm full of admiration for what Torres has done in South Bend this season at such a young age and in a foreign country. It speaks a ton for his makeup and maturity, which is just another reason Torres is likely to be a successful major leaguer. I still think Torres moves to second base in the majors, but he should be pretty good there. He'll probably be a high-average, solid OBP guy in the majors with some steals. He's not likely to develop much power although he will hit few out on the major league level. The new Cubs front office is being very cautious and patient with Torres, unlike Starlin Castro's trip through the minors a few years ago.
McKinney is another guy who figures to be a high-average, high-OBP guy in the majors. His line drive stroke is not conducive for him to develop plus power, but he hits the ball hard enough that some of them will go over the wall. McKinney walks about as much as he strikes out, so that's a positive sign going forward. His best position in the majors will probably be left field, although he can play an adequate center field.
4. Ian Happ
We're pretty much just going on his college performance and hype coming into the draft here as his work with Eugene still falls under "small sample size." But in that sample size, Happ's average has been a lot lower than the Cubs might have liked, but he's walking a ton and showing some power. When Happ starts to move up the chain and starts to see better pitching, it's going to be a test for him to turn some of those walks into base hits rather than strikeouts.
Happ has played center field exclusively this year. I expect next year for the Cubs to try him out at second base and see how he looks there.
5. Mark Zagunis
Wow. Yet another hitter for a high average with a line-drive stroke and who walks more than he strikes out. I'm sensing a trend here. It's been a breakout season for Zagunis as he leads the Carolina League in OBP by a pretty wide margin. He hits a ton of balls into the gap for doubles and his speed even turns some of them into triples. Any chance of keeping him at catcher is over, but he's got the skills to be a solid defensive right fielder.
Johnson missed most of the first half of the season with a strained lat muscle, but since his return he's been dominating the Southern League. Sure, it's still a small sample size, but what we've seen so far looks good. Johnson is getting an "injury-prone" tag, but since none of the injuries (as a professional, at least) have been to the arm, elbow or shoulder, I'm not as concerned as I would otherwise be. I think Johnson does have the strength, stamina and yes, even the durability to be a solid workhorse starting pitcher at the major league level.
Two weeks ago I probably would have ranked Underwood third on this list, even ahead of McKinney. No pitcher in the Cubs system has more upside than Underwood and he was pretty much having his way with the Carolina League. Even if his strikeouts were down a bit, so were his walks. (And honestly, I don't know what kind of instructions the Cubs gave him.) But then he came up with an elbow problem. The MRI revealed no structural damage and he won't need Tommy John surgery, but the problems he's got now could be a sign of worse problems coming down the road. They say there's no such thing as a pitching prospect and that's why. Underwood could streak back up this list next season if he comes back healthy and to be clear, the Cubs have not shut him down for the season yet. But the small problems could become worse problems. For now, I'll be cautious and rank him here.
8. Eloy Jimenez
Yes, his performance in Eugene still falls under the small sample size category, but there's just so much upside with Jimenez and he's done nothing so far this season to make me think any less of him. He is hitting above .300 in limited action. He's hitting mostly singles so far, but I've got no reason to think that he's not going to be a power hitter. He's still very young. He's still very big. He's a risky prospect in that he's still young, raw and a long way away from the majors, but the potential payoff could be worth the wait.
Contreras hit almost as well as Schwarber so far this season and while he's not great back there, there is little doubt that Contreras will be able to stick at catcher. Contreras has shown the ability to hit for power before (11 home runs in 86 games in Kane County in 2013), but this season he's cut his strikeout rate by 40 percent and has seen his average soar. Yes, he's probably getting a little lucky on balls in play and he's not really a .330 hitter. But if he keeps making contact like he has been, he could be a guy who hits .270 with 20 home runs. The second half is going to be a real test for Contreras. If he reverts back to the hitter he was last season, he's going to fall right off this list again.
10. Carl Edwards Jr.
There were always doubts that Edwards would be able to stick as a starting pitcher and so far this season, he's thrown exclusively out of the bullpen. The Cubs insist this is a temporary move to keep him healthy after missing half of last season with a shoulder issue, but such "temporary" moves have a tendency to become permanent moves. That's the biggest reason for his drop in the rankings. Out of the pen, Edwards is striking out a ton of batters and walking way too many. But no one can hit his filthy curveball and his fastball velocity makes that pitch pretty tough to hit too. He just needs to throw both pitches over the plate more. Edwards could see time in the Wrigley bullpen later this summer.
Just missing the list: Albert Almora, Donnie Dewees, Dylan Cease, Victor Caratini, Chesny Young, Carson Sands.