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Top 20 Cubs Minor League Prospects: 11 to 15

Some young left-handed pitching and a BCB folk hero highlight today's installment.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to my countdown of the best of the Cubs minor league system. Today is the third installment. If you missed the previous two, you can find them all in this StoryStream.

15. Daury Torrez. RHP. 6'3", 210. B:R T:R. DOB:6/11/1993. Int'l Free Agent, 2010.

Torrez isn't the sexiest prospect around, but he's got a fastball that clocks in at 91-94 and has good movement. He also has excellent control of that fastball and keep walks to a minimum. Torrez is a workhorse who can handle a heavy load. He's thrown over 130 innings in each of the past two season. He's not afraid to pitch inside and last year, that meant that he was even tougher on left-handed batters than he was on righties. Torrez also works fast and fields his position well.

What will keep Torrez from becoming a back-of-the-rotation starter is that he currently doesn't have a solid secondary pitch to go with his good fastball. His slider shows the potential to be at least a major league average pitch, so there is some hope there. Torrez seems to lack confidence in his changeup and doesn't throw it all that often. Without a strong secondary pitch to keep hitters off-balance, Torrez doesn't get as many swings and misses as he should with his fastball.

Last year in Myrtle Beach, Torrez threw 134⅓ innings and only walked 21 batters. He struck out 86 batters which is just a fair total. But it's a great K/BB ratio.

If the slider develops as I think it can, Torrez will have a major league future because his fastball will be of major league quality. If he has to move to the bullpen, then perhaps he can gain a few mph if he doesn't have to stretch himself out. He already touches 95 on occasion, and maybe he could sit up there out of the pen. But he has the durability to be a back-end starter if he can just be more consistent with his off-speed stuff.

14. Carson Sands. LHP. 6'3", 205. B:L T:L. DOB: 3/28/1995. Drafted 4th round, 2014.

I really could have ranked the next three players in any order. The Cubs drafted three overslot pitchers in 2014 in the 4th, 5th and 6th rounds and all three of them made my top 20 list. Sands made 14 starts for Eugene last season for a total of 57⅓ innings. He only struck out 41 batters, but that number is fine for someone so young still getting used to professional baseball. That strikeout total looks better when you notice that he only walked 21 batters.

Sands is a big-body lefthander with a fastball that can touch 95 and sits just a little below that. He's got a curveball and a changeup that are inconsistent and raw, but that's to be expected of someone who's just 20 years old and has pitched only 76 professional innings, none of them above short-season ball. Overall, Sands has the tools to be a mid-rotation starter. We should get a better look at him in South Bend this summer.

13. Dan Vogelbach. 1B.  6'0", 250.B:L T:R. DOB: 12/17/1992. Drafted 2nd round, 2011.

Vogelbach is more than a minor league legend -- he's become a BCB meme. No one is allowed to make any trade proposal around here without including Vogelbach. The problem with Vogelbach is not that he's not going to be a major league hitter. He will. The problem is that it is unlikely to be with the Cubs. He can play two defensive positions. One is first base, where he's poor, and the other is DH, where his defense is considered adequate at best. The Cubs have a need at neither position.

For all the jokes we make about Vogelbach and his future in Chicago, we shouldn't forget that he can hit. This season Vogelbach missed two weeks with a hamstring problem and six weeks with an oblique strain. In the 76 games he did manage to play, Vogelbach hit .272/.403/.425 in 313 plate appearances at Double-A Tennessee. Yes, he only hit seven home runs, but both of those injuries sapped the power he could generate with the lower half of his body. He did hit 16 doubles and one triple, and if you've ever seen Vogelbach run, you know he really has to scorch the ball to hit a double. (If you want to see the triple, it's here.)

The most impressive thing about Vogelbach is the way he commands the strike zone. He walked 57 times to only 61 strikeouts. (When you add in his rehab games in rookie ball, he walked more than he struck out in 2015.) If you watched that triple, you see that he can go the other way with authority when teams put the shift on him. A healthy Vogelbach might just be the best pure hitter in the Cubs system today. (Ian Happ fans would probably say otherwise. They're probably right, but it's close.)

The Cubs obviously believe that Vogelbach has some value or they wouldn't have used a spot on the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft this offseason. The problem is now convincing an American League team to give something up for him. It would help if Vogelbach started the season out in Iowa and pounded the ball like I know that he can. It would help even more if he were to get a callup to the majors to DH in some interleague games and impress some rival front offices. (Or fill in for an injured Anthony Rizzo, god forbid.) The Cubs are never going to get a huge haul in return for Vogelbach as other teams know the Cubs have no use for him. But in a smaller deal or as a piece of a larger deal, Vogelbach's job this summer is to make himself as attractive a piece of trade bait as possible.

12. Justin Steele. LHP. 6'2", 195. B:L T:L, DOB: 7/11/1995. Drafted 5th round, 2015.

The second of the three pitchers drafted in succession in the 2014 draft, you'd be forgiven for getting him confused with Carson Sands, his teammate with the Emeralds last summer. Both are big left-handers with a solid fastball and both are still developing a feel for pitching. The feeling is that Steele has a little more upside and was slightly more successful in Eugene last summer, so Steele gets the nod over Sands.

Steele made ten starts for Eugene last summer totalling 40⅔ innings. His ERA was a low 2.66, but that number is deceptive because he allowed as many unearned runs last summer as he did earned ones. But a better sign of Steele's future is that he struck out 38 batters and walked only 15.

Steele has a fastball in the 92-95 range. He does a good job of keeping it down in the zone and he gets a lot of ground balls when he doesn't miss bats. He's yet to allow a home run as a professional. His curveball is raw, but the Cubs think it could end up as a plus pitch one day. The change is a work-in-progress, but that's true of almost every 20-year-old.

Overall, Steele projects out to be a mid-rotation starter and maybe even a little better if his curve really comes around.

11. Mark Zagunis. OF. 6'0", 205. B:R T:R. DOB: 2/5/1993. Drafted 3rd round, 2014.

Mark Zagunis checks off pretty much every box that you're looking for in a leadoff hitter. He gets on base a lot and has a career .411 OBP in the minors. Last season in Myrtle Beach, Zagunis hit. .271/.406/.412. He has good speed on the basepaths, especially considering he was primarily a catcher in college. He stole 12 bases last season, although his ten times caught indicates that he still has a little to learn there. But it's not a tools issue, just one of needing more experience. He could easily steal 20 bases or more in the majors.

Zagunis' has an excellent command of the strike zone. In 512 plate appearances last season, he walked 80 times and struck out 86. Then he put up one of the goofier lines you'll ever see in the Arizona Fall League. In 66 trips to the plate, he had 11 hits, 12 strikeouts and 19 walks. That gave him a .234 batting average and a .455 on-base percentage.

Zagunis is not likely to be a big power hitter as his swing is more geared towards line drives than moonshots. But he did hit eight home runs last season, along with 24 doubles and five triples, so sometimes he can power a line drive over the fence. His baserunning ability can turn doubles into triples if an outfielder isn't careful. Zagunis punishes left-handed pitching, but he needs to improve against righthanders to avoid being platooned at the major league level.

As a converted catcher, Zagunis is still a little raw in the outfield, although he has a good enough arm for right field. Some think he could end up in center field, but I think he profiles defensively much better as a corner outfielder.

Moving up to Double-A is always the big test for any minor leaguer. Zagunis is one to keep an eye on in Tennessee this summer. If he continues to get on base at anything close to a .400 clip, he's going to have a major league future. At worst he's a fourth outfielder who plays against left-handers. At best, he's a starting right-fielder and leadoff hitter.

Tomorrow: Prospects 6 through 10.