Keith Law of ESPN.com has been producing a ton of minor league content over the past week and today he released his top ten prospects (plus!) for each system along with a general system overview for each team. Law believes that despite the Cubs promoting four stud prospects to the majors last season, it's still one of the best systems in baseball. Law thinks the Cubs are the fourth-best farm system in the game.
As is true of pretty much all of Law's work, it's available for ESPN Insiders only, although if you want to know the kind of analysis he provides, you can read the Orioles overview for free. But as I've said before, they run lots of specials on Insider memberships and it's really not that expensive, especially for what you get with Law and Buster Olney on the baseball side. (And if you're interested in other sports, there's a lot there too.)
You can read the capsule Law wrote up on the Cubs system here. His top ten Cubs prospects are:
1. Gleyber Torres
2. Willson Contreras
3. Ian Happ
4. Billy McKinney
5. Albert Almora
6. Dylan Cease
7. Eddy Julio Martinez
8. Duane Underwood
9. Eloy Jimenez
10. Jeimer Candelario
After revealing the top ten, Law wrote about several other prospects in the body of the article along with where they would rank in the system.
11. Oscar de la Cruz
12. Justin Steele
13. Carl Edwards Jr.
14. D.J. Wilson
15. Pierce Johnson
16. Jen-Ho Tseng
17. Brad Markey
18. Bryan Hudson
Also 18. Carson Sands (I think it's just a typo and that Sands should be 19)
Law also mentions Mark Zagunis and Donnie Dewees, but doesn't put a rank on them.
I had the opportunity to join a conference call with Law this morning. I asked him about Contreras and de la Cruz and how they came out of nowhere. Were they a product of good scouting or good development? Law thought most of the credit in both of these cases should go to the Cubs development team. He said that he looked back on his notes on the Cubs from years past and no one, including people from the Cubs organization, had touted Contreras before this season. He thought that you would expect someone to say "Hey, there's this athletic catcher we've got that you should keep an eye on" but no one ever did.
For Contreras, Law said that everything just came together for him last season. He mentioned that there are a lot of little things that he needs to work on like handling a pitching staff, calling a game and pitch framing, but that even if he doesn't make big strides there, the Cubs could have a strong hitting catcher with average-to-fringy defensive skills and that most teams would take that out of their starting catcher.
Another thing he said about both Contreras and de la Cruz is the Cubs just raved about the makeup and baseball intelligence of both prospects. He said that's really something that's impossible to scout: How are you going to judge how a 16 year-old kid for Latin America is going to mature? That's another reason Law credits the Cubs development staff. But in both cases, the strong makeup and intelligence of both players bodes well for them.
I asked Law to talk about Martinez and he said that he was able to see him put on a workout and came away impressed. He showed great all-around tools including power and speed. He said he got to see Martinez close up (he shook his hand) and was struck by what a great athlete he appeared to be. Law said that if Martinez were a 21 year-old college player, he'd be up for one of the top few picks in the draft, except that no one with Martinez's tools and athleticism ever ends up going to college. They turn pro after high school. The one reason that Law did not include Martinez in his Top 100 list is that while he got to see him in batting and fielding practice, he (and pretty much everyone else) has never seen him actually play in a game. He has no idea what his approach at the plate is going to be like, which could end up negating all those plus tools. He'd start Martinez in South Bend this spring and go from there.
I mentioned that Law was very optimistic about Happ's ability to play second base and I asked him why. Law said that he'd actually seen Happ play shortstop and he looked good there, although he quickly added that he didn't think he was a shortstop. But the lateral movement he saw Happ display was good, his hands were sure and his arm was easily strong enough to handle second base. He personally saw no reason why Happ couldn't handle being a second baseman.
Finally, I asked Law if he thought any of these prospects could make an impact in 2016. He said no, but mostly because he didn't see room for any of them on the major league roster. Law said he went through every team's depth chart and the Cubs were the one team that didn't really have a spot open for a prospect to seize a job. He thought that Edwards might be able to pitch his way into a bullpen role and that his curveball gave him an out-pitch that could make him useful in the majors. But other than that, or a major catastrophe in the majors, he didn't think any of them would make Wrigley Field before a September callup.
I thank Law for answering my questions and I hope they're the ones that you wanted answered. I also thank ESPN.com for inviting me to the conference call.