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Cubs Top Prospects Ranked By ESPN’s Keith Law

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The Cubs farm system is down, but it’s not out. There’s still a lot of talent in the system.

Ian Happ Mem Day Larry Kave/Myrtle Beach Pelicans

We have yet another ranking of the top prospects in the Cubs system, this time by ESPN’s Keith Law. The rankings are behind the ESPN Insider paywall (but seriously, it’s not hard to find a cheap deal on signing up if you don’t have access), but I can share the rankings and I did get a chance to talk to Law about his list.

First of all, Law ranks the Cubs as the 18th-best farm system in baseball, down from the 4th-best in 2016. That’s the price you pay for a World Series title. The Cubs system is down because of trades of players such as Gleyber Torres and Dan Vogelbach as well as the promotion of players like Willson Contreras. That the Cubs didn’t have a first- or second-round pick in 2016 didn’t help matters either. Despite that, however, the Cubs still managed to put three players on Law’s Top 100 list.

The Cubs top prospects, as ranked by Law, are:

  1. OF Eloy Jimenez (12th overall on Law’s Top 100 list)
  2. 2B Ian Happ (63rd overall)
  3. RHP Dylan Cease (86th overall)
  4. OF Albert Almora Jr.
  5. RHP Oscar de la Cruz
  6. RHP Trevor Clifton
  7. 3B Jeimer Candelario
  8. OF Eddy Martinez
  9. RHP Thomas Hatch
  10. RHP Jose Albertos
  11. 2B Carlos Sepulveda
  12. C/1B Victor Caratini
  13. OF D.J. Wilson
  14. OF Mark Zagunis
  15. OF Donnie Dewees
  16. 2B Chesny Young
  17. SS Isaac Paredes

I asked Law if there was anyone in the Cubs system who could make the Top 100 list next year with a good season and he responded that de la Cruz would have made the list this year had he been healthier. He said the scouts he had talked to were very impressed with de la Cruz and that he had the size, the stuff and the mound presence to be a major league starter. The only thing that we have to worry about is his health.

I also noted that there were three Mexican-born players on Law’s list (Albertos, Sepulveda and Paredes) and asked him about them and a general question about the state of amateur talent in Mexico. Law responded that Albertos is another pitcher who could end up on the top 100 list next season and that the scouts he talked to thought his stuff was “electric.” Law also said that ranking him 10th is very aggressive for someone who has made only one professional start. (And obviously, Law hasn’t seen him pitch.) He added that the scuttlebutt among scouts is that the “injury” that the Cubs shut him down with wasn’t an injury at all, but the Cubs trying to hide him so that teams wouldn’t demand Albertos in trade talks at the deadline.

Paredes is a guy whom Law thinks can really hit, although he said he got mixed reports on whether he could stick as shortstop. Law writes that Sepulveda has great hands and can hit enough to be a high OBP guy in the majors at second base.

As far as the state of Mexican baseball, he notes that teams generally don’t like signing players out of Mexico because you have to deal with the Mexican League teams that own the player’s rights and who generally end up with 75 percent of the player’s signing bonus. But he noted that the Cubs, as well as the Padres and a couple of other teams, have been very aggressive in Mexico over the past few years and that there is a lot of talent in the low minors from Mexico at the moment. He also speculated that with the bad political situation in Venezuela, whether that might tempt teams to move resources out of Venezuela and into Mexico. It certainly seems to me like Mexican talent might be a new market inefficiency that teams can exploit, and it looks like the Cubs are being aggressive south of the border.

If you want more Gleyber Torres fodder, a couple of Yankees beat writers asked Law about him and Law compared Torres’ approach at the plate to that of Derek Jeter.

A few other thoughts on Law’s list:

  • He’s really impressed with Jimenez. He thought the catch he made in the Futures Game was incredible and he notes that few major leaguers have enough power to hit the third-level of the facade at Petco Park, as Jimenez did.
  • Law believes that Cease might benefit from not throwing quite so hard. His stuff is good enough to get outs at 95 to 98 mph and he doesn’t need to hit triple digits. He also notes, as have I, that this is a big year for Cease to prove he has the stamina to start.
  • He’s not as high on Almora or Zagunis as I am, which doesn’t surprise me as he’s never been very fond of outfielders with limited power.
  • He seems to be on the Trevor Clifton bandwagon, noting that he is a “high-probability fourth or fifth starter.”
  • Law loves Candelario’s ability to make hard contact, but questions his ultimate power and his defensive ability. He does note something that I’ve noticed: if you ask 20 people about Candelario’s defensive abilities, you’ll get 20 different answers.
  • Law also notes that when the Cubs have drafted high-school pitchers in recent years that it hasn’t worked out very well, other than Cease. Duane Underwood Jr., Justin Steele, Carson Sands and Bryan Hudson have all been disappointments so far.

Even though the farm system ranking has fallen to 18th, I’d say that this is still a pretty impressive crop of minor league talent, headed by Jimenez. The Cubs don’t really have much room in the majors for most of these players at the moment, but they will be very interesting to other teams at the trade deadline. And as far as not having room for a talent like Jimenez—he just might turn out to be the kind of talent that you make room for.