Baseball America, the oldest and, in my mind, the most prestigious of the many sources that cover minor league baseball these days, revealed their choices for the Top Ten Cubs prospects heading into the 2018 season.
You can read their list, the system overview and top tools here, although you will need a subscription to read the scouting reports on the the players.
BA notes that the Cubs system is down from the lofty heights of a few years ago, but for all the right reasons. They graduated players like Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Albert Almora Jr. to the majors over the past three seasons and they traded top prospects like Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres for immediate major league help. But the purpose of a minor league system is to help the major league team win titles, not to be named a top farm system. Baseball America hasn’t finalized their overall organization rankings yet, but in their chat, JJ Cooper stated that he believed the Cubs were a bottom-five system. But he was quick to note that when your oldest regular position player is 27 and there are no real holes in the lineup, a weak farm system isn’t a major concern.
Baseball America’s top ten Cubs prospects for 2018 are:
- Aramis Ademan, SS
- Adbert Alzolay, RHP
- Jose Albertos, RHP
- Victor Caratini, C
- Alex Lange, RHP
- Oscar De La Cruz, RHP
- Brenden Little, LHP
- Thomas Hatch, RHP
- Jen-Ho Tseng, RHP
- Nelson Velazquez, OF
I think it’s a very good list, but even as much as I respect the people who run BA, I do have some thoughts.
- That’s certainly a lot more pitchers than we’ve seen on a list like this in recent years. We can discuss why that it so, but it is mostly a product of the different position the major league club is in now than in 2014.
- Just a few years ago, Ademan would have ranked somewhere around tenth in the Cubs system, so that’s a real sign that the system has thinned out. Having said that, Ademan is a real prospect. BA notes he was signed out of the Dominican Republic for $2 million with a strong defensive reputation, but since arriving in America he’s shown a real ability to drive the ball for power. He had seven home runs in 288 at-bats between Eugene and South Bend, neither of which are known as places easy to hit home runs in. He has a long ways to go, but he just turned 19 this past September. He doesn’t have the upside of Torres, Addison Russell or Javier Baez, but he does project out to be a good defensive shortstop with some power.
- I’ve made it clear that I’m one of Alzolay’s biggest fans and I think BA sells him a little short by projecting his upside as a No. 4 starter. (Of course, I think his upside is as a No. 3, so that’s not a big disagreement.) But I do agree that there are some possible downsides to Alzolay. There is the longstanding prejudice against short right-handed starters which does have some merit, even if it is more of a cautionary tale than a rule. The other issue the Cubs will have with Alzolay is the temptation to stick him into the bullpen early in 2018. If the Cubs relief corps continues to struggle like they did at the end of the year, Alzolay could be a guy who could step right in and contribute. But that would set back his development as a starting pitcher.
- The ceiling is high for Albertos, but as Cooper noted in his chat, he’s still just 19, is a long way aways from the majors and only has 47 professional innings under his belt. It’s hard to rank him even this high with such a thin track record.
- Caratini will hit, but the question will always be his defense. The good news is that he keeps getting better back there, even if he doesn’t get better as quickly as anyone, including him, would like. But a switch-hitting catcher who can hit will always have value as long as he’s not terrible behind the plate, and Caratini is certainly better than that.
- Lange has some durability questions that may move him to the bullpen, but a lot of observers think he could be really good there. BA said one Cubs official compared him to Justin Grimm, by which I assume he meant the pre-2017 Justin Grimm.
- De La Cruz or Albertos have the highest ceiling of anyone in the system, according to BA. But De La Cruz has never been able to stay healthy, so they think the Cubs could move him to the majors quickly if he gets on a healthy streak, as they want to get some value out of him in the majors before he (probably) breaks down again.
- Velazquez is probably the one name on this list that many of you are not familiar with, but he was the Cubs’ fifth-round draft pick (and first position player) out of Puerto Rico last June. The Cubs signed him with an over-slot $400,000 bonus. In Mesa this past summer, Velazquez showed some raw but monster tools. His power was especially impressive with eight home runs in just 110 at bats. He’s raw, he’s a long way from the majors and he doesn’t turn 19 until the day after Christmas, but the upside is there for a five-tool All-Star right fielder.