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2018 Cubs top 20 prospects countdown: 16 to 20

Part two of our series has three infielders, one outfielder and one pitcher

Zack Short
Larry Kave/Myrtle Beach Pelicans

It’s Day 2 of our countdown of the top prospects in the Cubs system and we’ll start with the prospects I have ranked as the 16th- through 20th-best in the Cubs system.

As I said in yesterday’s preview, the system is down at the moment. There are a lot of talents in here that you could rank ten spots lower or ten sports higher and you wouldn’t get an argument from me. There isn’t really a lot of separation between the prospects at the end of the top ten and those in the 20 to 30 rank. I have my reasons for ranking them as I do, but different observers value different things.

I will say that even if the farm system was stronger, you still don’t normally get a lot of quality major leaguers from players ranked around here. I was looking back over my past rankings of Cubs prospects and even when the system was ranked among the best in the game in 2015 and 2016, the only real major league contributor from those ranked 16th to 20th has been Carl Edwards Jr. in 2016, and he had been ranked much higher in earlier rankings. (It should be noted that some of those players are still in the minors.)

With that said, you never know when someone is going to exceed expectations. Willson Contreras wasn’t highly regarded until he broke out in 2015. One of these players could be the next to do likewise.

Part one of the series is here.

20. Eddy Martinez. OF. B:R/T:R. 6’1”, 195. DOB: 1/18/95. International free agent (Cuba), 2015.

Martinez hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations since signing with the Cubs for $3 million out of Cuba, but let’s face it, the expectations were ridiculous. He signed at the tail end of the Cuban free agent feeding frenzy that saw teams giving big bonuses to almost any Cuban who got themselves eligible.

But beyond that, Martinez has simply struggled to hit in professional ball. In 127 games last summer in Myrtle Beach, Martinez hit .244/.297/.366 with 14 home runs. Sure, the Carolina League is a tough place to hit, but most future major leaguers manage to hit better than that. Martinez swings at too many bad pitches and while he can make contact on some of them, he rarely is able to turn those swings at bad pitches into anything more than easy outs.

But if you want to give Martinez the benefit of the doubt, there is still a lot to like here. For one, he hit .276/.333/.421 in the second half. He worked a lot with Eloy Jimenez in the first half before Jimenez was traded to the White Sox, and it seemed to have helped. At least something helped. Also, he’s improving as a right fielder. He’s got a great outfield arm (probably a “70” in scout-speak) and while he’s better suited to right field, he can play a passable center field. That gives him the opportunity to fill a fourth outfielder role in the majors if his bat never develops to the level needed to start in right.

On top of that, there’s the power. Martinez hasn’t been able to tap into his natural power the way he should because he’s not swinging at the pitches he should be swinging at. Too many pitchers get away with mistakes to Martinez. It sounds stupid to just say he needs to learn to hit better, but that’s what he needs to do. I’m sure that the Cubs have people working with him all the time, but it’s hard to unlearn a lifetime of habits.

Martinez is still toolsy and athletic and there is always the chance that he puts it all together and becomes a major league regular. Even if he doesn’t, he’s could be a fourth outfielder in the majors.

Here’s some video of Martinez hitting a monster home run and in it, you can see why the Cubs would be excited by his power potential. But you can also see that he’s slightly off-balance when he swings and that the swing looks a little long. He also got a fat hanging curve to crush.

19. David Bote. 2B. B:R/T:R. 5’11, 185. DOB: 4/7/93. Drafted 12th round (2012), Neosho CC (KS).

Bote is a testament to hard work and perseverance. Not blessed with a lot of natural talent, Bote has hit his way into prospect status. That the Cubs protected him by placing him on the 40-man roster is proof that the team thinks he has a major league future.

For the first five years of Bote’s minor league career, he mostly served as a warm body to fill in at whatever Cubs affiliate needed an extra infielder. But for only the second time in Bote’s career, the Cubs just left him in one spot, Double-A Tennessee. He also played over 100 games in a season for the first time in 2017. Bote responded by hitting .272/.353/.438 with 14 home runs and 30 doubles in 470 at-bats. He followed that up with a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .333/.395/.536 in 19 games for the Solar Sox.

Bote can drive the ball to all fields and he’s starting to hit for power as the 14 home runs last year were double his previous career-best. The bat is major-league, but the glove might not be. Bote has played every position on the diamond in the minors except catcher. (He has a 9.00 ERA over seven innings in emergency pitching situations.) Unfortunately, his previous use as a utility guy has prevented him from ever developing a rhythm at any one position, although it’s not clear that would have helped anyway. Bote isn’t a terrible defender, but he’s pretty fringy at any position he plays. Third base is probably his best spot, but his arm is probably better suited for second.

While I’ve portrayed Bote’s lack of a position as a negative, I’m sure that Bote and the Cubs plan to turn it into a positive. Bote’s future is clearly as a versatile bench bat who can play anywhere on the diamond. In the days of 12- and 13-man bullpens, a guy like Bote becomes much more valuable, even if he doesn’t give you the speed or defense that you’d like on the bench.

With Bote on the 40-man roster, there is a good chance that he sees Wrigley Field sometime in 2018 to fill in somewhere. “Filling in” is something he’s done his whole professional career and he’s good at it.

Here’s Bote hitting a home run:

18. Cory Abbott. RHP. B:R/T:R. 6’2”, 210. DOB: 9/20/95. Drafted 2nd round (2017) Loyola Marymount.

Abbott wasn’t on many draft boards until, heading into his junior year, he decided to learn how Noah Syndergaard threw his slider. Now Abbott has a plus slider that Syndergaard probably wants back. Abbott used it to throw the first perfect game in LMU history against BYU on March 25.

The Cubs took Abbott in the second round last summer and sent him to Eugene. The Cubs like to limit the innings of college pitchers so Abbott only threw 14 innings over five starts for the Emeralds. Still, he struck out 18 batters and walked only three with an ERA of 3.86. (But really, don’t look at ERA in the Northwest League.)

Abbott’s average fastball and curve probably pegs him as a 4th/5th starter in the majors, but it’s a little early in his career to start limiting his ceiling like that. I still catch hell for saying that Kyle Hendricks was no better than a #4 starter and he was in Tennessee when I wrote that. (Please note that Abbott bears little resemblance to Hendricks. That wasn’t a comp, just a anecdote to make me look dumb.) Abbott certainly appears to have the size, stamina and repertoire to be a starter, so he’s got that going in his favor.

Here’s a short documentary that Loyola Marymount made about Abbott’s perfect game.

17. Jason Vosler. 3B. B:L/T:R. 6’1”, 190. DOB: 9/6/93. Drafted 16th round (2014), Northeastern U.

There’s been a lot of talk about launch angles and hitting fly balls in baseball recently, with players such as Daniel Murphy and Justin Turner turning their careers around as they tried to hit more fly balls. Well, Vosler is someone who did that in the minor leagues and he broke out for 21 home runs in 452 at-bats in Double-A Tennessee last summer.

Vosler changed his swing in 2017 and he’s now gone from organizational filler to a real prospect. He hit .241/.343/.429 for the Smokies, which are career-high numbers in both on-base and slugging percentage.

Now it’s not all good. While his power and walks went up, his batting average really didn’t rise and his strikeouts went way up. Vosler also struggled in the Arizona Fall League. He was left unprotected in the Rule 5 draft and no one took him, which isn’t the best sign for his major league future.

Defensively, Vosler should be able to stay at third base, although he’s just average there. He plays a lot of first base, but any major league future that he might have will likely be at third base.

Vosler will be tested in the Pacific Coast League this season, which is loaded with pitchers with major league experience who change speeds and try to get hitters to chase. But if he continues to hit there like he did in the Southern League, he can look forward to a summer of being linked in trade rumors. The Cubs don’t have a real need for a third baseman at the moment. But there is always demand for left-handed power.

Here’s Vosler hitting a grand slam for the Smokies.

16. Zack Short. SS. B:R/T:R. 5’10, 175. DOB: 5/29/95. Drafted 17th round (2016), Sacred Heart U.

Short is someone who fascinates me. He’s not a big guy and his hit tool is a bit suspect. But he’s a legitimate defensive shortstop (solid if unspectacular) who draws a ton of walks. He’s also got solid speed as he stole 18 bases last year, albeit in 28 attempts.

What makes Short stand out was the huge jump in power in 2017. In his first season in the minors in 2016, he only hit one home run. But Short hit seven home runs in 66 games and then six more in 65 games after being promoted to Myrtle Beach. That’s 13 home runs in 2017, for those who don’t want to do the math. On top of that, he drew 94 walks, giving him a .383 on-base percentage between the two stops.

Short’s hit tool is a little weak as he only hit .237 in South Bend. He managed a more respectable .263 average in High-A, although his on-base percentage took a tiny drop from .393 to .372.

Carson Cistulli at Fangraphs really loves Short, probably even more than I do. In this article on “Future Matt Carpenters”, Cistulli praises launch angle and contact rates along with his solid defense. I think Short having a career like Matt Carpenter would be a very unlikely absolute ceiling, and I believe Cistulli would agree with me. But still, when you can have that conversation about a guy, then he’s someone you should keep an eye on.

Short strikes out too much for my tastes (104 times last year) and that, along with a thin track record, is what is keeping him from being a top ten prospect.

Obviously Short is going to have to prove that last season’s power surge wasn’t a fluke in 2018. If he does that, he’s going to have a major league future, even if it is only as a utility infielder. His ceiling is higher than that, but it’s his most-likely outcome. That’s still pretty good for a 17th-round pick.

One of Short’s home runs for South Bend was inside-the-park. Here’s a video of it and you can see he gave the ball a good ride (although a major league center fielder probably catches the ball) and he flies around the base paths as well.

Tomorrow: Prospects 11 through 15.