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2018 Cubs top 20 prospects countdown: 11 to 15

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Two outfielders, two right-handed pitchers and a slugging third baseman highlight day 3 of the countdown.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to day 3 of Prospects Week here at BCB. Go back and read Monday’s installment to this series if you want an introduction.

15. Mark Zagunis. B:R/T:R. OF. 6’0”, 205. DOB: 2/5/93. Drafted 3rd round (2014), Virginia Tech.

He’s still the Greek Demigod of Walks, but there are more questions that ever about Zagunis. Zagunis had arguably his best year of his career in 2017 and made his major league debut. Then why is he dropping in the rankings?

For one, he’s a year older and despite a brief trial, he’s really not any closer to the majors. He missed the end of the season (and a possible September callup) with a broken bone in his hand, which he suffered while swinging. He also had a broken foot that cost him the end of the 2016 season. Both of these injuries were a little flukey, but I am starting to wonder if he’s a little injury-prone. On top of that, the foot injury seems to have slowed him down a little bit. He was quick coming out of Virginia Tech, but I think he’s lost a step pretty much every year.

But putting aside those problems, which may be just temporary, the bigger issue is can a major league team carry a guy like Zagunis these days? He’s a corner outfielder whose arm is a little fringy for right field, so he’s pretty much stuck in left field, at least as a regular. So what you get with Zagunis is a left fielder with average power, average speed, average defense and a terrific on-base percentage. That’s not a starter for most teams, and with today’s huge bullpens and short benches, most teams can’t carry an extra outfielder who can’t play center field.

Forty years ago, Earl Weaver would have found a platoon partner for Zagunis, started him against every left-hander and won a pennant with him. But today there are 30 major league managers who would rather have another bullpen arm than Zagunis as a platoon option.

I don’t want to be too negative. Zagunis did hit .267/.404/.455 in 408 plate appearances in Triple-A. He had a career-high walk rate of 17.2%, although his strikeouts were at a career high too with 93. Zagunis failed to get a hit in his brief major-league trial, but he did walk four times in 18 trips to the plate. And while his power is just average, he does have some and he hit a career-high 13 bombs last season.

I’d like to see Zagunis get an extended trial in the major to see what he could do. I think a smart organization with a need in left field could find a way to squeeze a lot of value out of him and his walks. But the Cubs already have a lot of players fighting for playing time in the outfield and Zagunis doesn’t have the positional versatility that manager Joe Maddon wants. Once again, Zagunis will probably end up as trade bait this coming July.

Here’s Zagunis clubbing a home run to center field in Des Moines. It’s on a 3-0 pitch, no less, so he’s not always looking for a walk.

14. Alec Mills. RHP. B:R/T:R. 6’4”, 190. DOB: 11/30/91. Trade with Royals (2016).

Mills was the forgotten man last season as he missed most of the year with an ankle injury and bone chips. He made two starts for Iowa in April and then missed a month. He made one start in May and got hammered for five runs (only one earned) in just three innings and was shut down until August. He never made it back to Iowa, but he did make two rehab starts in Mesa and three in Myrtle Beach, including one playoff game. Mills then went to the Arizona Fall League where he made six starts and went 1-3.91 ERA in 23 innings. For the thin, hot air in Arizona, that’s pretty good.

If he’s right, and there’s no reason to think he won’t be, Mills should be a competent fifth starter/swingman. He was really expected to move into the Mike Montgomery role with the Cubs, albeit from the right side, but he was never healthy enough to do that. Instead, he’ll try to do that this year, especially if Montgomery ends up in the starting rotation.

Mills’ best pitch is his changeup, which he combines with a heavy 88-to-92 mph fastball and a passable slider and curve. He works quickly, keeps the ball down and gets batters out with location in the zone. If that sounds like Kyle Hendricks, it should. Everyone makes the comparison and even Mills did last spring when former pitching coach Chris Bosio asked Mills which current Cubs pitcher reminded him most of himself. But before you get too excited, remember that no one expected Hendricks to be as good as he became. Most players with that profile become 5th starters and swingmen like I mentioned earlier.

Mills will come to Spring Training once again hoping to break camp with the team and if he’s healthy, he’s likely to be either one of the last players to make the team or the last player cut. But even if he doesn’t open with the major league team, he’ll be in Iowa ready to go when the first pitcher misses time with an injury.

Here is Mills pitching in the AFL:

13. Dillon Maples. RHP. B:R/T:R. 6’2”, 225. DOB: 5/9/92. Drafted 14th round (2011), Pinecrest HS (NC).

Let’s take a moment to marvel at the career of Dillon Maples. He was a top prospect for the Cubs after the 2013 season and then, beset by injuries and control problems, he was pretty much written off as a bust. Four years later, here he is back as a top prospect.

Maples was drafted in the 14th round by former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry and was given a huge $2.5 million bonus to keep him from going to North Carolina on a football scholarship. For five seasons in the minors he struggled and he found himself demoted back to low-A South Bend when he decided to retire in 2016. His dad talked him out of it and he re-dedicated himself to pitching. The results paid off as Maples rocketed through the system last year, going from High-A Myrtle Beach all the way to the majors in one season.

Maples has always had an electric arm. His fastball currently sits at 95-98 mph and has hit 100 mph on occasion last year. He’s also got a wipeout slider that comes at batters in 85-87 mph. That’s shutdown closer stuff with only one problem: he’s never had enough control to harness it. He has trouble repeating his delivery with any consistency and that’s led to prolonged fits of wildness. He was better in that area in 2017 but he still walked 37 batters in only 63⅓ innings. Normally that ratio would get a player released, but Maples also struck out an even 100 batters in that time and held opposing hitters to a .192 batting average.

For the record, his combined line in three minor league stops, Myrtle Beach, Tennessee and Iowa, was 6-3 with a 2.27 ERA and 13 saves in 15 attempts. His major league ERA of 10.13 looks terrible (because it is), but it was almost entirely because he gave up five runs in a third of an inning in one game against Pittsburgh. In his other five major league games, he threw five innings, gave up one run and struck out ten. Of course, he also walked four batters.

I saw someone online compare Maples to Carlos Marmol and I thought “Yes. He’s the exact same combination of a power arm and indigestion.” The temperament on and off the mound is different, but if Maples can get his walks down, he can be a major league closer. Many observers are skeptical that he can. It will still be fun to watch him try.

At least I hope it will be fun. Maples should pitch in the majors this year and could even break camp with the team out of Arizona. Staying in Chicago will always be an issue.

You probably saw Maples pitch in the majors last September, but here’s him pitching for the Smokies. You can see his nasty slider that is sometimes close to the plate. It’s unhittable when it is.

12. Wladimir Galindo. 3B. B:R/T:R. 6’3”, 210. DOB: 11/6/96. International free agent (2013), Venezuela.

Galindo was off to a terrific start to the 2017 season when he broke his leg in June, ending his season. He also had a shoulder injury that cost him a couple of weeks earlier in the season. Up until breaking his leg, Galindo hit .290/.350/.432 with four home runs in 177 plate appearances for low-A South Bend.

Galindo is a big young man with a lot of potential power to all fields that he’s just learning to tap in to. He cut down on his strikeouts last year, although it was a small sample size.

Defensively, Galindo is far from a finished prospect but I believe he’s got the tools to stick at third base. Reports are that the Cubs think that too but even if he can’t, he moves well enough and has a strong enough arm to play a corner outfield position.

Galindo’s upside is as a regular major league third baseman with 60 to 65 power on the 20-to-80 scale. He’s a long way away from that and he keeps getting derailed by injuries, although almost all of them have been rather flukey. But if Galindo can come back from his broken leg and pick up in Myrtle Beach where he left off in South Bend (and stay healthy all year), he could not only be a top prospect in the Cubs system, he has the potential to be a top 100 prospect in all of baseball.

Here’s a home run by Galindo last May and you can see his power on display here.

11. D.J. Wilson. OF. B:L/T:L. 5’8”, 177. DOB: 10/8/96. Drafted 4th round (2015), Canton South HS (OH).

There isn’t a position player in the Cubs minor league system with as much upside as Wilson. He’s a tremendous athlete with great speed, a solid arm and great hands that profile out as a terrific defensive center fielder. Despite his size, he’s got above-average power and can put a charge into the ball. If it doesn’t go over the wall, he can turn on the burners for a triple.

Now if only he could hit. It’s wonderful when a guy has four of the five tools, but when the one tool he doesn’t have is the hit tool, it’s a problem. Last season in South Bend, Wilson hit .238/.318/.453 with 17 doubles, eight triples and 12 home runs in 348 trips to the plate. Wilson struck out 89 times to his 33 walks. The power is there and the speed is there (16 steals last year). He just can’t seem to hit enough.

Wilson really can’t hit left-handers, as he hit just .205/.263/.307 with only one home run off of southpaws last season.

It’s rare that a guy who can’t hit learns to hit as he moves up the system, but it does happen. If that happens, Wilson could be a borderline All-Star player. But if he doesn’t, a lot of teams (including the Cubs!) would love a left-handed hitting fourth outfielder with a terrific glove and speed on their bench.

Here’s video of Wilson hitting a home run to right field. You can see the power is real, despite his size.

And just because I love it so, here’s a bonus video of Wilson making a tremendous diving catch in center field with Eugene in 2016.

Tomorrow: Prospects 10 through 6.