Baseball America, the oldest and most respected of the many prospect ranking lists, released their Cubs Top Ten Prospects for 2019 (subscription req.) this morning. This year’s list is very different than last year’s with four of the top ten prospects having been taken in the 2018 Draft.
The top ten Cubs prospects, according to Baseball America, are:
- SS Nico Hoerner
- C Miguel Amaya
- LHP Brailyn Marquez
- OF Cole Roederer
- OF Brennan Davis
- RHP Adbert Alzolay
- RHP Paul Richan
- RHP Cory Abbott
- LHP Justin Steele
- SS Aramis Ademan
Of the Cubs top ten picks, Hoerner (1st round), Roederer (2nd round, supp.), Davis (2nd round) and Richan (2nd round supp.) were all taken by the Cubs in the 2018 Draft. This indicates a certain weakness in the Cubs’ minor league system before the draft, but it also indicates that the Cubs had a really good draft in 2018 with a lot of new prospects making a big splash in short-season Arizona and Eugene.
Hoerner, the Cubs first pick last summer, is not a surprise at number one. In their report, BA goes out of their way to praise Hoerner’s terrific bat skills and in particular, his ability to put the ball into play to all fields. That skill is becoming rare in MLB these days. The scouts that they talked to also felt that while Hoerner won’t wow anyone with his defensive skills at shortstop, they praised his steadiness and they do think he’s good enough there to stick at short. However, they do quote the Cubs as seeing Hoerner as a guy like Ben Zobrist or Ian Happ who moves all over the diamond as a major leaguer.
Amaya was praised as a potential threat both at the plate and behind the plate in the majors. His poor second half in South Bend last year was written off as simply a 19-year-old getting tired in his first full season on minor league ball.
Marquez wowed a lot of people in Eugene last summer with his power fastball. He’s the guy you are going to want to get out to South Bend this summer to see pitch.
Roederer was taken in the supplemental second round of the draft out of Hart High School in California, the same school that Mike Montgomery went to, as well as current major leaguers Trevor Bauer, James Shields and Tyler Glasnow. Roederer showed a better swing and a lot more power in Arizona than scouts were expecting before the draft, which is why he’s ranked this high. They mentioned that some scouts compared Roederer to Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi, which might be a tad optimistic but not unrealistically so.
Davis was taken by the Cubs 15 picks before Roederer from Basha High School in Arizona. Davis is a terrific athlete with the speed and defensive tools to be a terrific center fielder. Scouts also believe he will develop more power as he ages. Davis concentrated mostly on basketball in high school and started playing baseball late. That means a lot of scouts think that he hasn’t even begun to apply his natural skills to the baseball diamond. A lot of the time, these raw athletes are never able to learn the game. But when they do, you get someone like Matt Kemp, although no one is comparing Davis to Kemp. But Kemp was once a raw athlete who figured out the game in the minor leagues and Davis is a similar high-risk, high-reward type of player.
I am the world’s biggest Alzolay fan. He would likely have already made his major league debut had he not suffered a lat injury that cost him the second half of 2018. He will pitch at Wrigley in 2019.
Richan was taken just one pick after Roederer in the 2018 draft out of the University of San Diego, the same school that brought us Kris Bryant. (In fact, when Richan was drafted, I welcomed him to the Cubs and said the Cubs had some success with players from USD on Twitter. He liked that response.) Richan was advanced enough that the Cubs sent him right to Eugene where he was very good over ten appearances, nine of which were starts. Baseball America projects Richan out to be a solid, back-of-the-rotation workhorse at the major league level.
Abbott was the Cubs’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2018 after he led the minor league organization in ERA and was second in strikeouts. He should start the 2019 season in Double-A Tennessee and BA projects him out to be a number 4 starter.
Steele is someone we’ve written a lot about here with his comeback from Tommy John surgery and his time in the Arizona Fall League. The Cubs thought enough of him to protect him from the Rule 5 draft this winter and like Abbott, BA projects Steele to be a number 4 starter, albeit from the left side. He will also likely start the season in Tennessee.
Ademan was universally the number one or number two Cubs prospect on pretty much all of these lists this time last year. In an aggressive move, the Cubs sent him to High-A Myrtle Beach last year and quite frankly, he played poorly. So did he struggle in High-A because he was a 19-year-old who was promoted faster than he should have been or is he really just not that good? That’s the question that everyone who followed the Cubs system was asking last year and are still asking as we head into 2019.
Looking over the list, there is a decent combination of young, high-upside players like Marquez, Roederer and Davis and lower upside players like Richan or Abbott. Hoerner and Amaya would probably fall into the “medium-upside, medium-risk” category, which is why they are near the top. Of all of them, only Alzolay is a good bet to play in the majors this summer.
The days of the system turning out impact major leaguers every year like Bryant, Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber are in the past, but that doesn’t mean that one of these players (or someone not ranked) won’t exceed expectations and make a splash. David Bote was never ranked higher than the Cubs’ 12th-best prospect by BA and he made a splash in 2018 and will likely be a quality ballplayer for several years to come. So while the minor-league system continues to be down from the glory days of 2013 to 2015, there is still some quality ballplayers down there that Cubs fans can dream on.