Now that we’re past the MLB draft and with the Eugene Emeralds getting ready to play, it’s time to take a step back and look at which minor league players are helping their stock and which players need to step up their game.
We’re now two months into the season and we’re just getting past the “small sample size” problem. Guys are starting to get promoted based on merit and not just because of injuries that need to be filled. It’s not time (in my mind, at least) to start making a new list of Top Ten Cubs Prospects, but it is far enough into the season that it’s fair to share which way things are heading.
This is a list of three players whose stock is rising and three who are going to drop in the prospect rankings if they don’t start to turn things around. There are more than just six players who have changed their stock in 2018. The three players on the rise are also going to be the ones that other teams are going to ask for from the Cubs at the trade deadline.
1 UP. Catcher Miguel Amaya. South Bend Cubs
No one has improved his stock more than Amaya. Last year in Eugene, Amaya hit .228/.266/.338 with three home runs in 58 games. That’s OK for an 18-year-old in a pitcher’s park, but hardly a resounding success. But this year, the now 19-year-old Panamanian has found his stroke in the Midwest League. In 54 games and 193 at-bats, Amaya is hitting .289/.364/.512 with nine home runs. That’s impressive for anyone and doubly so for a player so young for the Midwest League.
Defensively, Amaya should be able to stay behind the plate. His arm is just average for a catcher and he is having trouble throwing out runners. But there’s reason to think he’ll improve and his other defensive skills, while raw, are promising.
Baseball America ranked Amaya as the 22nd-best prospect coming into the year. At this rate, it would be surprising if he wasn’t in the top 5 and might even end up at the top of the list. That is, assuming the Cubs don’t trade him. Every other team this summer is going to ask for Amaya in a deal.
2 UP. Right-handed pitcher Cory Abbott. Myrtle Beach Pelicans
Abbott is a player whose been on the rise for a while now. After going undrafted after high school and enrolling at Loyola Marymount, Abbott didn’t do much to distinguish himself before learning a new slider by watching Noah Syndergaard. The Cubs ended up taking him in the second round last year.
Abbott doesn’t throw anywhere near as hard as Syndergaard, but he does throw a really hard slider and his low-90s fastball plays up with deception and movement. He made nine starts in South Bend and went 4-1 with a 2.47 ERA. He struck out 57 and walked 13 in just 47.1 innings. That earned him a promotion to Myrtle Beach.
Abbott was the Cubs No. 16 prospect according to Baseball America coming into the season. Again, he should challenge for a top 5 spot if he continues to perform at this level.
3 UP. Right-handed pitcher Duane Underwood Jr. Iowa Cubs
If it seems like Underwood has been around forever, he hasn’t, although he was the second-round pick in the first draft under Theo Epstein in 2012. And to be perfectly honest, Underwood has been more frustrating than anything else in his Cubs career. He’s shown terrific stuff at times but he’s been both injured and terribly inconsistent.
But despite being in his seventh season in the Cubs system, Underwood is still only 23 years old. And this season, he’s improved his strike-throwing ability and cut down on his walks. In 12 appearances (and 11 starts) for Iowa, Underwood is 3-5 with a 3.98 ERA. He’s struck out 56 in 61 innings and walked just 15, which are easily the best strikeout and walk rates of his career.
Underwood was Baseball America’s 19th-best prospect before this season, although he was ranked as high as No. 4 after the 2015 season. Underwood should be a top ten prospect at the end of the season if he maintains this level.
Now for the bad news:
1 Down. Right-handed pitcher Jose Albertos, Eugene Emeralds.
For those of you who read the Minor League Wrap, this will come as no surprise. To put it simply, Albertos has completely lost the strike zone. Call it “Steve Blass Disease” if you want, but Albertos walked 32 batters in just 13 innings before the Cubs sent him back to Extended Spring Training.
Really, nothing else matters. The 18.69 ERA doesn’t tell you any more than those walk totals do.
Albertos was the Cubs’ third-best prospect according to Baseball America coming into the season. It’s hard to say where he’d rank now, because there is still a lot of talent there. But he’s not going to be the No. 3 prospect, that’s for sure.
He’ll try again in Eugene, which starts play tomorrow.
2 Down. Right-handed pitcher Jen-Ho Tseng. Iowa Cubs
Tseng was the Cubs’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year last season and he made his major-league debut last September. While his first start didn’t turn out very well, he did get his first major league win with three innings of scoreless and hitless relief against the Cardinals in his other appearance.
Tseng’s problem this season is that he’s been giving up a lot of hard contact. Despite getting a career-high ground-ball rate of 51.3%, he’s given up 10 home runs in just 62.1 innings. He’s also got a career-high walk rate of 27 walks. His strikeout rate has ticked up slightly with 59. His record over 12 starts is 2-6 with a 7.22 ERA. That doesn’t even count his one poor start in the majors.
Certainly the Iowa defense hasn’t done Tseng any favors, but you can’t blame all of Tseng’s issues on his teammates. He was the No. 9 Cubs prospect according Baseball America, but he’s not going to be even a back-of-the-rotation starter in the majors giving up that many home runs.
3 Down. Outfielder D.J. Wilson. Myrtle Beach Pelicans
Maybe this one is unfair as Wilson has been hurt most of the season. But Wilson is a guy who needs reps and he’s not getting them. He’s been terrific in most areas of the game, but it really doesn’t matter when the one area he hasn’t excelled in is hitting. Wilson hit .229 last year in South Bend and while his .244 average in 12 games this year is better, it’s also just 12 games. At 21, he’s still young for his level, but he won’t be anymore if 2018 turns out to be a lost season. Wilson also made two trips to the DL in 2017. If Wilson can’t stay healthy, he can’t work on improving his hitting.
Wilson was the Cubs’ No. 11 prospect coming into the season according to Baseball America. Unless he gets back on the field and performs, that ranking is going to drop precipitously.