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BCB Cubs Top Ten Prospects mid-season update

A quick snapshot of the current state of the Cubs farm system.

Nico Hoerner
Bob Drebin / Stanford Athletics

Here’s the long-awaited BCB Cubs top ten mid-season prospect update. I don’t have to tell you that the Cubs system is down this season, but it looks somewhat better now than it did in April, despite a couple of highly-regarded pitching prospects struggling badly. I’m not sure that there is a real All-Star player anywhere in the Cubs system. The top two choices might be the exceptions, but I need to see more from both of them. There are, however, a lot more players that look like major leaguers than at this time last season.

I would not have placed either traded pitchers Ricky Tyler Thomas nor Rollie Lacy in the top ten, although both were probably Top 30 prospects and had an outside chance to end the season in the Top 20.

Two players dropped precipitously from this list, pitchers Jose Albertos and Oscar De La Cruz. I don’t have a problem dropping Albertos as he can’t throw a strike. Put De La Cruz in the “just missed” category. He can pick up his career after his failed drug test next season and the time off might actually be good for his longterm health. But I didn’t like the way he was pitching before his suspension. Still, the upside on De La Cruz is still there and many pitchers have bounced back from a suspension in the minors and have had good major league careers.

Justin Steele is someone I’d like to see pitch again before ranking him, but he has top ten potential. Others considered for this list are Trent Giambrone, Trevor Clifton, Brailyn Marquez and Cole Roederer.

All the stats are through Friday, July 28.

  1. Miguel Amaya. Catcher. B:R/T:R. 6’1”, 185 lbs. International Free Agent, 2015 (Panama). Age: 19

This one was a pretty easy call. Besides being the Cubs’ representative in the Futures Game, Amaya has established himself as their top prospect. Last season as an 18-year-old in Eugene, he showed good defensive skills behind the plate, especially for someone so young. The problem was he didn’t hit much, putting up a triple-slash line of .228/.266/.338 in Short-Season A ball. That’s hardly a cause for concern for an 18-year-old making his US debut, but it was clear his bat was behind his defense.

But Amaya has taken a major step forward with the bat in 2018. Playing for South Bend, he’s hit ,266/.340/.446 with 19 doubles and 12 home runs in 88 games. For a 19-year-old in a tough league to hit in, that’s outstanding.

The only blemish on Amaya’s season is his throwing arm, which rates as below average for a catcher. He will probably never have a plus arm, but he can improve by working on his technique. He’s still young and a few seasons away from the majors, but there’s a potential star in there.

He recently was named the 100th-best prospect in baseball by Baseball America.

2. Nico Hoerner. Shortstop. B:R/T:R. 6’1”, 200. 1st round, 2018, (Stanford). Age: 21

I’m going to agree this is an aggressive placement for a player who has only played 14 professional games and is out for the season with an elbow injury. But I’ve watched about five or six of those games through the magic of internet video and I’ve been very impressed. Hoerner shows terrific plate instincts and rarely swings at a bad pitch. When he does swing, he rarely misses. On defense, he’s shown a great arm and quick reflexes. I’m sorry that I can’t give an opinion on his defensive range from just a few games, so I can’t say for sure whether he can stick at short, but he looked like a shortstop to me so far.

It’s a small-sample-size for sure, but Hoerner hit .327/.450/.571 with Arizona, Eugene and South Bend. He’s also hit two home runs in 60 plate appearances, so he does have some pop. I will say that he’s got a line drive stroke to all fields that will mean he’s not likely to hit 30 home runs in a season. Even 20 might be a push. But from my eyes, he can do pretty much everything else.

3. David Bote. Second baseman. B:R/T:R. 6’1”, 210. 18th-round, 2012. (Neosho CC, KS). Age: 25

I debated where to put Bote because at 25, he’s probably not going to get a lot better than he is now. But what he is now is a good major league ballplayer who is only in the minors because the Cubs don’t have a spot for him. (Note: This was written last Monday. I decided to leave it because who knows where he will be tomorrow?)

Bote can play pretty much everywhere on the diamond and not embarrass you except pitcher and catcher, and he’s even pitched five games in the minors. On top of that, he can hit for both average and power. That’s at least an average major league regular, even if he doesn’t get any better. There are probably ten teams in the majors for whom Bote would be playing every day for right now and another five to ten where he’d be the first guy off the bench.

Bote has hit .268/.342/.494 with 13 home runs in 259 plate appearances in Iowa this year and .326/.421/.522 with two home runs in 57 major-league plate appearances. While I don’t think Bote would put up those numbers over the course of a full major league season (that’s MVP-candidate territory), I never once thought he looked overmatched when playing for the Cubs. I could certainly see him putting up something close to those Iowa numbers in the majors.

Not bad for someone who was just an “org guy” as recently as 2015.

4. Adbert Alzolay. Right-handed pitcher. 6’0”, 179. IFA, 2013 (Venezuela). Age: 23

Alzolay is also out for the season with a strained lat muscle. He also got a late start to the season after suffering an ankle injury in Spring Training. So this has mostly been a lost season for Alzolay and he only made eight starts for Triple-A Iowa.

But Alzolay showed in his brief stay in Iowa why I and many others ranked him as the top prospect in the Cubs system before the season. His overall numbers don’t look that good (2-4, 4.76 ERA), but I wonder if he wasn’t pitching hurt during part of that time. In two of his first three starts this year, he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning. His stuff looked undiminished to me. I have to knock him down because of the injuries, but his potential is unchanged.

Neither one of the injuries Alzolay suffered this year should affect his pitching going forward, but it’s definitely a lost year of development and you’ve got to ding Alzolay for that. But I truly believe if Alzolay were healthy, he’d have made his major league debut already.

5. Alex Lange. Right-handed pitcher. 6’3”, 197. 1st round, 2017. (LSU). Age: 22

Lange is the same pitcher we thought he was before the season started: solid but unspectacular. The one bit of good news is that he’s been healthy and has shown no sign of whatever medical issue the Cubs found during his post-draft physical.

Lange only pitched four games in Eugene last summer so that he could return to LSU and finish his degree. The Cubs sent him to High-A Myrtle Beach where he’s been fine. In 17 starts, he’s 6-7 with a 3.61 ERA. He’s struck out 78 and walked just 22 in 89⅔ innings. His curveball is a knee-buckler and a potential major league plus pitch. His fastball and change are just average, but he uses them well.

Lange could probably be a terrific reliever, but it looks like he has the size and stamina to be a No. 4 starter, so that’s probably where he’ll remain barring any injury issues. Lange has a pretty high floor, at least by the standards of pitchers.

6. Keegan Thompson. Right-handed pitcher. 6’0”, 193. 3rd round, 2017 (Auburn). Age: 23

Thompson was the Cubs’ third-round pick out of Auburn last summer and he looked strong in 19 innings in Eugene. He posted a 2.37 ERA and struck out 23 and walked just four.

But a third-round pick from an SEC power should do well in the Northwest League. But what Thompson has done this year has proved that was no fluke. He skipped the Midwest League and then he blew threw the Carolina League. making 12 starts and going 3-3 with a 3.19 ERA. In 67⅔ innings in Myrtle Beach, Thompson struck out 61 and walked 13.

That got him promoted to Double-A Tennessee, where he’s been one of the better Smokies pitchers in July. His first Double-A start was disastrous, giving up eight runs in three innings. Over his next five starts, he didn’t allow any runs in three of them and only two in the other two.

Thompson has a low-90s fastball with movement, but his real strength is his two breaking pitches. Both could be above average pitches with more consistency.

7. Aramis Ademan. Shortstop. B:R/T:R. 5’11”, 160. IFA, 2015 (Dominican Republic). Age: 19

Ademan was challenged this season with an assignment in High-A Myrtle Beach, despite playing just 29 games in South Bend last year as an 19 year-old. It’s been a struggle. Ademan is hitting just .217/.302/.291 with three home runs and six steals in 89 games and that line is pretty indicative of his performance at the plate.

But while those numbers are disappointing, he started the season as the second-youngest player in the league. And while he’s struggled, at least he’s never embarrassed himself out there. Chalk this season up as a learning experience. If he has to repeat Myrtle Beach next season, he’ll still be young for the level.

Defensively, he’s still raw but with the tools to stick at short. Hopefully, he’ll be less raw next season. I will admit that I’ve always been lower on Ademan than the industry. I had him as my number two prospect this offseason almost by default. But even I think that Ademan can be a major league starting shortstop, even if I’m worried about his “bust” potential.

8. Jason Vosler. Third baseman. B:L/T:R. 6’2”, 205. 16th-round, 2014. Northeastern. Age: 24

Vosler is here because he’s left-handed power, which isn’t the easiest thing to find. Starting last year, Vosler has increased his fly-ball rate dramatically and a lot more of those fly balls are leaving the park. There isn’t Statcast data for minor leaguers, but to my eyes and ears, Vosler seems to be making a lot more hard contact this year. He’s striking out about just as often as he always has, but a 25% K-rate in today’s game isn’t excessive. Vosler is walking more than he used to as well.

Vosler hit.238/.351/.477 with 12 home runs in 235 at-bats for Tennessee. That got him promoted to Triple-A Iowa, where he had a 16-game hitting streak and five home runs over 29 games. His triple-slash line in Iowa is .257/.310/.457, which is still in the small-sample-size territory, but the power figures are impressive considering that he has not yet played any games yet in the famous Pacific Coast League Mountain-Time-Zone launch pads.

Vosler may never be a starting player for a contender, but he does have some value as a potential corner infielder with power and he has a chance to be a bit better than that.

9. Brendon Little. Left-handed pitcher. 6’1”, 175. First round, 2017. (State College of Florida,Manatee-Sarasota). Age: 21

Little has been a “little” disappointing this season, but it’s clear the talent is there if you just watch him. Little’s velocity has been far less than advertised. The draft reports had him hitting 93-97 mph whereas every time I’ve watched him pitch he’s clocked at 90-92 mph. It’s common for pitchers to drop some velocity after entering pro ball, but that’s a little much. The good news is that his fastball seems to have some good movement on it and gets a lot of swinging strikes when he can get it over the plate, which is not every game.

His best pitch is his curve, which again, when he gets it over the plate is a plus pitch. He’ll need to work on his changeup to be a major league starter.

I don’t want to overemphasize Little’s command and control issues. He’s only walked 34 batters in 83 innings this year. But it’s pretty clear he’s not hitting the target the catcher sets up as often as he’d like.

Little is 3-8 with a 4.88 ERA and 75 strikeouts in those 83 innings. We always knew that Little was a longer-term prospect.

10. Cory Abbott. Right-handed pitcher. 6’2”, 210. Second round, 2017 (Loyola Marymount). Age: 22

Abbott has a filthy slider that he learned by watching video of Noah Syndergaard. He doesn’t throw it nearly as hard as Thor, but he does get into the upper-80s and it’s hard for a hitter to tell it apart from his 90-93 mph fastball until it breaks. He’s got a curve and a changeup as well that he doesn’t throw as often, but they’re not bad.

After just five starts in Eugene last summer, Abbott started the year in South Bend and it quickly became clear he was too good for the Midwest League. Abbott went 4-1 with a 2.47 ERA in low-A, with 57 strikeouts and 13 walks in just 47⅓ innings. That earned him a promotion to Myrtle Beach where he’s allowed two or fewer runs in five of his eight starts. Abbott has a 3.76 ERA in High-A with 45 strikeouts and just 16 walks in 40⅔ innings. His 102 strikeouts combined between South Bend and Myrtle Beach lead the Cubs system.