Today is the third day of our look at my top 20 prospects in the Cubs’ minor league system. Let’s just get straight to the players, shall we?
A quick reminder that clicking on the player’s name will take you to their page on milb.com.
11. Aramis Ademan. SS. B:L, T:R. 5’11”, 160. DOB: 09/13/98. IFA, Dominican Republic. Signed 2015. $2 million.
Peggy Lee sang a song about Ademan called “Is That All There Is?”
Ademan was my second-ranked prospect last season and he was number one on a lot of other lists. The Cubs believed in the then 19-year-old so much that they sent him to High-A Myrtle Beach, despite only 29 games in low-A South Bend the year before. (And they were 29 games where he didn’t exactly dominate, hitting .244/.269/.378)
Ademan struggled all season long in the Carolina League. He spent the whole year with the Pelicans and hit a paltry .207/.291/.273 with three home runs and nine steals. He was frequently overpowered by High-A pitching and when he did make contact, it was usually weak contact.
So was Ademan promoted too aggressively or is he just not that good? In his favor, he was the second-youngest player in the Carolina League for much of the season. He showed some maturity in that he didn’t seem to take his offensive struggles into the field, where he remains an solid to above-average defensive shortstop. Arguing against him is that he didn’t get any better as the season went on. In fact, he got worse as the grind of the season took its toll. Ademan’s glove is good, but it’s not good enough that he can get by on it alone. He’s going to have to show something at the plate to be a major leaguer.
On one hand, you could see how Ademan might need to add some bulk so that pitchers can’t figuratively knock the bat out of his hands as often. On the other hand, you don’t want him to lose his quickness and range in the field because if he’s not a shortstop, he’s likely not a major leaguer. His upside remains that of a regular starting major league shortstop, but he’s going to have to contribute something with the bat before that happens.
Ademan is 20 now and should repeat Myrtle Beach this summer. At this point, he’s going to have to show some progress to remain a top prospect. Otherwise, we’re all going to start singing “Is that all there is?”
Here’s a highlight of Ademan hitting a two-run single for Myrtle Beach in April.
12. Trent Giambrone. 2B. B:R, T:R. 5’8”, 175. DOB: 12/23/93. Drafted 25th round, 2016, Delta State.
Ladies and gentlemen, the next David Bote. As Bote found unexpected success on the major league level, there was a lot of talk of how the Cubs had another player who was just like him in Giambrone. Cubs VP Jason McLeod even called him “Bote 2.0,” although he did qualify it a little. While the two players do share some similarities, it should be noted that Giambrone is smaller, faster and quicker than Bote and he has a better glove. Bote has more power and is probably the better overall hitter.
What Bote and Giambrone have in common is that they’re both 25-year-old second basemen who were late-round draft picks. Both had a power surge in Double-A Tennessee when they adopted a higher launch angle on their swing. They both had a walk rate in Double-A of around 10% and a strikeout rate just under 20%. They both followed up that Double-A season with a successful stint in the Arizona Fall League.
For the record, Giambrone hit .251/.333/.440 with 17 home runs and 26 steals for Double-A Tennessee. As a taxi squad player in the AFL (limited to two games a week), Giambrone hit .327/.400/.490 with two home runs and two steals in 49 at-bats.
Giambrone’s best defensive position is second base and he’d be an asset there. But he can also play short, third or at a corner outfield position when necessary. He’s a future super-utility player who will try follow Bote’s path in 2019. He’ll start in Iowa and be ready when the major league team has an opening. Then, the plan is to take advantage of that opening.
This video clip is from 2017, but I wanted to give you a sense of Giambrone’s defense.
And here is Giambrone talking about his experience in the AFL and about teammate Nico Hoerner. There’s also some video in here of Giambrone hitting a home run.
13. Oscar De La Cruz. RHP. 6’4”. 200. DOB: 03/04/95. IFA, Dominican Republic. Signed 2012 $85,000.
De La Cruz is a tantalizing talent, but he’s been unable to stay on the field for most of his professional career. In 2016 and 2017, he missed a good chunk of both seasons with a series of injuries. He’s never required arm surgery, but he’s had “general forearm soreness” as well as a strained oblique and other minor health problems. The good news for 2018 was that he was generally healthy. The bad news is that he was suspended for 80 games after testing positive for Furosemide, a masking agent.
If you were actually lucky enough to have seen De La Cruz pitch, you would have seen a mid-90s fastball with good movement on it. He curve is at least average and can be a lot better than average on a good day. His changeup solid but inconsistent. It might turn out better than that, except he hasn’t had a lot of time on the mound to work on it.
For the record, De La Cruz pitched for Double-A Tennessee last year before his suspension. He made 16 starts and threw 77⅓ innings, which was a career high for him. De La Cruz posted a 6-7 record with a 5.24 ERA, but I’d argue he pitched better than that ERA would indicate. (Not a ton better, but generally an ERA in the fives doesn’t scream “prospect.”) He struck out 73 and walked 31. He’s currently pitching in the Dominican Winter League on limited duty, so at least he’s getting some work in while suspended.
Were De La Cruz healthy and able to reach his potential, there’s a #3 starting pitcher in there with the possibility of a #2. But with each season, it looks less and less likely that De La Cruz will stay on the field long enough to make it there. It’s tempting to consider a move to the bullpen to keep him healthy, and the Cubs may end up doing that in the end. But De La Cruz has a starter’s arsenal, a starter’s physique and a starter’s mentality. They’ll try to keep him as a starter as long as possible.
In 2018, De La Cruz will likely return to Double-A Tennessee to finish up what his failed drug test so rudely interrupted. He could take a step forward and finish the season as the Cubs top prospect with a September call-up. Or, he could finally break down totally and the Cubs could release him. Neither outcome would surprise me, nor would any result somewhere in between that.
Here’s video of De La Cruz striking out his former teammate Eloy Jimenez on a changeup.
14. Dillon Maples. RHP. 6’2”, 225. DOB: 05/02/92. Drafted 14th round, 2011. Pinehurst HS (NC).
I wrote a piece on Maples just last week, but to recap, he’s got a high-90s fastball that can touch 100 mph. He’s got a hard-breaking upper-80s slider that, when right, is unhittable. In fact, in his 2018 major league debut, he threw a slider to Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood who turned to no one in particular and said “I can’t hit that.” He used to have a good curveball too, although he doesn’t throw it much anymore since his fastball and slider get the job done so much better. The only thing standing between Maples and being an elite closer is his control. Unfortunately, that’s no small thing.
Maples has always struggled with control (and injuries) to the point he was ready to retire two years ago. But he stuck it out and his control did improve somewhat, but hardly enough for anyone to put him in a high-leverage situation in the majors. For Triple-A Iowa last season, Maples pitched 38⅔ innings over 42 relief appearances. He struck out an incredible 75 batters in that time. That’s almost two an inning. He held opposing hitters to a .162 batting average. Unfortunately, he also walked more than a batter an inning with 39 free passes, which was a step back from 2017. No one puts the ball in play much against Maples, but often opposing teams don’t need to to beat him.
For Iowa, Maples went 2-3 with a 2.79 ERA and 10 saves. For the Cubs, he was 1-0 with an 11.81 ERA over 7⅓ innings. If you’re looking for a bright side, five of the seven runs he allowed came in one game against the Twins and the other two came in one game against the White Sox. But there were other outings where he either allowed an inherited runner to score or he had to get bailed out by a different relief pitcher after walking himself into trouble.
But there were good appearances too, like the perfect inning he threw on September 16 against the Reds. Or the game on July 21 against the Cardinals when he entered the game with runners on second and third and only one out and he struck out Dexter Fowler and Yairo Munoz to end the threat.
If you’re an optimist, there’s an elite closer waiting to come out in Maples. If you’re a pessimist, you can note that Maples has been trying to clean up his mechanics and get a consistent delivery for eight years now and he still doesn’t have it.
Maples should return to Iowa to start the season. If he shows any real improvement in his control, he’ll be on the next shuttle to Chicago.
And here is video of Maples closing out a game in Double-A in 2017.
15. Alex Lange. RHP. 6’3”, 197. DOB: 10/02/95. Drafted 1st round, 2017. Louisiana State.
Lange’s first full season as a professional wasn’t bad. It was just underwhelming. A lot was expected out of Lange coming off a stellar career at LSU. Despite just 9⅓ innings in Eugene in 2017 (Lange left the Ems early that year so he could finish his college degree), the Cubs sent him to High-A Myrtle Beach. There he did little to distinguish himself from the other pitchers on the Pelicans staff who weren’t first-round picks. Worse, he seemed to lose a few miles per hour off his fastball, which was never all that hard to begin with. So instead of throwing 92-94 mph, he was more in the 89-92 mph range in 2018.
But Lange’s best weapon is still his curveball, which is a plus pitch at the moment and might even get better. He’s also got a solid changeup. His funky delivery can keep some hitters of-guard, although it has raised some possible injury concerns. He’s also a smart pitcher who knows how to use one pitch to set up another.
In 2018, Lange made 23 starts for the Pelicans and went 6-8 with a 3.74 ERA. He threw 120⅓ innings and struck out 101 batters and walked 38. Opposing hitters hit .234 off of him.
From what I saw out of Lange in 2018, he looked more like a back-of-the-rotation starter than a mid-rotation one. There have always been some scouts who thought he was better suited to the bullpen and not much happened last season to dispel those thoughts. The good news is that he’s still a good bet to wear a major league uniform one day.
Here’s a nice piece about Lange talking about how much he wanted to join the Cubs organization and his bond with his pitching coach in Myrtle Beach, Anderson Tavarez.
And here’s a bonus video just of Lange striking out a batter on four pitches.
Tomorrow: Prospects 6 through 10.