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BCB Top 20 Cubs prospects countdown: The top 5

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The Cubs top five prospects have a lot of potential and point to an improving farm system.

Nico Hoerner
Nico Hoerner
Eugene Emeralds

Today is the conclusion ofthe BCB top 20 prospects lists for the upcoming 2019 season. While I have been a bit negative in some of the earlier editions of this list, there is some real talent on the list today to get excited about. These five players all have the potential to change the character of the system quickly. I’m excited about all five of them and am looking forward to seeing what they do in 2019.

As a reminder, this list is based upon the hundreds of minor league games I watched over the past year and as much information from others on the Cubs minor leagues that I could get my hands on.

Clicking on the player’s name will take you to their milb.com page.

And in advance, I’d like to thank those who have been reading and those who have taken time to comment.

1. Nico Hoerner. SS. B:R, T:R. 6’1”, 200. Drafted 1st round, 2018. Stanford.

The Cubs have had a lot of success in the Theo Epstein years taking college bats in the first round (Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ) and they look like they struck paydirt again with Nico Hoerner. It’s even more impressive this time because the Cubs didn’t use a top ten pick when they took the infielder from Stanford.

Hoerner arrived in the Cubs minor league system with a bang last summer, playing just three games in Arizona and seven with the Emeralds before it was clear that he was ready for low-A South Bend. Unfortunately, Hoerner only got in four games with the South Bend Cubs before an elbow injury ended his season. But before he went down, fans were treated to a hitter with excellent contact skills who could hit the ball hard to all fields and who never seemed to have a bad at-bat. While pre-draft scouting reports indicated that he might have to move to second base as a professional, he looked very good and fluid at shortstop with a solid arm. He made more than a couple impressive plays on defense. His baseball instincts seem off-the-charts.

Hoerner recovered in time for the Arizona Fall League and despite only having 14 professional games under his belt, he more than held his own against some of the top prospects in the game today. Hoerner played 21 games for the Mesa Solar Sox and hit .337/.362/.506 with four doubles, four triples and one home run. The four triples tied for the league-lead. Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline named Hoerner the 13th-best prospect in the AFL and quoted one scout comparing him to Ian Kinsler.

In an era where the top hitters in the game strike out a lot, Hoerner is a throwback to the days when players put the ball into play regularly. In his abbreviated regular season, Hoerner walked nine times and only struck out four times in 49 at-bats. He wasn’t as so good against the superior talent in the AFL (two walks to 16 strikeouts) but there’s no reason to think he won’t continue to take good at-bats this upcoming season. Especially since he’s already faced a lot of Double-A and Triple-A pitching talent, High-A shouldn’t present too much of a problem.

Hoerner projects out to be a middle infielder who can hit at or near .300 and put up an on-base percentage in the .340 to .370 range. His level-plane swing means he probably won’t hit more than 20 home runs very often in his major-league career, but his ability to go the other way and his speed mean that he’s going to hit a ton of doubles and triples. His defensive range and his baseball instincts have a lot of people thinking he could be a Ben Zobrist-type rover, especially since everyone is looking for the next Zobrist in today’s game with the short benches.

Hoerner will probably start the season in High-A, but he should see Double-A Tennessee by the end of the year. Hoerner is advanced enough to move quickly through the system and it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him at Wrigley Field in 2020.

Here are the highlights from Hoerner’s first game for South Bend last season where he went 2 for 4 and had a couple of nice defensive plays, including a terrific spearing of a high line drive to take away an RBI single.

2. Miguel Amaya. C. B:R, T:R. 6’1”, 185. DOB: 03/09/99. IFA Panama, 2015. Signed for $1 million.

It was the tale of two halves for Amaya in 2018. He got off to a terrific start for South Bend and hit ,288/.365/.500 with nine home runs over 59 games. That got him named to the World Team for the Futures Game during the All-Star Weekend in San Diego.

The second half wasn’t nearly as good. The strain of catching a full season for the first time in his career seemed to wear down the 19-year-old. In the second half, Amaya slumped to .223/.332/.302 with just three home runs. That totals out to a line of .256/.349/.403 with 12 home runs. That’s still very good for a 19-year old catcher in the Midwest League.

No one seems to think that Amaya’s second-half slump was anything more than fatigue at this point and that it’s been a good experience for him going forward.

Amaya’s defense is ahead of his offense at this point of his career. He’s shown terrific hands behind the plate and works well with his pitchers. His arm is above-average and could get even better with some improved technique. He’s quick to field his position as well.

Offensively, Amaya tends to struggle with breaking pitches at the moment and he got a steady diet of them in the second-half. His swing is geared towards pulling the ball and that’s where his power is as well. There is room for improvement on offense, but Amaya is young enough, smart enough and should be adaptable enough to make those adjustments before he reaches the majors.

Just yesterday, Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline named Amaya the 7th-best catching prospect in the minor leagues.

Amaya should start the year in High-A Myrtle Beach and will probably move up one step at a time. He doesn’t turn 20 until March, so the Cubs won’t rush him. His arrival in Chicago probably won’t be until 2021 or 2022, which is just about the time the Cubs will have to decide whether or not they want to commit long-term to Willson Contreras. If the Cubs decide Amaya isn’t the catcher of their future, there are a long line of teams that would love to trade for him.

Here’s Amaya hitting a double against Lake County. I picked this because I think it shows his power a little better than some of the home runs do. He hits this one to the wall in dead center field.

OK, here’s a bonus Amaya home run.

3. Brailyn Marquez. LHP. 6’4”, 185. 01/30/99. IFA Dominican Republic, 2015. Signed for $600,000.

If you’re looking for a Cubs pitcher with some serious upside, Marquez is your man. Being a teenage left-hander who can touch 98 mph will get people excited.

Marquez started the season in Extended Spring Training and went north with the Emeralds in June. There he proved too good for the Northwest League as he made ten starts and went 1-4 with a 3.21 ERA. Over 47⅔ innings, Marquez struck out 52 batters and walked just 14. That earned him a promotion to South Bend where he made two starts and allowed two earned runs over seven innings. He struck out seven and walked just two.

Marquez’s number one weapon is his fastball, which normally sits in the 93-95 mph range but as mentioned earlier, he can rev it up when he needs to and throw it in the 98-99 mph range on occasion. He’s got a bit of an odd delivery which gives batters an unusual look that can keep them off balance. As noted from his walk totals in Eugene, he’s got better control than most teenage flamethrowers.

Marquez’s biggest problems are his secondary pitches. His curve and changeup currently need a lot of work, but there’s no indication that he can’t get better at both of them as he moves up the minor league ladder. He doesn’t turn 20 until later this month. If he can turn both of them into just average pitches, he can be a mid-rotation starter in the majors. If one of them becomes plus (and the curve is the better bet for this), he can be a top of the rotation starter.

Marquez will likely pitch most of 2019 in South Bend and he’ll make the trip worth your while.

Here’s some video of Marquez pitching for South Bend last summer.

4. Adbert Alzolay. RHP. 6’0”, 179. DOB: 03/01/95. IFA Venezuela, 2013. Signed for $10,000.

I remain Adbert Alzolay’s biggest fan. He’s a joy to watch pitch, He works fast, attacks hitters and lets the chips fall where they may. Alzolay was my number one prospect last winter and he falls to number four not so much because of the injury that ended him 2018 season prematurely but mainly because the three guys ahead of him just passed him.

Alzolay’s story has been told before. Signed as almost an afterthought in 2013, Alzolay worked his way up the system one step at a time. His commitment to conditioning and nutrition helped his stuff improve, but it wasn’t until the Cubs mental skills staff told him to start working faster that he really took off. The Cubs thought he was overthinking things on the mound and working quickly meant he needed to just rely on his instincts and his catcher. On top of that, working quickly means that hitters don’t have as much time to prepare and it helped keep them off balance.

Alzolay was on track to make his major league debut in 2018 when a lat injury ended his season prematurely. He made eight starts for Triple-A Iowa and went 2-4 with a 4.76 ERA. Over 39⅔ innings, he struck out 27 and walked 13. But he had some games last year where he really shined. In two of his first three starts of 2018, he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning. On May 29, he retired all 12 batters he faced before exiting the game when he felt something that turned out to be the lat strain that ended his season.

Alzolay has a mid-90s fastball and an average curve. The most promising development is his changeup, which used to be below average but was rapidly improving in 2018 before his season ended. With a strong changeup, Alzolay can be a mid-rotation starter in the major leagues.

Alzolay should return to Iowa in April and is still on track to make his major league debut in 2019. If he stays healthy, Alzolay should be the first one the Cubs call when there is an opening in the starting rotation. I personally can’t wait.

Here’s Alzolay striking out a batter in his third start of the year. All three pitches are on display here.

5. Cole Roederer. OF. B:L, T:L. 6’0”. 175. DOB: 09/24/99. Drafted 2nd round, (comp), 2018. Hart HS (CA).

Roederer turned out to be a lot better than advertised when the Cubs took him in the second round. Roederer had a pulled hamstring and a separated shoulder injury his senior year in high school, so scouts didn’t really get a great look at him before the draft. When the scouts did finally get to see him healthy in the Arizona League this past summer, they were wowed. According to Baseball America, the name “Andrew Benintendi” was thrown around a lot when talking about Roederer.

Roederer has tinkered with his swing since high school and along with some added weight, he has a lot more power potential than he used to have. His swing is still clean and quick through the zone and he can hit with authority to all fields. He showed some good ability to take a walk in Arizona last year (18 walks in 36 games) and he’s quick enough with 13 steals. Right now, he’s got the range and the arm to play center field, although he may move to left as he ages and gets bigger. Luckily, he could be very good in left and if his bat lives up to its potential, he’ll hit more than enough to justify playing him there.

In those 36 games in Arizona last year, Roederer hit .275/.354/.465 with four doubles, four triples and five home runs.

Roederer seems advanced enough that he could start this season in South Bend, although the experience of Nelson Velazquez in the Midwest League last year may give the Cubs pause. He’d be one of the youngest players in the Midwest League. But even if the Cubs hold him back in Extended Spring Training until Eugene starts in June, I expect Roederer to see South Bend sometime in 2019. A strong 2019 season from Roederer and he could end up number one the 2020 version of this list. A lot could yet go wrong in his career, but Roederer’s upside is that of an all-star outfielder who hits .280 to .300 with 30 home runs. Maybe toss in double-digit steals in there as well.

Here’s a video of Roederer’s first professional home run. The ball flies off his bat in this clip.

And here is some video that gives you a better look at his swing. Unfortunately, he strikes out in the first at-bat at the beginning of the video, but you can especially see the powerful stroke later as he takes batting practice.

Thanks for reading! Follow the minor league Cubs all season long in the daily Minor League Wrap.