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ESPN’s Keith Law reveals his top Cubs prospects list

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Law took the time to answer some of our questions about the Cubs farm system, which has seen better days.

Brailyn Marquez
Brailyn Marquez
Eugene Emeralds

For the past two weeks, Keith Law of ESPN.com has been revealing his top prospects in all of baseball and earlier, we discovered that one Cubs minor leaguer, catcher Miguel Amaya, made his top 100 list.

Over the weekend, Law revealed his NL Central prospects guide which includes his top 20 Cubs prospects. (ESPN+ sub. req.) Here’s the complete list.

  1. Miguel Amaya, C
  2. Nico Hoerner, SS
  3. Brailyn Marquez, LHP
  4. Adbert Alzolay, RHP
  5. Brennen Davis, OF
  6. Cole Roederer, OF
  7. Matt Swarmer, RHP
  8. Aramis Ademan, SS
  9. Oscar De La Cruz, RHP
  10. Erich Uelmen, RHP
  11. Alex Lange, RHP
  12. Tyson Miller, RHP
  13. Yovanny Cruz, RHP
  14. Justin Steele, LHP
  15. Keegan Thompson, RHP
  16. Brendon Little, LHP
  17. Thomas Hatch, RHP
  18. Michael Rucker, RHP
  19. Duncan Robinson, RHP
  20. Nelson Velazquez, OF

Law is pretty harsh on the Cubs system, ranking it as the 29th out of 30 farm systems in a piece earlier last week. (ESPN+ sub. req.) I don’t think he’s said much that hasn’t been said around here, however. We all know the farm system took a steep drop form the salad days of 2014 to 2016 because of graduations to the majors, trades, and the Cubs picking late in the first round after the major-league success of the past few seasons. The only argument is how far it has dropped.

We had a chance to talk to Law about the Cubs farm system earlier and this is what he had to say about the Cubs system.

Q: I was wondering if you could give your current opinion of the Cubs farm system, in particular Nico Hoerner, Cole Roederer, and Brandon Davis from the 2018 draft class? Could those three or any other players take a step forward this year and lead to an improved Cubs system in the 2020 rankings?

So their system is very close to the bottom at this point. They only had one player in my Top 100. That was Miguel Amaya. He was toward the back of the list. Though I like him as a prospect, particularly because he’s a catcher projected to stay as a catcher and has offensive value. May have a lot of offensive value, in fact.

Nico Hoerner was on the column of just missed player that’s ran on Monday. He was a recent draft pick. He’s not particularly toolsy. I did get to see him myself in the fall league. I love how he plays. I think he’s a very smart player, very instinctual player. I think he’s going to add more value than you might expect if you simply evaluated him off of his physical tools. He could easily be a Top 100 guy a year from now.

Marquez, whose first name unfortunately I’m blanking on right now, is another candidate of somebody that I think could make a big leap forward. A pitcher who was just in short season ball last year. I will point out the Cubs have had a lot of these guys, the Oscar De La Cruzes, Jose Albertos, pitcher who’s appeared in short season ball, looking very promising.

Roederer and Davis will be in my Cubs Top 10. I don’t really look at either of those guys as likely future Top 100 candidates. I never want to rule anything out entirely, but the probability of either of them taking that kind of leap forward is probably not that high. If it were one of them, I’d probably bet on Roederer because I think he’s going to perform more than Davis who is a very interesting athlete but I think a lot further away from producing enough to be a potential Top 100 prospect.

So Law is pretty optimistic about Amaya and as many of us noted, Hoerner really seems to be a guy who has a good chance to perform well on the major-league level simply because of his instincts and hard work. I’d agree with Law on watching Hoerner play—he’s really someone who plays the game smart and has the potential to be a real fan favorite. I think his instincts and intelligence could also allow him to stick at shortstop.

He also praises Davis’ makeup but notes that he’s raw and a long way away from any major league consideration. He thinks Roederer is just more advanced and that the two could push each other through the Cubs system.

Law had more to say on Brailyn Marquez in his NL Central write-up. Law notes that Marquez has a 98 mph fastball with a solid but inconsistent changeup. What he’s less optimistic about is Marquez’s arm angle on his curve and notes that left-handers were able to hit it pretty hard in 2018. Law thinks Marquez will have to switch to a slider to be a mid-rotation starter in the majors.

Law also said that ranking Alzolay or Marquez third in the Cubs rankings was pretty much a toss-up. He thinks Alzolay just needs more confidence in his changeup.

After the two rookie-ball outfielders whom we asked Law about, the Cubs system is dominated by a group of pretty interchangeable pitchers. He thinks Swarmer is probably a reliever with a chance to start. De La Cruz needs to stay healthy and not get suspended.

Law praises Uelmen’s sinker, which he calls plus. Law is among those who think Lange should head to the bullpen, but he does think that if the Cubs give up on him starting, he could be major-league ready this season.

On that point, we asked Law the following question about whether the Cubs could expect any pitching help from the minor leagues this upcoming season.

Q: Do you see any pitchers in the Cubs organization that could contribute in the major leagues in 2019?

Off the top of my head? Unlikely. There’s really nobody I’m thinking. I haven’t written up their whole organization yet because I started with the American League out of habit. Could somebody like a Thomas Hatch come up and pitch in a relief role, maybe take a couple of starters. Could Justin Steele do something like that? He was okay in the fall league. Yeah, yeah, they could appear.

But to come up and have impact, I apologize, I may be forgetting somebody. Maybe somebody who is just a pure reliever, but nobody’s coming to mind immediately.

The pitcher who’s are most interesting in their system are either really far away or just weren’t very good last year. Guy like Alex Lange who was always going to be a reliever. He’s got that knockout curveball. He just wasn’t very good last year. So could he come up and be a one‑inning guy and miss some bats with the breaking ball? Yeah, it’s possible. He was kind of underwhelming last year.

So I’m hesitant to say he could be any kind of impact guy for 2019 even if he’s more a guy that just makes some appearances, but doesn’t really move the needle very much.

So that’s disappointing but not surprising. I’d argue that both Alzolay and De La Cruz could come up and make an impact in 2019, but Law would be quick to point out that they’d both have to stay healthy first and he’d be right.

We asked Law that question before he’d finished his writeup of the Cubs system and in the actual NL Central Guide, he does seem more optimistic about Lange or Steele filling a bullpen role in 2019. In fact, Law is pretty clear that any help that the Cubs get from the farm system this year is likely to be bullpen arms.

And while he mentioned him as a potential arm in our earlier question about Cubs pitching, in his Cubs write-up he listed Jose Albertos as “the fallen” and noted that he’d fallen victim to the yips in 2018. Law said while it’s not impossible to come back from the yips, it’s incredibly rare. Let’s just hope that Albertos is the exception and that it doesn’t take him as long as Luke Hagerty took to overcome them.

So yes, it’s not a strong report card, but I can’t argue that it’s not fair. I also want to thank Keith Law for taking the time to answer our questions. He’s done this for the past several years now and he’s always been very helpful and informative. You can read Law’s full recap of all 20 prospects if you’re a subscriber to ESPN+.