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Chicago Cubs 2020 Top 20 Prospects Countdown: Introduction

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A look at the Cubs farm system heading into 2020 along with some players who missed the Top 20 list.

COLLEGE BASEBALL: MAY 27 ACC Baseball Championship
Michael McAvene
Photo by Jaylynn Nash/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welcome to my annual ranking of the top 20 Cubs minor league prospects. Since this may or may not be my last ranking of Cubs minor league prospects here, I went back and looked at my first attempt at ranking Cubs prospects. I must admit, the list is a better one than I remembered. I’m guessing, however, that if I found who I ranked as my Cubs 11 to 20 prospects that year, I’d be more embarrassed. As it stands, this was a fine list way back when.

My top Cubs prospects heading into the 2008 season:

  1. Geovany Soto
  2. Josh Vitters
  3. Tyler Colvin
  4. Sean Gallagher
  5. Josh Donaldson
  6. Donnie Veal
  7. Jose Ceda
  8. Eric Patterson
  9. Jeff Samardzija
  10. Tony Thomas

Now I’m not saying that’s an impressive collection of talent (although Donaldson and Samardzija are on there), I’m just happy that there are no silly selections and every one of them except Thomas played in the majors. And Thomas is still active in independent ball at 32 years old, so there’s hope for him yet.

Here’s how this is going to work. Over the course of the week, I’m going to count down my list of the top 20 prospects in the Cubs system, giving out five each day. Today I’m going to give an overview of the system and list some players who didn’t make the list. They are players who would be in the Top 30, but I’m not listing them in any order.

The Cubs farm system is in the bottom third among all farm systems, but I think the system took a big step forward in 2019. A system that ranked between the 28th to 30th best system last winter now looks like it should be considered in the low-20s. The Cubs had a good draft this past June (so far) and several players from the 2018 draft took a big step forward. The Cubs traded Paul Richan and Alex Lange to the Tigers for Nicholas Castellanos, but that’s a much smaller talent drain than the system has had from deals in earlier seasons. Richan would have made my top 20 Cubs list as I’m still pretty high on him. Lange would have fallen out of my top 20 even had he not been dealt.

Vimael Machin, the infielder who the Cubs lost in the Rule 5 draft to the Athletics (via the Phillies), might have landed at number 20 had he stayed. So if the A’s send him back, consider him to be around the number 20 prospect.

My list is pretty evenly balanced between ten hitters and ten pitchers. The top ten has five hitters and five pitchers. I tend to be more conservative in ranking pitchers because of the risk of injury, so that’s a good sign that the Cubs might finally start producing some home-grown pitching.

My list is made up of what I’ve read, what I’ve seen on milb.tv and what other people who I respect have told me. Also from the few Cubs minor league games I’ve been able to see in person this past year. The list is also tempered by the experience of doing this for a dozen years and all the good and dumb rankings I’ve done before. As always, this list is mine and any mistakes or omissions are all my fault.

With that said, here are some players who didn’t make my top 20, but for whom I wanted to say something about anyway:

Aramis Ademan. SS. DOB: 9/13/98. 5’11”, 160. B:L T:R. International Free Agent (2015), Dominican Republic.

I’m off the Ademan bandwagon. I’ve touted him in the past, especially after a strong (but short) stint with Eugene in 2017. But he’s spent the past two seasons in Myrtle Beach and he’s been poor both years. In 2019, he hit just .221/.318/.334 over 112 games after a similarly poor 2018 with the Pelicans. He’s got speed and his glove is decent, but neither is good enough that it’s going to carry that bat. He’s still young and could turn it around, but nothing Ademan has done over the past two seasons in Myrtle Beach has indicated to me that he even has a major league future as a utility infielder. Should he improve in 2020, he could become a real prospect again. Right now, I think he’s organizational depth.

Ronner Quintero. C. DOB: 11/13/02. 6’0”, 170. B:L T:R. Int’t FA (2019), Venezuela.

Quintero was the jewel of the Cubs’ 2019 international free agent class and as such, I’ve only seen him through on-line videos. But the Cubs gave him $2.9 million to sign and that’s $100,000 more than they gave Eloy Jimenez, the previous record-holder for the biggest bonus giving to an international amateur.

Quintero has got some big left-handed power potential and the Cubs think he’ll be a middle-of-the-order hitter one day. They also think he’ll be able to stay behind the plate. Other teams have more questions, but they also haven’t scouted him much recently since it was a foregone conclusion that he was going to sign with the Cubs.

Yes, he just turned 17 and he’s a long way from Wrigley, but I mention him here as someone to keep an eye on going forward.

Nelson Velazquez. OF. DOB: 12/26/98. 6’0”, 190. B:R, T:R. Drafted 5th round (2017), P.J. Education HS (PR)

I’m still a believer in Velazquez, although I’ve very aware that he may never put it together. Velazquez was a guy who was supposed to have big power as a professional, but outside of short-season Eugene in 2018, he really hasn’t shown much outside of batting practice. His biggest problem at the moment is that he’s swinging hard and is trying to pull everything 450 feet, and that is resulting in a lot of strikeouts and a lot of weak contact.

But Velazquez had a decent second half with South Bend (after missing much of the first half with a hamstring pull) and went 11 for 26 with two doubles in the seven playoff games the SB Cubs played, so there is stuff to build on there. He did seem to realize late last year that his “pull everything” strategy wasn’t going to work, but those habits are hard to break. If he learns to be a more disciplined hitter to all fields, Velazquez is a potential major league regular right fielder.

If you go to the end of these highlights, you can see Velazquez hitting an opposite field walk-off home run. Please sir, I want some more.

Michale McAvene. RHP. DOB: 9/24/97. 6’3”. 210. B:R T:R. Drafted 3rd round (2019), Louisville.

Everything I wrote about McAvene in my draft recap is still true, including his big fastball. What’s new is that the Cubs did move him into the starting rotation (he was the closer for the Cardinals in college) and he was mostly very effective, with the caveat that he’s still just two years removed from Tommy John surgery and the Cubs generally limited him to two-to-three innings per start. He made six starts for Eugene, totaling 12⅔ innings and allowed just two runs for an ERA of 1.42. He struck out 20 and walked just four, which makes his control sound better than it was as he also hit three batters and often went deep into counts before finally getting the out. Still, he was very promising in his brief major league debut. If he can develop a third pitch and build up his strength, he’s a potential mid-rotation starter. If not, he still has the raw stuff to be a major league closer. Only health concerns and the lack of a track record kept me from putting him in the top 20.

Here’s some video of McAvene pitching for Eugene.

Trevor Megill. RHP. DOB: 12/5/93. 6’8”, 235. B:L, T:R. Rule 5 pick (Padres)

I wanted to say something about the Cubs’ Rule 5 pick, as I really didn’t know much of anything about him before the draft. But since you’ll see a lot of him in Spring Training as he tries to make the team, there should be some things you should be looking for.

As you can see from his listed height, Megill is a big pitcher who gets some serious downward action on his fastball. He doesn’t throw that hard, although he has been known to sit 94-95 mph in some outings. (Which isn’t “that hard” these days. Scary.) He’s also got a couple of breaking pitches that are at least OK.

The Padres drafted Megill in 2015 in the seventh round. He had Tommy John surgery in college and missed all of 2016 with bone chips but has been healthy since then.

What’s impressive about Megill is his 2019 season in Triple-A El Paso. Megill made 32 relief appearances and went 2-2 with a 4.47 ERA and six saves in seven attempts. That ERA may not sound like much to you, but remember it was done in El Paso in the Pacific Coast League with the 2019 rabbit ball. That he only allowed five home runs in 50⅓ innings is close to unbelievable. Megill also struck out 71 batters and walked just 19.

Obviously Megill has to stick with the Cubs major league roster all season or he has to be offered back to San Diego. He doesn’t have much upside beyond being a serviceable middle reliever, but it looks like he’s ready to do that now. We will get the chance to find out, at least.

Tomorrow: Prospects 20 through 16