Welcome to Day 3 of my countdown of the Top 20 prospects in the Cubs system. Today we’ve got a couple of promising young infielders, two right-handers who project out to be back-of-the-rotation starters and one prospect who has already made his major league debut and I still don’t know what to make of him.
15. Robel Garcia. 2B. DOB: 3/28/93. 6’0”, 168. B:S, T:R. International Free Agent (2018), Italy.
No one really has any clue what Robel Garcia is. He’s a furry unicorn with two horns and a fanny pack. He’s a talking dog who can only recite Longfellow’s Evangeline. It’s as if he were someone who likes both the Dead Kennedys and the Dave Matthews Band. The point is, no one has ever seen anything like Garcia in the game before, which makes him really, really hard to evaluate.
In case you’ve forgotten, the Cliff Notes version of Garcia’s career goes like this. He was signed out of the Dominican Republic by Cleveland back in 2010 and he spends four years in the Indians system, never rising above low-A. After getting his release, he ends up playing baseball in Italy. He gets married to an Italian woman and starts playing for the Italian National team. Five years later, Cubs scout Gabe Zappin goes to see the Reds play in instructs and he sees Garcia, playing for Italy, hit a massive home run on a 97 mph fastball. Zappin (sheepishly) recommends the Cubs sign him and he rockets through the Cubs system in just three months, tearing up both Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. Garcia makes his major league debut in July and he starts hitting there too until pitchers catch up with him. He’s sent back down to the minors when the Cubs trade for Nicholas Castellanos. Garcia gets a September call-up, but sees sporadic playing time and only goes 2 for 13 with one home run in September.
So what the Cubs have in Garcia is pretty difficult to figure. It’s clear he has great power from the left side and pretty good power from the right side, but he also didn’t make anywhere close to enough contact in his major-league debut for that to be sustainable over the long term. He struck out in a whopping 43.8% of his plate appearances in the majors, which makes even Joey Gallo say “What’s up with that, dude?” Even in Triple-A, Garcia was striking out in one-third of his trips to the plate.
What’s odd about that is that Garcia seems to have the most trouble with changeups and other slow stuff. He had little trouble handling high heat, even in the majors. It seems like that could be something he could adjust to, but you never know. The game just isn’t that simple.
For the record, Garcia hit .208/.275/.500 with five home runs in 80 major-league plate appearances over 31 games. For Triple-A Iowa, Garcia hit .281/.361/.585 with 21 home runs in 76 games. Yes, everyone hit home runs in the Pacific Coast League last year, but few hit them at the pace of Garcia. The power is legit.
Defensively, Garcia could probably adequately play every defensive position but center field, shortstop and catcher. He’d be stretched at shortstop, but he played there with the Indians so maybe he could fill in there. At age 27 already, he’s not going to get any faster. His arm is solid and he had few problems playing third base in the minors in 2019.
Garcia could be anything from an all-star to a guy who spends the next two or three years bouncing between Triple-A and the majors. The latter is a whole lot more likely than the former, but you never know. When the Indians released him in Spring Training in 2014, no one thought he’d even have a chance to be that. He’s used to beating the odds.
14. Pedro Martinez. SS/2B. DOB: 11/28/01. 5’11”, 165. B:S, T:R. Int’l FA (2018) Venezuela.
The Cubs prospect that drives our auto-tagging program nuts, this Pedro Martinez is a switch-hitting middle infielder with good bat-to-ball skills and very good speed. He made his US debut this year and tore up rookie ball in Arizona, hitting .352/.417/.519 with eight steals in 27 games. That got the 18-year-old a promotion to the Northwest League where he was good but not quite as dominating, putting up a line of .265/.357/.347 with 11 steals in 27 games. That’s still quite encouraging for someone so young in short-season A ball.
Right now, Martinez is a solid middle infielder with good contact and on-base skills and plus speed. Martinez doesn’t have much or any power at the moment, but the feeling is he could grow into some as he matures and his body puts on some more muscle. But I’d be very wary of tinkering with his line-drive stroke. While he struck out a lot in his short stint in Eugene, he didn’t miss a lot of pitches in Arizona or in the Dominican Summer League the year before. The Cubs won’t want to take away a ton of singles for a few home runs, especially for someone with Martinez’s speed.
On defense, Martinez is good at both shortstop and second base. He’s even got a strong enough arm to play third if necessary.
This Pedro Martinez isn’t going to the Hall of Fame, but he does project out to be a good-fielding, switch-hitting middle infielder who gets on base and steals a lot of bases. Those types were quite common back in the seventies and eighties, but they are less so now. Depending on how the still-quite-young Martinez fills out as he matures, he could be a throwback to the shortstops of those days.
Here’s some highlights of Martinez playing a game in Eugene in August. He makes a few nice defensive plays and he really shows off his speed on a triple and an infield single.
13. Kohl Franklin. RHP. DOB: 9/9/99. B:R, T:R. 6’4”, 190. Drafted 6th round (2018), Broken Arrow HS (OK).
Franklin is the nephew of former major leaguer Ryan Franklin and he certainly resembles his uncle physically and has a similar pitching motion. If Franklin has as good a career as his uncle, the Cubs will be very happy.
Franklin has a 91-95 mph fastball and there’s hope that he’ll add even more velocity as he matures and puts on some more muscle. He’s got a changeup and a curve that project out to be average, although the change is pretty well-developed for someone with his age and experience. When he’s on, he paints the corners with his fastball and keeps hitters off-balance with the change and curve. When he struggles, it’s usually because his pitching motion gets sloppy and his fastball misses the plate. That’s something that should come with more repetition.
The Cubs drafted Franklin in the sixth round two years ago, but they bought him out of a commitment to Oklahoma with third-round bonus money. He made ten starts for Eugene in 2019 and went 1-3 with a 2.31 ERA. He struck out 49 batters and walked 14 in 39 innings. He had one start at the end of the season in South Bend and he allowed two runs, one earned, over three innings.
Franklin’s upside is probably a back-of-the-rotation starter with the size and repertoire to eat a lot of innings and fill out a pitching staff. His uncle also had a successful stint as a closer near the end of his career, and that’s always a possibility for Kohl as well.
Here is Franklin talking about the health issues he faced as a child and about pitching for the Cubs. Luckily, none of them seem to be pitching-related and he’s been healthy in the Cubs system.
12. Christopher Morel. 3B. DOB: 6/24/99 B:R. T:R. 6’0”, 140. Int’l FA (2015), Dominican Republic.
Morel has been in the system for four years now and he still hasn’t really been able to show us what he’s capable of. He missed the entire 2016 season after walking through a glass door and injuring his wrist. After a 2017 season in the Dominican Summer League, he started the 2018 season in short-season Eugene where he struggled and got sent back down to rookie ball, where he did much better.
Morel got a chance to make up for lost time this summer as the Cubs let him start the year in South Bend. It was looking like a breakout season until his season ended on July 11 with an injury. Morel was hitting .284/.320/.467 with 15 doubles, six triples and seven home runs over 73 games when he went down.
At the plate, Morel manages to get some good bat speed through the zone. He could certainly still put some more weight on his wiry frame and that could lead to even more power. He likes to swing the bat and he’s not going to walk a lot, but he generally manages to make contact so there aren’t a ton of strikeouts either.
Morel’s range is certainly good enough to be solid third baseman and he’s got a rifle for an arm, with the caveat that Morel really needs to work on being more consistent with his throws. But he should learn when it’s OK to take a little off his throw in order to improve his accuracy.
If Morel had played more than just half a season in South Bend like this, he’d probably have been a top-ten-ranked prospect. There is a lot to like here, but he simply hasn’t demonstrated that he can play at this level for an entire season yet. If he goes to Myrtle Beach this summer and takes another step forward, there is little doubt he’ll be ranked in the top ten next year.
Here’s some video of Morel taking some at-bats for South Bend.
11. Tyson Miller. RHP. DOB: 7/29/95. B:R, T:R. 6’4”, 215. Drafted 4th round (2016), California Baptist.
Miller was having a breakout season with Double-A Tennessee last season because of his ability to throw strikes. In 15 starts in the Southern League, Miller went 4-3 with a 2.56 ERA. Over 88 innings, Miller struck out 80 batters and walked only 18 while holding opposing hitters to a .219 average.
Naturally, such a performance in Double-A leads to a promotion to Triple-A Iowa. Unfortunately for Miller, that meant pitching in the Pacific Coast League with their small ballparks and supercharged baseball. Miller is also a fly ball pitcher, which was a deadly combination in the PCL in 2019. He made 11 starts in Triple-A and allowed 13 home runs in just 48⅔ innings, after allowing just six in 88 innings in Double-A. All those home runs seems to shake his confidence to throw in the zone as well, because he walked 25 batters for Iowa. Miller still struck out 43, which was the one good sign of his time with the I-Cubs. All this meant he went 3-5 with a 7.58 ERA in Triple-A.
It’s hard to know how much stock to put in that disastrous time with the I-Cubs. It was a small sample size and no one pitched well in the PCL last year. Until we see more, I’m going to focus on his excellent performance in Double-A and his strong showing with High-A Myrtle Beach the year before. In those two places, Miller demonstrated control of four pitches and an ability to keep hitters guessing despite ordinary velocity. His four-seam fastball is only clocked at 90-93 mph, but it has good movement. Bot the scouts and stats people will rave about Miller’s “spin rate” on his four-seamer. Miller also has a two-seamer, a changeup and a curve that give batters different looks.
Assuming that what happened in Iowa last summer was just a fluke, Miller is certainly a candidate to make his major league debut in 2020, either filling in for an injured starter or out of the bullpen. His upside is that of a back-of-the-rotation starter, but he has a very good chance of reaching that peak if he stays healthy.
Tomorrow: Prospects 10 through 6.