I have today’s players in “countdown” order, with number ten coming first and number six at the end. I think tomorrow I’m going to switch that around because everyone is going to want to read about prospect number one first.
We have two 2019 draft picks today and two key members of the Midwest League Champion South Bend Cubs. Also the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
10. Cory Abbott. RHP. DOB: 9/20/95. B:R, T:R. 6’2”, 220. Drafted 2nd round (2017), Loyola Marymount.
Abbott was the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year after going 8-8 with a 3.01 ERA over 26 starts for Double-A Tennessee. He pitched 146⅔ innings and struck out 166 and walked 52. Abbott led the Southern League in strikeouts and innings pitched in 2019. Opposing hitters only managed to hit .210 off of him.
Abbott famously turned himself into a high draft prospect in college by teaching himself Noah Syndergaard’s slider from watching video. He doesn’t throw it nearly as hard as Thor, but it has some nice downward break away from a right-handed hitter. The Cubs also tinkered with his fastball grip, and that’s added a mile per hour or two on to his velocity. Abbott now throws his fastball in the 90-93 mph range but can touch 95 or so when he needs that extra oomph.
Abbott also has a 12-6 curve that he uses late in counts to get a strikeout. His change still needs work and he needs it to improve to have more success against lefties. He gave up a lot of home runs to left handed hitters last year and that could be a problem as he goes to the Pacific Coast League. Right-handed hitters hit just four home runs off Abbott last year but lefties went deep on him 11 times in about 25% fewer at-bats.
Abbott’s biggest strength is his command. When he’s on, he’s able to work both sides of the plate with his fastball and hit the corners. He’ll walk batters if he’s struggling, but fortunately that wasn’t very often in 2019. He was very consistent last year as his final numbers demonstrate.
Abbott is going to face a big test in Triple-A this year. If the PCL plays anything like it did last year, he’s going to have to work on keeping left-handed hitters from playing Home Run Derby when he’s on the mound. Or at least he’s going to have to make sure the bases are empty when they do. But if he succeeds at doing that, a 2020 major league debut is very possible. He projects out to be a #4 starter, but potentially a good one.
Also, until Abbott makes the All-Star Game or something, I think I’m obligated to mention that he threw a perfect game at LMU.
9. Cole Roederer. OF. DOB: 9/24/99. B:L, T:L. 6’0”, 175. Drafted 2nd round—compensatory (2018), Hart HS (CA)
Cole Roederer came to South Bend as a promising 19-year-old outfielder with a lot of expectations. He spent most of the 2019 season looking more “nineteen” than promising, but that’s only a sign that our expectations may have been too high. Roederer wasn’t great in the Midwest League, but he acquitted himself fine and should move on to High-A Myrtle Beach in 2020, still as a promising young prospect with whom we should probably be more patient.
Roederer played 108 games for South Bend last season and hit .224/.319/.365 with nine home runs in 384 at-bats. He walked 54 times, so he showed some good patience, but he also struck out 112 times which isn’t terrible but shows he probably could have been more aggressive earlier in counts. Roederer also stole 16 bases in 21 attempts.
The biggest problem that Roederer had in 2019 was that he got power-happy and tried to pull everything. Roederer is strong enough that he should be able to hit the ball hard to all fields. He may have tried to do too much and ended up making a lot of weak contact early in the year. The good news is that Roederer improved as the season went on. After posting a .290 OBP with only two home runs in the first half, he had a .340 OBP with seven homers in the second half.
Roederer doesn’t have the arm for right field, but he’s a decent center fielder at the moment. Left field is probably where he projects to play in the majors, but he has all the tools to be terrific there. His bat should play in left as well if he lives up to his potential.
Roederer has the potential to be a solid, everyday left fielder in the major leagues who can not only get on base, but can hit for power and steal bases. He could easily be a 20/20 hitter from the left side in the major leagues with the potential for more home runs if the current offensive environment doesn’t change.
These are the highlights from a game in South Bend in August when Roederer hit two home runs. He pulls both of them, but boy does he drive them a long way. He really gets the bat through the hitting zone quickly.
8. Chase Strumpf. 2B. DOB: 3/8/98. B:R, T:R. 6’1”, 191. Drafted 2nd round (2019), UCLA.
Like Abbott’s perfect game, I’m obligated to mention that MLB announced that the Cubs had drafted Chase Strumpf last summer while he was on the on-deck circle in a Regional matchup with LMU. Strumpf homered less than a minute later and found out he had been drafted as he returned to the dugout to find his father shouting the good news at him. .
Strumpf has some similarities to the Cubs’ 2018 first-round pick, Nico Hoerner. Both of them are Pac-12 right-handed hitting middle infielders with a strong hit tool and some power potential. Both players were also hurt in 2019, although Hoerner missed more time than Strumpf did. At the moment, Strumpf has more power potential but also strikes out more than Hoerner. Hoerner is the better defender. Even though it’s a longshot, Strumpf would love to follow Hoerner’s path the the majors in 2020.
But we’ll look at Hoerner tomorrow. Strumpf signed with the Cubs last summer and after a seven-game stint with Cubs 2 in Arizona, he reported to short-season A Eugene where he proceeded to tear up the Northwest League. In 26 games with the Emeralds, Strumpf hit .292/.405/.449 with eight doubles and two home runs in 89 at-bats. That earned him a promotion to South Bend, but he only played six games there until his season was ended by an injury in late-August.
Strumpf’s biggest asset is his bat and his ability to hit the ball hard to all fields. His line-drive stroke meant that he hit a lot more doubles than home runs in 2019, but the Cubs believe that some minor adjustments will mean more power. He’s a patient hitter who will draw a walk.
Strumpf isn’t fast, but he uses his smarts to get the job done on the base paths and in the field. His arm means he won’t be great at short or third base, but he could fill in there if necessary. His real position is second base and he should be just fine there but he’s unlikely to be more than that. Prospects from schools like UCLA or Stanford always get praised for their intelligence on- and off-the-field and Strumpf is no exception.
Even though he only played six games in South Bend, the Cubs will likely be aggressive with Strumpf and start him in High-A Myrtle Beach. He should see Double-A Tennessee by the end of the year, barring injury.
Here’s some video highlights of Strumpf, both at UCLA and with the Cubs.
7. Riley Thompson. RHP. DOB: 7/9/96. B:L, T:R. 6’3”, 205. Drafted 11th round (2018), Louisville.
Thompson wasn’t a highly-ranked prospect coming into last season, although he was known as a guy to keep an eye on. Those who ventured to South Bend had to be pleased with what they saw.
Thompson had Tommy John surgery in college and was still working his way back when the Cubs took him as a draft-eligible sophomore out of Louisville. He had good raw stuff, but the “feel” for pitching hadn’t returned and he struggled badly with control. The Cubs were confident his control would return and signed him for an overs-slot $200,000 bonus.
After pitching just 25 innings for Eugene in his first professional season in 2018, Thompson spent the entire year with South Bend in the Midwest League. He quickly became the ace of the staff, going 8-6 with a 3.06 ERA in 21 starts. Over 94 innings, Thompson struck out 87 and walked 31 while holding opposing hitters to a .239 average.
He also saved the best for last. In game three of the Midwest League Championship Series, Thompson pitched five innings of no-hit, no-run baseball. He struck out ten and didn’t walk anyone. The only baserunner he allowed came on an error. He was the winning pitcher as the South Bend Cubs took the title on a combined two-hitter. They swept the series with Clinton, three-games-to-none.
Thompson has a fastball in the 93-96 mph range with good movement and a high spin rate. He’s thrown harder than that in bullpen sessions, so if he moves to the bullpen somewhere down the line, he’d likely sit in the upper-90s. His curve also has good downward action and that high spin rate that front offices look for these days. The Cubs helped him develop a new changeup and from all reports it is promising. He also has a slider that gives him a full starter’s arsenal of four pitches.
Thompson was a bit older than most players in the Midwest League last year, but the Cubs were reluctant to push him, probably because of his health history. He’ll almost definitely start in High-A Myrtle Beach this year
Here’s some video of Thompson pitching in South Bend last summer.
6. Ryan Jensen. RHP. DOB: 11/23/97. B:R, T:R. 6’0”, 180. Drafted 1st round (2019) Fresno State.
The Cubs picked Jensen in the first round last year because of his fastball, which regularly sits in the 96-98 mph range on the radar guns. Jensen even reaches triple-digits on occasion. He has both a four-seamer and a two-seamer, which move differently but both reach the mid- to upper-90s. Jensen also has a very hard-breaking upper-80s slider that’s a terrific pitch when he can control it, which isn’t as often as he’d like. They say he has a changeup, but I’ve seen Jensen pitch five or six times (including a couple of times at Fresno State) and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it. It’s not something that he’s had to rely on and I’m assuming at this point it is not something he trusts.
Jensen is also “short” at six-feet-even and traditionally, teams have felt that short pitchers lack the stamina to hold up as starting pitchers. Those ideas are slowly changing, but it is a concern.
But the debate over Jensen mostly comes down to that elusive change. If he can develop a solid changeup and improve his overall control, Jensen could be a good mid-rotation starter in the majors. If he can’t, he’s probably a bullpen pitcher, although that fastball puts him in line to be a first-rate closer.
Jensen pitched 100 innings for the Bulldogs this past summer, so the Cubs were very conservative with how he pitched for short-season Eugene. He only made six starts for a total of 12 innings. Jensen allowed just seven hits and three runs for an ERA of 2.25. He struck out 19 batters in those 12 innings and opposing hitters hit just .171. It was clear that no one in the Northwest League could really hit him. But they didn’t really have to as he walked 14 batters and hit two more, although eight of those walks were in his final two starts when Jensen really just ran out of steam after a long season.
I would hope that Jensen has been working on his changeup over the winter and I’m sure the Cubs coaching staff has some ideas on what to do. He should start the season in South Bend and we’ll get a much better idea of what the Cubs have with their 2019 first-round pick after a few months in the Midwest League.
Here are some highlights of Jensen pitching for Eugene [VIDEO].
Tomorrow: The top five.