Today is Day 3 of my trip through the Cubs minor league system. The names today should be more familiar, since four of them were in the Cubs system this time last year. Glad you could tune in.
A quick repeat of my daily disclaimer. This year’s prospect lists were really difficult to put together for reasons that you already know unless you’ve been in a coma since last March. There is always a lot of guesswork in these rankings, but this year there is even more guesswork. As always, all errors are my fault.
11. Cole Roederer. OF. DOB: 9/24/99. B:L, T:L. 6’0”, 175. Drafted 2nd round—compensatory (2018), Hart HS (CA)
It’s unfair, but Roederer is going to be linked in the mind of many Cubs fans with Brennen Davis. Both were high school outfielders drafted as second-round picks by the Cubs in 2018. Davis was supposed to be the raw one since he hadn’t fully committed to baseball until late in his high school career. On the other hand, Roederer was marked as the one more polished and more ready for professional ball. Instead, the exact opposite has happened as Davis has soared through the Cubs system and Roederer looks like the raw talent with a lot to work on.
Fortunately, Roederer has a lot to work with. The tools to be a good major leaguer are all there. If his arm were just a little bit stronger, I’d be willing to call him a potential five-tool player. As it is, four-and-a-half tools are pretty darn good. He has the range in center field to stick there. He’s got plus speed and a left-handed power stroke that doesn’t make it hard to imagine him as a 20/20 player in the major leagues.
The problem with Roederer at the moment it doesn’t appear he’s making the adjustments he needs to make. He spent much of 2019 trying to pull everything into the right field seats at Four Winds Field in South Bend. That lead to a lot of strikeouts and a lot of easy grounders to short and second. He especially struggled against left-handed pitching at low-A. For the record, Roederer hit .224/.319/.365 with nine home runs in 108 games at South Bend. The good news is that he did show some improvement in the second half. The bad news is he hit only .149/.253/.179 against lefties. Roederer has never hit a professional home run off of a southpaw.
My feeling is that Roederer could be one of the prospects hurt most by a lost 2020 season. I hope I’m wrong about that, but I thought Myrtle Beach was going to be a real test for Roederer. He’d have to learn to make those adjustments at the plate as the pitching got better. Instead, Roederer didn’t even get an invitation to the alternate site. That’s not a slight on him—there were only so many spots available and most of them had to go to players who were likely to help the major league team in 2020. But Roederer probably needed the reps more than a lot of other players. Baseball America reports that Roederer looked pretty much the same in instructs this past fall than he did in South Bend the year before. It may not be his fault, but Roederer is now a year older and coming off a lost year.
Roederer should go to South Bend again this summer, although now the Midwest League is a High-A league rather than a Low-A one. This is going to be a crucial year for him.
Here’s some video of Roederer hitting in South Bend in 2019. You can see the ball explode off his bat in these videos and you can see his speed on the basepaths. Unfortunately, what you don’t see is him hitting the ball to left field much.
12. Riley Thompson. RHP. DOB: 7/9/96. B:L, T:R. 6’3”, 205. Drafted 11th round (2018), Louisville.
Thompson was a highly-regarded high school pitching prospect out of high school in Louisville, but his prep career ended with Tommy John surgery shortly before the 2015 Draft. He ended up going to the local University of Louisville and redshirted his freshman season as he recuperated from the surgery. He returned to pitch two seasons for the Cardinals, but he struggled with control and wasn’t very effective. He also dealt with some shoulder issues in college. The Baseball America draft report on Thompson in 2018 was that his raw stuff was worthy of the first round, but he might never overcome his health-related issues.
The Cubs took a chance on him in the 11th-round as a draft-eligible sophomore and signed him to an over-slot $200,000 bonus. Throughout the 2019 season, it looked like a terrific bet.
Thompson was the ace of the South Bend Cubs in 2019, going 8-6 with a 3.06 ERA over 21 starts and 94 innings. Even better, he didn’t have much trouble throwing strikes, walking just 31 batters and striking out 87. Thompson started the title-clinching Game 3 of the Midwest League Championship Series when he threw five innings of no-hit baseball against Clinton. He struck out ten in those five innings and didn’t walk anyone. The only baserunner he allowed came on an error.
Thompson has a 93-95 mph fastball with good movement. He can touch 97 on occasion with his heater. His best pitch is the curve that has a terrific “spin rate” and can freeze a right-handed hitter. Baseball America ranked his curve as the best curve in the Cubs minor league system. He’s also developed a new changeup in his time with the Cubs that has a downward movement similar to a splitter. He has the size and the stamina to stay in the rotation and has the upside of a mid-rotation starter.
The Cubs left Thompson in South Bend for all of 2019 to gain experience and to build up his confidence after struggling so much in college. But the Cubs are going to have to decide whether to have him return to now-High-A South Bend this year or, since he’s already old for that level, have him skip straight to Double-A Tennessee. Even if he doesn’t start the season there, I expect Thompson to pitch a good part of the 2021 season in Tennessee. If everything goes according to plan, he could make his major league debut in 2022.
Here’s some good views of Thompson’s pitching arsenal while at South Bend in 2019.
13. Burl Carraway. LHP. DOB: 5/27/1999. B:L, T:L. 6’0”, 173. Drafted second round (2020), Dallas Baptist.
The Cubs took the hard-throwing Carraway in the second round of the Draft last summer and almost immediately sent him to the alternate site in South Bend with the possible hope that he could contribute in the major league bullpen last in the season. Unfortunately, he reportedly struggled with control in South Bend and that convinced the Cubs front office that he wasn’t ready for the majors in 2020. But his long-term upside remains unchanged. Carraway has the stuff to be a dominating left-handed major league closer.
Carraway’s best weapon is his fastball which sits at 96-98 mph and can touch triple digits. His pitching motion is also pretty quick, which means that the ball gets to the plate even faster. He’s also got an 1-7 curveball that’s in the upper-70s and almost seems unfair when a hitter is looking for that upper-90s heat.
Carraway is purely a reliever. He’s not a big man and you can see in the video below that he puts maximum effort into every throw. He’s not going to last more than one or two innings. But that’s what the Cubs were expecting when they drafted him. He just needs to throw those two devastating pitches for strikes more often.
Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to where Carraway is going to pitch in 2021. The Cubs normally like even their high draft picks to move up one level at a time, so that would indicate that he’d start in Myrtle Beach or even in rookie ball in Arizona. But all the rules have probably been thrown out after last year and Carraway did get to face advanced hitters at the alternate site. My best guess is that they send him back to South Bend and see where he goes form there.
Here is a collection of highlights of Carraway pitching at Dallas Baptist. The curve can be seen at the 1:30 mark.
14. Luis Verdugo. SS/3B. DOB: 10/12/2000. B:R, T:R. 6’0”, 172. International Free Agent (2017) Mexico.
The Cubs signed Verdugo out of the Mexican League for $1.2 million when they were in the “penalty box” and couldn’t sign any international player for more than $300,000. But since the 75% of the bonus kept by Verdugo’s Mexican League team didn’t count against the cap under the rules of the time, the Cubs were signing a lot of Mexican players at this time. (Also see Manuel Rodriguez in Monday’s installment.)
Verdugo made his US debut as a 17-year-old in rookie ball in 2018 and while he struggled that year (.193/.264/.293), he impressed scouts anyway with his raw tools. Despite that poor stat line, he was ranked as the 17th-best prospect in the Arizona League after that season. He repeated the Arizona League as an 18-year-old in 2019 and was much more successful to the tune of .305/.367/.447 with five home runs and eight steals in 53 games. On defense, he impressed with his steady hands and strong arm.
Verdugo projects out to be a strong, right-handed power hitter. His swing is a bit long and a bit complicated. That is going to lead to a lot of strikeouts, so he probably won’t ever hit for a high average. Fortunately, it sounds like he can draw enough walks that his OBP should be OK. Verdugo’s speed is pretty average, but he’s smart on the bases and should get the most out of what he has.
I’ve read mixed reports on Verdugo’s defensive future. Some seem to think he can be a solid shortstop, but most think he’s going to grow out of the position and have to move to third base. Fortunately, Verdugo’s reflexes, hands and arm strength can make him a superior defensive third baseman.
Verdugo should start the season in Low-A Myrtle Beach. That will be the first big test for the now twenty-year-old Mexican infielder.
This video is over two years old now, but it’s still the best one of seen to get a sense of what kind of a hitter Verdugo is.
15. 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 for 2019 after he went 8-8 with a 3.01 ERA for Double-A Tennessee. Abbott led the Southern League with 166 strikeouts in 146⅔ innings. Last year he suffered a shoulder injury in Spring Training, which shut him down before Spring Training was shut down. Fortunately, he recovered in time to be added to the alternate site squad in South Bend, where he spent the summer working with the Cubs coaching staff. He did not get a major league call-up (he wasn’t on the 40-man roster until the Cubs had to add him this winter), but that the Cubs wanted him in South Bend was a sign of how much they value him going forward.
I’m obligated to mention in every writeup on Abbott that he turned his career around in college when he taught himself how to throw Noah Syndergaard’s slider from watching on-line videos. He doesn’t throw the slider as hard (86-88 mph) as Thor does, but it has a similar break and can be almost as hard on right-handed hitters. Baseball America ranks Abbott’s slider as the best in the Cubs’ minor league system.
Abbott also has a slower curve with a bigger break that’s a more effective pitch against left-handers. His fastball is in the 90-92 mile per hour range, but it has good movement and spin rate and he knows how to locate pitches in the zone. He also has a changeup that he doesn’t use much and that’s probably for the best at the moment.
I’m also obligated to mention that Abbott threw a perfect game at Loyola Marymount. That’s really neat.
Wherever Abbott has pitched, he’s succeeded. His career minor league ERA is 2.84 in over 275 innings. There is a lot of fear that Abbott’s ho-hum velocity will get him in trouble in the majors, but it hasn’t happened yet. He has the size, stamina and strength to be a back-of-the-rotation starter in the majors. Abbott will probably start the season in Triple-A Iowa, but his major league debut is likely to come in 2021.
This video is from 2018, but it gives a really good example of how Abbott attacks a hitter and what his pitches look like.
Tomorrow: Prospects 6 to 10.