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BCB Top 25 Cubs prospects: Mid-season update

The Cubs farm system is really deep after several acquisitions.

Reginald Preciado making a tag for Panama in 2018
Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images

Now that the trade deadline is over and we’ve got three months of minor league play behind us, it’s time to update the Bleed Cubbie Blue Cubs Top 25 prospects.

The Cubs farm system is massively deep at the moment and that made coming up with this list very difficult. I could probably have taken it out to 40 prospects. Even as it is, I expanded my normal top 20 to top 25 and there are about five or six players I feel bad about leaving off.

Despite how many prospects the Cubs have, they really don’t have any blue chip Top 50 prospects other than outfielder Brennen Davis. In fact, Davis is the only Cubs prospect that even belongs on a top 100 prospect list. But there are almost a dozen players of whom you could say “With a good 2022, I can see them on a mid-season Top 100 list.” That’s what makes this list so hard to compile. Lots of players could have breakout seasons next year but I have no clue which ones will. I also assume that many of them won’t live up to their promise.

The gold standard in trades these days is the James Shields-for-Fernando Tatis Jr. deal between the White Sox and Padres in 2016. It’s easy to say the White Sox were fools for making that deal (and some said so at the time), but no one thought Tatis was going to be this good when the deal was made. He was an interesting 17-year-old prospect with some upside, but most of the criticism was aimed at the White Sox giving up any kind of prospect for James Shields rather than anything about giving up Tatis in particular. It wasn’t until he got to the Padres that scouts realized his full potential.

I think that’s what Jed Hoyer was doing at the trade deadline. He knew he couldn’t get a top 50 prospect in this market, and he knew he couldn’t predict what prospect would turn into the next Fernando Tatis Jr. But by getting a lot of “interesting” guys at the lower levels, he increased the Cubs chances of hitting the jackpot, even if many of those prospects will end up as busts.

As always, this list is mine and it’s based on what I’ve read, what I’ve heard and what I’ve seen. Any faults in the list are mine. I try to balance upside and the likelihood of reaching that upside. I also try to take into account a floor. I don’t go on pure upside, so if my list is different from someone else’s, that may be why.

Here is the list if all 25 players and where they are playing, followed by a short explanation. Clicking on the name will take you to their MiLB page, which will give you the stats. That’s easier and more informative than having me give them to you here.

Ten of the 25 players were not in the Cubs organization at the end of last season.

1. Brennen Davis. Outfielder. Tennessee Smokies.

There’s really no other choice here. Davis is head and shoulders above every other prospect in the system at the moment.

2. Brailyn Márquez. Left-handed pitcher. Tennessee Smokies (Injured List)

I don’t feel good about this ranking, considering that Márquez has thrown two-thirds of an inning over the past two seasons, and that outing didn’t go well. Márquez has missed the entire season so far: first with COVID and then with a shoulder strain. Right now I’m resigned to the idea that Márquez won’t pitch this season and I’m hoping that he pitches in the Arizona Fall League.

The reason why Márquez is still ranked second is that he’s easily the pitcher with the most upside, he’s not far from the majors when he does get healthy and I can’t justify putting anyone else here.

3. Reginald Preciado. Shortstop. Arizona Complex League Cubs.

A switch-hitting shortstop who is 18 years old and is hitting .366 with a .939 OPS in rookie ball? So far, Preciado has been everything Cubs fans could have hoped for. The reason why he’s still ranked behind Márquez is that it’s still only 23 games and it’s in the ACL, where good pitching is hard to find. But if he repeats this in Myrtle Beach in 2022, Preciado will be a Top 100 prospect.

4. Cristian Hernandez. Shortstop. Dominican Summer League Cubs.

Still just 17 years old and just getting his professional career started. But the scouting reports out of the Dominican have been glowing. More scouts think he can stick at shortstop now.

5. Pete Crow-Armstrong. Outfielder. Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Injured List)

There’s some division on Crow-Armstrong, with some thinking he can develop some power and become an all-star, with others thinking he’ll just be a good defensive centerfielder with a bat that belongs more in the 7 or 8 spot in the lineup. It’s hard to know what to think with the small track record, although what little we have seen of Crow-Armstrong has been good. The torn labrum is a concern, although it is his right, non-throwing shoulder.

6. Ryan Jensen. Right-handed pitcher. South Bend Cubs. (Development list)

I’m higher on Jensen than most, but if you saw him pitch in July, you might agree with me. Jensen got off to a rough start this year and struggled to repeat his delivery and throw strikes. But over his past six starts he was everything that the Cubs thought they were getting with their first-round pick in 2019. His fastball sits in the mid-to-upper-90s and his slider and changeup are improved. The Cubs appear to have shut Jensen down for the season after 58 innings. He ended on a high note.

7. Jordan Wicks. Left-handed pitcher. Unassigned.

The Cubs 2021 first-round pick hasn’t made his professional debut yet, but from the video I’ve seen and the scouting reports, this seems like a good place to rank him. He throws strikes and has a wicked change-up. His link goes to baseball-reference. Wicks doesn’t have an MiLB page yet.

8. Ed Howard. Shortstop. Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

There’s no question that Howard has struggled at the plate this year. Yes, we can make a lot of excuses for him and rave about his defense, but the bottom line is he has to hit. Most troubling are his pitch-recognition skills or lack thereof. But he’s flashed enough for me to see the upside if he gets things figured out, and he’s certainly young enough that he still has time to figure it out.

9. Miguel Amaya. Catcher. Tennessee Smokies. (Injured List)

I was really impressed with the growth that Amaya made in his defensive game and game-management skills before he went on the injured list in June with an elbow injury. I’m convinced that Amaya is going to be a major leaguer, barring a serious injury, because good defensive catchers are always in demand.

The issue is whether Amaya is going to hit enough to start. He has good raw power, but he doesn’t often make good contact to tap into it in games. He also just has general problems with making contact. Amaya might be a longer-term project than we had originally thought.

10. Kevin Alcantara. Outfielder. Arizona Complex League Cubs.

I’m admitting that I’m just going off of scouting reports and some on-line video highlights, but what I’ve seen of Alcantara impresses me a lot. He’s also apparently put on a lot of good weight over the past year. He’s a big (6’6”) man who could become an awesome slugger.

11. Alexander Canario. Outfielder. South Bend Cubs.

Canario is a bit smaller and a bit older, but he has a similar profile to Alcantara. There are some contact worries here, but he’s looked very good from what I’ve seen in South Bend so far.

12. DJ Herz. Left-handed pitcher. Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

Herz got some people a little over-excited when he ripped out of the gate with a 0.75 ERA in May. He’s struggled a bit more since then, but he’s still putting together an impressive season. For one, he’s striking out more than 14 batters per nine innings. He has a solid three pitches and his changeup could be elite. He will need to improve his control to succeed at higher levels.

13. Kevin Made. Shortstop. Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

I had trouble justifying ranking Ed Howard ahead of Made, considering that Made is outperforming Howard on the same team and is eight months younger than Howard. But in the end, Howard’s physical tools convinced me that he just has a lot more upside.

But Made also profiles out as a superior defensive shortstop with a good arm. He may not have as much power potential as Howard, but he could hit lots of doubles, a few home runs and steal some bases. That he’s holding his own at Low-A at age 18 speaks well of his future.

14. Owen Caissie. Outfielder. Arizona Complex League Cubs.

Caissie is hitting just as well or better as Preciado in the ACL. The only reason that Preciado is ranked 3 and Caissie 14 is that Preciado is an 18-year-old shortstop and Caissie is a 19-year-old corner outfielder. The poor quality of pitching in the ACL tempers my excitement, but I’m hoping this ranking looks absurdly low in a year’s time.

15. Yohendrick Pinango. Outfielder. Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

Right now I project Pinango to be a major league fourth outfielder, but he’s got a chance to be more than that. He’s doing well as a 19-year-old in Low-A and I’m especially impressed at how well the left-handed Pinango has done against left-handed pitching.

16. Caleb Kilian. Right-handed pitcher. Tennessee Smokies.

Kilian is a really intriguing guy. He really doesn’t have a plus pitch, but he’s a really smart pitcher with good control. He has a slight physical resemblance to Kyle Hendricks, but his pitch arsenal is pretty different. But like Hendricks, he’s going to need to survive on command and the ability to mix up his pitches to keep hitters guessing. From what I’ve seen of him, I like his chances to do just that.

17. Kohl Franklin. Right-handed pitcher. Myrtle Beach Pelicans. (Injured List)

Sigh. Another pitcher who hasn’t thrown at all this year. The Cubs have been pretty quiet about what is wrong with him, but some reports are that it’s an oblique strain and the Cubs are just being really cautious. It’s hard to know how far to drop him because he hasn’t pitched without knowing what’s really wrong. But Franklin still has a mid-rotation upside.

18. Chase Strumpf. Second baseman. Tennessee Smokies.

There’s no denying that Strumpf has struggled since his promotion to Double-A. He’s going to need to turn that around because he’s not going to make the majors on his glove. He’ll likely end up repeating Double-A next year. There’s still a lot of talent there.

19. Justin Steele. Left-handed pitcher. Iowa/Chicago Cubs.

Steele will make his first major league start tomorrow, so you won’t need me to tell you about him anymore. He’s looked good as a starter with Iowa, going 2-0 with a 0.87 ERA over five starts. The majors are a different animal, of course,

20. Christopher Morel. Utility. Tennessee Smokies.

On the positive side, the Cubs seem to be trying to turn Morel into a Ben Zobrist-type who can play anywhere on the diamond. The only positions he hasn’t played this year are first base, catcher and pitcher. Morel has taken everything the Cubs have thrown at him in the field and handled it. I’ve been impressed with him in the field.

The bad news is that Morel just hasn’t hit. The 12 home runs are nice, but a .199 batting average isn’t going to cut it. Some of that is a crappy batting average on balls in play that might come around, but part of it is that he’s striking out in about 30 percent of his at-bats.

21. Alexander Vizcaino. Right-handed pitcher. South Bend Cubs.

He’s had one good appearance and one bad one since coming over from the Yankees in the Anthony Rizzo deal. He’s got a terrific changeup and a good fastball. He looks like a reliever to me, but people who know more than I do say he can start. He does have some room to put on some muscle and maybe gain some stamina to go deeper into games. We’ll see.

22. Greg Deichmann. Outfielder. Chicago Cubs

Deichmann is older (26), but he’s got some good left-handed power potential, although he didn’t show much of it this season in Triple-A. Since he’s up with the major league team, I probably don’t need to tell you a lot about him that you can’t see for yourself. He’s a decent defensive right fielder.

23. Nelson Velazquez. Outfielder. Tennessee Smokies.

Velazquez was a guy I was really excited about in 2017 and 2018, but he didn’t play well and he kind of fell off the radar. Well, he’s playing well in 2021 and he’s still only 22 years old. He needs to show more on defense and he needs to show he can keep up his 2021 season to keep rising up this list.

24. Ismael Mena. Outfielder. Arizona Complex League Cubs.

Mena has been heating up in the ACL recently, with all the same caveats that you can throw on Preciado, Alcantara and Caissie. Mena reportedly has the potential to be a superior defensive center fielder, although I haven’t been able to check that out for myself yet. He won’t have to hit a ton to be a major leaguer if his glove and base running are really that good.

25. Ben Leeper. Right-handed pitcher. Iowa Cubs.

Purely a reliever, Leeper has a 95 to 98 mile per hour fastball and a nasty slider. He doesn’t need much else.