Today is the second day of our countdown of the BCB Top 20 Cubs Minor League Prospects! Today we look at prospects 16 through 20, which are an interesting collection. Two of these prospects have dropped from Top 10 rankings last year. Part of that is simply that the Cubs added a lot more top prospects at the trade deadline, and two of those traded acquisitions are also included here. Yes, there are some other reasons both of the former top ten players dropped, but I do want to stress that some of their fall is because of the improving system.
One crappy thing about this list? All five players are on the 40-man roster and are locked out at the moment. I feel like this is a bigger issue for some of these prospects than others.
At least I don’t have to write about Justin Steele again this season. Congratulations, Justin. After eight seasons in the Cubs system, you’re no longer a prospect. You’re a major leaguer.
As always, I want to stress that this list is purely my own and any mistakes or screwups are my fault. I base this list on what I’ve seen watching games and video, as well as what I’ve read online and from discussions with other people.
So with that said, here are prospects 16 through 20.
16. Alexander Canario. OF. DOB: 5/7/00. 6’1”, 165. B:R, T:R. Trade with Giants (2021)
It’s a sign that the Cubs system has gotten a lot deeper that a player who I really like and with some real tools is ranked here. Unfortunately, it’s also a sign that there are some real problems with Canario’s approach at the plate that could derail his career.
Canario is all about power. He’s a powerfully-build man (that 165 pounds must have been when he signed when he was 16 because there’s no way he weighs that today) and he puts every ounce of that into each of his swings. Canario gets his bat through the zone quickly and when he connects, he can send the ball a long ways. But the problem is that he often seems to be out of control while he’s at the plate. He gives the impression that he’s trying to pull every pitch 400 feet down the left field line and when he accomplishes that, it’s an impressive sight to see. But that also leads to too many strikeouts. When Canario does go to the opposite field, you almost feel like it was just luck or that he mis-hit the ball. His approach at the plate is swing hard and pray for the best.
On defense, Canario has all the ability to be a solid right fielder and he’s quick enough to play center field, although he’s much better in right. His throwing arm is as powerful as his bat and he uncorked a couple of eye-opening throws in South Bend last season. He’s also surprisingly fast for someone built like he is. Canario stole 21 bases last year in 29 attempts between Low-A San Jose and High-A South Bend.
Canario was a highly-regarded prospect in the Giants system when he came over in the Kris Bryant deal, but his tools have always been ahead of his production. With San Jose, he played 65 games and hit .235/.325/.433 and nine home runs. That’s not bad for a ballpark like San Jose, which depresses power about as well as Myrtle Beach’s ballpark does. But he struck out 79 times, which isn’t great for prospect in Low-A.
The Cubs promoted him to High-A South Bend right after the trade and he seemed to adapt the the promotion (and a better ballpark for power) immediately. In August immediately after the trade, Canario hit .275/.312/.500 with six home runs in 25 games. But four of those home runs came in a four-game stretch early in the month and the other two came in one game later on August 24 in Peoria. After that, Canario cooled off considerably and he had a miserable month of September, hitting just .147/.192/.324 with just three home runs. The league had adjusted to Canario and he wasn’t able to react to that.
Between Low-A San Jose and High-A South Bend, Canario hit .230/.300/.431 with 20 doubles, four triples and 18 home runs over 100 games. He also struck out 125 times and walked 43 times.
Canario is going to have to make some adjustments if he wants to put that massive power he has to use. Right now, I think Double-A pitchers would eat him alive, although I don’t know if he’s been working on making adjustments in the offseason that could change that evaluation. It’s a shame that the Cubs have to keep him on the 40-man roster, so he’s locked out and can’t participate in the offseason prospect “boot camp” in Mesa, because I think he’d really benefit from it.
For all of Canario’s problems, he still has to potential to hit 35-to-40 home runs a year in the major leagues. That’s why you can’t ignore him going forward.
2022 Team: Canario is on the 40-man roster, so his 2022 future is up in the air at the moment. I think he really needs to stay in South Bend, at least to start the season, but the clock is ticking on his team control and the Cubs may need to push him to Double-A Tennessee. Let’s hope he can handle it.
Here’s some video of Canario playing for South Bend. You don’t really see his power on display here, but you do see that he runs the bases pretty well for a slugger.
And because I did want you to see his power. This is impressive.
This is Alexander Canario.. the prospect the Cubs got for Kris Bryant.. GOOD LORD LMAO pic.twitter.com/qZ6Sv0xoJc— Fuzzy (@fuzzyfromyt) August 11, 2021
17. Nelson Velazquez. OF. DOB: 12/26/98. B:R, T:R. 6’0”, 190. Drafted 5th-round (2017), PJ Education (PR).
In many ways, Velazquez is the older version of Alexander Canario. Or at least we hope he is. Both Velazquez and Canario have a similar right field profile with a strong arm. Both struggle to make contact but can send the ball a long ways when they connect. Canario seems to be a slightly better athlete than Velazquez with better speed and more power potential, but Velazquez is the one who has started to make those adjustments necessary to succeed at the upper levels of the minor leagues and beyond.
Velazquez was a prospect who showed a lot of great tools earlier in his career in workouts, but when it came time to play the game, those tools disappeared. His swing-hard, pull-happy approach at the plate was leading to a lot of pop ups and weak grounders. He had some success in hitter-friendly Eugene, but struggled twice on promotions to then Low-A South Bend. But Velazquez eventually realized that he was going to have to make some changes in his approach at the plate to succeed.
The changes started in South Bend in 2019 when Velazquez hit a respectable .278/.344/.452 over the final 31 games of the season. Then he really put the missing 2020 season to good use and got comfortable with his new swing and new approach. That led to success in 2021.
With South Bend in 2021, Velazquez finally tapped into that batting-practice power during games. Over 69 High-A games, Velazquez hit 12 home runs, which is a big jump over the four he hit in 103 games in South Bend (when it was Low-A) between 2018 and 2019. Velazquez was then promoted to Double-A Tennessee, where he continued to hit for power with eight home runs in just 44 games. Velazquez was one of the bright spots on a miserable Smokies team last year, hitting .290/.358/.581 to close out the year. He even stole five bases in five attempts with Tennessee.
With a decision looming over whether to add Velazquez to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, the Cubs sent him to the Arizona Fall League. You likely know what he did there. Velazquez hit an eye-popping .385/.480/.712 with nine home runs in just 26 games. He won the AFL MVP Award as the Mesa Solar Sox took the AFL title.
It’s important to put those numbers in context. The AFL is always hitter-friendly and the pitching prospects sent there this past season were perhaps the weakest group in memory. (And Velazquez never had to face teammate Caleb Kilian, either.) But every hitter in the AFL was facing the same crappy pitchers and hitting in the same bandboxes and none of them did as well as Velazquez did. In the end, it became an easy call to add Velazquez to the 40-man roster.
Velazquez still has some things to work on. He still strikes out too much (132 times in 2021), but at least his swing is more in control and he’s not quite as pull-happy as he once was. Velazquez has got plenty of power the opposite way, so he need to remember that when he’s in the batting box. He has the potential to be a starting major league right fielder with 25 to 30 home runs a season. His batting average might be in the .240 to .260 range (or even lower), but if he builds upon the gains that he made in selectivity in 2021, he should still get on base enough to justify a spot in the lineup.
2022 Team: Velazquez is locked out with the rest of the players on the 40-man roster, but I’d expect him to return to Double-A Tennessee to start the season. If he hits like he did there last year, I don’t expect him to stay long. He’s almost certain to see time in Iowa in 2022 and a major league debut is certainly possible.
Here is some video of Velazquez taking several at-bats in the AFL. The home runs are at the 8:00, 10:15 and 12:30 marks.
18. Miguel Amaya. C. DOB: 3/9/99. 6’1, 185. B:R, T:R. International Free Agent (2015) Panama.
Last year, I proclaimed Miguel Amaya as the Cubs’ catcher of the future. Well, the fates had different plans. Amaya struggled to start the season and it was soon revealed that he was playing through a forearm strain and the Cubs shut him down. The Cubs had hoped that Amaya could recover through rest, but he never took the field again in 2021. After the season ended, the Cubs announced that Amaya needed Tommy John surgery, which means he’s going to miss most or all of the 2022 season as well.
It’s too bad, because Amaya was showing all the skills to be a superior defensive catcher. He’s very good at blocking pitches in the dirt and getting out of a crouch and fielding grounders in front of the plate. Amaya’s throwing arm isn’t a rocket, but it’s slightly above-average and plays a bit faster than that because of good technique. More importantly, pitchers love the way he manages a game and enjoy throwing to him. Despite his youth, he’s a real team leader who puts his teammates first. (Maybe he needs to be a bit more selfish. I don’t know.) Those kinds of skills are rare in catchers (although the Cubs might have another one in their minor league system in Casey Opitz) and will earn you a job as a major-league backup catcher at the minimum.
But a catcher still has to hit, and a lot of observers have questioned Amaya’s bat. He’s never hit for a high average and he isn’t likely too, but he walks a lot and keeps the strikeouts down so his on-base percentage is usually respectable. But a lot of people have questioned his power potential because his swing path doesn’t get enough lift on the ball. When he does elevate the ball, Amaya is strong enough to muscle it out (he hit 12 home runs in 2018 and 11 in 2019), but he hits too many hard grounders to the shortstop. Since he runs like a catcher, that means a lot of double plays, as well.
Last year, Double-A Tennessee was a disappointment for Amaya, although it’s hard to know how much that was because of the arm injury that would end his season. Amaya played just 23 games and hit .215/.406/.304 with just four doubles and one home run. He walked 21 times, which is almost as much as he struck out (22), but Amaya seemed more defensive at the plate than he had in previous seasons. Again though, that may be because he was playing through an injury.
2022 Team: With off-season Tommy John surgery, Amaya isn’t likely to play at all in 2022 even if he weren’t locked out. If he does, it will likely be in a rehab assignment in Arizona. In 2023, he’s likely to return to Tennessee.
19. Alexander Vizcaíno. RHP. DOB: 5/22/97. 6’1”, 172. B:R, T:R. Trade with Yankees (2021).
Vizcaíno was a little-regarded prospect in the Yankees’ system for years. He didn’t sign until he was 19 (ancient for a Dominican Republic player) and for a paltry $14,000. He then spent three years not doing much for the Yankees’ Dominican and Gulf Coast teams.
But Vizcaíno added velocity to his fastball before the 2019 season and developed a better changeup. His fastball now hits in the 95-to-97 mile per hour range on the radar gun and his changeup gets some “70” grades, which is “plus-plus” on the scouting scale. He has also has an average slider, giving him three potential major league pitches and a chance to start.
Vizcaíno does have some red flags on his resumé, or he’d be ranked a lot higher. The first one is his health. He missed most of the first half of the 2021 season with shoulder troubles, for example. In fact, Vizcaíno pitched only six innings last year before the trade for Anthony Rizzo sent him over to the Cubs at the end of July.
Every pitcher has injury concerns, but the bigger red flag on Vizcaíno is his pitching motion. Vizcaíno is has an awkward, lanky body and he throws with so much effort that it looks like he’s going to propel himself off the mound every time he releases a pitch. Not only is this an injury concern, but it’s a tough motion to repeat and that results in control issues. When Vizcaíno gets into trouble, it’s almost always because he has no idea where the ball is going that day.
Vizcaíno’s body and his control issues are a big reason why a lot of people think he’s going to end up in the bullpen. He looks like he could add a few pounds of muscle onto his frame, which might alleviate the concerns that he’s not strong enough to handle the rigors of starting, but the control issues connected to his pitching motion are not going to be easy to solve.
The final red flag on Vizcaíno is just his age. He’s going to turn 25 in May and while I’m not as worried about age for a pitcher as I am with a position player, it does mean that he has less time to figure things out and that the Cubs have to keep him on the 40-man roster.
There’s a whole ton of upside on Vizcaíno, but you can see why the Yankees were willing to part with him. With two plus pitches and a solid third, he’s got the chance to be a No. 2 or No. 3 starter. But he also might never make it out of Double-A. The Cubs will give him a chance to prove himself as a starter and even if he can’t manage that, he could still be an effective multi-inning reliever.
2022 Team: Like all the other players on the 40-man, Vizcaino is locked out so his start to the season is likely to be delayed. That’s too bad, because I really think he’s someone who could benefit from working with the Cubs pitching instructors. He will probably return to South Bend in 2022 when the lockout ends, but finishing the season in Double-A Tennessee is likely the plan.
Here are the highlights from the combined no-hitter that Vizcaíno threw with Joe Nahas and Burl Carraway on August 12. Vizcaíno pitched the first two innings and allowed just one baserunner when he hit the first batter he faced. It was his third appearance in a Cubs uniform.
20. Christopher Morel. UTiL. DOB: 6/24/99 B:R. T:R. 6’0”, 140. International Free Agent (2015), Dominican Republic.
Christopher Morel had a very mixed 2021 season. While he had primarily been a third baseman in the system previously, the Cubs decided to turn him into a multi-positional “super-sub,” a player akin to Ben Zobrist. Morel played every position on the diamond except first base, pitcher and catcher in 2021 and for the most part, he did it well. Most of his time was in center field and he looked good there once he got used to it. There were some troubles reading fly balls off the bat early in the season, but there was a lot of improvement as the year went on.
Morel didn’t look bad anywhere he played. He has a great throwing arm, so that really gave him a lot more room for error at each position. I don’t think I’d want him as an everyday shortstop, but he demonstrated that he can fill in at that crucial position and not hurt a team too badly.
So that was a real plus for Morel’s development and increases his chance of contributing in the majors. Morel also showed a power surge last season, hitting a career-high 18 home runs. In fact, that’s more than the 16 home runs he’d hit in the previous four seasons of his career combined, although Morel played a lot more in 2021 than he had in previous seasons.
The downside is that Morel struggled to hit in 2021. Some of that may have been a season-long hitting malady that affected much of the Smokies lineup, but his batting average in Double-A dropped down to .220. While he really hit left-handers well (.294/.375/.620), Morel really struggled against right-handed pitching last year (.203/.281/.370). His career splits aren’t nearly that bad, so hopefully that was just a flukey thing in 2021. But he can’t hit like that against right handers if he wants to play in the majors.
Morel has always had questions surrounding his bat. He sometimes has trouble with pitch recognition, which may have been the cause of those terrible splits. Morel has enough bat speed to catch up to velocity if he’s looking for it, but too often he just gets fooled. Morel strikes out a lot, with 134 Ks in 110 games last season.
You can’t call Morel a five-tool player because it’s not clear that the most-important tool, the hit tool, is there. But he’s got a tantalizing power and speed combination as he stole 18 bases in 21 attempts last year.
Morel got a late season promotion to Triple-A Iowa last year, where he played well but in just nine games. In the 110 games he played between Tennessee and Iowa, Morel hit .223/.303/.427 with 18 doubles, five triples, 18 home runs and 18 steals. The most concerning stat is the 134 strikeouts compared to 45 walks.
It’s all going to come down to whether or not Morel can hit advanced pitching. If he can, he;’s going to be a terrific bench player. If he can’t, he’ll probably have a long career of bouncing between the majors and Triple-A and a whole ton of “designated for assignment” notes on his career record.
2022 Team: Another 40-man player locked out by the owners, Morel will certainly report to Triple-A Iowa when the lockout ends. His positional versatility means he’s highly likely to make his major league debut in 2022, since he’ll be one of the first players on-call when an injury happens.
Here’s Morel hitting a three-run walk-off home run for the Smokies.
Tomorrow: Prospects 11 through 15.