We’ve entered the Top 10 of our countdown of the BCB Top 20 Prospects. I feel like if Casey Kasem were still alive, we could get him to announce the number of each player and it would be so much more dramatic.
I really struggled with these five players, bouncing these five up and down the list. I had them all in the five-to-ten (or eleven) range, but I couldn’t make up my mind what order to put them in.
In the end, I decided it just didn’t matter. These five players are all so close in my mind that you could put them in any order and you wouldn’t be wrong. None of them are elite prospects yet, although some could be soon. The ones with lower upside are much, much more likely to be productive major leaguers. I just decided to go with my gut and list them in this order.
Now if you want to take this list, print it out, cut it up into five different sections and put them in your own order, be my guest. I’m not going to say you are wrong. The system is really deep at the moment with good-but-not-great prospects. On that point, Baseball America ranked the Cubs as having the 15th-best farm system at the moment, up from 26th last year. They say the system has an “abundance of talented players at the lower levels,” but that they are “years away and carry a lot of risk.” That sounds about right.
As a reminder, 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 here are prospects 6 through 10.
6. Jordan Wicks. LHP. DOB: 9/1/99. 6’3”, 220. B:L, T:L. Drafted 1st-round (2021), Kansas State.
Wicks became the first-ever Kansas State Wildcat drafted in the first round when the Cubs took him with the 21st pick last summer. The Cubs said Wicks was in the top ten on their draft board, so they were pretty happy when he was still available when the Cubs turn to pick came.
Wicks four-seamer is a 92-to-94 mile per hour offering with late life that makes it above-average. But his fastball is helped a great deal by Wicks’s best pitch, his low-80s changeup that just drops off the table. He also sells the change well. It’s a plus-plus pitch. The slider and the curve are more average pitches, but they do a good job of keeping hitters guessing and Wicks mixes them in nicely.
Wicks also had plus command and control of his four pitches when he was at Kansas State. When he gets into trouble, which isn’t often, it’s because he starts nibbling on the outside of the plate and he misses away. I guess if you’re going to miss, it’s better to miss there than over the heart of the plate.
Wicks’s pitching motion looks clean and simple. He’s also a big man who looks like he’s already filled out as much as he’s going to. All pitchers, especially young pitchers, are injury risks, but I’d wager that Wicks has about as good a chance of staying healthy as anyone.
When the Cubs drafted Wicks, the word on him was that he was a pretty polished college pitcher who would move quickly through the system. He started out at High-A South Bend, skipping rookie ball and Myrtle Beach altogether. The Cubs limited him to just seven innings over four appearances after pitching 92 innings at KSU, but Wicks looked right at home in that small sample. He had one bad appearance at Quad Cities, but he followed that up with a solid start on the last day of the season against those same River Bandits—one run over three innings.
Wicks overall line doesn’t look that great because of that one bad outing—a 5.14 ERA with five strikeouts and three walks in those seven innings. But he flashed all four pitches and looked comfortable on the mound in his professional debut.
Without an overpowering fastball, Wicks’s ceiling is much more of a mid-rotation piece than an ace. But he has a good chance of achieving that and getting there quickly.
2022 Team: With only seven innings in High-A, it would be tempting to send Wicks back to South Bend to start the year. But I think the Cubs will push him up to Double-A Tennessee. That’s going to be a challenge, but you expect a first-round pick to be able to handle that kind of adversity, especially one with Wicks’s maturity. Even if they do play it safe and send him back to South Bend, I don’t expect that he’ll stay there long.
I wish I had some video of Wicks pitching for the Cubs that I could share, but here’s some of him pitching at K-State. He pitches out of a bases-loaded, no-out situation here with no runs scoring is impressive. That he loaded the bases on two walks and a bunt single to lead off the inning is less impressive.
7. Pete Crow-Armstrong. OF. DOB: 3/25/02. 6’1”, 180. B:L, T:L. Trade with Mets (2021).
Who was the last great Cubs center fielder who came up through the Cubs farm system? I think you have to go all the way back to Andy Pafko. I know most fans think Corey Patterson was a disappointment, but he’s certainly the best one the Cubs have developed since Pafko.
Center field has been a black hole for the Cubs since forever, and when team president Jed Hoyer dealt Javier Báez and Trevor Williams to the Mets, he was certainly hoping that he got the answer to that center field problem. The Cubs front office claims that they debated taking Crow-Armstrong or Howard in the first round of the 2020 Draft, and now they have both of them.
Pete Crow-Armstrong’s biggest asset is his defense in center field. He’s got plus speed, good instincts and he’s more than willing to sacrifice his body to make a play. He has an average-to-plus arm as well. Combine that arm with how quickly Crow-Armstrong can get to the ball and not a lot of runners will take an extra base on him. There’s a Gold Glove outfielder inside of Crow-Armstrong somewhere and it will be the task of the Cubs’ development system to find that guy and get him to the ivy-covered walls of Wrigley.
Offensively, Crow-Armstrong is more of a mixed bag. He’s got a nice swing, but its path through the zone is geared much more towards contact and spraying the ball to all fields than to power. It’s more of a slashing swing than a power swing, if that makes sense. He’s added some muscle mass since some of the high school showcase videos that I’ve watched on-line, but I don’t think he’ll ever be a big, burly guy who hits for a lot of power. Ten-to-fifteen home runs a year in the majors would be possible, however
Crow-Armstrong did display good patience and pitch-recognition skills for someone so young. Or at least he did in the small-sample-size we’ve seen of him. But even those scouts who think that Crow-Armstrong might struggle to hit above .260 think that he’ll draw enough walks to give him a solid on-base percentage and a valuable 7 or 8 hitter in the lineup. Others are more optimistic and think he can be a solid leadoff hitter with speed, which is what the Cubs are hoping for.
With a fiery, take-charge personality that’s going to make him a fan favorite, Crow-Armstrong also gets high marks for his baseball intelligence and work ethic. Those are things that we often overlook because they can’t be quantified — and sometimes those assessments are based more on image than reality. But those personality traits often play a bigger role in the success of prospects than their tools do. If Crow-Armstrong really does have them, it’s a good sign.
Crow-Armstrong got off to a blazing start to his professional career. In his first six games for Low-A St. Lucie, he hit an eye-popping .417/.563/.500 with two doubles and two steals. In 32 plate appearances, Crow-Armstrong walked seven times and struck out just six times. Unfortunately, that was all we got out of Crow-Armstrong in 2021. He tore the labrum in his right, non-throwing shoulder and missed the rest of the season after surgery. Although he wasn’t ready to participate in the Instructional League last fall, the Cubs have since cleared him for full baseball activity and he’s been seen working out and doing drills with other Cubs prospects in Mesa over the past few weeks.
I’ve said I don’t like comps, but Pete Crow-Armstrong gets compared to Jackie Bradley Jr. and Kevin Kiermaier a lot. Without getting too into the weeds about the differences between those three players (I think Crow-Armstrong will strike out less than both, for example, but might not have the same power), that’s the type of player that the Cubs hope he’ll become.
2022 Team: With just six games in Low-A, the Cubs will likely have him start out in Myrtle Beach again this year. But with the lost year, they’re likely to push him up to South Bend sometime around mid-season.
We’ve got some video of Crow-Armstrong playing in the Mets system.
This is from the 2020 Draft coverage on the MLB Network, but if you can get through all the ceremony involved, there is some video of Crow-Armstrong making some impressive catches in the outfield, including robbing a couple home runs. He also says that Javier Báez is one of the players he most admires, and that was before Crow-Armstrong was traded for him.
8. DJ Herz. LHP. DOB: 1/4/01. 6’2”, 175. B:R, T:L. Drafted 8th-round (2019), Terry Sanford HS (NC).
Davidjohn “DJ” Herz took the lessons he picked up in the Cubs’ Pitch Lab and put it to good use during the lost 2020 season. He added about three or four miles per hour onto his fastball, which now sits in the 92-to-94 range (and flashes higher) with movement that generally tails away from a right-handed hitter. That allowed him to be just as effective against right-handed pitching as he was against lefties in 2021.
Herz also learned a new split-fingered “Vulcan grip” changeup that he mastered during the lockdown. That pitch now rates as his best. It’s a nasty pitch that he really sells with his max-effort pitching motion. His curve isn’t as good, but it still gets swings and misses, giving him three different pitches that he can use as an out-pitch.
The Cubs sent Herz home to North Carolina in 2020 with a new diet and workout plan and it really worked for him. He’d always been a good athlete, playing three sports in high school, but Herz really grew into his body over the past two years.
The results were noticeable. Herz was the Low-A Pelicans’ best pitcher in 2021, making 17 starts and going 3-4 with a 3.43 ERA. Most impressively, he struck out a whopping 105 batters in 65⅔ innings while walking 38. That got him a promotion to High-A South Bend at the beginning of September where he made three more starts and didn’t miss beat. Herz struck out 26 and walked six in 16 innings in High-A while posting a 2.81 ERA.
Overall, Herz’s pitching line in 2021 was a 4-4 record with a 3.31 ERA between the two levels. He threw 81⅔ innings and struck out 131 batters. That’s an amazing 40.5 percent of the batters he faced last season. That season earned Herz the Cubs’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award.
When Herz gets into trouble, it’s usually because his control abandons him, He did walk 44 batters last year and hit another eight and that’s too many free baserunners. In his worst start of the year against Augusta on June 10, Herz surrendered nine runs over 2⅔ innings. A big reason for that line were the three walks and three hit batsmen Herz had in that game.
The thing that keeps Herz from being ranked higher is the real possibility that he could end up in the bullpen. Herz has a max-effort, cross-body pitching motion with a big leg kick and a trailing leg that goes in its own direction. His athleticism allows to repeat that delivery fairly well, but most scouts question if anyone has the ability to throw 100 to 110 pitches a game like that. Herz’s pitch totals were in the 80 to 87 range by the end of the season, but he only pitched past five innings twice. The only game where he completed six innings was one of his poorer ones with four earned runs.
So while I don’t rule out Herz being a major league starter because I’ve learned not to dismiss anything when it comes to him, I do think it more likely than not that Herz ends up in the bullpen. But the good news is that if he does, he could likely be a real weapon as a multi-inning reliever. Instead of a set-up man who throws 60 innings a season, Herz could throw 110 innings out of the pen. If the Cubs ever decided to employ an “opener” strategy, Herz would be the perfect candidate to pitch the first two or three innings. He might even add a little more velocity to that already-filthy fastball.
No matter what role he plays in the future, Herz is a fun guy to watch pitch. Unless you’re in the batter’s box. Then it’s not so much fun.
2022 Team: With just 16 innings in High-A and at only 21 years old, the Cubs will likely send Herz back to South Bend to start the season at least. I hope some of you get out there and take the opportunity to see him pitch because Herz does have some electric stuff.
Here are highlights from Herz’s first game with South Bend.
Also, I can’t embed this video, but check out Herz’s nine-strikeout outing for Myrtle Beach.
9. Reginald Preciado. SS. DOB: 5/16/03. 6’5”, 185. B:S, T:R. Trade with Padres (2020).
Preciado was a key part of the return in the deal that sent Yu Darvish to San Diego. The Cubs were interested in him as an amateur before getting outbid by the Padres, who gave Preciado a $1.3 million bonus, a record for a Panamanian player. (The Cubs also liked Kevin Made better at the time.) So when the deal for Darvish was being negotiated, Preciado was at the top of the Cubs’ demands, even though he had yet to play an official professional game at the time.
The Cubs put the 18-year-old switch-hitting shortstop on their rookie ball team in the Arizona Complex League in 2021 and Preciado didn’t disappoint. In 34 games, Preciado hit .333/.383/.511 with 10 doubles, three triples and three home runs. He stole seven bases in eight attempts.
Preciado was better from the left side against right-handed pitching. Although he hit for a strong .300 batting average as a right-handed hitter, his slugging percentage dropped from .564 against a right-hander to .375 when he faced a lefty. It’s a small enough sample size that no one should draw too many conclusions from that and it’s not like he did poorly against left-handers, but it’s something to keep an eye on going forward.
I think Preciado has quicker hands and gets the bat through the hitting zone faster from the left side. The right-handed swing doesn’t get as much lift on it, which could explain the lower power totals from that side. I admit that I need to see more of Preciado before I can be sure and I should get those looks this year. But from both sides of the plate, Preciado’s swing is going to generate a lot of line drives. He’s got enough strength to muscle line drives over the outfield fence.
Preciado is a man still growing into his body. Preciado hasn’t turned 19 yet. He’s now 6’5” and he’s just starting to change from a long and wiry kid to a huge man. Most scouts believe he’s going to have to move to third base and I agree with them. I think when Preciado is done growing, his body shape is going to look a lot more like Kris Bryant’s than Javier Báez’s. That’s going to slow him down as well, so stealing bases probably won’t be a part of his game going forward. He’s got the arm and the reflexes to play third base, however. The bat will play at third, but it won’t be as special.
Preciado’s ceiling is probably that of a switch-hitting third baseman who hits around .280 with a .325 on-base percentage and 20 to 25 home runs a year. Probably a whole lot of doubles as well. I wouldn’t rule out him having more power than that as he’s certainly going to have the size, but it would probably require altering his swing and that would increase his strikeouts and lower his batting average.
2022 Team: Preciado is certain to start the season at Low-A Myrtle Beach. That ballpark will be a challenge for him, but his line-drive stroke shouldn’t be as affected by it as some other players.
Some video of Preciado playing in the ACL.
10. James Triantos. SS. DOB: 1/29/03. 6’1”, 195. B:R, T:R. Drafted 2nd-round (2021), Madison HS (VA).
James Triantos can hit. He has a short, powerful right-handed stroke and he makes a loud sound when the ball hits his bat. That’s a common event as Triantos has shown plus bat-to-ball skills and should be able to hit for a high average going forward. Beyond that, he’s got plus power potential as well. As an 18-year-old in the Arizona Complex League last year, Triantos wowed scouts and analysts alike with a .327/.376/.594 triple-slash line with six home runs in 109 plate appearances. He puts the ball in play a lot. Triantos didn’t walk a lot (which I don’t mind in the ACL) with seven free passes, but he also did not strike out a lot either. He only had 18 strikeouts.
Triantos wasn’t supposed to even be drafted until this season, but he got himself reclassified at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year and committed to play baseball at North Carolina. He said he’d only sign if a team offered him first-round bonus money. The Cubs took him in the second round, but Triantos agreed to sign for a $2.1 million bonus, which is slot value for the Competitive Balance Round. That is considered to still be the first round.
Triantos may have more hitting upside than anyone in the system. He’s got plus hit tool potential and plus power potential. It’s impossible to be very confident in those assessments after just 25 games in rookie ball, but the reviews from the scouts were glowing.
Of course, Triantos is still a long ways away and things can go wrong. As he moves up the system, the pitchers are going to have better stuff and better control. It’s likely they’ll find some weakness in his swing somewhere and he’ll have to make adjustments. He certainly seems like the kind of player who can manage that, but we won’t know for sure until he has to do it.
Triantos wasn’t as quick as advertised coming into the draft, either. He’s not slow — he probably rates out as having average speed at the moment — but he’s not likely to get faster as he ages. The good news here is that Triantos is already pretty well filled out. He’s not likely to add much more weight and slow down because of that.
The other red flag on Triantos is his glove. The report coming out of the ACL was that his defense at shortstop was terrible and he didn’t look good at second base either. He has the arm to play third base (he also pitched in high school and was planning to be a two-way player at UNC), so that’s probably where the Cubs will try him in 2022. But the good news here again is that if he hits his ceiling as a hitter, his bat will play anywhere. They will find somewhere for him to play.
2022 Team: Triantos is certainly heading to Low-A Myrtle Beach to start the season. If he can manage to even come close to what he did in the ACL, in that league and in that ballpark, then Triantos has a very good chance to be a Top 100 prospect at this time next year. The bat could be that special. Or he could fall on his face and this entire entry will look stupid next year. But I don’t think that will happen.
Here is video of Triantos taking some at-bats in the ACL. You just have to watch the first pitch to be impressed.
Tomorrow: The Top 5! Gee, I wonder who is number one?