Down on the Farm: Mid-season Top Ten Prospects

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Because the All-Star break has just come and gone, it is en vogue to rerank the system’s top prospects.  2015 has shown that, in spite of some very high profile call-ups, the system is still very strong.  There were some other names who, while deserving, just couldn’t fit onto a top ten list.  That says a lot of good things about the state of the Cubs’ farm, even after some big time prospects were called out of it.

1. C Kyle Schwarber

The obvious top prospect in the system solidified his place by swinging the bat at AA Tennessee, AAA Iowa, and in a short stint with the big league club this year.  With him being called up again to start the second half, his qualification to be on top prospects listings may be running short.  Between his three levels this season, he has 17 HRs, and is slashing over .300/.400/500 at each level, save for his short stint in MLB, where is on-base was only .391.

Although his bat is major league ready, he still needs polish (to put it lightly) behind the plate.  It appears that, at least in the short term, he is going to get the chance to catch with the major league team.  Within that confine, he should be able to get daily instruction from Miguel Montero, David Ross, Mike Borzello, and Henry Blanco.  Schwarber is a very good athlete who has shown a considerable amount of improvement since his selection in the 2014 draft.  It is no sure thing that he remains a catcher long term, but it looks like more of a real possibility than it did a year ago, which makes him the clear cut top prospect in the system…for now.

2. SS Gleyber Torres

It is difficult to project an 18 year old who has never played above the Midwest League.  Gleyber Torres, though, looks like a star in the making.  When he was signed as an international free agent in 2013, he was lauded as a player who was more advanced than his age would lead us to believe.  He has shown that, consistently, in his initial foray into full season baseball.  He is hitting .308/.375/.394 through 81 games and has stolen 13 bases thus far.

Torres has a strong arm and makes solid reads on the ball.  He has the physical tools to play anywhere in the infield.  Although he does not boast any great physical asset, he is above average just about across the board, including his speed, quickness, and he appears to have the body type that will add strength.  Taken as a whole, there is a lot to like about Gleyber Torres as a prospect.  His physical tools and initial performance in 2014 when he came to the states put him on the radar.  The tools combined with his performance this season vaulted him to the top of the system.

3. OF Billy McKinney

All McKinney has done since coming over with Addison Russell last summer is hit.  And walk.  And play solid defense.In 53 games at AA Tennessee this season, he is hitting .293/.351/.431.  He has 20 extra base hits and has taken 18 walks while only striking out 26 times.  Those numbers follow up an excellent month at Myrtle Beach, where he had 11 extra base hits on his way to a .340/.432/.544 slash line.

McKinney may have been higher on this list if he was a better athlete.  While pure left handed hitters have a lot of value, he is limited by being an average athlete with an arm that may limit him to left field.  Overall, there is a lot to like about Billy McKinney.  He’s a good left handed bat who plays solid defense.  But his lack of versatility in the outfield hurts his overall value.

4. RHP Duane Underwood, Jr.

Photo: Matt Silfer, Myrtle Beach Online
Photo: Matt Silfer, Myrtle Beach Online

After an excellent season at Kane County in 2014, Underwood has followed that up with a strong showing at Myrtle Beach this season.  His ERA at 2.66 looks a bit lucky when pairing it up with a 4.11 FIP, but Underwood pounds the zone with good stuff, often inducing weak contact.  His strike out numbers are not impressive, registering only 5.88 K/9 this season.  But his walk total has also taken another step down, working at 2.80 BB/9 thus far.

Underwood features a big fastball, working consistently in the mid 90s and an effective curve ball.  He has consistently improves his command, allowing him to over match hitters with his stuff in the zone, but has the ability to get swings and misses when he needs them.  He’s still developing physically, meaning he could get stronger.  He body should be able to accommodate that strength without changing his mechanics.  Out of all of the pitching prospects in the system, Underwood probably has the biggest upside, which puts him atop his fellow pitchers…but unless he continues his improvement on his command and control, he may never realize the top of the rotation potential his stuff gives him.

5.  RHP Carl Edwards, Jr.

Now pitching out of the bullpen, Edwards has shown the ability to get the most out of his stuff, boasting 13.69 and 11.09 K/9 in AA and AAA, respectively.  Unfortunately, along with the impressive strike out numbers are pretty unnerving walk numbers for a pitcher who appears to be working on becoming a high leverage reliever.  He has 6.46 and 7.23 BB/9 in AA and AAA thus far in 42.1 innings for the season.

Making the move to the bullpen diminishes the fears of Edwards not being physically capable of taking the ball every fifth day in the rotation.  He is never going to be a big man, so his stature was always a concern.  Those concerns subside with his move to the pen.  In that respect, his excellent pure stuff can play up and make him an excellent high leverage relief pitcher.  At this point, the last real concern with Edwards is his ability to consistently throw strikes.  Unfortunately, that’s a significant concern for a high leverage relief pitcher.

6.  IF/OF Ian Happ

As far as professional sample sizes go, Ian Happ’s is nearly non-existent.  He has done what would be expected from a college hitter against short season competition.  He’s hitting .269/.405/.473 with 4 HRs and 9 stolen bases in 26 games in Eugene.

What puts him at this level of the prospects listing is what made him the 9th pick in the draft.  He is a versatile switch hitter, who has above average and power.  He has the body type that would allow him to play all over the field, and has good athleticism.  No one trait that Happ possesses jumps off the page, but in total he has a strong combination of traits that could make him an everyday player in the major leagues, even if it is in a role that puts him in different positions each day.

7. OF Eloy Jimenez

Another of the 2013 international free agent signings, Jimenez is getting his first taste of A ball this season at Eugene.  He has posted a very strong .307/.358/.367 with 2 HRs and 3 stolen bases in 19 games in the Northwest League.  None of this is what lands him on this list.

Eloy Jimenez is only 18 years old, but he has the look of an NFL tight end.  He is already a big human being…and he has the frame to accommodate even more size and strength than he already has.  He has the makings of a prototypical right fielder, with a good arm, above average speed, and massive power.  Because of his age and inexperience level, though, there is just too much left to answer about him.  But the projection is there…in spades.

8.  RHP Pierce Johnson

Pierce Johnson’s spot on this list is more indicative of his medical report than his scouting report.  If he were able to stay on the mound with any regularity, he would almost certainly be the top pitching prospect in the system…at least on this list.  He has only managed to make 6 starts thus far in 2015.  And while those starts have been strong, that is a really small sample after only making 17 starts in 2014.

Stuff is not the issue for Johnson.  He has a very good fastball working in the low to mid 90s and a strong curve ball that works in the low 80s.  He also has a change-up that has shown signs of being a solid offering.  Again, stuff is not what puts Johnson this far down the list…it’s health.  If he can stay healthy, he can become a fixture in the Cubs’ rotation.

9.  LHP Carson Sands

Sands is the first of the 2014 bonus babies to crack this top ten list, but he will not be the last.  He has been good in his 5 Northwest League starts, posting a 2.78 ERA and 3.6 FIP.  He’s also been a touch wild, throwing 2 wild pitches and hitting 2 batters in 22.2 innings.

Sands lands on this list because he has a low to mid 90s fastball with some arm side action and a nice 12-6 curve.  Moreover, he has a lot of physical development left that could add a few ticks to his fastball.  He is just now starting his development as a professional baseball player, but the stuff and projection make him a kid to watch as he works his way up the system.

10.  CF Albert Almora

In many respects, Almora’s spot on this list says more about the system than it does about him.  Although his .249/.294/.365 slash line at AA in 2015 are not inspiring numbers, his development is progressing and he is still only 21.  He has improved his walk rate to almost 6% and is still striking out at a mere 10.5% clip.

Albert Almora is an excellent defensive center fielder with a good arm, and does it with pretty average speed. He still has an excellent contact swing.  While he needs to continue to refine his approach at the plate, the tools that made him the first pick of the Theo Epstein era are still there.  Almora is also a highly intelligent player, which makes the likelihood that he figures out his approach and begins to use that excellent contact swing to drive the ball all over the field more realistic.  He was never supposed to be up quickly, in spite of the aggressive promotion to AA in 2014.  Almora has all the tools to be an above average regular CF…who could win Gold Gloves.  He just needs to continue to work on his approach at the plate.

 

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About Andy

Sometimes I write stuff about the Cubs. Sometimes it's even good. But don't get your hopes up. Basically, my writing is like the pre-2016 Chicago Cubs.

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