Top 22 Prospects: Chicago Cubs

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the Chicago Cubs farm system. Scouting reports are compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as from my own observations. The KATOH (stats-only) statistical projections, probable-outcome graphs, and (further down) Mahalanobis comps have been provided by Chris Mitchell. For more information on the 20-80 scouting scale by which all of my prospect content is governed you can click here. For further explanation of the merits and drawbacks of Future Value, read this.

Cubs Top Prospects
Rk Name Age Highest Level Position ETA FV
1 Aramis Ademan 19 A SS 2020 50
2 Adbert Alzolay 22 AA RHP 2019 50
3 Jose Albertos 19 A- RHP 2020 45
4 Oscar De La Cruz 22 A+ RHP 2019 45
5 Brendon Little 21 A- LHP 2020 45
6 Alex Lange 22 A- RHP 2020 45
7 Victor Caratini 24 MLB C/1B 2018 40
8 DJ Wilson 21 A OF 2020 40
9 Miguel Amaya 18 A- C 2022 40
10 Alec Mills 25 MLB RHP 2018 40
11 Jeremiah Estrada 19 R RHP 2021 40
12 Thomas Hatch 23 A+ RHP 2019 40
13 Nelson Velazquez 18 R OF 2021 40
14 Brailyn Marquez 18 R LHP 2021 40
15 Cory Abbott 22 A- RHP 2019 40
16 Wladimir Gallindo 21 A 3B 2020 40
17 Dillon Maples 25 MLB RHP 2018 40
18 Jose Paulino 21 A LHP 2019 40
19 Jason Vosler 24 AA 3B 2019 40
20 Mark Zagunis 24 MLB OF 2018 40
21 Bryan Hudson 20 A LHP 2022 40
22 Eddy Julio Martinez 22 A+ OF 2019 40

50 FV Prospects

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Dominican Republic
Age 18 Height 5’11 Weight 160 Bat/Throw L/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
20/55 40/45 30/45 55/50 45/55 55/55

Far too advanced for the AZL, Ademan made his U.S. debut in the Northwest League with Eugene. He hit .286/.365/.466 there, played great defense, and earned a promotion to the Midwest League for the final month of the season. He turned 19 a week and a half after South Bend finished their year.

Much of Ademan’s game looks effortless and refined. He has great defensive feet, a quick transfer, and an above-average arm, which are all supplemented by a good internal clock that allows Ademan to take an extra beat if it means fielding the ball with more comfort. His range is unspectacular but passes muster at shortstop. I have him projected as a 55 defender.

Ademan’s speed has slipped a half-grade in the past 12-18 months as his body has started to mature. This is common for young players with projectable frames – recent high-profile Cubs J2 signees Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres also filled out pretty quickly – but there are dissenting scouts who wonder if Ademan is destined for second or third base.

Ademan is similarly cool with a bat in his hands, taking quiet, comfortable swings that resemble the left-handed swing of Jimmy Rollins. The swing has some natural loft the leads to lots of pull-side doubles, and Ademan might be strong enough to yank out about 15 homers annually at physical maturity while making an above-average rate of contact, assuming his pull-happy approach isn’t picked apart at upper levels. That’s an above-average regular at shortstop.

KATOH projection for first six years: 2.3 WAR

KATOH Likelihood of Outcomes Graph
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2012 from Venezuela
Age 22 Height 6’0 Weight 179 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command
60/60 55/60 40/45 45/50

After an inconspicuous 2016 season during which he endured a significant reduction to his strikeout rate, the quick-working Alzolay broke out in 2017, reaching Double-A in July before his summer coasted to a halt. Alzolay had extended rest throughout July and August, his starts often spaced out by six days. He didn’t throw more than 80 pitches in any August start, was shut down late in that month, and was then asked to pick up innings in the Arizona Fall League.

Other than a Halloween shelling (again, after this appearance, Alzolay was given extended rest and didn’t return to the mound until November 9th) during which he surrendered six of the eight runs he gave up all Fall, Alzolay looked great in Arizona. He sat 93-96 there, just a tick above where his fastball sat during longer, regular-season outings, and he was 95-97 in the Fall Stars game. The pitch has a bit of wiggle to it and is comfortably plus.

Alzolay’s breaking ball, a two-plane power curve in the 82-86 mph range, also projects to plus. Its bite is inconsistent, lacking when Alzolay doesn’t get on top of the baseball, but it has bat-missing movement when he’s keeping it down and to his glove side. He’ll have to do this more consistently to thwart left-handed hitters, as his changeup is still below average. He has some feel for creating movement on the pitch — which is typically a firm 87-88 mph offering — but not for locating it anywhere enticing. The pitch has potential, which, in light of Alzolay’s youth, is all it needs to have right now. If the changeup never develops, then Alzolay’s repertoire looks similar to that of Rockies righty Antonio Senzatela. That’s still a viable No. 4/5 starter. If you think the changeup has any growth left in it (I do), then he projects above that.

KATOH projection for first six years: 1.0 WAR

KATOH Likelihood of Outcomes Graph

45 FV Prospects

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Mexico
Age 18 Height 6’1 Weight 185 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command
60/60 45/60 50/60 30/45

The formerly elusive Jose Albertos pitched much of the summer in the Northwest League at the age of 18. He struck out 42 hitters in just 34 innings there and generated a 55% ground-ball rate during that span. His stuff is great. Albertos sports a heavy fastball in the mid-90s, mostly 92-96. His curveball and changeup both flash plus. The former can be babied into the strike zone if Albertos needs to get something other than his fastball over for a strike. He’s also willing to throw the changeup to righties, and the pitch has enough late, ghosting action to slip beneath their bats. Scouts who ascribe to the “If I see it, I project to it” theory of pitch projection leave Albertos starts with future 60s and 70s on his pitches.

But nothing is consistent yet. Mature bodied, Albertos is a below-average athlete who struggles to repeat his release point. His fastball command suffers (he spikes many of them), as does the shape of his breaking ball. Scouts are split as to whether the command will come, with proponents leaning on the ease of Albertos’s delivery, while skeptics cite his lack of athleticism. The two are not mutually exclusive: a pitcher can deliver the ball with ease but not necessarily repeat his delivery well enough to start. (This is known as the he Neftali Feliz Dichotomy®.) Albertos has also had some minor arm trouble during each of the last two years. He’s a risky teenage arm with All-Star upside if he can learn to locate consistently.

KATOH projection for first six years: 1.2 WAR

KATOH Likelihood of Outcomes Graph
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2012 from Dominican Republic
Age 22 Height 6’4 Weight 200 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command
45/50 55/60 40/50 40/50

We left 2017 with more questions than answers about the health of De La Cruz. After a dominant May start against Winston-Salem, during which De La Cruz struck out a season-high 10 hitters and sat 93-96 with his fastball, he was shut down and didn’t pitch again until an AZL rehab start in mid-August. His fastball was 89-92, touching 93 in that appearance.

De La Cruz was later supposed to pick up innings in the Fall League, but he was scratched from Mesa’s roster before the season due to continued arm soreness. His single-season career-high for innings pitched remains the 75 he threw in the 2014 DSL.

When healthy, De La Cruz’s stuff is electric. His fastball’s velocity and movement make up for its lack of downhill plane, his curveball is consistently plus and can be located in the zone for early-count strikes, and he’ll show you an above-average (though inconsistent) changeup. His stuff is as electric as that of any arm in this system; he just can’t stay healthy. I prefer De La Cruz’s stuff to Alzolay’s and his command projection, build, and athleticism to Albertos’s, but he’s an extreme injury risk, especially for a guy who has never needed a major surgery.

The stock, developmental prescription for pitchers this age who have yet to prove they have season-long durability is a move to the bullpen. With many of Chicago’s college draftees poised to move into the High-A/Double-A section of the minors in the next year or so, a pitching crunch that displaces De La Cruz to the bullpen seems possible.

KATOH projection for first six years: 0.6 WAR

KATOH Likelihood of Outcomes Graph
Drafted: 1st Round, 2017 from Florida – Manatee (JC)
Age 20 Height 6’1 Weight 195 Bat/Throw L/L
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command
50/50 55/60 40/50 40/45

North Carolina is one of the handful of large programs that goes into the Northeast to recruit. They landed Little, who went to high school just outside of Philadelphia, but didn’t make him a focal point of the pitching staff during his freshman year. Little transferred to State College of Florida-Manatee after his first year on Chapel Hill.

At Manatee, he sat 91-95 and touched 97 with an above-average curveball. The Cubs picked him 27th overall. He was 88-90 in Eugene after he signed, but recall that he barely pitched as a freshman.

Amateur scouts had some relief concerns about Little due to middling command. His delivery isn’t especially violent, but it is very upright and lacking in athleticism. He showed some changeup feel – at least for mimicking his fastball’s arm speed – in pro ball after signing, and scouts who saw him there have it projected to average.

There’s mid-rotation stuff here and I’ve grown more optimistic about Little’s chances of starting since June’s draft.

6. Alex Lange, RHP
Drafted: 1st Round, 2017 from LSU
Age 21 Height 6’3 Weight 197 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command
45/50 60/70 30/45 40/45

Lange posted a 1.97 ERA as a freshman at LSU and was a consensus All-American. His velocity plateaued as his college career continued and, as a junior, his fastball sat in the 89-93 range. Lange’s overhand curveball was perhaps the 2017 draft’s best pitch. It’s already plus, arcing in with depth and power. He throws it with violence and conviction whether he’s burying it in the dirt for swinging strikes or attempting to locate it in the zone, and he regularly accomplishes both.

Amateur evaluators had some concerns about Lange’s ability to pitch in a big-league rotation, requiring better fastball command and a yet-to-develop third pitch to project him as a starter. Lange used his curveball as a crutch at LSU and never developed feel for his changeup, though a source who saw him in the Northwest League, where Lange used his change more often, thought it had promising movement. And while Lange’s fastball command is fringey and his delivery’s violence precludes scouts from projecting upon it, pitchers like Lance McCullers have set a precedent for a curveball-heavy approach to pitching as a starter. So, while they’re less traveled, I think Lange has several clear paths to (realistically, No. 4) starterdom despite his current issues.

What is not easily explained away is Lange’s post-draft physical, which revealed an undisclosed issue to team doctors and resulted in a reduction of Lange’s signing bonus. While any pitchers have significant injury risk, this made it seem like Lange has a little bit more. Alternatively, this could just accelerate an already likely move to the bullpen, where Lange has the breaking ball and competitive fire to pitch high-leverage innings.

40 FV Prospects

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2013 from Miami-Dade CC
Age 23 Height 6’1 Weight 215 Bat/Throw B/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
50/55 50/50 30/40 30/30 40/45 45/45

Long lauded for his feel to hit from both sides of the plate, his on-base ability, and his doubles power, Caratini has never quite convinced scouts that he can catch every day. He caught and played the infield at Miami-Dade CC and then began a full-time transition to catching in 2014, his first full pro season. Since then, Caratini has improved all aspects of his catching. He’s a fringey but passable receiver, has average arm strength that plays down due to a slow transfer (something Caratini seemed to try to remedy in 2017 by throwing from his knees more often), and is now adequately mobile and able to block balls in the dirt, though they still carom away from him too often.

He’s a mess of 40s and 45s on defense, and some scouts think that’s just fine considering what Caratini can do with the bat. He hit .342/.393/.558 at Triple-A in 2017 and struck out in just 14.7% of his plate appearances there. Caratini’s hitting actions are smooth and quiet from both sides of the plate. Both swings are simple and generate all-fields contact, mostly into the gaps. He’s a potential plus hitter who will do most of his damage via doubles.

Many people in baseball think that the physical grind of catching inevitably dilutes offensive production throughout the season. They worry someone like Caratini will hit, say, an empty .270 and do little else if asked to catch every day. Caratini has never caught more than 86 games in a season – he did that in 2015 – and has seen more time at first base during the last two years. He’s more likely to catch sporadically — when his battery mate best suits his skills — and moonlight at first base and perhaps an outfield corner. This bat-first skillset is best suited for the American League, where Caratini would be able to get into the lineup more regularly.

KATOH projection for first six years: 5.9 WAR

KATOH Likelihood of Outcomes Graph
8. DJ Wilson, OF
Drafted: 4th Round, 2015 from Canton South HS (OH)
Age 20 Height 5’8 Weight 177 Bat/Throw L/L
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
20/40 50/55 20/40 70/70 45/60 50/50

While he possesses arguably the loudest tools in the system, Wilson’s struggles with contact continued in 2017 as he struck out in nearly 26% of his Low-A plate appearances. He’s a career .248 hitter overall and is hitting just .213 with a .287 career OBP against lefties, which has generated some early-career platoon chatter.

But Wilson does have plus bat speed, is a plus-plus runner, and is a capable defensive center fielder because of his speed. When he does make contact, it’s hard — he slugged .502 against righties this year — and Wilson’s high-effort style of play and speed create opportunities for him to impact the game even when he’s struggling at the plate.

Wilson’s struggles with contact make his profile volatile, but his tool set is such that scouts think he’ll probably play some kind of big-league role even if he’s only a 40 hitter at peak. Obviously, if the bat does develop, Wilson could be an above-average everyday player. If not, he might occupy the bigger slice of a platoon role at any of the outfield positions, or his speed might allow him to play elite defense in a corner and merit an everyday role. He needs reps (he missed a month and a half with injury in 2017 and spent 2016 in short-season ball) to polish up the defense, which presently relies solely upon Wilson’s speed.

KATOH projection for first six years: 0.3 WAR

KATOH Likelihood of Outcomes Graph
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Panama
Age 18 Height 6’1 Weight 185 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/55 45/50 20/40 40/30 45/60 55/60

Amaya, who is wearing braces in his 2017 headshot, hit just .228/.266/.328 this year, and scouts universally love him. He’s a projectable 6-foot-1 with terrific athleticism for a catcher. Twitchy and quick, Amaya is an advanced receiver and already able to steal strikes on the edges of the zone. He has a quicker transfer than is typical for a catcher his size and above-average raw arm strength. He could be a plus defensive catcher with a plus arm at maturity, and he already exhibits many of the general qualities teams covet in a catcher.

Offensively, Amaya’s approach to hitting is geared for contact. He expands the zone too often right now but has promising hand-eye coordination and bat control. He often finds a way to get the bat on the ball, making sub-optimal contact rather than no contact at all. He has the physical tools to hit but needs a refined approach, and his frame suggests there might eventually be some power here, too.

Scouts with whom I’ve spoken have firm everyday grades on Amaya. Some thought he was the best catcher they saw during the year. Teenage backstops are volatile and take forever to develop, but when you start lining up Amaya’s tools with some of baseball’s upper-echelon catching prospects, they clearly belong.

KATOH projection for first six years: 0.8 WAR

KATOH Likelihood of Outcomes Graph
10. Alec Mills, RHP
Drafted: 22nd Round, 2012 from UT-Martin
Age 25 Height 6’4 Weight 190 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command
45/45 50/50 40/40 55/55 55/60

Acquired from Kansas City in exchange for Donnie Dewees after KC had designated him for assignment, Mills dealt with bone chips in his elbow in 2017 and only threw 28 innings before an Arizona Fall League assignment. He sits 88-92 and will touch 94 with enough arm-side run that it’s a playable fastball, and Mills has plus command of it. He has an above-average changeup (for which he has great feel locating to both left- and right-handed hitters), an average slider, and loopy curveball that acts as a show-me fourth pitch. He sequences everything well, can run his fastball in on the hands of righties, keeps his breaking stuff down, and does enough that I think he’ll stick in the back of Chicago’s rotation for a long time.

KATOH projection for first six years: 1.8 WAR

KATOH Likelihood of Outcomes Graph
Drafted: 6th Round, 2017 from Palm Desert HS (CA)
Age 18 Height 6’1 Weight 185 Bat/Throw S/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command
55/60 45/50 50/60 30/45

Estrada looked like a potential day-one pick after a strong showing on the showcase circuit where he was up to 94 with a plus changeup and average breaking ball. He had a rough senior spring and strong commitment to UCLA, generating concerns about his signability. He signed for $1 million as the Cubs’ sixth-round pick, almost $800,000 above slot.

Estrada pitched sparingly in pro ball after the draft. Scouts in Arizona saw him up to 96, sitting at 93, and graded the secondaries as I did the summer before. They think he carries some relief risk due to his size and delivery, which features a lightning-quick but somewhat violent and long, overhand arm stroke. I have him projected as a high-risk, mid-rotation starter.

12. Thomas Hatch, RHP
Drafted: 3rd Round, 2016 from Oklahoma St.
Age 22 Height 6’1 Weight 190 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command
55/55 50/50 50/55 40/45

Hatch began to quiet some of the relief concerns that surrounded him last year by making 26 healthy High-A starts in 2017. Those concerns stemmed from a 2015 UCL issue — which was remedied with a PRP injection, not surgery — that kept Hatch off the field for what would have been his sophomore season. Hatch carried a heavy load at Oklahoma State the following year, throwing 130 innings (46 IP as a frosh, none as a soph) and showing clearly diluted stuff at the end of the year. The Cubs shut him down after they signed him, and he didn’t pitch for an affiliate until this past spring.

Further alleviating concerns was the development of Hatch’s changeup. Primarily a fastball/slider guy in college, Hatch’s changeup is now consistently average, and some scouts think it will be his best secondary pitch at maturity. It complements his above-average fastball, which features varying amounts of sink and typically sits 90-94, touching 95-96 on occasion. Reports on the slider are a half-grade down from last year, but Hatch has good glove-side command of it (the lone pitch he locates consistently), which will help maximize its effectiveness, especially against righties.

Though Hatch must improve his below-average command, his stuff points toward the back of the rotation. He’ll pitch all of next year at the age of 23, likely at Double-A. He profiles as a No. 4/5 starter with moderate risk due to his collegiate UCL issue and still-insufficient fastball command.

KATOH projection for first six years: 0.8 WAR

KATOH Likelihood of Outcomes Graph
Drafted: 5th Round, 2017 from P.J. Education (PR)
Age 18 Height 6’0 Weight 190 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
20/40 55/60 20/50 55/40 30/45 50/50

The 165th overall pick in 2017, Velazquez signed for $400,000 — the slot value of pick No. 130 — but got a late start to his pro career due to a hamstring injury. He didn’t get into AZL games until late July, but immediately began tapping into his above-average raw power, falling one home run short of the AZL lead. He hit eight bombs in just 110 at-bats, slugging .536.

Velazquez is raw but has louder tools than are typically found for $400,000. He projects for plus raw power, and amateur scouts had a 55 on his speed. We saw fringe speed in the AZL but knew there was a hamstring issue present. He projects to an outfield corner. Velazquez is thick through the thighs and butt, and scouts have his frame comp’d to corner outfielders (Jorge Bonifacio, Yoenis Cespedes, and Scott Schebler), so most have him projected there despite the present 55 wheels.

A corner profile requires a more polished approach and better plate coverage than Velasquez currently touts. He’s very upright through the swing, vulnerable to breaking stuff away from him, and he hasn’t learned to lay off of them yet. He’s shown some bat control and ability to hit the ball in the air to all fields, so the physical tools to hit and hit for power — and play an everyday role — are here, they’re just far away from actualizing. His ceiling will be dictated by how much contact he makes.

KATOH projection for first six years: 0.9 WAR

KATOH Likelihood of Outcomes Graph
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Dominican Republic
Age 18 Height 6’4 Weight 185 Bat/Throw L/L
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command
50/55 45/50 30/45 40/50

Marquez’s scouting report is a mess of 40s and 45s, but 6-foot-4 teenage lefties who touch 95 are not exactly common, and the ease with which Marquez sits 92-95 indicates viable starter’s command could be coming. He has a short, sawn-off arm action that’s similar to Madison Bumgarner’s, though Marquez’s delivery is more oddly cadenced. His secondary stuff is middling. The curveball is fringey, but he’ll show you an average big-league hook several times during a start, and his command of it improved dramatically as the summer went along. He’s already adept at locating it down and in to right-handed hitters. I have it somewhat conservatively projected to average, as I do Marquez’s command. The changeup is a great distance behind everything else, so far that it wouldn’t surprise me if a second breaking ball or a cutter eventually usurp it.

Again, right now Marquez is purely a big-framed teenager with some breaking-ball feel and competent strike-throwing ability. I think that’s enough to make him of significant interest even though much of his profile is abstract.

KATOH projection for first six years: 2.8 WAR

KATOH Likelihood of Outcomes Graph
15. Cory Abbott, RHP
Drafted: 2nd Round, 2017 from Loyola Marymount
Age 21 Height 6’2 Weight 210 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command
45/45 50/55 45/45 40/45 45/55

Abbott struck out just 4.37 hitters per nine innings as a sophomore at Loyola Marymount. That rate nearly tripled his junior year when his velo ticked up and his slider developed. Many teams weren’t on him until late in the spring, and some never got decision-making eyes on him at all. The Cubs drafted him 67th overall and sent him to Eugene, where he made five abbreviated starts.

Abbott has terrific glove-side control of his average slider and fastball, and can loop a 12-6 curveball into the zone for strikes. He’s not a great athlete but repeats his delivery well and could have plus command and control at peak. If he does — and he could move quickly — he’ll be a No. 4/5 starter, solid value for pick No. 67.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2013 from Venezuela
Age 20 Height 6’3 Weight 210 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
20/40 60/60 30/50 45/40 40/45 55/55

Signed out of Venezuela for just $50,000, Galindo has long been of interest to scouts due to his big raw power. His stock was up early this year, as he not only began convincing scouts that he might be able to stay at third base, but also because he was less strikeout prone than in 2016. Galindo was slashing .290/.350/.432 at South Bend before a broken leg ended his year.

Galindo has lost developmental reps due to multiple injuries, the most concerning of which is 2017 shoulder soreness that led to a DL stint in May. Galindo’s arm is a big part of why he still has hope to stay at third base, as he’s not especially mobile, so that will need to remain intact as he comes off the broken leg. Reports concerning Galindo’s approach indicate that his bat-to-ball profile is still pretty volatile despite the slight reduction in K% (over just a 44-game sample, mind you). Still, it’s an improvement when compared to Galindo’s previous two seasons. He’s a potential everyday player if he can stay at third and get to most of his power.

KATOH projection for first six years: 0.6 WAR

KATOH Likelihood of Outcomes Graph
17. Dillon Maples, RHP
Drafted: 14th Round, 2011 from Pinecrest HS (NC)
Age 25 Height 6’2 Weight 225 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Command
70/70 60/60 30/30

Considered a difficult sign out of high school due to a North Carolina commitment to play baseball and kick for the football team (his brother, Jackson, broke Dillon’s school record for longest field goal and still kicks at NC State), Maples fell to the 14th round, where the Cubs drafted and signed him for $2.5 million. His pro career began on an ominous note. He labored through 10 AZL innings and, in his instructional-league debut, Maples struck out the first hitter he faced… before then walking the bases loaded on 13 pitches. He reached his pitch limit before completing the inning.

After four full seasons of command issues and frustration, Maples reached the big leagues in September. He began the year at High-A. Maples entered 2017 with a new, hard slider that started clicking just a few weeks before he arrived for spring training. It sits 85-88 with horizontal wipe. Right-handed hitters have a difficult time seeing it and big-league hitters looked visibly uncomfortable against the pitch, which spins in at about 2800 rpm. He throws hard, 95-99, with some arm-side run. It’s late-inning stuff if Maples can harness it. Some scouts remain skeptical of his ability to do so. It still appears as though he’ll be able to stick in the majors, if only because his stuff is so good. He profiles, triumphantly, in middle relief.

KATOH projection for first six years: 0.6 WAR

KATOH Likelihood of Outcomes Graph
18. Jose Paulino, LHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2011 from Dominican Republic
Age 21 Height 6’2 Weight 180 Bat/Throw L/L
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Cutter Command
45/45 45/50 45/50 40/45 50/60

The slightly built Paulino endured mixed results in his first full year of affiliated ball. His fastball is fringey, mostly 88-92 with some tail, though he has promising command of it and a potential above-average changeup. We see big-league starters survive on command and a good changeup with some frequency, though Paulino’s lack of velocity (and relatively unprojectable frame and arm action) cap his ceiling. He has a fringey slider that lacks depth, though it can be thrown for strikes. He’ll be a back-end mainstay if his command develops as expected. If not, he’s rotation depth.

KATOH projection for first six years: 0.4 WAR

KATOH Likelihood of Outcomes Graph
19. Jason Vosler, 3B
Drafted: 16th Round, 2014 from Northeastern
Age 23 Height 6’1 Weight 190 Bat/Throw L/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/40 50/50 40/50 40/40 45/45 55/55

In 2016, a 22-year-old Vosler hit just three home runs at High-A. In 2017, Vosler yanked out 23 of them between Double-A Tennessee and the Arizona Fall League, more than he had in his previous three pro seasons combined. The changes? A more pronounced leg kick, better extension through contact, and an earlier drop of the back elbow, which has allowed Vosler to golf out balls down and in and generally hit the ball in the air more often. His ground-ball rate dropped 10 percentage points, down to 30%.

With an uptick in power output has come an increase in strikeouts, and Vosler’s overall offensive profile is on the fringes of profiling at third base, for which he has enough arm strength and mobility but middling hands. He saw time at first base in the Arizona Fall League and, for now, profiles as a corners bench bat. He’s Rule 5 eligible.

KATOH projection for first six years: 1.2 WAR

KATOH Likelihood of Outcomes Graph
20. Mark Zagunis, OF
Drafted: 3rd Round, 2014 from Virginia Tech
Age 24 Height 6’0 Weight 205 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
50/55 50/50 30/40 50/45 40/40 50/50

Zagunis’s most impressive skill is his ability to curate the strike zone. He rode it to his major-league debut in 2017 after posting a .404 OBP at Triple-A Iowa. He owns a 16% career walk rate, and while that alone does not signal big-league relevance, Zagunis does enough other stuff that he’ll likely carve out a big-league role as a platoon outfielder or bench piece.

Scouts noted that Zagunis appeared thicker this year than in seasons past, but it hasn’t affected his production and he was already occupying a corner-only spot on the defensive spectrum entering the year. He’s strong and gets the bat to the ball but doesn’t have great natural feel for hitting the ball in the air, and scouts remain skeptical about his ability to hit for enough game power to play every day as a corner outfielder, and he doesn’t have the glove to make up for it.

Also of note are the surgeries that have ended Zagunis’s last two seasons. He suffered a broken foot in 2016 and a broken hamate this year.

KATOH projection for first six years: 4.7 WAR

KATOH Likelihood of Outcomes Graph
21. Bryan Hudson, LHP
Drafted: 3rd Round, 2015 from Alton HS (IL)
Age 20 Height 6’8 Weight 220 Bat/Throw L/L
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command
45/50 45/55 40/45 30/45

Hudson has several traits indicative of a slow developmental process. He was a Midwestern high-school lefty with a lanky, immature, 6-foot-8 frame. He had very troubling strike-throwing issues during his first full pro season, walking 15.6% of the hitters he faced while seeing his fastball velo dip into the mid-80s. Everything progressed for Hudson in 2017. His fastball now sits mostly 87-92 with plenty of downhill plane, he cut his walk rate to a more reasonable 9.7%, and he can miss bats with his curveball.

The walk rate needs to continue to come down, but it’s headed in the right direction and Hudson’s curveball could carry the rest of an otherwise middling repertoire to the back of a big-league rotation.

KATOH projection for first six years: 0.6 WAR

KATOH Likelihood of Outcomes Graph
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Cuba
Age 22 Height 6’1 Weight 195 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/45 50/50 30/40 50/50 45/50 60/60

Scouts say Martinez looked stiffer and less explosive in 2017 than he did during his first minor-league season. He made less impactful contact, was a less selective hitter, and was a step slower than the prior year. His arm strength is still impressive, comfortably plus, and he’s an average corner-outfield defender.

The Cubs signed Martinez out from underneath San Francisco for $3 million in October of 2015. He had a frustrating first pro season in 2016, showing flashes of promise amidst an otherwise mediocre campaign that saw him hit .254/.330/.380 at Low-A South Bend. Though many scouts still see a big-league future for Martinez, that future is looking decidedly more bench-y after a year in which his numbers and physical tools backed up. He turns 23 in January.

KATOH projection for first six years: 0.3 WAR

KATOH Likelihood of Outcomes Graph


Other Prospects of Note (In Order of Preference)

Danis Correa, RHP – A 5-foot-11 Colombian righty who turned 18 at the end of August, Correa has the best arm strength in the system. I have reports of his fastball ranging from 93 to 100, with one source telling me they saw 95-98 in one of Correa’s few AZL appearances and another who had him sitting 97-98 in the DSL. Everything else — a changeup and slurvy breaking ball in the low-70s — is below average right now, but at the very least, this is an elite arm-strength lottery ticket.

Pedro Araujo, RHP, 1.0 KATOH – Araujo struck out 87 hitters in 66.2 innings in 2017. Some scouts have a 70 on his curveball, or at least think it flashes 70, but his velocity (he average 92 on the fastball for me in the AFL) and below-average command raise concerns about his overall profile. He’s likely a middle reliever.

David Bote, UTIL, 1.7 KATOH – Bote hit .272/.353/.438 at Double-A Tennessee in 2017 and capped his year with an impressive Arizona Fall League. Scouts are buying the bat. Bote generates most of his thump with his lower half, and he’s capable of driving the ball deep into all parts of the outfield. He lacks a position. Bote has seen time at all seven non-catcher positions throughout his career but doesn’t have the hands for the infield or the straight-line speed for center field. He fits best in an outfield corner, but once you start putting that kind of pressure on the bat, the 24-year-old’s 14 home runs at Double-A this year start to feel quite fringey. Some scouts think he’ll make it work as a bat-first bench option.

Eury Ramos, RHP – A 20-year-old Dominican righty, Ramos had a rough start to his AZL summer and was sent back to the Dominican for a few starts in late July to right the ship. He did, and while he still struggled to find a consistent release point, he was much better when he came back to the states for the AZL Cubs playoff run. Ramos has a low-effort delivery and efficient arm action. He’ll touch 94 and flash an average changeup and breaking ball. There’s still some room for mass on his frame, too, but his release consistency needs to improve.

Javier Assad, RHP, 3.2 KATOH – A 20-year-old, stocky, Mexican righty with a heavy fastball that will touch 94, Assad struck out 72 in 66 Northwest League innings. He extracts all he can from a fringey slider thanks to feel for east/west location, and he has a 12-6 curveball with which he pitches backwards. When he misses, he misses down. He has a limited ceiling but could pitch at the back of a rotation.

Charcer Burks, OF, 1.8 KATOH – It was another season of patience and high rates of contact for Burks, a multi-sport prep draftee who owns a career 11.4% walk rate. He’s short on physical tools, wielding little more than doubles power, and isn’t a fit in center field due to middling speed. Burks does have great feel for the barrel and, between his ability to hit and take a walk, seems likely to find a home as a bench outfielder on paper. That said, scouts aren’t sure if the patience translates to a bench role and think Burks could just be upper-level org depth. He’s Rule 5 eligible.

Jonathan Sierra, RF, 0.4 KATOH – Signed for $2.5 million during the 2015 July 2 period, Sierra has already grown into his massive frame and looks closer to 250 than his listed 190. He hits the occasional laser, reminding you of why he was so sought after as an amateur, but has significant swing-and-miss issues created by lever length and poor breaking-ball recognition. He played all year at age 18, so there’s still time to correct things, but with a corner-only profile, it’s imperative that that occurs.

Jen-Ho Tseng, RHP, 2.5 KATOH – Tseng made his major-lague debut in 2017 and projects as upper-level rotation depth. He sits 90-92, will touch 94, and has a bevy of fringe secondaries in his curve, change, and cutter.

Trevor Clifton, RHP, 1.6 KATOH – Written up as a No. 4/5 starter in this space last year, Clifton’s stuff and (already fringey) command both backed up in 2017 as he posted a 5.20 ERA at Double-A. His fastball was dipping into the mid-80s when I saw him early in the year, and he closed the season by surrendering 30 hits in his final 10 innings. He was up to 95 during his breakout 2016 campaign.

Erich Uelmen, RHP – The club’s 2017 fourth-rounder out of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, Uelman’s college stats are remarkable. He allowed just three home runs in 212 career innings at Cal Poly and struck out a batter per inning as a junior there, just as he did the prior summer on Cape Cod. He was up to 95 on the Cape but pitched more in the low 90s as a junior. His delivery is odd but effective. Uelmen is basically a side-armer, but has a shorter, quicker arm stroke than most of his low-slotted peers. It creates deception/extension which, along with his fastball’s significant arm-side movement, makes the fasball effective despite middling velocity. He also has an average slider, which he locates consistently to his glove side, and feel for creating movement on his changeup but not for locating it. There’s a chance Uelmen ends up with a starter’s repertoire and command. Ultimately, the very thing that has many skeptical about his chances of remaining a starter — his delivery — is precisely (because of its deception) what might allow him to be one.

Eugenio Palma, LHP – A 5-foot-11 Venezuelan lefty, Palma posted a 44:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 41 AZL innings. He’s well built, fairly athletic, and has feel for an average changeup and curveball (and carved up AZL hitters by using both of them liberally). He lacks physical projection and sits just 88-91 with some tail to his fastball, so there’s not a huge ceiling here. He turned 21 just before publication and projects as a fifth starter.

Michael Rucker, RHP, 0.8 KATOH – Rucker has terrific command — especially to his glove side — of a deceptively hard fastball that will creep into the mid-90s, and he mixes in two slurvy breaking balls and a moving changeup, all of which are fringe to average. He largely lives off of his fastball and his deceptive, slingy delivery, but he pitched well in long relief and got a look as a starter mid-year. Rucker is a bit older, largely because he was drafted as a redshirt junior after transferring from Gonzaga to BYU and sat out a year.

Erling Moreno, RHP, 0.8 KATOH – Moreno made multiple stops on the DL in 2017 and already has one Tommy John on his resume. He sits 87-92 with heavy sink and will flash an above-average changeup and average curveball. He has back-end-starter stuff and scouts once thought he had a chance to outpace that projection due to continued improvement of already advanced command, but he struggled to throw strikes in 2017. The mature-bodied Colombian righty turns 21 in January.

Chesny Young, UTIL, 1.1 KATOH – Young has great hand-eye coordination and can move the bat head around the hitting zone with precision, resulting in high rates of contact. He’s a career .298 hitter despite a down 2017 (he hit .254 at Triple-A Iowa) and is capable of playing adequate defense at various locales. In 2017, Young saw action everywhere but catcher. He wouldn’t be considered a shortstop or center fielder in a vacuum, but he’s okay there in a pinch. Most big-league bench options are either better defensive fits at a premium position than Young or generate more power on contact than he does. He is versatile, upper-level depth.

Luis Ayala, OF, 0.2 KATOH – Ayala impressed scouts with his high-effort style of play during spring training and then struggled early in the year at South Bend. He started to perform in late May and continued improving throughout the summer. From July 1st through the end of the season, Ayala hit .310/.395/.375. He runs well enough for center field but he’s not an instinctive defender and fits better in a corner, where he lacks the power to play every day. Scouts like him as a bench outfielder.

Keegan Thompson, RHP – Thompson missed 2016 — what would have been his junior year at Auburn — recovering from Tommy John surgery. He returned with a stronger body in 2017 and continued to work efficiently with four pitches, the best of which is an above-average overhand curveball. He has a below-average fastball that most feel will limit his ceiling to something in the fifth- or sixth-starter range.

Duane Underwood, RHP, 1.0 KATOH – Underwood’s mid-90s fastball plays down due to a lack of life and plane. That, plus below-average command and a limited repertoire, have Underwood projected to the bullpen, where scouts hope his velocity will tick up. He flashes a plus slider and has an average curveball and below-average changeup. The 2017 campaign represented Underwood’s first full healthy pro season.

Justin Steele, LHP, 0.5 KATOH – One of the high-school pitchers drafted with the savings accrued from Kyle Schwarber’s underslot selection, Steele had Tommy John in August. He was having a great season — he featured a 2.39 ERA at the end of June — at High-A thanks to a resurgent fastball (up to 94 after sitting upper-80s in 2016) and above-average curveball. Steele was getting a lot of swings and misses in the zone with his heater before he blew out but still lacked mechanical consistency and a viable changeup. He looks like a potential No. 3/4 starter when everything is clicking, but we may not see him again until 2019.

Yonathan Perlaza, INF – A scrappy little Venezuelan infielder, the switch-hitting Perlaza is strong for his size and capable of playing all over the infield (though he spent most of 2017 at second base and scouts think it’s where he fits best). He projects as a utility man. Anything more than that requires a lot projection on the bat, especially to Perlaza’s left-handed swing, which is still pretty raw.

Yunior Perez, RHP – Perez sits 90-95 and flashes an above-average curveball. He’s huge – a thick 6-foot-4 – for an 18-year old and is a fringey athlete with a long arm swing. I have him projected in relief due to a relative lack of command and athleticism, but if the fastball ticks up in that role and he develops a plus breaker, he could pitch late in games.

Chad Hockin, RHP, 0.0 KATOH – Hockin is Harmon Killebrew’s grandson and sits in the mid-90s with a plus slider. If he can improve his ability to locate, he could pitch in the big-league bullpen. The 23-year-old pitched in Low-A last year.

Tyson Miller, RHP, 0.3 KATOH – The club’s fourth-rounder in 2016, Miller sits 90-92 with an average breaking ball and fringe change. He was removed from a late-August start in the first inning after throwing a pitch that touched 95 on the gun, but made his next start. He projects as rotation depth.

Bailey Clark, RHP, 0.3 KATOH – Clark entered his draft year at Duke as a potential first-rounder. He struggled, posting a 5.61 ERA, and fell to the fifth round. Clark’s command limits his projection to the bullpen, where his peak stuff – a mid-90s fastball and plus slider – will play just fine, though late-season reports indicate his velo was down late in the year.

Peyton Remy, RHP – As a Colorado high schooler, Remy’s fastball sat in the upper 80s and maxed out at around 91. He was up to 94 for me as a freshman at Central Arizona (JC) with some semblance of breaking-ball feel. He was Chicago’s 17th-round pick in 2017. Scouts who saw him in pro ball weren’t sold on much more than the arm strength, but the upward trend in velo Remy has demonstrated makes him worth following.

Luis Aquino, RHP – A 24-year-old righty, Aquino’s breaking ball flashes 55 often enough for him to have K’d 13.9 hitters per nine innings at Eugene. He’s not very athletic and has command issues. He’s deceptive but reports on the fastball indicate it has fringe velocity.

Cistulli’s Guy
Selected by Carson Cistulli from any player who received less than a 40 FV.

Zack Short, SS, 2.0 KATOH+
Short is former a late-round pick with strong contact skills and the capacity to play middle infield. In this way, he resembles almost every other field player designated as Cistulli’s Guy throughout Eric Longenhagen’s series of organizational lists. There’s one quality that sets Short apart, however. While there’s always the possibility that one of those high-contact middle infielders might follow the Jose Ramirez career path and adopt the necessary swing plane to hit for more power, that’s something that Short has already done.

Consider: among the 331 batters in Low-A this past year with 200-plus plate appearances, Short recorded the seventh-lowest ground-ball rate. Consider also that, following his promotion to High-A, Short produced the 10th-lowest ground-ball rate of the 346 batters to record 200 or more plate appearances at that level. In both cases, he appeared within at least the 97th percentile in terms of avoiding the ground ball.

Players who possess Short’s combination of contact and swing plane are rare at any level. Matt Carpenter, Daniel Murphy, and Justin Turner are the major-league comps. Rhys Hoskins performed a similar feat at Triple-A last year before recording a 158 wRC+ and two wins in just over 200 major-league plate appearances. There are a couple other guys, almost none of whom possess Short’s defensive ability. By all indications, the overall profile is a useful one.

System Overview

Trades and graduations have sliced off the head of this system, but I remain fond of its “fruit on the bottom” composition. It features a wide swath of young talent at the lower levels, mostly from Latin America. The Cubs have cast a wide net in Latin America, adding a slew of good-bodied athletes with middling tools and then just kicking back to see what the player-development staff can do with them. In addition to the names you see above, the Cubs have several potential utility prospects who look like carbon copies of one another. Jhonny Bethencourt (1.0 KATOH), Andruw Monasterio (0.9 KATOH), Rafael Narea (0.6 KATOH), Yeiler Peguero (0.5 KATOH), and Yonathan Perlaza are all a skinny 5-foot-10 or so and athletic enough to play all over the infield. None of them is likely to hit enough to play everyday, nor play such great defense at shortstop that you don’t care. But one of them might, and if you gather enough of these guys, eventually it will become likely that one of them does. I think this strategy of talent acquisition and development is underrated.

Additionally, the Cubs have signed several interesting talents from Mexico. Albertos and Assad are both good prospects and Chicago has sleepers in Hector Alonso Garcia and Manuel Rodriguez, both of whom have average stuff but very little physical projection. Chicago often keeps their best young players in the DSL for their first pro season and then ships them straight to Eugene the next year. Teams need to scout extended spring training and the Northwest League instead of the AZL if they’re hunting for sleeper throw-ins in trades with the Cubbies.

Lastly, this club has been heavy on college pitching in the last few drafts. With most of the big-league lineup occupied by long-term mainstays, it makes sense that Chicago is hoping for quick-coming arms to fill in behind an aging pitching staff. They’ve targeted fringey, upper-level pitching depth in trades.

For John Arguello

Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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6 years ago

In case anyone else is wondering who John Arguello is, I’ll save you the 30 second-google search I did and post what I found.

output gap
6 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

And the blog John founded: