Top 49 Prospects: Chicago Cubs by Eric Longenhagen and Tess Taruskin December 13, 2021 Below is an analysis of the prospects in the farm system of the Chicago Cubs. Scouting reports were compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as our own observations. This is the second year we’re delineating between two anticipated relief roles, the abbreviations for which you’ll see in the “position” column below: MIRP for multi-inning relief pitchers, and SIRP for single-inning relief pitchers. A quick overview of what FV (Future Value) means can be found here. A much deeper overview can be found here. All of the numbered prospects below also appear on The Board, a resource the site offers featuring sortable scouting information for every organization. It has more details than this article and integrates every team’s list so readers can compare prospects across farm systems. It can be found here. Top Prospects Team Lists 2022 2021 ALBALCHWHOUBOSCLELAANYYDETOAKTBRKCRSEATORMINTEX NLATLCHCARIMIACINCOLNYMMILLADPHIPITSDPWSNSTLSFG ALBALCHWHOUBOSCLELAANYYDETOAKTBRKCRSEATORMINTEX NLATLCHCARIMIACINCOLNYMMILLADPHIPITSDPWSNSTLSFG Cubs Top Prospects Rk Name Age Highest Level Position ETA FV 1 Brennen Davis 22.1 AAA RF 2023 55 2 Kevin Alcantara 19.4 R CF 2024 50 3 Owen Caissie 19.4 A LF 2025 50 4 James Triantos 18.5 R 2B 2026 50 5 Reginald Preciado 18.6 R 3B 2025 50 6 Cristian Hernandez 18.0 R SS 2025 45+ 7 Caleb Kilian 24.5 AA SP 2022 45 8 Ed Howard 19.9 A SS 2024 45 9 Jordan Wicks 21.9 A+ SP 2024 45 10 Alexander Vizcaíno 24.6 A+ SIRP 2022 45 11 DJ Herz 20.9 A+ MIRP 2024 45 12 Miguel Amaya 22.8 AA C 2023 45 13 Pete Crow-Armstrong 19.7 A CF 2025 45 14 Alexander Canario 21.6 A+ RF 2022 45 15 Nelson Velazquez 23.0 AA RF 2022 45 16 Christopher Morel 22.5 AAA 3B 2022 45 17 Drew Gray 18.2 R SP 2026 40+ 18 Ben Leeper 24.5 AAA SIRP 2022 40+ 19 Ryan Jensen 24.1 AA MIRP 2022 40+ 20 Brailyn Márquez 22.9 MLB SIRP 2023 40+ 21 Zachary Leigh 24.1 A+ MIRP 2025 40+ 22 Greg Deichmann 26.5 MLB RF 2022 40+ 23 Burl Carraway 22.5 AA SIRP 2023 40+ 24 Christian Franklin 21.6 A CF 2025 40+ 25 Daniel Palencia 21.9 A SP 2024 40+ 26 Cory Abbott 26.2 MLB SP 2022 40 27 Manuel Rodríguez 25.4 MLB SIRP 2022 40 28 Yohendrick Pinango 19.6 A+ LF 2024 40 29 Anderson Espinoza 23.8 AA SP 2022 40 30 Max Bain 26.2 A+ SP 2023 40 31 Ethan Roberts 24.4 AAA SIRP 2022 40 32 Bryce Ball 23.4 A+ 1B 2023 40 33 Chase Strumpf 23.8 AA 3B 2023 40 34 Kohl Franklin 22.3 A SP 2024 40 35 Tyler Schlaffer 20.6 A SP 2024 40 36 Ismael Mena 19.0 R CF 2025 40 37 Michael Rucker 27.6 MLB MIRP 2022 40 38 Kevin Made 19.3 A SS 2025 40 39 Cayne Ueckert 25.5 AA SIRP 2023 40 40 Luke Little 21.3 R SIRP 2023 40 41 Luis Verdugo 21.2 A SS 2023 35+ 42 Riley Thompson 25.4 A MIRP 2022 35+ 43 Alfonso Rivas 25.2 MLB 1B 2022 35+ 44 Koen Moreno 20.4 R SP 2025 35+ 45 Jordan Nwogu 22.8 A CF 2024 35+ 46 Richard Gallardo 20.3 A SP 2023 35+ 47 Josh Burgmann 23.9 A- SP 2023 35+ 48 Yeison Santana 21.0 A SS 2024 35+ 49 Eury Ramos 24.2 AA SIRP 2023 35+ Reading Options Detail Level Data Only Full Position Filter All All C 1B 2B SS 3B OF LF CF RF LHP RHP 55 FV Prospects 1. Brennen Davis, RF Video Drafted: 2nd Round, 2018 from Basha HS (AZ) (CHC) Age 22.1 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 210 Bat / Thr R / R FV 55 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 30/40 55/60 45/60 60/55 45/55 60 Davis was the conference Defensive POY on Basha High’s 2016 state championship basketball team, and didn’t fully commit to baseball until his senior year of high school. Some area scouts thought he was so raw as a hitter, and that his stock had fallen enough due to a pre-draft hamstring issue, that he might be better off going to school at Miami, where a fresh set of area scouts would see him. The Cubs, however, took him in the second round, tweaked his swing, and Davis has never looked back, slashing a career .277/.383/.488 thus far while reaching Triple-A at age 21. Amateur scouts raved about Davis’ maturity as a student and a worker, often citing the odd hours he kept taking care of a goat and llamas at his family home, and all thought he’d be able to cope with any early-career contact struggles and work to improve his ability to hit. While Davis has had nothing but success so far, those struggles may finally be upon him. His surface-level numbers at Double-A were excellent, but he did strike out 30% of the time there, and deeper analysis of Davis’ in-zone points of contact reveal that he only hits pitches in a narrow band of the zone while he swings through them in many other areas. This is despite Davis employing what looks like a pretty conservative, contact-oriented approach. He works back through the middle of the diamond and to the gaps, letting his natural strength drive what is currently in-game doubles power. He has more raw juice than he hits for in games because his approach prioritizes contact (we’ve seen him choke up on the bat for entire plate appearances) and he has to compromise elements of his swing to make contact with certain low pitches. It’s arguably exciting that he has seemingly innate feel to do this, and Davis shows other hitterish traits. He can tuck his hands in and still get a decent part of the bat on inside pitches and use his strength to shoot line drives over infielders, but he’s really only a threat to do damage right now when he’s getting extended on pitches on the outer third. Greater flexibility in Davis’ lower half may be an important piece of him actualizing in-game power by lifting pitches toward the bottom of the zone that he otherwise can’t if he stays upright. While Eric was skeptical of Davis’ ability to do this because he has a pretty tightly-wound lower half, he showed glimpses of doing so last year. There are star-level tools here, regardless of whether Davis ends up playing center field or a corner. We’ve hit the brakes on Davis’ FV a little bit, waiting to see adjustment to his upper-level issues with swing-and-miss before we slap a 60 on him, but obviously Davis has the aptitude to make those adjustments as he’s made several others already. 50 FV Prospects 2. Kevin Alcantara, CF Video Signed: July 2nd Period, 2018 from Dominican Republic (NYY) Age 19.4 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 193 Bat / Thr R / R FV 50 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 20/40 50/70 20/60 55/50 40/50 55 Alcantara joined the Cubs system as part of the Anthony Rizzo deal ahead of the deadline. Like many, he lost a year of development in 2020, then had a delayed start in ’21 due to a hamstring injury that meant he only played nine games of Rookie ball with the Yankees before being traded. Post-trade, he went on to slash .337/.415/.609 over the 25 games he played for the Cubs’ Complex League team, then seemed a little overmatched (or perhaps just gassed) during instructs, which feature a higher level of pitching than the ACL regular season. Athletic 6-foot-6 outfielders who can rotate like Alcantara can are rare. He is loose and fluid in the box but does have some swing-and-miss concerns, caused not by his long levers (we’ve seen him pull his hands in near his body to barrel stuff inner half), but by sub-optimal barrel accuracy. He hasn’t yet grown into elite power but we think he will. His feel for contact might take forever to develop, or never develop at all, but for now he continues to boast one of the highest ceilings of any prospect his age. 3. Owen Caissie, LF Video Drafted: 2nd Round, 2020 from Notre Dame Catholic HS (ON) (SDP) Age 19.4 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 215 Bat / Thr L / R FV 50 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 20/40 55/65 25/60 40/30 40/50 60 Caissie, who came over from San Diego in the Yu Darvish trade, had never played a night game in his life until the Arizona Complex League opener in 2021. That is the most extreme of the many underlying background details that make Caissie’s 2021 performance — a .302/.434/.489 line split fairly evenly between the ACL and Low-A — so remarkable when viewed with full context. The huge-framed Canadian high schooler also hit the ground running in 2021 even after missing instructs the year before due to COVID-related travel restrictions. His high-end exit velos were not only the best in this system but among the top 20 in all of minor league baseball, with max exit velos exceeding 112 mph (FanGraphs’ sourced exit velo info has tended to lop off the top handful of recorded exit velos for each hitter to ensure the elimination of outliers). Already possessing a pro athlete’s build and physicality, Caissie’s huge, broad-shouldered frame indicates he’ll yet grow into more power. Though he’s likely to swing and miss more than average, his feel to hit is better than we had evaluated it to be while Caissie was an amateur and he has a surprisingly good idea of the strike zone for someone who had seen very little pro-quality pitching before 2021. We’re willing to project more continued growth of the hit tool here than usual because of Caissie’s cold-weather, rep-missing background, and think the power/OBP combination would still make him an everyday player even with a 40-grade bat. There are scouts who’d take him ahead of Alcantara because he’s had success (albeit just a month of it) at a level ahead of Alcantara at the same age, though they acknowledge Alcantara has more ceiling. 4. James Triantos, 2B Video Drafted: 2nd Round, 2021 from Madison HS (VA) (CHC) Age 18.5 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr R / R FV 50 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 25/70 45/50 20/55 50/50 40/45 40 Triantos made a silly amount of contact during his pre-draft summer and reclassified from the 2022 to the ’21 class the fall before his selection. Per Synergy Sports, he swung and missed just six times on the showcase circuit compared to a whopping 71 balls put in play. He has a non-traditional, high-effort swing and even though he was barely 18 on draft day, he was physically mature for a high school prospect who was originally a 2022 grad. Then Triantos came to pro ball and blew the doors off the Arizona Complex League, slashing .327/.376/.594 and looking like one of the best hitters in the league. While his ball/strike recognition is below average, Triantos is able to swing with ferocity without compromising barrel accuracy. He finds a way to hit the ball hard somewhere most of the time, and vaporizes mistakes that catch the fat middle of the zone. There is a very exciting hit/power combination here, and it’s very likely that Triantos rockets through the low minors given how dangerous he is in the box. There’s the possibility that upper-level arms will eventually feast on his expansive approach and he’ll need to make an adjustment. If he ends up as a low OBP hitter who can’t quite play a true shortstop, then we’re looking at a player in the Kyle Farmer to Josh Harrison range. But if Triantos can improve his swing decisions, he’ll likely become a good everyday player regardless of his position. 5. Reginald Preciado, 3B Video Signed: July 2nd Period, 2019 from Panama (SDP) Age 18.6 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 189 Bat / Thr S / R FV 50 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 20/40 45/60 20/60 40/40 30/50 45 Preciado set a record for Panamanian prospects when he signed with the Padres for $1.3 million in 2019. He was shipped off to the Cubs as the shiniest prospect in the Yu Darvish deal in December 2020, and spent ’21 in the Arizona Complex League, where he slashed .333/.383/.511 and split his time on the infield between third (16 games) and short (17 games). He’s a big-framed (about 6-foot-4) switch hitter who is athletic enough to stay on the infield. Players like this have a wide range of potential outcomes, with one being that their body develops in the Goldilocks Zone where they remain agile enough to stay at shortstop while also becoming big and strong enough to hit for impact power. Size and stiffness in his lower half have us projecting him to third base now. Preciado underwent a swing transformation between 2019 and ’20, though he is still making noticeable adjustments to it, which indicates that he is working to further develop. Pitch recognition is a concern, and might become more statistically relevant as he faces better pitching. It hasn’t caused a ton of swing-and-miss yet; rather it more often manifests as sub-par contact, with Preciado either rolling over grounders or chopping the ball straight into the ground. On occasion, he will add some small but noticeable space (maybe a quarter inch or so) between the top and bottom hand on his bat. While this is likely coming at the expense of his potential power production, moving his top hand up on the bat could help with his barrel control, and allow him to better react, and adjust to ball movement. This may be a temporary developmental tactic rather than a permanent change (he only does it occasionally, and only from the left side), but the takeaway for us is that Preciado, still clearly in a developmental stage, is able to enact adjustments on the field. He remains a prospect of extreme variance with star-level upside. 45+ FV Prospects 6. Cristian Hernandez, SS Video Signed: July 2nd Period, 2021 from Dominican Republic (CHC) Age 18.0 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 165 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 25/50 45/55 20/40 55/55 40/50 60 A high-probability shortstop with a long-limbed, projectable frame, Hernandez was your traditional international amateur who excels in a workout environment. His infield actions are smooth and athletic, his swing has a gorgeous, pronounced finish, and he has the right amount of overt physical projection that he might mature into the unteachable, star-making Goldilocks Zone, where he stays at short and also has impact power. The components of Hernandez’s swing push and pull against one another, as his cut is pretty long but he also has very advanced barrel control, and the latter is more important at this stage of his career. He’s able to pull his hands in and get the barrel on inside pitches, and he has good vertical plate coverage. The downward sweeping nature of the swing (he loads his hands very high and deep) might dilute Hernandez’s game power relative to his projected raw, but the Cubs have had some recent success in tweaking swings like this. It’s too early to worry about that, though. Hernandez has a great skill and athleticism foundation, and good frame-based power projection. He’s an excellent prospect with a shot to be a great everyday player. Though he came stateside for the end of instructs, Hernandez didn’t do anything in front of scouts and media beyond taking infield, so his DSL performance — .285/.398/.424 with lots of ground balls — and amateur evaluation are driving how he lines up here. 45 FV Prospects 7. Caleb Kilian, SP Video Drafted: 8th Round, 2019 from Texas Tech (SFG) Age 24.5 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 55/55 45/45 45/50 45/50 60/70 92-96 / 98 A 2019 eighth rounder out of Texas Tech, Kilian missed what would have been his first full pro season due to the pandemic and looked underwhelming during 2020 instructs, sitting 91-93 with fringe secondary stuff in a few short outings. But what Kilian is best at isn’t evident in short outings, as he’s one of the more efficient and precise fastball strike-throwers in all the minors, having walked just 18 hitters in 130 pro innings. Kilian will work with a nasty two-seamer that eats right-handed batters alive on the inner third, and a four-seamer that at times has natural cut. He can reach back for velocities peaking in the 96-98 band, while he sits in the 91-96 range throughout a start. He has incredible east/west command of a fastball that he leaned on heavily in college, throwing it about 65% of the time. That rate has dropped in pro ball as the Giants and Cubs have tried to improve his secondary stuff. His circle changeup and spike curveball grips are relatively new, having only just been altered since he’s come over from San Francisco. While Kilian has pretty good feel for locating his secondaries, especially his upper-80s slider/cutter, none of them looked especially nasty until he flashed some plus curveballs in the Fall League championship game, during which Killian shoved for six perfect innings on national television. Kilian looks like a high-probability innings-eating starter with some room for growth around the pitches that are still developing. 8. Ed Howard, SS Video Drafted: 1st Round, 2020 from Mount Carmel HS (IL) (CHC) Age 19.9 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 195 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 30/45 40/45 30/45 50/50 45/70 55 Howard skipped Rookie ball, assigned instead to High-A Myrtle Beach to start the season, and he stayed there all year despite lackluster production at the plate. He struck out nearly five times as often as he walked, rarely seeing a three-ball count all season. His steep learning curve in that regard isn’t surprising at this stage: While his approach was already advanced when he was drafted, he was a Midwestern high schooler at the time, and as with any cold weather hitter, it’s reasonable to allow some added time for his approach to fully adjust to professional pitching. He best squares up pitches at the bottom of the strike zone, so his adjustment to pro arms has been a challenge given pitchers’ penchant for fastballs up in the zone. Despite his lack of offense, Howard’s defense at shortstop didn’t falter, standing out in a system overflowing with middle infielders. He continues to project as a second-division everyday big league shortstop or high-end utility man, and is more likely to reach that outcome than most teenage shortstop prospects because of his defense. We believe a star turn is still unlikely here. 9. Jordan Wicks, SP Video Drafted: 1st Round, 2021 from Kansas State (CHC) Age 21.9 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 220 Bat / Thr L / L FV 45 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 40/45 45/50 40/45 60/70 35/60 88-92 / 93 Wicks’ stock exploded as much as was possible during the 2020 season. He had an incredible four-start run before the COVID shutdown then continued to be dominant in the Northwoods League, amassing 55 strikeouts against just nine walks in 46 innings and a 0.40 ERA combined between the two. While not as utterly dominant in 2021, Wicks arguably had the best changeup in the draft and plus command projection; that, combined with big conference performance, almost guaranteed him placement in the middle third of the first round. His fastball, while not all that hard, has traits that enable it to play at the top of the strike zone when Wicks is throwing the four-seam version. His slider is mediocre but viable so long as it’s well-located, and Wicks’ general feel for strike-throwing suggests it will be. This is a high-probability No. 4/5 starter who is likely to move quickly through the minors. 10. Alexander Vizcaíno, SIRP Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Dominican Republic (NYY) Age 24.6 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops 60/60 50/50 60/60 30/35 93-97 / 98 Vizcaíno missed the first half of the 2021 season with what the Yankees vaguely described as “arm soreness” and returned in July, working an inning at a time every two or three days until he was traded to the Cubs as part of the package for Anthony Rizzo ahead of the deadline. The Cubs began to stretch Vizcaíno out as a starter again, building him up to four innings in his final start of the year. His arm strength was totally intact, on par with his 2019 breakout, with most fastballs humming in around 95 mph. While Vizcaíno has exceptional arm strength and will flash a plus changeup and slider, his long arm action, loose in-zone fastball command, and sub-optimal fastball shape and angle all push him toward an eventual relief outcome, and the early-season arm issues do, too. It’ll likely be in an impact, late-inning role, though. 11. DJ Herz, MIRP Drafted: null Round, 2019 from Sanford HS (NC) (CHC) Age 20.9 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr L / L FV 45 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops 50/55 45/50 60/70 30/35 91-94 / 96 Herz went from maxing out around 92 mph during his 2019 debut season to sitting there in ’21. The velo boost and a newly-developed plus-plus changeup have the former eighth rounder looking like a nasty, multi-inning relief weapon. Herz has an extreme cross-bodied delivery that aids in deception and makes him a nightmare for lefty hitters to pick up. His stride direction looks more like Andy Pettitte‘s pickoff move than it does a traditional delivery. Even though he’s only ever started in pro ball, the delivery and Herz’s difficulty throwing strikes push him toward the bullpen for literally every scout we spoke to for this list. He’s still likely to make a significant big league impact because of the quality of his stuff, though. The arrow is still pointing up for Herz’s velocity projection because he’s so young and projectable, and it’s incredible how quickly his changeup became great. It’s as if an invisible parachute pops out the back of Herz’s cambio as it approaches the plate, and hitters flail at it helplessly. There’s a chance Herz ends up a single-inning high leverage type or, as we have him projected for now, a four-to-six out weapon for key middle-inning situations. 12. Miguel Amaya, C Video Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Panama (CHC) Age 22.8 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 230 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 40/50 50/50 30/40 40/30 50/60 50 Amaya had been a 50 FV prospect for a couple of years but as we shuttled our offseason top 100 list around last year, scouts and executives consistently told us to move him down, citing a relative lack of raw power compared to other 50 FV hitters. He remains a polished defender with leadership qualities befitting an everyday backstop, and his body is built to withstand the rigors of the dog days. Like most catchers, Amaya’s offensive tools play down a bit in games because the position wreaks havoc on the body. His hands work in such a way that he can hook breaking balls with power and drive velo to the opposite-field gap. He walks a lot and has reached base at a career .340 clip. There’s too much offensive ability here to consider Amaya a low-variance backup but definitely not enough power to consider him a 2 WAR annual lock. A forearm strain that plagued him during the first half of 2021 may be to blame for the extreme nature of his suppressed power prior to his shutdown and subsequent Tommy John, which took place not long before this list was initially published. The timing of his TJ and rehab complicates Amaya’s 2022, will probably force the Cubs to find yet another catcher for their 40-man roster in ’22, and may create an injury-related option year exemption that allows the Cubs to delay Amaya’s entrenchment on the active roster a while longer. We still think his long-term role is in this FV tier but the timeline for Amaya’s arrival has shifted back pretty significantly and the layoff creates some volatility, so he slides within this tier. 13. Pete Crow-Armstrong, CF Video Drafted: 1st Round, 2020 from Harvard Westlake HS (CA) (NYM) Age 19.7 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr L / L FV 45 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 20/40 45/50 20/45 60/60 45/70 55 Crow-Armstrong was one of the first 2020 high schoolers to be identified as a likely first round talent because of how well he performed against older showcase competition and SoCal varsity pitching. He had a rough pre-draft showcase summer, and while he rebounded later in 2019 during Team USA’s trip to Asia, he didn’t have an extended opportunity to do so in ’20 (his draft year) because of the pandemic, though the Mets picked him 19th overall anyway. He missed most of 2021 due to a labrum surgery that cost him all but 11 big league spring training contests and six regular season games. The Cubs still made him the centerpiece of the Javier Báez deal, but PCA hasn’t put on a Cubs affiliate uniform yet, nor did he participate in instructs. The layoff adds to already-present hit tool risk. Crow-Armstrong has a swing geared for low-ball contact and he is very vulnerable to fastballs in the top third of the zone, almost exactly like SoCal high schooler Blake Rutherford has been. The difference between PCA and Rutherford is that the former plays an incredible center field. That’s going to carry Crow-Armstrong’s profile, which, in broad strokes, compares similarly to Jackie Bradley Jr.’s. 14. Alexander Canario, RF Video Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Dominican Republic (SFG) Age 21.6 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 165 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 30/40 55/60 35/60 50/45 45/50 70 Canario was the higher-ranked of the two prospects (Caleb Kilian being the other) the Cubs received in exchange for Kris Bryant at this year’s deadline. To that point in the season, his line at Low-A had been disappointing, but the Cubs nevertheless assigned him to High-A South Bend upon his arrival to their system. Watching his swing, the bat speed is undeniable, but so is the violence, which results in only occasional power diluted by a ton of swing-and-miss. Tess got two live looks at him this season – once while he was still with the Giants at Low-A San Jose, and once post-trade with High-A South Bend – and he was still leaking with his front side, ending his swing with more weight on his front foot than would befit the power created by his upper body strength. An average runner with a plus arm, Canario is a defensive fit in right field, and needs to hit for huge power in order to sustainably profile there. But he does have ridiculous raw power and elite bat speed, way up there in Clint Frazier land, which gives Canario a power-driven pathway to everyday duty. 15. Nelson Velazquez, RF Video Drafted: 5th Round, 2017 from P.J. Education HS (PR) (CHC) Age 23.0 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 30/35 60/60 40/50 50/40 50/55 60 It’s appropriate to be skeptical of Fall League statistical performance due to the league’s elevation, climate, and level of pitching, which was especially bad in 2021. But Velazquez has other stuff going on that lends greater legitimacy to his 2021 performance, which culminated in a cartoonish .385/.480/.712 line and a Fall League MVP award. Several swing changes (leg kick gone, more conservative toe tap implemented, hands not loading quite as deep, shorter stride) and improved physical conditioning were evident along with the uptick in offensive performance, and Velazquez’s batted ball profile shifted in a meaningful way, as his groundball rate dropped from 50% to about 35%. Once a power-goof flier, Velazquez is now a substantively different player. We expect his plate discipline, which had been an issue for him and was much better in 2021, to regress to his career norms and for Velazquez to be a low-OBP hitter, which means he’s still relatively volatile. He may have some lean years because of his approach, but there will be others when Velazquez hits 25 bombs while seeing fairly regular duty in right field. He and Alexander Canario are similar players likely competing for short-term reps in Chicago now that they’re both on the 40-man. 16. Christopher Morel, 3B Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Dominican Republic (CHC) Age 22.5 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 140 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 30/35 55/60 40/50 60/60 40/50 70 A grooved, long swing will likely limit Morel’s ability to make contact and prevent him from being a true everyday player. Instead, he’s poised to play a valuable multi-positional role with rare power and athleticism for a utility man. The Cubs continued to expand his defensive horizons in 2021, with Morel seeing time at all three outfield positions and second base while continuing to get reps at short and third. He relies heavily on his plus-plus arm strength to bail him out of infield situations created by sub-optimal range and defensive hands, which tend to be most palatable at third base. His outfield reads and routes are rough right now, but not bad for how little Morel has played out there, and are likely to improve considering his athletic gifts and excellent makeup. Despite clear swing-and-miss issues, Morel posted a league-average batting line as a 22-year-old in Double-A, slashing .220/.300/.432 with 17 homers and 16 steals. He’s most adept at punishing mistake breaking balls, and his high-end exit velos (about 110 mph) and barrel rate on balls in play (22%) were at about the big-league average. The luxury version of this profile looks like the last half decade of Chris Taylor, and Morel’s best years should take that shape, but the number of whiffs here will likely create some leaner seasons as well. 40+ FV Prospects 17. Drew Gray, SP Video Drafted: 3rd Round, 2021 from IMG Academy (CHC) Age 18.2 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 189 Bat / Thr L / L FV 40+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 40/55 45/60 30/45 20/45 88-92 / 93 Gray is an athletic, projectable left-handed pitching prospect with great natural breaking ball snap. He sat 90-92 during instructs and his mid-70s curve spun in around 2800 rpm. He also had encouraging nascent changeup feel for a recently-drafted, two-way high schooler. He gets way down the mound and is very balanced over his lead leg as he delivers home, with big extension and flat angle. Release consistency and physical maturity, which might yield more velocity, are the developmental fulcrums for Gray, who has a shot to grow into three above-average or better offerings and be a rotation stalwart. 18. Ben Leeper, SIRP (CHC) Age 24.5 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 195 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Command Sits/Tops 65/70 55/60 30/35 95-98 / 99 Leeper had an extreme collection of injury issues as an amateur, including two Tommy John surgeries, the most recent of which was in 2016. He was totally healthy and throwing very hard during his last few seasons at Oklahoma State but still ended up being passed over in the shortened 2020 draft and signed as an undrafted free agent. Less than a year after signing, Leeper was at Triple-A blowing upper-90s gas past veteran hitters. He was up to 99 during the regular season, sitting 95-99 with big carry at the top of the zone. He also has a slider in the 87-90 mph range that is of variable quality. The best ones are plus, while the worst ones are below-average but still tilt in with so much velocity that they’re tough for hitters to square. Leeper won’t be exposed to the Rule 5 for another couple of years but he’s on pace to debut during the back half of 2022. 19. Ryan Jensen, MIRP Video Drafted: 1st Round, 2019 from Fresno State (CHC) Age 24.1 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 60/60 50/50 45/50 45/50 35/45 93-96 / 99 Jensen is a plus-plus on-mound athlete with incredible arm speed for someone his size. His high-octane delivery features a huge, open stride and one of the longer arm actions in the minors, a violent visual look that pushes him toward the bullpen even though Jensen fills the zone enough to start, holds his velocity deep in games, and generates lots of groundballs, which are all starter traits. He’s still searching for the consistent secondary offerings that would help enable him to navigate a big league lineup several times over, and a new curveball joined Jensen’s hard, upper-80s slider and changeup this year. He misses bats at an average rate, each offering doing a little bit of damage in the Fall League, where Jensen sat 94-97 and touched 98. The second breaking ball has increased his chances of starting, but we still think Jensen will end up as an impact reliever whose repertoire depth lets him work with more than just single-inning length. 20. Brailyn Márquez, SIRP Video Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Dominican Republic (CHC) Age 22.9 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 240 Bat / Thr L / L FV 40+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops 70/70 45/45 50/55 30/35 93-97 / 100 Initially delayed by a positive COVID test, Márquez’s 2021 never got off the ground due to a shoulder strain. It means our last two impressions of Márquez are a missed season and his horrendous 2020 big league debut, but mechanical inconsistency was already pushing him toward single-inning relief. Elite velocity carries Márquez’s profile. His heater averaged 95.6 mph in 2019 and was parked at 97.8 in ’20, and you can count the other lefties on the planet who throw that hard on one hand. Márquez walked 13% of Low-A hitters over 17 starts in 2019 but was promoted to High-A anyway because he was just bullying hitters with heat and not really refining anything else, and that was the last extended stretch he had in any kind of normal competitive environment. While he looks synced up for fits and starts, he doesn’t consistently. There really aren’t big league starters with this kind of build, lack of athleticism, and now injury history, but there also aren’t many pitchers who throw this hard. The recent track record for pitching prospects who have practically lost multiple seasons, in part due to shoulder problems, is not good and we’ve tended to move away from them too slowly (Puk, McKay, Honeywell) in this space. Lining up Márquez here is a conscious effort to adjust for that. 21. Zachary Leigh, MIRP Drafted: 16th Round, 2021 from Texas State (CHC) Age 24.1 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops 45/50 45/50 50/60 30/45 91-95 / 98 The ultra-deceptive Leigh was drafted as a fifth-year senior out of Texas State and, early on, he looks like one hell of a 16th rounder. He spent most of his college career as a reliever, only moving into the rotation (where he retained his stuff and actually threw more strikes) in his fourth year, amid the pandemic’s stateside beginning. He wasn’t as dominant during the 2021 college season but blew away pro hitters after the draft, striking out a whopping 17 guys in 8.2 innings while showing a velo spike (up to at least 98) compared to the spring (91-93, touch 96). Leigh has a big hip turn and hides the ball forever before it suddenly appears from behind his head. His super short arm action seems to make it difficult for hitters to pick up the ball out of his hand, and even Leigh’s hanging sliders sometimes generate awkward swings. He creates enough lateral action on his changeup and sweep on his slider that they’re both capable of missing bats when located, and the tailing movement on his fastball is explosive when he locates up and to his arm side. His delivery looks reliever-y anyway, but the velo boost coming out of the ‘pen makes it tempting to leave Leigh there even though he shows three real pitches. We have him evaluated as a multi-inning relief weapon. 22. Greg Deichmann, RF Video Drafted: 2nd Round, 2017 from LSU (OAK) Age 26.5 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 205 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 35/40 70/70 45/50 45/45 40/45 55 It’s easy to draw unflattering conclusions from Deichmann’s age, but it’s important to take into account the fluky bad luck that muddied the first several years of his development. He was hit in the face by a pitch in 2017 and required surgery, endured a broken hamate in ’18 and a shoulder injury in ’19, and then there was the pandemic. Now, at 26, Deichmann’s primary draw is still his raw power, which is undeniable, but the only real in-game glimpse of it came when he hit nine home runs in 23 games during the 2019 Arizona Fall League. He started 2021 with the A’s Triple-A affiliate, and while his on base percentage ballooned thanks to his patience at the plate — he walked 19.2% of the time during his Vegas stint — he only sent four home runs out of the notoriously hitter-friendly ballpark over the course of 60 games. He was traded to the Cubs near the deadline as part of the Andrew Chafin deal, and shortly thereafter was called upon to fill in for an injured Jason Heyward on the big-league roster. He spent the rest of season up and down between Triple-A and the majors, with his numbers just shy of league average in his games in Iowa, and nothing short of atrocious in the big leagues, though the sample was tiny. He’ll need to reharness the OBP he flashed in early 2021, or finally tap into his power, before he can be considered a viable everyday corner outfielder. 23. Burl Carraway, SIRP Video Drafted: 2nd Round, 2020 from Dallas Baptist (CHC) Age 22.5 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 177 Bat / Thr L / L FV 40+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Curveball Command Sits/Tops 65/70 70/70 20/30 94-97 / 98 Carraway is a prototypical lefty power pitcher, working up in the zone with his mid-90s fastball and creating vertical action with his sharp curveball. With his high arm slot, Carraway produces some of the best TrackMan/Hawk-Eye data on the planet, and one source compared his stuff to a left-handed version of James Karinchak. During instructs, his fastball sat 94-96 with a ton of ride to it, and his breaking ball is wickedly deep and pairs with that heater to keep batters confused. He pitches exclusively from the stretch and sets up with his back almost completely turned to the plate, which helps him hide the ball despite his arm action being on the longer side. He spent most of the season working out of the High-A bullpen before a promotion that saw him finish the year at Double-A. His strikeout rate was a stellar 34.7% at High-A but was bundled with a high walk rate almost as high (28.6%). In his small sample at Double-A (4.2 IP), he doled out more free passes than fans. As it stands now, his command is still the most significant hurdle to him leveraging his impressive two-pitch mix, and it’s so rough at this point that it needs another full grade of development for Carraway to be usable at all. There is a rumor that some area scouts were intentionally tanking their reports on Carraway because they wanted to counterbalance what they thought would be overzealous analytical evaluations of his stuff. The eyeball scouts were skeptical Carraway would ever throw strikes, and they may still be correct. 24. Christian Franklin, CF Drafted: 4th Round, 2021 from Arkansas (CHC) Age 21.6 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 195 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 30/40 50/50 35/45 50/50 40/50 45 Franklin is a well-rounded player who performed in the SEC, slashing .288/.402/.499 during his career at Arkansas while drawing tweener fourth outfielder visual evaluations. His swing works best in the bottom of the zone, so there’s some trepidation about it because there’s so much top side velo in the big leagues now. But Franklin has pop and is a viable defensive center fielder, and that combination doesn’t grow on trees. He projects as a role-playing, part-time outfielder with a puncher’s chance for his OBP skills and power to play enough in games to make him a regular. 25. Daniel Palencia, SP Signed: July 2nd Period, 2019 from Venezuela (OAK) Age 21.9 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 210 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Curveball Command Sits/Tops 60/60 50/55 30/45 96-98 / 99 Palencia was the pitching component of the Cubs’ return for Andrew Chafin, and at the time of the trade, he was still largely untested by industry standards. Originally signing with Oakland out of Venezuela in February of 2020 (within the ’19 signing period), ’21 was the first time most saw him play at all, so he was widely viewed as something of a wild card with big potential upside. He had only pitched 14.1 pro innings before shipping over to Myrtle Beach, where his seven games can be broken up into two distinct parts: a spiraling downfall and a dominant resurgence. His first four starts with the Cubs Low-A affiliate were not good: He walked 13 batters over 12.1 innings, only a few shy of matching his total strikeouts over that span, and he struggled to maintain his poise on the mound, with his body language often betraying his frustration. His rough start came to a head in a disaster of an outing in late August, during which Palencia issued six walks, threw four wild pitches, and never quite got on the same page as his catcher before being yanked after three consecutive second-inning walks. But after that outing, Palencia turned a corner, and was virtually all upside in his three final starts of the season, fanning at least six batters per game and never walking more than two, while exhibiting much more composure on the mound, even when ball/strike calls didn’t go his way, something that had elicited more visible emotion from him in previous games. And if his rough patch culminated in a nightmare, his bounce-back was best represented by his final outing of the season, in which Palencia allowed just one hit and one walk over five innings, striking out seven and inducing a remarkable 18 whiffs in the process. Palencia is a squat young man with a longer arm action, but he has feel for creating bat-missing breaking ball depth and he obviously has a huge arm. He’ll also occasionally add a double-pump to his leg kick to mess with hitters’ timing. His bread-and-butter is his upper-90s four-seamer and his vertical knuckle-curve, but his mix also features a less-developed changeup, and a cutter that flashes above-average, though he’s yet to show he can consistently locate either. His arm strength and the long developmental runway ahead of him are still enough to dream on, especially if he can continue to build on the impressive outings at the end of the 2021 season and further hone his control. 40 FV Prospects 26. Cory Abbott, SP Drafted: 2nd Round, 2017 from Loyola Marymount (CHC) Age 26.2 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 210 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 40/40 50/50 45/45 45/45 55/55 88-93 / 95 It was during Abbott’s junior year at Loyola Marymount, when he struck out 100 more hitters than he had the previous season in only 28 more innings, that he first garnered attention. By the time he was drafted in 2017, he’d set school records in K-rate and opponents’ batting average, and hadn’t allowed an earned run in his last 43 innings. He maintained impressive numbers as he’s worked his way up the minor league ladder, but his walk and home run rates both saw upticks this season as he spent June and July shuttling between the Triple-A rotation and the big league bullpen. He spent all of August and September in Iowa before being called upon for his first major league start in the Cubs’ last series of the season (5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 4 K). Abbott’s fastball averages 93 mph and he mixes it with a mid-80s curve, along with a slider and a changeup that both sit in the upper-80s. None of his pitches stand out much in terms of spin or movement. As a result, his fastball’s effectiveness depends largely on his ability to locate it in on righties’ hands, but it’s hittable enough everywhere else in the zone that when he misses, it’s often punished by more advanced bats. The increased number of walks can also be attributed to the higher level of hitting acumen he’s facing — he’s often aiming his fastball at spots just off the plate and not getting the futile swings he elicited in the lower levels of the minors. While his command remains impressive, Abbott’s stuff hasn’t blossomed the way some hoped it might in pro ball, so his projection as a low-variance fifth starter still holds true. 27. Manuel Rodríguez, SIRP Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Mexico (CHC) Age 25.4 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 205 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Curveball Command Sits/Tops 60/60 55/60 35/40 94-97 / 99 Rodríguez pitched one shutout inning during the 2021 Futures Game, allowing one walk and striking out Oakland’s Tyler Soderstrom. In that inning of work, his fastball topped out at 99, and he showcased a ton of movement across his arsenal. That performance, along with improved control in his time in Double- and Triple-A, was enough to convince Chicago to add him to the big league roster, with Rodríguez claiming one of the spots vacated during the Cubs’ busy trade deadline. His velocity and movement followed him to the majors, most notably his two-seamer, which can hit triple digits with a lot of run, and his slider, which he routinely throws around 90 mph with 40 inches of vertical break. In his major league debut, Rodríguez’s strike throwing regressed across a small, 20-game sample and we think it’s likely to keep him from late-inning work despite the quality of his stuff, while concerns about frame/athletic longevity are also at play here. 28. Yohendrick Pinango, LF Signed: July 2nd Period, 2018 from Venezuela (CHC) Age 19.6 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr L / L FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 25/60 50/55 20/40 55/50 30/50 55 Pinango is a teenage bowling ball who takes huge, entertaining hacks. He made a high-end rate of contact and walked more than he struck out in the 2019 DSL, but hit for almost no power despite his bat speed because he hits the ball on the ground so often. With a post-2022 40-man timeline, the Cubs pushed Pinango to Low- and then High-A in 2021, and he continued to make high rates of groundball contact. Pinango’s swing path and Epicurean approach combine to cause him to settle for mediocre contact. He’s physically maxed out and is less projectable than most hitters his age. There’s still rare feel for contact and capacity for rotational movement here, and Pinango has been asked about in trades so some teams are on him. We’re skeptical and think a corner platoon is the ceiling, and even that would require a swing change. 29. Anderson Espinoza, SP Video Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Venezuela (BOS) Age 23.8 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 55/55 55/55 50/55 35/45 93-96 / 97 Espinoza came to the Cubs as part of the Jake Marisnick trade, leaving a San Diego system in which he was among the top 10 prospects for one where he slipped into the late 20s, which is more a testament to the strength of the Cubs’ post-deadline system than a knock on Espinoza. The righty returned to an affiliated mound in 2021 for the first time since the spring of ’17, having lost those years to two TJs and the pandemic. Before the trade, Espinoza’s starts had been capped at three innings, but after joining the Cubs, only one of his eight starts (five at High-A, three at Double-A) went fewer than three innings, with him typically lasting until the fourth or fifth. With this increase in his workload came an increase in his overall K-rate, but he also issued walks at a higher frequency than he had pre-trade, indicating that his command is still a primary concern in his profile. Before the start of the season, it looked like Espinoza had made some subtle tweaks to his delivery, lengthening his stride, squaring his hips to the plate on release, and throwing from a slightly higher arm slot. Over the course of his first few starts this season, he made another noticeable adjustment, transitioning from a leg kick that saw his heel lift straight off the ground, to a slower one with a straightened leg that curled underneath him. Within his first few starts with the Cubs, however, he’d returned to the simplified leg kick. It’s clear he’s still a work in progress, but the fastball and curveball still play nicely off one another, and the changeup is a bonus, though his command of all three still needs refinement. At peak prospectdom, Espinoza had All-Star stuff with command-driven relief risk. What he ends up becoming after nearly five years without an affiliated inning will be impacted by a) workload constraints and b) roster flexibility, or a lack thereof. We think he has a chance to start long-term because he’s still just 24 and has the talent to generate swing-and-miss action on a couple of different pitches, and the Cubs usage of him after acquisition suggests they think so, too. He’ll likely begin 2022 as injury depth. 30. Max Bain, SP Video (CHC) Age 26.2 Height 6′ 5″ Weight 240 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Command Sits/Tops 55/55 45/50 55/60 30/40 93-96 / 98 Bain is an Indy Ball signee who impressed on the backfields in the spring of 2021, holding 96-98 velocity late into games, before heading into his first year of affiliated ball. Neither the spin nor the command on his fastball are especially impressive, but Bain creates an awkward angle that allows his heater to work at the top of the zone. There’s arm-side movement on his fastball, which diverges from that on his above-average low-80s curveball, and mid-80s slider. Bain used to have a stretch-windup hybrid delivery that he’d use in place of a traditional windup, wherein he would setup in the stretch position, but would begin his delivery with a step back, off the rubber. Early in the season, Bain simplified things, ditching the step off, and now pitches exclusively from the stretch. He walked 13.2% of the batters he faced at High-A, and that still has to come down for him to continue developing as a starter, but there’s a starter’s build, repertoire depth, and in-game stamina for that door to remain open. Bain doesn’t have to be added to the 40-man until 2023, so there’s time to develop him as a starter, but the more likely path is a shorter one to a role as a reliever. 31. Ethan Roberts, SIRP Drafted: 4th Round, 2018 from Tennessee Tech (CHC) Age 24.4 Height 5′ 10″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Curveball Cutter Command Sits/Tops 55/55 60/60 50/50 40/50 90-94 / 95 Roberts’ spin rates were down considerably in 2021 and he ended up only among the top 10 in pro baseball in fastball spin rate and the top 20 in breaking ball spin rate after sitting at the very top in 2019, basically experiencing a 250 rpm drop on both pitches. He was still dominant at the upper levels, striking out 72 and walking just 17 in 54 innings split between Double- and Triple-A, and he did it while sitting 92-93. His fastball works at the top of the zone with cut and carry (sometimes just cut), and his low-80s breaking ball has big vertical depth. The fastball garners the most whiffs. The athletic Roberts fills the zone and has some superlative pitch characteristics that should make him a good middle reliever. 32. Bryce Ball, 1B Drafted: 24th Round, 2019 from Dallas Baptist (ATL) Age 23.4 Height 6′ 6″ Weight 255 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 30/45 70/70 35/60 40/40 45/50 45 Ball crushed as an amateur — an OPS over 1.000 during two years at North Iowa Area Community College and one at Dallas Baptist — and again during his pro debut in 2019, after he had been a 24th rounder. We had no 2020 season for Ball to quell context-related concerns about his performance, since he had done all his damage against either small-school arms or Appy League pitching typically younger than him. His 2021 was split between the Braves and Cubs orgs as he was traded straight up for Joc Pederson. At High-A with both orgs, Ball walked at a near elite rate but hovered near the Mendoza line and didn’t hit for as much power as was hoped, with just 13 combined homers. His handedness (which gives him the platoon advantage most of the time) and patience made us consider leaving Ball in the 40+ FV tier to indicate there are still profile-carrying attributes here, but as a bat-only prospect in the 1B/DH realm, any kind of offensive hole makes that tough to do. Instead we think Ball is a likely big leaguer, though probably just a 1 WAR stopgap akin to Justin Bour. 33. Chase Strumpf, 3B Video Drafted: 2nd Round, 2019 from UCLA (CHC) Age 23.8 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 191 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 40/55 50/50 30/40 50/50 50/60 50 Strumpf’s role projection is trending down as he has seen no time at shortstop and doesn’t have the hit/power combo to support an everyday role at 2B/3B. But he still brings some important skills and traits to the party, and is a likely part-time infielder who will probably debut either late in 2022 or during ’23. Strumpf has excellent breaking ball recognition, he lifts the ball consistently, which makes him a threat to do doubles damage when he does put balls in play, and he’s also a very good defender at third base, where he now sees an overwhelming majority of his reps. That’s enough for him to have situational big league utility and make the occasional start, projecting in the 1 annual WAR range now. 34. Kohl Franklin, SP Drafted: 6th Round, 2018 from Broken Arrow HS (OK) (CHC) Age 22.3 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 192 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 45/50 50/55 55/60 35/50 90-93 / 95 Franklin was only throwing in the low-80s as a high school junior, but his velocity spiked later in the year and he threw much harder the following season. He now sits in the low-90s and was up to 95 in 2019 while working with an above-average changeup. An oblique injury kept him out to start 2021, then he strained his shoulder while on the way back from the oblique and missed the whole year. His breaking ball has good raw spin but is visually average. A bulldog who goes right at hitters, Franklin has good on-mound makeup, and is among the likelier rotation pieces in this system when healthy, but he’s now lost two seasons to the pandemic and injury. The Cubs chose not to put him on the 40-man this offseason. 35. Tyler Schlaffer, SP Drafted: 9th Round, 2019 from Homewood Flossmoor HS (IL) (CHC) Age 20.6 Height 5′ 10″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 40/50 45/50 45/55 30/45 91-93 / 95 Schlaffer sits about 91-93 and reaches back for 94-95 at peak. He’s improved his ability to create action on a low-80s changeup but his meal ticket secondary is still an upper-70s curveball with solidly average big league depth. He’s tracking like a fifth starter. 36. Ismael Mena, CF Video Signed: July 2nd Period, 2019 from Dominican Republic (SDP) Age 19.0 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr L / L FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 25/55 40/50 20/40 60/60 40/50 70 Mena has eliminated some of the more awkward elements to his swing, though it’s still far from textbook. His tendency to bend at the waist throughout his swing has been mitigated by a deeper bend in his knees pre-load, and his stance is less open overall than it once was. But most noticeable has been the adjustment to his hands. His hands used to work in a circular motion behind his body as the ball was heading his way, a motion that caused the head of his bat to point at the pitcher as he took his stride and resulted in him being longer to the ball, making it harder for him to adjust to pitches. Now his swing is more compact, though still quite bottom-hand heavy. He relies on his ability to track the ball with his eyes and push the bat head through the zone with his top hand. He’ll occasionally revert to the longer version of his swing, but mostly as an unfortunate side effect of misreading a breaking ball and trying, too late, to adjust to it. Mena is a long-striding outfielder who, thanks to a post-draft growth spurt, may ultimately be relegated to right field, but he spent the majority of his time in the Complex League this season in center, where he played 34 games and committed only two errors. There’s still the off chance that Mena adds more bulk to his frame and evolves into a power-centric corner outfielder, though his style of hitting hasn’t shown the kinds of adjustments that would indicate a move in that direction. 37. Michael Rucker, MIRP Drafted: 11th Round, 2016 from BYU (CHC) Age 27.6 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 195 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 55/55 55/55 50/50 45/50 45/50 94-97 / 99 Rucker was perhaps the most unlikely pitcher in this system to enjoy a velocity spike. He was an Orioles Rule 5 pick in 2019 and couldn’t make the club. Now he’s sitting 95-97, has been up to 99, and is bending in a bevy of hard secondary pitches, most often an upper-80s cutter. This is actually Rucker’s second sizable velo spike, with both coming deep into his 20s. He commands the slider and a fringe curveball pretty consistently and his delivery is a little funky, which makes him tough for hitters to time initially. His mix plays best in multi-inning relief. 38. Kevin Made, SS Signed: July 2nd Period, 2019 from Dominican Republic (CHC) Age 19.3 Height 5′ 10″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 20/40 35/50 20/45 55/55 45/55 55 Made is a familiar type, the pure projection shortstop with actions and contact skills that you can dream on. During workouts in Arizona, he showed average bat speed and his swing was geared for line drives, and he has a very lean, angular build with underlying musculature that suggests he’s going to get much stronger into his mid-20s. He also showed a very rotational, whippy swing with natural pull-side loft, so he might hit for power without any sort of swing alteration. The glut of Cubs lower-level infielders combined with the lack of short-season affiliates pushed Made to full-season ball before he was ready and he had a horrendous year, with a red flag walk rate of just 2.5%, which suggests he has bottom-of-the-scale ball/strike recognition. The 19-year-old Made has clearly still not totally grown into his frame, and there are still folks in baseball who think he has among the highest ceilings in this system because of his combo of infield fit and physical projection, but he needs to show a substantial 2022 rebound to remain on the main section of the list. 39. Cayne Ueckert, SIRP Video Drafted: 27th Round, 2019 from McNeese State (CHC) Age 25.5 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 195 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Command Sits/Tops 60/60 50/55 30/40 95-98 / 99 Uekert sat 92-95 in 2019 and now sits 95-97. He is long-levered and loose and throws with a ton of effort, but lives around the zone enough that it isn’t a problem. He also has a darting, low-90s slider that has enough movement to miss bats. He’s a high-probability relief piece who we may not see for a year or two because Uekert was a 2019 draft pick who doesn’t need to be on the 40-man until after next season. 40. Luke Little, SIRP Drafted: 4th Round, 2020 from San Jacinto JC (CHC) Age 21.3 Height 6′ 8″ Weight 225 Bat / Thr L / L FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Command Sits/Tops 70/70 50/55 30/35 94-97 / 99 The 21-year-old Little worked just 11 innings on the complex in 2021, but looked good while doing it, sitting 95-97 with movement and the occasional nasty slider. Sources tell FanGraphs there’s no listed injury for Little during 2021, so he might have had such a light load due to strike-throwing issues rather than anything health-related. Little should move through the low minors like a hot knife through butter just by virtue of how hard he throws, with slider and command refinement standing between him and a potential late-inning role. 35+ FV Prospects 41. Luis Verdugo, SS Video Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Mexico (CHC) Age 21.2 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 165 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 30/35 45/50 30/40 45/50 55/60 60 Verdugo signed for $1 million out of Mexico in 2017. He can really pick it at shortstop and projects as plus there at maturity, though he mostly played third base in 2021 in deference to the many young shortstops elsewhere on the roster. His hands, range, actions, footwork, and athleticism are all superlative, especially considering his age. He added a lot of muscle during his first two years in pro ball and now has average pull power, but his swing’s length will make him whiff-prone at the upper levels. The glove and suddenly relevant power are real carrying tools, and even if Verdugo maxes out as a 4 bat, he probably plays some kind of big league role. 42. Riley Thompson, MIRP Drafted: 11th Round, 2018 from Louisville (CHC) Age 25.4 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 205 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 50/55 55/60 45/45 40/45 92-94 / 96 Thompson had great stuff while at Louisville but only threw about 50 career innings and struggled to throw strikes during that time. He not only made control/command strides in 2019, but also developed a better changeup. His fastball/curveball combination (both have vertically-oriented shape; it’s a lot of 92-94 with carry and a plus curveball) make him a likely bullpen piece even if there’s a strike-throwing regression next time he toes the rubber. We don’t know how he’s progressed yet because Thompson missed all of 2021 dealing with a right shoulder strain, which makes it more likely that he’s eventually a reliever. 43. Alfonso Rivas, 1B Video Drafted: 4th Round, 2018 from Arizona (OAK) Age 25.2 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr L / L FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 50/55 50/50 40/40 40/40 45/50 40 At 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, Rivas would look out of place in a team photo of major league first basemen, full of big-bodied mashers and explosive rotational athletes. He lacks prototypical first base pop but there’s a non-zero chance he makes enough contact to sufficiently balance the offensive scales to profile as a platoon 1B/LF or stopgap regular. 44. Koen Moreno, SP Drafted: 5th Round, 2020 from Panther Creek HS (NC) (CHC) Age 20.4 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 176 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 40/50 45/50 35/50 35/55 88-92 / 94 Moreno is a good-framed, athletic righty who throws quality strikes with his fastball and has glove-side breaking ball command. His velocity climbed from the mid-80s to the low-90s throughout the summer and fall of 2019, touching 94 late in the year. He didn’t throw until instructs due to a stress reaction in his elbow, and even then he threw just one inning. 45. Jordan Nwogu, CF Drafted: 3rd Round, 2020 from Michigan (CHC) Age 22.8 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 235 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 30/35 55/60 30/50 55/55 30/45 45 Nwogu is a developmental project who needed a swing overhaul coming out of Michigan, and got one. His base has narrowed, his hands are loading higher, and he’s better able to pull the ball now than when he was in college, when Nwogu struggled to do much of it at all. He still has pretty crude feel to hit for a left field prospect, and remains in the talented developmental bucket for now. 46. Richard Gallardo, SP Video Signed: July 2nd Period, 2018 from Venezuela (CHC) Age 20.3 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 187 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 45/45 45/45 50/55 35/55 89-93 / 94 Gallardo is short and already maxed out physically, but he’s an above-average athlete with advanced command. He’s had a velo spike despite lacking overt physical projection and has gone from the 89-93 range to sitting 93-95 with sink. His secondary stuff — a power changeup in the 85-87 range and a mediocre low-80s curveball — is befitting a fifth or sixth starter. 47. Josh Burgmann, SP Drafted: 5th Round, 2019 from Washington (CHC) Age 23.9 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 205 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 40/45 40/50 55/60 40/45 35/50 91-93 / 97 After two years in the bullpen, Burgmann had a strong junior year in Washington’s rotation, showing No. 5/6 starter stuff. There’s a chance he’s just scratching the surface since he had fewer developmental reps than is typical of a college arm due to the time he spent in the bullpen. Burgmann is especially good at spinning his breaking ball, which reaches 3,000 rpm, and at killing spin on his changeup. A mix of travel issues to and from Canada, long stretches of quarantine time, and tendinitis perhaps brought about by the periods of inactivity kept him shelved all year, but shouldn’t be an issue in 2022. 48. Yeison Santana, SS Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Dominican Republic (SDP) Age 21.0 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 159 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 30/50 40/45 30/35 55/55 45/60 60 Santana struggled unexpectedly during his initial full-season trial and was sent back to the complex level during the summer. Ideally, Santana would have hit his way to High-A at some point last year ahead of a 40-man add, but instead he’s fallen to the rear of the system and looks, at best, like a bounce-back candidate with a utility ceiling. 49. Eury Ramos, SIRP Video Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Dominican Republic (CHC) Age 24.2 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 235 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 60/60 45/55 35/40 95-99 / 100 Ramos saw a huge velo spike between 2019-20, shifting from the 90-93 range up to 95-99. His low effort delivery relies on his arm strength to throw his fastball hard enough to make up for its lack of ride. His changeup seems to have emerged as his preferred secondary, and he can occasionally throw it with effective late drop, though not yet to induce consistent enough swing-and-miss to be considered a plus offering. There’s still middle-relief upside here because of the arm strength but Ramos’ changeup didn’t develop enough for the Cubs to put him on the 40-man. He’s an arm strength flier at this point. Other Prospects of Note Grouped by type and listed in order of preference within each category. Many Injured Pitchers Chris Clarke, RHP Yovanny Cruz, RHP Hunter Bigge, RHP Benjamin Rodriguez, RHP Jeremiah Estrada, RHP Michael McAvene, RHP Danis Correa, RHP This system had an unusual number of injuries generally, as you can probably tell from reading the main section of the list. Here are several other players who have been on the list most of the last few years but were dealt a blow by their 2021 showing (or lack thereof). Clarke threw three innings in the fall and looked “like he did when healthy” per a scout. Eric’s notes had him up to 95 with a plus-flashing curveball last he saw him. Cruz didn’t pitch in affiliated ball in 2021 and, per a source, is listed as having been shut down with an elbow strain in May. He’s been either electric (upper-90s with sink, a good changeup and a viable slider) or hurt since his debut. Bigge was sitting in the upper-80s and low-90s at Harvard, then spiked into the 92-95 range out of the bullpen after the draft in 2019. By the fall, he was touching at least 97. His velo was back down in 2021 coming off of injury; he’s now a bounce-back candidate. Rodriguez was a spin/frame projection prospect as a teenager but hasn’t thrown in two years due to the pandemic and now a shoulder strain. He didn’t even throw during instructs. Estrada, 93-96 with a 70 changeup at peak, was shut down in July. McAvene had a big velo spike ahead of his draft but was 92-94 during instructs, pretty fringy for a reliever. Correa was up to 98 on October 28, then sat 91-93 on November 1 and his AFL was done. Catching Contingent Pablo Aliendo, C Ronnier Quintero, C Malcom Quintero, C Ethan Hearn, C Casey Opitz, C Aliendo is a lithe, athletic catch-and-throw guy with some pop, a good bit of body projection left and a 4 bat. Malcom Quintero is a compact switch-hitter with great feel for the zone. He’s a level behind Aliendo even though he’s a little older and is more a potential third catcher while Aliendo actually has some ceiling. Ronnier Quintero was a big dollar international signee who barely looked like a pro athlete during his first year in the U.S., but he’s so young and has obvious reverse projection at an age when it’s still possible for him to right the ship. Hearn was once a 40+ FV prospect whose swing-and-miss got out of control. Opitz was a rock at Arkansas and has third catcher ceiling. Depth Bats, Potential 40s Andy Weber, SS Felix Stevens, DH Liam Spence, SS Rafael Morel, 2B Cole Roederer, LF Parker Chavers, CF Weber looked fine at shortstop during Fall League. He’s 24 and couldn’t afford to strike out as much as he did at Double-A. Still, as a lefty stick who plays a viable short, he’s at least good upper-level depth and maybe just a fifth infielder. Stevens is a 22-year-old Cuban hitter who spent the summer in Arizona slugging over .600, and indeed, he has big power. Alas, he’s also physically maxed out and struck out a bunch. The power makes him a worthy follow, though. Spence, the Cubs’ fifth rounder in 2021, is of Aussie descent, spent two years at an Arizona JUCO, and walked more than he struck out as a 23-year-old senior with Tennessee. He might have more upside than most seniors because of his background. Morel is a well-rounded player for his age but doesn’t have big league explosiveness and looks like a 40 utility man at best. Roederer had surgery in July and now hasn’t had a good offensive season since 2018, which is an issue for a player who projected to left field. Chavers is a nice org player with an average hit tool. Relief Sleepers Brendon Little, LHP Sam Thoresen, RHP Bailey Horn, LHP Frankie Scalzo Jr., RHP Eduarniel Nunez, RHP Little isn’t really a sleeper since he was once a high draft pick, but I had to stash him on here somewhere. He had a little velo spike amid a bullpen move and sat 95 in 2021. His slider is harder (now about 88) and his curveball still has good movement, but the Cubs didn’t put him on the 40-man. Thoresen was a $20,000 undrafted free agent out of Minnesota. He sits 93 with two breaking balls that in-office pitch data types seem to love. Horn was acquired from the White Sox for Ryan Tepera. He’s a lefty who sits 94 with above-average spin on each of his breaking balls. Scalzo has a Mike Ditka mustache and mid-90s arm strength. Nunez has 70-grade spin rates, about 2600 rpm on the fastball and 2800 on his breaker. His results have been closer to average. System Overview The trade deadline and the velocity development of many pitchers gave this farm system a huge lift in 2021, though the latter seemed to come at the cost of several injuries. The system-wide uptick in velocity made the Cubs’ Rule 5 protection deadline pretty interesting, and they ended up leaving lots of hard-throwing pitchers off the 40-man, though many either have had health or strike-throwing issues. If there’s a common thread running through the Cubs’ acquisitions on the pro side during the rebuild’s crescendo, it’s that, with the exception of Bryce Ball, the players they acquired are toolsy, traditional scouting types. Some of them have statistical yellow flags (Alcantara, Canario, everyone from the Darvish trade, PCA) or had barely generated any data at all (Palencia, some of the Darvish trade, PCA again) when acquired. It’s an indication this org is still thirsty for big tools and upside even when it comes with risk. That’s a less-consistent description of their recent draftees, though it seems as though they’re back to incorporating a blend of big school performers and an overslot prep arm or two into their annual mix, akin to when they landed Kyle Schwarber and Dylan Cease in the same draft. The club more or less copped to the fact that it had failed to develop pitching during the championship core’s best years and has overhauled their infrastructure in this area with a big investment in technology. It’s still too early to assess its application via results. Results-based analysis of the international program, meanwhile, is unfavorable, as we’re already off of Ronnier Quintero and Rafael Morel. The other young DSL guys barely played during instructs, and if they did, it wasn’t until the very end when Eric’s focus had shifted to other clubs. None of the Cubs-signed international players on this list have boosted their FV since signing, and have either held serve or fallen.