With the minor league season two months old, it is time to revisit the top prospect list. Some players have been promoted to the big leagues, while others have not started their seasons due to injuries.
Here then, is a list on how the current prospects rate. Take it as a snapshot in time rather than something carved in stone. All stats and league rankings are of Saturday, May 30.
Kyle Schwarber – C
Leading the Southern League with an OPS of 1.089, Schwarber is also tied for first in home runs (12), eighth in hitting (.322), and tied for sixth in RBI (31). Defensively, Schwarber has put up decent numbers with 19% caught stealing and a .988 fielding percentage. As a prospect, Schwarber is at or ahead of the pace Kris Bryant set last season.
Billy McKinney – OF
Held back a level to start the season due to some lackadaisical defense, McKinney destroyed Carolina League pitching. McKinney led in all three major categories, batting .340 with four home runs and 25 RBI, before being promoted to Double-A. Now considered to be at level, McKinney is hitting .278 in 16 games for Tennessee. His defense still needs improving, but McKinney has clearly moved up to be the best outfield prospect in the system.
Despite some upheaval amongst the Cubs’ top pitching prospects, Underwood has earned his way to being the best in the system. Second in the Carolina League in victories (5-1), Underwood is also fourth in ERA (1.60) and third in WHIP (0.978) to go along with 30 strikeouts in 45 innings. Command has been the biggest change for Underwood, as well as a fastball that has been clocked at 100 mph.
Gleyber Torres – SS
Third in the Midwest League in hitting at .331, Torres can improve to a top three player as he smoothes out his overall game. Although Torres has eight stolen bases, he still needs to learn how to maximize his ability in that area. Despite 10 errors, Torres is fielding a decent .946 due to his range increasing his number of chances. Torres needs to improve on charging balls and when to just concede a hit. However, in most team’s minor league systems, Torres would have been promoted already.
Carl Edwards Jr. – RHP
Edwards struggled in a new role as a relief pitcher, which caused his numbers to go all out of whack early on. Now that he is settling in, Edwards has lowered his ERA to 2.66 with 36 strikeouts in 23.2 innings. Edwards is also adapting to closing out games, going 2-2 with four saves in 13 relief appearances. Edwards was recently promoted to Triple-A Iowa.
Dylan Cease – RHP
It was supposed to be a washout season for Cease as he was recovering from Tommy John Surgery. However, Cease appears to be ahead of schedule in his rehab as he was clocked at 99 mph in extended Spring Training. While Cease still needs to work on control, the 19-year old phenom should be ready to start the Arizona Rookie League in June.
Jeimer Candelario – 3B
Coming into this season, Candelario looked like a whipped prospect after being demoted last year and hitting .250 in Single-A. But Candelario has rebounded well, batting .267 with 14 doubles (fourth in the league), three homers, and 18 RBI in 44 games with High-A Myrtle Beach. Manager Mark Johnson has demonstrated confidence in Candelario, elevating him to either third or fourth in the batting order. The biggest difference in Candelario has been his defense. Once considered a defensive liability, Candelario has benefitted from the experience of Coach Mariano Duncan. Candelario is now considered above average at third, with the potential to become an elite defender.
Carson Sands – LHP
While his season has yet to start, there has been nothing in the reports from extended Spring Training to suggest that Sands doesn’t deserve this lofty status. Sands is the odds on favorite to be the Opening Night starter for Short Season-A Eugene when they begin play on June 23.
Albert Almora Jr. – OF
Rough is the best way to describe Almora’s 2015 season to this point, Almora has been on the disabled list twice, once with a concussion and a second after colliding with a teammate. In between, Almora has yet to find his comfort level at the plate. Batting only .248 with seven extra base hits (four doubles, a triple, and two home runs), Almora hasn’t shown the offensive adjustment expected. But Almora has the ability to rebound, if he can stay in one piece.
Justin Steele – LHP
Steele has very similar evaluation to his teammate, Carson Sands. Steele’s performance in extended Spring Training is right up there with Sands and Dylan Cease. Steele will most likely be Eugene’s Opening Night starter if Sands doesn’t get the ball.
Mark Zagunis – OF
Making the permanent switch to outfield, Zagunis can now concentrate on what he does best, hitting. At .307, Zagunis is fourth in the Carolina League in batting while leading with a .436 OBP. Zagunis is also fourth in OPS at .863, and has five stolen bases while batting leadoff. Zagunis has also looked good in the outfield. While mainly playing the corners, the Pelicans have been experimenting with Zagunis in center lately.
Eloy Jimenez – OF
While still considered raw in talent, Jimenez has been one of the Cubs’ top hitters in extended Spring Training. Jimenez projects to bat either third or fourth while lining up in right field for the Eugene Emeralds.
Jonathan Martinez – RHP
Flying under the radar below several other pitching prospects, Martinez has thrived while some others can’t seem to get out of their own way. Second in the Carolina League with a 0.923 WHIP, Martinez is also eighth in ERA at 3.00. With only 17 strikeouts, Martinez’s numbers aren’t as ‘sexy’ as some bigger name prospects. However, Martinez has been one of the most consistent pitchers in the system, rarely having a bad game.
Chesny Young – INF
Many thought Young was a ‘one trick pony’ coming into this season. Yes, Young could hit, as his combined .323 average would indicate. But critics said Young had neither power nor speed, and was locked in as a second baseman. Well, Young has proved the critics wrong with 12 stolen bases in 15 attempts. And while primarily playing second base, Young has also played shortstop and third at an average to above average level. Recently, Young has also been worked into the outfield mix. So who needs Ben Zobrist with Young on the way?
Dan Vogelbach – 1B
Starting this season as one of the hottest hitters in all of the minors, it will be interesting to see whether Vogelbach maintains his spot as a top 20 prospect. That’s because Vogelbach has been ice cold in his last ten games, batting .118 over that span to lower his once lofty average to .325. What has also been notable is an absence of power. With only four round-trippers this season, the massive Vogelbach projects to hit only 12 home runs, a second straight year of decline. Inside information exclusive to the CCO reported that even with Iowa needing a first baseman, Vogelbach was nowhere near ready for promotion, citing below average defense and base running.
Ryan Williams – RHP
If there has been a prospect that ‘came out of nowhere,’ it would be Williams. While teammate Jeremy Null has garnered a lot of accolades, the 2014 tenth round pick has been more consistent. Williams leads the Midwest League both in ERA (1.17) and WHIP (0.708). A ground ball pitcher, Williams has 37 strikeouts but more importantly, has issued only two walks in 53.2 innings. The 23-year old should be the first to move forward from the South Bend pitching staff.
Corey Black – RHP
In a similar evaluation to teammate Dan Vogelbach, Black maintains his position at this time by being good enough, but may be passed by other prospects later. Black is among the leaders in the Southern League, placing sixth in strikeouts (53), sixth in WHIP (1.071), and 14th in ERA (3.09). The main concerns with Black have been constant, not enough stamina (averages 5.1 innings per start) and control (19 walks, second on the team).
Daury Torrez – RHP
The CCO named Torrez Co-Pitcher of the Year last season, and Torrez has now nosed ahead of his fellow recipient Jen-Ho Tseng. The aggressive Torrez is just on the outside of the top spots in a few categories in the Carolina League, which one or two more good outings can rectify. Torrez is 4-1 with a 4.02 ERA, 1.255 WHIP, and has 31 strikeouts against six walks in 47 innings.
Willson Contreras – C
Sometimes, a bit of extra practice helps. Contreras seems to have benefitted from playing semi-regularly in the Venezuelan Winter League this past winter. Always considered a clutch hitter, Contreras has provided batting order protection for the Smokies’ ‘Bash Brothers,’ Kyle Schwarber and Dan Vogelbach. Eleventh in the Southern League in hitting at .316, Contreras is also sixth in slugging (.506), sixth in OPS (.894), and fourth in doubles (14). Considered an excellent defensive catcher, Contreras has lined up at third base four times and has experience at first base and corner outfield.
Cael Brockmeyer – C
Perhaps one of the most underappreciated prospects, Brockmeyer is not so much of a ‘numbers guy,’ but is here due to his all-around play. Brockmeyer carried a young South Bend team that has been struggling to find consistency early on. Batting .299 with 13 doubles, three home runs, and 24 RBI in 42 games, Brockmeyer has been solid at the plate. Splitting time between catcher and first base, Brockmeyer has done well defensively at both positions. Due to other prospects emerging, Brockmeyer will probably see more action at catcher than first base as the season progresses.