With one month left in the minor league season, it is time to revisit the top prospect list. The list includes only players who are currently “in-season.”
Here then, is a list on how the current prospects rate. Take it as a snapshot in time rather than something carved in stone.
Kyle Schwarber – C/OF
With 91 at bats and no signs of him being returned to the minor this season, it’s a foregone conclusion that Kyle Schwarber will receive the 39 at bats needed to lose his rookie status sometime before Labor Day. Currently hitting .341/.429/.604 with four doubles, a triple, six home runs, 21 RBI and a 1.033 OPS in the majors, this will probably be the last time Schwarber will be included on this list.
Billy McKinney – OF
With 73 games at Double-A Tennessee, Billy McKinney’s game has seemed to level off. That doesn’t mean the 20-year old hasn’t done well, but merely that he may not make any further progress this season. Currently hitting .280/.341/.402 with 24 doubles, two home runs and 30 RBI for Double-A Tennessee, Billy McKinney has run his season totals to .297/.369/.442/.811 with 29 doubles, three triples, six homers and 58 RBI. It makes McKinney the organizations top outfield prospect, but his hold on the second position on the prospect list tenuous. The defensive questions McKinney had are not showing up, at least statistically, with a .985 fielding average.
Gleyber Torres – SS
It now appears as if the front office is committed to having Gleyber Torres spend his entire first full season with Low-A South Bend. Torres has had his ups and downs as a young shortstop, but the 18-year old has a solid .951 fielding average despite 21 errors. His average has remained constant, never fluctuating more than a few points above or below his current .311. His other numbers are also solid, with a .369 OBP, two home runs, 55 RBI, and 20 stolen bases. Had Torres been spending his last month of 2015 at High-A Myrtle Beach, he might have gotten more consideration for the number two spot on the list.
Pierce Johnson – RHP
Coming back with a vengeance from the disabled list, Pierce Johnson has wrested control of the top pitching prospect title from others such as Duane Underwood and Carl Edwards Jr. The 24-year old has been blazing hot since coming back, posting a 6-0 record with a 1.61 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 49 strikeouts with 23 walks in 61.2 innings. With numbers like that, it’s anyone’s guess as to why Johnson is not spending the last month of the season with Triple-A Iowa. Johnson has had to deal with some ticky-tack injuries the past two seasons (hamstring, calf and lat), and there have been some quiet rumblings about his preparation and maturity.
Jeimer Candelario – 3B
No player has improved their rating over the course of this season more than Jeimer Candelario. The 21-year old switch-hitter was having a fine season for High-A Myrtle Beach when he got the unexpected call to Double-A Tennessee on July 21. Since then, Candelario has been scorching hot, hitting .338/.378/.544 with a 14-game hit streak. Candelario also has had three home runs and 18 RBI to raise his season line to .282/.329/.438/.766 with eight homers and 57 RBI. Candelario’s defense has also been outstanding, with a .960 fielding percentage and only eight errors. Candelario is one of three players in strong contention for Minor League Player of the Year.
Willson Contreras – C
Another candidate for Minor League Player of the Year, Willson Contreras is currently leading the Southern League in hitting. At .342, the 23-year old holds a 10-point lead for the batting crown and also leads the league in OBP (.418). Contreras is second in RBI (62), second in OPS (.914) and fourth in slugging (.496). Long-time minor league watchers have known Contreras as a fiery competitor and versatile defender, but only as a clutch hitter offensively. However, Contreras has really stepped up his game, seeming to benefit from experience this past winter in the Venezuelan League.
Ryan Williams – RHP
Ryan Williams has made an impressive jump from Low-A to Double-A during the course of the 2015 season, but that doesn’t seem to be enough for the national scouts. One of the leading pitchers in the Midwest League, Williams has chewed through the Southern League since he was promoted in the beginning of June. Williams is 6-2 with a 2.98 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and has 43 strikeouts in 57.1 innings. While Williams does not have enough innings to qualify amongst the Southern League leaders, he would be seventh in ERA and lead in WHIP if he did. What Williams does not have is the “wow” factor, as he is a sinkerball pitcher.
Carl Edwards Jr. – RHP
Coming into the season with high expectations, Carl Edwards Jr. is figuratively limping his way to the end of the season, with a September call-up to the big-leagues in doubt. Cubs’ management decided to take things cautiously with Edwards when he experienced some injury issues last season, and hasn’t seemed to serve him well. Edwards’ numbers are solid at Triple-A Iowa: 3-1 with two saves, a 2.93 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 35 strikeouts in 27.2 innings. What’s missing is the sharpness and domination he showed before the injuries.
Jonathan Martinez – RHP
Probably the most underrated pitcher in the entire system, Jonathan Martinez has quietly had an outstanding season. Overshadowed by a lot of high profile teammates, the 21-year old is currently leading the Carolina League with a 0.97 WHIP. Martinez is also sixth with a 3.00 ERA, and has an 8-2 record with 57 strikeouts and 20 walks in 99 innings. A control pitcher in the Kyle Hendricks mode, Martinez does not impress with wicked “stuff” or gaudy strikeout numbers. He just gets batters out, frequently.
Chesny Young – INF
The leading choice for Minor League Player of the Year, Chesny Young is currently the top hitter in the Carolina League by 25 points. Young has taken the league by storm since his call-up in mid-May, batting .333/.389/.401/.791 with 12 doubles, three triples, a home run, 25 RBI, and eight stolen bases. Young has also played six positions with the Pelicans, all at a high average. Considered a second baseman, Young has most frequently played third base and has fielded .982. Young has also lined up at short and first base, as well as in left and right field. Recently moved to leadoff from the third spot in the order, expect Young’s stolen base total to increase before the year is out.
Ian Happ – OF
The Cubs’ system has improved to the point where a first round pick isn’t automatically considered to be a top 10 prospect. While Ian Happ has talent, he hasn’t dominated like predecessors Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. The 20-year old switch-hitter has done alright, batting .274/.385/.459 with 12 doubles, a triple, five home runs, 15 RBI, and nine stolen bases in 41 games between Short Season-A Eugene and Low-A South Bend. So far, Happ has played flawlessly in centerfield, and is expected to spend time in the infield at second base in the Fall Instructional League. Happ will probably not progress past South Bend this season.
Dylan Cease – RHP
The hype appears to be real, but Dylan Cease still has a long way to go. The 19-year old is just one year removed from Tommy John surgery, yet is flashing a 99 mph fastball in the Arizona Rookie League. The Cubs are being very cautious, exposing Cease to no more than two innings per appearance. In eight games, Cease has a 0-2 record with a 2.76 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 13 walks and 15 strikeouts. Depending on how he progresses, it would not be a surprise to see Cease opening for South Bend in 2016.
Justin Steele – LHP
Overshadowed by teammate Carson Sands, Justin Steele has proved to be more toward what the franchise is looking for in a starting pitcher. The 20-year old has had a fine season with Short Season-A Eugene, going 3-1 with a 2.40 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 11 walks and 29 strikeouts in 30 innings. Inexplicably, Steele has not started a game since July 20, and has not been placed on the disabled list.
Mark Zagunis – OF
Mark Zagunis has cooled a little since looking dominant in the early going, but is still among the top of the Carolina League offense stats. The league leader with a .408 OBP, the 22-year old is fifth with a .823 OPS, ninth with a .275 batting average, and is tied for eighth in slugging .415. Zagunis has seen his production drop since the promotions of Jeimer Candelario and Jacob Rogers, as more of the offensive burden has fallen on him.
Eloy Jimenez – OF
The 18-year old Eloy Jimenez has been a little dinged up this season, but has still demonstrated his promise. In 31 games with Short Season-A Eugene, Jimenez has hit .272/.316/.384 with five doubles three home runs, 12 RBI, and three stolen bases. His injuries have not been serious in nature as the organization is more being careful with this prized talent.
Jen-Ho Tseng – RHP
Last season’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Jen-Ho Tseng is finally starting to round into form. The 20-year old has lowered his ERA to 3.41 and has risen to sixth in the Carolina League. His other totals were not as impressive as they were last season, as Tseng is 5-6 with a 1.23 WHIP, 27 walks and 60 strikeouts in 95 innings. Tseng is beginning to show the control that was so evident in his first season, but needs to work on keeping his concentration level up.
Daury Torrez – RHP
The aggressive Daury Torrez has had a season of contrasts. Tied for third in the Carolina League with eight wins, Torres is sixth with a 1.21 WHIP. While the 22-year old leads the Pelicans with 71 strikeouts, his ERA is a concerning 4.03. The CCO Co-Pitcher of the Year last season, Torrez now has to demonstrate more consistency.
Jeffrey Baez – OF
Better late than never for the 21-year old Jeffrey Baez. The CCO Short Season Player of the Year for 2014 had a terrible first half of 2015, batting only .190 with a .262 OBP in 48 games. However, Baez has really turned things around, hitting .355/.372/.574 in the second half to raise his season totals to .269/.313/.415 with 14 doubles, four triples, seven home runs and 25 RBI. Baez’s 25 stolen bases have him in a tie for the sixth most in the Midwest League. This all coincided with the decision to move Baez back to leadoff, where he has hit .404/.416/.626. Baez has also become a feared defender in the outfield, with 14 assists.
Junior Marte – RHP
The 20-year old Junior Marte has dominated the Dominican Summer League, and should now appear on the radar for scouts. The league All-Star is second with a 0.88 WHIP and third both in ERA and strikeouts, posting a 1.29 ERA and 68 strikeouts with 16 walks in 55.2 innings, along with a 4-1 record. It will be interesting to see how the 6-foot, 170-pound Marte fares as he moves up the chain.
Oscar De La Cruz – RHP
Another All-Star, Oscar De La Cruz represented Short Season-A Eugene due to his consistent play. The 20-year old is in the top 10 in all of the major categories in the Northwest League. At 4-2, De La Cruz is tied for fifth in wins, sixth with a 1.10 WHIP, fourth with 47 strikeouts in 43 innings, and his 2.39 ERA is fourth. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound De La Cruz appears to have a bright future, and just needs experience.