Baseball America’s ranking of the best players in each minor league continued Monday with the Northwest League Top 20 Prospects list.
Short-Season Class-A Eugene Emeralds featured several of the organization’s youngest players with the brightest futures at one point this year. First round pick OF/2B Ian Happ started his pro career with the Emeralds and the starting staff included LHP Justin Steele, LHP Carson Sands and RHP Oscar De La Cruz. OF Eloy Jimenez also made quite the impression during his time with Eugene and has set himself up for a big season in 2016.
According to Baseball America, seven of the top 20 players that played in the Northwest League this past season were Cubs’ prospects.
OF/2B Ian Happ (2), OF Eloy Jimenez (3), OF Donnie Dewees (11), LHP Justin Steele (12), LHP Carson Sands (13), RHP Oscar De La Cruz (16) and RHP Pedro Araujo (19) are the organization’s prospects that filled Baseball America’s list.
OF/2B Ian Happ
Ian Happ’s first stop of his pro career was in Eugene with the Emeralds. Ian Happ played the outfield and hit .283/.408/.491 in 29 games with eight doubles, a triple and four home runs for a .898 OPS. Happ finished his season with Low-A South Bend and is currently in Arizona for the Fall Instructional League.
Happ can hit and has excellent bat speed from both sides of the plate. Happ projects as “a plus-hitter with average power.” The question with Happ is where will he play in the field? The Cubs had him in the outfield this summer so he could just focus on hitting in pro ball.
The Cubs have him working on his defense at second base during instructs. According to Baseball America, his footwork in the infield needs significant improvement.
OF Eloy Jimenez
Eloy Jimenez had a very good season with the Emeralds. Jimenez played in 57 games and showed improvement in the field and at the plate. Jimenez batted .284/.328/.418 with 10 doubles, seven home runs and a .746 OPS.
Jimenez needs time but this past season he “began showing some of the promise the Cubs saw two years ago” according to Baseball America.
OF Donnie Dewees
The Cubs selected Donnie Dewees in the second round of June’s Draft. Dewees was solid at the plate. In 66 games, the 22-year old outfielder had a .266/.306/.376 slash line with 14 doubles, a triple and five home runs for a .682 OPS.
The speedy Dewees has good contact skills and according to Baseball America, he “is a plus runner” and his “speed helps him go get the ball in centerfield.” Dewees is “an average defender whose well below-average arm strength” projects him as a centerfielder.
LHP Justin Steele
Lefty Justin Steele made 10 starts for the Emeralds this season. Steele posted a 3-1 record with a 2.66 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. In 40 2/3 innings, Steele allowed 24 runs, 12 earned, on 38 hits with 15 walks and 38 strikeouts.
According to Baseball America, Steele’s fastball “topped out at 95 mph this season.” Steele keeps the ball down, generates groundball outs and averaged close to a strikeout per inning. Baseball America pointed out that his curveball “projects as a future plus weapon.” Steele has good command and hitters have a hard time picking his pitches up.
LHP Carson Sands
Southpaw Carson Sands pitched better than his stats from the season indicate. Sands had two rough outings that skewed his numbers for the year. Sands ended up with a 3-4 record in 14 starts with a 3.92 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. Sands gave up 62 hits in 57 1/3 innings with 21 walks and 41 strikeouts in 57 1/3 innings.
Sands is a hard-throwing lefty. Sands hit 95 mph on the gun with his fastball this year and according to Baseball America, he “gets good downhill plane” and has solid command of his fastball with “good armside action.” Sands features an average changeup and a curveball that has flashed as a plus pitch, but he has trouble commanding it.
RHP Oscar De La Cruz
Oscar De La Cruz had a sensational year. The 20-year old right hander really improved his stock in the 13 starts he made for the Emeralds. De La Cruz was 6-3 with a 2.84 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. In 73 innings, De La Cruz surrendered 27 runs, 23 earned, on 56 hits with 17 walks and 73 strikeouts.
Baseball America thinks De La Cruz has room to add velocity to his 92-93 mph fastball and his “secondary offerings are still in development.” De La Cruz’s curve “flashed plus in the second half” and he “has a feel for his changeup.” De La Cruz has a clean, repeatable delivery due “to the athleticism he possesses.”
RHP Pedro Araujo
Pedro Araujo put up very good numbers out of the Emeralds’ bullpen. Araujo appeared in 21 games and allowed 17 runs, 15 earned, on 43 hits in 50 1/3 innings. Araujo struck out 70 batters with only nine walks (2.68 ERA, 1.03 WHIP).
According to Baseball America, Araujo features a low-90s heavy fastball that is “difficult to elevate.” Araujo misses bats and “keep the ball in the park.” Araujo has only been used as a reliever since signing with the Cubs in 2011.
Baseball America ranked RHP Dylan Cease as the second best prospect in the Arizona Rookie League. Eight players from the system have been included on Baseball America’s Top 20 Prospects lists for the Arizona Rookie League and Northwest League.