Baseball America released its list of the top 10 prospects in the Cubs system. And the first ranking of the young players in the organization looks a lot different from a year ago.
SS Gleyber Torres is the best young player in the system and John Manuel ranked him No. 1 on the Cubs list with C Willson Contreras, 2B/OF Ian Happ, RHP Duane Underwood Jr. and RHP Dylan Cease rounding out the top five.
The Cubs do not have the top farm system in the game any longer after the promotions of Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber to the big leagues. Over the past two seasons players such as Kyle Hendricks, Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, Neil Ramirez and Carl Edwards Jr. have made their Major League debuts beyond the big four that made an impact in 2015.
The biggest jump in this year’s list is Willson Contreras. Baseball America did not include Contreras in its ranking of the Top 31 Prospects in the Cubs system a year ago. Contreras had a tremendous season, won the Southern League Batting title and was the Cubs Minor League Player of the Year. Contreras has played his way into the conversation as the Cubs catcher of the future.
There is a lot of depth throughout the organization with impact talent at each level. The Cubs still have a farm system that is one of the top 10, if not top five, in baseball.
The Cubs’ top 10 list for 2016 includes seven position players and three pitchers.
Baseball America’s Top 10 Cubs Prospects for 2016
2015 Baseball America Ranking in Parenthesis (NA – Not Available, NR – Not Ranked)
- Gleyber Torres, SS (8)
- Willson Contreras, C/3B (NR)
- Ian Happ, OF/2B (NA)
- Duane Underwood, RHP (10)
- Dylan Cease, RHP (28)
- Albert Almora, OF (7)
- Billy McKinney, OF (6)
- Oscar De La Cruz, RHP (NR)
- Eloy Jimenez, OF (20)
- Jeimer Candelario, 3B (24)
Best Tools in the Cubs System
- Gleyber Torres – Best Hitter for Average
- Eloy Jimenez – Best Power Hitter
- Mark Zagunis – Best Strike Zone Discipline
- Darryl Wilson – Fastest Baserunner
- Jacob Hannemann – Best Athlete
- Dylan Cease – Best Fastball
- Bryan Hudson – Best Curveball
- Tyler Skulina – Best Slider
- Jen-Ho Tseng – Best Changeup
- Daury Torrez – Best Control
- Victor Caratini – Best Defensive Catcher
- Carlos Penalver – Best Defensive Infielder
- Jeimer Candelario – Best Infield Arm
- Albert Almora – Best Defensive Outfielder
- Darryl Wilson – Best Outfield Arm
Scouting Report on the Cubs Top 10 Prospects
The scouting information provided by Baseball America is by subscription only. Here are a few of the highlights, and low-lights, for each of the top 10 players in the Cubs’ system.
1. Gleyber Torres, SS
Baseball America provided scouting grades for Gleyber Torres, as it does for every team’s top prospect, based on the 20-80 scouting scale. Torres scouting grades: Batting: 60; Power: 60; Speed: 55; Defense: 60; Arm: 60
The 18-year old shortstop started the season with Low-A South Bend and finished it with High-A Myrtle Beach in the Mills Cup Championship Series. Torres contributed to Myrtle Beach winning the 2015 Carolina League Championship.
Torres was the best prospect in the Midwest League prior to his promotion.
According to Baseball America, Torres has four tools, “with only power lagging behind.” Torres is projected to hit for more power than he did this past season (three home runs). Some within the organization “give Torres plus future power, particularly to his pull side.” Torres combines his tools “with a gamer’s mentality and a feel for the game on both sides of the ball.”
Torres can barrel the baseball and hit to all fields. Torres has a “solid approach, showing a good two-strike approach for his age.”
Defensively, Torres has good footwork and excellent instincts that give him “average range for shortstop that he pairs with a true plus arm.” Work Torres has done with Jose Flores, the Cubs minor league infield coordinator, has led to him becoming “efficient, consistent and a reliable defender also capable of highlight-reel play.”
2. Willson Contreras, C/3B
Willson Contreras improved his stock significantly in the organization and throughout the game this past season. Contreras used “improved focus and sticking to an offensive approach to translate his plus tools into performance in 2015.”
Contreras does not give away at bats any longer and turned his natural hand-eye coordination “into more strength, giving him gap power and above-average hitting ability.”
Behind the plate, Contreras has learned how to use his above-average arm but can be inconsistent receiving and his blocking skills need more development. Baseball America thinks due to his athleticism he could be a “multi-positional reserve, perhaps as soon as 2016” at the big league level.
3. Ian Happ, OF/2B
Ian Happ “has strength, bat speed and a sound swing from both sides of the plate, to go with selectivity and controlled aggressiveness.” There is swing and miss to his game “but he drives balls all over the field and has the above-average speed to leg out hits and challenge outfielders.”
Happ worked at second base during Fall Instructs and according to Baseball America he “impressed club officials with his athleticism, making throws from all angles and improving his footwork.”
Baseball America thinks Happ’s bat could “push him to the majors before his glove catches up.” The Cubs plan for him to play second base. Happ could “wind up a multi-positional utility player in the Ben Zobrist mold.”
4. Duane Underwood Jr., RHP
Duane Underwood is considered the top starting pitcher prospect in the system. Underwood has a fastball that sits in the 93-96 mph range early in games that settles in the low-90s in later innings. Underwood is “still learning to harness his ability to cut and sink the ball, and to set up hitters to better use his curveball and changeup.”
Baseball America pointed out the key to Underwood is consistency. Underwood has shown a lot of improvement over the past two seasons with his performance on the field and preparation. Underwood has the potential to be a No. 3 starter in the big leagues.
5. Dylan Cease, RHP
Dylan Cease lit up the radar gun last summer in the Arizona Rookie League. Cease “fired upper-90s heat and is the prototype little guy with a quick arm that produces electric stuff.” Cease features two pitches right now, both on the plus side. Cease’s fastball has life, sits in the 96-97 mph range and comes out easy with deception, earning double-plus grades. Cease throws a low-80s curveball that has a chance to be a plus pitch as “he learns to command it.”
Cease is working on a changeup and both his mechanics and arm action are “cleaner that they were in his amateur days, though he’s still learning to repeat them.”
Dylan Cease has front of the rotation potential. The Cubs will have a better read on his future after next season.
6. Albert Almora Jr., OF
Albert Almora is who he is according to Baseball America. Almora is a “contact oriented hitter with strong forearms and wrists who has a knack for making contact and avoiding strikeouts.” Almora has shown improvement with selectivity at the plate “but doesn’t get to his raw power as consistently as scouts would like.”
Almora does not walk or steal enough bases to be a leadoff hitter.
Defensively, Almora is special in center field “with premium anticipation, instincts and ball-hawking ability, as well as a strong, accurate arm.”
Albert Almora profiles an everyday centerfielder in the Aaron Rowand mold.
7. Billy McKinney, OF
Billy McKinney might not have the smoothest swing but he “has excellent hand-eye coordination and strike zone judgement, giving him plus hitting ability.” McKinney “has fringy power, likely not enough to be an impact bat” and he struggled against left handed pitching at Double-A.
McKinney can play all three outfield spots. His fringe-average arm best fits in left field. McKinney has to “significantly improve his defense in center to fit a first-division profile for the Cubs.”
8. Oscar De La Cruz, RHP
Oscar De La Cruz had an excellent season and “took a leap forward in 2015 by harnessing his delivery and emerging as the best prospect on a talented Short-Season Eugene staff.” De La Cruz’s fastball sits in the 92-93 mph range “but bumps 97 regularly when his delivery is in sync and he’s getting extension out front.” His fastball has the potential to be a double-plus pitch and his curveball flashes as a plus pitch.
The Cubs are very high on De La Cruz and “try to rein in their enthusiasm.” He should start next season with Low-A South Bend, “a level he could dominate with his strike-throwing ability and premium heater.”
9. Eloy Jimenez, OF
Eloy Jimenez “has the most raw power of any Cubs minor leaguer, with long levers that help him produce light-tower power.” Jimenez has holes in his swing but has he matures “and learns to fully incorporate his lower half, he could be a physical monster of the Jorge Soler model.”
Jimenez has the tools to play right field and enough speed that allowed him to play center in Fall Instructs. Jimenez has been mainly used in left field.
Eloy Jimenez needs time and is the “classic high-risk, high-reward teen.” Baseball America thinks Jimenez “may need 2,000 at bats in the minors to iron out his pitch recognition and plate discipline.” Jimenez’s bat could end up being special.
10. Jeimer Candelario, 3B
Jeimer Candelario bounced back from a poor 2014 season with an outstanding year in two levels of the minor leagues. Candelario began the season with High-A Myrtle Beach and ended it with Double-A Tennessee where he excelled against higher competition.
According to Baseball America he is the best defensive infielder in the Cubs’ system “thanks to a plus arm, soft hands and smooth actions.” Candelario has average range that he makes up for with good instincts and internal clock.
Candelario has a consistent swing from both sides of the plate “with the ability to use the whole field and hit for solid-average power.” Candelario has enough plate coverage “to make consistent contact and successfully became more aggressive this year, which paid off against advanced pitchers who are around the strike zone more often.”
Baseball America thinks Candelario “profiles as a solid regular at third, if not a star.”
When the 2016 Prospect Handbook is released after the first of the year, the Cubs’ list will include pitching prospects such as Pierce Johnson, Carson Sands, Justin Steele, Jen-Ho Tseng and Bryan Hudson … and position players Eddy Julio Martinez, Mark Zagunis and Victor Caratini.