As we come to the end of the first month of the minor league season, it is time to update the Cubs’ Top 20 Prospect list.
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 rankings are of Wednesday, April 27.
1) Willson Contreras, C
There has been no slowing down for Willson Contreras since Spring Training. Playing for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs, the 23-year old is currently seventh in the league in hitting at .375 and has a .419/.446/.866 slash line with four doubles and seven RBI. Defensively, Contreras is a perfect 1.000 behind the plate with a 45% caught stealing rate. Contreras will continue to learn some of the finer points of catching, but he has the look of a member of the 2017 Chicago Cubs roster.
2) Dylan Cease, RHP
With some of the Cubs’ prospects off to slow starts, Dylan Cease slides into the second spot despite remaining in extended Spring Training. The current assignment was not unexpected for the 20-year old, who is still working his way back from Tommy John surgery. It has been reported that Cease has been consistently in the 97-99 mph range with his fastball with improved command over his curve and change-up. Cease is expected to join Low-A South Bend by the end of May/beginning of June. But, don’t be too surprised to see a few starts for Short-Season A Eugene before he reports to South Bend.
3) Gleyber Torres, SS
Off to a slow start, Gleyber Torres has shown recent signs of breaking out offensively. The 19-year old has batted .269 with two doubles, a triple, a home run, three RBI, and a stolen base in his last seven games for High-A Myrtle Beach. However, that has raised his season average to only .178/.294/.315/.609, and Torres already has 22 strikeouts. Torres remains steady defensively with a .959 fielding average.
4) Ian Happ, 2B
A change in positions has yet to affect Ian Happ offensively, as he has found Carolina League pitching to his liking. The switch-hitter is batting .319/.443/.569/1.013, with four doubles, a triple, four home runs, 17 RBI and three stolen bases in 20 games. Happ has already been named Carolina League Player of the Week once, for the week of April 18-24. Defensively, the 21-year old is a work in progress with a .922 fielding percentage at second base. Happ is keeping his options open, taking one turn in the outfield.
5) Donnie Dewees, OF
Donnie Dewees may not be long for the Midwest League, as the 22-year old is third in OPS and seventh in hitting. The lefty has been a force, batting .357/.405/.629/1.034, with seven doubles, six triples, 14 RBI, and six stolen bases in 16 games. The lefty has also shown he is a team player, dropping down form leadoff to third in the order due to the team needs. Dewees has showed some Ichiro-type idiosyncrasies, such has his “walking swing.” Defensively, Dewees has held his own in centerfield.
6) Albert Almora Jr., OF
With less than stellar performances the past two seasons, the CCO put Albert Almora Jr. on prove it status by dropping him down to 15 in the preseason Top Prospect list. So far, the 22-year old is off to a hot start with Iowa, hitting .344/.389/.500/.899 with four doubles, two home runs, eight RBI, and a stolen base in 15 games. However, Almora has to pick up the pace defensively, as his .974 fielding average does not match his reputation.
7) Eloy Jimenez, OF
While still a little rough around the edges, Eloy Jimenez has shown the raw skills needed to be a top player. The 19-year old started off a little slowly at Low-A South Bend, but has hit .289 in his last 10 games to raise his season average to .286/.325/.414/.739 with four doubles, a triple, a home run and 12 RBI. Fielding a perfect 1.000 in the outfield, Jimenez has yet to have an assist and needs to improve his reads.
8) Chesny Young, INF
Chesny Young continues to confound national scouts, who gave him no credit for his 2015 this past off-season. The 23-year old is second in the Southern League in hitting, with a .382/.506/.529/1.035 line. Critics who complained that Young had no power or speed are now running for cover as he already has two home runs and is second in the league with 10 stolen bases. All that led to Young taking Southern League Player of the Week honors for the week of April 18-24. Young remains steady with a .989 fielding percentage at second base, the only position he has played, for now.
9) Ryan Williams, RHP
Ryan Williams had a terrible Triple-A debut, allowing six earned runs and going only three innings in the season lid-lifter. Since then, the 24-year old has given up only one earned run in 10 innings. That has lowered Williams’ ERA to 4.85 and WHIP to 1.692. Never a strikeout pitcher, Williams has eight and still has to cut down on his free passes, of which he has given up seven. But for now, Williams seems to have things going in the right direction.
10) Jeimer Candelario, 3B
No player can do more than Jeimer Candelario has done since his promotion to Double-A Tennessee in July of 2015. So it was no surprise to see a let-down by Candelario as he found himself back in Double-A to start 2016. The 22-year old switch-hitter has recently shown signs of shrugging it off, as he has batted .350 with two home runs and eight RBI in his last seven games. More importantly, Candelario has also drawn seven walks over that span. That has led to a .217/.345/.377/.722 hitting line with five doubles, two home runs, and 10 RBI. Candelario remains rock solid defensively with a .965 fielding average.
11) Pierce Johnson, RHP
Pierce Johnson has been no stranger to the disabled list, so it was no surprise to see the 24-year old back on the DL after his first start. Johnson was hit on the forearm with a line drive in his first start, and his injury only cost him one turn in the rotation. But his return has been marked with some of the inconsistency that is part of Johnson’s history. For the season, Johnson is 0-1 with a 3.55 ERA, 1.74 WHIP and 17 strikeouts in 12.2 innings. Hopefully Johnson can continue to improve, and stay away from the disabled list.
12) Carl Edwards Jr., RHP
About the best thing you can say about Carl Edwards Jr. season so far is that at least he hasn’t done poorly. Since moving to the bullpen in the 2015 season, the 24-year old hasn’t been the same pitcher. Prior to 2015, Edwards had a career 0.975 WHIP. Since 2015, Edwards Jr. has had a WHIP of 1.243. During that time, Edwards’ ERA has jumped a point and a half to 3.86. Edwards can still strike out batters, fanning 10 in seven innings, but time is starting to run out on him.
13) Duane Underwood Jr., RHP
The stock on Duane Underwood temporarily went down, but it should bounce back once he gets onto the field of play. Rated No. 5 on the CCO preseason prospect list, the 21-year old suffered from allergies and elbow stiffness when he reported to training camp. It has been reported that Underwood has completed his rehab and should be activated soon, most likely to Double-A Tennessee. Underwood is considered to have one of the best fastballs in the organization, but will need to develop some consistency.
14) Oscar De La Cruz, RHP
Another injured player, the outlook isn’t as good for Oscar De La Cruz. The eighth rated player on the CCO’s preseason list, the 21-year old was expected to compete for Opening Day starter of the Low-A South Bend Cubs. Instead, De La Cruz has been laid up with an elbow injury. There have been no reports as to the seriousness of his condition, but it obviously will take some time for De La Cruz to round back into form once he is given the okay to return.
15) Billy McKinney, OF
Last season, Billy McKinney did not receive a promotion to Double-A Tennessee out of Spring Training due to a lack of effort on defense. A refocused McKinney then went on to tear things up and earned his way up to the Smokies before ending his season prematurely with a hairline leg fracture. The 21-year old showed that attitude had changed in Spring Training, as well as his work habits, prompting Cubs Manager Joe Maddon to dub him “Billy Baseball.” But the front office saw fit to assign McKinney back to Double-A after a good camp and it has clearly had a negative effect on him. McKinney is hitting only .200/.284/.233/.517 in 17 games, and does not look like he is in a good place mentally. His numbers are nearly one hundred points off his career marks, so the ability is there. Whether McKinney can move forward remains to be seen.
16) Bryan Hudson, LHP
Some of the reshuffling at the top of the list has led to Bryan Hudson moving a few places down, but that doesn’t mean he can’t change that in the coming months. The 2015 third round pick has shown a lot of progress in extended Spring Training, improving his fastball to the low-to-mid 90s range and commanding his curveball. The 18-year old was projected to be a part of the rotation for Short Season-A Eugene, and he seems to remain on target.
17) Eddy Julio Martinez, OF
While there are some who felt that he could be doing better, it’s so far-so good for Eddy Julio Martinez. The 21-year old has had to make more adjustments than the average player in his first full professional season. Martinez is making his home outside of Cuba for the first time in his life, so there is sure to be some bumps in the road. Martinez is first playing out of position, lining up in right field instead of his preferred centerfield. At the plate, Martinez is pressing at times, as his 18 strikeouts can attest. For the season, Martinez is hitting .236/.257/.361/.618 with three doubles, two home runs and 11 RBI in 17 games.
18) Bijan Rademacher, OF
Bijan Rademacher, who has flirted with being a part of top prospects lists for several seasons, is off to a hot start. The 24-year old currently leads the Southern League in hitting, on-base percentage, and OPS while being second in slugging. In 18 games, Rademacher has hit .385/.515/.673/1.188 with three doubles, four home runs, and 13 RBI. Rademacher has already been named Southern League Player of the Week (April 7-17). With a rifle arm that is one of the best in the system, Rademacher is considered to be a crackerjack outfielder.
19) Paul Blackburn, RHP
Like his teammate Bijan Rademacher, Paul Blackburn has been on and off top prospect lists for the last few years. Minor injuries limited the 22-year old’s effectiveness last year with High-A Myrtle Beach, and rumors swirled about him being shipped to the bullpen. Blackburn showed that he was sound in Spring Training and was given another shot in the rotation for Double-A Tennessee. To this point, Blackburn has been the best pitcher in the Southern League. Blackburn leads the league with a miniscule 0.35 ERA and a 0.846 WHIP to go along with a 3-0 record and 11 strikeouts in 26 innings. Blackburn was named Sothern League Pitcher of the Week for April 18-24.
20) Jason Vosler, INF
Often overlooked, Jason Vosler is beginning to come into his own as a prospect. The Carolina League is filled with many super-prospects, such as Ian Happ, Andrew Benintendi, Dansby Swanson, and Yoan Moncada. Yet the 22-year old is 10th in hitting at .318/.418/.409/.827. The left-handed hitter has yet to show the home run pop he displayed last year, but hasn’t been pressing as his 12 walks with 10 strikeouts demonstrates. However, the former middle infielder has plenty of work to do at third base, considering his .902 fielding average.
- The CCO’s 2016 Pre-Season Cubs Prospects: The Top 10
- The CCO’s 2016 Pre-Season Cubs Prospects: Nos. 11-21
- The CCO’s 2016 Pre-Season Cubs Prospects: Best Tools, Outside the Top 21