We have past the midpoint of the minor league season, and the Cubs’ Top 20 Prospect list looks like it will experience more radical changes shortly.
Here then, is a list on how the current prospects rate. All stats and rankings are of Wednesday, July 6.
1) Willson Contreras, C (Chicago Cubs)
Making most likely his last appearance on this list, Willson Contreras has deserved his promotion to the big leagues. As a member of the Triple-A Iowa Cubs, the 23-year old hit .350/.439/.591/1.030 with 16 doubles, three triples, nine home runs, and 43 RBI. Defensively, Contreras remains steady by fielding .995 behind the plate with a 31% caught stealing rate. Now with the parent club, Contreras is batting .297/.384/.594 with four doubles and five home runs for a .977 OPS with 12 RBI in 19 games.
2) Dylan Cease, RHP (Short Season-A Eugene)
The waiting is over, and Dylan Cease is showing that he has been worth every bit of it. The 20-year old is still working his way back from Tommy John surgery, and is limited to 75 pitches per outing. Cease has been consistently in the 97-99 mph range with his fastball and has demonstrated control, as his 3.18 ERA, 1.059 WHIP, and 16 strikeouts in 17 innings can attest. With all of that, Cease has established himself as the best pitching prospect in the organization.
3) Eloy Jimenez, OF (Low-A South Bend)
Instead of the third rated prospect, you can consider Eloy Jimenez more like the “2a” prospect. The 19-year old maintained a solid June split, batting .356 for the month. His home run total of two was down, but his RBI total for 20 in June was consistent. Jimenez’s season average is now .332/.371/.530/.901, 28 doubles, a triple, 10 home runs, 58 RBI, and six stolen bases. Jimenez still does not have an assist and has a .984 fielding average, but manager Jimmy Gonzalez reports that his reads in the outfield are getting better.
4) Albert Almora Jr., OF (Chicago Cubs)
Unlike teammate Willson Contreras, Albert Almora Jr. future for the present with the parent club remains to be seen. The 22-year was promoted to the parent club on June 7, batting .318/.335/.444/.779 with 12 doubles, three triples, three home runs, 30 RBI, and six stolen bases in 55 games for Iowa. Since coming up, Almora Jr. has been used sparingly, with only 64 at bats in 25 games, hitting .281/.313/.422 with six doubles, a home run, and six RBI. Almora Jr. is still considered top notch defensively, but you have to wonder how long he can last with outfielders Dexter Fowler and Jorge Soler due to come off the disabled list.
5) Jeimer Candelario, 3B (Chicago Cubs)
For whatever reason Jeimer Candelario was sent back to Double-A to start 2016, it wasn’t the right decision. The 22-year old switch-hitter batted .219/.324/.367 in 56 games before the Cubs did a “make good” promotion to Triple-A Iowa. Since then Candelario has soared hitting .347/.467/.625/1.092 with seven doubles, two triples, three home runs, and 15 RBI in 24 games. MLB sat up and took notice, as they invited Candelario to be part of the World Team in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game. Candelario continues to have the makings of a Gold Glove caliber defender, fielding a combined .963 at one of the toughest positions on the diamond. Candelario’s stock was further enhanced by a promotion to the big leagues at the start of the week.
6) Gleyber Torres, SS (High-A Myrtle Beach)
Coming into the season as the Cubs’ top prospect, Gleyber Torres has been slogging his way through his second professional season. The 19-year old had a downturn from his .306 month of May, batting .269 in June for High-A Myrtle Beach. That makes his season averages .260/.344/.409/.753, 16 doubles, two triples, eight home runs, 29 RBI, and 12 stolen bases in 80 games. Torres’ 14 errors and .956 fielding average has put him on pace with last year, but improvement was expected.
7) Ian Happ, 2B/OF (Double-A Tennessee)
After seeing a decline of his numbers in May, Ian Happ rebounded dramatically to the point of promotion. Happ hit .361 in June for Myrtle Beach and was sent to Double-A Tennessee on June 23. The switch-hitter has hit the ground running with the Smokies, hitting a .452 clip to raise his season totals to .319/.421/.507/.928 with 20 doubles, three triples, nine home runs, 50 RBI, and 13 stolen bases in 81 games. Defensively, the 21-year old is still a work in progress, but he has improved to a .969 fielding percentage overall at second base. Happ has also had six starts in the outfield.
8) Trevor Clifton, RHP (High-A Myrtle Beach)
After a great May, Trevor Clifton had a rocky June. But that does not mean that Clifton isn’t performing well. The 21-year old has fallen to seventh in the Carolina League with 71 strikeouts in 65.1 innings. Clifton’s 3.44 ERA for June has pushed his totals to 4-5 with a 2.76 ERA, and a 1.316 WHIP. Clifton was named a Carolina League All-Star and earned the save in the California-Carolina League All-Star Game.
9) Mark Zagunis, OF (Triple-A Iowa)
Despite a slow start to the year, Mark Zagunis earned his way up the ladder. The 23-year old was promoted to Triple-A Iowa on June 7 after batting .302 with 13 doubles, a triple, four home runs, and 24 RBI in 51 games for Double-A Tennessee. Since coming to the I-Cubs, Zagunis is hitting .286/.349/.509/.858 with 10 doubles, three triples, three home runs, 12 RBI and four stolen bases in 30 games. The former catcher is adapting to the outfield well, as Zagunis has committed only one error in 76 games, playing both left and right fields.
10) Bryan Hudson, LHP (Short Season-A Eugene)
A younger, left-handed version of his teammate Cease, Bryan Hudson is showing he belongs among the elite prospects. The 2015 third round pick does not have Cease’s fastball, clocking in the low- to mid-90s range, but has a commanding curveball. The 18-year old is the number two starter for Short Season-A Eugene, who is currently leading the Northwest League in victories. Hudson has gone 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA, 1.071 WHIP and seven strikeouts in 14 innings.
11) Billy McKinney, OF (Double-A Tennessee)
Coming back from his early season disappointment, Billy McKinney is now one of the hottest hitters in the entire system. Since batting only .206 in April, the 21-year old has hit at a .283 clip. McKinney has now raised his season totals to .262/.365/.337/.702 with 10 doubles, three triples, a home run, and 30 RBI in 74 games. Defense will never be McKinney’s strong suit, as he has already committed five errors. “Billy Baseball” has worked his way back from a fractured kneecap and what can be considered a demotion to on the verge of needing to be challenged more.
12) Victor Caratini, C (Double-A Tennessee)
Quite possibly the most consistent player in the minors this season, Victor Caratini has made an interesting dilemma at catcher even more intriguing. The 22-year old former infielder is considered the best defensive catcher in the system, fielding .995 with a 22% caught stealing rate. Like many of the catchers in the minors, Caratini is being cross-trained at first base. At the plate, the switch-hitter has batted .290/.381/.395/.777 with 18 doubles, a triple, two home runs, 26 RBI, and a stolen base in 70 games. Caratini has also shown a decent .253/.372 left-right split.
13) Jen-Ho Tseng, RHP (Double-A Tennessee)
Part of the reason Tennessee has experienced a second half resurgence is that they may have found a pitching leader in Jen-Ho Tseng. The 2014 Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year struggled last season and was on the disabled list earlier this year. The 21-year old sat out most of May but has posted a 4-1 record with a 1.80 ERA since his return. Overall, Tseng has a 2.98 ERA and a 1.252 WHIP. Never a strikeout pitcher, Tseng has 35 in 54.1 innings. More importantly, Tseng has given the Smokies confidence that they can win every time he takes the mound.
14) Pedro Araujo, RHP (High-A Myrtle Beach)
On the day it was decided that he would make his debut on the Top 20 list, Pedro Araujo was promoted. The 23-year old needed only nine appearances and 19 innings for Low-A South Bend when the front off decided they had seen enough, and moved Araujo to High-A Myrtle Beach. In his short time with the S-Cubs, Araujo had a 0.47 ERA and 0.579 WHIP, striking out 23 and posting a 1-0 record with two saves. An imposing 6-foot-3, 214 pound, Araujo’s former manager Jimmy Gonzalez said that he has a heavy mid-90s fastball and improved command since their days with the AZL Cubs in 2014.
15) Chesny Young, INF (Double-A Tennessee)
The April prospect of the month, Chesny Young has seen a downturn in his numbers. Despite posting averages on .241 and .236 in May and June, the 23-year old is still 10th in on-base percentage in the Southern League. That still puts Young with a very good line of .285/.373/.362/.736 with 10 doubles, two triples, three home runs, 18 RBI and 14 stolen bases. The recent promotion of Ian Happ has moved Young over to third base and given him more turns batting leadoff, where he has hit the best this season. Young remains a stalwart defender at second, third, short, and the outfield.
16) Donnie Dewees, OF (Low-A South Bend)
After a hot start, Donnie Dewees has experienced a drop the past two months in his first full season. However, the 22-year old has seen his numbers spike since the All-Star break, hitting .333 in 11 games. The lefty is now batting .268/.323/.414/.737 with 13 doubles, 11 triples, three home runs, 45 RBI, and has 14 stolen bases in 78 games. Batting third in the order out of necessity for the team, Dewees may benefit more by spending time at leadoff. Dewees may be best in left field, but has generally held his own in centerfield.
17) Paul Blackburn, RHP (Double-A Tennessee)
Another player who started out well and is now struggling to find consistency, Paul Blackburn has gotten better since the All-Star break. After a sparkling April, the 22-year had a tough May and June. However, Blackburn remains one of the best pitchers in the Southern League, as he is second the league in WHIP at 1.097 and is fifth with a 2.42 ERA. But Tennessee is sporting a stronger roster in the second half, and Blackburn has gone 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA in two starts. For the season, Blackburn is 6-2 record and 59 strikeouts in 89.1 innings.
18) Brad Markey, RHP (Double-A Tennessee)
While it seems as if the league may be catching up, Brad Markey has remained consistent. The 24-year old is eighth in the Southern League in ERA at 2.78. At 6-4 with a 1.346 WHIP, and 36 strikeouts with 31 walks in 81 innings, Markey has been one of the mainstays in the Tennessee Smokies’ rotation. The biggest concern at this time is Markey’s 11 home runs allowed, which have accounted for most of his 25 earned runs allowed. If he can cut down on the gopher balls, Markey could have a bright future.
19) Duane Underwood Jr., RHP (Double-A Tennessee)
One of the most disappointing players in the Top 20, Duane Underwood Jr. continues to slog through a bad season. A top 10 prospect coming into the season, the 21-year old missed much of the first month with a variety of maladies. Since his return, Underwood Jr. has gone 0-5 with a 4.91 ERA, 1.654 WHIP, and 46 strikeouts with 31 walks in 58.2 innings. Underwood Jr. has also served up seven home runs in this short span. While still relatively young for his level, a lot more was expected from Underwood Jr. this season.
20) Dan Vogelbach, 1B (Triple-A Iowa)
A fan favorite, Dan Vogelbach has taken advantage of the generous Pacific Coast League to post some of the best numbers of his career. Entering play July 6, the 23-year was tied for fourth in the league in home runs and was sixth in RBI, seventh in OPS, and 10th in slugging. For the year, Vogelbach was hitting .302/.417/.536/.953 with 18 doubles, a triple, 15 home runs, and 58 RBI after 82 games (Note: Vogelbach’s stats, league rankings current end of play July 5). The left-hander has the same flaws that have plagued his career. Vogelbach is batting only .200 against left-handed pitching, he basically has to crush the ball to get an extra-base hit, is only a station-to-station runner on the bases, and is a far below average defender at first base. But his offensive numbers may attract the right attention as the trade deadline nears.
- The CCO’s Top 20 Cubs Prospects – May Update
- The CCO’s Top 20 Cubs Prospects – April Update
- 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