Chicago Cubs’ 2021 Preseason Top 50 Prospects

The Cubs continue to expand their player development process.

As we prepare for the season ahead, the Pitcher List staff will be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2021. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2021 hub here.

 

In recent years, the Cubs farm system has been recognized as one of the weakest in baseball. Realizing that they needed to revamp the manner in which they develop their young players, the Cubs have assembled a team of experts and added a high tech element to their talent evaluation process.

The Cubs take the development of their young pitchers very seriously, and many of their top pitching prospects are closer to reaching the big leagues than their offensive counterparts. In order to further improve their pitching development process, the Cubs have created a Pitch Lab in Mesa, Arizona. It features state of the art technology designed to provide additional insight to help support their pitching player development team. The lab has its own R & D team and a biomechanist who can specifically work on tweaking a pitchers mechanics.

The Cubs have also created a Hitting Lab whose goal is to nurture the team’s young, raw, and talented hitters so that they can reach their full potential and quickly become everyday impact players. Like the Pitch Lab, the Hitting Lab combines analytics, technology, and strength and nutritional conditioning with detailed one-on-one instruction in order to accelerate their young players’ maturation process.

While the Cubs’ 2016 World Series victory is still fresh on their minds, the Cubs are not content to rest on their laurels. Former Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, who orchestrated that championship, has moved on but the Cubs are intent on continuing to expand the innovative player development process that he helped introduce, as they start to gradually reconfigure their team for another championship run.

The following is a look the Cubs’ top 50 prospects. There are have several shortstops with high-end potential on the list as well as 27 pitchers including two blue-chip starting pitcher prospects and several intriguing arms that can provide with bullpen depth as early as this season.

Note: These Top 50 lists are all done through a fantasy baseball focused lens. Many players who are ranked higher or lower on other platforms will get a boost here. For example, players who profile as middle relievers or glove-first infielders likely won’t have much fantasy relevance, so they won’t be ranked as high.

 

1. Brailyn Marquez, SP

Age: 22

Highest Level: MLB

Armed with a fastball regularly hitting the mid to upper 90 MPH mark and peaking at an impressive 102 MPH, Marquez possesses the type of raw talent that if harnessed, can help him develop into a future ace. He spent last summer working through some mechanical issues and tweaking his delivery in an effort to improve his control and further develop his secondary pitches.

The Cubs felt that Marquez made some real progress in improving his breaking ball and adding depth to his curveball. He also added a hard sinker to his arsenal, and the Cubs hope that having a four-pitch repertoire can help accelerate Marquez’s ascension to the big leagues. He gave up five runs in two-thirds of an inning in his big league debut on the last day of the 2020 season, but the Cubs are hopeful that his strikeout of Jose Abreu with a 99 mph fastball is more representative of what he’ll be capable of once he dons a Cubs uniform for good.

ETA 2021

 

2. Brennen Davis, OF

Age: 21

Highest Level: Single-A

Davis made great strides at the Cubs’ alternate site in South Bend, IN. He faced major-league caliber pitching and while they initially got the best of him, Davis made some tweaks to his approach, adjusted his swing, and improved as the season progressed.

Cubs farm director Matt Dorey described Davis’ 2020 season as one in which he metaphorically “got punched in the face and responded very well.” Davis is an excellent defensive outfielder with a rifle arm. Offensively, Davis is a five-tool player in the making who will add more power to his swing as he continues to fill out his 6’4″, 175 lb frame. He will be tested in Double-A ball at some point this season, but he’s still a year or two away from facing big-league pitching.

ETA 2023

 

3. Adbert Alzolay, SP

Age: 25

Highest Level: MLB

Alzolay laid the foundation for getting a chance to earn a potential spot in the Cubs’ 2021 rotation by striking out 15 big-league batters and giving up just two runs in nine innings across his last two starts of the 2020 MLB season. While Alzolay has been gifted with a blazing fastball, his curveball has traditionally been his best pitch. However, he made a small change to the grip he uses on his slider late last season and the pitch started generating more swings and misses.

With Alzolay struggling earlier in his minor league career, some speculated he might be better suited for the bullpen, but adding another secondary pitch that generates strikes could help him secure a spot in a Cubs rotation that is sorely lacking in star talent.

ETA 2021

 

4.Miguel Amaya, C

Age: 21

Highest Level: High-A

With the Cubs entertaining offers for Willson Contreras this offseason, Miguel Amaya might have an opportunity to make his major league debut this season. Amaya was included on the Cubs’ 40 man roster last season, and working out at the team’s alternate site allowed him to continue to master his craft both behind, and at, the plate.

Amaya possesses above-average plate discipline and a power bat, but he’s also a strong defender. The alternate site provided an environment where he could work on improving his pitch framing ability and learn the nuances of the game, including refining his game-calling skills. Between his work at the teams’ alternate site and the 10 games he played in the Puerto Rican Winter League (.261/.553/.609 slash line and 1.161 OPS), Amaya appears ready for some big league action.

ETA Late 2021

 

5. Ed Howard, SS

Age: 19

Highest Level: N/A

Widely regarded as the best shortstop in the 2020 draft, Ed Howard is a tremendously talented defensive shortstop. He has good range and strong arm, and that should keep him at the position for the long term. Currently, his defensive skills outweigh his offensive skills, but when it comes to his ability as a hitter, Howard is considered to have a high ceiling. Howard has plus speed and he’s just 19 years old. Once he starts to fill in his 6’2″, 185 lb frame, many scouts expect him to develop into a 20 homer, 20 steal threat.

ETA 2024

 

6. Christopher Morel, 3B

Age: 21

Highest Level: Single-A

At six feet tall and just 140 lbs, there’s plenty of room for Morel to grow into his frame. Some expect that once that happens he’ll begin to hit for power. However, his current swing is more conducive to hitting line drives, suggesting that he has the potential to hit for a high average.

Morel possesses above-average bat speed, and he’s quick around the bases, but like many young hitters, he needs to work on improving his plate discipline. He posted a 4% walk rate in 73 games playing for the Cubs’ Class A affiliate. He has a 58.75 minor league career pull rate and needs to do a better job of trying to hit the ball to all fields.

Based on his personality, he’s looked upon as a potential future leader in the clubhouse. With the Cubs having Morel play some second base and outfield at their alternate training site last summer it seems they are intent on finding a spot for him on their team. The fact that they protected him from the Rule 5 draft by putting him on their 40 man roster when he’s still at least a couple of years away from playing in the big leagues gives you an indication about how highly they regard him.

ETA 2023

 

7. Cole Roederer, OF

 

Age: 21

Highest Level: Single-A

Roederer has the necessary tools and underlying skillset to become a future everyday big-league centerfielder, but he needs to adjust his approach at the plate in order to further his development.  He’s an excellent defensive centerfielder who has a smooth swing that generates lots of power, but he’s an extreme pull hitter. Roederer also needs to curb his aggressiveness at the plate. Initially, he was a bit overmatched when he made the leap to Class A ball in 2019. He posted a 25% K rate as pitchers took advantage of his inability to hit a changeup, but Roederer showed marked improvement by seasons end.

He has excellent speed, and his 76% career success rate on stolen base attempts shows he’s a smart baserunner. Whether Roederer remains a stolen base threat as he eventually fills out his six-foot, 175 lb frame remains to be seen. He has 20 plus home run potential.

ETA 2022

 

8. Reginald Preciado, SS/3B

Age: 17

Highest Level: N/A

Preciado was the highest-ranked prospect that the Cubs received back from the Padres in the Yu Darvish deal. The 6’4″, 185 lb switch-hitting infielder makes consistent hard contact and can spray the ball to all fields. At 18 years old, there’s still plenty of time for Preciado to fill in his lean frame and develop a power bat.

Defensively, Preciado plays a fluent shortstop and possesses a strong and accurate arm, but some scouts feel that his skillset would also allow him to flourish at third base or the outfield. Like many players his age, Preciado needs time to further develop his skills but he projects to be an above-average offensive and defensive player.

ETA 2023

 

9. Chase Strumpf, 2B

Age: 22

Highest Level: Single-A

Strumpf is a high contact hitter whose compact swing generates hard contact. Despite the fact that he barrels the ball and has excellent bat speed, he’s a line-drive hitter and that may end up capping his eventual home run production to the 15 to 20 range. He’s a patient hitter who posted a 13% walk rate and .342 OBP in 39 minor league games during the 2019 season, but at the same time his 24% strikeout rate might seem a bit high, but it also shows he’s not afraid to swing the bat.

Many regarded Strumpf as a first-round talent that the Cubs were lucky to grab in the second round of the 2019 draft. He came at a discount due to concerns about a steep drop off in his batting average in his final season at UCLA as well as concerns about his defence. While his bat is better than his glove, Strumpf has some overall major upside.

ETA 2023

 

10. Cory Abbott, SP

Age: 25

Highest Level: Double-A

Abbott was the Cubs’ 2019 minor league pitcher of the year, and spent the 2020 season perfecting his craft at the team’s alternate training site in South Bend, IN. Unlike many pitching prospects who are still working on developing new pitches, Abbott has a full complement of four pitches in his arsenal and he knows how to use them. The fact that he’s seasoned enough to be able to mix and match his four pitches depending on their effectiveness on any given day, makes him worthy of an audition for a spot in the Cubs rotation at some point this season.

He throws a pedestrian 93 mph fastball, but his curveball is very effective against left-handed batters and his slider generates plenty of swings and misses. His changeup can also be very effective as a deceptive outpitch as well. Abbott has a solid repertoire and he projects out as a reliable back of the rotation innings eater, and at 25 years old his time may be now.

ETA 2021

 

11. Kohl Franklin, SP

Age: 21

Highest Level: Single-A

Working on his conditioning has helped Franklin fill out his 6’4″, 190 lb frame and it has also helped him achieve positive results on the mound. Franklin has transformed his body and as a result, he’s seen an uptick in his fastball velocity. It used to peak at 89 MPH back in 2017, but it topped out at 97 MPH during the 2019 season.

Franklin’s changeup has always been a plus pitch, but his curveball is the key to him landing a future spot in the Cubs’ starting rotation. He’s changed the grip he uses when he throws it and it has added some depth to the pitch. In the past Franklin was only throwing it to right-handed batters but as it further develops that should change. Having a solid three-pitch mix will facilitate his entry to the big leagues but for now, he’s still a work in progress.

ETA 2022

 

12. Ryan Jensen, SP

Age: 23

Highest Level: Low-A

Jensen’s best pitch is his fastball. He throws a four and two-seamer and they complement each other nicely. His four-seamer averages 94 to 96 mph and peaks at 100 MPH. Jensen’s two-seamer has sinking action and its velocity comes in at one to two MPH below the average velocity on his four-seamer.

He also throws a slider which generates whiffs and weak contact, and a changeup that needs further development. He’s experimented with different grips on both pitches, but if he wants to be considered a future starting pitcher as opposed to a future relief pitcher, he’s going to have to work on getting more movement on his changeup.

ETA 2022

 

13. Keegan Thompson, SP

Age: 25

Highest Level: Double-A

Thompson’s biggest attribute is his ability to throw strikes. He features four pitches in his arsenal, and they all have varying movements and velocity. He throws a two-seam fastball with sinking action that lives in the upper 80 MPH range, and a four-seamer that averages 90 to 92 MPH, but it occasionally hits the 95 MPH mark. His best secondary pitches are his curveball and slider, and he occasionally mixes in a changeup which he predominantly uses against left-handed batters.

He has a deceptive delivery which along with his ability to mix his pitches and pound the strike zone helps keep hitters off balance. Thompson’s had his share of injury concerns (Tommy John surgery in 2016 and a serious bout of elbow inflammation in 2019), but as long as he’s healthy, he should have a chance to face big-league hitters this season and could be considered as an eventual back of the rotation starter for the Cubs.

ETA 2021

 

14. Burl Carraway, RP

Age: 21

Highest Level: N/A

Carraway was a closer in college, however in order for him to be considered a big-league reliever who’s trusted in high leverage situations he’s going to have to work on his command. Carraway predominantly throws two pitches. He features a blazing fastball which averages close to 98 MPH, and tops out at 100 MPH. It’s more effective against left-handed batters.

Opposing batters will try to adjust to the big drop off in velocity when he throws his mid 70 MPH curveball. He’s worked on adding a slider and changeup to his pitch mix, but his fastball and curveball will be his ticket to the big leagues. Once he gets better control of those pitches the Cubs are prepared to fast track him through their minor league system.

ETA 2022

 

15. Jack Patterson, SP/RP

Age: 25

Highest Level: Double-A

Based on his skillset Patterson projects out as a back of the rotation starter and unfortunately for him, the Cubs already have a few prospects who fit that description. His future probably lies in the Cubs’ bullpen. He’s been a highly effective minor league pitcher (2.04 ERA, 1.090 WHIP) who features a four-pitch arsenal including a slider, changeup and curveball. As a ground ball pitcher who throws strikes and doesn’t give up too many home runs, Patterson could be highly effective if called upon to make relief appearances when men are on base.

ETA Late 2021/2022

 

16. Yeison Santana, SS

 

Age: 20

Highest Level: R

Santana is a natural shortstop who projects to be a top contributor on both sides of the ball. He’s an above-average contact hitter with excellent discipline at the plate. Santana has been described as a selectively aggressive hitter which is a rare trait for a young prospect. He has a .418 pro career OPS and in 2019 as an 18-year-old, he posted a .346/.429/.494 slash line in the Rookie-level Arizona League.

He may need to tone down some of his aggressiveness on the base paths, as he’s only been successful on nine of his 19 stolen base attempts thus far in his pro career. Defensively he has good range and a strong, accurate arm, and although the Cubs have a few very good shortstop prospects, it’s clearly evident that Santana has what it take to be able to play the position as an above-average defender at the big league level.

ETA 2023

 

17. Riley Thompson, SP

Age: 24

Highest Level: Single-A

Thompson looked impressive in spring training before last season’s shut down. He’s got good movement on his fastball which averages in the 93 to 96 MPH range. His curveball has tremendous downward action and a high spin rate and it’s especially effective against right-handed batters. He’s reworked the grip on his changeup, making it a much more effective pitch which induces weak contact.

Control has been an issue for him in the past, but it seems like it’s becoming less of an issue the further removed he is from his 2016 Tommy John surgery. The Cubs expect him to continue to develop into a potential middle of the rotation starter.

ETA 2022

 

18. Luis Verdugo, SS

Age: 20

Highest Level: R

Verdugo has turned some heads with his plus defensive skills. He’s got a strong arm which allows him to throw strikes from deep in the hole. Offensively, Verdugo had a disastrous 47 game 2018 season in rookie ball as a 17-year-old, posting a .193/.264/.295 slash line.

After getting off to a slow start in 2019, he showed marked improvement down the stretch. Verdugo hit .367 in his final 36 games and slugged all five of his home runs in his last eight games. Verdugo also dropped his strikeout rate to 17.6, down from 22.6 in 2018. He’ll likely add some power to his swing as he fills out his frame, but he’ll also need to elevate the ball a bit more as well.

ETA 2023

 

19. Chris Clarke, SP

Age: 21

Highest Level: Low-A

Eight of Clarke’s nine appearances in his first pro season were as a starter. Mindful that Clarke had Tommy John surgery as a junior in high school, and was primarily used as a reliever at USC, the Cubs didn’t let Clarke work too deep into games during that season. However, he was very effective, posting a 10.2 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9 in 23 innings.

He has four pitches in his repertoire. His fastball, which tops out at 96 mph, has good sinking movement to it and induces groundballs. His curveball is arguably his best pitch and potentially the best curve in the Cubs’ minor league system. It has tremendous downward action and both right and left-handed batters have a tough time hitting it.

Clarke also features a good slider, and he’s working on further developing his changeup. His arm angle off of his delivery makes it difficult for opposing batters to pick up his pitches and makes each them much more effective. With a bit more seasoning Clarke could develop into a pitcher that dynasty players should consider rostering.

ETA 2022

 

20. Michael McAvene, RP

Age: 23

Highest Level: Low-A

McAvene had Tommy John surgery in his freshman year of college and like many who’ve had the procedure, it took him some time to regain his control and previous velocity. McAvene is another career college relief pitcher who the Cubs used as a starter in his first year of minor league ball. He started six games, only pitching 12.2 innings, but he was very successful in that small sample size. He posted a 14.2 K/9, 1.42 ERA and 0.711 WHIP.

However, with just two-plus pitches on his resume, he’s probably better suited for a bullpen role. He throws a fastball that’s been clocked in the 93 to 96 MPH range, but when he’s called upon to pitch short outings, McAvene has been able to crank it up to 100 MPH. His best pitch is his breaking ball, which some describe as a cross between a hard slider and a big breaking curveball. It’s a pitch that generates lots of swings and misses.

The Cubs think there’s a chance that he could still be a potential starting pitcher, but with his stuff, he has an opportunity to develop into a potential closer.

ETA 2022

 

21. Jordan Nwogu, OF

Age: 21

Highest Level: N/A

At 6’3″, 235 lb, Nwogu has the raw tools that could turn him into one of the game’s future prolific home run hitters. He’s strong, has quick hands and has generated exit velocities that have been clocked as high as 110 mph. Nwogu is also a very good fastball hitter.

However, what may end up preventing him from reaching his full potential is his inability to avoid swinging at offspeed and breaking pitches that are outside of the strike zone. Nwogu is projected to have 20 plus home run potential but unless he corrects his hitting deficiencies, he’s not going to be able to consistently hit for high average.

He has above-average speed and while it’s helped him to take an extra base, it hasn’t helped him defensively. Nwogu’s arm strength has improved, but he still has had problems getting a jump on balls and moving back on balls that are hit to him. For now, Nwogu looks like a one-trick pony, with a possible future as a full-time DH.

ETA 2024

 

22. Ethan Roberts, RP

Age: 23

Highest Level: High-A

Roberts is an intriguing 23-year-old prospect who is largely being ignored. While working out mostly on his own during the 2020 work stoppage, he’s been able to push the velocity on his fastball from its 91 MPH average, to a top speed of 96 MPH. Both his fastball, which features good cutting action, and curveball have impressive spin rates with RPMs over 3300. He’s a projected reliever who has demonstrated some outstanding control in two minor league seasons. In 74 innings pitched he has posted an excellent 1.9 BB/9.

ETA 2022

 

23. Fabian Pertuz, 3B

Age: 20

Highest Level: R

Statistically, Pertuz has gotten off to a nice start to his pro career, posting a .311/.392/.431 slash line in his first two pro seasons. Pertuz has quick hands and above-average bat speed. He’s been blessed with speed and he has used it wisely, successfully stealing 45 bases in 59 attempts.

Despite his early career success, there’s still plenty of room for Pertuz to grow into his six-foot, 156 lb frame, and once that happens we might see him develop a bit more power. He’s a free swinger, and makes contact often, but as his career progresses he’ll have to refine his approach and learn to barrel the ball more often in order to improve the quality of his contact.

ETA 2024

 

24. Owen Caissie, OF

Age: 18

Highest Level: N/A

Caissie is a big framed, (6’4″, 190 lb) 18-year-old prospect who can drive the ball to all fields. Caissie has a natural loft to his swing and is expected to use his raw power to develop into a consistent home-run hitter. He’ll never be a stolen base threat but for a player his size, he does a good job of getting around the base paths.

He’s an adequate defender with a strong arm which should play well from a corner outfield position. Some have been concerned that he swings and misses too much and as part of his further development, Caissie needs to adjust and tighten up his swing.

ETA 2024

 

25. James Norwood, RP

Age: 27

Highest Level: MLB

Norwood has 22 innings of big-league experience and his 5.7 BB/9 tells you all you need to know about his biggest limitation. Norwood throws a blazing fastball that touches 100 MPH on the radar gun, and averages about 97 MPH. He also throws a split-fingered fastball and a slider. The common thread among those pitches is Norwood’s inability to consistently throw them for strikes. Based on his inability to command his pitches, Norwood’s near-term big league career is destined to include relief appearances in low leverage situations.

ETA 2021

 

26. Justin Steele, SP

Age: 25

Highest Level: Double-A

Injuries, including Tommy John surgery and an oblique injury that prematurely ended his 2019 season, have thus far derailed Steele’s career. While at 25-years-old he’s considered an older prospect, he’s still got plenty of potential upside remaining based on his skillset. His four-seam fastball regularly hits the radar gun at between 92-95 MPH, and sometimes touches the 97 MPH mark. It’s got high spin rates and plays well up in the strike zone.

His curveball has plenty of power and depth and is particularly effective against lefties. Steele has also added a slider to his pitch mix that some think is one of the best in the Cubs’ organization. He also throws a changeup on occasion but it’s a pitch that needs further refinement. There’s still an opportunity for Steele to make his mark as a starter, but with his durability concerns, he might eventually be better suited for a role in the Cubs’ bullpen.

ETA 2022

 

27. Tyson Miller, SP

Age: 25

Highest Level: MLB

Miller needs to live on the edge to be successful. He doesn’t possess a fastball that blows hitters away and when he leaves his pitches out over the plate he tends to get hit hard. Miller is most effective when he’s able to paint the corners and get batters to chase pitches just out of their reach.

Miller has enjoyed increased success since he started throwing his four-seamer which has a higher spin rate than his two-seamer. He gets good movement on his fastball, throwing a sinker and cutter to lefties. Miller also gets good dropping action off of his curveball and tends to use his slider a bit more against right-handed batters. He doesn’t throw his changeup very often. It got hit pretty hard during his time in Triple-A, but he can sneak it in every once in a while, just to keep hitters guessing.

In a very small sample size (five innings), Miller pitched to a 5.40 ERA against big league hitters last season. If he’s able to consistently locate his pitches Miller could eventually secure a role as a back of the rotation starter. Otherwise, his destiny lies in long relief.

ETA 2021

 

28. Ismael Mena, OF

Age: 18

Highest Level: N/A

Some consider Mena to be the best athlete that the Cubs got back when they traded Yu Darvish to the Padres. His biggest assets are his overall hit tool, his speed and his defensive skills. At 6’3″, 185 lb Mena is already able to barrel the ball and is expected to add some power as he continues to fill out his frame.

Mena is known for having a good eye for the strike zone, which should help his on-base stats. He’s expected to bat close to the top of the lineup, and based on his above-average speed, may even eventually bat lead-off. Mena has been compared to Franchy Cordero and Gregory Polanco.

ETA 2024

 

29. Alfonso Rivas/1B/OF

 

Age: 24

Highest Level: Triple-A

Rivas has a tremendous hit tool as evidenced by his career .290/.390/.411 slash line. He’s a patient hitter who has posted above-average walk rates thus far in his career. However, traditional first basemen often hit for power, and Rivas currently does not. He’s more of a line-drive hitter. He is considered a plus defender and can also play some outfield as well. He’s probably likely to develop into a multi-position eligible platoon player.

ETA 2022

 

30. Andy Weber 2B/SS/3B

 

Age: 23

Highest Level: Single-A

Weber is a slick-fielding infielder who is blessed with a strong arm, and can play multiple positions. He’s a line-drive hitter who possesses a solid, but still developing, hit tool. Weber has excellent bat speed and can spray the ball to all fields.

In his first full season in Single-A ball in 2019 he showed steady improvement as the season progressed. In his first 22 games of that season, he batted .238, and in his final 105 games he hit .283. As the season wore on, Weber’s strikeout rate dropped, walk rate increased and he started to hit the ball with more authority. He’s not expected to develop into a power hitter but fact that he hit 36 doubles that season is encouraging.

While Weber doesn’t have above-average speed, he’s quick enough to steal the occasional base when needed. Weber doesn’t have one specific area in which he excels at but, he is very good in many areas. He’s drawn comparisons to Tommy Edman and Jake Cronenworth and his resourcefulness should pave the way for Weber to eventually reach the major leagues, but unfortunately he might have more of utility role.

ETA 2022

 

31. Ronnier Quintero, C

Age: 18

Highest Level: N/A

Quintero was considered 2019’s top international catching prospect. He has a high ceiling both offensively and defensively. Quintero has tremendous bat speed and a swing that produces natural elevation and plenty of power. He also has a strong and accurate arm which should keep future potential base stealers in check.

He’s only 18 years old but he already displays strong leadership skills, an important and often overlooked trait that a catcher needs to have. It’ll be a while before he’s ready to make his big league debut but he’s already drawing offensive comparisons to Willson Contreras.

ETA 2024

 

32. Yovanny Cruz, RP

Age: 21

Highest Level: Low-A

Some scouts believe that Cruz has one of the best arms in the Cubs minor league system. Cruz has three potential out pitches. His fastball tops out at 99 MPH and has downward action. While it creates swings and misses, it also induces weak ground ball contact. His slider is considered his best secondary pitch and also generates whiffs. Cruz’s changeup is especially deceptive when it’s used against his hard sinking fastball and has proven effective against right-handed batters.

In order to take that next step forward in his career and get a shot at playing at Wrigley Field, he’s going to have to cut down on the number of walks he allows. He gets into trouble when he tries to be too perfect as he tries to hit the corners. When he misses, the number of free passes he gives up increases. Overall, Cruz still has plenty of upside, and the Cubs are hoping he can deliver on their expectations and that he develops into a middle of the rotation starter.

ETA 2023

 

33. Ethan Hearn, C

Age: 20

Highest Level: R

Hearn’s got good a balanced line-drive swing, good bat speed and raw power however his overly aggressive approach causes him to chase bad pitches. In his first and only minor league season, he struck out 36 times in 23 games. Like many young hitters, he’s a bit too pull happy. He has a good arm behind the plate and in time, if he refines his approach at the plate, he could eventually develop a 20 home run bat.

ETA 2024

 

34. Yohendrick Pinango, OF

Age: 18

Highest Level: N/A

With his being just 18 years old and having just one season of professional ball under his belt to use as a reference point, we’ve still got a lot to learn about Pinango, but we like what we’ve seen so far. While playing in the Dominican Summer League in 2019, he posted a .358/.427/.442 slash line. He showed tremendous speed and skill on the base paths, stealing 27 bases in 34 attempts.

He also demonstrated great discipline at the plate, hitting the ball to the opposite field at a rate of 51.1%, and impressively registering more walks (27) than strikeouts (20). Based on what we’ve seen thus far he projects as a table-setter who can thrive at the top of the Cubs’ batting order.

ETA 2024

 

35. Richard Gallardo, SP

Age: 19

Highest Level: Low-A

Gallardo pitched 34.1 minor league innings as a 17-year-old in 2019 and while his stats weren’t great, he does show some promise. While his fastball, which averages in the lower 90 mph range, isn’t as lively as what we’re used to seeing these days, it has good sinking action and should pick up a tick or two as he matures, and that should help him generate more swings and misses.

Scouts were impressed with the control of his curveball which projects to be an eventual plus pitch. Gallardo is also working on refining his changeup. If he can turn it into another out pitch, he could develop into a middle of the rotation starter.

ETA 2024

 

36. Kevin Made, SS

Age: 18

Highest Level: N/A

Made (pronounced MAH-day) is just 18 years old but his balanced skill set makes him a prospect with both offensive and defensive upside. Made has above-average bat speed and good hand-eye coordination and that allows him to control his bat and hit the ball to all fields. He has a line-drive swing but on occasion, he’s able to get good loft on the balls he connects with. As he matures and adds mass to his 6’1″, 160 lb frame, projections have him hitting 15 to 20 home runs per season.

Defensively, he has a quick release and a strong accurate arm. He seems naturally inclined to play the shortstop position and should be able to play there for a good chunk of his career. He did exhibit some high strikeout numbers while he was in the instructional league but has a few years of developmental work ahead of him to work on fixing that issue.

ETA 2024

 

37. Koen Moreno, SP

Age: 19

Highest Level: N/A

The Cubs selected Moreno with their fifth pick in the 2020 draft and are hoping that he can eventually earn a spot in their starting rotation. Before that can happen, the 19-year-old prospect needs to fine-tune his mechanics and overall pitching strategy.

He’s got good location on his fastball, which averages in the low 90 MPH range. It works well against righties and at 6’2″, 170 lb there is still plenty of room and time for Moreno to fill out his frame and add a couple of ticks to his fastball’s velocity. Moreno also throws a changeup which has good break to it. In time, it could become a plus pitch. He also throws a slider, but that needs some refinement as well.

ETA 2024

 

38. Edmond Americaan, OF

Age: 23

Highest Level: Single-A

Whether it’s by taking a walk or using his strong bunting skills, Americaan knows how to get on base. He has a career .352 OBP. He’s got some power but as an extreme ground ball hitter, his overall home run production might end up being limited unless he changes his approach.

He has plus speed but he might have to learn to utilize it a bit better. For his pro career, he’s been caught on 13 of his 40 stolen base attempts. Defensively, he has a strong and accurate arm which should play well in the outfield. In a fairly small sample size, Americaan has had issues hitting left-handed pitching. If that trend continues he might project out as a platoon player at the major league level.

ETA 2023

 

39. Michael Rucker, RP

Age: 26

Highest Level: Triple-A

Rucker is projected to likely work out of the bullpen for the Cubs this season, taking on a role working mostly in middle relief. Rucker experienced a three MPH spike to his fastball in 2020. He’s able to locate it well and throws it low in the strike zone. Rucker uses his slider as his out pitch. Batters chase it and it generates swings and misses. He also uses his curveball to keep hitters off balance and mixes in his changeup from time to time.

ETA 2021

 

40. Luke Little, SP

Age: 20

Highest Level: N/A

Little was the Cubs’ fourth pick in the 2020 draft and became a viral sensation after posting a Twitter video of him throwing a 105 MPH fastball. In actuality, the projected reliever’s fastball averages in the upper 90 MPH range, which is obviously still impressive. He also throws a slider that has good late movement, but it currently lacks depth.

The 20-year-old prospect, like many raw young pitchers, is a work in progress who needs to improve his control issues and refine his delivery and overall mechanics. In an admittedly small sample size pitching in the 2019 Northwoods Collegiate Summer League, Little walked 11 batters in 12.1 innings. The Cubs knew he’d be a project when they drafted him, but on the positive side, Little did show some improvement in his command this past season.

ETA 2023

 

41. Dakota Mekkes, RP

Age: 26

Highest Level: Triple-A

Mekkes has struck out 251 batters in 196.1 innings pitched across four minor league seasons. Cubs Farm Director Matt Dorey called Mekkes an outlier because his relatively tame 93 to 95 mph fastball can generate huge K numbers is a bit unusual. He has used his unique 6’7″, 275 lb frame and delivery to his advantage.

His arm slot and release point gives his fastball a rising motion that has helped him stay ahead of opposing batters. His slider induces ground balls and weak contact and his repertoire also features a changeup which is considered average. One area that Mekkes needs to work on is limiting the number of walks he gives up. Unfortunately, that might involve toning down his distinctive delivery, and he needs to be careful that making that kind of change won’t affect the effectiveness of his fastball and slider.

ETA 2021

 

42. Davidjohn Herz, RP

Age: 20

Highest Level: R

Herz is a projected reliever who possesses a 95 MPH fastball and a developing slider that is projected to be a potential swing and miss pitch. He’s also experimented with a changeup but his fastball and slider will likely be his primary offerings.

His delivery motion has him throwing the ball across his body which has negatively affected his ability to control his pitches, but it also makes it difficult for opposing batters to make hard contact against him. He is especially tough on left-handed batters. The Cubs consider him to be a long term project and hope that he can develop into a reliever that they can use in high leverage situations.

ETA 2023

 

43. Reivaj Garcia, 2B

Age:19

Highest Level: Low-A

Garcia is a switch-hitter who seems more comfortable hitting from the right side. He posted an encouraging .302/.363/.355 slash line in his first season in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2018, but took a significant step backwards in his development in 2019. He posted a .221/.258/.262 slash line in his combined time in the Rookie-level Arizona League and the Cubs’ Eugene affiliate in the Short-Season A league.

Like so many young prospects, Garcia’s progress was severely hindered without the benefit of a minor league season. Hopefully, we’ll be blessed with a full 2021 season and the Cubs can further evaluate Garcia’s strengths and weaknesses. Garcia is likely a much better player than the one we saw in 2019, but one who lacks power and has moderate speed. If that is the case, he might be best suited for a future utility role.

ETA 2023

 

44. Jeremiah Estrada, RP

 

Age: 22

Highest Level: Low-A

Estrada underwent Tommy John surgery in August of 2019 and is expected to be fully healthy by the start of the 2021 season. Before the surgery, Estrada was projected to be a back end of the rotation type starter who threw a fastball, curveball and changeup. He had adjusted his delivery by slowing it down and that helped him to deliver consistent velocity on his fastball, which averaged in the 95 MPH range.

His changeup was a plus pitch that missed bats and was considered one of the best in the Cubs’ minor league system. His curveball was less consistent than his other two offerings but showed signs of possible development into a plus pitch. It will be interesting to note if there is any change regarding the effectiveness of his pitches following his Tommy John surgery. If his curveball doesn’t develop into a pitch that can consistently generate outs, Estrada will likely end up as a bullpen option.

ETA 2023

 

45. Max Schrock, U

 

Age: 26

Highest Level: MLB

Schrock was considered an intriguing prospect while part of the Oakland A’s organization. He consistently hit for high average and displayed high contact skills but in the two minor league seasons since being traded to the Cardinals organization in 2018 he’s batted just .260.

His lack of power and speed has driven down his prospect outlook as well. His solid OBP skills and ability to play multiple positions (second base, third base, and outfield) earned him a spot at the Cardinals’ alternate training site last season.

With COVID-19 ravaging their roster the Cardinals gave him a brief and uneventful taste of the big leagues last season. He only had 17 big league at-bats but batted just .176. At this stage of his career, he should probably be considered a future utility player who could provide the Cubs with some infield depth.

ETA 2021

 

46. Hunter Bigge, RP

Age: 22

Highest Level: Low-A

Bigge has seen a marked increase in his velocity over the past couple of years. While pitching for Harvard in the 2017 and 2018 seasons, his fastball was generally clocked in the upper 80 to lower 90 MPH range. Since being drafted in 2019 his velocity has been measured in the 92 to 95 MPH range and some reports have his fastball topping out at 99 MPH.

He also throws a curveball that has tremendous dropping action and generates swings and misses. Bigge has a live arm and if he could maintain his sudden increase in velocity, he could be fast-tracked through the system and end up pitching in the Cubs’ bullpen before long.

ETA 2021

 

47. Manuel Rodriguez, RP

Age: 24

Highest Level: High-A

Rodriguez is a potential future reliever who throws a plus fastball and curveball, and keeps the ball in the park. His fastball reaches up into the mid to upper 90 MPH range and he also throws a hard sinking variant that generates above-average groundball contact. His curveball generates a high spin rate and has hard dropping movement. It reaches the plate in the low 80 MPH range and plays off well against his blazing fastball. Please note that he suffered a bicep strain and was placed on the IL at the end of last season.

ETA 2022

 

48. Brendon Little, SP

Age: 24

Highest Level: High-A

Little’s two best pitches have been his fastball and his curveball, both of which have above-average spin rates. When he can throw them over the plate, they are genuine plus pitches. When Little is on, his curveball has a sharp breaking motion and some consider it his best pitch.

Little’s main issue has been his inability to throw strikes. Little’s in-game durability has been another concern. His velocity often drops as his pitch count rises. In time, the Cubs may realize that Little, who had originally been thought of as a potential starting pitcher, might be better suited for a bullpen role.

ETA 2023

 

49. Nelson Velazquez, OF

Age: 22

Highest Level: Single-A

Velazquez’s biggest asset is his power bat, but his over-aggressive approach is stunting his growth as a prospect. Strikeouts have been a huge problem for Velazquez. He’s got a quick bat but lacks barrel control. He takes huge, long swings and tries to crush every pitch he sees and that has resulted in him striking out 245 times in 213 career minor league games.

Defensively he has a strong arm, but his lack of speed limits his range. Before Velazquez can be considered a legitimate prospect with a chance to be an everyday player, he’s going to have to drastically change his approach at the plate and become a much more disciplined hitter.

ETA 2023

 

50. Trevor Megill, RP

Age: 27

Highest Level: Triple-A

At 27 years-old, Megill has been around the block a couple of times. His 6’8″, 250 lb frame makes him an imposing figure on the mound and the downward plane in his delivery helps to make his fastball seem a bit more intimidating and faster than its 96 MPH average velocity.

Megill has a 12.4 K/9 rate across four minor league seasons and the pitch that opposing batters chase and generates a significant portion of those strikeouts is his slider. He also features a curveball which he is able to throw for strikes. As a seasoned reliever who has good command over his pitches, Megill should have an opportunity to be summoned to work out of the pen as a middle reliever at some point this season.

ETA 2021

 

Photo by Rob Grabowski/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter)

 

 

 

 

Joe Gallina

Joe Gallina has been covering fantasy baseball since 2013 both a writer and broadcaster. His written work has been syndicated by the Associated Press and has been featured in the Washington Post and New York Daily News.

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