Chicago Cubs

Original Published Date: October 2, 2015

This year’s Cubs Top 10 Prospect list looks much different than 2015’s version.  With Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler, and Kyle Schwarber, all with all-star upside graduating to the majors, they are replaced by Gleybar Torres, Billy McKinney, Ian Happ, and Duane Underwood.  While the new four are fine prospects, only Torres has the upside of last year’s foursome.

Two things continue to jump out in the Cubs system.  The first is the lack of front-line pitching prospects; although assuming Duane Underwood can stay healthy, he could be a nice, solid mid-rotation starter.  The second is the abundance of hitters with premium hit tools and approaches.  Gleyber Torres, Billy McKinney, Ian Happ, Mark Zagunis, Donnie Dewers, and Wilson Contreras all have advanced approaches with a chance to have an above-average hit tool in the major leagues.  It’s truly remarkable how the Cubs have drafted and acquired this skill-set.

While it might have been a long time coming, the Cubs have been rebuilt and they are poised for long-term success.  They have depth on their major league roster and plenty of prospects that could help down the road as either contributors or trade chips.  They still lack pitching depth but have the financial resources to fill that need in free agency.

1. Gleyber Torres (SS)

2016 Age: 19 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 175 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2018
2015 A,A+ 487 54 3 64 22 .287 .346 76.4 8.2 .367

When I first was writing the Cubs Top 10 list, Gleyber Torres was at number three.  However, as I talked with more and more people in the industry, I realized that he was not only the Cubs top prospect but was likely a Top 50, or even higher overall prospect.

Torres was signed for an impressive $1.7 million signing bonus in 2013 and brought to the US in 2014 and immediately made an impression.   As a young 17-year-old (December birthday), he held his own in the AZL with a .749 OPS, demonstrating a very mature approach at the plate.  The Cubs were so impressed that they gave him a late season promotion to the Northwest League and then started him off in full-season baseball in the Midwest League as an 18-year-old.  As the youngest player in the league, he’s slashed .293/.353/.386 in 119 games and showed the entire industry that the Cubs had yet another premium talent in their house.

Scouting Report:  The Theo Epstein regime clearly values a mature approach at the plate.  They draft for it (Bryant and Schwarber), the trade for it (McKinney) and they dip into the Latin market for it (Torres).   While Torres might be the youngest and least known, his approach, particularly at his age, give hope that he might soon be mentioned in the same conversation as Schwarber, Bryant, et. al.  He has plenty bat speed to complement his strong hands and together he could project to hit 12 to 15 home runs as he matures.   While he stole 22 bases in 2015, he’s just an average runner and stolen bases will likely not be a big part of his profile long-term.

The Cubs are currently playing Torres at shortstop and while he currently looks fine at the position, many feel that he will eventually need to be moved to second or potentially the outfield.  I don’t think so and it’s for this reason, I have ranked him as the number one prospect on the Cubs list.  Assuming he stays at shortstop, which I think he will for the foreseeable future, he has the chance to hit for a high average, with a dozen or more home runs and up to 10 stolen bases, at least early in his career.  That’s a first division starter with a chance to see some all-star games.

Fantasy Impact: Torres approach and plus hit-tool will be his greatest asset from a fantasy perspective.  The secondary tools (home runs and stolen bases) will likely grade out as average but when you look at the entire package, the upside is a Top 10 fantasy shortstop.

2. Billy McKinney (OF)

2016 Age: 21 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 205 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2016
2015 A+,AA 377 48 7 64 0 .300 .371 84.1 10.2 .334

Taken in the first round of the 2013 first year player draft, Billy McKinney was part of the Cubs heist last July when the Athletics overpaid for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.  It was a bold move that ultimately did not achieve the goal of a World Series for the A’s, but for the Cubs, it was a major win.  Addison Russell has already made it to the show, and McKinney had an excellent season across High-A and Double-A.

Scouting Report:  Billy McKinney’s carrying tool is the ability to make solid contact that he combines with an advanced approach.   His 60/44 strikeout-to-walk ratio was one of the best in all of minor league baseball in 2015.  While McKinney’s swing is more contact-oriented, he does have enough strength and loft to project 20 home runs at the highest level.   The raw power is still primarily sitting in batting practice and shoulder stiffness throughout the year surely didn’t help his in-game production.  However, it’s in there and at only 21-years-old (in August), he was the third youngest positional player in the Southern League.

Defensively, McKinney does not have the speed to play center-field and is best suited as a corner outfielder.  With Soler locking down right-field for the foreseeable future, left is wide open for McKinney.  Of course, there’s a good chance that Schwarber winds up there long-term and that could ultimately block McKinney’s path to the major leagues.  However, he has the tool that keeps on giving; and that’s the ability to hit.  He’ll find a role in the big leagues and soon.

Fantasy Impact: McKinney’s lack of speed will limit his fantasy upside.  However, his on-base skills will help neutralize that element and allow him to bat near the top of the lineup with a chance for high runs-scored annually.  A slash line of .290/.360/.460 with 20 home runs feels like a reasonable big league projected baseline.

3. Ian Happ (OF)

2016 Age: 21 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-0 Weight: 205 Bats: Both Throws: Right ETA: 2018
2015 SS,A 251 50 9 33 10 .259 .356 73.3 13.6 .313

As the ninth overall player and the fourth college positional player taken in the 2015 draft, the Cubs are hoping that Ian Happ can repeat, at least somewhat, the success of Kyle Schwarber taken the year before.  It’s clearly a tall order, but Happ has done nothing but hit at every level he’s played.   In three seasons at the University of Cincinnati, Happ posted a .338 batting average with 25 home runs while walking more than he struck out.   In his first taste of professional ball, he slashed .283/.408/.491 with four home runs in the Northwest League before being promoted in late July to South Bend.

Scouting Report:  As he’s proven in college and in his limited exposure to professional baseball, Ian Happ can hit.  He’s a switch hitter with above-average bat speed from both sides but with a more leveraged swing from the left-side.  At 6-foot and 205 pounds, he has the size and strength to project above-average power with 20 plus home runs possible.  His average speed does play-up on the bases as he is able to read pitchers well and get excellent jumps.  This resulted in a 75% stealing percentage in college and that rate has continued in his first exposure to professional ball.

The Cubs drafted Happ as an outfielder, but in college, he played all over the diamond and ultimately could profile as a Ben Zobrist-type super utility player.  He’s currently playing center field and while he has very good instincts, his lack of plus foot-speed will likely limit him to a corner outfielder.

Fantasy Impact: I could have easily flip-flopped McKinney and Happ on this list.  While they are similar players, Happ does have more speed and that could ultimately make him a better fantasy asset.   Plus, being a switch-hitter, only helps the profile and will give Happ a better chance of being a full-time player.  The upside is a slash line of .290/.360/.460 with 20 home runs and 10 to 12 stolen bases.

4. Duane Underwood (RHP)

2016 Age: 21 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 215 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 R,A+ 78.1 55 21 6 2.76 6.21 2.41 1.01

Duane Underwood was having a nice breakout season as he posted a 2.66 ERA in 12 starts in the Carolina League.  Unfortunately, during a June 26th start, he complained of elbow pain and didn’t pitch the rest of the season.  The Cubs reportedly were just being cautious with the 21-year-old right hander, but elbow problems and hard throwers are happening much too frequently and until he pitches again, you have to be concerned.

Scouting Report:  When healthy, Underwood has good stuff with a fastball that will sit 93 to 95 MPH and can touch higher when he needs to reach back from something extra.  He also throws a hard curve ball that sits 79 to 81 MPH with nice shape and a change-up that is improving quickly.  Despite the quality of his stuff, his strikeout rate was 5.88 per nine but part of that can be attributed to him working extensively on his change-up and relying less on his more advanced curve ball.  What he did show was a much better control in 2015, walking less than three per nine.   The improved control was to be expected as he has a smooth and repeatable delivery.

Fantasy Impact:  I missed on Underwood in 2014 but the reports I received on him were very encouraging.  He has a chance to be a solid mid-rotation starter with a chance for seven strikeouts per nine and above-average control.  While he doesn’t have great plane on his pitches, he does pitch down in the zone with his running two-seamer getting plenty of ground balls.

5. Willson Contreras (C)

2016 Age: 24 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 175 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
2015 AA 454 71 8 75 4 .333 .413 86.3 10.9 .370

Signed out of the Venezuela in 2008, Willson Contreras had been making slow and steady progress through the Cubs organization when things started to really click in 2015.  His batting average shot up 70 points over his career norm, partially fueled by a .368 batting average of balls in play, but more importantly, better strike-zone discipline.  In 521 plate appearances, he walked nearly as much as he struck out while posting a 12% strike out rate and an 11% walk rate.

Scouting Report:  Signed as a third baseman, Contreras moved behind the plate in 2011 and has been working on his defensive chops ever since.  His 29% caught-stealing percentage doesn’t do his plus-arm justice, but from external reports, his foot work is improving and that should ultimately help that percentage.  He has average receiving and framing skills but both have improved over the past three years.

Offensively, he has good bat speed with above-average contact skills that combined with his emerging strike-zone awareness gives him a chance to be an above-average offensive catcher.  As a former third baseman, he also has more athleticism than you typically see in a catcher.  The ceiling is an everyday catcher, but first the Cubs need to give up on the dream of Kyle Schwarber being their long-term answer behind the dish.

Fantasy Impact:  Contreras is a Top 250 prospect and should be on Dynasty League owners radar in two catcher leagues.   The ceiling is an everyday catcher with 12 to 15 home run power and a .260 to .270 batting average.

6. Mark Zagunis (OF)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-0 Weight: 205 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017
2015 A+ 413 78 8 54 12 .271 .406 79.2 15.6 .323

Taken in the third round of the 2014 draft as a catcher/outfielder, the Cubs have moved Mark Zagunis permanently to the outfield in order to get his premium bat quickly through the minor league system.  It seems to be working as Zagunis had a very quiet, but excellent season in the Carolina league, slashing .271/.406/.412 in 115 games.  While he has above-average raw power, it has yet to show up in-game yet as he only hit eight home runs.

Scouting Report:  Despite his catcher’s build, Zagunis is a good athlete with above-average foot-speed and enough bat speed to produce 15 to 18 home runs at the highest level.  His calling card, as are most of the Cubs prospects, is an advanced approach and the ability to barrel the ball.  In 413 at-bats in High-A, he had an impressive 86/80 strikeout-to-walk ratio.   While the power has yet to develop, he did hit 24 doubles and as he continues to develop more loft in his swing, I expect the power to eventually come.  That said, based on his swing, I doubt he’ll ever hit for plus in-game power, but the total package of average power and speed with a chance for a plus hit-tool, should play very well as a corner outfielder.

Fantasy Impact:  Despite his third round pedigree, Zagunis has been overshadowed by some of the many elite prospects that have moved through the Cubs system over the past two years.  However, as the system has thinned, Zagunis is quickly rising to the top and you know what, he’s better than I thought.  The upside is a .290 plus hitter with great on-base skills with a chance to hit 15 to 18 home runs and chip in a handful of stolen bases.  It doesn’t scream fantasy all-star, but he could be a very good, number four outfielder in a mixed league.

7. Donnie Dewees (OF)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 5-11 Weight: 180 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2017-18
2015 SS 282 42 5 30 19 .266 .306 80.9 4.6 .311

In keeping with the Cubs model of acquiring players with an advanced approach at the plate, they selected Donnie Dewees with the 47th overall selection in the 2015 first year player draft.  The 21-year-old left-handed outfielder walked nearly twice as much as he struck out in his junior year at North Florida while batting .422 and slugging .749.  He did get off to a slow start in the Northwest League but played better as the season wore on and finished with a very good slash line of .266/.306/.376.

Scouting Report:  Dewees has some quality tools that starts with his compact lefty stroke and excellent approach at the plate.  There’s plenty of bat speed and despite hitting 18 home runs in college in his junior year, the swing is more contact-oriented and he doesn’t project for more than average future power.  That said, he’ll hit plenty of doubles and should be able to post a mid-400’s SLG as a result.   He does have plus foot-speed that should allow him to steal 20 plus bases annually.

Defensively, the Cubs have been playing Dewees in both center and left field.  While his arm will prohibit him from right field, and the lack of power will make it stretch for left, center field is the best landing spot for him.  However, there is concern that he has the defensive chops to play center field.  In the end, it won’t matter as he can hit and that will ultimately land him in the major leagues.

Fantasy Impact:  Dewees offers a nice fantasy profile as a prototypical top-of-the-lineup, speedy on-base player.  He should be able to contribute in most categories with a chance for 20 to 30 stolen bases and a high batting average.  He’ll be buried on most Cubs Top ten lists and will not make any Top 100 list, but there is something there with Dewees and Dynasty League owners need to take note.

8. Eloy Jimenez (OF)

2016 Age: 19 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 205 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2018
2015 SS 232 36 7 33 3 .284 .328 81.5 6.0 .321

When you’re signed as a 16-year-old for $2.8 million-dollars and haven’t put up eye-popping numbers to date, it’s easy for prospect fatigue to set-in.  That might be what’s happening to now 18-year-old Eloy Jimenez.  Injuries slowed him down last year and the Cubs elected to keep him in extended spring training to start the 2015 season and while his performance in the Northwest has been good, they aren’t Gleyber Torres-esque, who was signed at the same time for a million dollars less.

Scouting Report:  Jimenez has the profile to be a power hitting right-fielder in the major leagues.  At a projectable 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Jimenez is still growing into his body as he hasn’t yet developed the strength to match his physical size.  This will come and when it does, he projects to have plus in-game power.  Additionally, he should add more leverage to his swing as it currently is more level and doubles-oriented.  This is actually a good thing and points to an eventual above-average hit tool in the future.  He’s raw and a long way off, but there is a lot to like in the young Dominican outfielder.

Fantasy Impact:  Prospect fatigue can lead to a buying opportunity for Dynasty League owners.  This could be the case with Eloy Jimenez.  He’s raw and at least three to four years away, but if you can wait it out, he has chance to be an impact middle of the order bat who can also add a handful of stolen bases.  The ceiling is a .270 hitter with 20 to 25 home runs and five to eight stolen bases.

9. Ryan Williams (RHP)

2016 Age: 24 Ceiling: #4 starter
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 220 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A-,AA 141.2 109 34 2 1.14 6.23 2.16 0.90

Taken as a senior sign in the tenth round of the 2014 first year player draft to essentially save money, Ryan Williams has exceeded expectations and has quickly made his way to Double-A.  Williams was a reliever at East Carolina where he appeared in 32 games, posting an 11-3 record with seven saves and 99.2 IP.  It’s clearly an unusual stat line as you typically don’t see relievers averaging three innings per outing and in many cases, pitching in back-to-back games.  The Cubs believed he could be a starter and moved him to the rotation this year.

Scouting Report:  Williams does not have overpowering stuff and relies on a heavy two-seam sinker that sits 90 to 92 MPH as his primary weapon.  The pitch has great movement, staying in the bottom of the zone and in 141.2 innings, Williams only gave up two home runs with a 2.50 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio.   He’s also is a strike thrower with plus control that limited Low-A and Double-A batters to 18 walks.  His out-pitch is an above-average hard curveball that has a classic 12 to 6 shape that he can throw for strikes.  He also has a feel for a change-up but it’s clearly his third pitch.

Fantasy Impact:  Candidly, there are a lot of pitchers in the minor leagues with the profile of Ryan Williams.  What sets him apart from the masses is while his stuff is not plus, his fastball has enough giddy-up and movement that will make him hard to square-up.  He has the upside of a number four starter but if he continues to impress, he could improve that ceiling.

10. Albert Almora (OF)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: 2nd Div
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
2015 AA 405 69 6 46 8 .272 .327 88.4 7.1 .291

Taken number six overall in the 2012 draft, Albert Almora’s stock has been dropping over the past several years as the bat just hasn’t developed.  In repeating Double-A, he did improve his plate patience but in the end, the results were similar to 2014.

Scouting Report:  Almora’s carrying tool is his plus defensive profile.  He has a great first step, tracks balls very well, and has enough arm to keep runners honest.  The bat is well behind his glove though.  He has a line-drive approach and has always made good contact, but the approach has been extremely aggressive and pitchers have attacked him to produce weak contact.  He has shown slightly better patience in 2015, but there is still much work to be done.  The good news is that given their roster construction, the Cubs don’t need Almora to be a plus offensive weapon as his defensive should make him a positive WAR player.

Fantasy Impact:  If this was purely a baseball ranking, Albert Almora would be higher ranked than number ten.  However, from a fantasy standpoint, he profiles as a below-average contributor with high single-digit home runs and stolen bases, batting at the bottom of the lineup.  Juan Lagares is a good comp for Almora.

2016 Emerging Prospect

Dylan Cease (RHP)

The Cubs went well over slot to sign Dylan Cease in the sixth round of the 2014 first year player draft for $1.5 million dollars.  Cease has the most electric arm in the Cubs system and arguably has the highest upside.  He can run his fastball up to the upper nineties in short burst but with 30-grade current control.  His curveball and change-up are both very raw and need a lot of work.  That said, he has arm strength and shows athleticism and with time, he could develop into a mid-rotation starter or back-of-the bullpen arm.


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