|Original Published Date: October 5, 2018|
Just four years ago, the Cubs had the best minor system in baseball. Today, it’s bottom five. But, they won a championship and are still in their window, so nobody is complaining. Actually, I’m sure somebody is, but the Cubs did it right. They drafted and developed guys who are core to their major league team today and used others to acquire talent. That said, there will be players that emerge and help the big league team from this list.
The most likely candidate is Miguel Amaya. He broke out in 2018 and is now one of the better catching prospects in the minors. I also received great reports on Cole Roederer, the Cubs 2018 supplemental pick. He’s got a little bit of speed, a little bit of pop and great bat-to-ball skills. Brailyn Marquez and Richard Gallardo are two young intriguing pitchers that are a mile away from the show but should be monitored.
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1. Miguel Amaya (C)
Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 Catcher
Miguel Amaya didn’t even make our Chicago Top 10 list last year but this year, he’s at the top of the pile. Sure, the Cubs system is very light on elite talent, but Amaya had a terrific year showing an ability to control the strike zone as well as some solid pop. His first half was better than his second as he clearly tired down the stretch hitting only .211 in August with a woeful .237 SLUG.
For the year, he slashed .258/.351/.406 with 11 home runs and considering he played the entire year as a teenager, it’s easy to get excited about his potential. Defensively, he showed solid receiving skills with above-average pop times.
While he’s still three years away from seeing the major leagues, Dynasty League owners in two-catcher leagues should consider adding Amaya to their minor league squads. The upside is a .260/.340 hitter with 15 to 20 home run pop.
2. Adbert Alzolay (RHP)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP
After a nice breakout season in 2017, Adbert Alzolay strained a lat in late May and did not return. While lat strains are very common with pitchers, the recovery period is usually 4 to 6 weeks and not 12 weeks. Prior to his injury, he wasn’t setting the world on fire. In eight starts in Triple-A, he pitched to a 4.76 ERA while only striking out 6.1 per nine. He also gave up 43 hits in 39.2 innings.
Alzolay is primarily a two-pitch pitcher with a fastball that sits 94-95 MPH and a curveball that will miss bats. He still lacks a change-up and that’s caused him problems as lefties hit nearly .300 against him. He’s also on the smallish size, standing only 6-feet and weighing 180 pounds. If you add it all up, the ceiling is a number four starter with a chance to be more if his change-up develops.
3. Cole Roederer (OF)
Highest Level: Rookie ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF
The Cubs drafted Cole Roederer in the supplemental second round of the 2018 MLB Draft. He’s an intriguing prospect as he brings a little bit of speed, some pop and the ability to hit. He demonstrated that in his 36 games in rookie ball where he hit .275 with five home runs and 13 stolen bases.
I talked to one source who really like Roederer and he encouraged me to really hype the potential five-tool player. He thought there was serious power potential in the bat with a chance for 20 plus home runs and a .275/.350 hit tool. That clearly got my attention and since this person has been right in the past, I decided to, well, hype him.
4. Brailyn Marquez (LHP)
Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP
After getting hit hard in 2017, the Cubs held back Brailyn Marquez in the complex to have him work on honing his stuff. It seemed to work as he looked like a different pitcher. In 10 starts in Short-Season ball, he pitched to a 3.21 ERA, striking out nearly 10 per nine while walking 2.6 per nine. The performance earned him a promotion in August to Low-A where in two starts he continued his dominant performance.
There’s a lot to like with Marquez. He’s added weight and now his fastball is sitting in the mid-90’s and touching higher with secondary pitches that are showing real promise. He’ll pitch the entire 2019 season as a 20-year and could see High-A before the season’s end. You always have to worry about an arm injury, but the Cubs are very high on the 6-foot-4 lefty and I have quickly become as well.
5. Aramis Ademan (SS)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 SS
After a nice season across the Northwest League and Low-A in 2017, the Cubs gave Aramis Ademan an aggressive assignment to High-A in 2018 and it didn’t go well. In 114 games, he hit .207 and slugged .273. If you’re looking for a positive, he did walk 8.4% of the time and at 19-years-old, that is worth noting.
In my opinion, you have to ignore the stats and focus on the skills. I do think Ademan will hit and believe he has enough bat speed to hit double-digit home runs once he fills out. He’s an average runner who could also steal a handful of bases. If you squint, you might see an offensive profile of Andrelton Simmons. A 10/10 player with a .340 OBP and enough glove to get full-time at-bats on a non-championship level team.
6. Richard Gallardo (RHP)
Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2023+ Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP with extreme risk
The Cubs signed Venezuelan Richard Gallardo to a $1 million dollar bonus as one of the top arms in the 2018 class. He has yet to pitch beyond his Venezuelan club teams and likely won’t see a full-season affiliated club until 2020. But the buzz about his current stuff and projection are impressive.
At 16, he already has an advanced arsenal with a fastball that sits in the low-90’s, the ability to spin a curve and a feel for a change-up. As he matures and grows, the hope is that his fastball velocity will tick up at least a grade and his control will improve. He’s a long-term bet in a Dynasty League but there is definitely potential here.
7. Trent Giambrone (2B)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Middle Infielder with upside
Drafted in the 25th round in 2016, Trent Giambrone had a breakout season in 2018. He showed pop, speed and the ability to control the strike zone. Sure, he only hit .251 but that was driven by a .281 BABIP. He controlled the strike zone by striking out a reasonable 19% of the time and walking 10% of the time.
Giambrone is a really intriguing option for deep Dynasty Leagues. He’s a strong kid with sneaky power and while he’s not a burner, he knows how to steal bases. I don’t see him as an option for the Cubs, but if he gets traded to a team that is developing, he could get see some full-time at-bats with a chance to hit double-digit home runs and steal double-digit bases. He’s a kid to definitely keep an eye on.
8. Oscar de la Cruz (RHP)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
Another pitcher who had a down season for the Cubs was Oscar de la Cruz. The problem wasn’t on the field as he performed well in his 16 starts in Double-A. The problem is he got busted for a masking agent in early July and spent the remainder of the season on the restricted list. He’ll finish up his suspension next April.
He’s got premium stuff with a fastball that can hit the mid to upper 90s and two solid off-speed pitches in his curveball and change-up. At 6-foot-4, he’s got the size you want in a starter. But, he got caught and you don’t know how that will affect his stuff.
What do you do if you are an owner? I think you hold tight and hope that the stuff is still there when he returns and that his control improves enough for him to hit his ceiling as a number three pitcher.
9. Cory Abbott (RHP, High-A)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
Cory Abbott had his breakout season in 2018 where he emerged as one of the best pitching prospects in the Cubs organization. He split his time between Low and High-A striking out 131 batting in 115 innings while limiting his walks to three per nine. He also posted a 2.50 ERA.
He doesn’t have premium stuff but gets by with good fastball command, good movement on his fastball and nice pitch sequencing. The ceiling is a number four pitcher or a swingman out of the bullpen. While he doesn’t have the same kind of upside as some of the more heralded pitchers in the organization, he is pitching the best and should see Double-A next season.
10. Nico Hoerner (SS)
Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Middle Infielder
After a fine career at Stanford University, the Cubs selected Nico Hoerner with the 24th overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft. While he can clearly hit as was evident by his career .305 batting average in college, he also only slugged .409 with three home runs. That usually doesn’t get you a first-round selection, but the Cubs clearly saw something in the 5-foot-11 shortstop.
Unfortunately, his first year in the pros was cut short when he hurt his elbow in the 15th game of the year. Prior to that, he hit .327 with a .450 OBP while also hitting two home runs. If you like Hoerner, you see a pesky top of the order hitter that will have long at-bats and get on-base at a .350 plus clip. If you’re a fantasy player, you see a safe wavier wire replacement player in a deep league when one of your middle infielders get hurt. There’s just not enough power or speed to get excited about.
11. Alex Lange (RHP)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
The Cubs took LSU right-hander Alex Lange in the first round of the 2017 MLB Draft. They skipped him over Low-A and sent him directly the Myrtle Beach of the Carolina League where he pitched to a 3.74 ERA while striking out nearly eight per nine and walking 2.8 per nine. In other words, he was solid but didn’t show anything that would suggest he is nothing more than a fourth starter or more likely a reliever.
He does have a nice fastball/curveball combination, but his delivery is anything but smooth. The arm is quick but the release is very herky-jerky and that will make it difficult to throw consistent strikes. That said, he’s not had problems doing that to-date. Still, for fantasy owners, I would only consider rostering him in very deep leagues. Now, if he dominates Double-A next season, I might reconsider my position.
12. Brendon Little (LHP, Low-A)
Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP or MR
It wasn’t a good season for Brendon Little. The first round draft pick struggled mightily in Low-A where he saw his stuff backed up. In 21 games (20 starts), he posted a 5.15 ERA while striking out eight per nine but also walking nearly four per nine.
I’m not sure what to think of Little at this point. He had one of the best curveballs entering the draft and now it’s not as good. Unfortunately, this happens more than you might think. Look no further than Tyler Beede. The Giants selected the right-hander with the 14th overall pick in the 2014 draft and his stuff also backed up. He pitched to 7.05 ERA in Triple-A this year and has been moved to the bullpen. Will the same happen with Little?
13. Jose Lopez (OF)
Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2023+ Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
The Cubs were very active in the Latin market in 2018 signing multiple players. They spent $1.5 million dollars to sign Jose Lopez, a 5-foot-11 outfielder from the Dominican Republic. The industry seems to be split on the signing with several sources telling me that the Cubs overspent. The Cubs believe they got a lefty bat with future power potential and double-plus speed. While most agree on the speed, there is concern about a definitive hitch in his swing. In reviewing publically available video, it’s indeed an odd swing.
He starts with a high load and then raises his bat up before his follow through. It’s clearly a timing issue but usually complicated swings are hard to repeat and players can struggle. It will be interesting to see what the Cubs do. As a Dynasty League owner, you have to love the athleticism and the fantasy goodness he could produce. Time will tell if he can put it all together.
14. Keegan Thompson (RHP)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2019-20 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 75 SP or MR
Keegan Thompson was an elite high school prospect when he signed with Auburn to play college ball. He had Tommy John surgery in his sophomore year and redshirted his junior year. The Cubs spent a third-round pick in 2017 to sign him in hopes that the previous arsenal he showed would return. While it has, for the most part, the mid-90’s fastball appears to be gone and he profiles as more of a back-of-the-rotation starter.
15. Jose Albertos (RHP)
Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2021 or Never Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP with extreme risk
We ranked Jose Albertos as the number two prospect in the Cubs organization last year. He’s dropped to number 15 this year and that might be generous. There’s no other way to say it – he was awful last season. The Cubs started him in Low-A and in nine games, he walked 32 while striking out 17. The Cubs sent him back to the complex to work on his mechanics and then sent him to Northwest League where things didn’t get any better.
He has a big fastball and a plus change-up but has completely lost the ability to throw strikes. I’ve not heard of any injury, so I have to assume his mechanics are completely out of whack. Can they be fixed? I don’t know. If you own him in a Dynasty League, it might be time to cut bait.