Chicago Cubs

The Cubs did quite well in rebuilding their farm system in 2021.  Not only did they add plenty of depth, something that was sorely lacking, but they also added several high upside players.  Brennan Davis is the #1 prospect.  He has plenty of bat speed and power potential but struck out a lot in 2021.  While only 17, Cristian Hernandez has potential Superstar written all over him.  Brailyn Marquez, their best pitching prospect did not pitch in 2021 and could move to the bullpen.  Some potential sleepers in the system include Yohendrick Pinango and Owen Caissie.

Prospect Quick Shot

  • Top Prospect: Brennan Davis
  • Biggest Mover: Cristian Hernandez
  • Emerging Prospect: Yohendrick Pinango

1. Brennan Davis (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 OF
  • Tools Summary: Athletic outfielder with plus bat speed.  He did strike out too much in his promotion to Double-A indicating that a 2022 promotion to the big leagues is not guaranteed

Davis has all the tools to be a star.  He’s athletic with great bat speed and an approach that should allow him to be a high on-base player.  He’s also 6-foot-4 and that creates a large strike zone and causes his swing to get long.  Consequently, in Double-A, he struck out over 30% of the time.  He did better in his limited time in Triple-A (22% K/9 in 15 games). I’m betting on the athleticism, his approach, and just repetition to solve his strike-out issues.  I see a ceiling of a .260 batting average, a .350 on-base percentage, and a chance to hit 25 plus home runs with a handful of stolen bases annually.

2. Cristian Hernandez (SS)

  • Highest Level:  DSL ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 10 SS
  • Tools Summary: While he’s only 17, he has all the tools to be a star

The Cubs spent $3 million to sign 16-year-old Cristian Hernandez last January.  He has all the tools to be a star with elite bat speed, a feel for hitting, and athleticism to stay at short and steal bases.  While it was only the DSL, the Cubs got a chance to see what is possible.  In 44 games, he slashed .293/.404/.440 with five home runs and 18 stolen bases.  He struck out 21 % of the time and walked 16% of the time.  The Cubs will surely bring him state-side in 2022 and given how advanced his hit-tool is, he could even start the year in Myrtle Beach, the Cubs Low-A affiliate.

3. Pete Crow-Armstrong (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF
  • Tools Summary: His season was cut short after only six games with a torn labrum in his shoulder

Pete Crow-Armstrong was drafted in the first round by the Mets in 2020.  He was traded for Javier Baez and Trevor Williams at the deadline to the Cubs.  He’s a plus defender with good speed and enough bat speed to hit 10 to 15 home runs annually.  I also like the swing and approach and believe he’ll hit enough to post a .340 plus OBP.  I don’t see a star, but he should be a solid number three or four outfielder for fantasy owners.

4. Kevin Alcantara (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Rookie ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 40 OF
  • Tools Summary: Athletic with plenty of tools.  He’s already 6-foot-6 and might not be done growing.  Assuming he can make enough contact, he has impact potential at the highest level

Kevin Alcantara was part of the return from the Yankees when the Cubs traded Anthony Rizzo at the trade deadline.  It was a good “get” for the Cubs and shows what you can do when you are willing to pay the salary in a trade.  He’s tall and lanky, standing 6-feet-6.  He’s athletic and reminds me a lot of Gregory Polanco.  Yeah, I know that Polanco failed to establish himself as an impact Major Leaguer, but Alcantara has a similar body type, bat speed, and athleticism.  What I don’t think he has is the hitch that Polanco could never eliminate.  The swing is more fluid.  It’s long, mostly because he’s 6-foot-6, but I think he hits enough to get to his speed and power.  While it’s risky, I’ve ranked him very high in the Cubs system based on the upside. 

5. Ed Howard (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2024+ Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 SS with risk
  • Tools Summary: There are solid tools across the board but the hit-tool has a long way to go

The Cubs took Ed Howard in the first round of the 2020 draft (pick 16).  He was the best talent on the board but based on the scouting buzz at the time, he would need time to develop as his hit tool was very raw.  Based on his 2021 performance in Low-A, that appears to be the case.  In 80 games, he slashed .225/.277/.315 while striking out 30% of the time and only walking six percent of the time.  Yeah, it wasn’t good.  I’ll remind you that players who strike out 30% of the time in Low-A rarely become impact players at the highest level.  However, in Howard’s case, I will argue that he should have started the year in the Complex League given his very raw hit tool.  The good news is that his strikeout rate decreased as the season progressed. From nearly 50% in May to 25% in the last six weeks of the season.  There is plenty of bat speed for future power and speed to project double-digit stolen bases.  But, he needs time to develop.

6. Brailyn Marquez (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling:  Closer
  • Tools Summary: Did not play in 2021 due to a shoulder strain

Marquez missed the entire 2021 season due to a shoulder strain.  As we wrote in 2021, his arm is special with a fastball that can touch triple-digits and even in short bursts, might sit in triple-digits.  However, his delivery is not great and his inability to repeat his delivery might cause a move to the bullpen.  He’s now missed two straight years and while he only turns 23 in January, moving him to the bullpen might make sense.  Given his arsenal, he would have the upside of a lockdown closer.

7. Miguel Amaya (C)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 Catcher
  • Tools Summary: Was hurt most of the season but still has a chance to be a full-time regular catcher

Miguel Amaya only played in 23 games in 2021 before his season ended on June 3rd.  The good news is he’s healthy now and should play winter ball to make up for lost time. I saw him play in 2019 and liked what I saw.  He controls the strike zone well with solid power potential.  However, that was against High-A competition and we need to see if he can handle better off-speed pitches that he’ll see in the upper minors.

8. Yohendrick Pinango (OF)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF
  • Tools Summary: Strong with excellent bat-to-ball skills.  While the power has yet to show up, I think it does

Yohendrick Pinango is the most intriguing player on this list.  He can flat-out hit.  Across Low and High-A, he struck out 15.5% of the time while walking 8% of the time.  There’s plenty of strength and bat speed and as he matures, I believe power will also become part of his profile.  If it all comes together, he could be a .280/.360/.450 hitter with 20 plus home runs and a handful of stolen bases.  For a kid who is rarely discussed, I find that intriguing.

9. Alexander Canario (OF)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF
  • Tools Summary: Power hitting outfielder with concerns about his ability to control the plate

Alexander Canario was part of the return the Cubs received when they traded Kris Bryant to the Giants at the trade deadline.  Canario has been a “hot prospect” for years as the bat speed and athleticism pointed to a potential future star.  As he has progressed in the minor leagues, he’s showing both power and speed but his approach has given pause as to how much he’ll hit once he moves into the upper minor leagues.  He can hit a fastball but will be fooled on breaking pitches with a tendency to chase.  There is plenty of fantasy upside, but fantasy managers need to pay close attention to his strikeout and walk rates as he enters the upper levels of the minor leagues.

10. Jordan Wicks (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 50 SP
  • Tools Summary: High floor pitcher that should be able to move through the system quickly

The Cubs selected Jordan Wicks with the 16th pick in last June’s Draft.  He’s a college pitcher who had a great stat line in college, but the arsenal is more of a number four starter than that of a top-of-rotation stater.  His fastball sits 92 to 93 but with a low spin rate and his slider also lacks significant movement.  His change-up though is plus and it was his primary outpitch in college.  That pitch alone will make him a Major Leaguer.  If the slider improves, he could be a number three starter.

11. Reggie Preciado (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Complex League ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 SS
  • Tools Summary: Athletic with good bat speed, he just turned 18 and is still growing.  Determining a future ceiling is difficult as he might need to move off short

Tall, lean, and still very young, Reggie Prediado is a tough kid to evaluate.  He’s 6-foot-5 and still growing, only weighs 185 pounds but yet he’s a plus defender at short.  He’s got good bat speed but given his lack of strength, is mostly a doubles-hitter at the moment.  So, it’s all about projection and whether his hit-tool will develop enough for him to be a full-time regular.  In the Complex League, he made solid contact and even walked a little.  Can he stay at short or does he move to a corner outfield spot?  If so, will he have enough power to get full-time at-bats?  While there is significant upside, there are equally as many questions. 

12. DJ Herz (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 SP with upside
  • Tools Summary: Athletic with a plus fastball and a double-plus change-up.  Currently, his control is well below-average

Signed in the eighth round in 2019, Herz is athletic with plenty of arm strength.  His fastball will sit 94 to 95 with good deception that when matched with his change-up, is leading to a significant strikeout rate.  His problem is he can’t repeat his delivery and is showing 30-grade control.  In 17 starts in Low-A, he walked 5.2 per nine. However, he’s athletic with a good chance to improve his control.  If that happens, he could be a Major League starter and potentially a good one.

13. James Triantos (3B)

  • Highest Level:  Complex League ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 10 2B
  • Tools Summary: High draft pick that has gotten off to a quick start.  The hit tool could be plus with a chance to be a high OBP player with some power

Triantos was selected in the second round last June and performed very well in the 25 games in the Complex League.  He slashed .327/.376/.594 with a 6 home runs and 3 stolen bases.  I think the hit tool is real with a chance to be a high OBP player with some power.  He’s only an average runner and will likely slow as he fills out.  I think the upside is a full-time regular and given how advanced his hit-tool is, he could develop quickly. Final thought: he was drafted as a third baseman, but the arm suggests a move to second is in the cards.

14. Owen Caissie (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 OF with risk
  • Tools Summary: 70-grade raw power but he needs to show he can be more selective at the plate and strike out less

Caissie was taken by the Cubs in the second round of the 2020 draft.  He has huge raw power but during the draft, there were concerns about how much he would strikeout.  In the Complex League, he mashed and it earned him a September promotion to Low-A where he struggled to make contact and drive the ball.  But, he worked his walks (19% BB/9 rate). Not much more to say.  He’s interesting given his 70-grade raw and if you believe he’ll hit enough, he’s a guy to target.  I’m not there yet.

15. Alexander Vizcaino (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Closer
  • Tools Summary: He has an electric arm but is already 24, has never pitched above High-A, and has had trouble staying healthy

I’ve seen Vizcaino pitch and he’s nasty.  He has a fastball that will touch triple-digits and a change-up that batters can not pick up.  However, he’s struggled to stay healthy and doesn’t always know where the ball is going.  Plus, his slider is below average.  If you add it all up, I see him as a reliever, but with his arsenal, he could be a very good one.  I think the Cubs will quickly see this and throw him into the bullpen and despite a lack of experience, assuming health, he could be in the big leagues next season.

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