|Original Published Date: October 6, 2017|
When you win a World Championship, and then set out to defend it, usually your minor league system takes a hit. That’s exactly what has happened to the Cubs. They went from the envy of the league with such household prospect names as Bryant, Baez, Jimenez, Torres, and Russell to guys nobody has heard of.
The system is clearly light on talent and as opposed to the past, skews pitching. Adbert Alzolay and Jose Albertos have good arms with a chance to be mid-rotation starters. Dillon Maples is another interesting arm that even saw a few innings in the major leagues. Oscar De La Cruz is another pitcher with a good arm but injuries have slowed him as he continues to establish himself.
While the system is down, there is still talent. It’s not what it once was, but who cares, they won the World Series.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP or Closer
With a clearly diminished Cubs minor league system, I went with a high risk, but potentially a high reward arm in Venezuelan Adbert Alzolay as the top player in the organization. I had a chance to see him pitch in July and left very impressed. He hit 96 multiple times with a really nice curveball and most importantly, threw strikes.
If truth be told, I didn’t know much about him but was very intrigued with the combination of stuff and the ability to throw strikes. The Cubs are also impressed as well and had him split time between High and Double-A last season at 22-years-old. He started 15 games in Myrtle Beach where he posted a 2.98 ERA, striking out nearly a batter an inning while walking only 2.42 per nine. The performance continued after his arrival to the Southern League.
Scouting Report: Since I’ve already discussed Alzolay’s stuff and ability to throw strikes, let’s get to the big red flag. He’s not a big guy. While his baseball card says he’s 6-feet and 180 pounds, I’m not sure he’s even 180 pounds and that is the worry. While the stuff will play at the highest level, does he have the physicality to start 30 games annually in the big leagues? Conventional wisdom would say no but the delivery is clean and easy and he does use his lower half well. Worse case, I think he has a chance to pitch at the back of the bullpen and close games.
Fantasy Impact: I play in a number of Dynasty Leagues and own Alzolay in each league in which the rules let me pick him up. He’s an intriguing arm with a chance to be a solid number three pitcher with upside or a back-end weapon. The Cubs are very high on him and have been pushing him very hard. It’s conceivable that he could see time in Chicago in 2018. The best part is that very few people have heard of him. So, be the first to grab him in your league, but fair warning, when I picked him up, he wasn’t even listed in the waiver wire pools. So at a minimum, you’ll be the cool kid who is picking up a player that nobody knows about. And you know what, something tells me that it just might work out.
Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2020, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP
The Cubs have been mining Mexico for players over the past couple of years and one of their prize signings in 2015 was Jose Albertos. He hit the ground running as a 17-year-old in rookie ball in 2016, lighting up the radar gun in an electric start where he struck out seven in four innings. That single effort landed him as our emerging prospect last year.
In 2017, the Cubs once again started him off slowly. He returned to the AZL where he started two games before being promoted to the Northwest League for the remainder of the year. The NWL is a heavy college-based draftee league, so pitching effectively there as a teenager can give a prospect instant helium. Albertos did just that. In eight starts, he held his own, posting a 2.86 ERA while striking out over a batter an inning.
Scouting Report: Albertos is primarily a fastball/change-up pitcher with the ability to run his fastball up to 96 MPH while sitting comfortable in the 92 to 94 MPH range. He has an excellent change-up that is very advanced and gets a ton of swings and misses. It’s rare to see a teenage with such a feel for a change-up and therefore young batters rarely see a pitch this good. That can lead to gaudy numbers in the lower minor leagues and many times it can set unreasonable expectations for the pitcher unless they have a complementary breaking pitch. In Albertos, his primary breaking pitch is a below-average hybrid slider/curve that I think he will ditch for a pure slider down the road.
Albertos stands 6-feet-1 and weighs 185 pounds with a traditional three-quarters delivery. The mechanics are very good and allows him to locate his pitches very well. He does lack plane and that could lead to him being homer-prone. However, the combination of two plus pitches and solid mechanics should allow him to move through the system quickly. His ceiling will depend on how well his slider develops.
Fantasy Impact: Albertos should be owned in all deeper Dynasty Leagues. There’s a lot to like and given his advanced change-up and ability to locate his pitches, he could shoot up prospect list quickly. The concern is his size and his lack of a good breaking pitch. If they develop, watch out. If not, he’s a guy to flip in 2018/2019 where he should dominate both levels of A-ball.
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Second catcher
Victor Caratini has hit at every level since being drafted in the second round of the 2013 MLB Draft by the Braves. After batting .341 in 69 games at Triple-A, the Cubs promoted him to the major leagues in July after parting ways with Miguel Montero. He played sparingly and once the Cubs traded for Alex Avila was optioned back to Iowa. It wasn’t a very memorable stat line as he hit just .192 in 11 games but did show the Cubs enough to at least profile as a backup catcher in the major leagues.
Scouting Report: Throughout his minor league career, Caratini has shown the ability to control the strike zone, posting a 16.7% strikeout rate and a 10.7% walk rate. What he hasn’t done is shown a ton of over the fence power, although he’s slugged .414. That did change in 2017 as he hit 10 home runs in Triple-A and even popped one in his brief call-up. He has the size and the bat speed to project at least 15 home run in-game power and if he can do that, he becomes a much more intriguing player.
Fantasy Impact: Caratini should be monitored in all Dynasty League because of his ability to control the strike zone. If he can develop 12 to 15 home run pop, he could be an option as a second catcher in deeper leagues.
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2020, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP
Arm injuries have slowed down the progress of the Oscar De La Cruz both in 2016 and once again last season. He has the size and stuff to pitch at the top-of-the-rotation, but since he can’t stay on the field, his prospect status has taken a hit.
Before going on the disabled list, De La Cruz pitched very well in nine starts in Myrtle Beach of the Carolina League. In 47.1 innings, he posted a 3.42 ERA while striking out 42 and only walking 11. While he has the stuff to get plenty of swings and misses, what has been encouraging his ability to throw strikes. He has pitched to a 3.00 walk-per-nine-rate in each of his four minor league seasons. Unfortunately, his high-water mark in innings was in 2014 in the Dominican Summer League where he logged 75 innings.
Scouting Report: De La Cruz has a great arm and enough athleticism to repeat his delivery. He has a plus fastball with a lot of late movement that sits 92 to 94 MPH. The Cubs also believe there could be another tick or two as he matures and hones his delivery. His curveball and change-up are still raw but both can miss bats.
Even with his limited exposure to pitching, his mechanics are quite good. The delivery is easy with good balance and the ability to repeat his mechanics. He also pitches with excellent plane, pitching down in the zone. This should help him keep the ball in the ballpark and induce a lot of ground balls.
Fantasy Impact: It’s always good to have a few young prospects with high upside on your Dynasty League. De La Cruz fits that to the tee. If it all comes together, he projects as a number two starter or an excellent back-of-the-bullpen arm. That said, he needs to stay on the field and until he does, he’ll frustrate not only the Cubs but Dynasty League owners as well.
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Closer
Drafted in 2011 in the 14th round, 24-year-old Dillon Maples had been an afterthought for the Cubs – a kid with a live arm that couldn’t consistently find the plate. In fact, the Cubs left him unprotected entering the 2017 and every other major league team decided against plunking down $50,000 to add him to their roster.
I think if teams were to play that scenario over again, he would have been signed. In fact, he could have helped a number of bullpens out this past season. But the Cubs persistence paid off as Maples made his major league debut in September.
Scouting Report: While Maples mechanics suggest he will never be a control artist, his stuff is what futures closers are made. His fastball can hit triple-digits and he has a nasty curveball that can miss bats. In 63.1 innings across High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A, he struck out 100 while limiting hitters to a .232 batting average. He also saved 13 games.
While he’ll turn 26-years-old next May, I believe Maples has a chance to be a future closer in the major leagues. He’s got the stuff, mound presence and experience to make it work. Sure, he’ll walk too many, but there have been a ton of successful closers with just that profile.
Fantasy Impact: Maples should see the major leagues in 2018. While the Cubs have been using him as a closer in the minor leagues, he’ll likely fall back as a middle reliever before finally getting a chance to the close in the future. Is he ownable in a Dynasty League? In deeper leagues, sure…but he’ll be a heavy waiver wire pickup one year when the stars align and he gets the chance. Just remember where you heard his name first.
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP
The Cubs didn’t have a draft pick in 2016 until the third round and decided to go for Oklahoma State right-hander Thomas Hatch. Serving as the Friday night starter, Hatch had an excellent season, posting a 2.14 ERA in 19 starts with a 112-to-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Given he missed the entire 2015 season with a sprained UCL and pitched his team into the College World Series, the Cubs played it safe and held him out of game action after signing him.
In 2017, the Cubs unleashed the reigns and Hatch responded very well. In 26 starts in Myrtle Beach of the Carolina League, he posted a 4.04 ERA while striking out over a batter per inning. He did walk too many (3.61 BB/9) but with his sinking fastball, was able to keep the ball in the park further limiting damage.
Scouting Report: Hatch has a nice three pitch mix with a sinking fastball that sits 91-93 MPH, with an above-average slider and emerging change-up. He can throw all three pitches for strikes, so his 3.6 BB/9 was a little surprising. None of the secondary pitches though are a true out-pitch and that could ultimately limit his upside to a number four starter.
Hatch is able to repeat his delivery but his motion lacks power from his lower half. In doing so, he’s expending a lot of effort and that could lead to arm injuries down the road.
Fantasy Impact: Hatch had a very good college career and does have a nice arm, but for fantasy purposes, he’s only ownable at the moment in deeper leagues. He should be monitored because he’s really only one plus pitch from being a more interesting and intriguing prospect for leagues that roster 300 or fewer minor league players.
Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP
With the 27th pick in the first round in June, the Cubs selected Brendon Little out of State College of Florida. In his sole year at the Sarasota Junior College, Little made the most of it posting a 2.53 ERA and striking out 133 batters in 85.1 innings. After the Cubs signed him, he made a few appearances in the Northwest League where he posted a 9.37 ERA but in only six starts and 16.1 innings
Scouting Report: While I’ve not had a chance to see Little pitch, I got several reports from someone who saw him multiple times in Sarasota. The pitch that stands out is his curveball. It’s a true 12 to 6 hammer curve that he’s able to throw from the same release point as his fastball. He also throws a plus fastball that has plenty of late wiggle.
The biggest concern with Little is his delivery. He lacks extension in his landing which causes him to lose his release point. The result is a lack of consistency and pitches thrown out of the strike zone. In reviewing his delivery, I think with some work, it can be cleaned up. He has a nice high three-quarters delivery that will allow him to get plane on his pitches.
Fantasy Impact: There’s more to like with Little than his scouting report might suggest. His curveball is a double-plus offering and will get swings and misses. He’s athletic and of course a lefty. He just needs to clean up his delivery, which of course is easier said than done. However, there’s enough to like that I would recommend adding him in all Dynasty Leagues that roster 300 of more minor leagues.
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
The Cubs signed Jen-Ho Tseng in 2013 for a $1.6 million and he has been quickly moving through the system. He split time between Double and Triple-A last season pitching well at both spots. In 15 starts in Tennessee, he posted a 2.99 ERA while striking out 8.2 per nine and walking 2.3. He arguably pitched better once he was promoted to Triple-A, posting a 1.80 ERA, striking out 6.3 per nine while continue to keep his walk rate in the low two’s.
Scouting Report: While the performance last season was excellent, the arsenal does not match what he produced. Physically, he’s not an imposing guy on the mound, standing 6-foot-1, and 195 pounds. His fastball sits in the low-90’s but he does keep it down in the zone which has limited the amount of home runs he was given up. When he does elevate is when he runs into problems. His best secondary pitch is his curve that can get swings and misses.
What allows Tseng to be successful is his ability to throw all of his pitches for strikes. He pounds the strike zone and shows excellent fastball command. If it all comes together, he has a chance to be a number four starter in the big leagues.
Fantasy Impact: Tseng should see starts in Chicago next season and given his ability to throw strikes, he could see some early success. However, his stuff puts him more in the backend of your fantasy rotation as opposed to a high-end starter.
Highest Level: DNP, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Middle Reliever
The Cubs selected Alex Lange with the 30th overall pick in the 2017 Draft after an impressive college year at LSU. In three season, he posted a collective 2.91 ERA, striking out well over a batter an inning (10.44 per nine) while giving up 3.68 walks per nine. It was the lack of control that hurt his draft status that ultimately allowed the Cubs to grab him late in the draft.
Because of his heavy workload and concerns over injuries found in his post-draft physical, Lange did not see any game action in 2017. Assuming, he’s healthy, he’ll likely begin next season in Low-A with a good chance to end the year in the Cubs High-A affiliate, Myrtle Beach.
Scouting Report: At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Lange has excellent size that he pairs with a plus fastball that can touch the mid 90’s. His best secondary pitch is a downer curve that when he’s on, can be a real swing and miss offering. His biggest struggle is throwing consistent strikes which stems from a delivery that has a lot of moving parts including a definitive head whack. This violence causes him to lose his release point resulting in below-average control.
While he has a starter body, the delivery points to a bullpen career. If so, this will enable his fastball to play up and allow him to focus on his best two pitches – his fastball and curve.
Fantasy Impact: Given Lange’s delivery, I think he winds up in the bullpen long-term. If he can tone down his delivery and improve his control, he could also see time as a closer in the future.
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2021, Fantasy Ceiling: Middle Infielder
The best Dominican born player in the Cubs system is no longer Eloy Jimenez…moment of silence…that honor now belongs to 18-year-old shortstop, Aramis Ademan. Signed out of the Dominican Republic for a robust $2 million dollar signing bonus, Ademan was assigned to the Northwest League in June and played very well. In 39 games, he slashed .286/.365/.466, with a 16% strikeout rate and 7.7% walk rate. When you consider his age and level of competition, it’s no wonder the Cubs decided to promote him in August to Low-A to finish the season.
In 28 games in the Midwest League, he posted a .244 batting average with three home runs and four stolen bases. He continued to show excellent contactability.bb
Scouting Profile: Ademan’s best tool is his ability to hit and get on base. He controls the strike zone well and has enough bat speed and strength to eventually profile average power. He‘s not a speedster but still managed to steal 14 bases but did get caught eight times. He’s an adequate defender at short with most evaluators in which I spoke feeling he could stay there long term.
Fantasy Impact: Ademan is an intriguing option for deeper leagues in that he has the tool that keeps on giving – the ability to hit. His natural bat-to-ball skills should allow him to move through the system quickly but his fantasy upside will be dependent on his ability to develop power. With his bat speed, he could develop 12 to 15 home run power and with similar stolen base potential, he could develop into a nice middle infielder in deeper fantasy leagues.
2018 Emerging Prospect
In two season in the minor leagues, Dakota Mekkes has stuck out 119 in 93.1 innings while closing seven games. He’s a big kid at 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds and throws from lower three-quarters that gives right-handed batters fits. Imagine that extension coming at you from an angle you rarely see. Throw-in that he can run his fastball up to 95 MPH and he’s a guy to monitor as a potential closer down the road.