The Still-Exciting BP 101: Cubs Place Six

On the last day of the 2014 season, the Cubs won a meaningless game against the Brewers in Milwaukee, and all of Cubsdom quickly turned its thoughts to free agency and the waves of top prospects that were sure to finally grace the friendly confines come spring. The 2015 BP Top 101 Prospects list, then, was a topic of much focus, and it didn’t disappoint. Three Cubs prospects were listed in the top 20 (Addison Russell was second, in case you forgot), six Cubs made the list in total, and many of those same Cubs made huge splashes throughout the magical summer (and fall) of 2015.

On the last day of the 2015 season, the Cubs lost a very meaningful NLCS game to the Mets, and prospect lists were understandably much farther down the list of priorities. After the initial disappointment of the season’s end, Cubs fans turned their thoughts to major league additions—Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward, and John Lackey joined a club that looks (on paper) to be the best in the National League. All of this is to say: prospects aren’t quite as exciting as they used to be.

They’re just as important, though, and Theo Epstein’s front office has always talked about a constant stream of prospects coming from the minors as a prerequisite for a consistently successful baseball team. And—if you haven’t heard—the Baseball Prospectus Top 101 Prospects of 2016 list came out yesterday. Although their entrants were generally much farther down the list this year, the Cubs still had six (!) players make the cut. And that’s still exciting. So let’s take a brief look each of the Cubs’ top prospects and what makes them exciting for 2016 and beyond.

41. Gleyber Torres, SS, Chicago Cubs
Scouting Report: LINK
2015 Ranking: N/A

A 2014 international free agent signing, Torres is exciting for three main reasons: he is a shortstop, he is still just 19, and he is good. He slashed .293/.353/.386 as an 18-year-old at Low-A South Bend, which suggests both a robust hit tool and a ton of room for growth. He struck out at a fairly concerning 21 percent clip in South Bend, which, well, is something he’ll have to work on. He is reported to have slightly below-average footspeed, but all reports suggest he can stick at shortstop, which makes all the offensive value he will provide much more valuable. The latest manifestation of the Cubs’ buy-all-the-shortstops approach to roster building, Torres will likely make the very impressive jump to High-A Myrtle Beach for the 2016 season.

57. Willson Contreras, C/3B, Chicago Cubs
Scouting Report: Coming soon
2015 Ranking: N/A

Contreras has gotten perhaps the most press of any Cubs’ prospect this offseason, and for good reason. The 23-year-old was the breakout star of the Cubs’ farm system in 2015, with a .333/.413/.478 slashline at Double-A Tennessee. What makes this even more impressive is that he did it as a catcher, a position that he only started playing a few years ago. Though his fall season was cut short by a hamstring injury, he got rave reviews when exposed to a larger audience at the Arizona Fall League this year, and at number 57 he is ranked by BP as the best catching prospect in the game. His defense is still improving, but if he continues to produce on offense at Triple-A Iowa, there is a solid chance that he could contribute to the Cubs in 2016.

67. Ian Happ, OF/2B, Chicago Cubs
Scouting Report: Coming soon
2015 Ranking: N/A

Happ is exciting because he can hit, and because the Cubs still haven’t missed on a first round college bat in the MLB Draft. Picked ninth overall from the University of Cincinnati, the switch-hitting Happ showed an advanced approach (13.6 percent walk rate) and some power (nine home runs) in 295 plate appearance for short-season Eugene and South Bend at the end of last year. He will likely start the year at Single-A, with a chance to rise quickly through the system if he hits up to his potential. The Cubs have also announced that Happ is working to become a full-time second baseman, where his bat would play up even more long-term.

74. Billy McKinney, OF, Chicago Cubs
Scouting Report: Coming soon
2015 Ranking: 81

McKinney keeps hanging on to these top-100 lists for one major reason: his hit tool. He hit .340 at Myrtle Beach in 2015 before being promoted to Tennessee, where he hit .285 the rest of the way. His 10 percent walk rate was solid, too, and he slugged a respectable .420 at Tennessee (despite only hitting three home runs). This slugging percentage is the long term question, though—there is no question he can hit, but there is a question about his power, especially because he profiles as a corner outfielder. Still, though, the Cubs know how important contact can be, and a top 100 prospect with a high average and a 13.8 percent strikeout rate is still something to be excited about. Oh, and McKinney is still just 21. If he starts hot, he could be in Triple-A Iowa by the time he turns 22 in July.

83. Albert Almora, OF, Chicago Cubs
Scouting Report: Coming soon
2015 Ranking: 38

It feels like Almora has been around forever, but he, too, doesn’t turn 22 until the season opens in April. By that time, Almora just might be roaming center field in Iowa. And roaming center field is what he does best—he is exciting because of the instincts that scouts feel could make him a perennial gold glover. That in itself has a tremendous amount of value—the only question is Almora’s bat. He had a very disappointing intro to Double-A in 2014, when he posted a .212 TAv and walked only twice in 144 plate appearances. 2015 started in much the same way but by midseason, it seemed, something had changed. The latent hit tool that scouts had seen out of high school seemed to return, and Almora ended up posting an unremarkable but solid .272/.327/.400 slashline. Here’s the enticing thing about Almora: if he could do that in the big leagues, he would be a borderline All-Star. The glove is just that good.

The Cubs have suggested that Almora might start the season in Triple-A. If the bat continues to stabilize, the Cubs will suddenly have another exciting and viable outfield prospect pushing for 2016 playing time.

97. Eddy Julio Martinez, OF, Chicago Cubs
Scouting Report: Coming soon
2015 Ranking: N/A

Martinez is exciting because of mystery and untapped potential. The 20-year-old Cuban defector hasn’t played a game stateside yet, but he was intriguing enough to inspire a (bizarre) bidding war between the Cubs and Giants last fall. The Cubs signed him for $3 million (effectively $6 million because of international signing overages), and he will likely make his stateside debut in Arizona or Low-A ball this spring. He is seen as a raw but solid defensive centerfielder, with upside (potentially a lot of upside) in his bat. What his potential actually is, though, up for some debate. After his workouts, his actual price slipped down from the $10+ million he was expected to make, so perhaps there isn’t as much there as was initially reported. Still, there is something exciting about the unknown, and about the chance that the Cubs could have just found another top prospect for a relatively cheap deal. I very much look forward to following Martinez this year.

So, where are we? Well, six prospects is excellent, but there is still one obvious hole: pitching. We don’t see names like Duane Underwood or Oscar de la Cruz on this list, and both Carl Edwards Jr. and Pierce Johnson dropped off the list from last year. This makes it clear that this organization’s strength is still on the positional side of things. We’ll explore this at Wrigleyville, too; Carlos Portocarrero will take a look at the broader organizational implications of this list in a twin piece today.

As actual win projections start to be published—they’re coming soon(!)—the fanbase of a Cubs team that is projected to finish at the top of the National League will once again be focused mainly on things other than its farm system. But prospects are still coming, and they’re still young and full of potential. 2016 isn’t just exciting for itself—it’s also exciting because it’s still just the beginning of a bright future. And some of these guys are going to have a big role to play.

Lead photo courtesy Mark J. Rebilas—USA Today Sports.

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4 comments on “The Still-Exciting BP 101: Cubs Place Six”


McKinney’s profile reminds me of Matt Murton.


I remember Bill Simmons lamenting that the Red Sox had traded the Cubs one of their top prospects (Murton) along with Garciaparra. I was always surprised he didn’t amount to more.


I think he was underappreciated. An .809 OPS his only full season in the majors? Thing is, he could really only play an adequate LF so his lack of power was a downer.

This is why i say NO TRADES it’s a long season don’t 4get you still have buyers and sellers week in July.

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