Prospect Day: 10 Takeaways From the Major Prospect Lists

Over at the main site, the BP prospect team released the Cubs’ Top 10 Prospect list today. This is, of course, cause for celebration. It also means that we can finally wrap up prospect season with a comparison of six of the most popular prospect lists: Keith Law’s at ESPN, Baseball America’s, John Sickles’s at, FanGraphs’s,’s, and of course BP’s. Let’s begin, first, with a look at how each prospect did on each list, ranked in rough aggregate order:

Prospect Law BA Sickels FG MLB BP
Gleyber Torres 1 1 1 1 1 1
Ian Happ 3 3 2 2 3 3
Willson Contreras 2 2 4 9 2 2
Billy McKinney 4 7 3 5 6 4
Duane Underwood 8 4 5 3 4 8
Dylan Cease 6 5 NR 4 8 6
Albert Almora 5 6 9 10 5 7
Oscar de la Cruz NR 8 7 7 9 NR
Eloy Jimenez 9 9 8 NR 10 9
Eddy Julio Martinez 7 NR NR NR NR 5
CJ Edwards NR NR 6 NR NR 10
Jeimer Candelario 10 10 NR NR 7 NR
Pierce Johnson NR NR 10 NR 7 NR
Mark Zagunis NR NR NR 8 NR NR
Dan Voglebach NR NR NR 6 NR NR

And now, a few things we’ve learned:

  1. Gleyber Torres is good.

To be fair, we knew this before we read the lists, but it’s true nonetheless: the 19-year-old shortstop is the consensus number one Cubs prospect across the board, ranking in the top 50 of all of the Top 100 lists considered. What we did learn from this process, though, is how far he is ahead of everyone else. None of the other prospects on the lists have a general consensus about their rankinglike Torres, illustrating just how favored he is amongst talent evaluators.

  1. Contreras and Happ? Happ and Contreras?

Wilson Contreras’ rankings range from second to ninth and Ian Happ’s rankings are second or third, creating a good debate about who is the second best Cubs prospect. As with most things prospect-related, it comes down to preference. While Contreras ranked second more times, Fangraphs had him at a very low ninth causing his average to dip. Happ was consistently second or third giving him the edge up on the average ranking.

  1. The Cubs’ farm is still deep…

Recently, John Arguello of Cubs Den tackled the organizational rankings disparity between Keith Law (who had the Cubs fourth) and Baseball America (who had the Cubs twentieth), and argued that the case for the higher ranking by Law boils down how deep the Cubs are. They have a lot of mid-tier prospects that will end up contributing at the major league level, and not a lot of teams can say that right now. There’s 15 guys who were put on at least one of these lists and Dan Vogelbach, who only received one vote, just might be the best pure hitter in the entire system.

  1. … but they lack high impact prospects.

And this is the best argument for a lower organizational ranking like Baseball America’s. The Cubs graduated most of their impact prospects last season. They still have a couple guys who could be elite players, yes, but the graduation of Soler, Bryant, Russell, and Schwarber had to leave a hole somewhere in the minors. After Torres and Contreras, Vogelbach might be an impact bat, but without a clear defensive home his value in considerably lower.

  1. Dylan Cease, left off one list this year, is poised for a rise next year.

Due to a torn UCL during his senior season of high school that required Tommy John surgery, Cease dropped from a projected first round pick all the way to the Cubs as an overslot in the sixth round. He’s regained all of the velocity he had pre-surgery and ranked as the second-best prospect in the AZL last season. Look for him to shoot up the prospect lists next year after a full season of professional baseball.

  1. The draft strategy of focusing on pitching in bulk has not produced big-league results yet.

The Cubs have drafted bats in the first round of the last four years under the Epstein regime, but they focused on pitching throughout the rest of the first 10 rounds; this included 9 pitchers in the first 10 rounds of the 2012 draft, 7 pitchers in 2013, 8 pitchers in 2014, and 6 pitchers in 2015. That’s 30 of their 43 picks (including supplementary picks) used on pitchers, yet not one has reached the majors yet, and many are headed to the bullpen once they get there. However, they’re all working their way up and in a couple of years it’s going to be wave after wave of these draftees filling out the rotation and bullpen, if the Cubs keep up this strategy.

  1. The Cubs have been crushing it on the international market.

Six of the 15 prospects that made one of these lists are international signees. Torres and Contreras are two of the best Cubs prospects. Eloy Jimenez, who was the top international signee in the same class as Torres, had a great year. Oscar De La Cruz has the chance to be a solid mid-rotation starter. Eddy Julio Martinez has the tools to be a stud. And Jeimer Candelario had a breakout season offensively last year and still was only mentioned in half of these lists.

  1. Everyone is still skeptical of Albert Almora’s offense.

A plus defender in center field due to his ability to get great jumps on balls, Almora is at worst a fourth outfielder at the major league level. In the second half of last season, he finally started to put things together at the plate, which should excite fans, given the need for a long-term solution in center field.  He was squaring up pitches and making solid contact, laying off pitches he could not do anything with, and thereby increasing his walk rate and power numbers. He started to resemble the highly touted prospect many believed he would be when the Cubs drafted him sixth overall in 2012, but another strong season offensively would help him shoot up the lists.

  1. The value of a relief pitcher fluctuates greatly per list.

Carl Edwards made only two lists this year: sixth on Sickels’ list and tenth on Baseball Prospectus’s, respectively. Just last year he was a Top 100 prospect on most lists, but his injury and the switch to the bullpen has diminished his value significantly. It’s important to be able to produce enough arms to fill out your bullpen and not have to buy them in free agency,  but these arms are not as valuable as starters, given their volatility. Some of these lists reflect that assessment of reliever value. But should that be the case? Isn’t a major league pitcher better than a guy with a few years to go who is based purely on projection and has a solid chance to end up in the bullpen or worse? As with everything regarding these lists, it’s all about what you value.

  1. Most of the prospects are a ways away from Wrigley.

Almora and Edwards could see time this year in Chicago, and Pierce Johnson could be called up to bolster the bullpen at some point this season if the Cubs want to permanently convert him into a relief pitcher, which many think is inevitable given his delivery. But after that, most of the Cubs’ high tier prospects are two years or more away, or they do not have a spot they can viably play either due to their inability (Vogelbach) or an incumbent on the current roster (McKinney).

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

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