With this summer’s trades, the Cubs’ farm system is no longer what it once was. Evaluators now rank it in the bottom five of MLB farm systems. The main reason for inclusion in the low end of the MLB rankings is that the Cubs lack a player in any top 100 prospect list.
While I do agree that the Cubs lack elite talent now, that might not be the case in two to three years. In that time span, the Cubs could totally reshape their farm system with a lot of raw and athletic players currently in the lower parts of the system. I think some of those prospects will begin to show up on lists this winter, including my own top 21.
I really like the haul the Cubs got last summer in the 2017 MLB Draft as they signed 29 picks. Those picks could electrify a system that was devoid of high-end talent. One key aspect of the draft is that the Cubs did select several high school players who could take a while to develop but could also pay off in the long term. One of them was already named player of the month for August.
It has been standard operating procedure for the Cubs to select college players who are already more refined and polished. With a reliance on selecting some high-end international free agents, the Cubs are also banking on their own developmental system to turn them into top 100 prospects. Building your system with these young athletic players is a huge risk, but it’s one the Cubs are willing to gamble on because there are no Kris Bryants or Kyle Schwarbers when you’re picking at the back of the draft.
Here are seven players to keep an eye out for in 2018 that exemplify this new type of Cubs farmhand.
1. Nelson Velasquez – He is pretty chiseled at 6’0″ and 195 pounds. I was surprised that he played centerfield most of the summer, but I was not surprised that he could hit for power. I did not see him being the August player of the month in the Cubs system. He hit six homeruns in August and two more in five games in the playoffs. The Cubs have not had a prospect with his in-game power since Bryant or Schwarber. Eloy would probably be the closest thing. I don’t know if he’s a good hitter as Eloy, but at 18 you have to like where he is going. Don’t be surprised to see him creep into some prospect lists this winter.
2. Jonathan Sierra – At 6’3”, he has the body and swing to generate power. But at 18, it has not arrived yet. However, his approach at the plate seems to be pretty advanced for rookie ball. For someone who lacked a lot of game experience, he shown the ability to work a walk and to take one as well. I am hoping that next year at Eugene that we begin to see some power as the right-field porch is made for him to hit it over.
3. Delvin Zinn – He had a bit of a roller coaster year. He is extremely athletic and his hit tool, when hot, is one of the best in the system. When not, it is not pretty. In the playoffs, he hit .500 with a .632 OBP. He was a key component in Mesa scoring 44 runs in five games. Even though he plays second and short now, I think he’s athletic enough to play center field if needed. That kind of versatility exemplifies the new type of prospect.
4. Jesus Tejada – He came on strong in August in the Dominican Summer League. He threw a no-hitter and in back to back games struck out 19 batters. When he comes stateside in 2018, the long and lanky 6’2″ righty could play in Mesa, but I think he ends up in Eugene next summer. One of many tall lanky pictures, he seems to be putting it together faster than the other international projects.
5. Jeremy Estrada – He did get some working in Mesa this summer. He made for appearances and threw a little over six innings. The ERA was great, but the WHIP was not at almost 2.00. However, the Cubs took a huge gamble in picking Estrada, who was bound for UCLA. He was one of the best prep pitchers on the circuit in 2016 and struggled in 2017. Hopefully the Cubs can help him find his way as there is a lot there to work with.
6. Luis Verdugo – Seems as though the Cubs are starting to sign all the shortstops again. Verdugo is a young 17-year-old international free agent who should be at Mesa next summer. He was the highest profile international position player signed in 2017.
7. Luis Vazquez – He is a tall, rangy shortstop flashed some potential this summer. At just 17, he had his moments this summer playing in Mesa. In July, he hit .346 and then struggled in August hitting only .135. In the postseason, he played in two games going five for seven with a double. I think he’s going to be pretty streaky for the next couple years as he makes adjustments continually. On the defensive side of the ball, he’s shown that he can cover a lot of ground quickly and has a decent arm. He still has a lot of room to add some weight on his 6’1″ 165 pound frame.
All these prospects will have a learning curve. They will go through some inconsistencies while flashing talent. I think the big thing is that it’s going to take time to develop their gifts. There is inherent risk in each one but the payoff could be huge. We might be seeing some dividends early on but the key is to see dividends over the next 2 to 3 years. Here’s the best part…these seven listed above are just the tip of the iceberg. Fernando Kelli, Didier Vargas, Emilio Ferrebus, Danis Correa, and many more young physically talented players are coming and coming quickly.
Photo of Delvin Zinn courtesy of Minor League Baseball